Isaiah 53: Matthew’s Kingdom Arrival
The pyro-technics went off, the smoke clouds filled the air, and the kerosene fire illuminated just enough of the dirt so as to be able to make my way to the center of the arena. I sauntered in. My face paint glowed under spotlight and my freshly pressed western shirt cast shadows from the sharp creases. Maybe it was the starch from the shirt, but my biceps and pecs felt much firmer and my posture improved under the spotlight. Then they called the wrong name! Turns out the introduction wasn’t for me, but for someone else…dang. Lesson learned. Arrivals can be tricky can’t they? This was not the case for Matthew.
Matthew’s quotation of Isaiah 53 signals his understanding of the arrival of the Messiah and the Inauguration of a new Kingdom.
There are a few oddities with Matthew’s use of Isaiah 53. First off, he uses it outside of its usual time frame and context. Matthew and John are the only two to use it outside of the context of the cross. Every other author (save John) will use Isaiah 53 as a descriptor of what happened in the last 24 hours of Jesus life, and John within the last week; but Matthew quotes Isaiah 53, years before the cross would ever happen.
Secondly, Matthew doesn’t quote the Septuagint (LXX). In fact, the greek words in Matthew 8.17 and the LXX of Isaiah 53.4, outside of the words translated “and”, “us”, “he”, and “the”, are completely different. Matthew has astheneias, usually translated “weakness” or “sickness”, where as Isaiah uses the greek word amartias meaning “sins”. In Matthew, Jesus elaben, he “took up” our weaknesses, but in the LXX “he bore”, pherei our sins. The same can be said of the rest of the quotation. The quotation of Isaiah 53.4 in Matthew 8.17 seems to be more of a translation of the Hebrew scripture itself, than of the LXX. Which makes Matthew the only one quoting Isaiah 53 from the original Hebrew.
These reasons underscore how special and how unique Matthew’s treatment of Isaiah 53 is.
At first glance, it seems that the importance of the placement of the quote isn’t as important or significant as that of Paul and John. But something is happening in the 8th chapter of Matthew that we must understand before we can understand the quote. Let’s start at the beginning of Jesus Ministry in chapter 4.
- Jesus beings to preach: “Repent for the Kingdom of Heaven is near!” (Matthew 4.17)
- Jesus teaches in the Synagogues in Galilee, preaching the good news of the kingdom, and healing every disease and sickness (Matthew 4.23-25)
- Jesus preaches the Sermon on the Mount. His opening: “Blessed are the poor in spirit for theirs is the kingdom of heaven…”(5.3) and he goes on for 3 chapters about what the kingdom is and how those in it live (Matthew 5-7)
- Heals a man with Leprosy (Matthew 8.1-4)
- Heals the Centurion’s servant (Matthew 8.5-13)
- Heals Peter’s mother-in-law (Matthew 8.14-15)
- Healed all the sick (Matthew 8.16)
- “This was to fulfill what was spoken through Isaiah the prophet: ‘He took up our infirmities and carried our diseases.’”
Two things dominated Jesus’ early ministry: Kingdom talk and healing. His focus would shift to authority and power after this quotation, but the foundation had been set and for Matthew, the connection between healing and the Kingdom could not be separated. We need no further proof than from Matthew 11 and 12.
John the Baptist is in prison. He is wondering what it is all about. (Matthew 11.2) Did he waste his time? Was he, God forbid, wrong about the identity of the one he announced? So he sends his disciples to ask Jesus a question. “Are you the one who was to come, or should we expect someone else?” (11.3) Jesus has the perfect response to this: “Go back and report to John what you hear and see. The blind receive sight, the lame walk, those who have leprosy are cured, the deaf hear, the dead are raised, and the good news is preached to the poor…” (Matthew 11.4-5)
Quickly, compare that list with Isaiah 35. Isaiah is talking about the redeemed people who have seen God’s glory when he writes: “Strengthen the feeble hands, steady the knees that give way…The eyes of the blind be opened and the ears of the deaf unstopped. Then will the lame leap like a deer, and the mute tongue shout for joy.” (Isaiah 35.3,6) Sound familiar. When John wanted to know if Messiah had arrived, Jesus didn’t just say “Yes”, he said: “look at the results.” Jesus said, “Isaiah’s prophecy is taking place before your very eyes!”
The second thought comes from Matthew 12 where Jesus has just healed on the Sabbath and then had to retreat. Many followed him and he healed all their sick (Matthew 12.15), What is most interesting is Matthew’s take on this.
“This was to fulfill what was spoken through the prophet Isaiah: ‘Here is my servant whom I have chosen, the one I love, in whom I delight; I will put my Spirit on him, and he will proclaim justice to the nations. He will not quarrel or cry out; no one will hear his voice in the streets. A bruised reed he will not break, and a smoldering wick he will not snuff out, till he leads justice to victory. In his name the nations will put their hope.” (Isaiah 42.1-4)
It is without a doubt that Matthew equates healing with the arrival of the Servant of God and the arrival of his Kingdom. In fact, every instance of Matthew’s use of Isaiah (save for perhaps Matt. 15) is in direct context of healing or kingdom messages.
Isaiah 53.4 says: “Surely he took up our infirmities and carried our sorrows.”
It is such a simple statement about the work and ministry of the Lord’s Servant. Isaiah is, after all, called the “Messianic Prophet”. Matthew, however, took it even further. It was the arrival of the Lord’s chosen Messiah, who would bring back his people from exile, be it physical or Spiritual, and give them a new way of living. In reading Matthew 8 and Matthew’s quotation of Isaiah, the reader is given the privilege of seeing Matthew’s eye’s opened to the reality that Jesus Christ is the chosen One of God to do his work and to bring his kingdom to this earth. It is a kingdom that can transform our lives and transform our soul. This kingdom only comes through the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ, the Messiah. The one who was sent by God to bring us back. Matthew understood that and chose Isaiah 53, to prove his point: The Kingdom has arrived…and it wan’t by accident!