How Can I Interpret the Messianic Prophecy of Isaiah 53?

How do you explain Isaiah 53 to a Jewish person?

Isaiah 53 is commonly held by Christians as a messianic prophecy about Jesus Christ. It is part of Isaiah’s Servant Songs about a messianic figure. It depends on the person you speak to, but the task at hand is to introduce them to Jesus as the Messiah through the Scriptures they know and use every day.

Most of the time, it takes multiple conversations and lifestyle evangelism to show the truth of Scripture. I have found God’s revelation of his Messiah through the Old Testament is ultimately the work of the Holy Spirit, but he uses us to begin the process.

First, let me show the Christian understanding of Isaiah 53, what would be called the messianic interpretation of the passage. And then I will show the progression between the Servant Songs Of Isaiah.

The Messianic Interpretation of Isaiah 53

Isaiah 53:1 – This is a choir or group of people, the people the Messiah died for, regretting what they have done to the Messiah. They have missed God’s message about the Messiah.

Isaiah 53:2 – “Root” may refer to the root of Jesse, the house of David (Isaiah 11:1). “No former beauty that we should desire him” may refer to not recognizing Jesus after his beatings before and during the cross.

Isaiah 53:3 – John 1:5 shows us that Jesus was rejected by the people he came to save. He understands our grief and sorrow (Hebrews 4:15).

Isaiah 53:4 – Jesus carried the sin of the world upon himself as he was crucified on the cross. Everything that we have ever felt he has felt. Yet we thought he was weak and that God was punishing him. What we missed is that he took our place on that cross and bore our sins for us.

Isaiah 53:5 – “Pierced” refers to the nails in Jesus’ hands and feet, and when the soldiers pierced Jesus’ side on the cross (Zechariah 12:10; John 19:34, 37). The “wounds” refer to the beatings and whipping that Jesus received before the cross. In one afternoon Jesus bore the sin of the world and provided healing for every disease known to humankind.

Isaiah 53:6 – The Lord placed on Jesus the sin of the entire world. All of our rebellion was placed on him. He was not only suffering from physical beatings but also the spiritual weight of sin. This is why he suffered more than anyone will ever know. The choir, Israel or even humanity, cries out because of the rebellion that caused Jesus’ suffering and the life.

Isaiah 53:7 – Jesus suffered without complaining. He took on our suffering. Like a lamb to the slaughter is a reference to the Passover Lamb. Jesus was the ultimate fulfillment of the Passover Lamb that rescues us from death (The blood of sacrificed lambs was placed on the door posts of the house to protect its members from the death angel in Egypt. Jesus’ blood was put on the wooden posts of the cross to save us from our sins and the death that they cause.).

Isaiah 53:8 – Jesus died on the cross for our sins but all of us considered him judged by God. As far as they were concerned he was forgotten. His death served all people, for he took our sins upon himself.

Isaiah 53:9 – Jesus was on the cross between of two thieves. He was crucified as though he was guilty of sin. The rich man in his death refers to Joseph of Arimathea giving him his family tomb to be buried in. Even though he was crucified as guilty, he was innocent and sinless. He never lied about himself or the truths that he taught. He was falsely accused and sentenced even though he was innocent.

Isaiah 53:10 – God crushed him as the sacrificial Lamb, the sacrifice for the sins of the world. It was God’s will for Jesus to come and die in our place. But then this verse talks about Jesus living again and prolonging his days. How can he die on the cross and prolong his days? This verse refers to his resurrection. After he paid for our sins, he is restored to life. And the children refer to the children of God that will have access to him because of his sacrifice. He is granting eternal life in the midst of his death.

Isaiah 53:11 – The righteous one refers not to Israel but to a single messianic individual, Jesus the King. He has already taken our iniquities upon himself. The righteous ones he will produce are those who turn to God and have relationship with him because of Jesus’ sacrifice.

Isaiah 53:12 – Jesus receives his reward because he suffered with the guilty even though he was innocent. He bore all of our sins and yet he still intercedes for us.

The Servant Songs of Isaiah

There are four servant songs in the book of Isaiah. They are as follows:

  • Isaiah 42:1-4 – Because of the ending of Isaiah 41, scholars consider this first servant song to refer to Israel as a corporate body or nation. They believe it is a prophecy about the ideal Israelite in the ideal Israel.
  • Isaiah 49:1-6 – This song is a bit more confusing. It talks about Israel in the beginning but ends with a more personal, or individual note. The songs are shifting from a corporate body to an individual. The question is, “Who is the servant King or Messiah?”
  • Isaiah 50:4-7 – Now the servant seems to be an individual for sure. He has suffered great things. He is completely obedient to the Lord. Israel was not obedient in the wilderness nor in the Promised Land. And this points to a person whose beard was plucked and they struck his back and spit on him (Matthew 26:67; 27:26; Mark 15:19; Luke 22:63).
  • Isaiah 52:12-53:13 – We have already discussed in depth this servant song. It is the most clear of all four to show a picture of one person who suffers, specifically for the sins of the world. He bears the suffering for this specific purpose.

Struggling to See the Messiah

Messianic prophecies and Scriptures are scattered throughout the Old Testament. It would be so nice if they were all in one place. But it is one of the reasons it is hard to see the Messiah in the Old Testament. Some don’t even believe there are messianic prophecies.

But there are clear prophecies about the Messiah that show him suffering for the sins of the world. Much of the New Testament, although many of the fulfillments of these messianic prophecies through Jesus are also scattered, proclaims Jesus as the Messiah.

Because everything is separated, it takes a while and deep study to see Jesus for who he is. The New Testament helps with this, but even with only the Old Testament it can be revealed. This is why takes time and study to see Jesus in the Old Testament.

As I have spoken with messianic Jews, all of them tell me that there was a certain verse or a certain prophecy that convinced them of Jesus as Messiah. It’s not the same passage for every person. The Scriptures meet us where we are and it may take time to find out which prophecies convince those who cannot see him in the Old Testament.

Further Resources

Image by Annalise Batista from Pixabay

Leave a Reply

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.