Matthew 8:14-17 And when Jesus entered Peter’s house, he saw his mother-in -law lying sick with a fever. He touched her hand, and the fever left her, and she rose and began to serve him. That evening they brought to him many who were oppressed by demons, and he cast out the spirits with a word and healed all who were sick. This was to fulfill what was spoken by the prophet Isaiah: “He took our illnesses and bore our diseases.”
I have been working through each instance of fulfilled prophecy in the gospel of Matthew. I am calling this series A Tax Collector’s Guide to Fulfilled Prophecy. Matthew the Tax Collector was basically regarded as an unlearned outcast by the religious establishment. However, his desire to follow Jesus has made him one of the most famous scholars of scripture of all time. He had not been to religious schools but was discipled by Jesus Himself. In the same way, many times Christ imparts knowledge to the simple who accept the word of God by faith while bypassing religious scholars who have learned from so-called masters.
While references to the law and the prophets have been plentiful throughout Matthew’s gospel, we are only on the fifth occurrence of the language of “fulfilled prophecy” in terms of Matthew pointing to a specific passage. 1-4 were in Matthew 1:22-23, 2:15, 2:17-18, 4:14-16. I speculated that Matthew (in 8:11) may have set forth the idea that Jesus was alluding to language from Isaiah 43:5-6 and 49:12 which are both passages which concern Isaiah’s Suffering Servant. I don’t think it is a coincidence that immediately after this Matthew places a fulfillment of prophecy which is at the very heart of the description of Isaiah’s Suffering Servant.
Before I get into the meat of this study, one thing should be addressed first. The passage in Isaiah doesn’t seem to quite match up with Matthew’s quotation. Isaiah 53:4 has, “Surely He has borne our griefs and carried our sorrows.” At first glance this doesn’t have anything to do with healing. But the Hebrew words translated here mean sickness and pain respectively. It is the same in Isaiah 53:3 where the Suffering Servant is said to be “a Man of sorrows, and acquainted with grief”. So I am going to follow the Holman Christian Standard Version for this study in this particular passage. It captures this aspect of the Hebrew better so that we can see the fulfillment in the life of Christ as Matthew did. So let’s look at the passage in Isaiah, ask why Matthew chose this particular passage, then ask what that means for our study of fulfilled prophecy.
He was despised and rejected by men,
a man of suffering who knew what sickness was.
He was like one people turned away from;
He was despised, and we didn’t value Him.
Yet He Himself bore our sicknesses,
and He carried our pains;
but we in turn regarded Him stricken,
struck down by God, and afflicted.
This passage is commonly referred to as Isaiah 53 but the thread of Isaiah’s Suffering Servant runs from Isaiah 52:13 through Isaiah 53:12. It probably doesn’t make a whole lot of difference, but for those who like to study little details, it is worth noting. Another point worth noting is that this is not the first time that Isaiah has foretold of the Servant. The Suffering aspect of this Servant is brought to the forefront here in a way that only one other passage can equal, that being Psalm 22. But Isaiah has already been describing the ministry of this Servant in passages like Isaiah 42 and 49. In those passages He is more like a “Meek and Mild Servant” rather than a Suffering Servant. So the prophecy is that this Meek and Mild Servant in whom the Gentiles learn to trust will also suffer, and part of that suffering shall be to willingly take an aspect of suffering upon Himself. His identity would be a Man of suffering, rejected by the very people that He suffers for, and also taking upon Himself their sicknesses, diseases, and pains in the midst of that rejection.
Why did Matthew choose this passage?
There are different passages in the prophets which speak of healing. Upon examination, there are only a couple that can be explicitly proven to be referring to physical healing. Isaiah 42:7 could very easily be referring to people in a spiritual darkness having their eyes opened to the truth. In fact, the light going forth to the Gentiles (a people in spiritual darkness) is the context in which that verse was given. In Luke 4:18 which quotes Isaiah 61:1, the healing is of the broken hearted, which is of course referring to the inner man, not the physical aspect. Luke has another phrase which is not found in Isaiah 61:1 and that is, “and recovering of sight to the blind.” Given the entire context of preaching the gospel and releasing those from prison, this recovering of sight to the blind is most likely a spiritual action that occurs when someone believes in the gospel of the kingdom. So neither of these passages could be of any help to Matthew when he saw the multitude of people being healed of any affliction that they suffered from.
There is one passage that is undeniably prophesying of physical healing. Isaiah 35:5-6 has such a vivid description of the blind seeing, the deaf hearing, the lame leaping, and the mute singing that it cannot be overlooked in our study. As we look at the overall context in which this passage is given, we see that there is a physical transformation of certain portions of the earth that will be occurring at that time. Places that used to be desert wasteland are now blooming with flora due to springs of water bursting forth. Looking back at the previous chapter, this is all because the LORD has come with vengeance, Isaiah 34:8, 35:4. There is another transformation going on at this time as well. Places that were once lush will be desolate because of the destruction brought by the LORD, Isaiah 34:9-10. Civilizations that once thrived will be destroyed and lie empty, Isaiah 34:11-12. So Isaiah 33:24 is probably anticipatory of the passage which immediately follows this. Isaiah foretells that the inhabitants of this kingdom will not say that they are sick and those that live within that kingdom will be forgiven of their sins. Then the passage proceeds to tell of the transformation that will occur here on the earth with the LORD obliterating some parts that were in rebellion against Him and restoring some portions of the earth to Eden-like conditions. Within the bounds of this transformed portion of the earth, people will be miraculously healed. People with physical ailments will be transformed as well. It will be a new arrangement here on the earth.
It should be obvious why Matthew does not quote from Isaiah 35. This set of prophecies was not fulfilled at Christ’s first coming. There was no vengeance of the LORD poured out, no transformation of the earth either in destruction or restoration, and no highway established here on which the redeemed could travel, Isaiah 35:8-10. Plus, these healings here are not linked to a specific person performing an act to heal them. It seems that mere existence on earth where the restoration is occurring is enough to bring healing to those afflicted with maladies.
Matthew chose Isaiah 53 rather than Isaiah 35 because there is a distinct difference between the two passages. In Isaiah 53, the Servant is physically taking and bearing upon Himself the sicknesses and diseases of His people. While He is serving them, they are rejecting Him. Isaiah’s prophecy is not laid out in time linear fashion. It doesn’t say, “First He will do this, then that, then He will do a few more things”, etc. Isaiah sees the whole ministry of the Servant as being one of rejection, suffering, and death. This ministry of suffering will be one of the Servant’s own choosing. It is the same with the healings which He performs. Isaiah doesn’t say that the Servant heals them. Instead, He takes upon Himself their sicknesses and pains. He bears them. They are no longer burdened with them as He decided to carry these burdens for them. This leads us into a bit of a word study since there is a strong connection between Isaiah 53:3-4 and Isaiah 53:11-12.
The Hebrew word translated bore or borne in Isaiah 53:4 has the basic meaning of to lift, bear up, carry, or take. There are some other quite notable uses of the word throughout Isaiah’s prophecy. In Isaiah 33:24 which was mentioned above, as the sins are forgiven, they are borne, same word. In Isaiah 40:11, the LORD is a Shepherd who gently carries His lambs being borne in His arms. The same idea is found in Isaiah 46:3-4 including the idea of a protective type of carrying in order to deliver His people. Finally, at the very end of the Suffering Servant passage, He bears the sin of many, Isaiah 53:12. This is as His soul is being poured out unto death. As a whole, this Servant takes upon Himself the sins of His people, and all their sicknesses as well. The two are interrelated because sickness and sin are interrelated.
Out of the anguish of His soul He shall see and be satisfied;
by His knowledge shall the Righteous One, My Servant,
make many to be accounted righteous,
and He shall bear their iniquities.
Therefore I will divide Him a portion with the many,
And He shall divide the spoil with the strong,
Because He poured out His soul to death
and was numbered with the transgressors;
Yet He bore the sin of many,
and makes intercession for the transgressors.
Matthew does not see Jesus as a miracle worker walking around healing people. By this quote here, he sees Jesus in His ministry as a whole being the Servant who would bear for His people all of their burdens, including sicknesses, diseases, ailments, and pains. Further, because later in the Isaiah passage the Servant also bears the sins of the people, Matthew is foreshadowing the end of his gospel. The Servant does not rule and reign yet, but is rejected, suffers, and takes upon Himself the full sinfulness of all that we are. So Matthew in his brilliance that the LORD gave him is highlighting a greater truth contained in this simple episode of healing anyone that came to Him.
What does it mean?
First off, Isaiah 53 is about more than just the Messiah suffering and dying for the sins of humanity. The Messiah was prophesied to take upon Himself the entire scope of human suffering, sickness, disease, and any other consequence of sin upon humanity which had entered the world. The Suffering Servant would have an ongoing ministry by which He would bear the sicknesses and sorrows of mankind, yet all the while mankind is rejecting Him. Taking upon Himself all these things is highlighted in this brief episode that occurred one evening at the home of Simon Peter.
Secondly, Matthew clearly uses the word “fulfill” to describe this brief episode. This should cause us to reexamine our usage of the word “fulfill” especially in reference to fulfilled prophecy. So many think that the word “fulfill” means “completed” and this simply cannot be the case. When Matthew saw this prophecy as fulfilled in one evening, it could not have meant that this prophecy was completed. Jesus still had many more healings He would perform. Jesus also was not yet completely rejected by men. He also had not yet been struck down by God. These would occur at the very end of His earthly ministry in connection with His death on the cross. So when Matthew uses the terminology, “This was to fulfill what was spoken by the prophet Isaiah,” it cannot in any way mean that the prophecy was completed. The prophecy was viewing the entire ministry of the Suffering Servant, the Messiah, as a whole. The prophecy would not be completed until the death of Christ on the cross. In contrast, the word fulfill really means to be brought to an overflowing. This makes much more sense. At this point in time in the ministry of Christ, the episode of healings that occurs at the home of Simon Peter brings this prophecy to an overflowing. As a Meek and Mild Servant, He goes out to the people and serves them by healing any who come to Him. As I have written, it is not simply healing them, but taking upon Himself as a Servant all those aspects which are a result of sinfulness in the human race. I have read several times those who consider themselves experts on prophecy and they write something to the effect that prophecy can have many applications but only one fulfillment. That blanket statement will not hold true across the board when examining what Matthew has to say regarding the term “fulfilled prophecy”.
Thirdly, this brief story and quote from Isaiah causes me to appreciate Matthew’s keen sense of fulfilled prophecy in the life of Christ. Isaiah 53 is one of the more often quoted passages in the New Testament scriptures. Peter takes snippets from verses 5, 6, and 9 to explain the whole example of Christ suffering and death on the cross as an example to us, see I Peter 2:21-25. Luke records Philip’s preaching in Acts 8:30-35 which quotes from verses 7-8. This is about Christ’s suffering and death as well. Luke also records the words of Christ in Luke 22:37 in anticipation of His soon death. The phrase being quoted is from Isaiah 53:12. Mark also quotes the exact same phrase as he is describing Christ’s death on the cross in Mark 15:28. I’m not trying to elevate one apostle over the other, but these are all very basic insights. John gets just a little bit deeper as he quotes Isaiah 53:1 in John 12:37-41. There is another prophecy from Isaiah that John quotes as well, but that is another discussion. John’s insight opens up the idea of Christ’s entire ministry [including his mighty miracles] as being rejected by the very ones that He came to reach. Matthew, however, points out that it is not just the suffering and death for which Christ came into the world. He came to take upon Himself everything. Every sin, every sickness, every pain, every grief, every disease, every ailment, every little piece of our physical bodies that doesn’t work quite right, every consequence of sin, all of this would be borne by the Messiah, the Suffering Servant of Isaiah. We owe this insight to Matthew, that outcast of a tax collector.
Have fun and stay busy – Luke 19:13
– The Orange Mailman
P.S. While it may not have been foreseen by Isaiah that the exact way that the Servant would take the sicknesses upon Himself would be by healing many at once, there is no need for radical reinterpretation or spiritualization of the passage. Isaiah 53 is still to be taken in its literal, normative context. Each detail is not completely spelled out, but this does not mean we completely reinterpret the passage in a spiritual way. The sicknesses and pains were literal sicknesses and pains taken upon the Messiah during His ministry during which He was literally rejected.