Who is the Servant of the Lord Depicted in Isaiah 53?
- Tuesday, October 23, 2007
For my eyes have seen Your salvation which You have prepared before the face of all peoples, a light to bring revelation to the Gentiles, and the glory of Your people Israel. (Luke 2:30-32)
Then they spat in his face and beat him; and others struck him with the palms of their hands saying, “Prophesy to us, Messiah! Who is the one who struck you?” (Matthew 26:67-68)
Then the soldiers of the governor took Jesus into the Praetorium and gathered the whole garrison around him. And they stripped him and put a scarlet robe on him. When they had twisted a crown of thorns, they put it on his head, and a reed in his right hand. And they bowed the knee before him and mocked him, saying, “Hail, King of the Jews!” Then they spat on him, and took the reed and struck him on the head. And when they had mocked him, they took the robe off him, put his own clothes on him, and led him away to be crucified. (Matthew 27:27-31)
Men and brethren, let me speak freely to you of the patriarch David, that he is both dead and buried, and his tomb is with us to this day. Therefore, being a prophet, and knowing that God had sworn with an oath to him that of the fruit of his body, according to the flesh, He would raise up the Messiah to sit on his throne, he, foreseeing this, spoke concerning the resurrection of the Messiah, that his soul was not left in Hades, nor did his flesh see corruption. This Jesus, God has raised up, of which we are all witnesses. Therefore being exalted to the right hand of God, and having received from the Father the promise of the Holy Spirit, he poured out this which you now see and hear. (Acts 2:29-33)
Why the Messiah Must Be a Person – and Not a Nation
1. Israel is not an innocent sufferer.
Israel as a nation was, at times, unrighteous, in need of forgiveness and redemption.
2. Israel is not a silent sufferer.
The Hebrew Bible has many examples of Israel’s complaint against unjust suffering.
3. Israel never died.
Israel has never died as Isaiah 53 describes. Despite its many enemies and lengthy exile, Israel has had a continual existence throughout its history.
4. The language of the text points to the suffering of an individual, not a nation.
There is ample evidence of Rabbinic support for a suffering Messiah (see next section further down). Also, if the Servant dies on behalf of the nation, it cannot be the nation itself that dies.
Isaiah 53 in Rabbinic Thought
“Jesus can’t be the Messiah because he didn’t bring world peace!” How many times have you heard this? Or that the passages that Christians quote from the Hebrew Bible – particularly Isaiah 53 – to sustain their claim have absolutely no support among the Jewish sages?
While it is commonly taught that the Messiah’s role is to restore the Kingdom of God, there is also a basis for a Suffering Messiah in Jewish thought. Let’s look at the sources:
Isaiah 53:5 – “But He was wounded for our transgressions, He was bruised for our iniquities; the chastisement for our peace was upon Him, and by His stripes we are healed.”
Midrash Konen (11th century) – “Messiah Son of David who loves Jerusalem ... Elijah takes him by the head ... and says ‘You must bear the sufferings and wounds by which the Almighty chastises you for Israel's sins;’ and so it is written, He was wounded for our transgressions, bruised for our iniquities.”
Zohar 2:12a – “The children of the world are members one of another. When the Holy One desires to give healing to the world, he smites one just man amongst them, and for his sake heals all the rest. From where do we learn this? From the saying ‘He was wounded for our transgressions, bruised for our iniquities.’”
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