Do the prophecies of Isaiah 53 and Psalm 22 speak about Jesus?
There are many Old Testament prophecies about the Messiah, which Jesus fulfilled. Some describe the Messiah in startling detail.
Isaiah 53 is a chapter which talks about a figure identified as the “suffering servant,” a lamb of God who undergoes grave suffering for the forgiveness of many. This chapter has been identified by Christians as being about Jesus, the Messiah. Isaiah 53 is sometimes referred to as the “forbidden chapter” because the striking similarities between the verses of Isaiah 53 and the events of the crucifixion have caused this chapter to be omitted from synagogue calendar readings. They read Isaiah 52 and then skip to 54 due to the controversy of Isaiah 53.
Why is the omission so striking? Because when they finish the cycle of readings for the year, they haven’t really finished it. They’ve left out a portion of their own prophets ostensibly because of what Christians think about it.
Let us take a look at the typological parallels of this chapter which are fulfilled in the New Testament.
700 years after Isaiah wrote this scripture it was fulfilled entirely in Jesus. According to the Gospel of Luke, Jesus knew that these events would take place.
“It is written: “And he was numbered with the transgressors”; and I tell you that this must be fulfilled in me. Yes, what is written about me is reaching its fulfillment.” —Luke 22:37
The Messiah could have his life cut short in this way was actually a fulfilment of prophecy. Today, some argue that Isaiah 53 is not talking about Jesus, rather that the suffering servant is the nation of Israel. However, the earliest written interpretations of this passage show that the Rabbis were expecting this chapter in Isaiah to be fulfilled by the Messiah.
Messianic Jewish Talmudist, Rachmiel Frydland has written:
“Our ancient commentators with one accord noted that the context clearly speaks of God’s Anointed One, the Messiah. The Aramaic translation of this chapter, ascribed to Rabbi Jonathan ben Uzziel, a disciple of Hillel who lived early in the second century c.e., begins with the simple and worthy words:
Behold my servant Messiah shall prosper; he shall be high, and increase, and be exceeding strong: as the house of Israel looked to him through many days, because their countenance was darkened among the peoples, and their complexion beyond the sons of men (Targum Jonathan on Isaiah 53, ad locum). (Frydland, Rachmiel, ISSUES: A Messianic Jewish Perspective, Vol. 2:5, p. 2)
We find the same interpretation in the Babylonian Talmud:
What is his [the Messiah’s] name? The Rabbis said: His name is “the leper scholar,” as it is written, “Surely he hath borne our griefs, and carried our sorrows: yet we did esteem him a leper, smitten of God, and afflicted.” (Sanhedrin 98b)
The interpretation of Isaiah 53 in the Zohar is also about the Messiah:
There is in the Garden of Eden a palace named the Palace of the Sons of Sickness. This palace the Messiah enters, and He summons every pain and every chastisement of Israel. All of these come and rest upon Him. And had He not thus lightened them upon Himself, there had been no man able to bear Israel’s chastisements for the transgression of the law; as it is written, “Surely our sicknesses he has carried.” (Zohar II, 212a)
These excerpts prove that the early Jewish scholars expected the Messiah to fulfil the Isaiah prophecy. The modern interpretation that this passage is not about the Messiah was introduced much later in the Middle Ages, long after Jesus’ time.
Isaiah 53 is not the Old Testament chapter with astonishing parallels to the story of Jesus and the events of the crucifixion. Another notable chapter is one of the Davidic Psalms, Psalm 22.
Another significant prophecy is that the Messiah is to be executed without having a bone broken. Psalms 34:20 says “He guards all his bones; Not one of them is broken.”
This prophecy was fulfilled in John 19:31-33. “Therefore, because it was the Preparation Day, that the bodies should not remain on the cross on the Sabbath (for that Sabbath was a high day), the Jews asked Pilate that their legs might be broken, and that they might be taken away. Then the soldiers came and broke the legs of the first and of the other who was crucified with Him. But when they came to Jesus and saw that He was already dead, they did not break His legs.”
The Parallels are Undeniable
There are so many specific parallels between what was written about in the Old Testament regarding the Messiah and what happened during the events of Jesus life and the crucifixion. Why try to deny something that is so clear?