Most contemporary Jewish commentaries state that Isaiah 53 relates to the suffering of Israel as a nation but not that of Messiah. Around a thousand years ago, Rashi was pressed on this issue and he stated that this passage concerned Israel’s suffering from the Gentiles. However, Maimonides refuted this claim. In fact, until Rashi; most Jewish commentary considered Isaiah 53 to be written concerning Messiah.
Today in synagogues, Isaiah 52:13-53:12 is not read in the weekly readings because of this controversy. Readings continue from Isaiah 54:1 onwards…Yet, the Babylonian Talmud, Targum Jonathan and many ancient Rabbis believed this speaks of Messiah. Rabbi Eliezer even included a prayer on Yom Kippur which clearly refers to Isaiah 53. In view of the destruction of the temple in AD70 by the Romans; without a temple, blood sacrifice (Leviticus 17:11), how can atonement for sin be made?
Many people haven’t read this passage. If you haven’t read this passage do read it and look at it in the context of the book of Isaiah and the passage itself and ask yourself, who does it refer to? Interestingly in Acts 8, the Ethiopian Eunuch was reading this passage and needed Philip’s assistance to understand whether he was speaking of himself or another man (Acts 8:34).
Jewish tradition wrestles with the concept of a ‘suffering Messiah’ and a ‘kingly Messiah’. There is discussion around ‘Messiah Ben Yosef’ and ‘Messiah Ben David’. But in this passage, we see both represented! In Isaiah 52:13, Messiah would be exalted, yet in Isaiah 52:14, His appearance would be marred. The beatings and sufferings of the Messiah would greatly affect His appearance. In verse 15 he would sprinkle many nations. Blood was sacrificed on the sacrifice and the shedding of His blood would atone for many nations.
The fifty third chapter commences, ‘Who has believed our report?’ Even the doubt concerning Messiah’s arrival was predicted precisely (c.f. John 12:38). Yeshua was a Man of sorrows, greatly despised and largely rejected.
Notice, if we read this chapter carefully, it denotes an individual who suffers, not a collective people. Israel could never atone for itself, nor for the Gentiles. Not even through prayer, fasting, enduring suffering or through performing great deeds, since the life of the flesh is in the blood and it is given upon the altar to make atonement for souls (Leviticus 17:11). Yeshua was the Lamb of God who removes the sin of the world since He was the perfect, spotless, Messiah (John 1:29).
Isaiah 53:6 recognises the natural inclination of the human heart and the need for Messiah to atone for us all. Isaiah 53:7 reminds us that atonement was made through Messiah who remained silent. How detailed this remarkable prophecy is in all respects. Yeshua was silent before His accusers (c.f. Matthew 26:23).
So despite His horrendous suffering, Yeshua remained silent. Isn’t that peculiar? Surely this must refer to a specific person, not a people. Isaiah 53:8 tells us He was cut off. This means to suffer the death penalty. This is also referenced in Daniel 9:26 that great time specific prophecy that tells us that Messiah would be ‘cut off’ before the destruction of both the temple and Jerusalem. If this wasn’t speaking of Messiah and the temple in Jerusalem destroyed in AD70, how could atonement possibly be made?
Isaiah 53:9 is yet more detailed and specific. There are four predictions given. 1. They made His grave with the wicked. 2. But with the rich at His death. 3. He had done no violence. 4. There was no deceit in His mouth. Who fulfils those four criteria precisely, or even number 4, having never lied? This must refer to Messiah Yeshua.
Isaiah 53:10 explains the Father’s will. Have you ever heard or been addressed with that awful, unfair and ignorant accusation, “You killed our Jesus!” Some may quote Matthew 27:25 which was said by some Jewish people at that time. Nonetheless, Jesus was Jewish, and so were the disciples and the other believers and the Jewish Messiah is the Messiah of the world and brings reconciliation to Jews and Gentiles. Notice the Romans are never levelled with that accusation! Yet this verse explains that it was the Father’s will for this to happen. The Messiah made Himself an offering for sin. Yeshua Himself explained that He gave His life freely and no one can take it from Him (John 10:18). Ultimately, it was the love of Yeshua the Messiah, that held Him on the cross to atone for our sins; it wasn’t the cruel nails that held Him there.
Verse 12 speaks of Messiah’s reign and rule and victory over sin. Jesus was numbered with the transgressors (robbers, c.f. Matthew 27:38) and bore the sin of many. Isn’t it astonishing that Messiah made intercession for the transgressors, those who were crucified either side and reviled him, though one of them later, recognised, repented and trusted in Him?
The precision, clarity and forgiveness offered in this passage is profound. Yet, the wonder of it all, is the love of God who would condescend and take on human flesh, as fully God and fully Man, and die for the likes of you and me. Then He would intercede for His persecutors who brutally beat, insulted and mocked Him and that He became a sin offering that you and I might become the righteousness of God (2 Corinthians 5:21). God commands everyone to repent and a response is required. Trust in Yeshua the Messiah. Turn to Him and follow Him and you will receive atonement for your sins and everlasting life.