One of the fundamentalist Christian’s favorite Old Testament “proofs” of Christ, is found in chapter 53 of the book of Isaiah, but upon reading this text; I have a different interpretation as to its meaning and usage by the Christian church. I’ve seen others try to explain this text but they tend to get too wordy and turn what should be a simple explanation into a complex matter. Because of this I thought it was high time that I threw my hat into the arena for those who like me like to keep things simple.
As I’ve stated before in earlier posts, Christians love to take texts and verses from the O.T. and quote them out of context in order to validate their beliefs about Christ and Christianity in general. They refer to the old testament for so called prophecies (quote mining) about Jesus and try to use those to confirm to themselves and anyone else that they could convince that these were in fact evidences that confirm Jesus as the foretold coming messiah.
Isaiah chapter 53 is comprised of twelve verses which appear to describe a man who is made to be a sin offering, he is described as a man of sorrows who upon himself was bearing our (nations of the world) rebellions etc. If you are familiar with the New Testament narratives about the trial and crucifixion of Christ, especially as described in the four gospels you will see the parallels between them and this chapter of Isaiah. But is Isaiah 53 really talking about a man or a coming messiah? Is this apparent prophecy for the world or is this a prophecy about the future of Jerusalem/ Israel?
The first thing we must do in order to understand this chapter in its correct context is to identify who is this “man” that the prophecy is referring to. In order to understand chapter 53 we must first read chapter 52 where this so called man is identified unequivocally. Isaiah 52:13-15 makes the identity of this suffering servant abundantly clear. After reminding them of their suffering and maltreatment at the hands of the Egyptians and the Assyrian’s Isaiah prophesies that Israel will now rise above it all. 13 Look, my servant will prosper, will grow great, will rise to great heights. Note that in this verse the servant is identified as Jerusalem.
Verses 14 and 15 continue to speak of this servant as if it was referring to a man, but in fact it is still talking about Jerusalem as a whole. Another important thing to remember is that in Isaiah 52:10 it says: ‘Yahweh has bared his holy arm for all the nations to see, and all the ends of the earth have seen the salvation of our God.’ Chapter 53:1 confirms that we are still speaking about the same subject and ties the two chapters together: ‘Who has given credence to what we have heard? And who has seen in it a revelation of Yahweh's arm? ‘ In other words through Israel God was going to reveal himself to the world, he was going to be glorified through them.
The rest of chapter 53 continues this trend by referring to Israel/Jerusalem in the singular and not in the plural sense. Another thing to note is that the narrative as translated speaks of the sufferings of this servant in the past tense. No prophecy that is supposed to be about the future refers to the future in the past tense. Chapter 53 ends with verses 11 and 12 going back into the future tense and once again stating what the future brings to Israel and why they suffered so. The purpose was so that through them all the nations of the world would come to a knowledge of God and in turn be justified by that knowledge.
In closing, I can say that there is a lot more that can be said about Isaiah 53 but I think that what I have said should suffice to prove that it is about Jerusalem/ Israel and not a prophecy of Jesus Christ. If anyone would like to get a more thorough yet more technical interpretation of this I recommend that you read an article on the matter by Rabbi Moshe Shulman here. In parting this also goes to prove what I said initially; that Christians like to take texts out of context to promote their beliefs in Jesus as being the messiah. In fact, the entire life of Jesus in my opinion has been reconstructed by utilizing many texts from the Old Testament therefore negating the belief that Jesus Christ was an historical figure.