The Suffering Servant: Isaiah 53

This amazing passage from the Hebrew Prophets was written over 700 years before the birth of Jesus. It is found in Jewish Bibles today, though it is left out of the weekly synagogue readings, as are many other texts of the Bible. When people read Isaiah 53 without knowing which part of the Bible it comes from, they often wrongly assume is from the New Testament. Did Isaiah foresee the sufferings of Jesus to pay for our sins? Though many modern rabbis --and some ancient rabbis-- say the sufferings described are those of the nation of Israel, most ancient rabbis said it refers to Messiah's sufferings. We have provided a link to some of the great rabbinic sources which interpreted the passage as referring to the Messiah, even though they did not believe in Jesus. We have also provided a link demonstrating why Isaiah 53 cannot refer to Israel and who it must necessarily refer to. You will also find some other interesting links below. The passage actually begins with the end of Isaiah chapter 52. Read it for yourself.

52:13 Behold, my servant shall prosper,

he shall be exalted and lifted up,

and shall be very high.

52:14 As many were astonished at him ­­

his appearance was so marred, beyond human semblance,

and his form beyond that of the sons of men ­­

52:15 so shall he sprinkle many nations;

kings shall shut their mouths because of him;

for that which has not been told them they shall see,

and that which they have not heard they shall understand.

53:1 Who has believed our message?

And to whom has the arm of the LORD been revealed?

53:2 For he grew up before him like a young plant,

and like a root out of dry ground;

he had no form or comeliness that we should look at him,

and no beauty that we should desire him.

53:3 He was despised and rejected by men;

a man of sorrows, and acquainted with grief;

and as one from whom men hide their faces

he was despised, and we esteemed him not.

53:4 Surely he has borne our griefs

and carried our sorrows;

yet we esteemed him stricken,

smitten by God, and afflicted.

53:5 But he was wounded for our transgressions,

he was bruised for our iniquities;

upon him was the chastisement that made us whole,

and with his stripes we are healed.

53:6 All we like sheep have gone astray;

we have turned every one to his own way;

and the LORD has laid on him

the iniquity of us all.

53:7 He was oppressed, and he was afflicted,

yet he opened not his mouth;

like a lamb that is led to the slaughter,

and like a sheep that before its shearers is dumb,

so he opened not his mouth.

53:8 By oppression and judgment he was taken away;

and as for his generation, who considered

that he was cut off out of the land of the living,

stricken for the transgression of my people?

53:9 And they made his grave with the wicked

and with a rich man in his death,

although he had done no violence,

and there was no deceit in his mouth.

53:10 Yet it was the will of the LORD to bruise him;

he has put him to grief;

when he makes himself an offering for sin,

he shall see his offspring, he shall prolong his days;

the will of the LORD shall prosper in his hand;

53:11 he shall see the fruit of the travail of his soul and be satisfied;

by his knowledge shall the righteous one, my servant,

make many to be accounted righteous;

and he shall bear their iniquities.

53:12 Therefore I will divide him a portion with the great,

and he shall divide the spoil with the strong;

because he poured out his soul to death,

and was numbered with the transgressors;

yet he bore the sin of many,

and made intercession for the transgressors.

To see quotations from ancient rabbinic sources that interpret Isaiah 53 as referring to Messiah click here.

To see why Isaiah 53 cannot refer to Israel, and who it must be, click here.

To learn about the curious idea of the Leper-Messiah click here.

To learn about the "Two-Messiah" theory of some rabbinic thinkers click here.

To see a list of resources for further study click here.

To learn about how you can develop a relationship with the Suffering Servant.

To return to the CHAIM home page click here.