Jesus – The Messiah?

By: John Ankerberg and John Weldon; ©1993
n this article Ankerberg and Weldon examine two passages in Isaiah that reveal information about the Messiah. How does Jesus fit the information given in Isaiah 9:6-7 and in Isaiah 53?

(excerpted from The Facts on Jesus the Messiah (Eugene, OR: Harvest House, 1993)

Who is the Child that is God and will have an everlasting kingdom? – Isaiah 9:6-7

The Biblical Text (700 B.C.)

For to us a child is born, to us a son is given, and the government will be on his shoulders. And he will be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace. Of the increase of his government and peace there will be no end. He will reign on David’s throne and over his kingdom, establishing and upholding it with justice and righteousness from that time on and forever. The zeal of the Lord Almighty will accomplish this (Isa. 9:6-7, NIV).

The Context of This Passage

Israel had been invaded by the Assyrian King Tiglath-Pileser (the first Jewish captivity) and as a result, the captured Israelites are plunged into despair and humiliation. In this prophecy God offers them hope for the future. He speaks of a coming light who will illuminate those who are in distress and darkness: “The people walking in darkness have seen a great light; on those living in the land of the shadow of death a light has dawned” (Isa. 9:2, NIV).

Isaiah the prophet records that in the past God had humbled the land of Zebulun and the land of Naphtali (Northern and Southern Galilee). However, in the future God “will honor Galilee” (Isa. 9:1, NIV). It is these people who, walking in darkness, will “see a great light.”

Then God proceeds to describe the child who is to be born, the son who is to be given. He will be both human (“a child is born to us”) and God (“he will be called… Mighty God”), and thus, he will reign forever on David’s throne. This can be no one other than the promised Messiah.

The Explanation of the Text

What this prophecy makes clear is the following:

  1. A child will be born to the Jewish people.
  2. The government will be upon His shoulders—He will be a ruling king.
  3. He is called “Wonderful Counselor,” “Mighty God,” “Everlasting Father,” “Prince of Peace”—as Old Testament scholar Dr. Merrill Unger points out, the phrase “his name” is a Hebrew idiom, and means that the child would not actually bear the names, but “deserve them, and that they are appellatives or descriptive designations of his person and work.”[1]
  4. There would be no end to the increase of the child’s government and peace.
  5. He would reign on David’s throne and over his kingdom for eternity.
  6. The passage specifically places the fulfillment of this prophecy in Galilee since God says He will honor “Galilee of the Gentiles, by way of the sea, along the Jordan.”

Concerning Zebulun and Naphtali, Hebrew and Old Testament scholar Edward J. Young comments, “This… district, despised even in New Testament times, was glorified when God honored it, and the fulfillment of the prophecy occurred when Jesus Christ the Son of God dwelt [settled] in Capernaum [‘in the region of Zebulun and Naphtali’—Matthew 4:13].”[2]

Here in Isaiah 9:6 we have the clearest statement that the Messiah will be both God and man: He is called “Eternal Father” and “Mighty God” (El Gibbor)—the latter name is used of God Himself in Isaiah 10:21 and other passages. Edward J. Young has shown that the use of El in Isaiah “is found as a designation of God and only of him…. [Thus we see that] the Lord, the Holy One of Israel—and El Gibbor [the term used of the Son in Isaiah 9:6], are one and the same.”[3]

Some scholars have noted the connection of this passage to Psalm 2, which not only speaks of the Lord’s Messiah (verse 2), but also incredibly speaks of God as having a literal Son: “Do homage to the Son…. How blessed are all who take refuge in Him” (Psalm 2:12, NASB). Thus, they have noted, “The Messiah early became known not only as the son of David but also as the Son of God. ‘Thou art my Son, this day have I begotten thee’ (Psalm 2:7b)….”[4]

Was Isaiah 9:6,7 Recognized by the Jews as Messianic?

There can be no doubt that Jewish rabbis have accepted these verses as clearly applying to the Messiah. The Targum of Isaiah rendered this passage, “His name has been called from of old, Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, He who lives forever, the Anointed One (or Messiah), in whose days peace shall increase upon us.”[5] Nineteenth-century theologian and professor of biblical criticism at the University of Aberdeen Paton J. Gloag observed that, “The ancient Jews refer these words only to the Messiah. ‘The prophet,’ says the Targum of Jonathan, ‘speaketh of the house of David, because a child is born to us, a son is given to us…. his name is called of old Wonderful in counsel, God the mighty, He who abideth forever the Messiah whose peace shall be abundant upon us in His days.”[6]

Who was crushed and pierced for our transgressions so that we would be healed by his wounds; upon whom did the Lord lay the iniquity of all mankind? – Isaiah 53

The Biblical Text (700 B.C.)

Who has believed our message and to whom has the arm of the Lord been revealed? He grew up before him like a tender shoot, and like a root out of dry ground. He had no beauty or majesty to attract us to him, nothing in his appearance that we should desire him. 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. Surely he took up our infirmities and carried our sorrows, yet we considered him stricken by God, smitten by him, and afflicted. 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. 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 (Isa. 53:1-6, NIV).

The Context of This Passage

This passage is about the “Servant of the Lord.” We find that the “Servant of the Lord” is a future individual whom Isaiah describes in what are called his “Servant Song” passages. Most agree that the passages devoted to describing the Servant are Isaiah 42:1-7; Is. 49:1-7; Is. 50:4-10; and Is.. 52:13-53:12.

The Explanation of the Text

In these four passages, we discover “the Servant” is the Messiah. The texts themselves prove this, for “the Servant” is “the chosen One in whom Jehovah delights” (Isaiah 42:1); His mission is to bring the nation of Israel back to Jehovah (Isa. 49:5); and He is to be “a light to the Gentiles”—in other words, to all the nations of the earth (Isa. 42:1, 6, NIV). This Servant cannot be Israel as some have claimed because “the Servant” is specifically described as one who has not been rebellious (Isa. 50:5). We know from Israelite history that this description does not apply to the nation.

Isaiah 52:13—53:12 is the longest of the four Servant passages. Significantly, the passage is quoted and applied to Jesus Christ more frequently by New Testament writers than any other single passage in the Hebrew Scriptures.

In the text itself, Jehovah God calls this individual “My servant” (Isa. 52:13), and states His Servant will ultimately be successful: “He will be raised and lifted up and greatly exalted” (Isa. 52:13, NIV). Significantly, in the Hebrew these are the same words used by Isaiah to describe the Lord (Jehovah of Hosts) in Isaiah 6:1, 3.

But look at verses 14 and 15 of chapter 52. It is important to note that it doesn’t seem as if the Servant is really to be successful at all. At the first appearance of the Servant, God informs us, many will be appalled at him since His appearance is disfigured, marred, and almost beyond human likeness (Isa. 52:14). But then, very mysteriously and quickly, the picture changes. The text says, “Just as there were many who were appalled at him [the first picture]… so will many nations shut their mouths at Him” when they see Him the next time (Isa. 52:14-15, emphasis added).

Is it logical to conclude that verse 14 is referring to Jesus Christ’s first coming, when He is smitten, bruised, and beaten? And that verse 15 refers to His second coming, when He will return as the triumphant Messiah who rules the earth in power?

Dr. Walter Kaiser, Professor of Old Testament and Semitic languages at Trinity Evangelical Divinity School in Deerfield, Illinois, has correctly pointed out that according to the text, “men would reject the Servant’s message (53:1), His person (verse 2), and His mission (verse 3). But His vicarious suffering would effect an atonement between God and man (verses 4-6); and though He would submit to suffering (verse 7), death (verse 8), and burial (verse 9), He would subsequently be raised to life, exalted and richly rewarded (verses 10-12).”[7]

Who could Isaiah’s Servant be? Who else but Jesus Christ ever 1) claimed He was the Messiah (Matt. 26:63-65; John 4:25,26); 2) claimed His blood was poured out for many for the forgiveness of sins (Matt. 26:28, cf. Isa. 53:12); and 3) as He predicted, rose again from the grave (Matt. 17:22,23; Luke 24:45,46, cf. Isa. 53:10,11 to validate His claims?

Some have argued that the Servant who suffers in Isaiah 52 and 53 is actually Isaiah the prophet himself. They say Isaiah is using figurative language just like Jeremiah, who described his sufferings as a prophet when he said, “I am like a sheep led to the slaughter” (Jer. 11:19).

A second interpretation is that the suffering Servant stands for the nation of Israel. Israel has suffered tremendously throughout her history and possibly Isaiah speaks figuratively of the nation as the expiatory lamb for mankind. Some think Isaiah is saying that God has placed upon Israel the full impact of all mankind’s sins so that all humanity can survive.[8]

But there are solid reasons why these two interpretations should be rejected. First, the biblical text itself teaches us the suffering Servant could not be Isaiah or the nation of Israel. The reason for this is found in verse 9 where we are told the Servant “had done no violence, nor was any deceit found in his mouth.” This couldn’t be Isaiah or the nation of Israel. Isaiah himself clearly states, “I am a man of unclean lips, and I live among a people of unclean lips” (Isa. 6:5, NIV, emphasis added).

In another place Isaiah confesses, “Our offenses are many in your sight, and our sins testify against us” (Isa. 59:12, NIV). So the biblical text itself proves neither Isaiah nor Israel fits the description of the suffering Servant who had “done no violence, nor was any deceit found in his mouth” (verse 9).

There is another reason why this passage must be a description of the coming Messiah and cannot be referring to either Isaiah or the nation of Israel. That reason is found in verse 10. There we learn that the suffering Servant gives his life as a “guilt offering,” a “trespass offering.”

According to the Hebrew Scriptures, a trespass offering must be a lamb without blemish; it must be perfect (Lev. 6:6-7). The life that’s given in atonement for others must be a perfect life. Here again, Isaiah the prophet admits neither he nor the nation of Israel qualifies.

Finally, proof that Isaiah is speaking of the coming Messiah and not the nation of Israel is found in Isaiah 53:8 where the text states, “For the transgression of my people he was stricken” (NIV). Who are the “my people” spoken about? This must be Israel. But if the “Servant” is stricken for the transgression of “my people,” then the Servant can’t be Israel. This must be the Messiah who will suffer.

Finally, throughout this passage, the Servant is portrayed as an individual. It speaks of what he has done; how he was despised; how he was rejected, and how the Lord laid on him the iniquity of us all. All of this the Servant did on behalf of “my people.”

Is This Text Speaking of Jesus Christ?

In the material below we present ten parallels between what Isaiah says will happen to the Messiah and what the historical accounts in the Gospels say happened to Jesus. Remember, Isaiah is writing these words a full seven centuries before Christ was ever born.

  1. But he was pierced for our transgressions (Isa. 53:5, NIV). “And when they came to the place called the Skull, there they crucified him” (Luke 23:33, NIV; cf. John 19:34).
  2. He was crushed for our iniquities; the punishment that brought us peace was upon him, and by his wounds we are healed (53:5, NIV). “And He Himself bore our sins in His body on the cross, that we might die to sin and live to righteousness; for by His wounds you were healed” (1 Pet. 2:24, NASB).
  3. 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 (53:6, NIV). “God was in Christ reconciling the world to Himself, not counting their trespasses against them” (2 Cor. 5:19, NASB). Peter said about Jesus’ death on the cross, “For Christ died for sins once for all, the righteous for the unrighteous, to bring you to God” (1 Peter 3:18, NIV); “For you were like sheep going astray” (1 Pet. 2:25, NIV).
  4. 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 shearers is silent, so he did not open his mouth (53:7, NIV). “When he was accused by the chief priests and the elders, he gave no answer. Then Pilate asked him, ‘Don’t you hear the testimony they are bringing against you?’ But Jesus made no reply, not even to a single charge—to the great amazement of the governor” (Matt. 27:12-14, NIV).
  5. By oppression and judgment he was taken away (53:8, NIV). “‘Am I leading a rebellion,’ said Jesus, ‘that you have come out with swords and clubs to capture me? Every day I was with you, teaching in the temple courts, and you did not arrest me. But the Scriptures must be fulfilled.’ Then everyone deserted him and fled…. The chief priests and the whole Sanhedrin were looking for evidence against Jesus so that they could put him to death, but they did not find any. Many testified falsely against him, but their statements did not agree…. They all condemned him as worthy of death. Then some began to spit at him; they blindfolded him, struck him with their fists, and said, ‘Prophesy!’ And the guards took him and beat him” (Mark 14:48-50, 55-56, 64-65, NIV).
  6. For he was cut off from the land of the living; for the transgression of my people he was stricken(53:8, NIV).“But you disowned the Holy and Righteous One, and… put to death the Prince of life….For you first, God raised up His Servant” (Acts 3:14, 15, 26, NASB). “For while we were still helpless, at the right time Christ died for the ungodly…. God demonstrates His own love toward us, in that while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us” (Rom. 5:6,8, NASB).
  7. He was assigned a grave with the wicked, and with the rich in his death, though he had done no violence, nor was any deceit in his mouth (53:9, NIV). “Two robbers were crucified with Him” (Matt. 27:38, NASB). “Summoning the centurion, he [Pilate] asked him if Jesus had already died. When he learned from the centurion that it was so, he gave the body to Joseph [of Arimathea, a man of wealth]. So Joseph bought some linen cloth, took down the body, wrapped it in the linen, and placed it in a tomb cut out of rock. Then he rolled a stone against the entrance of the tomb” (Mark 15:44-46, NIV).
  8. Yet it was the Lord’s will to crush him and cause him to suffer…. The Lord makes his life a guilt offering… (53:10, NIV). “But the things which God announced beforehand by the mouth of all the prophets, that His Christ [Messiah] should suffer, He has thus fulfilled” (Acts 3:18, NASB). “All this is from God…. God was reconciling the world to himself in Christ” (2 Cor. 5:18,19, NIV).
  9. After the suffering of his soul, he will see the light of life and be satisfied; by his knowledge my righteous servant will justify many, and he will bear their iniquities (53:11, NIV). “For I delivered to you as of first importance what I also received, that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, and that He was buried, and that He was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures, and that He appeared to Cephas, then to the twelve. After that He appeared to more than five hundred brethren at one time” (1 Cor. 15:3-6, NASB). “…being justified as a gift by his grace through the redemption which is in Christ Jesus” (Rom. 8:24, NASB).
  10. “…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 (53:12, NIV). “Two robbers were crucified with him, one on his right and one on his left” (Matt. 27:38, NIV). “Father forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing” (Luke 23:34, NIV) “He was delivered over to death for our sins and was raised to life for our justification” (Rom. 4:25, NIV). “Christ Jesus, who died—more than that, who was raised to life—is at the right hand of God and is also interceding for us” (Rom. 8:34, NIV). “Therefore he is able to save completely those who come to God through him, because he always lives to intercede for them” (Heb. 7:25, NIV).

Are the above parallels difficult to explain on purely rationalistic grounds? As the Scottish exegete and theologian Paton J. Gloag, once professor of biblical criticism at the University of Aberdeen, argued:

We do not see how anyone can read this remarkable prophecy without being struck with its pointed resemblance to the character, sufferings, and death of the Lord Jesus. The portrait is complete: the resemblance is striking and unmistakable. Indeed, it seems more like a history of the past than a prediction of the future:… In no portion of Scripture, even in the most Evangelical parts of the New Testament, is the doctrine of the atonement, that grand characteristic of Christianity, so clearly stated…. And yet nothing is more indisputable than that these words were uttered centuries before our Lord came into this world.[9]

Was Isaiah 52:13-53:12 Recognized by Jews as Messianic?

Proof that this passage has long been acknowledged as Messianic can be seen from the fact that the early rabbis developed the idea of two Messiahs from this passage. Although they could not reconcile the statements that so clearly spoke of a suffering and dying Messiah with those verses in other passages that spoke of an eternally triumphant and victorious Messiah, it is important to note the early rabbis did recognize that both pictures somehow applied to the Messiah. But rather than seeing one Messiah in two different roles, they saw two Messiahs—the suffering and dying Messiah, called “Messiah ben Joseph,” and the victorious conquering Messiah, called “Messiah ben David.”

Today, many Orthodox Jews still wait for this political Messiah, Messiah ben David, who will conquer and rule forever. And interestingly, at the same time, there are some who accept Jesus Christ as the “other” Messiah, Messiah ben Joseph, even though they deny His deity.[10]

Dr. Raphael Patai, formerly of the University of Jerusalem, who has authored 20 books on subjects relating to Jewish religious beliefs, has observed the following, “When the death of the Messiah became an established tenet in Talmudic times, this was felt to be irreconcilable with the belief in the Messiah as the Redeemer who would usher in the blissful millennium of the Messianic age. The dilemma was solved by splitting the person of the Messiah in two….”[11] Thus, on the basis of Isaiah 53, the Babylonian Talmud boldly predicts, “Messiah ben Joseph will be slain….”[12]

The different views that orthodox rabbis have given to this passage throughout history can be found in Rays of Messiah’s Glory. We’d like to point out that rabbis such as the great Maimonides and Rabbi Crispin thought it was wrong to apply Isaiah 53 to the nation of Israel. Rather they thought this passage clearly described God’s Messiah:

…the weight of Jewish authority preponderates in favor of the Messianic interpretation of this chapter…. That until recent times this prophecy has been almost universally received by Jews as referring to Messiah is evident from Targum [J]onathan, who introduces Messiah by name in chapter LII. 13; from the Talmud (“Sanhedrin,” fol. 98,b); and from the Zohar…. In fact, until Rashi [Rabbi Solomon Izaaki (1040-1105), considered the originator of the modern school of Jewish interpretation], who applied it to the Jewish nation, the Messianic interpretation of this chapter was almost universally adopted by Jews….[13]

The “father” of modern Hebrew, Wilhelm Gesenius, has also written, “It was only the later Jews who abandoned this [Messianic] interpretation [of Isaiah 53], no doubt in consequence of their controversies with the Christians.”[14]

In a debate with Dr. Walter Kaiser on the “John Ankerberg Show,” Dr. Pinchas Lapide, one of only four orthodox Jewish scholars in the world who is also a New Testament scholar stated: “I fully agree with Dr. Kaiser that Isaiah 53 lends itself in many startling similarities to the life, career and death of Jesus of Nazareth….”[15] Amazingly, Dr. Lapide even believes Jesus actually physically rose from the dead after being crucified because of the many compelling historical facts in its favor.[16] Yet Dr. Lapide concludes that Jesus is the Messiah for the Gentiles, and not for the Jews.

We have only one question: If Jesus Christ is not God’s suffering Servant found in Isaiah 53, then who is?

Notes

  1. Merrill Unger Unger’s Commentary on the Old Testament (Chicago: Moody Press, 1981), pp. 1167-1168
  2. Edward J. Young, The Book of Isaiah, Vol. 1 (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 1972), pp. 323-324.
  3. Ibid., p. 336.
  4. Ibid., p. 330.
  5. J. F. Stenning, ed., The Targum of Isaiah (London: Oxford Press, 1949), p. 32.
  6. Delitzsch and Gloag, The Messiahship, Book 2, p. 115, emphasis added; cf. Alfred Edersheim, The Life and Times of Jesus the Messiah, one volume edition (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 1972), p. 723.
  7. Walter C. Kaiser, Jr., Toward an Old Testament Theology (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 1978), p. 217.
  8. Transcript of television program, Do the Messianic Prophecies of the Old Testament Point to Jesus or Someone Else? Dr. Walter Kaiser, Jr., and Pinchas Lapide (Chattanooga, TN: The Ankerberg Theological Research Institute, 1985), p. 22.
  9. Franz Delitzsch and Paton Gloag, The Messiahship of Christ (Minneapolis, MN: Klock and Klock, 1983), Book 2, pp. 286-287.
  10. Ben Blisheim, “Messianic Judaism—An Alternative” (privately published), p. 6.
  11. Raphael Patai, The Messiah Texts (New York: Avin, 1979), p. 166.
  12. Ibid., p. 167.
  13. David Baron, Rays of Messiah’s Glory: Christ in the Old Testament (Grand Rapids, Ml: Zondervan, n.d.), pp. 225-229.
  14. In Delitzsch and Gloag, The Messiahship, Book 2, p. 295, emphasis added.
  15. Transcript, Do the Messianic Prophecies, p. 21.
  16. Pinchas Lapide, The Resurrection of Jesus: A Jewish Perspective (Minneapolis: Augsburg, 1983), pp. 7, 126-131, 137-150.

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