Paul's Use of Isaiah 59:20-21 in Romans 11:26-27


One example where a New Testament writer views an Old Testament prophetic passage as needing to be fulfilled literally in the future is Paul’s use of Isaiah 59:20-21 in Romans 11:26-27:

and so all Israel will be saved; just as it is written,

“The Deliverer will come from Zion,
He will remove ungodliness from Jacob.”
27 “This is My covenant with them,
When I take away their sins.”

This statement by Paul comes in the context of his discussion concerning why God’s Word has not failed concerning Israel in Romans 9-11. In showing how Paul uses this passage I start with explaining Isaiah 59:20-21 in its original context.

Isaiah 59:20-21 in Context

Isaiah 59:20-21 reads:

“A Redeemer will come to Zion,
And to those who turn from transgression in Jacob,” declares the Lord.

21 “As for Me, this is My covenant with them,” says the Lord: “My Spirit which is upon you, and My words which I have put in your mouth shall not depart from your mouth, nor from the mouth of your offspring, nor from the mouth of your offspring’s offspring,” says the Lord, “from now and forever.”

The last two major sections of Isaiah are chapters 49-57 and 58-66. Isaiah 49-57 focuses on the coming Suffering Servant who will vicariously atone for the sins of His people. We now know that Jesus is this Suffering Servant. Isaiah 58-66 then focuses on the glorious kingdom blessings that will come to Israel and the world. Israel will be restored and the nations of the earth will then bless Israel.

Together, these two sections focus on salvation and kingdom. So when Isaiah 59:20-21 will speak of the Lord’s salvation of Israel, the backdrop of this truth is the work of the Suffering Servant.

Isaiah 59 is a strategic chapter since it addresses: (1) Israel’s sin (vv. 1-8); (2) Israel’s national confession of guilt (vv. 9-15a); (3) the Lord’s rescue of Israel (vv. 15b-19); and (4) the salvation of Israel and Israel’s inclusion into the New Covenant (vv. 20-21).

Starting with Isaiah 59:15b, the Lord, who is presented as Israel’s interceder, is said to be displeased that there was “no justice” and “that there was no one to intercede” for Israel. So He decides to act alone on Israel’s behalf against the nations. This interceding on Israel’s behalf will include both national deliverance from Israel’s enemies and spiritual salvation for Israel from her sins.

Isaiah 59:16-19 emphasizes the coming wrath of God against the nations, even distant nations—“Wrath to His adversaries, recompense to His enemies; to the coastlands He will make recompense” (59:18). This is clearly a physical deliverance from oppression. This also is the message of Zechariah 14 and Isaiah 63:3-6 which speak of the Lord’s physical deliverance of Israel from her enemies. Also, in the New Testament Zacharias declared that the coming Messiah (Jesus) would bring “Salvation from our enemies” (Luke 1:71). He also said that in fulfillment of the Abrahamic Covenant God would “grant us that we being rescued from the hand of our enemies” (Luke 1:74).

Yet in addition to national deliverance from enemies, the “Redeemer” of Isaiah 59:20 is also a Savior from sin. Much of Isaiah 58-66 concerns Israel’s sinfulness and Israel’s national confession of sin. Isaiah 59 began with, “Behold, the Lord’s hand is not so short that it cannot save” (v. 1). That this includes salvation from sin is supported by the fact that Isaiah 59:1-15a is all about Israel’s sin and confession of sin. So the “Redeemer” of verse 20 is more than a deliverer from oppressing nations He is also a Savior from sin. This Redeemer is also the Suffering Servant of Isaiah 52-53 who “bore the sin of many and interceded for the transgressors” (53:12). Also, this “Redeemer” comes “to those who turn from transgression in Jacob” (59: 20). So the Redeemer’s coming to Zion is linked with forgiveness of sins in Israel.

This salvation that the Redeemer brings is linked with Israel’s inclusion and participation in the New Covenant—“‘As for Me, this is My covenant with them,’ says the LORD: ‘My Spirit which is upon you… .’” (21a). The “My covenant” here most probably is the New Covenant. Jeremiah 31:31, 34 explicitly links the New Covenant with Israel’s forgiveness of sins. Ezekiel 36 also links the Holy Spirit with the New Covenant—“I will put My Spirit within you” (Ezek. 36:27a). This inclusion of Israel into the New Covenant is also linked with Abrahamic Covenant blessings since the New Covenant is an extension of the Abrahamic Covenant.

In sum, Isaiah 59 reveals that Israel’s sin will one day be recognized by the people of Israel. When this occurs, the Lord will act alone on Israel’s behalf to rescue Israel from her enemies. He also comes to Israel with salvation, a salvation based on the work of the Suffering Servant of Isaiah 52-53. This salvation means inclusion into the New Covenant.

Romans 11:26-27

So how does Isaiah 59:20-21 connect with Romans 11? In Romans 9-11 Paul addressed the situation of Israel’s unbelief and whether God’s Word has failed (see Rom. 9:1-6). He explains that Israel missed God’s righteousness since the nation pursued righteousness through the works of the Mosaic Law and not through faith in Jesus who is the end of the Law (see Rom. 9:30–10:4).

Paul explains that God’s Word has not failed. In doing so he appeals to past, present, and future truths. Concerning the past, Israel is still related to adoption, the covenants, the promises, temple service, the patriarchs, and Jesus the Messiah (see Rom. 9:4-5). Concerning the present God has kept a remnant of believing ethnic Israelites (Rom. 11:1-6). This remnant is a guarantee that God has not permanently rejected the nation Israel. In the present God is also saving many Gentiles. In fact, the salvation of Gentiles is being used by God to make corporate Israel jealous (11:11).

Concerning the future, God will save and reinstall national Israel to Abrahamic covenant blessings after the “fullness of the Gentiles” (Rom. 11:17-25). This “fullness of the Gentiles” relates to God’s purposes for Gentiles in this age including their salvation and role of provoking Israel to jealousy. This leads to the salvation of Israel as Paul states in 11:25-26a:

For I do not want you, brethren, to be uninformed of this mystery—so that you will not be wise in your own estimation—that a partial hardening has happened to Israel until the fullness of the Gentiles has come in; 26 and so all Israel will be saved.

“All Israel” in Scripture refers to the nation Israel as a whole at any given point in time when Israel is being addressed. Since the context is future-oriented here, the “all Israel” refers to Israel as a whole at some point in the future.

To support the assertion that “all Israel will be saved” Paul draws upon Isaiah 59:20-21a in Romans 11:26b-27:

and so all Israel will be saved; just as it is written,

“The Deliverer will come from Zion,
He will remove ungodliness from Jacob.”
27 “This is My covenant with them,
When I take away their sins.”

Here Paul relies upon Isaiah 59:20-21a in a contextual way. The Isaiah passage predicted a coming salvation of Israel as a corporate entity that reverses the nation’s unbelief and that is Paul’s point too. The coming of the Redeemer, who is Jesus the Messiah, will be linked with the salvation of national Israel and Israel’s inclusion in the New Covenant. That is the message of both Isaiah and Paul. To compare:

  • Isaiah 59:20-21: Predicts a coming salvation of national Israel and inclusion of Israel into the New Covenant.
  • Romans 11:26-27: Predicts a coming salvation of national Israel and inclusion of Israel into the New Covenant.

“To” or “From” Zion

While the meaning of Isaiah 59:20-21 in Romans 11:26-27 is established, I need to mention some issues concerning “Zion.” Isaiah 59:20 says the Deliverer will come “to Zion,” but Paul says the Deliverer will come “from [ek] Zion.” Zion is consistently used of an earthly mountain in Jerusalem. But some think that since Paul says the Deliverer is returning “from Zion,” that “Zion” in Romans 11:26 must refer to Heaven. If this is the case the normal earthly sense of “Zion” would not occur in 11:26.

But a heavenly understanding of “Zion” is probably not accurate. Paul’s use of “Zion” in Romans 9:33 concerned earthly Zion, and Paul is probably not changing the meaning of “Zion” in 11:26. But why does Paul say “from” and not “to” concerning Zion? Is Paul being creative in his interpretation?

I do not think so. Paul may be drawing upon Psalm 14:7 which states that Israel’s salvation will “come from Zion.” But even if he is not, the different prepositions (“to” and “from”), while acknowledged, should not be pushed too much. The Old Testament prophets spoke of both a coming “to Zion” and “from Zion,” almost equally with no radical distinction between the two.

Paul’s use of “from Zion” could emphasize Jesus’ rule from earthly Zion (i.e., Jerusalem) as a result of Jesus’ return “to Zion.” In Psalm 110:1-2, the Messiah is said to rule “from Zion” in Jerusalem after a session in heaven at God’s right hand. But for this rule “from Zion” to occur a return “to Zion” (i.e. Jerusalem) had to happen.

Isaiah himself declared both concepts. In addition to saying the Deliverer comes “to Zion” (Isa. 59:20), Isaiah also says, “For the law will go forth from Zion” (Isa. 2:3, emphasis added). So the prepositions “to” and “from” are closely related.

In sum, the statements that the Deliverer is coming “to Zion” (Isa. 59:20) and “from Zion” (Rom. 11:27) are closely linked and can be harmonized. Paul could refer to Jesus’ rule “from Zion” (earthly Jerusalem) that is connected with Jesus’ second coming “to” Jerusalem as stated in Isaiah 59:20.


Paul’s use of Isaiah 59:20-21a in Romans 11:26b-27 is contextual. He relies upon Isaiah’s intent. This is an example of a New Testament writer expecting a literal fulfillment of an Old Testament prophetic text that has not been fulfilled yet.

Photo: Sydney Angove.

Michael Vlach Bio

Michael J. Vlach, Ph.D. (Twitter: @mikevlach) is Professor of Theology at The Master’s Seminary where he has been teaching full time since 2006. Michael specializes in the areas of Systematic Theology, Historical Theology, Apologetics, and World Religions. Dr. Vlach was awarded the “Franz-Delitzsch Prize 2008” for his dissertation, “The Church as a Replacement of Israel: An Analysis of Supersessionism.” He blogs here.