OK, I was going to move on to what other prophets had to say about the Messiah, but I need to spend one more day in Isaiah, since it illustrates some very important points and can aid our understanding of Old Testament prophecy.
As you read Isaiah and other prophetic books, sometimes it’s not entirely clear as to when this was fulfilled or will be. I tend to take the “partially fulfilled in the time of Christ, totally fulfilled when he returns” motif. If you look at a lot of passages, however, it could get pretty confusing. The passage in Isaiah from today’s reading, or at least some of it, was fulfilled during the ministry of Jesus. He said so in Luke’s reading.
What can help us is a grasp of what Bible scholars sometimes call the “mountaintop view.” Imagine you’re at the base of a mountain, and you see the top of the mountain in front of you. There’s another mountain directly behind it, with a valley in between them. That valley might be incredibly deep. But you can’t tell how deep it is: All you can see are the two mountain peaks.
That’s often the view of the prophets, as illustrated by today’s readings.
Jesus was in front of an audience from his hometown. As tradition led, they pulled out a scroll and had the “Rabbi” read the portion of Scripture to them. He read Isaiah 61 verse one, and then part of verse two, and stops midway. Then he paused and said “Today this scripture is fulfilled in your hearing.” Not someday. Today.
He paused right in the middle of verse two and stopped reading. Why did he stop? Because the second half of the verse was not being fulfilled right in front of them, like the portion he'd read was. He’d been anointed by the Spirit, and was proclaiming the Good News. He was binding up the brokenhearted, announcing freedom for the captives and release from darkness for the prisoners, and that the time of God’s favor had come. We were entering a new era of grace.
The second half of that verse, before the ink was dry on the first part, is talking about the Second Coming. When he comes, he’s bringing wrath. That’s not a word we hear very often in this touchy-feely time, but it’s one we need to relearn.
You see? The first half was talking about Phase One, and the second half was talking about Phase Two. And in between those two phases we’ve had at least 2,000 years. Quite a valley between the two mountains.
So besides helping our understanding of O.T. prophecy, is there a more practical lesson we can carry away from this? Why, yes there is!
Jesus was speaking the truth (obviously) when he said that verse one and the second half of verse two were being fulfilled right in front of them. But don’t I carry on his work? He said that we would, that we’d even—in some sense—surpass the work he started. I guess a better word than “surpassed” would be “build upon” or “expand.” He’d been anointed by the Spirit, and in a lesser sense so have we. He was proclaiming the Good News to the poor, and that’s our job as well. Binding up the brokenhearted, announcing freedom for the captives and release from darkness for the prisoners, and that the time of God’s favor has come? Check, check, check.
Yes, we do have a job to do, don’t we?
Father God, help me to interpret your word correctly. I don’t want to examine your word so much as I want your word to examine me. And yes, I do understand that I and we have a job to do, carrying on the work of your Son in this dark world. By your grace, we’re going to do it.