Acts 28 Part 4

We were considering Acts 28:26-27, which passage quotes the important prophecy of Isaiah 6:9-10. This passage is not just quoted here, however, but is quoted in many other places in the New Testament. We will now consider the other quotations of this passage, in order to help us understand why it is quotes here in Acts 28, and what its quotation here is all about.

This passage is the last time chronologically that this important prophecy of Isaiah 6:9-10 was quoted in the New Testament, but it has already been quoted multiple times before in the New Testament. First, we see the passage quoted by our Lord in Matthew 13, when the disciples asked Him the why He had started speaking to the people in parables.

10. And the disciples came and said to Him, “Why do You speak to them in parables?”

It seems that the disciples are confused. The Lord had previously been speaking plainly to the people, giving His teaching. Now, however, He is giving it in parables. They wonder why the change, and why He has started doing this.

11 He answered and said to them, “Because it has been given to you to know the mysteries of the kingdom of heaven, but to them it has not been given.

The Lord explains to them that it was their privilege to know the secrets of the kingdom of heaven, but it was not the peoples’ privilege.

12. For whoever has, to him more will be given, and he will have abundance; but whoever does not have, even what he has will be taken away from him.

The disciples, it seems, have God’s truth, and so more will be given to them until they have in abundance. The people, however, do not have God’s truth. Therefore, even what they have, the opportunity to hear that truth spoken plainly to them by the Lord, is taken away from them, as He is now speaking to them in parables.

13. Therefore I speak to them in parables, because seeing they do not see, and hearing they do not hear, nor do they understand.

Because they do not have, it seems, the Lord is now speaking to them in parables. They are seeing, but do not really see. They are hearing, but do not really hear nor understand.

14. And in them the prophecy of Isaiah is fulfilled, which says:
‘Hearing you will hear and shall not understand,
And seeing you will see and not perceive;

Isaiah’s prophecy is fulfilled in these men, the Lord reveals. To understand this, we need to understand what He meant by “fulfilled.” We are all familiar with the type of fulfillment such as that of Micah 5:2, which said, “But you, Bethlehem Ephrathah, Though you are little among the thousands of Judah, Yet out of you shall come forth to Me The One to be Ruler in Israel, Whose goings forth are from of old, From everlasting.” In Matthew 2:6, this is quoted of the place where Christ was to be born, and finds its fulfillment there.

Yet this is not the kind of fulfillment we see here. The typical word for fulfillment is pleroo, but this word is anapleroo, or filled up. As we saw, this passage originally was written about the people of Israel in Isaiah’s day. It was not given as a prophecy of the way men would be in the future, but was revealing the way men were at the time. Yet here, at a much later date, more men were found who had the same spirit as those men of the past. So Christ refers to this passage, and the fact that this passage is fulfilled or “filled up” by these men. This type of “fulfillment” is not the coming true of a prediction, like the Matthew 2:6 passage is the coming true of Micah 5:2. Rather, this is the filling up of a passage by its being shown to be right once again.

This type of fulfillment is very similar to when we might remark about a situation, “This is just like the Bible says,” and then quote a certain verse. Maybe someone betrays you like Judas, and you say, “This is just like when Judas betrayed the Lord for money.” You might quote a verse about Judas, but you would not mean that this verse was really a prediction, and the situation you are facing is what it was talking about. No, you would just mean that this situation parallels the Bible passage in many ways, and so that passage is very appropriate to it. In other words, what God said is proven true and wise once again. That is what is meant by “fulfilled” here.

15. For the hearts of this people have grown dull.
Their ears are hard of hearing,
And their eyes they have closed,
Lest they should see with their eyes and hear with their ears,
Lest they should understand with their hearts and turn,
So that I should heal them.’

The people in Christ’s day had become just like those of Isaiah. Their hearts were dull, their ears hard of hearing, and their eyes closed. If they did see, hear, understand, and turn, the Lord would heal them, but they were not doing this.

 16 But blessed are your eyes for they see, and your ears for they hear;

The Lord contrasts the disciples with this. Their eyes are happy because they see, and their ears are happy because they hear.

17 for assuredly, I say to you that many prophets and righteous men desired to see what you see, and did not see it, and to hear what you hear, and did not hear it.

Many prophets and righteous men of the past had desired to see what the disciples saw, and had not received the privilege. Many of them had desired to hear the words Christ was speaking to them, and had not heard them. His words were indeed a blessing to them!

So the Lord here uses this prophecy of Isaiah, and proclaims that the common people of Israel were the same way in His day as they were in the past, and so He had started speaking in parables to them.

This passage is quoted once again in Mark 4:12, which is a parallel passage to the one we just considered in Matthew.

10. But when He was alone, those around Him with the twelve asked Him about the parable.

Again, the quotation of this passage came about when the disciples asked Him about the parable of the sower, though Mark does not actually quote their question.

11. And He said to them, “To you it has been given to know the mystery of the kingdom of God; but to those who are outside, all things come in parables,

The disciples had the privilege of knowing the secrets of the kingdom of God. Those who were outside the circle of the disciples, however, received the truth in parables.

12. so that
‘Seeing they may see and not perceive,
And hearing they may hear and not understand;
Lest they should turn,
And their sins be forgiven them.’”

This was done so that Isaiah 6:9-10 would be true of them. They would see, but not perceive. They would hear, but not understand. This parable of the sower was a simple story that anyone at all familiar with farming would grasp and relate to right away. However, he would not automatically know the important point behind the parable, and the real truth the Lord was conveying by it. He might understand the story the Lord told, and yet not get the truth of His teaching at all. Again, the Lord’s teaching was able to cause them to turn so their sins would be forgiven. However, this would not happen with them, since they were not really understanding it.

Our next passage is more a reference to this verse, rather than an actual quotation. This reference is in Mark 8:18.

13. And He left them, and getting into the boat again, departed to the other side.

The Lord left the people He had been teaching, got into the boat He was using once again, and departed to go to the other side of the sea.

14. Now the disciples had forgotten to take bread, and they did not have more than one loaf with them in the boat.

The disciples were in charge of the food, but they had forgotten to bring any. All they found was a single loaf that was on the boat, probably left over from some previous meal and forgotten.

15. Then He charged them, saying, “Take heed, beware of the leaven of the Pharisees and the leaven of Herod.”

The Lord uses this as an occasion for teaching. He warns them to beware of the leaven of the Pharisees and that of Herod.

16. And they reasoned among themselves, saying, “It is because we have no bread.”

The disciples, still focused on their lack of food, try to figure out what the Lord means. They decide He must have said this because they have no bread.

17. But Jesus, being aware of it, said to them, “Why do you reason because you have no bread? Do you not yet perceive nor understand? Is your heart still hardened?

They were not sharing this thought with the Lord, but He well knew what they were thinking. He asks why they are reasoning this? Don’t they perceive or understand? In spite of all their time with the Lord, is their heart still hardened?

18. Having eyes, do you not see? And having ears, do you not hear? And do you not remember?

This had been true of the people in chapter 4, but He said it was not true of His disciples. But is this true even of the disciples now? Like in Isaiah 6:9-10, do they have eyes, yet do not see? Do they have ears, yet to not hear? In other words, don’t they remember what they have already seen, and don’t they perceive what they should have learned from it?

19. When I broke the five loaves for the five thousand, how many baskets full of fragments did you take up?”
They said to Him, “Twelve.”

The Lord brings back to their minds the miracle of the five loaves of bread that fed five thousand. How many baskets of bread were left after that? They remember it was twelve.

20. “Also, when I broke the seven for the four thousand, how many large baskets full of fragments did you take up?”
And they said, “Seven.”

Now He brings their minds back to the seven loaves He used to feed four thousand. How many baskets were left over then? They remember seven.

21 So He said to them, “How is it you do not understand?”

How can they not understand, He asks them? The lesson seems to be that, if the Lord could feed four thousand with seven loaves and have seven baskets left over, and if He could feed five thousand with five loaves and have twelve baskets left over, what could He do with just one loaf? So the last thing they should have been worried about is having enough food! But they were acting like the men in Isaiah 6:9-10, and were not really perceiving what they saw or hearing what they heard.

Now the next quotation of Isaiah 6:9-10 in the New Testament is in Luke 8:10. This fourth passage is parallel to the first two, and is in the context of His relating of the parable of the sower.

9. Then His disciples asked Him, saying, “What does this parable mean?”

The disciples are unable to figure it out, and wish to know the meaning of the parable of the sower.

10 And He said, “To you it has been given to know the mysteries of the kingdom of God, but to the rest it is given in parables, that
‘Seeing they may not see,
And hearing they may not understand.’”

Before explaining the parable, the Lord explains why He was speaking in parables in the first place. The disciples have been given the privilege of knowing the secrets of the kingdom of God, but the rest of the people did not have this privilege. Therefore, the truth was spoken to them in parables. This was done so that they would be like the men of Isaiah 6:9-10. They would see the truth found in the simple story of the parable, but would miss the real meaning the Lord had behind it. They would hear the straightforward story of a simple farmer, but would miss entirely understanding the truth that the Lord was conveying through it. Praise God that He has written down both this parable and its interpretation for us in His Word. We are now privileged to know this secret ourselves through the Word of God.

The fifth quotation of this passage in the New Testament is in John 12:40. This passage takes place at the feast of the Passover in Jerusalem. It happens right after Christ performed His triumphal entry, and days before His death on the cross. It is summing up His work during those few days He was in and around Jerusalem before His arrest.

37. But although He had done so many signs before them, they did not believe in Him,

The Lord had done many signs before these people throughout His ministry. These had culminated in Him raising Lazarus from the dead four days after his death. Yet in spite of all these things, which should have led them to faith, these people did not believe in Him.

38. that the word of Isaiah the prophet might be fulfilled, which he spoke:
“Lord, who has believed our report?
And to whom has the arm of the LORD been revealed?”

The word of Isaiah the prophet was fulfilled in this. These words are written in Isaiah 53:1. The speaker asks the Lord who has believed their report? The ones hearing it were the very ones to whom the arm of the LORD had been revealed. One would think that all who saw His mighty arm would believe. Yet in spite of the revealing of that arm, those who heard the report did not believe it. What a strange thing this was!

The word “fulfilled” here is pleroo. It is clear from reading more of the context in Isaiah 53 that this actually is a prediction of the Lord Jesus Christ, so this was in fact the coming true of this prediction, as well as the filling full of this passage.

39. Therefore they could not believe, because Isaiah said again:

Because this prophecy had to be fulfilled, these people could not believe. This is backed up again by another quotation from Isaiah.

40. “He has blinded their eyes and hardened their hearts,
Lest they should see with their eyes,
Lest they should understand with their hearts and turn,
So that I should heal them.”

Here is the quotation of Isaiah 6:9-10. The Lord had blinded their eyes and hardened their hearts. Otherwise, they might have seen, understood, and turned, and the Lord would have healed them. In other words, they were following the same pattern as the men of Isaiah 6.

41. These things Isaiah said when he saw His glory and spoke of Him.

Isaiah said these things, John revealed, when he saw the Lord’s glory and spoke of Him. This does not mean that Isaiah saw Jesus Christ during His earthly ministry. This is a reference to Isaiah 6:1. Remember, that said, “In the year that King Uzziah died, I saw the Lord sitting on a throne, high and lifted up, and the train of His robe filled the temple.” The earlier quotation in verse 38 may have been more like a vision of the future, however, for Isaiah 53 reads like a history of Jesus Christ on earth, written some 600 years before it happened.

The next quotation of the prophecy of Isaiah 6:9-10 in order in our Bibles is Acts 28:26-27, the passage we are studying. Let us skip over that for now, and go on to Romans 11:8, the final passage that quotes Isaiah 6:9-10. This quotation is last in our Bibles, but chronologically, it comes before Acts 28:26-27, for Romans was written around the time of Acts 20. Let us consider the context from verse 1, though we will not comment on every verse this time, as we could easily get too deep into Romans and lose our focus on this important quotation.

1. I say then, has God cast away His people? Certainly not! For I also am an Israelite, of the seed of Abraham, of the tribe of Benjamin. 2. God has not cast away His people whom He foreknew. Or do you not know what the Scripture says of Elijah, how he pleads with God against Israel, saying, 3. “LORD, they have killed Your prophets and torn down Your altars, and I alone am left, and they seek my life”? 4. But what does the divine response say to him? “I have reserved for Myself seven thousand men who have not bowed the knee to Baal.” 5. Even so then, at this present time there is a remnant according to the election of grace. 6. And if by grace, then it is no longer of works; otherwise grace is no longer grace. But if it is of works, it is no longer grace; otherwise work is no longer work.

Paul is arguing a lot of important points here. God has not cast away His people, of whom Paul is a primary example. Just like in Elijah’s day God insisted that He had reserved some of Israel for Himself, so in Paul’s day there was also a remnant according to the election of grace. Since it was by the choice of grace, it was no longer of works, for the two are mutually exclusive.

7. What then? Israel has not obtained what it seeks; but the elect have obtained it, and the rest were blinded.

Israel as a whole had not obtained the kingdom they sought for. Those chosen in Christ had obtained it, but the unbelieving remainder were blinded.

8. Just as it is written:
“God has given them a spirit of stupor,
Eyes that they should not see
And ears that they should not hear,
To this very day.”

There is some disagreement about which passage Paul is referring to here, which has led some to argue that this is not a quotation of Isaiah 6:9-10 at all. I would suggest that this is a combination of our passage with Isaiah 29:10.

10. For the LORD has poured out on you
The spirit of deep sleep,
And has closed your eyes, namely, the prophets;
And He has covered your heads, namely, the seers.

Romans 11:8 seems to combine the part about the LORD pouring out the spirit of deep sleep with Isaiah 6:9-10, talking about eyes that should not see and ears that should not hear. Paul is not “quoting” Scripture so much here as he is loosely referring to it. Higher critics like to have a field day with passages like this, but as one who has done this myself, saying things like “as the Bible says,” and then just quoting a single word or phrase from a passage, I cannot sympathize with the idea that Paul and the Holy Spirit through him have done anything amiss, or have twisted Scripture in any way by “quoting” it like this.

At any rate, this is a completely understandable reference to Isaiah 6:9-10. Those who were rejecting Jesus Christ from among the Israelites were like the men of Isaiah’s day. They had eyes that did not see and ears that did not hear. They were stubborn and rebellious regarding the truth.

So having examined every occurrence of the quotation of Isaiah 6:9-10, both Isaiah’s original and every one in the New Testament, we can say assuredly that this passage is quoted whenever there are those who are stubbornly and blindly refusing to see the truth that is right in front of them. It is not always the case that this is universal, however, for in some cases, like right here in Acts 28, there are some who are seeing and hearing, and some who are not. This passage is also used when God is not pleased to reveal the truth to some, as when it was quoted in relationship to the parable of the sower. It is always used when some are being estranged from the truth through blindness and unbelief.

Now this passage’s application to the situation current in Acts 28 is clear. About half of the important men who came to hear Paul speak on this very pivotal day have refused to believe the report from God that he gave them. They have closed their eyes, their ears have not heard, and they have not understood and turned to God. Their counterparts, the other half of the leaders gathered on that day, have seen, heard, and turned, however. So Paul speaks to these rejecters, and he quotes Isaiah 6:9-10, applying this great passage to them. They are the ones whose eyes are closed, whose ears are hard, and whose heart is dull. They are just like their fathers who rejected Isaiah’s words that he received from God.