At JEWS FOR JUDAISM, we frequently encounter questions
from Jews who are involved in or considering Christianity.
Among the questions, one chapter of our Jewish Scriptures
keeps coming up: Isaiah 53. Wasn't the Prophet, in fact,
referring to Jesus in this chapter? And didn't all Jews
before the Middle Ages recognize this chapter as
"messianic"? We hope to assist you in interpreting a chapter
which has become a cornerstone of Christian evangelism to
Our Jewish sages teach that "whoever saves a single
Jewish soul is considered as if he had saved an entire
world." How precious is the Jewish soul! Though the Bible
study which follows is a lengthy one, we have prepared it in
the belief that - as a Jewish soul - you are worthy of any
method which may be required. We hope that you too will
value your soul highly enough to prayerfully ponder that
which follows. G-D's truth is not always easy to discern,
but we are possessors of a Divine promise; "you will find
Him if you search after Him with all your heart and all your
soul" (Deut. 4:29). As faithful Jews have attested for over
3500 years, it's worth the effort. And now - on with the
Before engaging in an examination of Isaiah 53 itself,
some preliminary issues must be considered. First is the
issue of circular reasoning. Even if we interpret the
chapter as the Christians do (forgetting for a minute the
mistranslations and distortions of context which will be
noted below), the most that could be said is this: Isaiah 53
is about someone who dies for the sins of others. People may
have seen Jesus die, but did anyone see him die as an
atonement for the sins of others? Of course not; this is
simply the meaning which the New Testament gives to his
death. Only if you already accept the New Testament teaching
that his death had a non-visible, spiritual significance can
you than go back to Isaiah and say, "see - the Prophet
predicted what I already believe." Isaiah 53, then, is in
reality no "proof" at all, but rather a contrived
confirmation for someone who has already chosen
Second (and consistent with all Jewish teaching at the
time), Jesus' own disciples didn't view Isaiah 53 as a
messianic prophecy. For example, after Peter identifies
Jesus as the Messiah (Matt. 16:16), he is informed that
Jesus will be killed (Matt. 16:21). His response: "G-D
forbid it, lord! This shall never happen to you" (Matt.
16:22). See, also, Mk. 9:31-32; Mk. 16:10-11; Jn. 20:9. Even
Jesus didn't see Isaiah 53 as crucial to his messianic
claims - why else did he call the Jews children of the devil
for not believing in him before the alleged resurrection
(Jn. 8:39-47)? And why did he later request that G-D "remove
this cup from me" (Mk. 14:36) - didn't he know that a
"removal of the cup" would violate the gentile understanding
of Isaiah 53?
And third, even if we accept the gentile Christian
interpretation of Isaiah 53, where is it indicated (either
in Isaiah 53 or anywhere else in our Jewish Scriptures) that
you must believe in this "Messiah" to get the benefits?
Since any portion of Scripture is only understood
properly when viewed in the context of G-D's revelation as a
whole, some additional study will be helpful before you
"tackle" Isaiah 53.
Look at the setting in which Isaiah 53 occurs. Earlier on
in Isaiah, G-D had predicted exile and calamity for the
Jewish people. Chapter 53, however, occurs in the midst of
Isaiah's "Messages of Consolation", which tell of the
restoration of Israel to a position of prominence and a
vindication of their status as G-D's chosen people. In
chapter 52, for example, Israel is described as "oppressed
without cause" (v.4) and "taken away" (v.5), yet G-D
promises a brighter future ahead, one in which Israel will
again prosper and be redeemed in the sight of all the
nations (v.1-3, 8-12).
Chapter 54 further elaborates upon the redemption which
awaits the nation of Israel. Following immediately after
chapter 53's promise of a reward for G-D's servant in return
for all of its suffering (53:10-12), chapter 54 describes an
unequivocally joyous fate for the Jewish people. Speaking
clearly of the Jewish people and their exalted status (even
according to all Christian commentaries), chapter 54 ends as
follows: "'This is the heritage of the servants of the L-rd
and their vindication is from Me,' declares the L-rd."
In the original Hebrew texts, there are no chapter
divisions, and Jew and Christian alike agree that chapter 53
is actually a continuation of the prophecy which begins at
52:13. Accordingly, our analysis must begin at that verse.
52:13 "Behold, My servant will prosper."
Israel in the singular is called G-D's servant throughout
Isaiah, both explicitly (Isa. 41:8-9; 44:1-2; 45:4; 48:20;
49:3) and implicitly (Isa. 42:19-20; 43:10) - the Messiah is
not. Other references to Israel as G-D's servant include
Jer. 30:10 (note that in Jer. 30:17, the servant Israel is
regarded by the nations as an outcast, forsaken by G-D, as
in Isa. 53:4); Jer. 46:27-28; Ps. 136:22; Lk. 1:54. ALSO:
Given the Christian view that Jesus is G-D, is G-D His own
52:15 - 53:1 "So shall he (the servant) startle many
nations, the kings will stand speechless; For that which had
not been told them they shall see and that which they had
not heard shall they ponder. Who would believe what we have
heard?" Quite clearly, the nations and their kings will be
amazed at what happens to the "servant of the L-rd," and
they will say "who would believe what we have heard?". 52:15
tells us explicitly that it is the nations of the world, the
gentiles, who are doing the talking in Isaiah 53. See, also,
Micah 7:12-17, which speaks of the nations' astonishment
when the Jewish people again blossom in the Messianic age.
53:1 "And to whom has the arm of the L-rd been revealed?"
In Isaiah, and throughout our Scriptures, G-D's "arm" refers
to the physical redemption of the Jewish people from the
oppression of other nations (see, e.g., Isa. 52:8-12; Isa.
63:12; Deut. 4:34; Deut. 7:19; Ps. 44:3).
53:3 "Despised and rejected of men." While this is
clearly applicable to Israel (see Isa. 60:15; Ps. 44:13-14),
it cannot be reconciled with the New Testament account of
Jesus, a man who was supposedly "praised by all" (Lk.
4:14-15) and followed by multitudes (Matt. 4:25), who would
later acclaim him as a prophet upon his triumphal entry into
Jerusalem (Matt. 21:9-11). Even as he was taken to be
crucified, a multitude bemoaned his fate (Lk. 23:27). Jesus
had to be taken by stealth, as the rulers feared "a riot of
the people" (Mk. 14:1-2).
53:3 "A man of pains and acquainted with disease."
Israel's adversities are frequently likened to sickness -
see, e.g., Isa. 1:5-6; Jer. 10:19; Jer 30:12.
53:4 "Surely our diseases he carried and our pains he
bore." In Matt. 8:17, this is correctly translated, and said
to be literally (not spiritually) fulfilled in Jesus'
healing of the sick, a reading inconsistent with the
Christian mistranslation of 53:4 itself.
53:4 "Yet we ourselves esteemed him stricken, smitten of
G- D and afflicted." See Jer. 30:17 - of G-D's servant
Israel (30:10), it is said by the nations, "It is Zion; no
one cares for her."
53:5 "But he was wounded from (NOTE: not for) our
transgressions, he was crushed from (AGAIN: not for) our
iniquities." Whereas the nations had thought the Servant
(Israel) was undergoing Divine retribution for its sins
(53:4), they now realize that the Servant's sufferings
stemmed from their actions and sinfulness. This theme is
further developed throughout our Jewish Scriptures - see,
e.g., Jer. 50:7; Jer. 10:25. ALSO: Note that the Messiah
"shall not fail nor be crushed till he has set the right in
the earth" (Isa. 42:4).
53:7 "He was oppressed and he was afflicted, yet he did
not open his mouth. Like a lamb that is led to slaughter,
and like a sheep that is silent before its shearers, so he
did not open his mouth." Note that in the prior chapter
(Isa. 52), Israel is said to have been oppressed and taken
away without cause (52:4-5). A similar theme is developed in
Psalm 44, wherein King David speaks of Israel's faithfulness
even in the face of gentile oppression (44:17- 18) and
describes Israel as "sheep to be slaughtered" in the midst
of the unfaithful gentile nations (44:22,11).
Regarding the claim that Jesus "did not open his mouth"
when faced with oppression and affliction, see Matt. 27:46,
Jn. 18:23, 36-37.
53:8 "From dominion and judgement he was taken away."
Note the correct translation of the Hebrew. The Christians
are forced to mistranslate, since - by Jesus' own testimony
- he never had any rights to rulership or judgement, at
least not on the "first coming." See, e.g., Jn. 3:17; Jn.
8:15; Jn. 12:47; Jn. 18:36.
53:8 "He was cut off out of the land of the living."
53:9 "His grave was assigned with wicked men." See Ez.
37:11-14, wherein Israelis described as "cut off" and G-D
promises to open its "graves" and bring Israel back into its
own land. Other examples of figurative deaths include Ex.
10:17; 2 Sam. 9:8; 2 Sam. 16:9.
53:8 "From my peoples' sins, there was injury to them."
Here the Prophet makes absolutely clear, to anyone familiar
with Biblical Hebrew, that the oppressed Servant is a
collective Servant, not a single individual. The Hebrew word
"lamoh", when used in our Scriptures, always means "to them"
never "to him" and may be found, for example, in Psalm 99:7
- "They kept his testimonies, and the statute that He gave
53:9 "And with the rich in his deaths." Perhaps King
James should have changed the original Hebrew, which again
makes clear that we are dealing with a collective Servant,
i.e., Israel, which will "come to life" when the exile ends
53:9 "He had done no violence." See Matt. 21:12; Mk.
11:15-16; Lk. 19:45; Lk. 19:27; Matt. 10:34 and Lk. 12:51;
then judge for yourself whether this passage is truly
consistent with the New Testament account of Jesus.
53:10 "He shall see his seed." The Hebrew word for
"seed", used in this verse, always refers to physical
descendants in our Jewish Scriptures. See, e.g., Gen. 12:7;
Gen. 15:13; Gen. 46:6; Ex. 28:43. A different word,
generally translated as "sons", is used to refer to
spiritual descendants (see Deut. 14:1, e.g.).
53:10 "He will prolong his days." Not only did Jesus die
young, but how could the days be prolonged of someone who is
alleged to be G-D?
53:11 "With his knowledge the righteous one, my Servant,
will cause many to be just." Note again the correct
translation: the Servant will cause many to be just, he will
not "justify the many." The Jewish mission is to serve as a
"light to the nations" which will ultimately lead the world
to a knowledge of the one true G-D, this both by example
(Deut. 4:5-8; Zech. 8:23) and by instructing the nations in
G-D's Law (Isa. 2:3-4; Micah 4:2-3).
53:12 "Therefore, I will divide a portion to him with the
great, and he shall divide the spoil with the mighty." If
Jesus is G-D, does the idea of reward have any meaning? Is
it not rather the Jewish people - who righteously bore the
sins of the world and yet remained faithful to G-D (Ps. 44)
- who will be rewarded, and this in the manner described
more fully in Isaiah chapters 52 and 54?