No doubt the heavy tone of Isaiah 53 shows the great magnitude of suffering on the subject featured toward the end of the prophetic book. But is the suffering servant Jesus, or does the text refer to someone else entirely?
The Prophecies Jesus Fulfilled in Isaiah 53
- Isaiah 53:2 talks about how this suffering servant had no beauty or majesty to attract others to him. Although Jesus was likely not deformed in appearance, he wasn’t the most beautiful human being to walk the earth.
- Isaiah 53:3 discusses how mankind despised and rejected this servant. In the same way, Jesus’ audience rejected him because his message was too difficult to digest, and eventually killed him for it.
- Isaiah 53:4-5 Through his suffering, he takes our place and heals us. This really wouldn’t work in terms of the Old Testament prophets. Although they did suffer, Israel wasn’t healed by their wounds. Alternatively, by Jesus’ wounds, we are healed.
- Isaiah 53:7 He doesn’t open his mouth in the face of execution. When on trial, Jesus doesn’t answer (Matthew 27:14) any of the charges.
- Isaiah 53:9 Assigned a grave with the wicked and in the rich with his death. He dies alongside two thieves (the wicked), but Joseph of Arimathea buried him in a tomb (the rich).
The passage goes on, each highlighting Christ’s life first, but Isaiah 53 makes it clear that no one else fulfills the role of suffering servant quite like Jesus did.
Could it Be Someone Else?
Not likely. Many Jewish scholars struggle with this passage because it clearly points to Jesus. Although they’ve offered other contenders such as Isaiah, Jeremiah, or even the Jewish people. After all, throughout their history, Jews have been despised and rejected.
However, none of the contenders appear to fit the substitutionary roles the suffering servant plays. None of those contenders can heal us by their wounds and restore us to God.
Why Does This Matter?
Fulfilled prophecies matter. If someone predicts something hundreds of years before an event takes place, the odds of that happening by a mere guess are astronomical. Let alone all the prophecies that point to Jesus in the Old Testament.
This passage in particular matters because Isaiah lived during 700-600 BC. These prophecies took place 600-700 years before Christ came to earth. If even just one of them came true, the odds would be astronomical, let alone this passage.
This passage also gives us insight into Jesus’ life and his work on the cross. We can read and appreciate just how much he has done for us.
This passage also leaves the Old Testament readers with no excuse. Jesus made it obvious that he was the suffering servant. Even if people never read the New Testament, they can see from the example Jesus gave that no one matches the Suffering Servant quite as well as he does.
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Hope Bolinger is a literary agent at C.Y.L.E. and a graduate of Taylor University's professional writing program. More than 500 of her works have been featured in various publications ranging from Writer's Digest to Keys for Kids. She has worked for various publishing companies, magazines, newspapers, and literary agencies and has edited the work of authors such as Jerry B. Jenkins and Michelle Medlock Adams. Her column "Hope's Hacks," tips and tricks to avoid writer's block, reaches 6,000+ readers weekly and is featured monthly on Cyle Young's blog. Her modern-day Daniel, Blaze, (Illuminate YA) released in June, and they contracted the sequel Den for July 2020. Find out more about her here.