“I the LORD have called thee in righteousness, and will hold thine hand, and will keep thee, and give thee for a covenant of the people, for a light of the Gentiles; to open the blind eyes, to bring out the prisoners from the prison, and them that sit in darkness out of the prison house” (Isaiah 42:6-7).
Lately, I have been wrestling with my own personal unbelief in prayers offered on behalf of the unsaved. While it is easy to pray believingly when some sinner shows signs of openness, it is hard to pray with any kind of faith that the indifferent or hard-hearted will eventually turn to the Lord. I hate this unbelief, and desire to attack it through the truth of Scripture. Therefore, my mind has been meditating on the promises of Isaiah, spoken for our day, including the great text above, spoken by the Father to His beloved Son.
To open blind eyes. To bring out of prison. Strong promises from the strong, sovereign God. The eyes and prison here are spiritual in nature, for even though the Lord Jesus did indeed open the eyes of the physically blind, in fulfillment of an earlier prophesy in Isaiah (cf. Isaiah 35:5-6; Matthew 11:5), as well as set physical prisoners free (Acts 5:19-20; 12:7ff), such demonstrations of power seem to have been symbolic of His greater inner work in opening the eyes of the heart and setting free those oppressed of the devil. The proof of this assertion is seen in the nature of the blindness and imprisonment in the latter chapters of Isaiah, as well as in their fulfillment described in the New Testament, to be seen shortly. Therefore, let us consider these two promises in the light of the New Testament.
When the apostles Paul and Barnabas preached the gospel at the synagogue in Antioch Pisidia, they were requested to preach again the next Sabbath. Upon returning, they found “almost the whole city [gathered] together to hear the word of God” (Acts 13:44). This popularity provoked the Jews to envy, so that they spoke against Paul, “contradicting and blaspheming” (13:45). In response, the apostles said:
“It was necessary that the word of God should first have been spoken to you: but seeing ye put it from you, and judge yourselves unworthy of everlasting life, lo, we turn to the Gentiles. For so hath the Lord commanded us, saying, ‘I have set thee to be a light of the Gentiles, that thou shouldest be for salvation unto the ends of the earth’” (Acts 13:46-47).
Remarkably, the apostles quote a text given to the Messiah, an individual (“thee”), as something that “the Lord commanded us” (13:47). The solidarity of the Messiah with His people is striking. What they experience, He experiences, just as Jesus had earlier asked, “Saul, Saul, why persecutest thou me?” (9:4). Moreover, what the Messiah is commanded, the entire church (or at least the apostolic ministry of the word) is commanded: We are to be a light of the Gentiles, in order that His salvation may reach the ends of the earth (a quote from Isaiah 49:6)!
This same solidarity is exhibited later, when Paul recounts the words of Jesus spoken to him at his conversion:
“But rise, and stand upon thy feet: for I have appeared unto thee for this purpose, to make thee a minister and a witness…, delivering thee from the people, and from the Gentiles, unto whom now I send thee, to open their eyes, and to turn them from darkness to light, and from the power of Satan unto God, that they may receive forgiveness of sins, and inheritance among them which are sanctified by faith that is in me” (Acts 26:16-18).
Here again is another echo from the Messianic mission in Isaiah (this time from Isaiah 42:6-7). Please note: The Lord Jesus has taken what the Father had spoken to Him and is now applying it to His apostle. Surely this can only be fulfilled by the Spirit of Jesus working in and through Paul! But here is the exciting news: This same Spirit is now at work in us, lending support to the same apostolic ministry of the word. How do we know that? The prophecy finds fulfillment only when God’s salvation has reached the very “ends of the earth,” which God Himself describes in Isaiah as the villages of the deserts, the tops of the mountains, and the islands of the sea (Isaiah 42:10-12). These regions were certainly not canvassed completely in the days of the apostles.
In the order of things, the eyes must be opened before the sinner can turn to the Lord, that is, be converted. These two acts are not of the same nature, for once the eyes are opened through preaching, the sinner himself turns to the Lord, even as Lydia demonstrated in her conversion (see Acts 16:14; cf. 2 Timothy 2:24-26). In the design of God, both the action of the preacher, in opening the eyes, and the action of the hearer, in turning to the Lord, are sovereign actions of the Lord Jesus Christ Himself. He fulfills the prophecy by sovereignly working in both the preacher and the sinner. Amazing! That is strong encouragement to pray for power, and then strong encouragement to preach with expectation. How can Jesus refuse to obey the voice of His Father? Gladly, most gladly, He will comply.
Furthermore, the means that the Lord Jesus uses to open the eyes of the blind is His sovereign voice in the preaching of the Gospel. When the prophet describes the Messiah as saying to those in prison, “Go forth!” and to those in prison darkness, “Show yourselves!” (Isaiah 49:9), we should see the exhortations and commands of present-day, Spirit-empowered Gospel ministry.
Oh, pray for your preachers! If even the great apostle Paul requested fellow believers to pray that “utterance” would be given to him in order to “open [his] mouth boldly” (Ephesians 6:19), then how much more should weaker preachers like myself receive prayer for the opening of our mouths, to be the same tool of Jesus in opening eyes today, so that more and more sinners may turn to the Lord and live in liberty! May the Lord Jesus Himself stir up unto more faith both His people and His preachers through the powerful prophetic picture of the Messiah sovereignly at work in us and in converts! Amen.