But He was wounded for our transgressions, he was bruised for our iniquities; the chastisement for our peace was upon him, and by his stripes we are healed. (Isaiah 53:5 NKJV)
Was Isaiah specifically referring to Jesus?Context is critical when it comes to such an interpretation. Let's review more of the verses in Isaiah 53 in order to determine the context of Isaiah's writings in this regard:
1. Who has believed our message and to whom has the arm of the LORD been revealed? (Isaiah 53:1)The word translated to "arm" (zĕrowa). According to Thayer's lexicon, we find this word can sometimes refer to an arm, or forearm or shoulder, but also "strength," "human power" and "military force, an army." Here the word in context (referring to God's messenger or representative) would also be translated to "power." Translated that way, this would read:
Who has believed our message and to whom has the power of the LORD been revealed?
This indicates the subject of this discussion is the "power of the LORD" has been revealed to someone.
How beautiful on the mountains are the feet of those who bring good news, who proclaim peace, who bring good tidings, who proclaim salvation, who say to Zion, "Your God reigns!" (Isaiah 52:6)Then we find Isaiah's subject being described:
2. For he shall grow up before Him as a tender plant, and as a root out of dry ground. He has no form or comeliness; and when we see him, there is no beauty that we should desire him. (Isaiah 53:2)How could this be describing Jesus: that Jesus had no beauty? No form? Nothing in Jesus' appearance was attractive? Jesus was followed by thousands of people, who honored and respected him. Throngs of people followed him and were attracted to him.
3. He is despised and rejected by men, a man of sorrows and acquainted with grief. And we hid, as it were, our faces from him; he was despised, and we did not esteem him. (Isaiah 53:3)How is this describing Jesus? "And we hid our faces from him?" This is past tense. This is not describing someone who will appear centuries later after Isaiah wrote this 8 centuries before Jesus' arrival.
4. Surely He has borne our griefs and carried our sorrows; yet we esteemed him stricken, smitten by God, and afflicted. (Isaiah 53:4)Note that this is written in the past tense. This indicates something that has already happened. Otherwise, it would say - "Surely he will bear our griefs ..."
Besides, this is the past tense. If this were Jesus is would say, "we will consider him smitten by God."
5. But He was wounded for our transgressions, he was bruised for our iniquities; the chastisement for our peace was upon him, and by his stripes we are healed. (Isaiah 53:5)Here is the key quote that is often used, out of context. Note also here the use of the past tense. This indicates that this already occurred. The phrase, "our peace was upon him" indicates something that already happened. How could "our peace" have (already) been "upon him" (which includes Isaiah) if Jesus won't be born some eight centuries later? (Yes, Isaiah was alive in the 8th Century BC).
So 800 years later, Jesus will walk the earth and be persecuted for his teachings. How are Isaiah and his tribe/lineage already "healed" by "his wounds" at the time of this writing, eight centuries before Jesus appeared?
6. All we like sheep have gone astray; we have turned, every one, to his own way; and the LORD has laid on him the iniquity of us all. (Isaiah 54:6)Now Isaiah refers to "we are like sheep" and "we have turned". How could this be about someone who would appear eight centuries later?
7. He was oppressed and he was afflicted, yet he opened not his mouth; he was led as a lamb to the slaughter, and as a sheep before its shearers is silent, so He opened not His mouth. (Isaiah 53:7)If this were Jesus, how was he oppressed? Yes, he was captured, tried, and persecuted - which took place over a period of two days. But when was he oppressed? The word translated to oppressed (nagas) relates to being enslaved. It means to be ruled over and driven hard. Jesus walked free all of his life. He was never enslaved or oppressed, with the exception of his arrest and trial.
Furthermore, how did Jesus not open his mouth? He taught throughout his adult life - speaking to thousands of people at a time sometimes. He also spoke when he got arrested. And he spoke when he was tried. He also spoke when he was on the cross. He was not silent. When the High Priest asked him questions, he answered. When Pilate asked him questions, he answered. Jesus was not a "sheep before his shearers" and he did not "so he did not open his mouth." Jesus spoke the truth throughout.
8. He was taken from prison and from judgment, and who will declare his generation? For he was cut off from the land of the living; for the transgressions of my people he was stricken. (Isaiah 53:8)Did any of this happen to Jesus? He might have been imprisoned, but only for two days. He certainly was not "cut off from the land of the living." And how was Jesus stricken "for the transgressions of my people"?
9. And they made his grave with the wicked—but with the rich at his death, because He had done no violence, nor was any deceit in his mouth. (Isaiah 53:9)Jesus was not "made a grave with the wicked" at all. His initial tomb was provided by one of his disciples, Joseph. And how was Jesus "with the rich at his death"? Jesus' persecution on the cross was between two criminals - neither of whom were rich. So this verse in no way is describing Jesus.
10. Yet it pleased the LORD to bruise him; He has put him to grief. When you make his soul an offering for sin, he shall see his seed, He shall prolong his days, and the pleasure of the LORD shall prosper in his hand. (Isaiah 53:10)This would suggest - if this were about Jesus - that God was pleased to "bruise him"? And "put him to grief"? Is this what God does to His beloved "Son"?
So Pilate and Caiphus did not convict and send Jesus to be crucified? It was God who did this? That God would choose to make Jesus suffer? And by Jesus' suffering makes him "an offering for sin"?
Such a perspective would be grotesque. That God would be so cruel that he would send "His beloved Son" (representative, servant) to the earth to suffer for everyone's sins - making it so none of us has to suffer the consequences for our own sinful activity (self-centered activity that knowingly harms others)? That God makes one person who loves Him (Jesus) suffer, and the rest of us get away scot-free? That even if we continue to sin we can just wipe it all off on Jesus? Such a doctrine is preposterous.
How does he suffer for our sins?This doctrine assumes that Jesus will suffer for our sins - even sins that could take place even 2,000 years after his persecution. Does this even make sense? What does the text say and how can it be applied practically?
"and forgive us our sins, as we have forgiven those who sin against us." (Matthew 6:12)
"For if you forgive other people when they sin against you, your heavenly Father will also forgive you." (Matthew 6:14)
This is taken so far out of context to assume this is referring to Jesus in the future, and "their iniquities" would refer to everyone's sins for thousands of years to come. That is a grotesque consideration.11. He shall see the labor of his soul, and be satisfied. By his knowledge my righteous servant shall justify many, for he shall bear their iniquities. (Isaiah 53:11)
12. Therefore I will divide him a portion with the great, and he shall divide the spoil with the strong, because he poured out his soul unto death, and he was numbered with the transgressors, and he bore the sin of many, and made intercession for the transgressors. (Isaiah 53:12)
The Hebrew word being translated to "intercession" here is פָּגַע (paga`). This word means "to strike upon" or "to kill" or "to slay." It can also mean "to assail someone with petition" or to "urge him," or "to reach to someone" or "to make peace" according to Thayer's lexicon.
This hardly means the person being persecuted is paying for the sins of the transgressors. It means that the person being persecuted was trying to reach out to those who persecuted them. They were trying to help them. They were trying to give them love for God.
So what is Isaiah referring to?
- Elijah (1 Kings)
- Amos (Amos)
- Micaiah (1 Kings)
- Zechariah ben Joiada (Chronicles)
- Zechariah (2 Chronicles)
- Hanani (2 Chronicles)
- Uriah (Jeremiah)
- Saul (martyr in war)
- Jonathan (martyr in war)
- Hananiah, Mishael and Azariah (Daniel)
- John the Baptist
“O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, the one who kills the prophets and stones those who are sent to her! How often I wanted to gather your children together, as a hen gathers her chicks under her wings, but you were not willing!" (Matthew 23:37)
So we find that Jesus is reflecting Isaiah's teachings completely. He is not claiming to be the one person that Isaiah is predicting. He is stating that so many Prophets and teachers were persecuted for their teachings.
Then of course, we should include those who were persecuted for their teachings after Jesus said this:
All of these persecutions were the result of the transgressions of those institutions that persecuted them. They "bore" those transgressions by suffering for them. If those institutions and societies were not transgressors, they would not have been persecuted in the first place.
But that doesn't mean that the suffering paid for or erased those transgressions. Each of those involved in the persecutions of those teachers will bear the consequences of their actions.
Each of us is responsible for our actions. We each suffer the consequences of what we do - good or bad. When we harm someone, we will suffer the consequences of being harmed in the future. When we help others, we will be helped in the future.
Nature was programmed by God to teach us the consequences of our actions. This world was designed with consequences to enable learning.
To expect that someone in the past suffered the consequences of our actions is ludicrous. Such a proposal would erase our own ability to learn. We would be unable to grow and evolve if there were no consequences to our actions.
We can also take a larger, more metaphorical view of Isaiah's writings here. Each of us has the ability to love God. But this has been largely forsaken by humanity. We have virtually ignored this teaching and have, as a society, abandoned our inner spirit and its connection with the Supreme Being.
And we have also ignored those who have tried to teach us to embrace our inner spirit and reconnect with the Supreme Being.
So we can say that in some ways, Isaiah did predict Jesus. But he was also reflecting upon all the great representatives of God through the ages that have been persecuted for trying to enlighten us to the Truth that loving God is our saving grace.