Explore the Bible: Matthew 12:15-21
[NOTE: This is the beginning of a series of short studies that relate to our "Explore the Bible" lesson from the previous Sunday. I hope to have a new post each week relating to our ongoing study. If you would like to join us in this study, we meet at 10:30 every Sunday, after the early service.]
Matthew quotes Isaiah 42:1-4 here and applies Isaiah’s prophecy directly to Jesus. Unlike the application Jesus made of Isaiah when He answered John the Baptist’s question in Matthew 11:4-5, here the prophecy isn’t focused on the great works of the Messiah. Rather, Matthew uses the prophecy to point out why Jesus urged people not to spread the Word about Him. His role at this point in His ministry was to do the work He was sent to do, not to draw attention to Himself in such a way as to put the focus on Himself as the divine Deliverer.
In a Jewish study Bible I have, Isaiah 42 is said to refer primarily to the nation of Israel as a whole. It does point out that rabbis have seen it as a description of the Messiah (as well as the prophet Isaiah himself or the Persian king Cyrus), but attempts to make the description of the servant fit the role of Israel in a future ideal kingdom. It requires taking some Hebrew phrases in unusual ways, and writes off “open blind eyes” in verse 7 as another parallel way to say “freeing the prisoners.”
Even from an Old Testament perspective, however, it seems to make more sense of a special servant of the Lord, the Messiah. This Anointed One would not come with violence, and would not cease His work until justice was established over the whole earth. He would Himself be a covenant for the people, and would bring liberation not only from prison, but from the imprisoning conditions imposed by illness or handicap. Yahweh announces that this will, in fact, be something new.
For those of us under the New Covenant, we have Matthew’s divinely inspired interpretation to guide us in our understanding of who the Servant is. Although Matthew stops at verse 4, he would have seen the continuation of Isaiah’s prophecy as also applying to Jesus. Thus Matthew shows that he views this passage as referring to the Messiah, and that he believes that Jesus is that Messiah.
We are certainly to proclaim the truth about Jesus to our whole world today. While Jesus was here on earth, He often told people to keep what He had done quiet, but at the end of His earthly ministry He told His followers to proclaim the good news to all people; Matthew records this at the very end of his gospel (Matthew 28:19-20). Jesus is the justice and hope that both Isaiah and Matthew speak about. On the cross, Jesus made both possible and fulfilled the mission He had during His time here on earth. The ultimate fulfillment will come when He returns to establish His kingdom. We can continue to have a future hope as we read the words prophesied about Him all through God’s Word, and that hope should spur us to share the reason for our hope with all we meet.