Luke’s Use of Isaiah 49:6

According to Luke 2:32, Simeon refers to Christ as “a light of revelation to the Gentiles,” which is almost certainly an allusion to Isa 49:6 (“I will also make You a light of the nations”).

According to Acts 13:47, Paul responds to Jewish opposition to his gospel message by claiming that the Lord commanded he and Barnabas, followed by a citation from Isa 49:6 (“I have placed you as a light for the Gentiles, that you may bring salvation to the ends of the earth”).

So in Luke 2:32, Luke seems to indicate that Christ is the fulfillment of Servant in Isa 49:6, while in Acts 13:47 he seems to present Paul and Barnabas as the fulfillment of that same Servant passage. On what basis, then, does Luke assert that both are true? In other words, what is the underlying theological logic that allows Luke to make such claims?

7 thoughts on “Luke’s Use of Isaiah 49:6”

  1. Would Paul and Barnabas being, in practice, emissaries of Christ be where we see the truth of this duality expressed? Although, outsiders were permitted to become Jews in the OT by submitting themselves to the Law and undergoing the appropriate rites the nation of Israel was not particularly evangelistic historically. But then Jesus proclaims the good news and explicitly commissions the Gospel to be preached to the uttermost. This commission, paired with Paul’s unique call, then takes Christ to the gentiles as prophesied.

    I see the connectivity in that Paul was not working under his own authority but under the authority and call of Jesus, who was the object of Paul’s message. Paul was in some sense being Jesus to the gentiles in his act of proclamation. So in that sense Paul, and certainly, all believers who share the Gospel are being lights to the gentiles. To the degree that Paul and all evangelicals proclaim the Gospel we are being like Christ and thus can be described as lights to the gentiles.

  2. Good writing.

    I guess you are one of the five in the Ph.D program at Wheaton?

    What is it like to study under Dr Moo? Perhaps, you could post on your experience at Wheaton with Prof. Moo in the future.

  3. Paul and Barnabas are united with Christ by faith and thus Christ continues and extends his missionary outreach to the Gentiles by means of his apostles.

  4. The theological logic behind Luke’s usage of Isa. 49:6 is grounded in corporate solidarity of the people of God in Jesus the Christ. The Servant Songs of Isaiah have always been hotly contested between Jews and Christians: for example, does Isa. 53 refer to Jesus or the nation of Israel. Isa 49 is similar: does it refer to Jesus or the people of God? In some sense there are portions of the Servant Songs that refer to only the Messiah, only the nation of Israel, and to both the Messiah and his people.

    As a writer this would no doubt have been something that he would’ve hoped his readers picked up on.

    Maybe he learned it from Paul. Check out Romans 16:20 “The God of peace will soon crush Satan under your feet.” Gen. 3:15 anyone?!

    The apostle John also applies this theological logic to the eschatological reward promised to the Thyatiran church. Here he relays Jesus’ message which is an quotation of Psalm 2:8 which is clearly messianic, yet applied to the people of the Messiah.

  5. I agree with Josh that there’s an aspect of corporate solidarity. I wonder, too, if there is an aspect of multiple fulfillment. If I remember right, this idea can carry with it an understanding that the first fulfillment was expected while the second (or others) were not explicit in the OT text. Yet, I still wonder if it was acceptable to be fulfilled in both Jesus and then Paul and Barnabas. Blomberg sees this with the Isaiah quotations in Matthew. See

    Even more, John notes that Jesus says he is the light of the world (John 8:12, 9:5) and yet Matthew quotes Jesus saying “you” are the light of the world (Matthew 5:14). I realize this post is on Luke, but I still wonder how relevant that is to the discussion. Perhaps in Matthew and John it’s not meant to refer to Gentiles as closely as is Luke’s quotation (also cf Phil 2:15).

  6. Following up on Jordan’s thought about ‘multiple fulfillment’ one of the ways that Luke uses Isa 49 with referrence to Paul. It seems that NT typology is different than OT typology. In fact we don’t normally associate OT fulfillment by the people of God as typological. It’s actually the reverse of OT typology because instead of looking forward to Christ, it looks back to Christ who is the Center of the Drama of Redemption. So our discipleship, Christ-likeness, is at times restropsective typology. This is especially true with Luke’s use of Isa 49 in Acts

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