Paul and Isaiah 65-66: A Comparative Analysis – Part Three

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Paul and Isaiah 65-66: A Comparative Analysis – Part Three

Be sure to read part one and part two of this series.

For behold, the Lord will come with fire And with His chariots, like a whirlwind, To render His anger with fury, And His rebuke with flames of fire. For by fire and by His sword The Lord will judge all flesh; And the slain of the Lord shall be many (Isaiah 66:15-16).

This passage is patently the source of Paul’s prediction in 2 Thessalonians 1, as many, if not most, scholars agree:

And to give you who are troubled rest with us when the Lord Jesus is revealed from heaven with His mighty angels, in flaming fire taking vengeance on those who do not know God, and on those who do not obey the gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ (2 Thessalonians 1:7-8).

(Be sure to get a copy of my book, In Flaming Fire, for a powerful exegesis of 2 Thessalonians 1)

✔ In Isaiah the judgment parousia of the Lord in flaming fire was to come on those who persecuted the faithful, “putting them out” of the Temple. They refused the call of the Lord to obedience.

✔ In 2 Thessalonians, Paul is predicting the imminent parousia of the Lord in flaming fire in judgment of those who rejected the Gospel and put out of the synagogue those who did obey.

In addition, notice that in Isaiah the Lord is glorified by His righteous judgment against His enemies. This glorification is set in the context of irony. In other words, the Lord’s enemies call on Him to act -thinking they are doing His work – but in reality, they are the ones to be judged:

Hear the word of the Lord, You who tremble at His word: “Your brethren who hated you, Who cast you out for My name’s sake, said, ‘Let the Lord be glorified, That we may see your joy.’ But they shall be ashamed.

So, YHVH calls on those who would be cast out, mocked and persecuted, to take heart. Their oppressors mockingly called on the Lord to act and to be glorified. But the Lord assures His children that He was going to act. He would be glorified. And that glorification would be when He vindicated His saints being persecuted by the mockers at His coming in flaming fire. The irony is heavy here.

In direct parallelism, in 2 Thessalonians 1, as we have seen, the persecutors clearly thought they were doing God’s work by casting the nascent group of Jesus believers out of the synagogue. But Paul assures the suffering saints that the tables would be turned: “It is a righteous thing with God to repay with tribulation those who are troubling you” (2 Thessalonians 1:4f). The persecutors would become the persecuted, the Thessalonians would be vindicated as God’s true people and God would be glorified. When would that be? The answer is clear:

And to give you who are troubled rest with us when the Lord Jesus is revealed from heaven with His mighty angels, in flaming fire taking vengeance on those who do not know God, and on those who do not obey the gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ. These shall be punished with everlasting destruction from the presence of the Lord and from the glory of His power, when He comes, in that Day, to be glorified in His saints and to be admired among all those who believe (2 Thessalonians 1:7-10).

Thus, precisely as Isaiah 66 foretold, at the Lord’s coming in flaming fire against the persecutors of the faithful, the saints would be vindicated and the Lord would be glorified.

A final parallel between Isaiah 66 and 2 Thessalonians 1 (and including Isaiah 65) is that these prophecies foretold the arrival of the New Creation. In both texts, we find the judgment on Israel / Jerusalem, and flowing directly out of that judgment, we have the coming of the New Creation: “The Lord God shall slay you…you shall all bow down to the slaughter…For behold, I create a New Heaven and a New Earth” (65:13-17). In chapter 66, the Lord said, “I will bring on them that which they dread… The sound of noise from the city! A voice from the temple! The voice of the Lord, Who fully repays His enemies!” … “For as the new heavens and the new earth which I will make shall remain before Me,” says the Lord, So shall your descendants and your name remain.” (66:4-23).

So, in Isaiah the New Creation flows directly from the judgment of Israel, the city and temple. Of course, it must be observed at this juncture how critical Isaiah is to NT eschatology. It is virtually unanimously agreed in the literature that in the NT prophecies of the New Creation, Isaiah 65-66 serve as the background and source of that tenet. This establishes the fact that I document in detail in my books, that there are no new eschatological prophecies in the New Testament. All NT eschatology is the anticipation of the (imminent in the first century) fulfillment of God’s Old Covenant promises made to Old Covenant Israel.

So, Isaiah 65 and 66 both foretold a coming judgment on Israel and the resultant New Creation. In the New Testament, the apostles directly cited both Isaiah 65 and 66 to speak of first century Israel being rebellious, refusing the call of God and being the persecutor of God’s people. They likewise foretold the impending judgment (James 5:6-9 /1 Peter 4:5-17). Paul quotes from Isaiah 66 about the Lord’s coming in flaming fire to bring vindication and vengeance on the persecutors of God’s people – those who put them out of the synagogue. John also, in Revelation, draws on Isaiah 65 & 66 in his prediction of the coming New Creation that would flow out of the judgment of “Babylon” the great persecutor of the Lord’s people.

The parallels between Isaiah 66 (and 65) and Thessalonians are direct, clear, and undeniable. These are not merely examples of “similarity of language” as some claim. If it was mere similarity of language the NT writers could not tell us they were anticipating the fulfillment of those OT texts that they are citing. This is prophecy and fulfillment. I think G. K. Beale is correct about how the NT writers appealed to the OT prophecies. He says that when NT writers cite the OT prophets, they were interpreting it. Beale says “An OT prophecy is likewise a prophecy in the NT.” Not only that, the NT writers are giving the inspired interpretation of the prophecies they are citing. They are revealing the proper application.

Should not those with a high view of scripture begin with the assumption that the NT interprets the OT contextually and with hermeneutical integrity? Accordingly, if an OT passage quoted in the NT is a prophecy in its original context, would not a NT author also see it as a prophecy, and would he not see it as a beginning fulfillment if he identifies the prophecy with some reality in his own present time? – “Possibly a NT writer could use the OT analogically, but, the weight of the prophetic context of the OT passages tilts toward the notion of fulfillment, if there is no clear evidence to the contrary in the NT context (G. K. Beale, A New Testament Theology, (Grand Rapids, Baker Academic, 2011), 772).

This means that when Paul quotes Isaiah, both chapters from 65 & 66, and applies them to his day, his ministry and to the lives of the Thessalonians, the Spirit is informing us of what Isaiah was foretelling. So, let me conclude with this:

Isaiah 66 foretold a coming persecution of the saints of the Lord by those who would put them out of the temple (and synagogue). This is patently a prediction of Jewish persecution. But YHVH promised to come “in flaming fire” to “fully repay His enemies” (the persecutors), and, “extend peace like a river” to the persecuted. As a direct result of that judgment coming against the persecutors and vindication of His saints, the Lord would make a New Heaven and Earth.

In 2 Thessalonians 1, Paul is addressing the nascent church in Thessalonika. That church was established in the synagogue, but unbelieving Jews “cast them out” and instigated persecution against them. Paul, directly alludes to and cites Isaiah 66, (at least two verses, 6, 15) promising that the Lord was going to come “in flaming fire” and take vengeance against their persecutors, and giving relief to the persecuted saints.

Unless one can prove that Paul was ripping the citations of Isaiah out of context and inappropriately applying them to a totally different situation from that envisioned by Isaiah, this is tantamount to absolute proof that Paul was anticipating the imminent A. D. 70 judgment of Israel as the persecutor – the enemy of the Lord. The persecutors would become the persecuted (just as in Isaiah), and that would be, “when the Lord Jesus is revealed from heaven in flaming fire” just as Isaiah foretold.

Thus, while the majority of commentators claim that Paul was predicting an “end of time,” end of human history event, the actual context of both Isaiah 66 and 2 Thessalonians 1 falsify that claim. Both passages are dealing with a covenantal judgment on Old Covenant Israel for becoming the enemy of God by persecuting “the children of promise” i.e. New Covenant saints.

So, we have shown that there are several direct, powerful and explicit parallels between Isaiah 66 and 2 Thessalonians 1. We have shown that in Isaiah’s prophecy of the Day of the Lord we have every element found in 2 Thessalonians. Since Isaiah 66 is undeniably a prophecy of the coming Day of the Lord in flaming fire against Jerusalem and the temple for persecuting the saints, and since Paul is citing Isaiah in his prediction of the revelation of Christ in flaming fire against the persecutors of the Thessalonians, I suggest that this is powerfully probative demonstration that 2 Thessalonians 1 was a prediction of the coming judgment on the Jews for persecuting the saints. Thus, since 2 Thessalonians 1 was a prediction – as almost all agree– of the “Second Coming” of Christ, this means that the Lord’s Second Coming took place in A. D. 70.

Concluding Side Bar: It may well be that Isaiah’s reference to the coming of Christ in flaming fire provides a backdrop for Daniel 7. There we find the persecution of the saints by the Little Horn. Judgment is set and flaming fire proceeds from the throne in judgment of the persecutorial Little Horn. These are the motifs found in Isaiah. If that linkage is correct, that restricts the parousia of both Isaiah 66 and 2 Thessalonians (and by extension 1 Thessalonians 4) to the days of Rome since the Little Horn would work his bloody, persecutorial work in the days of the fourth beast of Daniel 7, which was Rome.

For a more in-depth study of Isaiah 65-66 and their impact on NT eschatology, be sure to get a copy of my book, The Elements Shall Melt With Fervent Heat.