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Isaiah 53

QUESTION: Isaiah 53 - Is this talking about Jesus?


Isaiah 53 refers to Jesus Christ because that's the only meaning the most ancient Jewish scholars saw in the passage. They unfailingly understood its reference to the person of God's Anointed, who suffered on behalf of God's people and, through suffering, exalted himself and them.

Centuries of Jewish isolation followed the temple's destruction in A.D. 70 and surfaced a glaring introspection in Israel's scholars. That led to a re-evaluation of Isaiah 53. Where the prophet anticipated a hopeful peoples' search for Messiah, Medieval scholarship reflected a suffering peoples' loss of perspective. Where Isaiah's forecast brightened Israel's future, relentless cycles of Medieval religious and secular pogroms bludgeoned it. Unwilling to blame their rejection of the Messiah Isaiah 53 forecast, Israel's sages internalized the prophet to fit the historical situation as they experienced it, not as their ancestors foresaw it.

Even as revisionists re-interpreted Scripture to fit life as they experienced it, traditional scholars denigrated the novel interpretation and produced textual and historical proofs in rebuttal. Since it's easier to blame others, including God, for miseries our mistakes inflict on us and others, however, the medievalist view remains the dominant Jewish position today. But let it be understood: while the passage of time clarifies the meaning of historical events, it may also prejudice our view of those events. Thus, present-day Israel lives in the shadow of past persecution, not in the hope of future deliverance. Their retrospect cannot offer a more accurate interpretation of Isaiah 53 than the prospect of earlier generations of Israelite scholars.

Isaiah 53 refers to Jesus Christ because New Testament writers freely relate the prophet's words to Christ. John 12:37-38 and Romans 10:16 use Isaiah 53:1 to state Israel's rejection of Christ despite His many miracles in their presence. Matthew 8:16-17 describes Christ's healing ministry, using Isaiah 53:4 to show Jesus assuming our infirmities and carrying our sorrows. Luke 22:28 reminds us that Jesus was familiar with suffering, as Isaiah 53:3 noted. Yet, as John 14:27, 15:11, and 16:33 stress, Jesus turned all His adversity into victory by submitting it to God's will. He knew the cost imposed by ministering (Luke 8:46), but never whimpered or complained about how tough life had been, or if He had known it would cost so much, He wouldn't have come. Instead, at the end, as He had throughout His life, He bequeathed His JOY and PEACE to them and us.

1 Corinthians 1:23 expresses the Jewish viewpoint stated in Isaiah 53:4, ". . .yet we considered him stricken by God, smitten by him, and afflicted." Indeed, following God's clear condemnation of the crucified (Deuteronomy 21:22-23), most Jews saw Christ's death as God's punishment for leading people astray (John 7:12-13).

Luke 19:10, Mark 10:45, 1 Peter 1:18-19, and Revelation 5:6, 9 fulfill Isaiah 53:5-6: "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. We all, like sheep, have gone astray, each of us has turned to his own way; and the LORD has laid on him the iniquity of us all."

That gives particular piquancy to the charge of Jewish leaders strutting before the cross: "He saved others, but he can't save himself" (Luke 23:35). In reality, He saved others because He wouldn't save Himself - the essence of Isaiah 53:5, "the punishment that brought us peace was upon him."

1 Peter 2:24 quotes Isaiah 53:5, "By his wounds we are healed," and 1 Peter 2:25 refers to Isaiah 53:6, "We all, like sheep, have gone astray." Luke 23:9, Mark 14:61a, 15:5 and 1 Peter 2:23 all are commentaries on Isaiah 53:7: Jesus kept silent before Herod, before Caiphas until the High Priest put Him on oath and before Pilate when the leaders viciously attacked Him.

Luke 23:32-33 and 23:50-53 fulfill Isaiah 53:9, "He was assigned a grave with the wicked, and with the rich in his death. . ." Hebrews 5:8 fulfills Isaiah 53:10, "Yet it was the LORD's will to crush him and cause him to suffer. . ." Mark 3:31-35 refers to Isaiah 53:8, "And who can speak of his descendants?" While Jesus had only a small spiritual family while in ministry, Philippians 2:9-11, Ephesians 1:20-23, and Revelation 5:8-14 detail countless descendants after completing His sufferings and rising from the grave, the meaning of Isaiah 53:10c-12, "He will see his offspring. . .my righteous servant will justify many."

Isaiah 53 refers to Jesus Christ because the earliest church leaders used it in teaching inquirers about Christ. Acts 8:26-40 relates one story. The Holy Spirit directed the evangelist Philip to travel a desert road, then directed him to a particular chariot in which an Ethiopian eunuch sat reading Isaiah 53 - and the instant Philip came alongside the chariot the man had his finger on verses 7-8. When Philip asked if he understood the words, the eunuch invited him to explain them. Luke records the grand response: "Then Philip began with that very passage of Scripture and told him the good news about Jesus" (Acts 8:35). Using an unquestionably messianic reference, Philip preached Jesus as the unquestionable Messiah of the passage. We can find Jesus in many Old Testament texts, but none more clearly than Isaiah, the 8th century B.C. preacher. He's often called The Gospel Prophet because he's quoted in the New Testament more times than any from the Old Covenant, and none more fully than Isaiah 53.

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We have all sinned and deserve God’s judgment. God, the Father, sent His only Son to satisfy that judgment for those who believe in Him. Jesus, the creator and eternal Son of God, who lived a sinless life, loves us so much that He died for our sins, taking the punishment that we deserve, was buried, and rose from the dead according to the Bible. If you truly believe and trust this in your heart, receiving Jesus alone as your Savior, declaring, "Jesus is Lord," you will be saved from judgment and spend eternity with God in heaven.

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