CHAPTER 5: Isaiah 53

[Excerpt from Chapter 5: What Will Jesus’ Death Accomplish? Isaiah 53]

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I still remember the first time I showed Isaiah 53 to a group of friends.

A buddy and I started a Bible study in a dorm room. Every week, we studied different evidence for Christianity with a group of our friends, who were interested in evidence for Christianity. Our friends were very skeptical, but they were willing to give us a hearing.

After weeks of study, we reached the subject of predictive prophecy. I printed off a copy of Isaiah 53, but I didn’t tell them that it was from the Old Testament. I deleted the verse divisions and the name of the book, and we read the passage together. After we finished reading Isaiah 53, I paused for a moment and asked them, “If you had to guess, who do you think this is describing?

The first guy said, “It sounds like it’s describing Jesus Christ.”

“What about you?” I asked the second guy.

“Yeah,” he nodded. “It sounds like Jesus to me, too.”

The other three guys seemed to agree, as well.

“That’s really interesting that you all think that,” I said. “I happen to agree with you guys… I think this passage describes Jesus, too. But there’s just one problem with all of us believing that…”

“What’s that?” one of them asked.

“Well,” I said. “The only problem is that this passage was written 700 years before Jesus ever walked the face of the Earth.”

You could imagine their shock! The looks on their faces said it all.

I could sympathize. In fact, I felt the same way, when I first read Isaiah 53. This passage describes Jesus with striking accuracy. If you have a Bible handy, read this passage for yourself. If not, read along below. We’ll look at it verse by verse. In fact, we’ll actually get started in Isaiah 52:13.[1]

13 Behold, my servant will prosper, he will be high and lifted up and greatly exalted. 14 Just as many were astonished at you, my people, so his appearance was marred more than any man and his form more than the sons of men.

Isaiah predicted that the Servant would be beaten beyond recognition. Why was he “marred more than any man”? Later, in Isaiah 53:5, we read that the Servant was beaten for the sin of the human race: “He was beaten so we could be whole. He was whipped so we could be healed” (Is. 53:5). While Isaiah foretold that the Servant would eventually be “exalted” like a king (v.13; c.f. Is. 49:7; 6:1), he also predicted that the Servant would first become beaten to a bloody pulp (v.14).

15 Thus he will sprinkle (Hebrew nazah) many nations, kings will shut their mouths on account of him; for what had not been told them they will see, and what they had not heard they will understand.

Isaiah’s original readers must have been confused at these predictions. On the one hand, Isaiah predicted that the Servant would be badly beaten, while on the other, he would be exalted over the kings of the Earth. In fact, these kings would “shut their mouths” when they met him.

The Hebrew word used for “sprinkle” is nazah (pronounced nuh-ZAH).[2] This word conjures up imagery from the Day of Atonement, where the high priest must “sprinkle (nazah) the goat’s blood over the atonement cover and in front of it…” (Lev. 16:15 NLT). Here, in Isaiah 52:15, it isn’t the blood of an animal that will make atonement; it is the blood of the Servant. Chapter 53 goes on to explain that he was “pierced for our rebellion, crushed for our sins” (v.5).

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[1] Critics object that the larger context of Isaiah 53 is the return from the Babylonian exile (c.f. chapter 54). This, of course, is true. However, this does not nullify the future prophetic element of Isaiah 53, because many messianic predictions are set against the backdrop of the Babylonian exile (c.f. Jer. 23:1-8). Moreover, many Jewish interpreters have applied Isaiah 53 to modern day Jewish leaders, which also demonstrates a future fulfillment.

[2] NASB Hebrew and Greek Dictionaries H5137a. See also “sprinkle” in Exodus 29:20-21 for a similar usage of the word.