Many years ago, in a mis-spent youth, I completed some formal theological study. For one subject, I studied the prophet Isaiah. Just this week I prepared and led a study on Isaiah, and renewed my awe of this amazing man.
I really think he had the deepest understanding of God of any person who lived before Jesus, and more than most people since.
Half a millennium ahead
Isaiah lived about 700-750 years before Jesus. (Many scholars think that the book of Isaiah was written by two different men, one who lived before Judah was captured by the Babylonians, and one afterwards, but I am assuming here that the passages I refer to were written by the one man.)
Yet from his position in a small Iron Age city he was able to write these profound thoughts:
The people walking in darkness have seen a great light;
on those living in the land of deep darkness a light has dawned.
For to us a child is born, to us a son is given,
and the government will be on his shoulders.
And he will be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God,
Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.
Of the greatness of his government and peace there will be no end.
He will reign on David’s throne and over his kingdom,
establishing and upholding it with justice and righteousness
from that time on and forever.
The zeal of the Lord Almighty will accomplish this.”
Isaiah 9:2, 6-7
He was despised and rejected by mankind,
a man of suffering, and familiar with pain.
Like one from whom people hide their faces he was despised,
and we held him in low esteem.
Surely he took up our pain and bore our suffering,
yet we considered him punished by God,
stricken by him, and afflicted.
But he was pierced for our transgressions,
he was crushed for our iniquities;
the punishment that brought us peace was on him,
and by his wounds we are healed.
We all, like sheep, have gone astray,
each of us has turned to our own way;
and the Lord has laid on him the iniquity of us all.
He was oppressed and afflicted, yet he did not open his mouth;
he was led like a lamb to the slaughter,
and as a sheep before its shearers is silent,
so he did not open his mouth.
By oppression and judgment he was taken away.
Yet who of his generation protested?
For he was cut off from the land of the living;
for the transgression of my people he was punished.
He was assigned a grave with the wicked, and with the rich in his death,
though he had done no violence, nor was any deceit in his mouth.
Yet it was the Lord’s will to crush him and cause him to suffer,
and though the Lord makes his life an offering for sin,
he will see his offspring and prolong his days,
and the will of the Lord will prosper in his hand.
After he has suffered, 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.
Therefore I will give him a portion among the great,
and he will divide the spoils with the strong,
because he poured out his life unto death,
and was numbered with the transgressors.
For he bore the sin of many,
and made intercession for the transgressors.”
The Spirit of the Sovereign Lord is on me,
because the Lord has anointed me to proclaim good news to the poor.
He has sent me to bind up the brokenhearted,
to proclaim freedom for the captives
and release from darkness for the prisoners,
to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor
and the day of vengeance of our God,
to comfort all who mourn,
and provide for those who grieve in Zion”
I suggest you read those passages out aloud, especially if you want to understand God’s purposes better.
I think many christians don’t fully understand prophecy. They sometimes focus on details (“with the rich in his death” = Joseph of Arimathea?) and miss what God is saying. And sceptics often do much the same, looking to find places where a literal reading isn’t fulfilled. For prophecy is, I believe, an insight into the mind and purposes of God. The predictions are not so much literal as word pictures that portray how God feels about the situation, or what he wants his people to know at that time.
And what an amazing revelation Isaiah received.
Isaiah was given a picture of five amazing truths that would come to fruition in the life of Jesus centuries later:
- God and man in one person.
For to us a child is born … and he will be called Mighty God, Everlasting Father.
- God’s purposes would be served through suffering and non-violence.
A man of suffering, and familiar with pain …. he was led like a lamb to the slaughter …. Yet it was the Lord’s will to crush him and cause him to suffer.
- His suffering would be the means of our redemption.
The Lord has laid on him the iniquity of us all …. for the transgression of my people he was punished …. the Lord makes his life an offering for sin …. he bore the sin of many.
- His mission was not all about the redeemed, because he will set up his kingdom and rule.
The government will be on his shoulders …. he will reign on David’s throne and over his kingdom.
- His rule would bring freedom from oppression and help for the helpless.
The Lord has anointed me to proclaim good news to the poor …. to bind up the brokenhearted …. to proclaim freedom for the captives.
These are deep understandings of the purposes of God, not fully revealed until the coming of Jesus, and still not always understoof by christians today, unfortunately.
Eyes to see
Some christians use the detailed fulfilment of prophecy as evidence of the truth about Jesus, but I don’t feel that’s very effective – there are always details that don’t seem to fit. But, at a far deeper level, I believe Isaiah’s insight into the mission of Jesus speaks volumes to anyone with eyes to see.
These passages are a good reason to believe – and a good pointer to understanding Jesus’ mission, and ours.