The Gospel according to Isaiah 53: Encountering the Suffering Servant in Jewish and Christian Theology

Darrell L. Bock, Mitch Glaser Kregel Academic & Professional, Grand Rapids March 23, 2012
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This book is a series of essays in three parts: “Interpretations of Isaiah 53,” “Isaiah 53 in Biblical Theology,” and “Isaiah 53 in Practical Theology.” It is the result of “The Gospel according to Isaiah” conference held at Irving Bible Church, Irving, Texas, in 2009. Glaser, president of Chosen People Ministries, states that “this volume is designed to help believers and congregations reach Jewish people with the message of Jesus, the Servant of the Lord, as he is described and extolled in Isaiah 53” (p. 22). “The underlying purpose for the book is to equip fellow believers in using Isaiah 53 as a tool to share the gospel with Jewish people in a sensitive and effective way” (p. 29).

In addition to being an evangelistic tool, The Gospel according to Isaiah 53 is a serious study of one of the most important messianic passages in the Old Testament. “This passage is therefore one of the great pillars of our faith, a multifaceted diamond that demands we appreciate its true value and worth” (p. 29).

Each of the three parts has a distinct purpose. Part 1, “Interpretations of Isaiah 53,” appeals to scholars who are interested in the text and discusses concepts such as the guilt offering in the Old Testament, the servant being treated as a leper, Franz Delitzsch’s view on the servant, “corporate Israel” as the suffering servant, linguistic objections, and traditional Jewish objections. Michael Brown states, “The greatest answer to the traditional Jewish objections to Isaiah is the power of the text itself. That is why many Jewish seekers who have studied the passage carefully and prayerfully have discovered that Delitzsch was right: Isaiah 53 ‘is the most central, the deepest, and the loftiest thing that the Old Testament prophecy, outstripping itself, has ever achieved’ ” (p. 83).

In part 2, “Isaiah 53 in Biblical Theology,” Walter Kaiser offers a very useful chapter, “The Identity and Mission of the ‘Servant of the Lord.’ ” He provides a definition and background for the term “servant,” eight reasons why the nation Israel is not the intended antecedent in Isaiah 53, the different views on the identity of the servant, the New Testament interpretation of the servant, and Isaiah’s identity of the servant. Kaiser then gives a “straightforward exegesis of Isaiah 52:23—53:12” (p. 98) that identifies Messiah and is exceptionally convincing.

Michael Wilkins follows with “Isaiah 53 and the Message of Salvation in the Gospels,” which shows how the Gospels portray Jesus as the prophesied servant of Isaiah 53 and the fulfillment of the “Servant Songs.” He provides helpful charts comparing this passage with New Testament passages and concludes, “Jesus’ own understanding of his mission and death in Isaiah 53 was the root of the early church’s understanding” (p. 131).

Darrell Bock provides a brief but helpful chapter on “Isaiah 53 in Acts 8.” One important point he makes about “the Isaiah 53 context is that al-though this passage describes the death of the Servant, it also declares his vindication. In fact, vindication for this suffering . . . is stressed by bracketing the entire unit (52:13–15; 53:10–12)” (p. 137).  “Luke’s development of Philip’s explanation [to the eunuch] makes it crystal clear that this text refers only to this Jesus” (p. 142).

Craig Evans discusses “Isaiah 53 in the Letters of Peter, Paul, Hebrews, and John.” In a chart on page 146 he compares the Isaiah text with “quotations and echoes” with these New Testament writers. “The suffering and death of Jesus do not prove that he was not the Messiah, they in fact prove it, for they fulfilled the Scriptures, including the Scripture that spoke of the Suffering Servant Messiah” (p. 170).

In “Forgiveness and Salvation in Isaiah 53,” Robert Chisholm provides a “translation of pertinent verses” with “key statements regarding the themes of forgiveness and salvation.” He discusses key elements of forgiveness through the work of the suffering Servant—removal of the consequences of past sins and the “making of many righteous,” meaning “that the the Servant as God’s representative declares the offenders no longer legally accountable for their past transgressions” (p. 203).

In part 3, “Isaiah 53 and Practical Theology,” John Feinberg discusses “key themes of Isaiah 53 that resonate with postmodern concerns” (p. 213). These themes are a fondness for narratives and relationships; openness to a spiritual dimension of reality beyond the material world; freedom within community; and a concern for others. Isaiah 53 contains a personal narrative, a story of tragedy and triumph about a Servant who gave Himself for others. It is a story, “not just [about] a Suffering Servant, but of the God who sends him to show his love for his people and to pay for their sins by his death so that God can have a relationship with them” (p. 215).

Mitch Glaser’s “Using Isaiah 53 in Jewish Evangelism” is an outstanding tool for witnessing. Glaser discusses his own journey in coming to Christ through Isaiah 53. He gives a clear messianic interpretation of Isaiah 53, as well as historical interpretations and traditional uses of Isaiah 53 in Jewish evangelism. He concludes, “My prayer and hope is that this chapter will help you further understand Jewish people and Isaiah 53 and enable you to use this great passage in reaching God’s chosen people for Jesus the Messiah” (p. 250). The section ends with Donald Sunukjian’s chapter, “Preaching Isaiah 53.” He shows how a sermon can be developed from this great passage, and he gives two examples of sermons in the appendixes.

The Gospel according to Isaiah 53 is an outstanding resource for evangelists, pastors, teachers, seminary professors, and parachurch organizations who want to learn the truth of the Suffering Servant and use that truth in reaching the lost with the message of salvation through the Messiah.

—Larry J. Waters

October 1, 2013
 

Biblotheca Sacra

This review appeared in the Oct-Dec 2013 vol. 170 no. 4 issue of Biblotheca Sacra, DTS’s quarterly academic journal.

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