Is Isaiah 53 Referring To Jesus?
Before we examine Isaiah 53 verse by verse some preliminary issues must be considered. Isaiah 53 is only understood properly when read in the context of the Jewish Bible as a whole.
Earlier on in the book of Isaiah, God had predicted exile and calamity for the Jewish people. Chapter 53, however, occurs in the midst of Isaiah’s “Messages of Consolation”, which tell of the supposed restoration of Israel to a position of prominence and a vindication of their status as God’s “chosen people”.
In chapter 52, for example, Israel is described as “oppressed without cause” (v.4) and “taken away” (v.5), yet God promises a brighter future ahead, one in which Israel will again prosper and be redeemed in the sight of all the nations (v.1-3, 8-12).
Chapter 54 further elaborates upon the redemption which awaits the nation of Israel. Speaking clearly of the Jewish people and their status (even according to all Christian commentaries), chapter 54 ends as follows:
“This is the heritage of the servants of the Lord and their vindication is from Me, declares the Lord.”
In the original Hebrew texts, there are no chapter divisions, and Jewish and Christian scholars agree that chapter 53 is actually a continuation of the prophecy which begins at 52:13. Accordingly, our analysis must begin at that verse.
52:13 “Behold, My servant will prosper.”
Israel in the singular is called God’s servant throughout Isaiah, both explicitly (Isa. 41:8-9; 44:1-2; 45:4; 48:20; 49:3) and implicitly (Isa. 42:19-20; 43:10) – Other references to Israel as God’s servant include Jer. 30:10 (note that in Jer. 30:17, the servant Israel is regarded by the nations as an outcast, forsaken by God , as in Isa. 53:4); Jer. 46:27-28; Ps. 136:22; Luke. 1:54.
52:15 – 53:1 “So shall he (the servant) startle many nations, the kings will stand speechless; For that which had not been told them they shall see and that which they had not heard shall they ponder. Who would believe what we have heard?”
Quite clearly, the nations and their kings will be amazed at what happens to the “servant of the L-rd,” and they will say “who would believe what we have heard?”.
52:15 tells us explicitly that it is the nations of the world, the gentiles, who are doing the talking in Isaiah 53.
53:1 “And to whom has the arm of the Lord been revealed?”
In Isaiah, and throughout the Jewish Bible , God’s “arm” refers to the physical redemption of Israel from the oppression of other nations (see, e.g., Isa. 52:8-12; Isa. 63:12; Deut. 4:34; Deut. 7:19; Ps. 44:3).
53:3 “Despised and rejected of men.”
While this is clearly applicable to Israel (see Isa. 60:15; Ps. 44:13-14), it cannot be reconciled with the Christian Bible account of Jesus, a man who was supposedly “praised by all” (Luke. 4:14-15) and followed by multitudes (Matt. 4:25), who would later acclaim him as a prophet upon his triumphal entry into Jerusalem (Matt. 21:9-11).
Even as he was supposedly taken to be crucified, a multitude bemoaned his fate (Luke. 23:27). Jesus had to be taken by stealth, as the rulers feared “a riot of the people” (Mk. 14:1-2).
53:3 “A man of pains and acquainted with disease.”
Israel’s adversities are frequently likened to sickness – see, e.g., Isa. 1:5-6; Jer. 10:19; Jer 30:12.
53:4 “Surely our diseases he carried and our pains he bore.”
In Matt. 8:17, this is incorrectly translated, and said to be literally (not spiritually) fulfilled in Jesus’ healing of the sick, a reading inconsistent with the Christian mistranslation of 53:4 itself.
53:4 “Yet we ourselves esteemed him stricken, smitten of God and afflicted.”
See Jer. 30:17 – of God’s servant Israel (30:10), it is said by the nations, “It is Zion; no one cares for her.”
53:5 “But he was wounded FROM (NOTE: not FOR ) our transgressions, he was crushed FROM (AGAIN: not FOR) our iniquities.”
Notice above how the Christians mistranslate and write “FOR our transgressions” rather than “FROM our transgressions”.
Whereas the nations had thought the Servant (Israel) was undergoing Divine retribution for its sins (53:4), they now realize that the Servant’s sufferings stemmed from their actions and sinfulness. This theme is further developed throughout the Jewish Bible – see, e.g., Jer. 50:7; Jer. 10:25. ALSO: Note that the Davidic Messiah according to the Jews “shall not fail nor be crushed till he has set the right in the earth” (Isa. 42:4).
53:7 “He was oppressed and he was afflicted, yet he did not open his mouth. Like a lamb that is led to slaughter, and like a sheep that is silent before its shearers, so he did not open his mouth.”
Note that in the prior chapter (Isa. 52), Israel is said to have been oppressed and taken away without cause (52:4-5). A similar theme is developed in Psalm 44, wherein King David speaks of Israel’s faithfulness even in the face of gentile oppression (44:17- 18) and describes Israel as “sheep to be slaughtered” in the midst of the unfaithful gentile nations (44:22,11).
Regarding the claim that Jesus “did not open his mouth” when faced with oppression and affliction, see Matt. 27:46, Jn. 18:23, 36-37.
53:8 “From dominion and judgement he was taken away.”
Note the correct translation of the Hebrew. The Christians are forced to mistranslate, since – by Jesus’ own testimony – he never had any rights to rulership or judgement, at least not on the “first coming.” See, e.g., Jn. 3:17; Jn. 8:15; Jn. 12:47; Jn. 18:36.
53:8 “He was cut off out of the land of the living” and 53:9 “His grave was assigned with wicked men.”
See Ez. 37:11-14, wherein Israel is described as “cut off” and God promises to open its “graves” and bring Israel back into its own land. Other examples of figurative deaths include Ex. 10:17; 2 Sam. 9:8; 2 Sam. 16:9.
The Jewish Bible repeatedly says that if a descendant of David is righteous, he will not be “cut off ” (karet). For example, see 1Kings 2:4, 8:25, 9:4-5; Jeremiah 33:17; 2Chronicles 6:16, 7:18. But if a descendant of David or priests are unrighteous, they will be cut off (karet). For example, see Jeremiah 33:18; Joel 1:9.
Therefore, if this verse is speaking of Jesus being “cur off”, then that must mean he was unrighteous and was cut off from his (supposed) royal heritage.
53:8 “From my peoples’ sins, there was injury to THEM.”
Here the Prophet makes absolutely clear, to anyone familiar with Biblical Hebrew, that the oppressed Servant is a collective Servant, not a single individual.
The Hebrew word “lamoh”, when used in the Jewish Bible , always means “to them” never “to him” and may be found, for example, in Psalm 99:7 – “They kept his testimonies, and the statute that He gave to them.”
53:9 “And with the rich in his DEATHS .”
Perhaps King James should have changed the original Hebrew, which again makes clear that we are dealing with a collective Servant, i.e., Israel, which will “come to life” when the exile ends (Ez. 37:14). “DEATHS” (Plural)
53:9 “He had done no violence.”
See Matt. 21:12; Mk. 11:15-16; Luke. 19:45; Luke. 19:27; Matt. 10:34 and Luke. 12:51; then judge for yourself whether this passage is truly consistent with the Christian Bible account of Jesus . Actually this denotes that the servant is suffering at the hands of the Gentile nations without provocation .
53:10 “He shall see his seed.”
The Hebrew word for “seed”, used in this verse, always refers to physical descendants in the Jewish Bible . See, e.g., Gen. 12:7; Gen. 15:13; Gen. 46:6; Ex. 28:43. A different word, generally translated as “sons”, is used to refer to spiritual descendants (see Deut. 14:1, e.g.).
53:10 “He will prolong his days.”
Not only did Jesus die young, but how could the days be prolonged of someone who is alleged to be God himself ?
53:11 “With his knowledge the righteous one, my Servant, will cause many to be just.”
Note again the correct translation based upon the Hebrew translation : “the Servant will cause many to be just” he will not…. “justify the many.”
Israel is to serve as a “light to the nations” which will ultimately lead the world to a knowledge of the one true God of Abraham, this by example and preserving the word of God (Deut. 4:5-8; Zech. 8:23) .
53:12 “Therefore, I will divide a portion to him with the great, and he shall divide the spoil with the mighty.”
If Jesus is God, does the idea of reward have any meaning? Is it not rather the Jews -righteously suffered “FROM” the sins of the world and yet remained faithful to God (Ps. 44) ? –
Dr.Raphael Patai, a noted anthropologist, Biblical scholar and author writes in his book “Messianic Text” page 1-2 that :
“… it also must be pointed out that several of these Biblical Messianic prophecies are Messianic only in the light of these later interpretations . At the time of their composition ,these passages may have had other meanings .The important prophecies of Deuteronomy-Isaiah about the Suffering Servant for instance, are considered by Jewish as well as Christian scholars as referring to the people of Israel as a whole.
In Isaiah 49:3 the Suffering Servant is explicitly identified with Israel . On this basis, as well as on the basis of certain other features, all the so called “Servant Songs ” ( Isa.42:1-4 , 49:1-6 , 50:4-9 and 52:13 -53:12 ) have long been taken to speak of the sufferings of exiled Israel as personified in “The Servant of the Lord “.
Yet these same passages became IN TALMUDIC TIMES identified with the Messianic theme , and so they have remained in Jewish FOLK CONSCIOUSNESS throughout the ages . In fact it is quite probable that the concept of the suffering Messiah, fully developed IN THE TALMUD , THE MIDRASH , AND THE ZOHAR “
What Dr Raphael Patai is telling us is that Isaiah 53 at the time of its composition had no Messianic connotations whatsoever.
The Jewish concept of a Davidic Messiah who would rule the world from Jerusalem and suffer with and for the Jewish people (not for the sins of the Jewish people or for humanity as a blood sacrifice ) began to develop during the Jewish exile in Babylon.
The Jews reminisced of the “better days ” when they were a powerful and sovereign nation under the rulership of David and Solomon . The Idea of a Davidic Messiah developed due to the suffering and frustration of a nation in exile who yearned for their homeland and for a day their enemies would bow before them and serve them.
Christians have taken Jewish Messianic folklore completely out of context by interpreting Midrashic homilies in a literal sense .The result is a non-Semitic distortion of Jewish folklore woven with Greek/Roman Mythos “Christianity”.
Now that most non-Jewish scholars concede that Isaiah 53 refers to the Jewish people… Some Christians have tried to find support for their beliefs in Rabbinic writings. Traditional Judaism NEVER believed that there would be a supernatural virgin-born Messiah who would be killed as an atonement for sin. If this had been the traditional Jewish belief all along, it certainly came as a shock to the Jewish followers of Jesus.
When the Nazerene told his followers that he must go to Jerusalem to suffer…Peter protests, “GOD forbid it lord, this shall never happen to you.” (Mat. 16:22) Peter didn’t joyfully exclaim: Praise GOD, you are the suffering servant of Isaiah 53! The Disciples never knew that the Messiah was supposed to suffer – (Mat. 17:23, Luke. 18:34, Jn. 20:9)
Jesus’ enemies, such as Herod (Mat. 2) certainly didn’t think that the Messiah was supposed to be killed – otherwise why help his cause by trying to kill him!?
In reality, the Jewish people expected the Messiah to rule as king over a restored Israel in an age of universal peace and belief.
(Jer. 23:5- 6, Isaiah 11:1-9, 2:1-4, Ezekiel 37:21- 28…) This had always been the Jewish understanding of Messiah, and Isaiah 53 was understood as referring to the Jewish people all along. It’s not an idea invented by Rashi in the Middle Ages.
The church father Origen reports that this was the Jewish understanding in his time, hundreds of years before Rashi. (Contra Celsum) Actually, there are ancient sources that have explicit reference to a supernatural, virgin-born savior, who dies by murder to achieve salvation for believers who can experience him by eating of his flesh…You can read all about it in the mythologies of Mithra, Osiris, Krishna, Tammuz, Adonis, Dionysus, Bacchus, Isis, etc.
Those Christians who desperately ransacked the Talmud to find support for their preconceived ideas are not students of the Talmud with any interest in the actual teachings of Rabbinic Judaism. They merely use the Talmud like a drunk uses a lamp post – not for illumination, but for support.
Most Christians who read the Talmud are not really in the position to know what it means (although some well educated honest Christian scholars do) much as they would claim that a non-Christian can’t really understand the New Testament. (I Cor. 1:18). Some have the audacity to say Christians know Tanach (Jewish Bible) better than the Jews ( comical to say the least).
Most of these Christian Talmudists don’t even own a Talmud much less read it themselves . They rather get their information from collections of secondary sources put together by other Christian Talmudist .
When these collections are checked, the Talmudic passages are frequently incorrectly cited, usually quoted out of context, and occasionally completely manufactured.
Did the Rabbis ever notice that there are two different pictures of the Messiah in the Bible? Did they resolve this tension by proposing a theory of 2 Messiahs, a Messiah son of David and a Messiah son of Joseph? That depends on whether you read what the Talmud actually teaches, or accept the propaganda of the so Christian-Talmudists.
R. Alexandri said: R. Joshua opposed two verses: it is written, And behold, one like the son of man came with the clouds of heaven; whilst [elsewhere] it is written, [behold, thy king cometh unto thee…] lowly, and riding upon an ass! – If they are meritorious, [he will come] with the clouds of heaven; if not, lowly and riding upon an ass. – Sanhedrin 98A
The minor figure of a Messiah son of Joseph has nothing to do with how Talmudic sages perceived contradictory passages in the Bible. He does figure into Rabbinic Apocalyptic-Midrashic speculation.
Ask a “Christian-Talmudist” to explain the difference between “PSHAT” and “DRASH”.
Ask a “Christian-Talmudist” about why the Talmud applies Isaiah 53 to Moses, any pious person who suffers, and sick men who have had an ejaculation (he will see his seed, he will prolong his days…)
Ask a “Christian-Talmudist” why most non-Jewish Biblical scholars, (many of them Christian) accept the real traditional Jewish understanding of Isaiah 53, Daniel 9:24-27 , and Isaiah 7:14; without having a “Jewish” ax to grind. They have more in common with Rabbi Akiba, Rashi, and Rambam than Oral Roberts and Martin Luther.
If you would like to learn the Jewish perspective on the Issues don’t go to your Christian Bookstore or rely on the 700 Club and the “Zola Levite Show ” for your Information.