The Gospel According to Isaiah 53
Isaiah 53 (or, more specifically, Isaiah 52:13-53:12) has been the dominating tool that God has used throughout my pursuit of Jewish ministry. It was this text that I used when one of my aunts in Israel challenged me about why I follow Jesus, the passage I wrote my dissertation on while I was in seminary and one of the main tools God has blessed me with in reaching Jewish people in London.
The Gospel according to Isaiah 53, edited by Darrell L. Bock and Mitch Glaser, is a breath of fresh air in the midst of many shallow chapters and books written about this prophecy. Thanks to the contribution of top biblical scholars, this work is a wonderful help to people who have a heart for fulfilling the commission given to us through the words of the apostle Paul in Romans 1:16.
Many Jewish people have come to faith by the work of the Holy Spirit opening their eyes while reading this passage. The authors do an excellent job of presenting the reasons why and how the Servant of the Lord is fulfilled in the person of Jesus as the Messiah but do not shy away from presenting the counter-arguments for this mainstream Christian view. Although neglected in the yearly synagogue readings, this chapter isn’t unknown amongst Jewish biblical scholars. As a matter of fact, in the second century AD, Justin Martyr, in his famous work Dialogue with Trypho the Jew, shares this passage with him to show that the servant Isaiah speaks about is the Messiah, Jesus. While agreeing it was a Messianic passage, Trypho found it difficult to accept that Jesus himself had fulfilled that role due to his humiliating death by crucifixion. While the Jewish interpreters have varied between collective and individual interpretations in regards to the ‘arm of the Lord’ presented here, among Jewish theologians the nation of Israel is widely accepted as the main interpretation.
However, the Messianic interpretation of this prophecy hasn’t been foreign to the leading rabbinical world throughout the centuries. As a matter of fact, Maimonides (Rambam, 12th c.) saw the passage as being Messianic and, while seeing the text as a reference to Israel, Nachmanides (Ramban, 12th - 13thc.) recognised the ‘Messiah’s highly exalted state, based on Isaiah 52:13’. Other valuable Judaic writings, such as the Targum Jonathan (paraphrased Aramaic translation and commentary on the Hebrew Bible) and the Zohar (an influential work in Jewish mysticism) connect at least part of this prophecy to the Messiah.
The authors also deal with questions that Christians might have about the fulfilment of this prophecy in the person of Jesus the Messiah. Can we really be true to the text and the context of Isaiah and see Jesus as being the fulfilment of this text? Does it make sense in light of the other prophecies in the Hebrew Scriptures? Did Jesus see himself as God's righteous servant? Did the authors of the New Testament draw the same connections? What a blessing it is to see the in-depth work of these men in wrestling with the truth of God’s Word and helping us join in with the challenge!
I found the practical side of the book extremely helpful. While this passage is a useful tool in reaching Jewish people with the good news of Yeshua the Messiah, the audience we seek to reach is more secular than the Jewish scholars, therefore many of the biased opinions we might have about what our Jewish audience believe are actually unrealistic. How do we present such a message to a post-modern world? How can we share this text with people who might not even believe in God? How about if they believe in God but don’t believe that they are sinful or in need of a Saviour who would die in their place? The wonderful news is that, by God’s grace, Isaiah 53 is still a wonderful instrument in his hands. The Holy Spirit can work in incredible ways through God’s Word! And we are privileged to join him in sharing this great love expressed through the victorious,
humbling sacrifice of Jesus the Messiah on our behalf.
I highly recommend the book to any believer who loves God and his Word, who wants to learn how to use a powerful tool in reaching Jewish people with the gospel!
The Gospel According
to Isaiah 53
Editors: Darrell L Bock
and Mitch Glaser
Kregel Academic & Professional, 2012, 336 pages
This article first appeared in the Winter Herald 2013