“Therefore I speak to them in parables; because while seeing they do not see, and while hearing they do not hear, nor do they understand. In their case the prophecy of Isaiah is being fulfilled, which says, ‘You will keep on hearing, but will not understand; You will keep on seeing, but will not perceive; For the heart of this people has become dull, With their ears they scarcely hear, And they have closed their eyes, Otherwise they would see with their eyes, Hear with their ears, And understand with their heart and return, And I would heal them.’ But blessed are your eyes, because they see; and your ears, because they hear. For truly 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.” (Matthew 13:13–17, NASB95)
In 2 Chronicles 7 we read about the completion of Solomon’s temple—called the house of the Lord. Upon its completion Scripture tells us that the Lord appeared to Solomon in the night. Among the things said is a verse which has frequently been used to call people of even this nation to repentance, “if my people who are called by my name humble themselves, and pray and seek my face and turn from their wicked ways, then I will hear from heaven and will forgive their sin and heal their land.” (2 Chronicles 7:14, ESV)
God had made a promise to Solomon that while He had accepted the temple as a place where He would accept sacrifices and to which He would pay special attention to the prayers made there, that the real healing of Israel would not happen apart from real change in the people. Building a temple would not cover their rebellion. As we know from Scripture and from history the people of Israel did not come to mass repentance and turn to God. In large part their hearts remained hard and they continued to seek after their own desires. Even in 2 Chronicles 27 when King Jotham took the throne and did right in the eyes of the Lord, Scripture records, “But the people continued acting corruptly.” (2 Chronicles 27:2, NASB95) This path of destruction eventually led to the land being taken away, the temple being destroyed, and many of the people being taken into Babylonian captivity as Chronicles ends. From then on we had the prophets who God raised to call the people to repentance.
Isaiah was one of those prophets, and it was Him who Jesus quoted in today’s passage. In response to his willingness to be sent by God, God gave Isaiah a very difficult message of coming destruction with a thread of hope woven into its core. “Then I heard the voice of the Lord, saying, “Whom shall I send, and who will go for Us?” Then I said, “Here am I. Send me!” He said, “Go, and tell this people: ‘Keep on listening, but do not perceive; keep on looking, but do not understand.’ “Render the hearts of this people insensitive, their ears dull, and their eyes dim, otherwise they might see with their eyes, hear with their ears, Understand with their hearts, and return and be healed.” Then I said, “Lord, how long?” And He answered, “Until cities are devastated and without inhabitant, houses are without people and the land is utterly desolate, the Lord has removed men far away, and the forsaken places are many in the midst of the land. Yet there will be a tenth portion in it, and it will again be subject to burning, like a terebinth or an oak whose stump remains when it is felled. The holy seed is its stump.”” (Isaiah 6:8–13, NASB95) Just as God had told Isaiah, the hard hearts of the people persisted. And it will not be until mid-way through the Tribulation period when their eyes will begin to open culminating at the end of the Great Tribulation when finally all of Israel will be saved as Christ returns to rule for 1,000 years. Later in Isaiah we read, “Then the eyes of the blind will be opened and the ears of the deaf will be unstopped.” (Isaiah 35:5, NASB95)
It was a people in this state of rebellion that Jesus spoke of whose ears were deaf to understanding that He was indeed their sent Messiah. They looked upon Him, listened to Him, and watched Him do miracles, but they still did not get the truth of His coming as the God-man who came to redeem the lost. God knew what it would ultimately take, and He was working His plan. But in the process, while the nation did not turn, many Jews did hear understand and see and perceive and were saved. And beyond that the gospel of salvation was to be brought to all the nations of the world. This is the fulfillment of God’s promise to Abraham that through him all of the nations would be blessed. While the Jews at large stood in stiff necked rebellion others were coming to Christ for salvation. This was a mystery that God revealed clearly in the New Testament, speaking specifically to Peter and calling Paul to this ministry to the Gentiles.
Paul shared of his calling in a hearing before King Agrippa testifying, “And I [Paul] said, ‘Who are You, Lord?’ And the Lord said, ‘I am Jesus whom you are persecuting. ‘But get up and stand on your feet; for this purpose I have appeared to you, to appoint you a minister and a witness not only to the things which you have seen, but also to the things in which I will appear to you; rescuing you from the Jewish people and from the Gentiles, to whom I am sending you, to open their eyes so that they may turn from darkness to light and from the dominion of Satan to God, that they may receive forgiveness of sins and an inheritance among those who have been sanctified by faith in Me.’” (Acts 26:15–18, NASB95)
Just as Jesus spoke of the eyes and ears of His disciples with Him in these verses being able to see and hear, as we read of others who Jesus encountered who also came to understand, and as we read of Paul’s own calling and of thousands of others in Scripture responding, so we read that we who have had our eyes also opened and who have received God’s gift of forgiveness are truly the beneficiaries—knowing God in Christ and the riches of His kingdom.