The New Testament Use of Isaiah

James Flamming  |  Southwestern Journal of Theology Vol. 11 - Fall 1968

Isaiah might be called the prophet for the New Testament. Isaiah is quoted more than twice as much as any other major prophet and more than all of the minor prophets combined. Because of the abundant use that New Testament writers make of Isaiah, some have sought to attribute to Isaiah the structure and development of New Testament thought and doctrine. This is saying too much, as we shall see, for the determining factor is always the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ. None the less, Isaiah served as a major source book for first century Christians, particularly in the latter part of the first century.

 

Isaiah and the Earliest Sermons

The earliest glimpse available to the thought and practice of the first century church is to be found in its preaching (kerygma). Of special interest are the sermons found in Acts 1-10. Whether or not these sermons should be used as material for rebuilding the kerygma of the early church, has been questioned by some. Dibelius, for example, sees them as compositions pieced together by the author of Acts and scarcely deserving a first rate historical designation.[1]Martin Dibelius, “Die Bekehrung des Corneliw;,” Aufsatze zur Apostel­ geschichte ( Gottingen: Vandenhoeck & Ruprecht, 1951), p. 96. Bultmann is also skeptical of using the sermons as material for rebuilding the kerygma of the early church. Certain others feel that Luke assumed the stance of an ancient historian (e.g., Thucydides), to tell part of his narrative by means of speeches put into the mouths of the chief actors.[2]F. J. Foakes-Jackson, The Acts of the Apostles (London: Hodder and Stoughton, 1931), p. xvi. See also H. J. Cadbury, The Making of Luke-Acts (London: S.P.C.K., 1958), p. 61. However, Aramaic scholars have contended for a long time that these early Acts passages are a translation of an earlier Aramaic document. Dodd,[3]C. H. Dodd, The Apostolic Preaching and Its Developments (New York: Harper & Brothers, 1936), p. 20. Richardson,[4]Alan Richardson, An Introduction to the Theology of the New Testament (London: SCM Press, Ltd., 1958), p. 25. F. F. Bruce,[5]F. F. Bruce, Commentary on the Book of Acts (Grand Rapids: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1956), p. 28. F. C. Grant,[6]F. C. Grant, The Growth of the New Testament (New York: Abingdon Press, 1933), p. 175. and Eduard Schweitzer[7]Eduard   Schweitzer, Lordship and Discipleship (London: SCM Press, Ltd., 1960), p. 32. consider that this point has been proven. F. F. Bruce suggests that Luke may have picked up these sources (whether oral or written) during his journey to Jerusalem with Paul in A.D. 57 (Acts 21:15).[8]Bruce, p. 28. Richardson adds to the intrigue by surmising that some of these sermons could be from early sermon notes from the first Christian preachers.[9]Alan Richardson, Gospels in the Making (London: Student Movement Press, 1938), p. 55. Certainly Luke never heard Peter on the day of Pentecost, nor when he addressed the Jewish ruler, nor Cornelius, nor was he present when Stephen defended himself before the Sanhedrin, nor when Paul preached at Athens (cf. I Thess. 3:1). It would seem that the abundant evidence is that Luke did obtain condensed sermon notes from an Aramaic source and translated these as literally as possible into the Geek. The Greek translation of these passages is quite rough and uncharacteristic of the Lukan style.

The foregoing discussion is important for two reasons. The first is that these early sermons, unlike most of the rest of the New Testament, do not use Isaiah to any appreciable degree for either textual or footnote purposes. The only certain reference to any passage from Isaiah in Peter’s five sermons is the reference to Jesus as the “servant of God” (Pais, Acts 3:13, 4.27; Isa. 41:8, 52: 13). Another possible reference is in Acts 2:39 referring to the promise to Israel (Isa. 57:19). The scarcity of Isaiah usage is not what we would expect nor is it comparable with the use of Isaiah in most of the rest of the New Testament. In Stephen’s apology in Acts 7, only one use of Isaiah is made. It does not refer to Christ but to Isaiah’s doctrine of the transcendence of God (cf. Acts 7:49, 50; Isa. 66: 1, 2).

Even a cursory analysis of these sermons will reveal that their content is made up of the recent happenings centering in and around Jesus Christ. The climactic event in each of these sermons is the resurrection. There had not been at this point any effort to relate the death of Christ to any Old Testament passage, not even Isaiah 53. In these sermons, the resurrection is the foundation for the great “good news” of the gospel. Such an investigation as we have here undertaken, would concur with the conclusion of C.F.D. Moule.

When it is claimed that whole sections . . . were spun out of Old Testament material, this is far out-running the evidence. In the main, the evidence points to the Gospel events as the controlling and decisive factor to which the Old Testament material is almost always subordinate.[10]C. F. D. Moule, The Birth of the New Testament (New York: Harper & Row, 1962), p. 84. What this seems to indicate is that the earliest preachers of the New Testament era did not pick a text from the Old Testament and interpret this in the light of the Christ event. The closest thing to this is Stephen’s sermon in Acts 7. The ignition of the evangelistic message of these preachers was not caught by correlative glimpses of Old Testament insight. They were instead alive with what they had seen, heard, and felt of the Lord Christ. Some have felt that I John is indeed a reworked first century sermon.[11]C. H. Dodd, The Johannine Epistles, Moffatt New Testament Commen­tary (London: Hodder and Stoughton, 1946), pp. xxi-ii. This has much to commend it. If indeed it is, its introduction is a germane footnote to this discussion.

That which was from the beginning, which we have heard, which we have seen with our eyes, which we have looked upon and touched with our hands, concerning the word of life—the life was made manifest, and we saw it, and testify to it, and proclaim to you the eternal life which was with the Father and was made manifest to us.[12]1 John 1:1-2.

A second matter is worth mentioning. Luke, as we shall see later, is very fond of Isaiah, particularly his passages on what we might call social concern or mission action. In Luke­ Acts there are over thirty solid references to Isaiah. The only other content section in Luke’s writings which use few references to Isaiah, is the great central section of Luke (Luke 13-18:14). What this may indicate is that in both the Acts sermons and in the great central section in Luke, the Physician was following his sources with little editorial handling. For both the central section of Luke, which includes those parables and teachings of Jesus unique in Luke’s gospel, and in the Acts sermons, occasion would present itself for Luke to footnote with Isaiah as did Matthew in his gospel (i.e., Matt. 4:12-16; Isa. 9:1, 2). If this reasoning is correct, further evidence is given to the authenticity of the brief but early sermons that Luke lists in Acts.

 

Isaiah During the Controversial Period

The exciting preaching of the apostles plus the early success which it enjoyed brought certain and early controversy. It is out of this controversy noted in Acts 15 for example, that extensive use of Old Testament passages began. We may assume that such debates were widespread and occurred much earlier than the Acts conference. Indeed, any place one picks to enter the missionary journeys of Paul, he is thrust into the melieu of controversy and debate with the Jews. Controversy about the Sabbath law, about diet, about circumcision, about leprosy laws, about the person and work of the Messiah, would have come early in the history of the first century church. In the midst of this pressure from the outside, the early church found itself doing two things. First, it quite naturally began to recall and recite traditions it had heard from the eyewitnesses to Jesus’ teaching on these matters. Christians, living in Jewish ghettos with non-Christian Jews, would need these teachings

of Jesus to defend themselves. Second, the Christians began to draw upon the Old Testament to substantiate their position. Thus it is not difficult to see how the New Testament came to be hammered out in the midst of controversy, and in the midst of such controversy, drew from respected and revered Old Testament passages. For example, when Luke did the research for his gospel (Luke 1:1-4), he already had behind him a considerable amount of Christian teaching and writing (tracts?) plus Old Testament footnoting, from which he could draw to write his gospel.

It is at this controversial state of New Testament development that the use of the Old Testament, and particularly Isaiah, began to lend its weight. An example of this can be found in the matter concerning the Jewish problem, i.e. their rejection of the gospel, and the questions surrounding their subsequent salvation. In one way or another, almost every writer in the New Testament dealt with this problem. Paul’s treatment of the issue may illustrate how Isaiah was used to undergird the argument. Paul began by pointing out that rejection had been part of the pattern of the Jews from the beginning. He quoted a much used passage from Isaiah for support (cf. Matt. 13:14- 15; Mk. 4:12; Luke 8:10; Acts 28:26).

Hear and hear, but do not understand; see and see, but do not perceive. Make the heart of this people fat, and their ears heavy, and shut their eyes; lest they see with their eyes, and hear with their ears, and understand with their hearts, and turn and be healed.[13]Isa. 29:10; 6:9, 10; Rom. 11:8.

Why have the Jews rejected? Paul’s answer was because they did not pursue a relationship to God based upon faith, but rather were content with one based upon works (Rom. 9:32). For this reason they have stumbled over the stumbling stone of Isaiah’s prophecy.

Therefore thus says the Lord God, Behold, I am laying in Zion for a foundation a stone, a tested stone, a precious cornerstone, of a sure foundation: He who believes will not be in haste.
And he will become a sanctuary, and a stone of offense, and a rock of stumbling to both houses of Israel, a trap and a snare to the inhabitants of Jerusalem.[14]Isa. 28:16; 8:14; Rom. 9:33.

But why should God in his great wisdom have included the Gentiles in his mercy? Paul found his answer in Isaiah 65:1 (Rom. 10:20).

“Here am I, here am I, to a nation that did not call on my name.”

Besides, will a man get into the position of questioning the creator?

You tum things upside down! Shall the potter be regarded as the clay; that the thing made should say of its maker, “He did not make me”; or the thing formed say of him who formed it, “He has no understanding”?[15]Isa. 29:16; Rom. 9:19-21.

Is there then no hope at all for God’s own people, Israel? Indeed there is. At this point Paul drew upon the prophetic doctrine of the remnant.

And Isaiah cries out concerning Israel: “Though the number of the sons of Israel be as the sand of the sea, only a remnant of them will be saved; for the Lord will execute his sentence upon the earth with vigor and dispatch.” And as Isaiah predicted, “If the Lord of hosts had not left us children, we would have fared like Sodom and been made like Gomorrah.”[16]Rom. 9:27-29; Isa. 10:22, 23:1-9.

Lest the Gentiles in the church at Rome begin to be wise in their own conceit Paul turned to remove any basis for gentile supremacy. All Israel will be saved (Rom. 11:26), and he found the basis for this promise in Isaiah (Isa. 59:20, 21; Isa: 27:9). In fact, their present disobedience is to be used by God until “the full number of the Gentiles come in” (Rom. 11:25). By this time, Paul must have realized that his readers would be in some very deep water (and all subsequent readers!), and so he tied it all together in the mysterious workings of the mind of God.

Who has directed the Spirit of the Lord, or as his counselor has instructed him? Whom did he consult for his enlightenment, and who taught him the path of justice, and taught him knowledge, and showed him the way of understanding?[17]Isa. 40:13, 14; Rom. 11:33-36.

Not all of the Isaiah passages in these three chapters have been noted. But enough have been pointed out to establish the great use that the early Christians made of Isaiah in the midst of Jewish controversy. And since Isaiah is such a many faceted book, and because of its prestige in the eyes of the Jewish people, it was used for varied arguments and debates. Paul seems to have used Isaiah somewhat more than others.

Hebrews, for example, stands as an example of an entire book devoted to the Jewish problem. While the writer of Hebrews drew heavily from the Old Testament, there are only three certain references to Isaiah, and none of them from later Isaiah.[18]Heb. 2:13-Isa. 8:17; Heb. 12:12-Isa. 35:3; Heb. 10:37-Isa. 26:20 LXX. Nevertheless, we may conclude with certainty that the early Christians found frequent use of Isaiah in their controversial and apologetic endeavors.[19]Note that John’s editorial concerning the Jewish rejection is footnoted exclusively from Isaiah, cf. John 12:38-41. However, John’s explicit use of Old Testament scriptures is more limited than the other three Gospels.

 

Isaiah in the Gospels

Investigation into the Evangelists’ use of Isaiah is of great interest not only because of the over one hundred times the prophet’s themes are quoted or reflected (the exact number depending upon one’s judgment of Isaiah as being the only source), but also because of the variety of ways in which the prophet is used.

 

A. In the Teachings of Jesus

Jesus’ familiarity with and use of Isaiah is reflected both in the number of times he used the prophet in his teachings, and in the sources which reflect these uses. Although source scholarship does not enjoy the popularity it once enjoyed, sources were used by the writers as indicated by Luke in his introduction (Luke 1:1-4). A general knowledge of these sources is helpful to our purpose inasmuch as it shows the consistency with which Isaiah permeates Jesus’ teachings.

Jesus depends upon Isaiah as revealed by Matthew and Luke in the so-called Q source. This material, which Matthew and Luke had in common but which is not found in Mark, is early, its latest possible date around A.D. 60.[20]Vincent Taylor, The Gospels (London: Epworth Press, 1956), p. 23. Readers wishing to review these matters will find this book helpful.

Three instances may be found which reflect the direct influence of Isaiah upon Jesus’ teachings in this early source.

Q                        Isaiah                  Incident

Matt. 5:4           51:2, 3              The Great Sermon

Luke 6:21

Luke 10:21         29:14                “I thank thee father…”

Matt. 11:25-7     19:12                A prayer of praise after the successful mission effort of the disciples into the towns of Galilee.

Matt. 11:21-3     14:13-15            Woes on the cities for their unbelief

Luke 10:13-15    23:1-8

Turning to another source, what influence does Isaiah seem to reflect in those passages unique to Matthew?[21]B. H. Streeter designated this source M in The Four Gospels (London: Macmillan and Co., Ltd., 1930). Goodspeed explained this unique Matthean material with the suggestion that the Apostle took notes in a kind of tax­ collectors shorthand. Edgar J. Goodspeed, Matthew, Apostle and Evangelist (Philadelphia: The John C. Winston Company, 1959.) Others prefer to see this as reflecting simply a unique strand of oral tradition. Such matters are not germane here except to note the existence of Isaiah’s influence upon this source, oral or written. The influence seems less direct but nonetheless important. The positions Jesus took were certainly expressed centuries earlier by the prophet.

Matthew            Isaiah                Incident

6:6                     26:20                Sermon on the Mount

Teaching on Prayer

6:16                   58:5                   Sermon on the Mount

Teaching on Fasting

5:34                   66:1                   Sermon on the Mount

Teaching on Oaths

25:35, 36           58:7                  Parable of Sheep and Goats

Matthew used Isaiah more extensively in an explicit way than any of the other Evangelists. The above instances are only from the material peculiar to his Gospel.

Of the sources used by Matthew and Luke, Mark is the most certain because we have it in hand. What influence from Isaiah can be seen here used in the teachings of Jesus? Four instances may serve as examples, three of which are used by both Matthew and Luke in their Gospels, and one only by Matthew.

Mark                                Isaiah                Incident

Mark 12:1-12                  5:1, 2                Parable of the Unfaithful Husbandmen in the Vineyard

(Matt. 21:33-46)

(Luke 20:9-19)

 

Mark 4:12                       6:9, 10             On the purpose of parables and hardness of heart

(Matt. 13:13)

(Luke 8:10)

 

Mark 7:6, 7                     29:13               On hardness of heart

(Matt. 15:8, 9)

 

Mark 8:31                       53                     Jesus foretells his death

(Matt. 16:21)

(Luke 9:22)

Of the more identifiable sources used by the Evangelists, only Luke’s unique material remains.[22]Streeter and others have called this “L,” indentifying it thus as a written source. A more probable answer seems to be that Luke gathered these materials together when he was in the Palestinian area while Paul was in prison in Caesarea, cf, Acts 24-27:2: “we put out to sea.” At any rate these materials are unique to Luke’s gospel and from the lips of Christ. This is the only source which bears no reflection of Isaiah. Such a fact is surprising, since Luke is most fond of Isaiah. However, his fondness is more thematic than supportive, or to put it another way, he does not often use Isaiah as a proof-text as does Matthew. Perhaps the absence of Isaiah’s reflection may be explained by the largely parabolic nature of the material (cf. Luke 13:1-18:14). Whatever the reason, it has its benefit. No one can claim that Jesus’ teachings are simply Isaiah reworked, for some of Christ’s greatest teachings are in this section.

The reason for breaking apart the Isaiah influence upon Jesus’ teachings into the sources is to better understand the process whereby Isaiah became the most quoted prophet in the New Testament, and to suggest the importance Isaiah had for Jesus himself. Canon Crum is quoted by Vincent Taylor as suggesting such importance.

If two independent and authentic accounts have come to us from the first generation of Christianity, we are like men who can focus what they see with both their eyes. We see what we see from two slightly different angles. The story stands out in new perspective.[23]Taylor, p. 34.

What we see, then, is that Jesus was comfortable with and found support in Isaiah. Is it any wonder then that His church should follow His example?

 

B. In the Work of the Evangelists

All four gospels use Isaiah, Matthew the most explicitly, and John the most implicitly. As one might expect, the longest Gospel, Matthew, contains the most Isaiah material, and the shortest Gospel, Mark, the least. But the story does not stop with the enumeration of their usage. Matthew and Mark use Isaiah in a supportive way, that is to support the life, teachings, and work of Christ by prophetic referent. John and Luke, on the other hand, use Isaiah as a theological base, Luke to show the work of Christ, and John to show the person of Christ.

The most obvious use of Isaiah is made by Matthew. It is interesting to note that Goodspeed begins his little book on Matthew with a section entitled, “Isaiah in Matthew.”[24]Goodspeed, p. viii. Matthew’s purpose was to show how the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus exactly fulfilled the prophetic utterances of the Old Testament.

Matthew did not work Isaiah into the narrative so that it read smoothly with comfortable style, as Luke occasionally did (i.e. Luke 4: 16-19). Instead he introduced most of his correlations with statements like, “as it is written in the prophet Isaiah.” The first Evangelist used all of the Isaiah passages from Mark excepting those which were spoken by unbelievers (cf. Mark 2:7; 12:32). The difference between Mark and Matthew may thus be seen. Mark used Isaiah because Jesus used Isaiah. But Matthew does not stop with the teachings. From his own study he footnotes the life of Christ using Isaiah at every opportunity. (An exception to this is in Isaiah 53 which is a special case as we shall see later.) Below are those obvious instances mentioned above, and not quoted previously.

Matthew 1:23

“Behold, a virgin shall conceive and bear a son.”

Isaiah 7:14

Matthew 3:3

“The voice of one crying in the wilderness . . .” Isaiah 40:3

Matthew 4:15, 16

“The people who sat in darkness have seen a great light . . .” Isaiah 9:1f

Matthew 8:17

“He took our infirmities and bore our diseases.” Isaiah 53:4

Matthew 11:5

“The blind receive their sight and the lame walk.” Isaiah 35:5, 6

Matthew 11:23

“Behold, my servant whom I have chosen . . .” Isaiah 42:1-4

Matthew 21:5

“. . . Behold, your king is coming to you, humble and mounted on an ass . . .” Isaiah 62:11

Matthew 21:13

“My house shall be called a house of prayer.” Isaiah 56:7

Matthew 24:7, 29, 31

“For nation will rise against nation . . . the sun will be darkened and the moon will not give its light, and the stars will fall from heaven, and the powers of the heaven will be shaken . . . and he will send out his angels with a loud trumpet call . . . Isaiah 13: 10, 19:2, 27:13, 34:4.

Lest Matthew be accused of “proof texting” in its derogatory sense, let the reader attempt an experiment. With only a general knowledge of the life of Christ, he can outline the life of the Saviour using only these prophecies from Isaiah. They are truthfully chosen, beautifully placed, and historically meaningful. There is, however, one gap. Matthew made no attempt to footnote the passion directly from Isaiah. Of course, one may say he had Isaiah in mind as he wrote his moving account of the trials and death. But one can as easily say, he described the events and they coincide with Isaiah 53. With his desire to correlate the life and death of Christ, why did he stop at the beginning of the passion narrative? In short, why did he not use Isaiah 53 to its fullest advantage? Something must have happened which made the early Christians hesitant to use this chapter.[25]When one examines the almost literal manner in which the death of Christ fulfilled Isaiah 53:7 (cf. Matt. 26:63; 27:14; Mk. 14:60-1; 15:4, 5), one would expect that Isaiah 53 would become a major apologetic text, Paul does not ignore the chapter, for instance in Romans 4:25 and 10:16, but one might have expected more in the light of Paul’s doctrine of justification. Investigation does not bring such conclusions. In Mark 10:45 Jesus speaks of his life being “a ransom for many.” But he does not use Isaiah 53 to thus interpret for his disciples his intended meaning. In fact, the only definite quotation on Jesus’ lips from Isaiah 53 is the allusion, peculiar to Luke, to his “being reckoned among the lawless” (Luke 22:37). Matthew uses; 53:4 to point out Christ’s healing ministry as fulfilled by prophecy (8:17, quoted above). But this quote is early in his Gospel and early in the life of Christ, and does not allude to his death. John the Baptist uses Isaiah to introduce the mission of Jesus, but he does not use Isaiah 53 to do so (see Isa. 40:3 above). And as we have seen, Matthew manages to footnote with Isaiah almost every stage of the Messiah’s life, but omits the most obvious correlation.

Something must have happened which made the early Christians hesitant to use this strategic chapter. Moule suggests that Isaiah 53 had been “spoilt or blunted as an argument directed to the Jews, by some circumstance no longer clearly discernible to us” (p. 82). Perhaps Isaiah 53 fit too- nicely. Or maybe, in their wisdom, the early Christians only anticipated that someone with more imagination than knowledge might dream up The Passover Plot. Significantly, Matthew can correlate the life of Christ with Isaiah and do it without the most ready source.

Luke has been called the “gospel for the underdog.”[26]William Barclay, The Gospel of Luke, p. xvii. He seems to have more interest in the poor, the distressed, the outcasts, the women, than the other gospels. In his great emphasis upon Christ as the universal Saviour, he seemed to sense that unless Christ is Saviour to all, he cannot be Saviour to any. In many ways, Luke was a modem. His sensitivities are shared the world over today. Somewhere in his background he discovered Isaiah, perhaps from Paul. From this prophet he drew the ingredients with which to explain the life and work of Christ. The Nazareth frontpiece is the foundation as Jesus began his ministry.

The Spirit of the Lord is upon me,

Because he has anointed me to preach

good news to the poor.

He has sent me to proclaim release to the

captives

And recovering of sight to the blind,

to set at liberty those who are oppressed,

To proclaim the acceptable year of the

Lord.

(Luke 4:18, 19)

This passage from Isaiah 61:1-6 identifies Jesus with the great human concerns of Isaiah’s prophecy. From this point on Jesus’ whole life will footnote this proclamation. John the Baptist is told when he doubts: “the blind receive their sight, the lame walk, etc.” (Luke 7:22-Isa. 35:5, 6). Luke’s beatitudes are less “spiritual” and more “earthly”:

Blessed are you poor, for yours is the Kingdom of God.

Blessed are you that hunger now, for you shall be satisfied.

(Luke 6:20, 1 – Isa. 49:13).

As long as Jesus spoke but did not act, “all spoke well of him” (Luke 4:22). But he did what he said he would do. He set the captives free (Luke 13:12-Isa. 61:1). He released those who were in bondage (Luke 8:35; 13:16). He threatened those who were rich (Luke 18:22-Isa. 58:7), and exalted those of low estate (Luke 21:3-Isa. 58:10). From the beginning it was so. Gabriel could proclaim the fulfillment of Early Isaiah’s prophecy (Luke 1:32, 33-Isa. 9:1f). But Mary in her matchless hymn of praise senses the weight of the matter from Later Isaiah:

He has filled the hungry with good things,

And the rich he has sent empty away. (Luke 1:53-Isa. 40:11)

But Simeon, the devout layman, was given the greatest insight. A two-edged sword of healing and judgment was about to enter the battles of the world, and after its crash, the recoiled world would never be quite the same. To Mary he said:

Behold, this child is set for the fall and rising of many in Israel . . .

And a sword will pierce through your own soul also…(Luke 2:34, 5-Isa. 8:14, 42:6).

So it was that Isaiah’s transcendent God and suffering servant entered the world in the lowliest of forms and became for Luke, the universal Saviour, in deed and in word.[27]Stanley Glen, The Parables of Conflict in Luke (Philadelphia: West­ minster Press, 1962), has pointed out how much the parables revolve around this basic theme.

If Luke spoke of what Christ did, John dealt with what he was, for really the two can never be separated. But one well from which John drew was the same as Luke’s, for Isaiah’s depth left plenty for both. Primary is that exalted divine predicate, “I am.” The same vision given Moses on the mount (Ex. 4:14), and later received by Later Isaiah in captivity (Isa. 41:4; 43:10; 47:8, 10), is seen by John to tabernacle in Jesus Christ.[28]T. C. Smith has rightly seen this relationship of the ego eimi. Jesus in the Gospel of John (Nashville: Broadman Press, 1959), p, 165. See also C. H. Dodd, The Interpretation of the Fourth Gospel (Cambridge: University Press, 1953), pp. 93-96.

I am the light of the world.

(John 8:12-Isa. 49:6, 9:2, 60: 1-3)

I am the water of life.

(John 4:13, 14; 7:37, 8-Isa. 44:3; 55:1, 58:11)

I am the good shepherd.

(John 10:11-Isa. 40:11)

I am the way.

(John 14:6-Isa. 30:21, 40:3)

I am the vine.

(John 15:1ff-Isa. 5:1-7)

Of course, John, unlike Matthew is not a footnote writer. Perhaps the above correlation is coincidence. Perhaps, but not likely. For when John dealt with the Jewish problem he did not hesitate to quote and name the prophet, none other than Isaiah (John 12:38-41). More probably, Isaiah is there, even Isaiah 53. For in John’s Gospel the Word Incarnate is introduced by the Baptist not in fire and judgment (cf. Matt. 3:1- 12; Mark 1:1-8; Luke 3:1-20), but as the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world! (John 1:29-Isa. 53:6, 7) Behind John’s Gospel, not placarded yet not altogether hidden, is Isaiah.

 

Isaiah and Our Eternal Hope

Over 100 times Isaiah shines through the judgment and healing of Revelation (again depending upon one’s judgment of source), or roughly the number of times observable in all four of the gospels. As in John’s Gospel the dependence upon the great prophet is not footnoted. Still, who can miss it? Isaiah’s vision of God in the temple is John’s vision on Patmos (cf. Isa. 6:1ff-Rev. 4:2-10; 5:1, 7, 13; 6:16; 7:10, 15; 19:4; 21:5). God is the beginning and the ending, Alpha and Omega (cf. Isa. 44:6; 48:12-Rev. 1:17; 2:8; 21:6; and 22:13). In the midst of his judgment who can stand unaffected (Isa. 8:22- Rev. 16:10; Isa. 34:4-Rev. 6:13, 14)? The taunt songs of judgment from Isaiah 23-4 are reflected in Revelation 18. No cheap religion can stand up against the wrath of the Lamb (Isa. 53:7-Rev. 6:16).

But the Lamb is more than wrath; he is also shepherd: (Isa. 40:11-Rev. 7:17); he is as a bridegroom coming for his bride (Isa. 61:10-Rev. 19:8; 21:2; 22:17). The Lamb cares.

They shall hunger no more, neither

thirst anymore;

the sun shall not strike them, nor

any scorching heat.

For the Lamb in the midst of the

throne will be their shepherd,

and he will guide them to springs

of living water;

and God will wipe away every tear

from their eyes. (Rev. 7:16, 17)

The Lamb was not forgotten to be a shepherd to his people, nor a bridegroom to his bride. “Behold, I am coming soon” (Rev. 22:12-Isa. 40:10).

For as the new heavens and the new

earth

which I will make

shall remain before me, says the

Lord;

so shall your descendants and

your name remain . . . all flesh shall

Come to worship before me, says the Lord.

(Isa. 66:22-Rev. 21:1)

 

Concluding Statement

Isaiah, prophet for the New Testament, buttressed the faith of Christians from the earliest tribulations and controversies. They treated the book as a whole, using those portions suitable to their needs, but they (as do we?) used Isaiah 40-66 almost twice as much as the earlier section.[29]By my count, Early Isaiah is observable 148 times in the New Testament, while Later Isaiah numbers 261 times. The many rays in Isaiah’s spectrum, ranging from Mark’s quotations to the Revelator’s hope, brought light to their faith as it does to us today.

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