The Suffering Servant May 21, by Marshall Roth Cutting through the distortions and mistranslations of this enigmatic text. Isaiah 53 is a prophecy foretelling how the world will react when they witness Israel's salvation in the Messianic era.
The verses are presented from the perspective of world leaders, who contrast their former scornful attitude toward the Jews with their new realization of Israel's grandeur. After realizing how unfairly they treated the Jewish people, they will be shocked and speechless. Unfortunately, this claim is based on widespread mistranslations and distortion of context. In order to properly understand these verses, one must read the original Hebrew text.
When the Bible is translated into other languages, it loses much of its essence. The familiar King James translation uses language which is archaic and difficult for the modern reader. Furthermore, it is not rooted in Jewish sources and often goes against traditional Jewish teachings. Modern translations, while more readable, are often even more divorced from the true meaning of the text.
One obvious question that needs to be addressed: The Jewish people are consistently referred to with the singular pronoun. This question evaporates when we discover that throughout the Bible, the Jewish people are consistently referred to as a singular entity, using the singular pronoun. For example, when God speaks to the entire Jewish nation at Mount Sinai, all of the Ten Commandments are written as if speaking to an individual Exodus This is because the Jewish people are one unit, bound together with a shared national destiny see Exodus 4: This singular reference is even more common in biblical verses referring to the Messianic era, when the Jewish people will be fully united under the banner of God see Hosea As we will see, for numerous reasons this chapter cannot be referring to Jesus.
Even in the Christian scriptures, the disciples did not consider the Suffering Servant as referring to Jesus see Matthew So how did the Suffering Servant come to be associated with Jesus? Missionary apologist Walter Riggans candidly admitted: Only after one has come to believe that Jesus was the Messiah, and more specifically the kind of Messiah that he is, does it all begin to make sense Chapter 53 occurs in the midst of Isaiah's "Messages of Consolation," which tell of the restoration of Israel to prominence as God's chosen people.
The key to understanding this chapter lies in correctly identifying who is speaking. Though the book was written by Isaiah, verses Following in the footsteps of the previous chapter Isaiah For whom has the arm of God been revealed! See also Exodus 3: We saw him, but without a desirable appearance. A young sapling in dry ground appears that it will die.
The Jews were always a small nation, at times as small as 2 million people, threatened with extinction. This idea appears throughout the Jewish Bible see Isaiah As one from whom we would hide our faces, he was despised, and we had no regard for him.
This has been a historical theme for the Jewish people, as a long list of oppressors have treated the Jews as sub-human the Nazis or as a pariah state the United Nations. See similar imagery in Isaiah While this description clearly applies to Israel, it cannot be reconciled with the New Testament account which describes Jesus as immensely popular Matthew 4: Indeed, the nations selfishly persecuted the Jews as a distraction from their own corrupt regimes: The chastisement upon him was for our benefit; and through his wounds we were healed.
Rather, the proper translation is: Indeed, the Christian idea directly contradicts the basic Jewish teaching that God promises forgiveness to all who sincerely return to Him; thus there is no need for the Messiah to atone for others Isaiah Like a sheep being led to the slaughter or a lamb that is silent before her shearers, he did not open his mouth.
This verse prophesizes the many hardships — both physical torment and economic exploitation — that the Jews endured in exile.
In our time, while Jews in Nazi-occupied Europe were "led to the slaughter," they still remained like a "lamb that is silent before her shearers" — without complaints against God.
For he was removed from the land of the living; because of my people's sin they were afflicted. World leaders offer a stunning confession: This is where knowledge of biblical Hebrew is absolutely crucial. This is contradicted, however, by the Gospels themselves, who record that Jesus sinned by violating the Sabbath John 9: If the Jews would only "acknowledge guilt," they would see their "offspring and live long days.
This verse emphasizes that the Servant is to be rewarded with long life and many children. This verse could not possibly refer to Jesus who, according to the New Testament, died young and childless. With his knowledge My servant will cause the masses to be righteous; and he will bear their sins. The Jews will accomplish this both by example Deut.
The verse continues to explain that the Jewish people, who righteously bore the sins of the world and yet remained faithful to God, will be rewarded. Regarding the above passage, some have claimed that the "suffering servant" cannot be Israel, since Israel has sins. Yet this is a fallacy, since we know that no human being — not even Moses — is completely free of sin.
If Jesus is God, these ideas have no meaning. This point is acknowledged by all Christian commentaries.
Conclusion In the days of Jesus, nobody ever understood Isaiah 53 to be predicting the death of the Messiah. When Jesus said, "I am going to Jerusalem where I will suffer and die," the Apostle Peter did not relate this in any way to the suffering described in Isaiah Rather, Peter rebuked Jesus, saying, "Be it far from you Lord, this shall not be unto you.
History shows that — for whatever motivation — many did so knowingly: Lucius Coelius Firmianes Lactantius, 3rd century Church leader: Gregory, 4th century Bishop of Nanianzus: The less they comprehend, the more they admire.
Our forefathers and doctors have often said not what they thought, but what circumstances and necessity dictated. Herbert Marsh, 19th century English Bishop: What difference does it make who is right? The theological gap between Judaism and Christianity is not limited to the question: Judaism and Christianity are two different belief systems, differing over core issues such as the existential nature of man, the role of our relationship with God, and the path to genuine spiritual fulfillment.
Jews have held steadfast to their beliefs for thousands of years, amidst all forms of persecution and hardship. As the prophet Isaiah predicts, this will become eminently clear when the Messiah, the King of Israel, arrives.
May it be speedily in our day. Resources For further study, see www.