23 Isaiah 53 Prophecy: It’s Talking about Israel, Not Jesus

Apologists argue that Isaiah chapter 53 gives an uncannily accurate summary of the crucifixion of Jesus. They make their case with verses like these.

  • “There were many who were appalled at him; his appearance was so disfigured beyond that of any human being.” Some say this refers to the beatings Jesus received, though the gospels never mention his appearance.
  • “He was despised and rejected by mankind, a man of suffering, and familiar with pain.” This doesn’t sound like the charismatic rabbi who preached to thousands of attentive listeners and had a triumphal entry into Jerusalem on Palm Sunday.
  • “He did not open his mouth; he was led like a lamb to the slaughter, and as a sheep before its shearers is silent.” The synoptic gospels (Matthew, Mark, and Luke) agree that Jesus was silent before his accusers, though John says the opposite.
  • “He was assigned a grave with the wicked, and with the rich in his death.” This is often interpreted to mean Jesus ought to have been buried with criminals though he was actually buried in the tomb of a rich man, Joseph of Arimathea.

Many verses give some version of the idea of the suffering servant taking on the burdens of his people—“he was pierced for our transgressions . . . by his wounds we are healed,” “for the transgression of my people he was punished,” “he bore the sin of many, and made intercession for the transgressors,” and so on.

Taken individually, these verses look intriguing, but let the chapter speak for itself and the story falls apart. Now consider some of the verses in the same chapter avoided by the apologists.

  • “So will many nations be amazed at him and kings will shut their mouths because of him.” The nations will be amazed and the kings speechless? Not only was Jesus not internationally famous during his lifetime, history records nothing of his life outside the gospels.
  • “He will see his offspring and prolong his days, and the will of the Lord will prosper in his hand.” That’s a nice thought—Jesus endures great trials but then, like Job, he is rewarded with children, prosperity, and long life. Unfortunately, this isn’t how the gospel story plays out.
  • “Therefore I will give him a portion among the great and he will divide the spoils with the strong.” Like a warrior who shares in the spoils of the battle, the servant will be rewarded, but he’s just one among many who gets a portion. Does this sound like Jesus—one among equals, just one of the “great”?

This bears scant resemblance to the Jesus of the gospels because this chapter isn’t talking about Jesus. Considering the period when this part of Isaiah was probably written—after the conquest of Judah by Babylon in 586 BCE—this suffering servant is likely the nation of Israel, punished through the Babylonian exile. This is also the traditional Jewish interpretation. In addition, any parallels between the Isaiah 53 “suffering servant” and Jesus are easily explained by the gospel authors using the Jewish scripture to embellish the gospels.

Continue to chapter 24.

Image credit: Artem Saranin via Pexels


there were many who were appalled at him: Isaiah 52:14 (the Isaiah 53 “prophecy” actually begins at Isaiah 52:13).

the charismatic rabbi who preached to thousands of attentive listeners: Matthew 5–7.

a triumphal entry into Jerusalem: John 12:12–13.

John says the opposite: John 18:34–19:11.

So will many nations be amazed at him and kings will shut their mouths because of him: Isaiah 52:15.

7 Psalm 22 Prophecy: Not a Good Fit for Jesus

Psalm 22 is a popular place to look for Old Testament prophecies fulfilled by the life of Jesus. Christian apologists (that is, defenders of Christianity) claim that it closely parallels the crucifixion story, even though it preceded Jesus by roughly a thousand years.

This argument is compelling only if we examine verses that support it and ignore others. Taken as a whole, this chapter is no prophecy of the crucifixion.

Let’s first consider verses that support the argument.

•  The very first verse of Psalm 22 is, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” which are the last words of Jesus according to the gospels of Matthew and Mark.

•  “All who see me mock me; they hurl insults, shaking their heads. ‘He trusts in the Lord,’ they say, ‘Let the Lord rescue him.’” Sure enough, Mark records the onlookers insulting Jesus and mocking his inability to free himself.

•  “They divide my garments among them and cast lots for my clothing,” as noted in Mark.

The author of Mark was surely familiar with Psalm 22 and could have added the distribution of clothes, the mocking from the crowd, and the last words to his gospel. No supernatural prophecy is needed if Mark lifted these elements from Psalm 22.

Let’s reconsider those last words, “My God, why have you forsaken me?” Not only does forsaking Jesus not sound like part of God’s plan, this doesn’t sound like the cool-headed Jesus we find in the crucifixion stories in Luke and John.

The apologetic argument points to intriguing little fragments, but taken as a whole this doesn’t look at all like the crucifixion story. Consider the entire chapter, and we find verses that paint a different picture.

•  “Yet you brought me out of the womb; you made me trust in you”—again, this sounds like an ordinary man. The first person of the Trinity wouldn’t need to make the second person of the Trinity trust him.

•  “Many bulls surround me…. Roaring lions tearing their prey open their mouths wide against me.” Bulls and lions? That sounds like a spectacle in an arena, not crucifixion.

•  “I can count all my bones.” This unfortunate man must be starving, but (again) this isn’t the gospel story.

•  “Deliver my life from the sword, my precious life from the power of the dogs. Rescue me from the mouth of the lions; save me from the horns of the wild oxen.” Yet again, not the gospel story.

A final problem with shoehorning Psalm 22 into the gospel story is that there’s no reference to the resurrection. This can hardly be the story of the sacrifice of Jesus if it omits the conclusion.

When read completely and without presupposition, Psalm 22 doesn’t sound at all like a summary of the crucifixion story.

Continue to chapter 8.

Image credit: Manik Roy via Unsplash


the last words of Jesus according to the gospels of Matthew and Mark: Matthew 27:46 and Mark 15:34.

Mark records the onlookers insulting Jesus: Mark 15:29–32.

“They divide my garments” … as noted in Mark: Mark 15:24.