Tuesday, May 25, 2010

Why I think Isaiah 53 was about Jesus and not the nation of Israel

The NIV link for the entire Isaiah 53 passage is given here (click it).

2 Schools of thought
There are 2 schools of thought on this, one thinks that Isaiah was talking about the nation Israel, another, Jesus. Many Jewish theologians subscribe to the former, and many modern Christians, the latter. This article is not aimed at creating dispute on the matter; although many Jews did not believe Isaiah 53 was about the Messiah, and so missed Jesus, or are giving Jesus, a miss.

Why I am interested
I will explain my interest in this matter. Firstly, it is important as a Christian of many years to seriously study the Word of God to learn more about God and his ways. In fact, the more I studied the Bible I found that it is important to know the faith heritage. And there are stories in the Bible, of individuals (like Gideon) who knew and understood much of the faith heritage and was honored by God, and there are stories about those (like Jephthah) who did not know enough, did not understand God’s dealings with man, and misapplied the little knowledge they had, and the results were that their actions displeased God.

More specifically, in relation to Isaiah 53, for those who argued that Jesus or the Messiah was portrayed there, they could see “the cross” in the passage. Let me explain: Every Christian should learn to understand the work of the cross, what happened at the cross? What was accomplished at the cross? What did the crucifixion of Jesus mean? What power was there on the cross? Could we claim healing from the work on the cross? If so, was the healing only spiritual? What about physical healing, emotional healing, psychological disorders? Are they all covered? Is salvation sure? What does salvation cover? Is healing part of salvation? Which aspect is sure? Is healing a sure thing? What about peace? Is it also part of the work of the cross? The word of God is important. Jesus Himself used them against Satan who also used them against Jesus in trying to tempt Jesus when He came out of His pre-ministry fasting. Those who see the Messiah in Isaiah 53 see these things in the passage, and they want to understand them, access them, and use them. Then there are those who thought they saw these things in the passage but they were told the passage was not about Jesus, and so, they could not claim them as part of the work of the cross.

There was one discussion I came across, concerning healing, and one party was saying God did mention about healing the land, and that healing did not mean people got healed, and so, by the same token, if Isaiah 53 was not about the Messiah, the healing spoken in Isaiah 53:5 was only for the nation of Israel as a whole or for the land. So, you see, we have to make up our mind, whether or not, Isaiah 53 was about Jesus, before we talk about healing for the individuals, using Isaiah 53:5. In fact, another angle surfaced in that discussion; it was whether healing was only spiritual and did not include physical or psychological ones. Again, we have to make up our mind whether or not, a man was being talked about in the Isaiah passage, or it was all just a metaphor for the nation or the land.

I know from elsewhere, in the Bible, we too, can come to certain conclusions about some aspects of the cross, but Isaiah 53 was so direct, if correctly, Jesus was being portrayed there.

What supports my conclusion?
Now let us look at what I have to support my belief that Isaiah 53 was talking about Jesus.

Thematic flow
I have taken time to study Isaiah 48 right up to Isaiah 53. I believe often times, because we take too small a bite at Scripture passages, we miss the flow and the connectivity of the verses. For those who want to say that the original scriptures did not have chapters, I know that. My conclusion is that there are 2 blocks here. You can have more if you break it down further. But I cannot come to the conclusion that it is one block, i.e. Isaiah 48 to Isaiah 53 is one big block. The thematic flow started in Isaiah 48 stopped at the end of Isaiah 52. I believe, one who takes the time to study Isaiah 48 to Isaiah 53 at one sitting, is capable of coming to the same conclusion. When you spend the time to rewrite the verses in easy to understand English with considerations of the parties (including such things as first person, second person, and so on) involved in the scriptures, you might agree with me Isaiah 53 is quite separate from the preceding texts.

There are those who said that what was being written in Isaiah 53 did not start at verse 1 of Isaiah 53, but from verse 13 of Isaiah 52; you can adopt that if you like. I like to look at the last 3 verses of Isaiah 52 (vv13-15) as capable of referring to both the nation of Israel or Jesus. The only thing is that the proponents of the other school of thought will say that verse 13 specifically used the phrase “my servant” (in the 2nd person) which in Isaiah 49:3, was referring to Israel. Rather, I would leave the last 3 verses of Isaiah 52 alone, and not take it to refer to Jesus, because the “third person” language really started in verse 2 of Isaiah 53, and used consistently throughout Isaiah 53.

One may argue that there is one anomaly to the “third person” language usage in Isaiah 53; and that would be in Isaiah 53:11 where “my righteous servant” was used. According to Jewish theologians, the English translation of the Hebrew text should have rendered the phrase as “my servant” and not “my righteousness servant”. Accordingly they claimed that the translation should read as “with his knowledge my servant will vindicate the righteous before the magnitudes, ….” Instead of “by his knowledge my righteous servant justify many”. In that case, I would say that Isaiah 53:11 could read like this:

11 After the suffering of his soul,
he will see the light of life and be satisfied;
with his knowledge my servant will vindicate many,
and he will bear their iniquities.

I merely substituted the word, “by” with “with”, the phrase, “my righteous servant” with “my servant”, and the word, “justify” with “vindicate”. And the meaning of Isaiah 53:11b would be: with the knowledge of Jesus, Israel would exonerate many {many in Israel would be exonerated}, and Jesus would bear their iniquities. Looking at it this way, although, indeed Israel appears in the verse, the third person Jesus (he) still flowed consistently. Even when the word “justify” was not used in the verse, it did not imply there was no justification element in the verse; the fact that it said Jesus would bear their iniquities implied justification. I also honestly believe in the last days, many Israelites would be saved, and Jesus would bear their iniquities. I know Gentile Christians would like to see “Israel” not in the verse, but we must understand that it is also possible for relevance to the targeted audience, “Israel” was inserted intentionally by God. The opening up of the faith to the Gentile was only made known to all in the New Testament Time; even the Apostles, initially did not know it. The Apostle Peter, for example, had to be given a vision before he understood that God had opened up the gospel to the Gentiles.

Psalm 44 – no tenable connection
I do not agree with the author, on the topic of Isaiah 53, on Wikipedia, claiming that Psalm 44 is probably the best defense for reading Isaiah 53 as applicable to the nation of Israel {and therefore, not about Jesus}. There is no tenable connection between this Psalm and Isaiah 53.

Philip and the Ethiopian
In the Book of Acts, we read of an account of Philip and the Ethiopian. God, through an angel, arranged for Philip to meet with the Ethiopian eunuch who was then reading Isaiah 53. The relevant scriptures are given below (Acts 8:26-35):

26Now an angel of the Lord said to Philip, "Go south to the road—the desert road—that goes down from Jerusalem to Gaza." 27So he started out, and on his way he met an Ethiopian[d]eunuch, an important official in charge of all the treasury of Candace, queen of the Ethiopians. This man had gone to Jerusalem to worship, 28and on his way home was sitting in his chariot reading the book of Isaiah the prophet. 29The Spirit told Philip, "Go to that chariot and stay near it." 30Then Philip ran up to the chariot and heard the man reading Isaiah the prophet. "Do you understand what you are reading?" Philip asked. 31"How can I," he said, "unless someone explains it to me?" So he invited Philip to come up and sit with him.

32The eunuch was reading this passage of Scripture:

"He was led like a sheep to the slaughter,
and as a lamb before the shearer is silent,
so he did not open his mouth.
33In his humiliation he was deprived of justice.
Who can speak of his descendants?
For his life was taken from the earth."{Isaiah 53:7-8}

34The eunuch asked Philip, "Tell me, please, who is the prophet talking about, himself or someone else?" 35Then Philip began with that very passage of Scripture and told him the good news about Jesus.

The eunuch was reading the passage of Isaiah 53:7-8. Not knowing who was being referred to, he asked Philip who was being referred to in the passage, was it the Prophet Isaiah or someone else. Philip took the opportunity, and starting from that very passage of Scripture, explained the gospel of Jesus to the eunuch. I believe this is a deliberate act of God, to have this account recorded in the New Testament for us; and this tells us that it was the Messiah, Jesus, who was being portrayed in Isaiah 53.

[added 05/01/2011: Even the Apostle John, understood that Isaiah 53 was referring to Jesus, for in the Gospel of John, at John 12:37-38, in revealing the response of the people (principally, the Jews) towards Jesus' ministry and teaching, John made reference to this Isaiah 53, verse 1, saying that, indeed as was written in Isaiah 53:1, only some of the Jews would believe the Messiah, Jesus, when He came walking on this earth.]

[added 10/03/2011: The Apostle Matthew wrote in Matt 8:16-17, that Jesus was healing the sick and delivering people from demon-possessions as part of the fulfilment of Isaiah 53:4. This, of course, pointed to Isaiah 53 was indeed referring to Jesus.]

If you can accept my reasoning here, the next time you read Isaiah 53, claim it as a portrayal of the Messiah, Jesus; see “the cross” in the passage, and claim the power and benefits in that passage.

Anthony Chia - And the Lord's servant must not quarrel; instead, he must be kind to everyone, able to teach, not resentful. (2 Tim 2:24)

Comments are welcome here. Alternatively, email them to me @: ... {click on it to reveal complete address}
Or just email me your email address so that I can put you on my blog (new entry) notification list. To go back to blog main page, click here.