Many believe, as we have previously noted, that Rashi was one of the first to say that Isa 53 referred to the Messiah in his commentary on the Talmud. But after the Second Crusade, he changed his mind. He now said that Isa 53 referred to Israel in his commentary on the Tanak. Also, in the first century, the Targum Ben Uzziel understood Isa 52.13-15 as the Messiah. He will “sprinkle” which is a priestly function (Zech 6.11-15; Zech 13.1-9, 3.8-10). It is also a Yom Kippur term (Lev 16.1-34) and is part of the cleansing of a Leper ceremony (Lev 14.1-7), as well as part of the Parah Adumah (Red Heifer) ceremony (Num 19.17-21). When Messiah returns there is an allusion to the sprinkling of the ashes of the Red Heifer in Ezek 36.24-25. So, let’s look at Isa 53 and go over each verse very briefly.
Isa 53.1 begins by saying “Who has believed our report?” This is referring to the report of the prophets about the Messiah in their message called the “Basorah” or “gospel.” The term “arm” is a term for the Messiah. Isa 53.2 says that the Messiah will grow up a “tender shoot” which means “unnoticed and of low estate, a root out of parched ground.” He would have no “form or majesty” which means no kingly majesty “that we should look upon him nor appearance that we should be attracted to him.” This refers to the fact that nobody knows what Yeshua looked like, but we know what he didn’t look like. The representations we have of Yeshua or “Jesus” is a creation of man, it is a false image. Artists renditions, the movies and television shows for the last 60 years have shown him to be “handsome” (Jeffery Hunter in “King of Kings”) and with blondish long hair and blue eyes. His appearance is patterned after the Shroud of Turin. We have all seen this for ourselves. What we know about him is there was no beauty that we should desire him. We don’t know what he looked like, but we know he was the image of the Father in his qualities. There is a difference between illustrations drawn from the Temple ceremonies like the matzah, and “images” made of him for worship.
Isa 53.3 says “He was despised” and this is alluded to in Matt 2.23 where it says “he will be called a Nazarene.” To be a Nazarene means “despised” because people who were from Nazareth were called this (John 1.46). The Messiah will be called “despised” in Isa 1.4, 49.7, 53.3. He was a man of “sorrows” which means “pains” and “acquainted with grief (sickness). This doesn’t mean he was sick himself, but he worked among the sick and was well aware of it (Heb 2.18, 4.15; Matt 9.35-36).
There is a term used in the Talmud, the liturgy and midrashim where the Messiah is called the “Leper Messiah.” This is a very important concept to understand in the Gospels and Epistles and it is taken from Isa 53.3-4. It goes on to say that “Surely our griefs (sickness) he himself bore.” The word “bore” is the Hebrew “Nasa” and it means to “lift.” Mic 7.18 says that God is a God who “pardons (“bore”=”nasa”=lifts) iniquities.” Yeshua “lifted” their loads, healed all who were sick, he cared for them like the High Priest in Exo 28.38. Matt 8.16-17 says he cared for the people and had compassion on them. The word “bore” can mean forgive (Mic 7.18; Gal 6.2). The word “sorrows” means “pains” and it says we esteemed him stricken and smitten of God and afflicted. This is how people saw him, but not by God (Eph 5.1-2-“a fragrant aroma”).
Isa 53.5 goes on to say he was “pierced (wounded) and “crushed” which means to be bruised and smitten with stripes by the scourging. As a result, we are healed spiritually (Jer 30.12-22; 1 Pet 2.21-25). Isa 53.6 says that we have all gone astray like timid sheep who have a “mob” mentality. We are stubborn, stupid and have perverse habits and we have all turned to our own way. But the Lord “has caused the iniquity of us all to encounter him (meet him).” Again, remember as we go through this, that in the first century there were texts that presented Messiah Ben Joseph, the suffering servant, as seen in Isa 53. Jews today are not looking for the Messiah Ben Joseph, they are looking for the Messiah Ben David. But two thousand years ago it was not the case. There were a number of messianic figures and they saw through a “dim glass” like we do. The Essenes and the Pharisees had several messianic characters. But, the primary belief was that there was going to be two main figures known as Messiah Ben Joseph and Messiah Ben David. Messiah Ben Joseph would come first and die, and Messiah Ben David would resurrect him from the dead, That was the basic belief in the first century.
Isa 53.7 says that he was oppressed and he was afflicted and like a lamb (sheep) he was silent. Isa 53.8 says that he was “taken from prison and from judgment” which means justice was not done to him (Acts 5.30, 8.32-33). He was “cut off” (Dan 9.26) from the land of the living “for the transgression of my people.”
Isa 53.9 says that his grave was assigned to be with the wicked (the two thieves) yet with a rich man (Joseph of Arimathea) in his death. The word “death is plural here and it indicates a level of intensity, or a very violent death. He had done “no violence” (hamas=violent crime) nor was there any deceit (lies) in his mouth (no false doctrine). In Isa 53.10 it goes on to say that the Lord was pleased (his will) to crush him (“bruise”=Gen 3.15), putting him “to grief” or to become weak (Heb 9.14; Luke 22.42). If He would render himself an “Asham” or guilt offering he will see his “offspring” or seed (zera). This refers to his spiritual offspring (Psa 22.30-31; Isa 66.7-9. On the other hand, John 8.44; Isa 57.4 are used to illustrate a figurative “seed” in a bad sense). In Isa 53.10, the offspring are true believers. Gen 3.15 talks about “your seed” (the Nachash=Satan) and “her seed” (Godly spiritual offspring). These are people who will believe after Yeshua returns also. Ezekiel refers to them as the “inheritance of the Prince” in Ezekiel 46.16-18. It goes on to say that “he will prolong his days (by resurrection). The “good pleasure of the Lord” (the Redemption) will prosper (be successful) in his hands.
Isa 53.11 begins by saying that the anguish of his soul (nefesh) will not be in vain but will be satisfied, and “by his knowledge” (da’at or knowledge of God and faith in him) the righteous one, my servant (Messiah) will justify the many. He will “bear” (sabal= to carry, bear a burden) their iniquities (Exo 34.6-7; Psa 25. 16-18, 38.1-5, 85.2. He loved us- John 13.34, 15.12).
Isa 53.12 says that the Messiah will have a portion with the great, and he will divide the booty with the strong (by faith in Yeshua). Num 31.25-54 is a picture of this. This is because he poured himself out (his soul-nefesh) to death and he was “numbered with the transgressors (the two thieves). Yet he himself “bore” (nasa=to lift the load, forgive) the sins of many and interceded for the transgressors (Luke 23.34; John 17.1-26.
This is a basic understanding of Isa 52.13 through Isa 53.12. It clearly refers to Yeshua as the Messiah. But, before we move on from Isa 53, let’s look at the cross and how he “bore” the sins of many. Yeshua said his blood would be for the remission of sin (Matt 26.28). By his suffering comes healing and salvation from distress. The word “bore/bear” can mean “forgive” (Micah 7.18). He “took up” (nasa) sickness in Matt 8.16-17 and every time he healed someone, and that was before the cross and during his ministry. So when Isa 53.4 says that he “bore our griefs” (sickness) it doesn’t mean on the cross, but during his ministry. The Lord is “burdened” by sin (Isa 1.4, 13-15, 43.24, 63.9-10; Ezek 4.4-17). He understands the suffering caused by sin (Isa 63.9). He wants to relieve sinners of guilt, and in turn, we should “bear” one another’s burdens (Gal 6.2-5).
He bore our sins in his heart. He was a perfect korban (offering-Rom 4.25, 5.9). He gave what we could never give-a perfect life. He bore in his flesh and heart our sins. Yeshua showed how much God loved us. Yeshua suffered, but not because he was punished by God. That was the impression his persecutors wanted. Yeshua suffered because he allowed himself to be taken. His trial was the justice of men. God overturned the verdict of an earthly court by raising Yeshua from the dead, which was God’s justice (Prov 16.33). Peter likened his death to murder in Acts 5.30 and Phillip does the same thing in Acts 8.32-33. But, in God’s plan and wisdom, his death was for our own good because we needed to be healed from sin. Yeshua offered his perfect life, in compliance with God’s will, and was deprived of justice (Acts 8.32-33; 1 Pet 2.23). Far from being the embodiment of sin (what Satan wanted people to think), he was punished unjustly. As a result, this brought peace (a shelem offering) because he was a lamb without blemish. He was not “made guilty” of our sins, that would would not be right. He was always righteous and remained so, even on the cross. He gave his life for us that we might live.
In Part 30 we will pick up here.