Isaiah 53 is a well-known passage of Scripture to the avid student of the Bible. But most people are not avid Bible students and have not read this controversial passage. A recent informal survey illustrates this point.
One hundred Jews on the streets of Tel Aviv were asked, Who do you think the 53rd chapter of Isaiah describes?” Most were unfamiliar with the passage and were asked to read it before answering. After doing so, many conceded that they did not know to whom it referred.
Some of the first written interpretations or targums (ancient paraphrases on biblical texts) see this passage as referring to an individual servant, the Messiah, who would suffer. Messianic Jewish talmudist, Rachmiel Frydland, recounts those early views:
“Our ancient commentators with one accord noted that the context clearly speaks of God’s Anointed One, the Messiah. The Aramaic translation of this chapter, ascribed to Rabbi Jonathan ben Uzziel, a disciple of Hillel who lived early in the second century c.e., begins with the simple and worthy words:
‘Behold my servant Messiah shall prosper; he shall be high, and increase, and be exceeding strong: as the house of Israel looked to him through many days, because their countenance was darkened among the peoples, and their complexion beyond the sons of men (Targum Jonathan on Isaiah 53, ad locum).'”
“We find the same interpretation in the Babylonian Talmud:
What is his [the Messiah’s] name? The Rabbis said: His name is “the leper scholar,” as it is written, “Surely he hath borne our griefs, and carried our sorrows: yet we did esteem him a leper, smitten of God, and afflicted.” (Sanhedrin 98b)
“Similarly, in an explanation of Ruth 2/14in the Midrash Rabbah it states:
He is speaking of the King Messiah: “Come hither” draw near to the throne “and dip thy morsel in the vinegar,” this refers to the chastisements, as it is said, “But he was wounded for our transgressions, bruised for our iniquities.”
“The Zohar, in its interpretation of Isaiah 53, points to the Messiah as well:
There is in the Garden of Eden a palace named the Palace of the Sons of Sickness. This palace the Messiah enters, and He summons every pain and every chastisement of Israel. All of these come and rest upon Him. And had He not thus lightened them upon Himself, there had been no man able to bear Israel’s chastisements for the trangression of the law; as it is written, “Surely our sicknesses he has carried.” (Zohar II, 212a)
The early sages expected a personal Messiah to fulfill the Isaiah prophecy. No alternative interpretation was applied to this passage until the Middle Ages. And then, a completely different view was presented. This view was popularized by Jewish commentator Rashi (Rabbi Shlomo Itzchaki), who lived one thousand years after Jesus.
Rashi held the position that the servant passages of Isaiah referred to the collective fate of the nation of Israel rather than a personal Messiah. Some rabbis, such as Ibn Ezra and Kimchi, agreed. However, many other rabbinic sages during this same period and later—including Maimonides—realized the inconsistencies of Rashi’s views and would not abandon the original messianic interpretations.
Yet to this day, many rabbis persist in citing Rashi as the definitive word on how to interpret the servant of the Lord in Isaiah 53. Others admit the weakness of this view and say that the passage applies to an individual. They usually cite the prophet Isaiah himself, King Cyrus, King Hezekiah, Josiah, Ezekiel, Jeremiah, Moses, Job or even some anonymous contemporaries of Isaiah as the one spoken of by the prophet.
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 55:6-7, Jeremiah 36:3, Ezekiel chapters 18 and 33, Hoseah 14:1-3, Jonah 3:6-10, Proverbs 16:6, Daniel 4:27, 2-Chronicles 7:14).
“Your dead shall live; their bodies shall rise. You who dwell in the dust, awake and sing for joy! For your dew is a dew of light, and the earth will give birth to the dead.” – Isaiah 26:19
“16 Fathers shall not be put to death for their children, nor children put to death for their fathers; each is to die for his own sin.” (Deuteronomy 24)
20 The soul who sins is the one who will die. The son will not share the guilt of the father, nor will the father share the guilt of the son. The righteousness of the righteous man will be credited to him, and the wickedness of the wicked will be charged against him. (Ezekiel 18)
These scriptures go on to say that if a man turns from his evil ways he will not die.
“Understand that the Torah, the books of Moshe, NEVER prescribe human sacrifice. The idea of someone dying for (in the place of) the sins of another is foreign to the Torah concept of individual and collective responsibility for sin (Deut 24:16; Ezek 18:20).”
4For it is not possible that the blood of bulls and of goats should take away sins.
5 Wherefore when he cometh into the world, he saith, Sacrifice and offering thou wouldest not, but a body hast thou prepared me:
6 In burnt offerings and sacrifices for sin thou hast had no pleasure.
7 Then said I, Lo, I come (in the volume of the book it is written of me,) to do thy will, O God.
8 Above when he said, Sacrifice and offering and burnt offerings and offering for sin thou wouldest not, neither hadst pleasure therein; which are offered by the law;
9 Then said he, Lo, I come to do thy will, O God. He taketh away the first, that he may establish the second.
10 By the which will we are sanctified through the offering of the body of Jesus Christ once for all.
19 Having therefore, brethren, boldness to enter into the holiest by the blood of Jesus,
20 By a new and living way, which he hath consecrated for us, through the veil, that is to say, his flesh;
28 He that despised Moses’ law died without mercy under two or three witnesses: Hebrews 10/4-10 and 19-20 and 28 Holy Bible KJV.
31See, a time is coming—declares the Lord—when I will make a new covenant with the House of Israel and the House of Judah. 32It will not be like the covenant I made with their fathers, when I took them by the hand to lead them out of the land of Egypt, a covenant which they broke, though I espoused them—declares the Lord. 33But such is the covenant I will make with the House of Israel after these days—declares the Lord: I will put My Teaching into their inmost being and inscribe it upon their hearts. Then I will be their God, and they shall be My people. 34No longer will they need to teach one another and say to one another, “Heed the Lord“; for all of them, from the least of them to the greatest, shall heed Me—declares the Lord.
For I will forgive their iniquities,
And remember their sins no more.
38See, a time is coming—declares the Lord—when the city shall be rebuilt for the Lord from the Tower of Hananel to the Corner Gate; 39and the measuring line shall go straight out to the Gareb Hill, and then turn toward Goah. 40And the entire Valley of the Corpses and Ashes, and all the fields as far as the Wadi Kidron, and the corner of the Horse Gate on the east, shall be holy to the Lord.They shall never again be uprooted or overthrown. Jeremiah 31/31-34 and 38-40 Tanakh JPS 1985.
Three ideas are presented interpreting Isaiah 53: He is the Jewish Messiah, the people Israel, or Jesus.
The early sages who were writing their interpretations believed Isaiah 53 described a personal Messiah who was not Jesus.
In the middle ages a new interpretation was given popularized by the sage Rashi that Isaiah 53 described the people Israel and their collective fate.
Many other rabbinic sages during this same period and later including Maimonides realized the inconsistencies of Rashi’s views and would not abandon the original interpretations.
The interpretation of Rashi is popular today by Jews for Judaism and Outreach Judaism and many others. I agree with the sage Maimonides (the Rambam) that this view has many inconsistencies. Foremost is the idea of a collective offering of the Jewish people to G-d of themselves for guilt.
The only time there was ever a collective agreement by the people of Israel was at Sinai when the Jewish people received the Torah and it did not include an offering of themselves for guilt.
This interpretation does not explain how the sins of the Jewish people can be put on the Jewish people; why such a covenant with G-d is made and left out of the Torah; or how G-d crushed them with disease or otherwise so that they would as one agree to offer themselves for guilt to G-d.
This interpretation implies that the Jewish people offered themselves for guilt as though they are a collective Jesus so that the gentiles could share in the world to come; it ignores the new covenant G-d declared in Jeremiah and Malachi of sin forgiveness of the Jewish people; it is a bad interpretation of what an offering of oneself for guilt is and the meaning of words such as “sins of my people”; and it is an affront to the true Jewish Messiah that it does describe (although very useful).
The book of Hebrews sums up the basic Christian belief that Jesus was sacrificed for the sins of all as a substitute to the animal sacrificial laws of G-d.
Jesus said “Sacrifice and offering thou wouldest not, but a body hast thou prepared me: In burnt offerings and sacrifices for sin thou hast had no pleasure.”
Jesus said “Lo, I come (in the volume of the book it is written of me) to do thy will, O God”
And Jesus said, “Lo, I come to do thy will, O God. He taketh away the first, that he may establish the second.”
The first being animal sacrifice in bulls and goats for sins and the second for G-d to establish human sacrifice for sins in the body of Jesus that G-d prepared for sacrifice.
There is not a volume of any book where this was written of Jesus or any man. It is not written in the scripture of the Jewish people. Jesus said that he fulfilled the prophecy of the book of Isaiah in one of the Gospels and the book of Isaiah says nothing about human sacrifice.
There is Isaiah 53 but the man described has been ill and diseased and is crushed by G-d so that he offers himself for guilt (sometimes translated as sin) to G-d and in return G-d gives him long life to serve G-d with his devotion and make the many righteous with his knowledge. It is not Jesus.
One of the reasons the man of Isaiah 53 has been ill and diseased is because ill and diseased animals were not accepted in the animal sacrificial laws. This way no one would think he was to be a sacrifice. The offering of himself for guilt (or even sin) has nothing to do with the animal sacrificial laws.
The sacrificial laws of animals had many purposes and most were simply to appease G-d. It was a system to teach what sin was and who G-d was and basic things like cook your food (do not eat raw meat). It gave a primitive people a religion they could understand. It was a way to worship G-d they could understand and want to participate in.
It was different from all the other practices of God worship in the world such as the horrible practice of offering children to “Gods” as human sacrifices. G-d tells us how much He detested and hated and forbid that practice. Animals not people for sacrifice was the most important part of the teaching.
Only unintentional sins were ever accepted as being transferred to animals. Sins a person did not realize they had committed. All of it was a teaching tool that became obsolete but not because a human body had been prepared in Jesus for all sins. It was because the things taught had been learned. There was still disobedience and sinning but the lessons were over.
The sacrifice of animals to appease G-d was not really to appease G-d. It was a way of establishing a connection between a primitive people and G-d they could understand. They were the first prayers of praise for G-d. They were showing Him their fear and obedience to Him and they liked doing all the rituals. It was fun and new and a learning tool for a primitive people.
The practice of sacrificing children to Baal is found throughout the Tanakh. The children were burned to death in the primitive belief that this would appease the G-d that was angry all of the time. All of the death, hunger, disease and misfortune was blamed on an angry G-d in primitive societies.
The Mayans would offer human sacrifices for fertility of the people and bountiful crops to keep starvation and sickness away and the tribal numbers of their people high to fight the area enemies.
Humans sacrificing to Gods to appease them and receive favor in their lives and continued existence. Only in Christianity do we see child sacrifice turned upside down. Christians believe that the G-d of Abraham who created the world and mankind and gave the Jewish people a book of commandments and morality for them and the world to live a good life offered a sacrifice of His child to them.
A sacrifice to forgive them of not following His commandments. Commandments that include do not offer humans and especially children as sacrifices to Gods.
G-d made a child sacrifice to Christians so they can be in Heaven with Him is the Christian belief. That is turning the concept of appeasing Gods to receive favor upside down. I would not want to stand before G-d and tell Him I believe He made a sacrifice of His son so I could be with Him.
And then the Apostle Paul sold all of these falsehoods of a human sacrifice for sins to anyone who would believe in it (for the most part gentiles and not Jews who knew better) telling his followers there was support for it in the Jewish bible.
This false religious teaching that Jesus was sacrificed for the sins of the Jewish people under the animal sacrificial system became a human sacrifice for the sins of the gentiles because Apostle Paul also taught that G-d had forsaken His chosen people, and he did it with deception and false translations of the scripture.
The new covenant of sin forgiveness that comes with the angel of the covenant and is heralded by Elijah is for a time when the Jewish people have returned and rebuilt Jerusalem and will never be uprooted and overthrown again. Jerusalem was last destroyed about 40 years after the death of Jesus and the Jewish people overthrown in the Roman-Jewish wars and uprooted (dispersed) throughout the world.
The herald and messenger of the new covenant of sin forgiveness could not have been John the Baptist. If John had been Elijah there was no reason for Jesus to be sacrificed for the sins of his people and Jerusalem would not have been destroyed and the Jewish people dispersed throughout the world (as the scripture said they would).