The Case for Jesus the Messiah – Incredible Prophecies that Prove God Exists/Part 11

By: Dr. John Ankerberg, Dr. John Weldon; ©{{{copyright}}}
Isaiah 53—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?

Editor’s Note: This material was first published in book form in 1989 by the John Ankerberg Evangelistic Association (now known as the Ankerberg Theological Research Institute).

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The Biblical Text

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.
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. By oppression and judgment he was taken away. And who can speak of his descendants? For he was cut off from the land of the living; for the transgression of my people he was stricken. 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.
Yet it was the Lord’s will to crush him and cause him to suffer, and though the Lord makes his life a guilt offering, he will see his offspring and prolong his days, and the will of the Lord will prosper in his hand. 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. Therefore I will give him a portion among the great, and he will divide the spoils with the strong, 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. (Isaiah 53:1-12)

The Context of the Passage

This passage is about the “Servant of the Lord.” We find that the “Servant of the Lord” is a future individual 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; 49:1-7; 50:4-10; and 52:13-53:12.

In these passages, we discover “the Servant” is the Messiah. What evidence proves this?

The texts themselves prove this, for “the Servant” is “the chosen One in whom Jehovah delights” (Isa. 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). This is not Israel because “the Servant” “has not been rebellious” (Isa. 50:5).

Isaiah 52:13-53:12 is the fourth and 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 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). In the Hebrew these are the same words used by Isaiah to describe the Lord (Jehovah of Hosts) in Isaiah 6:1, 3.

But in verses 14 and 15, it doesn’t look as if the Servant is successful. 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” the next time they see Him (Isa. 52:15, emphasis added).

Could verse 14 be referring to Jesus Christ’s first coming, when He is smitten, bruised, and beaten? Could verse 15 be His second coming when He will return as the triumphant Messiah who rules in power?

As Dr. Walter Kaiser has correctly pointed out, according to the text,

…men would reject the Servant’s message (Is 53:1), His person (Is 53:2), and His mission (Is 53:3). But His vicarious suffering would effect an atonement between God and man (Is 53:4-6); and though He would submit to suffering (Is 53:7), death (Is 53:8), and burial (Is 53:9), He would subsequently be raised to life, exalted and richly rewarded (Is 53:10-12).[1]

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

The Explanation of the Text

Does this chapter really refer to the Person of the Messiah? Even though Isaiah writes that the Servant was personally chosen by Jehovah (Isa. 42:1), and was given the mission of bringing the nation of Israel back to God (Isa. 49:5), there are some who still believe this passage does not refer to the Messiah.

Rather, they think 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 said, “I am like a sheep led to the slaughter” (Jer. 11:19). Everybody knows Jeremiah wasn’t a sheep nor was he literally led to the slaughter. Therefore, like Jeremiah, Isaiah is only speaking poetically to describe his sufferings.

Further, they claim that even in Jesus’ own day we find an Ethiopian eunuch reading Isaiah 53. He asks Philip, “Tell me, of whom does the prophet speak? Of himself or of somebody else?” (Acts 8:30-35) Some surmise the eunuch might have learned this interpretation from some of the Jerusalem rabbis. Regardless, this was, and still is considered a possible interpretation by many people.

A second interpretation is that the suffering Servant stands for the nation of Israel. Israel has suffered greatly throughout history and possibly Isaiah figuratively speaks 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.[2]

But there are 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 verses 9 and 10 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 since Isaiah himself clearly states, “I am a man of unclean lips, and I live among a people of unclean lips” (Isa. 6:5, 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” (v. 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 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 must be a perfect life. Here again, Isaiah the Prophet admits neither he nor the nation of Israel qualifies. They are not perfect; rather, they are both guilty of sin.

Finally, proof that Isaiah is speaking of the coming Messiah and not the nation of Israel is found in 53:8 where the text states, “For the transgression of my people, he was stricken.” 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.

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?

(1) “But he was pierced for our transgressions” (53:5).

• And when they came to the place called the Skull, there they crucified him… (Lk. 23:33).
• One of the soldiers pierced Jesus’ side with a spear, bringing a sudden flow of blood and water (Jn. 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).

• 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).

(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).

• God was in Christ reconciling the world to himself not counting their trespasses against them… (2 Cor. 5:19).
• Peter said about Jesus’ death on the cross, “For Christ died for our sins once for all, the righteous for the unrighteous, to bring you to God” (1 Pet. 3:18); “…for you were like sheep going astray,…” (1 Pet. 2:25).

(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 his shearers is silent, so he did not open his mouth” (53:8).

• 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 (Mt. 27:12-14).

(5) “By oppression and judgment he was taken away” (53:8).

• “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 (Mk. 14:48-50, 55, 56, 64, 65).

(6) “For he was cut off from the land of the living; for the transgression of my people he was stricken” (53:8).

• 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).
• 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).

(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).

• So as evening approached, Joseph of Arimathea, a prominent member of the Council, who was himself waiting for the kingdom of God, went boldly to Pilate and asked for Jesus’ body. Pilate was surprised to hear that he was already dead. Summoning the centurion, he asked him if Jesus had already died. When he learned from the centurion that it was so, he gave the body to Joseph. 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 (Mk. 15:42-46).

(8) “Yet it was the Lord’s will to crush him and cause him to suffer, and though the Lord makes his life a guilt offering,…” (Isa. 53:10).

• 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).
• All this is from God…. God was reconciling the world to himself in Christ… (2 Cor. 5:18, 19).

(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” (Isa. 53:11).

• 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).
• …being justified as a gift by his grace through the redemption which is in Christ Jesus;… (Rom. 3:24).

(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” (Isa. 53:12).

• Two robbers were crucified with him, one on his right and one on his left (Mt. 27:38).
• …Father forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing… (Lk. 23:34).
• He was delivered over to death for our sins and was raised to life for our justification (Rom. 4:25).
• 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).
• 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).

As the Scottish exegete and theologian Paton J. Gloag, former professor of biblical criticism at the University of Aberdeen, argues:

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: A statement of the doctrines of the gospel made by some New Testament writer, as Saint Paul or Saint John, rather than a prediction of some Old Testament prophet. The seven centuries which intervened between Isaiah and Christ seemed to be bridged over, and the future is painted in the characters of the present. 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 as in these words of the prophet: “Surely he hath borne our griefs, and carried our sorrows; he was wounded for our transgressions, he was bruised for our iniquities: the chastisement of our peace was upon him, and with his stripes we are healed. The Lord hath laid upon him the iniquity of us all.” And yet nothing is more indisputable than that these words were uttered centuries before our Lord came into this world.[3]

Was Isaiah 52:13-Isaiah 53 Recognized by the 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. Why?

First, 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 a triumphant and victorious Messiah. What is important to note is that they did recognize that both pictures somehow applied to the Messiah. But they also assumed it was impossible to reconcile both views in one person.

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, some Orthodox Jews still wait for the political Messiah, who will conquer and rule forever. At the same time there are some who accept Jesus Christ as the “other” Messiah (Messiah ben Joseph) although they deny His Deity.[4]

Dr. Raphael Patai, formerly of the University of Jerusalem, who has authored 20 books on subjects relating to Jewish religious beliefs, has stated, “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….”[5] On the basis of Isaiah 53, the Babylonian Talmud boldly predicts, “Messiah ben Joseph will be slain….”[6]

The different views that orthodox rabbis down through history have given to this passage can be found in Rays of Messiah’s Glory. Notice, even such rabbis as the great Maimonides and Rabbi Crispin thought it was wrong to apply Isaiah 53 to the nation of Israel. Rather, they thought this 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 (“Sanhedran,” 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, and his view,… was rejected as unsatisfactory by Maimonides, who is regarded by the Jews as of highest authority, by Alshech, and many others, one of whom [Rabbi Moshen Kohen Iben Crispin, of Cordova—fourteenth century] says that the interpretation adopted by Rashi “distorts the passage from its natural meaning,” and that in truth “it was given of God as a description of the Messiah, whereby, when any should claim to be, the Messiah, to judge by the resemblance or nonresemblance to it whether he were the Messiah or no”…. [Crispin also said that those who apply the passage to Israel have “forsaken the knowledge of our teachers, and inclined after… their own opinions.”[7]] And another [R. Elyyah de Vidas] says, “The meaning of ‘he was wounded for our transgressions, … bruised for our iniquities’ is, that since the Messiah bears our iniquities, which produce the effect of His being bruised, it follows that whoso will not admit that the Messiah thus suffers for our iniquities must endure and suffer for them himself.”[8]

The father of modern Hebrew, Wilhelm Gesenius, has also written, “It was only the later Jews who abandoned this [Messianic] interpretation, no doubt in consequence of their controversies with the Christians.”[9]

In brief, we agree with Gloag and Delitzsch: “All attempts to explain away this prophecy… have signally failed. It still stands as the most remarkable prediction in the Old Testament, receiving its accomplishment in the Messiah and in him alone.”[10]

Even today, Dr. Pinchas Lapide, one of only four orthodox Jewish scholars in the world who is also a New Testament scholar has stated in a debate with Dr. Walter Kaiser on the John Ankerberg Show: “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….”[11] He even believes Jesus actually physically rose from the dead after being crucified because of the compelling historical facts.[12] Yet Dr. Lapide believes Jesus is the Messiah for the Gentiles and not for the Jews.

Let us ask you, if Jesus Christ is not God’s suffering Servant found in Isaiah 53, then who is?

Who is the One that Eliazer Hakalir, a ninth century Jewish religious poet, wrote about when he paraphrased Isaiah 53 and put it into rhyme and metric poetry? This prayer was and has been a prayer from the traditional orthodox liturgy. Even today, (within certain elements of Judaism) it is recited on Yom Kippur, the Jewish Day of Atonement, in the prayer of Kether. But who else than Jesus of Nazareth could it be speaking about?

We are shrunk up in our misery even until now! Our Rock hath not come nigh to us; Messiah our Righteousness; hath turned from us; we are in terror, and there is none to justify us! Our iniquities and the yoke of our transgressions He will bear, for He was wounded for our transgressions; He will carry our sins upon His shoulder, that we may find forgiveness for our iniquities; and by His stripes we are healed….[13]

Clues to Identify the Messiah

Whoever the Messiah is, He must fit the following descriptions:

Clue #1—He, a male child (the Hebrew text specifically uses a 3rd person, singular, masculine pronoun—”he”), will be born of the seed of the woman.

Clue #2—He will come from the race of the Jews, and specifically from the seed of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob.

Clue #3—He will be a great prophet, with the authority to teach like Moses.

Clue #4—He will be mocked, and people will cast lots for His garments while He suffers.

Clue #5—He will be David’s Lord.

Clue #6—He will be the child born who is God, and will have an everlasting kingdom.

Clue #7—He will be wounded and bruised, smitten and spit upon, mocked, killed with thieves, bear the sins of many, be rejected by His own people, pierced for our transgressions, be buried in a rich man’s tomb, and come back to life after His death.

Read Part 12


  1. Walter C. Kaiser, Jr., Toward an Old Testament Theology (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 1978), p. 217.
  2. Transcript, Do the Messianic Prophecies of the Old Testament Point to Jesus or Someone Else? with Dr. Walter Kaiser, Jr., and Pinchas Lapide (Chattanooga, TN: John Ankerberg Evangelistic Association, 1985), p. 22.
  3. Delitzsch and Gloag, Part 2, pp. 286-287.
  4. Ben Blisheim, “Messianic Judaism—An Alternative” (Privately published), p. 6.
  5. Raphael Patai, The Messiah Texts (New York: Avon, 1979), p. 166.
  6. Ibid., p. 167.
  7. Baron, Rays, p. 228.
  8. Ibid., pp. 225-229.
  9. Delitzsch and Gloag, Part 2, p. 295.
  10. Ibid., p. 116.
  11. Transcript, Do the Messianic Prophecies Point to Jesus? p. 21.
  12. Lapide, The Resurrection of Jesus, pp. 7, 126-131, 137-150.
  13. R. S. Driver, Neubauer, The Jewish Interpreters of Isaiah 53 (New York: KTAV, 1969); Baron, Rays, p. 230, emphasis added.

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