I was recently asked a great question by Alex in one of the comment boxes which I thought I'd share in a post:
Do you think the vast majority, if not all, of Jesus' acts (non-speech acts) were primarily symbolic meant to point to himself as Messiah, redeemer, what have you? Or at the very least, did the writers of the gospels tend to take all of the stories this way? My only thought, is what if the concept of "allusions" in the gospel is nothing more than speculation, and all Jesus was really trying to do was just feed hungry people to show his power and love.To answer this question from a historical perspective, I want to turn to Matthew 11:2-6, which I think is immensley helpful here.
So which is it: a) symbolic to show messiahship, redemption, fulfillment of Exodus, etc., or b) a show of his goodness, love, and power so people would look to him for
salvation. I think a) is the way that scholarship typically interprets it, while b) is the way the lay church typically interprets it. Heck maybe both are true, but I'd be curious to hear what you think?Here is what I would say.
"Now when John heard in prison about the deeds of the Christ, he sent word by his disciples 3 and said to him, “Are you he who is to come, or shall we look for another?” 4 And Jesus answered them, “Go and tell John what you hear and see: 5 the blind receive their sight and the lame walk, lepers are cleansed and the deaf hear, and the dead are raised up, and the poor have good news preached to them."
Isa 61:1: The Spirit of the Lord GOD is upon me, because the Lord has anointed me to bring good tidings to the afflicted. . .Here it seems clear that Jesus is combining the two passages to answer the question about his identity―and the answer is in the affirmative, i.e., yes, he is the Messiah.
Isa 35:5-6: Then the eyes of the blind shall be opened, and the ears of the deaf unstopped; 6 then shall the lame man leap like a hart, and the tongue of the dumb sing for joy.
The historicity of Jesus’ answer is in fact accepted by a good number of scholars. As is well-known, in this saying Jesus conflates Isaiah 35 and 61, something that is mirrored in one very important fragment found among the Dead Sea Scrolls: 4Q521 (4QMessianicApocalypse).
The fragment is worth citing here. It begins by clearly speaking of the coming “anointed one”, i.e, the “Messiah”: “[for the heav]ens and the earth will listen to his anointed one. . .” (4Q521 II 2:1). It goes on to state in lines 7–8: “7 For he will honour the pious upon the throne of an eternal kingdom, 8 freeing prisoners, giving sight to the blind, straightening out the twis[ted]” (4Q521 II 2:7–8).) Likewise, in lines 11–12 we read: “11 And the Lord will perform marvelous acts such as have not existed, just as he sa[id] 12 [for] he will heal the badly wounded and will make the dead live, he will proclaim good news to the poor. . .” (4Q521 II 2:11–12).
The similarities with Jesus’ words are simply stunning. Strikingly, both the Qumran text and Jesus’ statement insert a statement about raising the dead prior to the reference to preaching to the poor. It would seem then that Jesus’ answer involved not an original use of the Old Testament, but rather alluded to a commonly conjoined set of passages from Isaiah which were associated with the Messiah and understood as describing the Messiah’s future activities.
In fact, the case for the authenticity of the passage is strong. Davies and Allison highlight the following:
(1) John the Baptist appears to have been motivated by eschatological hopes thus it is likely he looked for to the coming of a messianic figure;
(2) the passage suggests that John was unclear about who Jesus was―a tradition we would not expect to be invented about John by the early church;
(3) the proofs provided for Jesus’ messiahship are not what we would expect from the early church.
Thus, as Davies and Allison explain, “The dominical origin of 11.5–6, which characteristically proclaims the presence of the Kingdom, is usually granted by modern scholars.”
The implication here--which goes to the heart of the question asked by Alex--is that Jesus sees his miraculous actions as in general supporting his messianic mission. Thus I think it is safe to assume that even if Jesus worked a miracle simply out of compassion for someone, he clearly ALSO knew it would reinforce his larger eschatological claims.
As for other symbolic acts--e.g., cleansing the temple--I think the sayings associated with them (e.g., Isa 56:7 in the temple action) make it clear that Jesus intends to convey an eschatological message in them. Now of course one could take a radically skeptical view and insist that the sayings have all been added by the evangelists. Why on earth one would insist on accepting the authenticity of the deeds but doubt the sayings is beyond me. In general, though, I think however a good case can be made for the authenticity of both, as I have explained here and especially here.
So I think in general, yes, Jesus' miraculous acts and his symbolic deeds seem to point to his messianic mission. He certainly seemed to say so himself. Of course, that's not to say that we can over interpret a passage and possibly read too much into them in other ways!
 See Lidija Novakovic, Messiah, the Healer of the Sick: A Study of Jesus as the Son of David in the Gospel of Matthew (WUNT 2.170; Tübingen: 2003), 180: “In contrast to the Jewish texts which are only thematically related to 4Q521, the Q passage preserved in Matt 11:2-6 and Luke 7:18-23 contains the closest known parallel to this document, because both texts go beyond their common scriptural basis in Isa 61:1 by adding the reference to the resurrection of the dead in front of the reference to preaching good news to the poor.”
 See W. D. Davies and Dale Allison, The Gospel According to St. Matthew (ICC; 3 vols.; Edinbugh: T & T Clark, 1988), Matthew, 2:244–46. See also A. E. Harvey, Jesus and the Constraints of History: The Bampton Lectures, 1980 (London: Duckworth, 1982), 140: “[Isaiah 61:1–2] has so many points of contact with the gospel tradition as a whole that it is exceedingly unlikely to be the invention of any one evangelist or even. . . of the early church as opposed to Jesus or his disciples. Indeed, it introduces us to a complex of ideas which pervade the whole gospel record and are bound up with the style of preaching and action adopted by Jesus.”