The passage is remarkable because it was written hundreds of years before the birth of Jesus…yet if you were to read it aloud on a street corner, most people would probably assume it was a New Testament passage describing Christ’s crucifixion after-the-fact:
Who has believed our message
and to whom has the arm of the Lord been revealed?
He grew up before him like a tender shoot,
and like a root out of dry ground.
He had no beauty or majesty to attract us to him,
nothing in his appearance that we should desire him.
He was despised and rejected by mankind,
a man suffering, and familiar with pain.
Like one from whom people hide their faces
he was despised, and we held him in low esteem.
Surely he took up our pain
and bore our suffering,
yet we considered him punished by God,
stricken by him, and afflicted.
But he was pierced for our transgressions,
he was crushed for our iniquities;
the punishment that brought us peace was on him,
and by his wounds we are healed.
We all, like sheep, have gone astray,
each of us has turned to our own way;
and the Lord has laid on him
the iniquity of us all.
He was oppressed and afflicted,
yet he did not open his mouth;
he was led like a lamb to the slaughter,
and as a sheep before its shearers is silent,
so he did not open his mouth.
By oppression and judgement he was taken away.
Yet who of his generation protested?
For he was cut off from the land of the living;
for the transgression of my people he was punished.
He was assigned a grave with the wicked,
and with the rich in his death,
though he had done no violence,
nor was any deceit in his mouth.
Yet it was the Lord’s will to crush him and cause him to suffer,
and though the Lord makes his life an offering for sin,
he will see his offspring and prolong his days,
and the will of the Lord will prosper in his hand.
After he has suffered,
he will see the light of life and be satisfied;
by his knowledge my righteous servant will justify many,
and he will bear their iniquities.
Therefore I will give him a portion among the great,
and he will divide the spoils with the strong,
because he poured out his life unto death,
and was numbered with the transgressors.
For he bore the sin of many,
and made intercession for the transgressors.
– Isaiah 53 (NIV)
I think it’s important to be familiar with both the Christian and Jewish interpretations of this passage. Instead of trying to be overtly persuasive, I’ll just report both perspectives with minimal commentary of my own. You can draw your own conclusions.
But first, just to give you a flavor of the controversy, I was kind of amused by the slanted terminology used on Wikipedia (and the one-sided use of citations). The following screenshot was taken on March 20, 2013…but I’m guessing it will be re-worded for neutrality sometime in the future:
The Jewish commentary that I’ve read concerning this passage isn’t always 100% in agreement, but you can check out some credible resources HERE and HERE. The following excerpt is taken from SimpleToRemember.com, an online resource for information on Judaism:
“Christianity claims that Isaiah chapter 53 refers to Jesus, as the “suffering servant.” In actuality, Isaiah 53 directly follows the theme of chapter 52, describing the exile and redemption of the Jewish people. The prophecies are written in the singular form because the Jews (“Israel”) are regarded as one unit. The Torah is filled with examples of the Jewish nation referred to with a singular pronoun. Ironically, Isaiah’s prophecies of persecution refer in part to the 11th century when Jews were tortured and killed by Crusaders who acted in the name of Jesus.”
“Some might point to the fact that contemporary Jews reject this passage as being messianic. However, having read the conventional views among them, I think such a view is untenable. Firstly, if the passage — as most contemporary Jews maintain — is really a personification of the nation of Israel, then the passage makes no sense when it says “…for the transgressions of my people [i.e. Israel] he was striken…though he had done no violence, nor was any deceit in his mouth.” The term “the servant” is also used of the messiah in other parts of the Bible, such as in Zechariah 3:8 (“I am going to bring my servant, the Branch”).”
Regardless of where one stands on the religious spectrum, I think we owe it to ourselves to investigate claims of fulfilled prophesy. When considered in light of other evidence, I find that passages like Isaiah 52-53 speak for themselves, and strongly reinforce the larger truth claims of Christianity.