Archives For Isaiah 53 Explained

This is a three-part series that looks into the meaning of Isaiah 53.

When it comes to Messianic Prophecy, Isaiah 53 is king, and there is no queen.

Isaiah’s prophecy is the clearest description that the Hebrew Scriptures offer concerning the identity of the Messiah. The rabbis, since the middle of the 11th century have claimed this passage is referring to the Jewish people as a whole, but the dominant rabbinical possition for centuries was that it spoke of the Messiah. Why the shift? Because the man Isaiah describe fits Yeshua completely.

I have counted nearly 40 predictions in Isaiah 53, and Yeshua fulfilled them all!

The Messiah is a King, not a Suffering Servant, right?

This is what I was told as a new believer. When it came to Isaiah 53, that was the party line amongst orthodox leaders I quizzed. “Messiah will come reign, not to be crucified!” I say party line because an honest reading of the passage could not lead to any other conclusion aceept that he speaks of the Messiah.

Finally an orthodox sect admitted this—although they got the person wrong. Some of the followers of the deceased former Lubavitcher Rebbe, Menachem Mendel Schneerson, believe he is the fulfillment of Isaiah 53; that he is the suffering servant and Messiah. And some of his most ardent disciples still expect him to rise from the dead, as Isaiah 53:11 proclaims. This is the first time a Chasidic Jewish stream has been willing to admit the obvious—Isaiah 53 describes the Jewish Messiah.

Stop Reading from the New Testament!

When I read Isaiah 53 to a Jewish colleague nearly two decades ago, he yelled at me, “Stop reading from the New Testament!” He was stunned to find out that Isaiah spoke these words about a Jewish man over 700 years before Yeshua was born.

Years ago, back in the days od dial up internet and CompuServe, I was in an e-mail bulletin board debate with a Jewish man. He claimed Isaiah 53 was not referring to the Messiah, but to the Jewish people, as mentioned above. Part 2 and 3 is my response to him. I never got a reply.

 

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Part II: Why Isaiah 53 Cannot be Referring to Israel

I can see how someone at first glance might think this could be referring to Israel. However with deeper scrutiny, it becomes clear there is NO WAY THIS COULD REFER TO THE NATION OF ISRAEL AS A WHOLE.

Part One will deal with “Why it cannot be Israel” and Part Two will reveal “Why it is Yeshua.”

1. Why it cannot be Israel

A. Starting with Isaiah 52:9, the prophet writes, “Burst into songs of joy together, you ruins of Jerusalem, for the LORD has comforted his people, he has redeemed Jerusalem.”  Who has the Lord redeemed, “Jerusalem.”  Jerusalem is not the redeemer, but the redeemed.

B. Isaiah 53:5 states, “But he was pierced for our transgressions, he was crushed for our iniquities; the punishment that brought us peace was upon him, and by his wounds we are healed.”  Clearly this is a reference to one group of people receiving peace for an individual’s suffering.  “…the LORD has laid on him the iniquity of us all.”  Again this him takes on the sin of a group.

i. Israel’s role, as defined by Scripture, was to be a blessed nation if she were obedient:

All these blessings will come upon you and accompany you IF YOU OBEY THE LORD YOUR GOD: You will be blessed in the city and blessed in the country.  The fruit of your womb will be blessed, and the crops of your land and the young of your livestock–the calves of your herds and the lambs of your flocks.  Your basket and your kneading trough will be blessed.  You will be blessed when you come in and blessed when you go out. (Deut. 28:2-6)

However, the very same passage teaches that Israel would suffer greatly, not for the sins of others, but for her own, if she did not fully obey the Torah:

However, if you do not obey the LORD your God and do not carefully follow all his commands and decrees I am giving you today, all these curses will come upon you and overtake you: You will be cursed in the city and cursed in the country…The fruit of your womb will be cursed…You will be cursed when you come in and cursed when you go out.  The LORD will send on you curses, confusion and rebuke in everything you put your hand to, until he has destroyed you from the land you are entering to possess.  The LORD will strike you with wasting disease, with fever and inflammation, with scorching heat and drought, with blight and mildew, which will plague you until you perish. (Deut. 28:15-22)

ii. Israel was called to be a light to nations, not to suffer for the nations. Nowhere in the Torah does it teach that Israel, by her suffering, would redeem the nations.  What other Scripture backs this theory?  Until Rashi (c. 1040-1105), the dominant rabbinic interpretation was that this was the Messiah, not the people. And there is significant proof, that he only adopted this view later—he earlier believed it was referring to a man.

C. The most powerful proof however would be obvious.  “We have sinned!” to quote both Daniel and Isaiah (Is. 42:24, Dan. 9:5). The one suffering in Isaiah 53 is guiltless:

v. 9:  …though He had done no violencenor was any deceit in His mouth.

v. 11 my righteous servant will justify many…

In order for the Lord “to lay upon Him the iniquity of us all” He would have to be perfect. That is why in Leviticus the Lord said that He would never accept a lamb that had any spot, blemish or defect. (Lev. 1:3)

So the question is “Was Israel blameless in the eyes of the Lord?” Let us see what Isaiah has to say elsewhere:

Hear, O heavens!  Listen, O earth!  For the LORD has spoken: “I reared children and brought them up, but they have rebelled against me.  The ox knows his master, the donkey his owner’s manger, but Israel does not know, my people do not  understand.”  Ah, sinful nation, a people loaded with guilt, a brood of evildoers, children given to corruption!  They have forsaken the LORD; they have spurned the Holy One of Israel and turned their backs on him. (Is. 1:2-4 )

How can a nation “loaded with guilt” suffer for the nations and be a “guilt offering?” (v. 10)

A few verses down Isaiah makes it clear as to why our people have suffered so much, but it is not because of the sins of the nations. “Why should you be beaten anymore?  Why do you persist in rebellion?  Your whole head is injured, your whole heart afflicted.  From the sole of your foot to the top of your head there is no soundness—only wounds and welts and open sores, not cleansed or bandaged or soothed with oil.” (Is 1:5-6)  The implication is, “Shuv (Repent) so your suffering will stop!”

But your iniquities have separated you from your God; your sins have hidden his face from you, so that he will not hear.  For your hands are stained with blood, your fingers with guilt.  Your lips have spoken lies, and your tongue mutters wicked things. (Is. 59:2-3)

Rather than saying your righteous suffering has served as an offering for the nations, he says, “your iniquities have separated you from your God.”

Please don’t misunderstand me. I love Israel. I am a Jew. I think Israel is one of the most humane nations on earth, compared to other nations. However, that doesn’t make us guiltless.

D. Verse 8 seems to be saying that the person suffering is suffering for the sins of Israel.

“…for the transgression of my people He was stricken.”

“My people” and “He” could not be the same.  It would read like this: “for the transgression of my people were my people stricken.” That makes no sense as they would be suffering for their own sins, whereas in Isaiah 53, the righteous servant suffers for the sins of others.  The “He” is the Messiah, Yeshua, who dies for the sins of Israel.

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2. Why I believe Yeshua fulfills this prophecy.

All one needs to do is read it!

He was despised and rejected by men, a man of sorrows, and familiar with suffering.  Like one from whom men hide their faces he was despised, and we esteemed him not. (Is. 53:3)

—Yeshua was rejected by our people. Yes, tens of thousands of Jewish people did follow Him, but the religious leaders and majority of Israelites rejected Him.

But he was pierced for our transgressions, he was crushed for our iniquities; the punishment that brought us peace was upon him, and by his wounds we are healed. (Is. 53:5)

—Yeshua was pierced as they hung him on the cross. How clear is that!? And we believe that, “by His wounds we are healed.”

He was oppressed and afflicted, yet he did not open his mouth; he was led like a lamb to the slaughter, and as a sheep before her shears is silent, so he did not open his mouth. (Is. 53:7)

—Although He could have defended Himself (Matt: 26:53) He willingly laid down His life.  Not once did He try to get out of his death sentence.

He was assigned a grave with the wicked. (Is. 53:9)

—Crucifixion was the way common criminals were killed.

…and with the rich in his death. (Is. 53:9)

—Joseph of Arimathea was a rich man and a Pharisee who gave his tomb to Yeshua (Matt. 27:57-59).

He will see his offspring (Is. 53:10)

—Over a billion people now claim to follow this Jewish man.

…and prolong his days…after the suffering of his soul, he will see the light. (Is. 53:10-11)

—Yeshua rose from the dead and over 500 people witnessed it.  Ten of His original disciples suffered a martyr’s death believing He rose from the dead. Why would someone allow himself to be killed for what they knew to be a lie?

…my righteous servant will justify many, and He will bear their iniquities. (Is. 53:11)

—The New Covenant records that this man was thought to have died as atonement for the Jewish people. Yeshua’s cousin, the Jewish prophet John, prophesied when he saw Yeshua, “Look, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world!” (John 1:29)

Therefore I will give Him a portion among the great, and He will divide the spoils with the strong, because He poured out his life unto death, and was numbered with the transgressors. For He bore the sin of many, and made intercession for the transgressors. (Is. 53:12)

—As recorded, Yeshua was “numbered with the transgressors” as He was crucified between a thief and a murderer. Very simply, He was a righteous man who bore the sin of the world, and willingly gave His life.

In conclusion: If it were not for the fact that Yeshua looks so much like this man, would any scholar not immediately conclude that this passage refers to the Messiah? Of course not. Isaiah, 700 years before Yeshua, described in detail that Jewish man portrayed in the New Covenant, Yeshua.

 

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