Monday, August 9, 2010

The Rabbis and the Messiah

A Rabbi took issue with my use of the great Messianic passage of Isaiah 53 in applying it to Jesus. Here’s my response:

I’m glad to see that you are bringing Scripture—something we both respect—into the discussion. You wrote:

“Isaiah 53 says that the ‘suffering servant’ will live to see his biological offspring and have a long life. It also says that the Suffering Servant is not physically attractive, suffered from illness, and is despised and rejected by man. That this could be a prophecy about Jesus is absolutely contradicted by the New Testament which says that Jesus died relatively young, with no children. He's described as physically beautiful, in great health, and that he had thousands of followers from all walks of life in Judea.”

The text doesn’t say “biological offspring” but rather “offspring”:

Isaiah 53:10 “Yet it was the LORD'S will to crush him and cause him to suffer, and though the LORD makes his life a guilt offering, he will see his OFFSPRING and prolong his days, and the will of the LORD will prosper in his hand.”

Furthermore, from the context, we understand “offspring” to mean spiritual offspring. Consistent with the life of Jesus, the text actually says that the Messiah will have no physical offspring,:

Isaiah 53:8 “By oppression and judgment he was taken away. And who can speak of his DESCENDANTS? For he was cut off from the land of the living; for the transgression of my people he was stricken.”

Of course, you will argue, as do other rabbis, that the Hebrew word for “offspring” (“zarah”) never refers to spiritual offspring. However, this argument is contradicted by:

Isaiah 57:3-4 "But you--come here, you sons of a sorceress, you OFFSPRING of adulterers and prostitutes! Whom are you mocking? At whom do you sneer and stick out your tongue? Are you not a brood of rebels, the OFFSPRING of liars?

It was understood that the offspring resembled their parents. Therefore, to say “you OFFSPRING of adulterers,” is to accuse someone of having the same spiritual character as an adulterer. The text also argues in favor of spiritual offspring by the fact that He will “justify (‘make righteous’) many”:

Isaiah 53:11 “After the suffering of his soul, 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.”

All of this sounds like our Messiah Jesus! About His being “physically beautiful,” the NT is silent in this regard. About Him being popular, He was as long as He healed and fed the multitudes. But in the end, these multitudes cried out to the hated Pilate, “Crucify Him!” This hardly seems like popularity!

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