THE WORK OF THE MESSIAH
by Bob Wheeler
So far we have seen that the Messiah will establish peace and justice on the earth, and that was certainly good news for ancient Israel. But how will that come about? And what does it mean for us individually?
The questions are addressed in the later prophecies found in chapters 40-66 of Isaiah. [Most modern critics argue that this section of the book was not written by the Isaiah who lived in the 8th Century B.C. but by a “Second” and “Third Isaiah” who lived much later. But this is based on the assumption that the 8th Century Isaiah could not have accurately predicted events that happened long after he had died. But that assumption runs counter to everything that the Bible says about itself as being the inspired Word of God. And conservative scholars point to the striking literary unity of the book and the fact that several New Testament authors quote passages from the second half of the book and attribute them to the 8th Century prophet. We take it then that these were prophecies that came from the pen of Isaiah himself.]
In Isaiah 39:5-7 Isaiah had warned King Hezekiah of the coming Babylonian captivity of Israel. This would have been disturbing news indeed. But Chapter 40 begins by predicting a brighter future, and goes on to reassure Israel that God is sovereign (40:12-31) and faithful (41:8-20), and promises a future restoration. But what will this restoration look like? And how will it take place?
In Chapter 42 we are introduced to a figure who is described as the “Servant” of the Lord, and this Servant is clearly the Messiah himself. God, speaking through the inspired prophet, says, “Behold! My Servant whom I uphold, / My elect One in Whom My Soul delights!” (Isa. 42:1; NKJV). On the one hand He is described as God’s “Servant” – Christ the Son of God plays a subordinate role to God the Father – and yet He is “Me Elect One in Whom My Soul delights.” He enjoys a special relationship with God the Father.
The Servant, then, will “bring forth justice to the Gentiles” (v. 1). What is surprising about this is that one would ordinarily think that the Messiah’s reign would primarily benefit the Jews – that they would be restored in the land and that the Messiah would reign over them. But God has a broader purpose in mind, one that involves all mankind.
But how will He accomplish this? The text goes on to say that “the coastlands shall wait for His law” (v. 4). The “coastlands” were different countries scattered around the Mediterranean Sea and the Indian Ocean. The law (Heb. “torah”) would be the instruction and directions given by the Servant himself. For these the coastlands “wait” in patient expectation. In other words, justice will prevail when human beings are subject to the will of God.
But the text goes on to say that God will give the Servant “as a covenant to the people” (v. 6). This would point to the New Covenant that God will write on the hearts of believers and under which God will forgive their sins (Jer. 31:31-34; cf. Ezek. 36;24-27; 37:21-28).
But what kind of effect will this have on us as individuals? The text describes it this way: The Servant will be
“As a light to the Gentiles,
To open blind eyes,
To bring out prisoners from the prisons,
Those who sit in darkness from the prison house.”
At first this might seem like a reference to the Jewish captivity in Babylon. But the text specifically refers to the role of the Servant, and says that He will be a light to the Gentiles. Obviously something larger is in view here. The blindness is a spiritual blindness, the inability to see spiritual reality. The apostle Paul could describe the Gentiles as walking “in the futility of their mind, having their understanding darkened, being alienated form the life of God, because of the ignorance that is in them, because of the blindness of their heart; who, being past feeling, have given themselves over to lewdness, to work all uncleanness with greediness” (Eph.4:17-19). But when we come to Christ we have “learned Christ” and “have been taught by Him, as the truth is in Jesus” and are “renewed in the spirit of your mind” (Eph. 4:20-23). We have become spiritually enlightened, and can now see and understand spiritual reality.
But the text also says that the Servant will “bring out prisoners from the prisons.” Sin is a form of bondage. Again the apostle Paul could say, “For we know that the law is spiritual, but I am carnal, sold under sin” (Rom. 7:14), and “I see another law in my members, warring against the law of my mind, and bringing me into captivity to the law of sin which is in my members” (7:23). But when we become Christians, “our old man was crucified with Him, that the body of sin might be done away with, that we should no longer be slaves to sin. For he who has died has been freed from sin” (Rom. 6:6,7). Sin is a form of slavery, and salvation frees us from that slavery.
But His manner of doing this is striking.
“He will not cry out, nor raise His voice,
Nor cause His voice to be heard in the street.”
When here on earth His manner was calm and gentle. He did not scream nor shout, but He spoke as One who had authority (Matt. 7:28,29).
And then it says,
“A bruised reed He will not break,
And a smoking flax He will not quench . . .”
The “bruised reed” and “smoking flax” point to people who have been hurt or wounded by what has happened to them. They have been chastised by God and feel the pain. But the Servant is gentle with them. He does not break them or quench them. They will live and see another day.
But to accomplish all this will be a terrible ordeal for the Servant himself. He will eventually have to endure the cross. But the text says that “He will not fail nor be discouraged, / Till He has established justice in the earth . . .” (v. 4).
God’s method, then, is this: He will bring justice to the earth. He will punish sin. But He will also provide salvation, and that involves freeing individual human beings from their sin. And so He comes to us, gently, shows us our sin, and offers us forgiveness through faith in Christ, the One who died for our sins. And all of this was predicted seven centuries before Christ actually appeared on earth! May we each find peace and joy in Him!