ISAIAH'S PROPHECY OF REDEMPTION
(Isaiah 53:4 ;Matthew 8:17)
was fulfilled in Jesus' earth ministry and cannot be claimed as a promise by Christians today
I respect this objection even though it isn't true. Unlike many of the silly objections put forth today, this one at least shows some diligence to study the Word.
There are two obvious problems with saying that this verse was fulfilled: (1) If it was fulfilled, doesn't it mean that it was fulfilled here and not during Christ's atonement on the cross? (2) If Christ's atonement involved suffering for us, how could this have been accomplished in his ministry before that happened? These are perfectly legitimate issues, and the answers may not be immediately obvious. However, once you see the answers, you'll wonder how you missed them. Some people who say they know Greek claim that the verb tense in Matthew 8:17 proves that the fulfillment was completed at that moment. That is also disproved below.
Christ took away sicknesses on the basis of his future atonement
If we object to Christ's healing of the sick based on his future atonement, we should also object to his forgiving of sins, which was also based on the same future atonement. He stated that he had authority on earth to forgive sins. (See Luke 5:17-26 and its accompanying notes.) In fact, in this passage, he proved his authority to forgive sins by removing one of the curses for sins -- physical sickness! Jesus himself cited the healing as proof of his authority to forgive.
No one can dispute that Jesus forgave sins during his earthly ministry. Given that he could (based on his future atonement), he had an equal right to remove part of the punishment for sin (sickness) along with the sin. Since sickness is one of the punishments for sin, when sin is forgiven, sickness should be healed.
Anyone who would argue that God's chronology was mixed up will have to take this matter up with God himself, in whose eyes Jesus was "the lamb slain from the foundation of the world" (Revelation 13:8). That Jesus would succeed in his mission and fulfill his role as our sacrifice was already known to God from the beginning. Because of this, mere symbols of Christ produced physical healings in the Old Testament -- even though he had not yet atoned for sins at Calvary by our time line! In effect, the people who were healed in the Old Testament by symbols of Christ were healed on credit. Since God already foreknew that Christ would die for all and bear mankind's diseases, Christ's credit was good!
The bronze serpent and the Passover were symbols of Christ before Christ's Atonement, and they brought physical healing to the people, so much that when they came out of Egypt there was not a single feeble person among all the tribes of Israel. This is probably the most notable mass healing in the history of mankind. Where since then has God simultaneously taken away all feebleness from 2 million people? When Hezekiah honored the Passover, God healed the people. When anyone looked intently at the bronze serpent that was lifted up on a pole (symbolizing Christ), he was both forgiven and healed. Yet this was based on a symbol of Christ's future atonement. So yes, it was possible to receive healing based on a future Atonement! If mere symbols of Christ could bring physical healing, how much more Christ himself in person -- unless you want to suggest that the symbols of Christ were more powerful than the Christ that they symbolized! If you could get healed by the symbols of Christ and not by Christ himself, God is guilty of false advertising. He presented healing in the "promos" but then gave you only spiritual salvation without physical healing in the real product. God would not do such a thing.
As proved in the discussion Healing and atonement, when atonement was made for the people in the Old Testament, healing was then available to all who were atoned for. Plagues were stopped in their entirety -- everyone was healed. Why should the final atonement to end all atonements result in the healing of some and not all? If all could be healed during atonements in the Old Testament, surely Christ's atonement has made healing available to all in our day.
But how could he "bear" the diseases of the multitude?
Now we have the issue of how Jesus could have borne sickness as a substitute early in his ministry. Actually, he didn't. This happened only on the cross. Jesus was never sick until he was laden with the sin of the world. It is impossible to say that Jesus bore anyone's sickness while he was in Capernaum healing the multitudes. He was not sick himself at the time, yet he would have had to be sick himself if the prophecy were fulfilled in its entirety that night, because that is the clear context of Isaiah's statements. Isaiah said that he would surely bear our sickness and carry our pains, but we would consider him smitten of God and afflicted. This is all stated in one sentence. No one considered Jesus to be smitten of God and afflicted that night in Capernaum. Therefore, the prophecy was not fulfilled in any final sense that night. The healings confirmed that he would bear our sicknesses when he was smitten of God and afflicted.
A little study into the Hebrew word used for borne in Isaiah 53:4 shows that the word can be used in the sense of taking something away, not just enduring it.
In other words, Jesus did not simply bear our sickness himself. He bore it, and
by so doing, took it away from us.
Some objectors say that the fulfillment in the original text points to a one-time fulfillment. I agree completely; but the one time was Calvary, not Capernaum.
So how could his healing of all that were sick in Matthew 8 "fulfill" the prophecy that he would personally bear sicknesses for us as our substitute? Isaiah's prophecy was fulfilled in Matthew 8 because Christ healed all the people on the basis of the Atonement Isaiah prophesied about. The people were healed because of what Christ would do on the cross. The fact that the people could all be healed was confirmation that Christ's coming atonement would cover everyone. We're not talking about going through time warps to make this happen. You can get a better understanding of what Matthew meant when you study his use of the phrase "that it might be fulfilled." You will find that it does not mean "this is over and done with, fulfilled in its entirety on the spot." I will now prove this to you by citing every case where Matthew used the phrase. Then I will make the point from a Greek perspective.
Matthew's use of the phrase that it might be fulfilled
Let's look at some of the places where Matthew uses the word fulfilled and notice how he uses it.
Matthew's use of the phrase "that it might be fulfilled" speaks of actions that will set up a future fulfillment, or ongoing fulfillment of a prophecy, with only one exception. This phrase does not necessarily mean that a prophecy was at that moment fulfilled once and for all. Matthew's use of "that it might be fulfilled" applies to cases where a prophecy now must surely be fulfilled in the future, even though it has not technically happened yet. If the prophecy was actually completed, Matthew used the phrase "was fulfilled" instead.
But while he thought on these things, behold, the angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream, saying, Joseph, thou son of David, fear not to take unto thee Mary thy wife: for that which is conceived in her is of the Holy Ghost.
And she shall bring forth a son, and thou shalt call his name JESUS: for he shall save his people from their sins.
Now all this was done, that it might be fulfilled which was spoken of the Lord by the prophet, saying,
Behold, a virgin shall be with child, and shall bring forth a son, and they shall call his name Emmanuel, which being interpreted is, God with us.
At this time, Jesus was not yet born or named, but Matthew uses the phrase that it might be fulfilled because this action set up the future fulfillment of this prophecy. It was not over and done with at the time; it happened in the future.
When he arose, he took the young child and his mother by night, and departed into Egypt.
And was there until the death of Herod: that it might be fulfilled which was spoken of the Lord by the prophet, saying, Out of Egypt have I called my son.
Jesus went into Egypt, not out of it, here. Yet Matthew uses the phrase that it might be fulfilled because it assured the future fulfillment of this prophecy. It was not completed at that point.
Then Herod, when he saw that he was mocked of the wise men, was exceeding wroth, and sent forth, and slew all the children that were in Bethlehem, and in all the coasts thereof, from two years old and under, according to the time which he had diligently enquired of the wise men.
Then was fulfilled that which was spoken by Jeremy the prophet, saying,
In Rama was there a voice heard, lamentation, and weeping, and great mourning, Rachel weeping for her children, and would not be comforted, because they are not.
In this passage, the event fulfilling the prophecy is over. Matthew says "then was fulfilled" instead of "that it might be fulfilled." Matthew was specific enough to distinguish between prophecies that were fulfilled once and for all and those that were not.
And he came and dwelt in a city called Nazareth: that it might be fulfilled which was spoken by the prophets, He shall be called a Nazarene.
At this point, no one was fulfilling the prophecy by calling Jesus a Nazarene. But when Jesus moved to a place that would later result in his being called a Nazarene, Matthew uses the phrase, that it might be fulfilled.
And leaving Nazareth, he came and dwelt in Capernaum, which is upon the sea coast, in the borders of Zabulon and Nephthalim:
That it might be fulfilled which was spoken by Esaias the prophet, saying,
The land of Zabulon, and the land of Nephthalim, by the way of the sea, beyond Jordan, Galilee of the Gentiles;
The people which sat in darkness saw great light; and to them which sat in the region and shadow of death light is sprung up.
From that time, Jesus began to preach, and to say, Repent: for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.
Jesus had not started preaching when he moved to Capernaum, but this is the point where Matthew uses the phrase that it might be fulfilled. It had not happened yet, but Jesus' move to the area set up a certain future fulfillment of the prophecy.
But when Jesus knew it [that the Pharisees were plotting a council against him], he withdrew himself from thence: and great multitudes followed him, and he healed them all;
And charged them that they should not make him known:
That it might be fulfilled which was spoken by Esaias the prophet, saying,
Behold my servant, whom I have chosen; my beloved, in whom my soul is well pleased: I will put my spirit upon him, and he shall shew judgment to the Gentiles.
He shall not strive, nor cry; neither shall any man hear his voice in the streets.
A bruised reed shall he not break, and smoking flax shall he not quench, till he send forth judgment into victory.
And in his name shall the Gentiles trust.
Matthew used the phrase that it might be fulfilled to describe a prophecy that was fulfilled at the time, but which continues to be fulfilled today. (Gentiles are still trusting in his name today.) You could not say that this prophecy was finished by the events that took place.
Therefore I speak to them in parables: because they seeing see not; and hearing they hear not, neither do they understand.
And in them is fulfilled the prophecy of Esaias, which saith, By hearing ye shall hear, and shall not understand; and seeing ye shall see, and shall not perceive:
This does not point to any future event, but describes something that was considered fulfilled then. (As we will see later, this prophecy was also consider fulfilled later in Acts 28.) Matthew used the word fulfilled instead of the phrase that it might be fulfilled.
All these things spake Jesus unto the multitude in parables; and without a parable spake he not unto them: That it might be fulfilled which was spoken by the prophet, saying, I will open my mouth in parables; I will utter things which have been kept secret from the foundation of the world.
Jesus was doing what the prophet said, but continued to do so. It was not over at that point. Matthew used the phrase that it might be fulfilled to describe this situation.
And when they drew nigh unto Jerusalem, and were come to Bethphage, unto the mount of Olives, then sent Jesus two disciples,
Saying unto them, Go into the village over against you, and straightway ye shall find an ass tied, and a colt with her: loose them, and bring them unto me.
And if any man say ought [anything] unto you, ye shall say, The Lord hath need of them; and straightway he will send them.
All this was done, that it might be fulfilled which was spoken by the prophet, saying,
Tell ye the daughter of Sion, Behold, thy King cometh unto thee, meek, and sitting upon an ass, and a colt the foal of an ass.
And the disciples went, and did as Jesus commanded them.
And brought the ass, and the colt, and put on them their clothes, and they set him thereon.
(Since this program file is tightly compressed, I am assuming that this passage will make it past any on-line services' cuss-screening routines.)
Matthew used the phrase that it might be fulfilled again to describe a situation that set up the fulfillment of the prophecy, but did not complete it. Jesus could not sit on the donkey before it was brought to him!
But how then shall the scriptures be fulfilled, that thus it must be?
In that same hour said Jesus to the multitudes, Are ye come out as against a thief with swords and staves for to take me? I sat daily with you teaching in the temple, and ye laid no hold on me.
But all this was done, that the scriptures of the prophets might be fulfilled. Then all the disciples forsook him, and fled.
At this point, there were plenty of scriptures about to be fulfilled, but they were not fulfilled yet. The acts leading up to the crucifixion were done to set up their fulfillment.
And they took counsel, and bought with them the potter's field, to bury strangers in.
Wherefore that field was called, The field of blood, unto this day.
Then was fulfilled that which was spoken by Jeremy the prophet, saying, And they took the thirty pieces of silver, the price of him that was valued, whom they of the children of Israel did value;
And gave them for the potter's field, as the Lord appointed me.
This prophecy referred to an act that was fulfilled in its entirety when it was quoted. Matthew used the word fulfilled instead of the phrase that it might be fulfilled.
And they crucified him, and parted his garments, casting lots: that it might be fulfilled which was spoken by the prophet, They parted my garments among them, and upon my vesture did they cast lots.
This is the one place where the phrase that it might be fulfilled refers to an event that seems to have just been fulfilled, and will not have an ongoing fulfillment.
Now consider again Matthew 8:16-17:
When the even [evening] was come, they brought unto him many that were possessed with devils: and he cast out the spirits with his word, and healed all that were sick:
That it might be fulfilled which was spoken by Esaias the prophet, saying, Himself took our infirmities, and bare our sicknesses.
Isaiah's prophecy stated clearly in its context that Jesus took our infirmities and our sicknesses, not just the ones of the people that evening. The final fulfillment of this took place on the cross, as is clear from its context in Isaiah. Everyone acknowledges that everything else in Isaiah 53 refers to the atonement at Calvary. You cannot justify taking half of one sentence and saying that it refers to one night in Capernaum while the rest of the chapter, and indeed the rest of the same sentence refer to Christ's atonement on the cross!
The fact that Jesus continued to minister healing to multitudes of sick people shows that this prophecy could not have been fulfilled in its final sense on the evening of Matthew 8:16-17. If it were fulfilled in a final sense, Jesus would not have healed any more sick people after this. Therefore, we must reject the argument that this scripture was finally fulfilled on that day and does not apply to the cross. Because the Messiah did take away illnesses, you could think of it as a partial fulfillment of the prophecy, but certainly not a final fulfillment.
In Acts, we see that Jesus continued to remove diseases from people through his Church; his acts in the gospels were only what he "began" to do and teach (Acts 1:1).
Multiple fulfillments of prophecy
Although I would contend that Matthew 8:17 is a confirmation of Calvary, there is another aspect we can consider for those who want to think that Isaiah 53:4 was fulfilled that night in Capernaum. Many Scriptures have a dual fulfillment; they are fulfilled in a partial sense at one time and in a more complete sense later. Even prophecies that are stated to be fulfilled at a certain time can still have application past that point! This is no speculative argument, but one that I will prove from Scripture.
Hosea 11:1 says that God called his son out of Egypt, and in the context, he is obviously talking about Israel. So this was already fulfilled and was history, and not prophecy, except that Matthew 2:14-15 (cited above) says that Jesus' stay in Egypt fulfilled this prophecy. So there was a former and a latter fulfillment of the same prophecy.
Isaiah 6:9-10 says: "And he said, Go, and tell this people, Hear ye indeed, but understand not; and see ye indeed, and perceive not. Make the heart of this people fat, and make their ears heavy, and shut their eyes; lest they see with their eyes, and hear with their ears, and understand with their heart, and convert, and be healed." In Matthew 13:14, Jesus said that in the people's inability to hear and understand was fulfilled the Isaiah's prophecy. (This passage is quoted above.) However John 12:40 also quotes this prophecy as being fulfilled, and it seems obvious that this prophecy had an ongoing fulfillment during Jesus' ministry. Then at almost the very end of the book of Acts, Paul says this (Acts 28:25-27): "Well spake the Holy Ghost by Esiais the prophet unto our fathers, saying, Go unto this people, and say, Hearing ye shall hear, and shall not understand; and seeing ye shall see, and not perceive: For the heart of this people is waxed gross, and their ears are dull of hearing, and their eyes have they closed; lest they should see with their eyes, and hear with their ears, and understand with their heart, and should be converted, and I should heal them." This proves that a prophecy in Isaiah that Matthew said was fulfilled could continue to be fulfilled after that point.
Matthew 13:34-35, quoted above, says Jesus spoke in parables that a prophecy might be fulfilled. Yet he continued to fulfill that prophecy by speaking in parables after that point.
In Zechariah 12:10, God says, "They shall look upon me whom they have pierced." John 19:37, speaking of Jesus' side being pierced, said that it was done to fulfill the scripture, "They shall look on him whom they pierced." Revelation 1:7 then says, "Behold, he cometh with clouds; and every eye shall see him, and they also which pierced him..." So this will be fulfilled in another, more complete, sense in the future when Jews everywhere see Jesus Christ appear in the clouds. Likewise, what was specific to those in Capernaum (healing) later became available universally.
Matthew 12:15-21, also quoted above, indicates that "in his name shall the Gentiles trust" was fulfilled during Jesus' earth ministry, but there is surely a more complete and ongoing fulfillment in this day as millions upon millions of Gentiles put their trust in Jesus Christ. It was not "completed" in Matthew 12!
Joel prophesied that God would pour out his Spirit upon all flesh. Peter said in Acts 2 that the apparent drunkenness and supernatural linguistic ability of the apostles was what was spoken by the prophet Joel. However, there is no question that God continues to pour out his Spirit today, especially since Peter said that this promise was for all believers later in Acts 2. Of course, Jesus continued to baptize with the Holy Spirit throughout Acts, and continues to do so today.
Psalm 22 may well have described David's condition at the time, but any serious student of Scripture realizes that this psalm was also a prophetic foretelling of Christ's sufferings at Calvary.
In light of these verses, which I do not claim to be a complete list of dual-fulfillment or continuing-fulfillment prophecies, it is not Biblically accurate to claim that a prophecy which is "fulfilled" at a certain point in time cannot have either a fulfillment at a later specific point in time or an ongoing fulfillment over time. Since these prophecies were not "one-shot deals," it is presumptuous to conclude that Matthew 8:17 could not have a later and more complete application. Jesus continued to remove sicknesses from the people after Capernaum, and did it for all men once and for all at Calvary.
Jesus stated in Luke 4, "This day is this scripture (regarding his anointing to preach, heal, etc.) fulfilled in your ears." If we use similar logic to this objection, Jesus was only anointed on that day, which is obviously not true. Although that day witnessed a fulfillment of this prophecy, the fulfillment was obviously ongoing. In fact, this prophecy is still being fulfilled today through his Body, the Church.
The Aorist and Errorists
Now what about those intimidating arguments about the Greek verb tense in Matthew 8:17? The people who make it claim to know Greek, and since you probably don't, you are just supposed to back down and take their word for it.
The argument usually states that the Isaiah's prophecy was completely fulfilled that evening because the Aorist tense of "fulfill" is used in the verse, and that the Aorist tense indicates momentary completed action in the past tense.
That is an oversimplification.
In general, only the indicative form of the Aorist almost definitely describes a momentary past completed action. The other forms of the Aorist are not time-definite and can in some cases even be used to describe a future action. The form used in Matthew 8:17 is the first Aorist passive subjunctive, which is the same form used in the other passages where the phrase that it might be fulfilled appears. The Aorist passive subjunctive can indicate future action that is guaranteed to happen. This is the case in John 13:31-2: "Therefore, when he was gone out, Jesus said, Now is the Son of Man glorified, and God is glorified in him. If God be glorified in him..." The tense of glorified in all three cases is the Aorist passive subjunctive -- the same form used in Matthew 8:17. The momentary event referred to here have not yet happened, but as far as Jesus was concerned, it was as good as done. The idea of a future action being guaranteed to happen by current events is borne out by the other passages above. In God's eyes, the actions were as good as done, even though they had not happened yet by our time line.
If these Greek scholars are right about the Aorist always describing momentary past action, we must believe the following, because the verses quoted in the previous section use the Aorist passive subjunctive of "to fulfill" in the Greek -- exactly the same word used in Matthew 8:17:
--Mary completed the act of bringing forth and naming her son when the angel stood before her telling her that she would conceive.
--God completed the act of calling Jesus out of Egypt as soon as he got there.
--People called Jesus a Nazarene as soon as he arrived at Nazareth, many years before his ministry began.
--The people of Zabulon and Nephthalim saw the light as soon as Jesus arrived there.
--The Gentiles trusted in Jesus during his earthly ministry, and he "sent for judgment into victory" during his earthly ministry.
--Jesus sat on the donkey before it was brought to him.
--All the prophetic Scriptures about Jesus were completely fulfilled when he was arrested in the garden.
Some Greek grammar sources indicate that the subjunctive Aorist is time-indefinite, but you should be able to figure this out from the English arguments above. Therefore, anyone who says that the Aorist passive subjunctive must refer to momentary completed action is an Errorist.
While I respect people who make this objection (probably the best one of the bunch), the evidence is clear that it is false. Jesus' removal of sickness that evening was a confirmation of Isaiah's prophecy being fulfilled during his future Atonement, just as his forgiving of sins during his ministry was proof of his future Atonement. The Atonement was Jesus' basis for continuing to heal the sick, in further confirmation of this prophecy.