Matthew 12:15-21 contains a centerpiece of sorts to the entire gospel of the Tax Collector. Matthew has already recorded the details of the birth of Christ surrounded by humility and rejection. Later Matthew will detail the account of His death surrounded by humility and rejection. And here in this passage we have one instance that encapsulates His entire life and it is surrounded by humility and rejection.
Jesus has just publicly debated the Pharisees twice. Both times He has easily proven them to be in the wrong according to the scriptures. In response to this, the Pharisees are plotting to destroy Jesus. Jesus could have gone back and continued to demonstrate their wickedness. Instead, He withdraws. Matthew points this out in order to prove that He is the Servant Messiah foretold by Isaiah. My running commentary is called The Tax Collector’s Guide to Fulfilled Prophecy. Since this passage contains the wording, “That it might be fulfilled which was spoken by Isaiah the prophet,” we have an instance of fulfilled prophecy in the life of Christ according to the Tax Collector, Matthew. Here is the passage we will be looking at.
Jesus, aware of this, withdrew from there. And many followed him, and he healed them all and ordered them not to make him known. This was to fulfill what was spoken by the prophet Isaiah:
“Behold, my servant whom I have chosen,
my beloved with whom my soul is well pleased.
I will put my Spirit upon him,
and he will proclaim justice to the Gentiles.
He will not quarrel or cry aloud,
nor will anyone hear his voice in the streets;
a bruised reed he will not break,
and a smoldering wick he will not quench
until he brings justice to victory;
and in his name the Gentiles will hope.”
Jesus does three things which prompt Matthew to identify Him as Isaiah’s Servant. #1- He withdraws. Instead of asserting His authority, Jesus diminishes His authority. The complexity of His meekness is what causes this disciple to reexamine the One that He believes is the Messiah. Here He has authority with the scriptures, can easily win debates against the religious of the day, but instead of continuing the debates, He withdraws. John records a similar action of Jesus in John 6:14-15. As Jesus withdraws, it’s like He is silently saying, “If they want their bad theology, they can have it. I’m not going to oppose them.” He had already proven them unscriptural in public twice. If people still wanted to follow these false teachers, Jesus wouldn’t force them to stop. Jesus withdraws allowing people to follow Him and hear Him teach the truth in another location.
#2- As people follow Him, He heals them. Matthew has already pointed out that as Jesus heals, it proves that He is the suffering Servant of Isaiah 53, see Matthew 8:16-17 and this post here. As Jesus withdraws, crowds follow Him and He serves them by taking upon Himself the weight of their sicknesses. When Jesus healed the man with the withered hand, see this post here, it was in front of the religious authorities. However, Jesus also healed when public leaders were not around. He was not healing to put on a show; He was healing because He is by very nature a Servant, doing the Servant work for others that they couldn’t do for themselves.
#3- Jesus orders them not to make Him known. Jesus did not try to increase His reputation in any way. Throughout His ministry Jesus always diminished His reputation, see Matthew 8:4, 9:30, 16:20. It’s like He was saying, “Don’t make Me known. I didn’t come to be famous. I came to serve.” As He is healing them and doing powerful miracles that no one else can do, He is downplaying Himself. It’s not that He is covering up what He does, He is reducing Himself. “That they should not make HIM known.” All of His ministry, healing, miracles, they were not to gain Him any bit of reputation, but to serve people and identify Him as the Servant that God had chosen. In short, Jesus didn’t come to get famous, but to be a Servant, see Matthew 20:28.
After recording the reaction of Jesus to the Pharisees, Matthew points out the passage in Isaiah 42:1-4 as being fulfilled in Jesus Christ. It is Matthew alone who brings this passage to the forefront out of all the New Testament writers. This also is the longest passage from the Old Testament that Matthew quotes, and I believe it is the longest Old Testament passage quoted in the entire New Testament. I count 76 words and 10 lines of poetry, even though the original passage has 12, but 2 of them are skipped over in Matthew’s gospel.
This should be a lesson to us as to exactly how Fulfilled Prophecy works. The prophecy was given hundreds of years before by Isaiah. Then along comes Jesus Christ and behaves in a gentle way emulating the characteristics of the Servant. The prophecy is noted by Matthew as fulfilled, however, it is not a one-time event. All throughout the entire life of Jesus Christ, He withdrew, did not assert His authority, behaved Himself in a meek and mild way, and tried to keep peace with all men, even those with whom He disagreed. The ramifications of the prophecy continue for around 2000 years as Gentiles continue to put their trust in this Servant that chose to humble Himself. (Forgive the huge run-on sentence, but) Because this is the longest passage from the OT quoted in the NT, and because this prophecy is located at the center of Christ’s earthly ministry and the center of Matthew’s gospel, and because this passage characterizes Christ’s earthly ministry as a whole, it behooves us to go back and study this prophecy in its original context.
The Chosen Beloved Servant of Isaiah 42
There are three passages in Isaiah which prophesy of the Servant. They are roughly Isaiah 42, 49, and 53, although start and stop designations are not quite that simple. Isaiah 53 easily begins at least in 52:13, Isaiah 42 has some backdrop at the end of chapter 41, and an end point for Isaiah 49 is difficult to determine since many people want to include 50:4-6 as applying to the Servant, myself included. As I work through Isaiah 42, I will reference verses in the other passages since they are speaking of the same Servant. All three passages show the LORD speaking to this person that He calls “My Servant”. All three passages present the Servant as someone Whose chief characteristic is serving in humility. All three passages show His ministry extending not just to Israel, but to many nations, see Isaiah 42:6, 49:6, 52:15.
Isaiah 42 is the first of these passages so the other two are built upon the foundation found there. Before we read Isaiah 42, the very end of chapter 41 determines the context. God has issued a challenge to those that trust in idols to show the things that are coming, to predict the future, so that it may be known if they are true gods or not, see Isaiah 41:23. As the LORD examines them all, He finds that there was no man among them that could act as a counselor, verse 28. His conclusion is that they are all worthless leading people to confusion, verse 29. After looking for some counselor among these false gods, we read in Isaiah 42:1, “Behold My Servant!” This is in contrast to the worthless idols. It’s as if God is saying, “Forget these idols and those who trust in them. Instead, look at My Servant because He is the One who will be the Counselor!” Here is the passage from Isaiah quoting through verse 7.
1 Behold my servant, whom I uphold,
my chosen, in whom my soul delights;
I have put my Spirit upon him;
he will bring forth justice to the nations.
2 He will not cry aloud or lift up his voice,
or make it heard in the street;
3 a bruised reed he will not break,
and a faintly burning wick he will not quench;
he will faithfully bring forth justice.
4 He will not grow faint or be discouraged
till he has established justice in the earth;
and the coastlands wait for his law.
5 Thus says God, the LORD,
who created the heavens and stretched them out,
who spread out the earth and what comes from it,
who gives breath to the people on it and spirit to those who walk in it:
6 “I am the LORD; I have called you in righteousness;
I will take you by the hand and keep you;
I will give you as a covenant for the people,
a light for the nations,
7 to open the eyes that are blind,
to bring out the prisoners from the dungeon,
from the prison those who sit in darkness.
So here is a clear picture of God’s Servant. He is upheld by God, chosen by God, loved by God, and God has put His Spirit upon His Servant. The chief characteristic is that of a servant. He will not start trouble. He will not get into arguments. He will not start riots. After all, a good servant doesn’t do any of those things. A good servant faithfully serves without causing problems. He is so gentle that He would not break off a bruised reed or put out a smoking candle. The imagery is that of a tender plant that most would consider as good as dead if it were bruised. Or perhaps the reed has been dried and is a fragile staff that has been slightly cracked and would be considered of no practical use at all. In either of these situations, the Servant would not do so much as break that reed since it may still have a chance at being useful for something. The other example is that of a candle that has burned so low that it is giving no light, but simply smoldering. Most would just snuff that candle out since it looks like it will just go out anyway. After all, what good is a smoking candle stinking up the house that gives no light? The Servant is so gentle and caring that He will not put that candle out entirely since there is still hope that it will burst into flame.
This is exactly what Matthew saw in Jesus Christ as He withdrew from the Pharisees. He did not start an argument with them. Even though He could have gone back and proved His point, He withdrew without condemning them. He still held out hope that the bruised reed could be healed, or perhaps the candle of their faith may burst into flame. He humbly served humanity by healing them without expecting anything in return. All the while, Jesus is instructing them not to make Him known. This meek and mild Servant is the One in Whom the Gentiles would learn to trust.
The salvation of the Gentiles is at the forefront of this prophecy. In verse 1, He will bring forth justice to the nations, which is a reference to Gentile nations. This idea of justice denotes an ongoing righteous judgment system of which He is in charge. In verse 4, the coastlands wait for His law. The term coastlands refers to far away places, meaning Gentile places. Isaiah 49:1 is insightful showing the parallel between the term coastlands and nations/peoples from far away. These Gentiles wait for His law, and that word means to wait for, to hope for, or to expect. The Gentiles will be in hopeful expectation of this Servant’s laws. This prophecy shows that there will be a relationship of trust between Gentiles and this humble Servant. It may be noteworthy that the final line of verse 4 follows the Septuagint. Isaiah 42:4 of that line reads, “And the coastlands wait for his law.” The Septuagint (which is a Greek translation of the Hebrew scriptures) reads, “and in his name shall the Gentiles trust.” The ESV renders Matthew’s gospel as, “And in his name the Gentiles will hope.” It seems that the Septuagint translation shows the underlying meaning of Gentiles trusting in the Servant Messiah as their Savior, so this is why Matthew follows the Septuagint in this instance.
It can be easily proven that Isaiah’s Servant is the Davidic Messiah. In Isaiah 11, which is unquestionably about the Davidic Messiah, the root of Jesse would have the Spirit of the LORD, Isaiah 11:1-2, would strike the earth with the rod of His mouth, slay the wicked, Isaiah 11:4, and the Gentiles would inquire of Him, Isaiah 11:10. The Servant of Isaiah 42, 49, 53 also has the Spirit of God upon Him as well as having a relationship of trust with the Gentiles, see also Romans 15:12. The similarities are too great to overlook. We must study these Servant passages as if this is the very Messiah come to rule and reign over all the earth, not just the nation of Israel. Isaiah 49:6 explains that it was too small a thing for the LORD to raise up, re-gather, and restore the nation of Israel. His plan included being a light for all nations that salvation may reach to the ends of the earth. The aspect of this passage in Isaiah 42 that seems to be unique is that here the Gentiles are portrayed as wanting this Servant to rule over them. They trust Him. They want to hear what His laws are so they can obey. The full version of 42:4 shows that the Servant will persist in meekness and mildness until these Gentiles know that they can fully trust Him.
There is also a bit of a play on words in the Hebrew with the use of the word “bruise”. The word translated as bruise in reference to the reed is the same word translated “discouraged”. So the idea of the phrasing is such that the Servant won’t break off a bruised reed, and He Himself will not faint or be bruised until He establishes justice in the earth and the Gentiles are waiting and hoping for His law. The gentle Servant may seem weak to others, but this fragile reed will not be broken off. Somehow, someway, the Servant will prevail in what seems to be weakness into a position of victory. Through Servant-hood, He achieves the victory without being bruised Himself. (Note that the word for bruised in Isaiah 53:5 is a completely different Hebrew word.)
Later in 42:10, it is commanded that a new song be sung unto the end of the earth. The eschatological significance of Psalm 96 should be considered here. In Psalm 96, the new song is sung by the believing remnant among the Gentile nations in anticipation of the Messiah Who is coming to reign. Here in Isaiah 42:10 the new song is being sung just in advance of the LORD going forth like a mighty man of war to lay waste mountains, Isaiah 42:13-15. The gentle Servant will also come as a man of war.
The phrase “the end of the earth” (like coastlands), is a euphemism for Gentiles. In the context of a Jewish prophet like Isaiah, it meant somewhere far away, which would have to be where foreigners live. A great example of this is Psalm 67. In Psalm 67:2, the prayer is for God’s way to be known among all nations, meaning Israel and all Gentile nations. “Let all the peoples (plural) praise you!”, Psalm 67:3. “Guide the nations (plural) upon earth,” Psalm 67:4. Then in Psalm 67:7, “Let all the ends of the earth fear Him!” Psalm 65 also contains this phrase. The context starts out in Zion (Jerusalem), Psalm 65:1. But God is the salvation and hope of “all the ends of the earth”, Psalm 65:5. “Those that dwell at the ends of the earth are in awe of your signs,” Psalm 65:8. Back in Isaiah 42:10, we see the meaning of this verse to be “Sing to the LORD a new song among the Gentile nations,” which parallels Psalm 96:1, 3, 10.
Since Isaiah 49 should be built upon the foundation of Isaiah 42, we can easily see that this Servant, in humility, will be salvation to the Gentiles. Isaiah 49:6 states, “I will make You (the Servant) as a light for the nations, that my salvation may reach to the end of the earth,” or essentially to the Gentiles, see also Acts 13:47. Then He is named as “the Servant of rulers.” How odd. The One who will rule over the Gentiles will be the Servant of these Gentile rulers. Because of His humility, these kings shall see and arise and then prostrate themselves before Him, see Isaiah 49:7. He humbles Himself before them, and then they follow His example. This is the exact opposite of how the world thinks. In Isaiah 49:8, just as in Isaiah 42:6, the Servant is given as a covenant to the people. The covenant is the Servant Messiah. Isaiah 53 will explain just how the Servant is given as a covenant to the people, the people who have all gone astray. Matthew has already quoted Isaiah 53:4 in Matthew 8:17, which shows Matthew also believed that the Servant of Isaiah 53 is Jesus Christ. There should be nothing preventing us from studying the three Servant passages together to gain a composite picture of the Servant Messiah.
There is much more in these passages concerning the salvation of the Gentiles. I’m going to cut my thoughts short because it involves some speculation. One thing is certain though, the death of the Servant Messiah in Isaiah 53 must be built upon the foundation of Isaiah 42, which is the centerpiece of Matthew’s gospel. The Gentiles will trust in this Servant Messiah chiefly because of His humility. It must be remembered that Matthew wrote His gospel after the formation of the church and the inclusion of Gentiles within the church. He is relaying the humility of Christ in withdrawing and showing that it was foretold that Gentiles would trust in Him, and He is relaying this to the Gentiles within the church. Matthew’s gospel is distinctly for Gentiles in this respect. Those who say that Matthew’s gospel is strictly Jewish simply do not understand how this outcast of a Tax Collector was showing the blindness of His own nation and how Gentiles were entering the kingdom of God ahead of His fellow countrymen.
It is generally agreed that there are two main passages of scripture that foretold of the death of Christ more vividly and descriptively than any others, those two being Isaiah 53 and Psalm 22. It is worth noting for this study that there is a reference to Gentiles turning to the LORD after the description of the rejection and death of the Messiah in Psalm 22. It contains the phrase “all the ends of the earth.” Just read Psalm 22:27-28.
All the ends of the earth shall remember
and turn to the LORD,
And all the families of the nations
Shall worship before you.
For kingship belongs to the LORD,
And he rules over the nations.
The Kingdom of God has come upon you
Before closing this post, I want to look at Matthew 12:22-32 because there is so much there of prophetic significance. Jesus heals a man with multiple issues which prompts the crowds to proclaim that perhaps Jesus is the Davidic Messiah. “Can this be the Son of David?” Of course the Pharisees hear of this and must have an explanation as to why Jesus canNOT be the Davidic Messiah. Their counterargument is that Jesus is performing His miracles by the power of the prince of demons, or Satan, if you will. They still have not repented of their view that Jesus is a Sabbath breaker and a sinner, see John 9:16, 24. They can’t deny He has power, so they concede He has power, but it’s demonic power.
These accusations are public so Jesus responds publicly. Jesus shows that Satan’s kingdom cannot be turned against itself. Further, Jesus shows that other people cast out demons and if it’s true for Him, then it must be true for these others. On multiple fronts, the claim of the Pharisees simply does not hold up.
Then Jesus delves into the theology of the Kingdom of God by making an if-then statement. “If” Jesus casts out demons by the power of the Spirit of God, “then” the Kingdom of God has come upon you. We know, because we believe and trust that Jesus is the Servant of Isaiah 42:1, that He cast out demons by the Spirit of God, therefore we must also know that the Kingdom of God had come upon them as Jesus stood in their midst. There must have been a present aspect of the Kingdom of God as Jesus came even in His humility. To deny this is to deny Matthew 12:28. Matthew also keenly includes the parable of the two sons that I can’t seem to find in the other gospels, see Matthew 21:28-32. His point at the end makes a similar statement concerning the Kingdom of God. Tax collectors and prostitutes were entering the Kingdom of God because they repented and believed while Pharisees remained in unbelief. Both of these passages show the present working of the Kingdom of God in the ministry of both John the Baptist and Jesus, see Matthew 11:12-13, with Luke 16:16.
When John and later Jesus came preaching, “The Kingdom of God is at hand. Repent and believe the gospel.”; there should be no long complicated explanations as to how the Kingdom of God really wasn’t there. The Kingdom of God was at hand, near enough to be grasped through repentance and belief. The Servant Messiah was in their midst proving that the Kingdom of God had come upon them. The common people could see that this was the Davidic Messiah, but the blindness of the religious authorities kept them from seeing the truth and from entering the Kingdom of God. Sinful outcasts like prostitutes and tax collectors could enter because they could admit their sinfulness. Religious people could not stoop that low. They shut the Kingdom of God in the faces of others, see Matthew 23:13, Luke 11:52, then took away the key so they could not enter. Jesus had come and bound the strong man, Satan, and was able to completely plunder anything that formerly belonged to him, see Matthew 12:29. The power of the Kingdom of God left Satan powerless in the presence of the King. Unclean spirits had to flee since they were powerless being part of Satan’s kingdom.
Because the Servant Messiah has come and fulfilled the prophecies so literally, we should expect that the remainder of the prophecies will be fulfilled just as literally. The Gentile nations will eventually trust in the Servant Messiah when He comes again. The down payment of Gentile salvation is present in the church today. When the Servant Messiah comes to rule and reign over the earth, this is not to simply be the Savior of the nation of Israel. The ends of the earth will trust in this Servant. They will eagerly wait for His law. In Pre-Millennial theology, we can fully expect that the Messiah will come again to rule and reign during a period of time whereby nations will turn to the LORD voluntarily. Because He humbled Himself and gave His life for the world, Gentiles humble themselves in return. They will realize that it is only through the Servant Messiah that anyone will receive true justice.
I encourage you to go back and read Isaiah 42 again. Matthew felt it was of significant importance. It is the foundation for Isaiah 53 which seems to be one of the most popular passages in Isaiah. It is also a key passage for the doctrine of the salvation of the Gentiles. After reading it, go back to Matthew and try to comprehend the significance of how it relates to the life of Jesus Christ, otherwise known as The Chosen Beloved Servant Who Withdrew Himself. Do you want to be like Jesus? Follow His example as a Servant.
Have fun and stay busy – Luke 19:13
-The Orange Mailman
P.S. Some of my thoughts on the salvation of the Gentiles can be found at this post here. Beyond that, I believe that the Gentiles of this present time who trust in Christ will be the future witnesses of Isaiah 43:9-10. They are brought forth to show that God is gracious even to Gentiles in the future day when He comes in power and glory. In the future arrangement, Gentiles revere the nation of Israel as pictured in Isaiah 49:22-23. Jesus terms this time the regeneration in Matthew 19:28.
P.P.S How can people be afraid of a Baby in a manger?
How can people be a afraid of a Man who withdrew and wouldn’t argue?
How can people be afraid a Man dying on a cross for their sins?