The Eschatology of Isaiah – 26:20 Tribulation of God’s People

The prophet Isaiah wrote powerful prophecies not only of the events of Jesus’ first advent, but also about the events of that day, the final day when the glorified Jesus Christ, the King of kings and the Lord of lords, the resurrected Lamb of God, returns from heaven on a white horse (Revelation 19:11ff) to judge all the earth.

It is Isaiah’s eschatology that I want to explore with this study, from one brief passage of four verses, Isaiah 26:19-27:1. Here the prophet tells us of things to come at the end of time. As we have seen in the post of December 1, Isaiah has told us about the great final resurrection of the dead when the tomb will become a womb and the dust will give birth to those who will sing for joy. In this post, we will read about the time of tribulation of God’s people, although it will not be as clear as the passage about the resurrection.

PART 2 – THE TRIBULATION OF THE RIGHTEOUS – 26:20

“Come, my people, enter your chambers, and shut your doors behind you; hide yourselves for a little while until the fury has passed by.”

I will admit that, at first reading, this is not the classic ‘tribulation’ passage telling of the distress of God’s people, but a careful reading of the verse, especially in light of the verse’s context, will reveal this to probably be a verse about the suffering of the righteous at the end of the age.

Consider the verse’s context. As we have seen, the preceding verse (26:19) tells of the final resurrection of the dead using almost the same words and images that Paul later uses to describe the Resurrection in 1 Thessalonians 4:14ff. The verse that follows (26:21) is about “the LORD coming out of His place” and could be compared to Revelation 19:11ff or 2 Thess. 1:7-10. What other eschatological event happens around the time of the resurrection and the return of Christ? From other passages of Scripture we know that just before the return of Christ there will be intense distress and tribulation for God’s people as the unsaved world seeks to destroy the church. Consider Matthew 24:21-22, where Jesus describes a “great  tribulation” that must be cut short to spare the elect. Then “immediately after the tribulation of those days” we will “see the Son of Man coming on the clouds of the sky (Matthew 24:29-30).” A great tribulation followed by the coming of the Lord – this sounds a lot like “God’s people hiding themselves for a little while until the fury passes (Isaiah 26:20),” followed by, “Behold, the LORD is coming out of His place (26:21).”

Another similar passage to consider is 2 Thessalonians 1:6-10, in which the saints are being afflicted severely, but are suddenly relieved and avenged as the Lord Jesus comes from heaven “inflicting vengeance” on unbelievers and bringing “the punishment of eternal destruction . . . when He comes on that day.” It doesn’ take a seminary professor to see that the context of 2 Thess. 1 is similar to Isaiah 26:20. Paul and Isaiah had received a similar vision about the end of the age, and both men had seen that the end times will be a time of distress for God’s people.

Although full of visions that are often difficult to understand, the book of Revelation agrees with Isaiah 26:20 in that, as the time of the Lord’s return approaches, God’s people will need to be “wise as serpents and innocent as doves” (Matthew 10:16). They will need to be bold in their witness, but also wary of their adversaries. There will be times when they need to “hide themselves for a little while until the fury passes.” In other words, John on Patmos received a similar message to the one Isaiah had received 700 years before. For example, in Revelation 6 the martyrs under the altar must “rest a little longer,” until the number of martyrs should be complete (Rev. 6:11). Obviously this is a time of great distress. In chapter 11, the “two witnesses” (probably representing the Law and the Prophets, and so symbolizing the church) are killed by the beast, then come back to life and ascend to heaven and escape from their enemies. The point is that the end times will be difficult for believers. Chapter 12 gives more of the same type of thing as “the dragon” (certainly representing Satan) pursues “the woman” (representing the church, in my opinion), but she escapes into “the wilderness.” So then “the dragon” goes off to make war with the woman’s offspring. Very difficult to interpret this passage and that is not my goal here. What I want to point out is that, according to the book of Revelation, there are times when believers at the end of the age will need to flee from the adversary and find a hiding place, just like Isaiah said in 26:20.

To sum up then, so far in our two studies of verses from Isaiah we have seen that Isaiah foresaw the final Resurrection of the dead when those who are in the dust will arise and sing for joy, and we have seen that the end of the age will be a time when God’s people will need to seek refuge from the fury of a hostile world.

In our next study of Isaiah’s eschatology, we will examine Isaiah 26:21 in which the prophet saw the LORD coming out of His place to punish the earth for its wickedness. Join me then.

SDG        rmb        12/13/2019

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