Evidences of Faith
In the eighth chapter of the book of Acts, we find Philip the evangelist being sent by God to the deserted road that led from Jerusalem to Gaza. Once there, Philip saw the chariot belonging to the eunuch who was treasurer to the queen of Ethiopia. The Spirit told Philip to overtake the chariot. When he did so, he found the eunuch reading from the book of Isaiah. Specifically, he was reading the passage known to us as Isaiah 53:7-8. Philip established that the eunuch did not understand the prophecy he was reading, and the eunuch asked Philip for help. "Then Philip opened his mouth, and beginning at this Scripture, preached Jesus to him" (Acts 8:35).
This is an amazing thing. Philip began preaching Jesus from the book of Isaiah, which was written more than seven hundred years before Jesus' birth. How could this be? How could a book written centuries before Jesus was born be used to teach someone about Him? If we go to the passage that the eunuch was reading, we will see that, on its own, it is indeed difficult to understand. However, when we view it through the lens of the New Testament, we can get a glimpse of how Philip could have used this passage to lead the eunuch to Christ. We will also see that it becomes very difficult to explain how or why Isaiah wrote such a passage - unless he was truly inspired by God.
Before we look at the passage in Isaiah, it is important to keep a couple of things in mind. For example, remember that the chapter and verse divisions in our modern Bibles were added almost 2,000 years after Isaiah wrote. These divisions are for ease of reference, and do not necessarily reflect a logical division in the author's line of thought. Also, you will notice that Isaiah, like other prophetic writers, frequently shifts verb tense. He goes from past to present to future tenses while talking about the same events. This may be to emphasize that, whereas the prophet was writing about things that had not yet occurred, God had decided that they would happen, and therefore they were as good as done. Whatever the reason, however, we do not need to be distracted by these things; for our current purposes, we simply need to be aware of them.
I. Exalted, Extolled, and Marred?
us turn now to the fifty-second chapter of Isaiah. In the midst of prophecies concerning God's promise to redeem His people, we find descriptions of a very special Person:
Behold, My Servant shall deal prudently; He shall be exalted and extolled and be very high. (Isaiah 52:13)
This picture of a Servant of God who would be characterized by wisdom and be held in honor is consistent with other prophecies of the coming Messiah (for example, Psalm 110). From here, however, Isaiah goes in a direction that we would not expect:
Just as many were astonished at you, so His visage was marred more than any man, and His form more than the sons of men (Isaiah 52:14).
Why would God's Servant be marred? Moreover, how does this fit with the idea of Him being exalted and extolled and very high? Already, we can begin to see why the eunuch might have difficulty understanding Isaiah's prophecies concerning the Servant. We can also begin to see that it is difficult to explain why Isaiah would write in this manner, if he were merely writing of his own initiative. If his goal were to comfort the people with promises of a great and powerful Messiah, why would he say that God's Servant would be marred? On the other hand, if he were trying to frighten the people into obedience, he would not be writing promises of a wise and glorious leader. If we try to explain Isaiah's words in purely naturalistic terms, we will keep running into problems.
If we try to imagine ourselves living before the time when the gospel had been preached all over the world, we can see that Isaiah's words would be very difficult to understand, even if we believed that he was a true prophet, and his book inspired by God. How could it be, that God's anointed King would be wise and exalted, and yet be marred more than any man? For one who is acquainted with the gospel, however, Isaiah's message is perfectly clear. Consider the apostle Paul's words:
Let this mind be in you which was also in Christ Jesus, who, being in the form of God, did not consider it robbery to be equal with God, but made Himself of no reputation, taking the form of a bondservant, and coming in the likeness of men. And being found in appearance as a man, He humbled Himself and became obedient to the point of death, even the death of the cross. Therefore God also has highly exalted Him and given Him the name which is above every name, that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, of those in heaven, and of those on earth, and of those under the earth, and that every tongue should confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father. (Philippians 2:5-11)
Jesus was God in the flesh, and He never did anything but good, yet He was subjected to the form of execution reserved for the most despicable criminals: clearly, His visage was marred more than any man. Yet, as Isaiah prophesied, Jesus was subsequently exalted and extolled above all others.
So then, Isaiah 52:13-14 is a passage that is difficult to explain in naturalistic terms. Moreover, even a believer would have difficulty explaining its meaning - if it were not for the gospel. We see then, that the gospel of Jesus Christ, as recorded in the New Testament more than seven hundred years after Isaiah, provides the explanation for Isaiah's writing. To look at it another way, Jesus fulfilled Isaiah's prophecy. If this were an isolated Old Testament passage torn from its context and made to conform to a preconceived idea, then it would not be very compelling. But is that what we have done? Let us return to Isaiah and see.
II. The Mouths of Kings Shut by the Man of Low Esteem
we pick up the reading in Isaiah where we left off, we find that the prophet had much more to say about God's coming Servant:
So shall He sprinkle many nations. Kings shall shut their mouths at Him; for what had not been told them they shall see, and what they had not heard they shall consider. Who has believed our report? And to whom has the arm of the LORD been revealed? For He shall grow up before Him as a tender plant, And as a root out of dry ground. He has no form or comeliness; and when we see Him, there is no beauty that we should desire Him. He is despised and rejected by men, a Man of sorrows and acquainted with grief. And we hid, as it were, our faces from Him; He was despised, and we did not esteem Him. (Isaiah 52:15 - 53:3)
Where the New King James reads, sprinkle, your Bible may say, "startle". Either way, the prophet is telling us that this Servant of God would have such an impact on the world as to affect many nations. In fact, He would even shut the mouths of kings! And yet, Isaiah tells us that He would not be respected, but rather would be despised and rejected by men. How could both of these things be true?
Once again, we can turn to Jesus to find our answers. In His life as a man, Jesus was indeed despised by the religious leaders of His day (for example, see Mark 12:13, 18, 28; John 9). Moreover, at the end, multitudes of His own people gathered together and demanded that He be subjected to an excruciatingly painful and disgraceful death:
Now at the feast the governor was accustomed to releasing to the multitude one prisoner whom they wished. And at that time they had a notorious prisoner called Barabbas. Therefore, when they had gathered together, Pilate said to them, "Whom do you want me to release to you? Barabbas, or Jesus who is called Christ?" For he knew that they had handed Him over because of envy. While he was sitting on the judgment seat, his wife sent to him, saying, "Have nothing to do with that just Man, for I have suffered many things today in a dream because of Him." But the chief priests and elders persuaded the multitudes that they should ask for Barabbas and destroy Jesus. The governor answered and said to them, "Which of the two do you want me to release to you?" They said, "Barabbas!" Pilate said to them, "What then shall I do with Jesus who is called Christ?" They all said to him, "Let Him be crucified!" Then the governor said, "Why, what evil has He done?" But they cried out all the more, saying, "Let Him be crucified!" Matthew 27:15-23)
But the Jews were not the only ones to show contempt for Jesus. The Romans, too, treated Him as though He were utterly despicable:
Then the soldiers of the governor took Jesus into the Praetorium and gathered the whole garrison around Him. And they stripped Him and put a scarlet robe on Him. When they had twisted a crown of thorns, they put it on His head, and a reed in His right hand. And they bowed the knee before Him and mocked Him, saying, "Hail, King of the Jews!" Then they spat on Him, and took the reed and struck Him on the head. And when they had mocked Him, they took the robe off Him, put His own clothes on Him, and led Him away to be crucified.(Matthew 27:27-31)
Remember that all of this was done after they had beaten Jesus with a scourge, which was a whip with many thongs (verse 26). So, Jesus was treated with the utmost contempt by both Jews and Gentiles. All are guilty of His suffering and death; no one is innocent. When we meditate upon these things, we see that Jesus thoroughly fulfilled the words of Isaiah, He is despised and rejected by men, a Man of sorrows and acquainted with grief.
But Jesus also shut the mouths of kings, even after His crucifixion. Consider, for example, the emperors of Rome. The Roman Empire covered an enormous territory and encompassed many nations. For centuries, Roman emperors persecuted Christians. Their goal was to put an end to the religion of Jesus Christ and preserve their empire by turning the people back to the state religion. In 311 AD, the emperor Galerius, an ardent persecutor of Jesus' followers, was struck with an incurable illness that caused him intense pain. Realizing he was near death, he reversed his stance, and issued an order that Christianity should be tolerated. Might we not say, insofar as his attack on Jesus was concerned, that his mouth was shut? Of course, his nephew, Maximin II, disregarded the order, and instead increased the severity of his persecutions. But Maximin was defeated by Licinius in battle, and fled. In 313 AD, co-emperors Licinius and Constantine issued the Edict of Milan, which required that Christianity be tolerated. As for Maximin, he died of poisoning that same year.
Of course, the Roman Empire slowly crumbled, and its emperors have long been silent. However, the kingdom of Jesus Christ, which they fought so tenaciously to destroy, continues to thrive. Indeed, no other person has had as much of an effect on human history as Jesus, yet the secular historians of His own time considered Him to be of little significance: they did not esteem Him. Having said all of that, though, we need to recognize that Jesus' influence on the affairs of this life is as nothing when compared to His influence in eternity. Jesus has gained the eternal victory for His followers. He has gained the ultimate victory over every attempt of man or Satan to establish a lasting religious or political system. In the end, there will be no pretending to resist Him:
But now Christ is risen from the dead, and has become the firstfruits of those who have fallen asleep. For since by man came death, by Man also came the resurrection of the dead. For as in Adam all die, even so in Christ all shall be made alive. But each one in his own order: Christ the firstfruits, afterward those who are Christ's at His coming. Then comes the end, when He delivers the kingdom to God the Father, when He puts an end to all rule and all authority and power. (ICorinthians 15:20-24)
On the day when God calls all mankind to account, there will be no king, emperor, philosopher, scientist, "pastor", or "reverend", who will be able to open his mouth in the presence of the glorified Jesus Christ. However, His faithful servants, though lightly esteemed in this life, will shout and sing with triumph and joy.
III. And By His Stripes We Are Healed
we return to the passage in Isaiah, we find many more remarkable things. In order to fully appreciate how remarkable Isaiah's prophecies are, we must remember that he wrote more than seven hundred years before Jesus came to earth. Moreover, we must imagine ourselves to be living before the gospel had been preached all over the world. Let us pretend that we never heard of Jesus Christ, and pick up reading where we left off:
Surely He has borne our griefs and carried our sorrows; yet we esteemed Him stricken, smitten by God, and afflicted. But He was wounded for our transgressions, He was bruised for our iniquities; the chastisement for our peace was upon Him, and by His stripes we are healed. 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. (Isaiah 53:4-6)
How can we explain such a passage? Who is Isaiah talking about? How could someone else's suffering help to heal you or me? How can God lay my iniquities on someone else? It is a truly puzzling message.
Of course, if we stop pretending, the answers are easy. For those of us who have heard the gospel message, it is obvious that Isaiah is referring to Jesus. We know this because the New Testament teaches that all have sinned, and that the wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord (Romans 3:23, 6:23). It is through the sacrifice of Jesus on the cross that sinners have the opportunity to be forgiven, and to be granted eternal life:
And as it is appointed for men to die once, but after this the judgment, so Christ was offered once to bear the sins of many. To those who eagerly wait for Him He will appear a second time, apart from sin, for salvation. (Hebrews 9:27-28)
It is only through the atoning death of Jesus Christ that we have hope of everlasting life, for 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.
There is yet another point to be observed in these verses. Isaiah indicated that people would think that the Servant had been smitten by God. Rather than seeing that He was suffering willingly, in obedience to God, the people would think that He was being punished by God. And, in fact, that is what happened to Jesus as He hung on the cross:
And those who passed by blasphemed Him, wagging their heads and saying, "You who destroy the temple and build it in three days, save Yourself! If You are the Son of God, come down from the cross." Likewise the chief priests also, mocking with the scribes and elders, said, "He saved others; Himself He cannot save. If He is the King of Israel, let Him now come down from the cross, and we will believe Him. He trusted in God; let Him deliver Him now if He will have Him; for He said, 'I am the Son of God.' " (Matthew 27:39-43)
We can see in the sarcastic taunts of these men that they felt Jesus was lying when He claimed to be the Son of God. Thus, from their point of view, His suffering was what He deserved, being a blasphemous heretic. They felt that He had been smitten by God.
IV. As A Lamb to the Slaughter
will recall that we were led to this study of the suffering Servant by the eighth chapter of the book of Acts, where Philip the evangelist met the Ethiopian eunuch on the deserted road from Jerusalem to Gaza. The eunuch was reading from the prophet Isaiah, and Philip was able to preach Jesus to him beginning with that passage. Let us now turn to the verses which the eunuch was reading when Philip approached his chariot:
He was oppressed and He was afflicted, yet He opened not His mouth; He was led as a lamb to the slaughter, and as a sheep before its shearers is silent, so He opened not His mouth. He was taken from prison and from judgment, and who will declare His generation? For He was cut off from the land of the living; for the transgressions of My people He was stricken. (Isaiah 53:7-8)
Isaiah asserted that the Servant of God would accept His suffering without complaining or defending Himself - even though He was innocent. His suffering, after all, was not for the sake of His own sins, but for the sins of God's people.
We see here that Isaiah again prophesied about the redemptive nature of Jesus' sacrifice. Somehow, Isaiah - who wrote more than seven hundred years before Jesus - knew that a Man would give His life to pay for the sins of others - as he wrote a few verses later, the Servant would be an offering for sin (Isaiah 53:10). When considering such a passage, we can see how this would indeed be a perfect place for Philip to begin telling the eunuch about Jesus. On the other hand, if we put ourselves in the place of the eunuch, who had not yet heard of Jesus, we can see why he had trouble understanding these verses. Why would God's Servant be stricken for the sins of His people?
Of course, it is only in the teaching of Jesus and His apostles that we find the answer to this question. Jesus' sacrifice was an expression of God's love for mankind (John 3:16). It was the way of bringing men and women from all nations into one people (Ephesians 2:14-18). It was the only way for God to be just - that is, to punish sin - and also merciful - to forgive the sinner (Romans 3:21-26). Jesus' sacrifice and resurrection were the fulfillment of God's ultimate plan of redemption, whereby He bought back people from the clutches of sin, and gained the eternal victory over Satan (I Peter 1:17-19; Hebrews 2:14). It is in Jesus that God accomplished the plan of salvation He had announced in the garden of Eden, wherein the Seed of the woman triumphed over the serpent (Genesis 3:15). Once again, we are brought face to face with the fact that the books of the Bible, though penned by some 40 human authors over a period of 1500 years, work in harmony to present one coherent message.
But there is something else about these verses in Isaiah that is striking. Notice that it is prophesied that this Servant, although He did not deserve the punishment inflicted upon Him, would accept it quietly. And, in fact, when we read the passages that describe Jesus' final hours, we find that He made no attempt to defend Himself, and that He offered no complaints (Matthew 26:47-27:50; Mark 14:43-15:37; Luke 22:47-23:46; John 18 & 19). Although He possessed the ability to eliminate His tormentors in an instant, He accepted their abuse with all the meekness of a sheep before its shearers. Indeed, He is the Lamb of God, the pure and perfect sacrifice for sin (John 1:29).
Again, we need to ask ourselves, why would Isaiah, in the eighth century BC, think to write about these things? What would make him imagine a Servant of God who would suffer for the sins of the people? What would make him think that this Servant would suffer quietly, without defending Himself or complaining? Where would Isaiah get such ideas? It is difficult to explain in naturalistic terms.
In this article, we have looked at eleven verses of Isaiah's prophecies of the Suffering Servant. We have seen that, in point after point, Isaiah's predictions were fulfilled in Jesus. The skeptic may suggest that the New Testament writers somehow manipulated their accounts to give the impression that Jesus fulfilled Isaiah's prophesies, but this assertion is without any factual basis. On the contrary, many of the instances where the New Testament describes how Jesus fulfilled Isaiah's prophecy make no mention at all of Isaiah. If they were frauds trying to deceive people into believing that Isaiah's prophecies were fulfilled in Jesus, they would certainly point out the correlation between their own stories and Isaiah's prophecies. Moreover, we cannot go to any one book of the Bible to see all of these connections; the passages which show the connections between the Suffering Servant and Jesus are scattered throughout the New Testament. It is simply not within the realm of reason to suppose that all of the men who wrote these books, being in different parts of the world as they wrote, somehow collaborated to produce such a perfectly harmonious correlation between Jesus and Isaiah's Suffering Servant. Furthermore, when we consider that all of the various passages we have cited blend seamlessly in their context, we conclude that they could not have been fraudulently inserted.
In other words, the passages we have considered are genuine, authentic, and honest. That being the case, we cannot escape the conclusion that Isaiah foretold of a Person and events more than seven hundred years beforehand. That is powerful evidence of the inspiration of the Bible.
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