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Old Testament Matters for Christians: The Prophetic Power of Isaiah 53

The Book of the Prophet Isaiah and the Prophecy of Jesus Christ

For many people (Christians included), the Old Testament seems to be incredibly enigmatic. And because it is so difficult to understand, it can at times seem completely irrelevant to our lives. I admit, these thirty nine ancient books of Jewish scripture can (at first glance) appear to be filled with nothing, but fantastical stories that often depict God as just angry and wrathful. As such, the Old Testament God seems far removed from the loving and merciful God that Jesus represents and speaks of in the New Testament. This prevalent view point of the Old Testament is unfortunate and misses the mark entirely, and it is ultimately why it seems so hard for so many of us to grasp.

How to Understand the Old Testament

Atheists love to mock the Old Testament by making jokes about Noah and his “fictional zoo boat,” characterizing the stories as nothing but fairy tales or myth. Christian fundamentalists, on the other hand, love to cite the Old Testament, selectively picking and choosing passages from the Law of Moses, in order to marginalize certain groups of people. Both of these view points are wrong, and should be dismissed out of hand. The truth is, the Old Testament and the New Testament are two parts of the same story — with the same God, who is both loving and all powerful. We need to remember this when we think of the Old Testament. The stories, which may at times seem fantastical, are as relevant as any story from the New Testament about Jesus. This is because, these ancient, pre-Christian stories are really timeless tales that are merely an earlier part of the story of Christ. The point is, whenever we look for Jesus in the Old Testament, the text suddenly becomes relevant; the “wrathful” God depicted in the text seems less wrathful, and more merciful and loving as we place Him within the larger Christian context; and furthermore whatever may have at first glance seemed like some far-fetched tale suddenly becomes just a smaller part of a much more intricate and elaborate plan, which, as such, seems to prove the possibility of miracles by the sheer weight of the words and the prophetic power thereof.

Old Testament Prophecy

In this post we are going to look at just one chapter of one book of the Old Testament in order to show just how deeply interwoven the Old and New Testaments are. In so doing, I hope we can see, not only the steadfast love and brilliance of God, but also that the Old Testament is not some irrelevant and/or mythical group of books, but rather, that it is so divinely inspired that the possibility of the supernatural — which is written about within the words — can be proven evidentially through the words themselves. That is to say, the following chapter from the Book of Isaiah speaks of a future redeemer who will suffer in order to save his people. This should sound familiar to anyone familiar with the tenets of Christianity and the life of Jesus.

Brace yourself. What you are about to read is not just some irrelevant words about unverifiable miracles. The following is true prophecy and is a miracle unto itself:

Isaiah 53

Isaiah 53

Isaiah 53

Any one familiar with the Gospel and the life of Jesus of Nazareth might mistakenly think that they had just read a passage from the New Testament. Nevertheless, this passage was in fact written over 2700 years ago, which is over 700 years before the incarnation of Jesus. So the only two logical conclusions to draw from this apparent "miracle" is either: one, the Gospel writers are the most brilliant and lucky charlatans of all time, all telling the same story of the same prophetic fulfillment of Isaiah (this despite the fact that they were all written at different times in different places for different audiences) or two, more likely (even though it’s hard for many to believe) a man named Isaiah, who people claimed was a prophet, really did commune with God and see a vision of a future redeemer, who Jesus Christ embodies in near exact detail (but in a way that no one could have predicted prior to his life).

People will believe anything if it means not having to believe.

As I start to dissect these lines from Isaiah and explain exactly how Jesus fulfills the words of this passage, you will begin to see precisely how divinely inspired these words actually are. I am going to focus on three main points of Isaiah 53.

1. First Prophetic Point of Isaiah 53

We read in Isaiah of a future messiah who will be “despised and stricken by men, a man of sorrows, and acquainted with grief.” It is not difficult to see how Jesus fits this description precisely. If we turn to the 27th chapter of Matthew’s Gospel we read: “Then the soldiers of the governor took Jesus into the praetorium, and they gathered the whole batallion before him. And they stripped him and put a scarlet robe upon him, and plaiting a crown of thorns they put it on his head, and put a reed in his right hand. And kneeling before him they mocked him saying, ‘Hail, King of the Jews!’ And they spat upon him and took the reed and struck him on the head. And when they mocked him, they stripped him of the robe, and put his own clothes on him, and led him away to crucify him.” (Matthew 27:27-31)

It’s easy to see here just how "despised" Jesus was. And we continue to read how he was “stricken by men.” As he was dying on the cross, more mocking ensued, ‘You who would destroy the temple build it in three days, save yourself! If you are the Son of God, come down from the cross.” (Matthew 27:40)

Jesus was clearly "despised and stricken by men" as Isaiah prophesies. And as for Christ being “a man of sorrows, and acquainted with grief” we see that clearly too when Jesus was dying on the cross. He cries out in grief, ‘My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken?’ (Matthew 27:46) Isaiah really drives this point home when he says of the messiah, “Surely he has borne our griefs and carried our sorrows; yet we esteemed him stricken, smitten by God and afflicted.” The words of one of the criminals who died on the cross beside Jesus should be called to mind here: ‘Are you not the Christ?’ The criminal asks Jesus derisively. He is heckling Jesus, and essentially saying “Why is God not saving you, what have you done to Him?” Or to put it another way, the criminal "esteemed him stricken, smitten by God and afflicted."

2. Second Prophetic Point of Isaiah 53

The next part of Isaiah 53 that needs to be addressed is verse nine where we read, “they made his grave with the wicked and with a rich man in death” (Isaiah 53:9). It’s easy to see how the “grave with the wicked” is analogous to the fact that Jesus is crucified beside two criminals. And “with a rich man in death” is a clear reference to the fact that Jesus’ tomb was provided by Joseph of Arimathea, who is explicitly referred to in the Gospel as a “rich man.” (See: Matthew 27:57-60)

3. Third Prophetic Point of Isaiah 53

The last part of Isaiah 53 that I want to address here is the most important point. And it's the point upon which this entire prophecy of Jesus rests. This point is so important in fact that Isaiah mentions it multiple times. What is more, it has become the most common point of belief in all Christian churches. It is the fundamental belief that the Messiah will die for the sins of all. In Isaiah 53 he really drives this point home when he says things like: “The Lord has laid on him the iniquity of us all” (Isaiah 53:6) and “it was the will of the Lord to bruise him; he has put him to grief, when he makes himself an offering for sin” (Isaiah 53:10), and “by his knowledge shall the righteous one, my servant make many to be accounted righteous; and he shall bear their iniquites” (Isaiah 53:11), and lastly, “he bore the sin of many and made intercession for their transgressions” (Isaiah 53:12).

There is an interesting connection in the Gospels that is germane to our discussion. Many scholars believe that the Gospel of Mark was written first (for more on the order of the Gospels click here), and that Gospel begins with a quote from the book of Isaiah that is used to show how the prophet prophesied John the Baptist. In John’s Gospel, when Jesus is baptized, John the Baptist greets Jesus by saying, “Behold, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world!” (John 1:29) Connecting what we know of Mark and John's Gospel together in this way, we can see that at the foundation of Jesus' story, it is Isaiah and the sacrifice of the messiah for the sins of the world that is at the forefront.

This belief, that Jesus' death on the cross takes away the sin of the world (or that Jesus died for our sins), is something that we hear over and over again. Most people, however, do not understand exactly what is meant by this all-too-familiar statement.I will go through it as simply and straightforwardly as possible, doing my best to cut right to the chase.

The belief that Jesus died for our sins is the point on which all of Christendom rests. St. Paul was painfully aware of this fact. In his first letter to the Corinthians he writes: “if Christ has not been raised, then our preaching is in vain and your faith is in vain” (1 Corinthians 15:14). You may be thinking that I just leapt from Jesus dying for our sins to Jesus rising from the dead. I do this because I am trying to illustrate that they are both part of the larger point. To understand this, we must go back to the very beginning of the Bible. Adam and Eve turned away from God, and as a result of their sin they brought the punishment of death into the world. So then, the question becomes: if Jesus bears the iniquity of us all as Isaiah states, which is to say, he dies for our sins, then does that mean that the punishment of death is also wiped away with the sin that caused it? This is why Jesus rising from the dead is relevant and so crucial. It is because it is a sign that death is no longer a punishment, and that Jesus did in fact take away the sin of the world. Or as Paul goes on to say in the aforementioned letter, “For as in Adam all die, so also in Christ shall all be made alive” (1 Corinthians 15:22).

The point that I am making here is that the most important aspect of Jesus’ life (i.e. his dying for our sins) and the easiest way to verify that he is in fact the Christ, (i.e. this prophecy that he clearly fulfills) is encapsulated perfectly in this one chapter of one book of the Bible. And what is even more surprising is that this all important chapter of Jesus' life is not found in the New Testament, but rather in the "irrelevant" and "mythical" Old Testament.

A Sacrificial Conclusion

The Old Testament — with its "angry" and "punishing" God — is difficult for many to digest. Many people have a hard time with one Old Testament story in particular. It is from the Book of Genesis, when God asks Abraham to prove his love for Him by sacrificing his beloved son Isaac. How could God ask such a thing? It is stories like this that make the God depicted in the Old Testament seem more cold and wrathful than he is otherwise depicted in the time of Jesus. This is only because we do not see the bigger picture. Or as the Book of Job teaches: God “does great things that we cannot comprehend (Job 37:5).

Isaiah 53, and its subsequent fulfillment by Jesus, prove that the story of Christ is told throughout the entirety of the Bible (both Old and New Testament alike), and every thing is part of a much larger plan.

As Abraham was walking up the mountain with Isaac to sacrifice him as God instructed, Isaac asked his father where the lamb was for the sacrifice. To which Abraham replied, “God himself will provide the lamb” (Genesis 22:8). And that is exactly what God did. Remember the greeting John the Baptist gave to Jesus in the Gospel of John: “Behold the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world.”

You see, God wasn’t being cold or wrathful asking Abraham to sacrifice his son to prove his love for him. God showed mercy and stopped Abraham before he did it, and in the end God was the one who sacrificed His son in order to prove His love for us. In other words, this God from the Old Testament is the same loving God that Jesus represents and speaks of in the New Testament. The moral here is that the only way we can see the larger part of God’s plan is by accepting Christ into every aspect of our understanding of things — not the least of which is how we read and understand the Old Testament — and in so doing, we will finally be able to clearly see the eternal mercy and love of God from the beginning of the Bible to the end.

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