The Most Compelling Messianic Prophecy in the Bible

In our latest 'Consider This' episode, biblical scholar Dr. Michael Brown examines what is perhaps the most famous and controversial of all messianic prophecies, the prophecy commonly known as "Isaiah 53."
There are many prophecies about the Messiah found in the pages of the Hebrew Bible (what Christians refer to as the Old Testament). But there is one prophecy in particular that has opened the eyes of more readers than any others, the prophecy commonly known as "Isaiah 53." In fact, many Jewish readers have come to believe that Jesus (in Hebrew, Yeshua) was the promised Messiah based on this one passage alone. What makes it so clear?

One of my friends had a traditional Jewish upbringing, but after he was married, he came to believe that Jesus was the Jewish Messiah.

When his father asked him to prove it to him using the Jewish Bible, my friend brought in his Bible and opened it up to Isaiah 53. When his father read it he shouted to him, "I told you I wanted to see this in our Bible, not the New Testament!"

My friend showed his dad that this was the Bible he received when he was bar mitzvahed. His father was shocked. This was written in the Jewish Bible after all, but the description was so detailed that he thought it must have come the pages of the New Testament. That's how clear it is.

The passage actually begins in Isaiah 52:13 and ends in 53:12, starting with these words, "Behold My servant will succeed (or, act wisely)."

But who is this servant?

In previous chapters, beginning in Isaiah 41, the servant was identified with the nation of Israel as a whole. Yet that servant was often spoken of as deaf and unresponsive, exiled because of its sin, imprisoned in Babylon because of its guilt.

But there was another servant, spoken of in Isaiah 42 and 49 and 50, an individual servant.

That servant was sent to liberate the exiles and to open the eyes of the blind. He would be the redeemer. They, the people of Israel, would be the redeemed.

But that servant would also be rejected by his own Jewish people, even suffering violence at their hands.

When we come, then, to Isaiah 53, which servant are we reading about, the nation of Israel, in exile, or the Messiah, who will set the captives free?

The verses that follow make it clear.

This servant will be highly exalted - one Jewish tradition said he would be exalted higher than Abraham, Moses, or even the angels - but first he would suffer terribly to the point of being disfigured. Yet his exaltation would one day shock the kings of the world.

Which servant was the prophet describing? Who is it that would suffer terribly and die, only to be highly exalted?

The text continues with a detailed description.

His upbringing and origins would be very humble (Jesus was raised as a carpenter in Nazareth, a backwoods area of Galilee) and there would be nothing special about his appearance.

Yet he would suffer terribly. He would be wounded and bruised and ultimately killed.

But why did his people think as he was suffering? Why did they think he was dying?

This is their confession: "Surely he took up our pain and bore our suffering, yet we considered him punished by God, stricken by him, and afflicted." (Isaiah 53:4)

It was only afterward that they received the revelation of what really happened: "But he was pierced for our transgressions, he was crushed for our iniquities; the punishment that brought us peace was on him, and by his wounds we are healed." (Isaiah 53:5)

He was not dying for his sins. He was dying for the sins of his people!

The text goes on to describe how he was taken away like a lamb to the slaughter, not protesting his death.

It describes how he would be cut off from the land of the living, how he would be appointed to be buried among the wicked but his tomb would be with the rich (a rich Jewish leader named Joseph of Arimathea obtained the corpse of Jesus and buried him in his own tomb), and yet he would continue to live a long life - in other words, he would rise from the dead!

Interestingly, Jewish tradition developed the idea of two Messiahs, a suffering Messiah, called the Messiah son of Joseph, and a victorious Messiah, the Messiah son of David. But the Bible does not speak of two Messiahs, a suffering Messiah and a victorious Messiah. It speaks of one Messiah who would first suffer, die, and then be highly exalted.

Read the verses for yourself. They are all there in the Bible. And remember this: Isaiah was written at least 500 years before the time of Yeshua and as much as 700 years before his birth. Talk about a specific prophecy.

Isaiah 53 also describes this servant as righteous - in contrast with sinful Israel, languishing in exile - and as one who had no guile on his lips.

And it says repeatedly that he took our place, that he suffered for our sins, that he bore our guilt, that God put upon him the iniquity of all of us. Who does that describe?

The last verse of the prophecy speaks again of his exaltation after suffering with God speaking these final words: "Therefore I will give him a portion among the great, and he will divide the spoils with the strong, because he poured out his life unto death, and was numbered with the transgressors. For he bore the sin of many, and made intercession for the transgressors." (Isaiah 53:12)

Read the whole chapter for yourself and you'll see why this is the most compelling Messianic prophecy in the Bible.