Subject: Evidence #1 – “The Old Testament Prophecy of Jesus Christ as the Suffering Servant”
Well, I promised we’d start looking at the incredible hard data for the truth claims of Christianity, so let’s start with one of the most famous: Isaiah chapter 53 and the incredible prophecy of Jesus Christ as the Suffering Servant. Here’s the history:
In 1947, young Bedouin shepherds, searching for a stray goat in the Judean Desert, entered a vacant cave and found sealed jars filled with ancient scrolls. That initial discovery by the Bedouins yielded 7 scrolls and began a search that lasted nearly 10 years, eventually producing 1,000’s of scroll fragments from 11 of the Qumran caves. This was the discovery of what we know today as the Dead Sea Scrolls, which contain manuscript copies of the entire Old Testament except the book of Esther.
Historical, paleographic and linguistic evidence established the date of scrolls and the Qumran ruins to the late 2nd Temple Period, a time when Jesus of Nazareth lived. The scrolls were kept and preserved by the Essenes, a Jewish sect who inhabited Qumran (among other locations) from about 125BC to 68AD, when the Romans destroyed the settlement. They were students of Scripture and separated themselves from the world, regarding themselves as “God’s elect” who would only fight in the final battle with the “sons of darkness” at the end of the world.
These manuscripts date to125 BC, or 125 years before Jesus Christ. Before their discovery, the earliest copy of any Old Testament manuscript was the Cairo Codex, dating to 895 AD (895 years after Jesus Christ). So, if these Dead Sea Scrolls match the handwritten Old Testament copies we have today, we can logically conclude the Old Testament was reliably transmitted across the centuries before Christ.
But the most incredible find that points directly to Jesus Christ is found in the two Isaiah Dead Sea Scrolls “A” and “B”. The book of Isaiah contains numerous prophecies of a future Messiah, who will come to earth one day to show God’s love for mankind by voluntarily paying for mankind’s sins. Nowhere is this detailed out for us than in Isaiah chapter 53.
The Isaiah Scrolls “A” and “B” match our Bible’s book of Isaiah in over 95% of the text, with the 5% being minor variations in spelling. As far as Isaiah chapter 53, read Josh McDowell’s words below (taken from his book ‘Evidence that Demands a Verdict’): “Of the 166 words in Isaiah 53, only 17 letters are in question. 10 of these letters are simply spelling changes (no impact on the meaning), 4 are stylistic differences (conjunctions), and the remaining 3 letters are in the word “light”. In Isaiah 53, for the 166 words, there is only one word (3 letters) in question after 1,000 years of transmission, and this 1 word does not change the meaning of the passage.”
So any claim by a skeptic, that someone just added prophecies of Jesus into the Old Testament after His death, has been refuted by this data in the Dead Sea Isaiah Scrolls. But can we really claim that what was prophesied in Isaiah 53 before Christ is really pointing to Him? For example, in Acts 8:26-35, as the Ethiopian eunuch was reading Isaiah 53, he asked Philip “Of whom does the prophet say this, of himself or of some other man?”
Anyone who honestly wants to answer that question for themselves has only to follow the trail of seven major evidences. Let’s do it together.
1. Isaiah 53:1-2 = Messiah will have an obscure lineage fulfilled in Jesus = John 12:37-38, Luke 2:7
2. Isaiah 53:3-4 = Messiah’s rejection fulfilled in Jesus = Matthew 13:54-57, John 1:10-11, John 9:39-41
3. Isaiah 53:5-6,8 = Messiah punished for us fulfilled in Jesus = Romans 4:24-25, 1Peter 2:24-25
4. Isaiah 53:7 = Messiah’s silence fulfilled in Jesus = Matthew 26:62-63
5. Isaiah 53:9 = Messiah’s sinlessness fulfilled in Jesus = Matthew 27:38,57-60, 1Peter 2:21-22
6. Isaiah 53:10-11 = Messiah’s sacrifice for us fulfilled in Jesus = Romans 8:32, 2Corinthians 5:21
7. Isaiah 53:12 = Messiah’s triumph fulfilled in Jesus = Colossians 2:15, Mark 15:27-28, Luke 23:34
No other person in history fulfills just these seven prophetic descriptions of the Messiah. Jesus Christ stands alone as the fulfillment of Isaiah 53. Next week, I’ll lay out the other major nineteen prophecies on Jesus Christ just from the book of Isaiah alone! Stay tuned…
Ed Croteau is a resident of Lee’s Summit and hosts a weekly study in Lees Summit called “Faith: Substance and Evidence”. He can be reached with your questions through the LS Tribune.
Answer to Rob on FB:
1. “Did you ever think that maybe the writers/editors of the NT may have written or edited the text to fit the OT prophecies? If the Dead Sea Scrolls date 125 years before Jesus, and the earliest NT manuscript we have is 125 BCE, that’s plenty of time to “legendize” a person that may or may not have existed. Just look at Joseph Smith or L. Ron Hubbard.”
ANSWER = The earliest NT manuscript is not 125BC. We don’t have any New Testament manuscripts before the disciples even lived, or Christ was born. That’s the point. The Dead Sea Scrolls provide irrefutable evidence, that the Suffering Servant chapter (Isaiah 53) was NOT added in to the Old Testament by anyone. No “legend” here – facts of historical record.
2. “This poses a problem for those who allege that Judaism adopted the nationalistic interpretation of Isaiah 53 in the middle ages, because the early church father Origen actually makes note of the fact that the majority of Jews in his day did see the servant as Israel.
ANSWER = The Old Testament makes it clear that God did not consider the nation of Israel as the Suffering Servant described in Isaiah 53. In Isaiah 53:11 the Suffering Servant is called “My RIGHTEOUS Servant”, while throughout the Old Testament God judges Israel for the nations’ UNRIGHTEOUSNESS. Here are several (there are many, many more) scriptures where God describes the nation as: rebellious, sinful, evildoers, corrupters, blind, deaf, disobedient, profaners of His name, filthy, idolatrous, unrighteous:
Isaiah 1:2-6 “The Wickedness of the nation of Israel” “I have nourished and brought up children, and they have REBELLED against Me; the ox knows its owner and the donkey its master’s crib; but Israel does not know, My people do not consider.’ Alas, SINFUL nation, a people laden with iniquity, a brood of EVILDOERS, children who are CORRUPTERS! They have forsaken the Lord, they have provoked to anger the Holy One of Israel, they have turned away backward. Why should you be stricken again? You will revolt more and more. The WHOLE HEAD IS SICK, and the whole heart faints. From the sole of the foot even to the head. There is no soundness in it.”
Isaiah 42:18-25 “The Deafness, Blindness and Disobedience of the nation of Israel” “Who is BLIND but My servant, or DEAF as My servant whom I send? Who is blind as he who is perfect, and blind as the Lord’s servant? Seeing many things, but you do not observe; opening the ears, but he does not hear. The Lord is well pleased for His righteousness’ sake; He will magnify the law and make it honorable. But this is a people robbed and plundered; all of them are snared in holes, and they are hidden in prison houses; they are prey, and no one delivers; for plunder, and no one says, ‘Restore!’ Who among you will give ear to this? Who will listen and hear for the time to come? Who gave Jacob for plunder, and Israel to the robbers? Was it not the Lord, He against whom WE HAVE SINNED? For they would not walk in His ways, nor were they obedient to His law. Therefore He has poured on him the fury of His anger and the strength of battle; it has set him on fire all around, yet he did not know; and it burned him, yet he did not take it to heart.”
Ezekiel 36:20-28 “The Profanity, Filthiness and Idolatry of Israel” “When they came to the nations, wherever they went, THEY PROFANEDMY HOLY NAME – when they said of them, ‘These are the people of the Lord, and yet they have gone out of His land.’ But I had concern for MY HOLY NAME, which the house of ISRAEL HAD PROFANED AMONG THE NATIIONS WHEREVER THEY WENT. Therefore say to the house of Israel, ‘Thus says the Lord God: “I do not do this for your sake, O house of Israel, but for MY HOLY NAME’S sake, which you have profaned among the nations wherever you went. And I will sanctify MY GREAT NAME, which has been profaned among the nations, which you have profaned in their midst; AND the nations shall know that I am the Lord”, says the Lord God, “when I am hallowed in you before their eyes. For I will take you from among the nations, gather you out of all countries, and bring you into your own land. Then I will sprinkle clean water on you, and you shall be clean; I will cleanse you from all your FILTHINESS and from all your IDOLS. I will give you a new heart and put a new spirit within you, I will take the heart of stone out of your flesh and give you a heart of flesh. I will put MY SPIRIT within you and cause you to walk in My statutes, and you will keep My judgments and do them. Then you shall dwell in the land that I gave to your fathers; you shall be My people, and I will be your God.”
Deuteronomy 9:4-7 “Israel is not inheriting the land because they are righteous – for they are rebellious” “Do not think in your heart, after the Lord your God has cast them out before you, saying, ‘Because of my righteousness the Lord has brought me in to possess this land’; but it is because of the wickedness of these nations that the Lord is driving them out from before you. It is not because of your righteousness or the uprightness of your heart that you go in to possess their land, but because of the wickedness of these nations that the Lord your God drives them out from before you, and that He may fulfill the word which the Lord swore to your fathers, to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. Therefore understand that the Lord your God is not giving you this good land to possess because of your righteousness, for you are a REBELLIOUS people. Remember and do not forget how you provoked the Lord your God to wrath in the wilderness; from the day that you departed from the land of Egypt until you came to this place, you have been REBELLIOUS AGAINST THE LORD.”
3. “Origin lived in the late 2nd to mid 3rd century AD, meaning this testimony predates the accounts of the Talmud and Targum and demolishes the accusation that Israel was not considered the servant until much later. It may also be interesting to note that according to the gospels, Christ’s disciples often found it objectionable that their teacher would endure suffering. If the concept of a suffering messiah a la Isaiah 53 was supposed to have been popular in the first century, and Jesus’ disciples were practicing Jews, why would they not have realized that the suffering of Jesus was a good sign? An obvious answer may be that a messianic interpretation of Isaiah 53 was actually not developed and popularized until a later time.”
ANSWER 1 = Origen does not predate all Talmud and Targum interpretations of Isaiah 53. Targum of Johnathan
ben Uziel is dated to 2nd century AD and clearly views Isaiah 53 as describing a person, not the nation of Israel. Also, Jewish tradition viewed Isaiah 53 as a portrait of God’s Suffering Servant, the Messiah (this view is still held today by most Orthodox Jews). Other examples are Babylonian Targum (6th century AD); Midrash Rabbah and Yalkut Shimoni (rabbinical commentaries).
ANSWER 2 = The reason the disciples did not understand the concept of a Suffering Messiah is because the nation was waiting for a conquering Messiah, to free them from the rule of Romans. A classic New Testament passage describing the disciples’ hopelessness after Jesus’s death, because they had thought He came to redeem the nation, is Luke 24:13-35. As two of the disciples are walking along the road to Emmaus, they are distraught over His death, not yet understanding His death was not because He led an insurrection against Rome but to PAY for their SINS (exactly as described, again, in Isaiah 53). Jesus comes to them, after His resurrection, and when He asks them in verse 17 why they are so sad, they tell Him in verse 21 they were hoping He was going to redeem the nation of Israel. He then rebukes them in verse 25, saying they are slow of heart to believe all that the PROPHETS (i.e., Old Testament prophets) have spoken. And then, in verse 27, Jesus starts in the Torah (books of Moses) and ALL the OT Prophets (including Isaiah) and explained to them all the things written in the Old Testament that pointed o HIM and that He would come to die for the sins of people. This is exactly what Jesus means when He says, in John 5:39, ‘You search the Scriptures, because you think in them you have eternal life, but these are they that testify of Me.’ When He said that, there was no NT written down yet, so He’s speaking of searching the Old Testament, and He is again claiming the prophecies in the Old Testament about Messiah are all pointing to Him! After He does this with these two disciples, verse 32 says their “hearts burned within them” when He opened the Scriptures to them. Here’s the power of the Bible: it’s not what someone can pull off the internet, or what Wikipedia says, it’s applying oneself to search the Bible to understand. God promises to show you if you come with a sincere desire to know, and an open mind, because the EVIDENCE is overwhelming.
4. ” when Isaiah 53:5 states that, “he was crushed for our iniquities”, when exactly was Jesus ever crushed? If any of Jesus’ body was literally crushed so that his bones were broken, it would disqualify him from another so-called prophecy beloved by Christians – Psalm 34:20. Secondly, Isaiah 53:7 stresses twice that the servant kept quiet during persecution, and although Jesus does stay silent at most of his trial in Matthew, Mark and Luke, he definitely speaks up in the gospel of John, conversing both with the high priest and with Pilate.
ANSWER 1 = The Hebrew word for “crushed” is “dâkâ”, and it means “beat or break in pieces, bruise, crush, smite”. It’s the same word use in Isaiah 53:5, when Isaiah ties this breaking and crushing with “wounding” or “piercing” of the Servant of God: “But He was WOUNDED for our transgressions, He was CRUSHED for our iniquities,..” In this verse, Isaiah ties together the punishment bestowed upon the Servant as being “wounded” (Hebrew word “mecholal”, meaning He was literally pierced) and “crushed” for OUR SINS. The start of this verse with “But” is Isaiah’s emphatic assertion that the real cause of His suffering was not for His own sins (as would be the case with the nation, as I explained above with the condemnation from God for their sinfulness), but as the verse says, the SINS OF HIS PEOPLE. As Dr. Victor Buksbazen says in his commentary on Isaiah, “Only an inspired prophet could use a word for “piercing” which so literally corresponds to that which actually happened to the righteous servant of God, the Messiah Jesus. ‘Wounded (or pierced) for our transgressions and crushed for our iniquities’ expresses fully the vicarious character of the suffering of the servant of God – the innocent for the guilty.’
ANSWER 2 = Isaiah 53:7 declares that when Jesus was “led as a lamb to the slaughter”, as a sheep is silent before its shearers, He opened not His mouth.” Isaiah gives us such a direct parallel to a sacrificial lamb being led to the slaughter, that when John the Baptist sees Jesus coming towards him (see John 1:29), He points at Him and declares to everyone around him, “Behold, the LAMB OF GOD who TAKES AWAY THE SINS OF THE WORLD.” This is yet another clear the tie to Isaiah 53, where Jesus is pointed out in public as the Lamb who will die for the sins of others. And as the Lamb, who opened not His mouth during His intense persecution for our sakes, this is documented for us in Matthew 26:59-63, when the accusing Sanhedrin demanded He defend Himself against the charges brought against Him, it says in verse 63 “But Jesus kept silent”… He never tried to defend Himself against the accusations by false witnesses. When He did speak, it was to declare His Kingdom, which is not of this world but is an eternal kingdom, again pointing to the fact that He is God in the flesh who came specifically to die for the sins committed by mankind (back again to Isaiah 53 details mentioned above).
5. “Yet it was the Lord’s will to crush him and cause him to suffer, and though the Lord makes his life a guilt offering, he will see his offspring and prolong his days…” -Isaiah 53:10
If the suffering servant of Isaiah 53 is Jesus, how can verse ten apply to him? Jesus had no offspring, and his days were certainly not prolonged, as tradition has long stated that Christ died around the age of 30. Unless one simply ignores this problem or interprets verse ten as heavy on metaphor – which is not clearly supported by the text – there is a real and insurmountable issue here.
ANSWER = The verse says “when you make His soul and OFFERING for sin, He (Suffering Servant” shall see His SEED (offspring), He shall prolong Hiss days…” The Hebrew word used here for ‘offering’ is “Asham”, which is the trespass offering and is distinct from every other type of sacrifice offered in the Old Testament. It was made by an individual person to pay for any wrongdoing they had committed. It discharged the person from guilt and set him free, as Leviticus 5:15-16 says: “If a person commits a trespass, and sins unintentionally in regard to the holy things of the Lord, then he shall bring to the Lord as His TRESPASS OFFERING (“asham”) a ram without blemish from the flocks, with your valuation in shekels of silver according to the shekel of the sanctuary, as a trespass offering (“asham”)…. So the priest shall make atonement for him with the ram of the trespass offering, and IT SHALL BE FORGIVEN HIM.” So we see that the Suffering Servant is the fulfillment of this trespass offering in Isaiah 53:10, as dying for the sins of mankind but now also “seeing His seed”, which is the spiritual “seed” of all those who approach God not on their terms, but heir own claims of being a good person or deserving heaven because they’ve never done anything bad enough to not be allowed in, but only on His terms, which is the “trespass offering” of the sacrificial death of the Suffering Servant, the only basis for how their sins can be forgiven by God. We see this future “seed”, those who confess their sin and are born into God’s family through faith in the sacrificial death of Messiah, again in the Old Testament in Psalm 22:30 (“a prosperity shall serve Him..”). There are many more, but I’m already way over in my writing.
6. Another one is found with Isaiah 53:11, which says that, “by his knowledge my righteous servant will justify many”. Even if you accept the footnote in NIV bibles that suggests an alternate translation of “by knowledge of him…”, this verse is still troublesome. Is it knowledge of Jesus that saves us, according to Christianity, or is it faith?
ANSWER = Jesus says in John 17:3, “This is eternal life, that they may KNOW YOU, the one true God, and JESUS CHRIST, whom You have sent.” Then Jesus says again in John 11:40, “Did I not say that if you would BELIEVE you would SEE the glory of God?” So Isaiah 53:11 is not at all troubling in its very clear context of salvation for those whom the Suffering Servant justifies, by again bearing their sins upon Himself (as verse 11 says, “By His knowledge My righteous Servant shall JUSTIFY many, for He shall bear their iniquities”). What Jesus is saying in John (above), and what Isaiah is saying in verse 11, is that each of us can approach a holy God one day for why we should be allowed into heaven: 1) we can try to justify ourselves, as having been ‘good’ people, or we can only claim that we PUT OUR FAITH in the trespass offering of Jesus Christ, who died willingly for us on the cross to pay for our sins. So, its faith in Christ, and then, as He says in John 11:40 and John 17:3, you see God’s glory as He works in your life because you have a personal relationship with Him (you “know” Him individually). This is exactly the same message we see tying together in Luke 1:76-78, where Zacharias (John the Baptists’ father) explains how someone can KNOW they are saved and going to heaven, and Jeremiah 31:31-34, where God explains they can KNOW Him personally and, as Jesus said in John 17:3, have eternal life. Luke 1:76-78 = “And you, child, will be called the prophet of the Highest, for you will go before the face of the Lord to prepare His ways, to give KNOWLEDGE OF SALVATION by the RENMISSION OF SINS, through the tender mercy of our God…” Jeremiah 31:34 = “No more shall every man teach his neighbor, saying, ‘Know the Lord’, for they shall all know Me, from the least of them to the greatest of them, says the Lord. For I will FORGIVE THEIR INIQUITY, and THEIR SIN I will remember NO MORE.”
So Isaiah 53 is LOADED with EVIDENCE (hard data) pointing to Jesus Christ, as we have detailed out by examining the Dead Sea Scrolls, then the details within chapter 53 and their fulfillment only in Jesus Christ. But the salvation experience is not a naturalistic event – it is supernatural, performed by God in the life of a person who comes to Him on His terms. So in the end, anyone who says “you never gave me any evidence”, isn’t paying attention to the evidence. They are suppressing it.