Two questions to help our understanding of the Thessalonians and 2 Thessalonians 2 chapter 1:
First, who was it that the New Testament constantly refers to as the persecutor of the church and as a result of that persecution was to be rejected? Without doubt Paul was speaking of: “Those who are troubling you” (1 Thess. 1:4), as referring to none other than Old Covenant Judah (Matthew 21, 23:34; Acts 7:52-53, 17:1-14; Galatians 4:22-23, 1 Thessalonians 2:14-16; Mark 13:9; Luke 21:12, etc.). “Those who are troubling you” if we are going to deal exegetically with the text, the context and the facts of history, were none other than the Jews. While it may be true that the Jews stirred others up against the church in Thessalonica (Acts 17) at least briefly, the indisputable fact is that it was the Jews who were the movers and shakers of the persecution. They, and they alone, must be identified as “those who are troubling you.”
Second, who was it that had dwelt in the presence of God, but was now being threatened with expulsion from that favored place (2 Thess. 1:9)? Answer: It was Old Covenant Judah.
Developing this, consider Galatians 4:22-26, 30. Paul discusses Old Covenant Jerusalem “the Jerusalem that now is” as he puts it, and the New Jerusalem. He speaks of two covenants, two seeds. The seed after the “flesh” was the Old Covenant nation. The “old seed” was dwelling in the house with the children of promise. The problem was that the Old Covenant people were now persecuting the “children of the promise” i.e. the children of Abraham by faith. As a result of persecuting the Christians, the children of the flesh were now to be cast out of the house of God. This is the picture of 2 Thessalonians 1. Those who dwelt in the presence of God were to be cast out for persecuting the seed of promise.
Another thought on this. If 2 Thessalonians, like Galatians 4, speaks of the casting out of the nation of Judah from the presence of the Lord, then that means that if 2 Thessalonians 1 has not been fulfilled, the Jews remain in the presence of God, in covenant relationship with Him. The kingdom has not been taken from them (Matt. 8:11-12, 21:43; Luke 13:28-29). This means nothing less than that the Old Covenant remains in effect as well. Do you see the serious nature of denying the fulfillment of the text?
Isaiah 2-4, the passage Paul quotes in 2 Thessalonians 1:9 (Isa. 2:10) (refer to the Greek Septuagint which shows the word for word exact phrase quote of Isa. 2:10 to 1 Thess. 1:9), proves that it was the Old Covenant people that was to be cast out of the presence of the Lord, for persecuting the saints.
Sub study: Presence (or sight) of God
To establish this, let’s do a sub study into the phrase and meaning of “presence (or sight) of God.”
This language of being in the presence of the Lord, in His sight and before His face, is the language of covenant. The Hebrew word for “His presence” or “His sight” in all of the following verses is: “panaw, panin, panay, paneh” (or derivatives of these root words).
When Israel was in obedient covenant relationship she was said to be “in His presence” or “in His sight.” In other words, when Israel was obedient she stood before God’s face. She dwelt in His presence. See: Psa. 16:11, 100:2; Num. 6:25; Exod. 33:14-15; Deut. 4:37.
On the other hand, anytime Israel or Judah sinned, YHWY threatened to cast them out of His presence, out of His sight.
- Cast out of His presence: Jer. 23:39, 52:3; 2 Kings 24:20.
- Cast out of His sight: Jer. 7:15, 15:1; 1 Kings 9:7; 2 Chron. 7:20.
- Hide His face from them: Ezek. 39:23-29; Deut. 31:17, 32:20 (This last verse speaks of Israel’s last days, the time in which Paul wrote. He even applies this prophetic chapter to his generation and personal ministry. See Deut. 32:21 à Paul quotes this as being fulfilled in his time: Rom. 10:19, 11:11.).
- Turn My face from: Ezek. 7:22.
- Set My face against: Ezek. 14:8, 15:7.
- Or, God said He would judge Israel “at His Presence”: Jer. 4:26, 5:22.
There is something else very important to note –> It is neversaid, anywhere in the Old Testament, that a pagan nation or people was cast out of the presence of the Lord. What is said is that the Lord came, in some instances, against pagan nations and in those instances they were destroyed “at His presence” (See Isaiah 19:1; Nahum 1:5). There is a huge difference between being cast out from His presence and being destroyed, “at His presence.” Those, “cast out of the presence of the Lord” were His people (Old Covenant Israel) being punished for their sin. Those punished “at His presence” were His enemies being punished, in most cases, for their actions against His people.
2 THESSALONIANS AND REVELATION
Let’s try to nail this down a bit further. Remember that in 2 Thessalonians Paul was promising relief from persecution to those first century saints. He accused Old Covenant Jerusalem of persecuting the prophets of old, of killing Jesus and of persecuting the apostles and prophets of Jesus (Matthew 23:32.-36; 1 Thessalonians 2:15-16, 3:3-4). He says the judgment on Israel for shedding the blood of the martyrs was near, very near. And in his prediction of the Lord’s coming in judgment of the persecutors, Paul quotes directly from Isaiah 2-4.
What does this have to do with Revelation, you ask? Virtually everything. We will only be able to discuss this issue briefly here.
- 1. In Revelation we have the martyrs who have been slain, praying for vindication and judgment on their persecutors (Revelation 6:9-11). Do you suppose that these martyrs might be some of the prophets slain by Old Covenant Israel, the martyrs Jesus said would be vindicated at His coming against Jerusalem (Matthew 23)? We know this is true because the persecutor in Revelation had killed the prophets (Revelation 16:6). Do you see how this fits 1 Thessalonians 2:15 also, where Paul says that it was Old Covenant Israel that had killed the prophets?
- 2. The martyrs were told to “rest for a little while, until the number of their fellow servants and brethren, who should be killed as they were, was completed” (Revelation 6:11). Do you suppose that the saints who had to suffer before the judgment might include more of the Thessalonians, who had been suffering for a good long while, and clearly, just like those under the altar, were crying out for relief and judgment on their persecutors? Do you suppose it is related to Jesus’ prediction that the number of the martyrs was to be filled in His generation: (Matthew 23:29-36) as He sent His apostles and prophets to Israel?
- 3.) In Thessalonians, the persecutors were about to be judged at the coming of Christ in fulfillment of Isaiah’s prophecy. In Revelation the prayer of the martyrs would be fulfilled in “a little while” (Revelation 6:9-11. 2000 years is not a little while) in the great day of the wrath of the Lamb.
What is so significant about John’s promise is that in describing that coming day of judgment on the persecutors (Read Revelation 6:15-16), he quotes directly from Isaiah 2:10, 19, 21, the identical verses that Jesus in Luke 23 applied to the coming judgment of Jerusalem and the identical verses that Paul, in Thessalonians quoted in regard to the impending judgment of the persecutors of the Thessalonians (Acts 17:1-14). We know that the persecutions of the Thessalonians were instigated by the Jews. So, Isaiah 2-4 is about the last days judgment of Israel for shedding innocent blood. That is the way that Jesus and Paul applied it as well. Perfect consistency. But is that the way John was applying Isaiah, in Revelation? Yes indeed.
Notice that the martyrs cried out for judgment of their persecutor (Revelation 6:9-11). The judgment coming on their persecutors was the Day of the Lord, in fulfillment of Isaiah 2-4. And who was the persecutor of the martyrs in Revelation? Well, real quickly, let’s take note of a few facts.
The persecutor was Babylon, the mother of Harlots. And here is what she had done:
- She had killed the prophets (Revelation 16:6). This refers to OT prophets. Only Old Covenant Jerusalem was guilty of that (See Luke 13:31-35).
- She had killed Jesus (Revelation 11:8). Is there any doubt about where Jesus was slain?
- She was killing the apostles and prophets of Jesus (Revelation 18:20, 24). Is there any question about who the Bible says killed the apostles and prophets of Jesus? If you have any doubts, see Matthew 23:34; Luke 11:47-50; 1 Thessalonians 2:14-16.
The only city guilty of all those things was Old Covenant Jerusalem. Do you see how perfectly that fits Isaiah, Matthew 23, 1 and 2 Thessalonians? This is a perfect, consistent picture and it has nothing to do with a coming of the Lord to burn up the entire planet and end time.
So, here is what we have.
- Isaiah predicted the day of the Lord on Israel for shedding innocent blood.
- Jesus applies Isaiah to the coming judgment on Jerusalem for killing Him (Luke 23).
- Paul quotes from the identical verses that Jesus applied to AD 70, to predict the coming judgment of the persecutors of the saints in Thessalonica.
- John quotes from the identical verses of Isaiah used by Jesus and Paul, to predict the soon coming judgment of “Babylon,” the city, “where the Lord was slain” and guilty of killing the saints.
So: Isaiah, Jesus, Paul and John all addressed the same problem. The guilt of shedding innocent blood. Isaiah, Jesus, Paul and John all wrote about the same time, the last days.
Isaiah, Jesus, Paul and John all made the same promise, the coming of the Lord to avenge the blood of the martyrs.
So, where do we get the idea that although Paul is citing the identical prophecy that Jesus and John applied to the judgment of Israel in AD 70, and Paul is addressing the same problem as Jesus and John, i.e. the vindication of the martyrs and judgment of the persecutors, that Paul is applying Isaiah totally differently than Jesus and John? The consistent use of Isaiah demands that we understand that Paul was predicting the AD 70 coming of the Lord to judge Israel for shedding the blood of the saints.
[For a more in-depth study see eschatology “Study Series 14 Lesson 5 Resurrection: 2 Thessalonians 1”]