Jesus—His Life and Message: Isaiah’s Prophecy

January 29, 2019

by Peter Amsterdam

In Conflict with the Pharisees parts 1–4, we saw how some of the religious leaders of Jesus’ day, known as the Pharisees, were vehemently opposed to Jesus and His message. In Matthew chapter 12, we read of the reaction of some of the Pharisees when they witnessed Jesus heal a man with a withered hand on the Sabbath day.1 Instead of rejoicing that a man had been made whole, we read that the Pharisees went out and conspired against him [Jesus], how to destroy him.2 We’re then told: Jesus, aware of this, withdrew from there. And many followed him, and he healed them all and ordered them not to make him known.3

Throughout the Gospels, we find that Jesus withdrew from situations that would endanger Him until it was time for Him to lay down His life. When He heard that John the Baptist had been arrested, He withdrew into Galilee.4 When John was beheaded, Jesus withdrew from there in a boat to a desolate place by himself.5 After a serious verbal clash with the Pharisees, Jesus went away from there and withdrew to the district of Tyre and Sidon.6 When the time came for the final confrontation that would lead to His crucifixion, He moved forward with His Father’s plan for laying down His life for the sake of others; but until that time, He followed the instruction that He had given to His disciples—that if they met opposition in one place, they should move on to another.7

Back to Matthew 12: Because at this point in His ministry, Jesus was aware that the Pharisees were conspiring against Him, He wisely withdrew, and many followed Him as He did. While He healed their infirmities, He wasn’t seeking publicity and fame, as evidenced by how He ordered people not to make him known.8 He chose to do His work quietly, one on one, or with His disciples away from the crowds. Matthew quotes from the book of Isaiah (Isaiah 42:1–4), to show that Jesus fulfilled the Old Testament prophet Isaiah’s vision of God’s ideal servant. This passage in Matthew is the longest quotation from the Old Testament found in the Gospels. In quoting from the book of Isaiah, Matthew brings out essential truths about the kind of person Jesus is and the way His work is done.9

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.”10

The person God is indicating as the one He has chosen is called a servant. This expresses the concept of humility and lowliness, which continues in this passage. Throughout the Gospel of Matthew, Jesus is referred to as “the Son of David” eight times. This reference points to the royal heritage of the Messiah. However, here Matthew emphasizes Jesus’ role as a servant.

He will not quarrel or cry aloud, nor will anyone hear his voice in the streets.11

Other translations state He will not argue or shout;12 He shall not strive, nor cry;13 and He will not fight or shout or raise his voice in public.14 Jesus’ mission was one of humility. He said of Himself:

Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart.15

Other translations render this as I am meek and lowly in heart,16 or I am gentle and humble in heart.17 While Jesus strongly opposed those who did evil, He never tried to impose His will on those who chose not to believe in or follow Him. The prophecy that He would not quarrel or shout or make loud speeches in main streets saw its fulfillment in Jesus’ approach to sharing His message, which was for the most part gentle as opposed to forceful, harsh, or demanding. Granted, when He later faced His religious opponents in Jerusalem, He was more forceful when exposing their hypocrisy.

“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.”18 

Reeds, which grew plentifully in Israel, were used for a variety of things, including walking sticks, pens for writing, flutes, measuring rods, and for support in thatched roofs. As they were so abundant throughout the land, if one became bent, broken, or damaged and thus was no longer useful, it was simple and inexpensive enough to simply discard it and get another to replace it. A wick, used in an oil lamp, was made from a strip of linen cloth soaked in oil. If it wasn’t burning right, and thus wasn’t giving out good light and was putting off smoke, it would normally be snuffed out and discarded. A bit of wick cost very little, and therefore it was normal to replace wicks often.

In quoting this prophecy from Isaiah, Matthew was likening the bruised reed and the smoking wick to broken people. One author explains:

The imagery thus describes an extraordinary willingness to encourage damaged or vulnerable people, giving them a further opportunity to succeed which a results-oriented society would deny them.19

Another author writes:

It took time and patience and the willingness to take pains to make anything useful out of a bruised reed or a smoking wick. People in general would not take the trouble. In similar fashion, most of us regard the world’s down-and-outs as not worth troubling ourselves over; we do not see how anything can be made of them. But love and care and patience can do wonders, and that is what the prophet is talking about. God’s servant will persevere to the end. He will persist until he brings out justice into victory.20

Matthew quoted these verses to show that Jesus, as the servant of Isaiah’s prophecy (Isaiah 42), would not be quick to discard or condemn those who are damaged or downtrodden. He also made the point that Jesus wasn’t bringing salvation only to the Jews, but to all people, as in his name the Gentiles will hope. Other Bible translations translate this as In his name the nations will put their hope21 or The nations will put their hope in His name.22

In the original context of Isaiah chapter 42, the servant with whom God was pleased referred to the people of Israel. However, later in the chapter, Israel was portrayed as failing in its mission.

Hear, you deaf, and look, you blind, that you may see! Who is blind but my servant, or deaf as my messenger whom I send? Who is blind as my dedicated one, or blind as the servant of the LORD?23

Because of Israel’s failure to stay loyal to God, He chose one person within Israel (Jesus) to restore the rest of His people.

Now the LORD says—he who formed me in the womb to be his servant to bring Jacob back to him and gather Israel to himself, for I am honored in the eyes of the LORD and my God has been my strength—he says: “It is too small a thing for you to be my servant to restore the tribes of Jacob and bring back those of Israel I have kept. I will also make you a light for the Gentiles, that you may bring my salvation to the ends of the earth.” This is what the LORD says—the Redeemer and Holy One of Israel—to him who was despised and abhorred by the nation, to the servant of rulers: “Kings will see you and rise up, princes will see and bow down, because of the LORD, who is faithful, the Holy One of Israel, who has chosen you.”24

By quoting from Isaiah 42, Matthew made the point that people would come to know that the one they could put their hope and trust in is the one on whom God put His Spirit—His Son Jesus, who left the halls of heaven to come into the world of humanity, who was born to common parents and lived a simple first-century Jewish life. Jesus, the humble one, who did not quarrel or cry aloud, who was kind and gentle, who sacrificially gave His life for the sins of humanity, and in doing so, opened the door of heaven to all who believe in Him and receive Him.


Unless otherwise indicated, all scriptures are from the Holy Bible, English Standard Version, copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a division of Good News Publishers. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

General Bibliography

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1 Matthew 12:10–14.

2 Matthew 12:14.

3 Matthew 12:15–16.

4 Matthew 4:12.

5 Matthew 14:13.

6 Matthew 15:21.

7 Matthew 10:23.

8 Matthew 12:16.

9 Morris, The Gospel According to Matthew, 308.

10 Matthew 12:17–18.

11 Matthew 12:19.

12 Matthew 12:19 CSB.

13 Matthew 12:19 KJV.

14 Matthew 12:19 NLT.

15 Matthew 11:29.

16 Matthew 11:29 KJV.

17 Matthew 11:29 NAS.

18 Matthew 12:20–21.

19 France, The Gospel of Matthew, 473.

20 Morris, The Gospel According to Matthew, 308.

21 Matthew 12:20–21 NIV.

22 Matthew 12:20–21 CSB.

23 Isaiah 42:18–19.

24 Isaiah 49:5–7 NIV.