The Gospel According to Isaiah
Not long ago an amazing discovery was made near Tel Megiddo in northern Israel. It was a Greek dedicatory inscription found in the remains of a third-century church. The inscription read, “The God-loving Akeptous [the name of a woman] has offered the table [possibly a communion table] to God Jesus Christ as a memorial.”
The words God Jesus Christ reveal how early Christians—made up of believing Jews and Gentiles—viewed Jesus even before the Nicene Council of A.D. 325, which upheld that God is a Triunity. Approximately 1,000 years earlier, the Jewish prophet Isaiah had alluded to the same thing (Isa. 48:16).
So many of Isaiah’s prophecies, in fact, focused on mankind’s sinfulness and a coming, divine Redeemer that Isaiah often is referred to as the Bible’s first evangelist; and the book of Isaiah often is called “The Book of Salvation.”
Dr. Victor Buksbazen, whose commentary on Isaiah is the definitive work on the subject, wrote,
In Isaiah Biblical prophecy reached its inspired climax. What Demosthenes was to Greek oratory, Isaiah was to Hebrew prophecy. He was God’s voice to Israel, the conscience of the nation, the herald of the Messiah and of His universal Kingdom….For many centuries Isaiah has been known as “the Old Testament evangelist” and his prophecies have been described as “the Gospel according to Isaiah.” The prophet Isaiah was more often on the lips of our Lord and of His apostles than any other prophet.1
Proclaimer of the Messiah
Jesus read from Isaiah when He was at the synagogue in Nazareth. “As His custom was, He went into the synagogue on the Sabbath day, and stood up to read” (Lk. 4:16):
The Spirit of the Lᴏʀᴅ is upon Me, because He has anointed Me to preach the gospel [good tidings] to the poor; He has sent Me to heal the brokenhearted, to proclaim liberty to the captives and recovery of sight to the blind, to set at liberty those who are oppressed; to proclaim the acceptable year of the Lᴏʀᴅ (vv. 18–19; cf. Isa. 61:1–2).
He then handed the scroll back to the attendant and sat down. With all eyes fixed on Him, He declared, “Today this Scripture is fulfilled in your hearing” (Lk. 4:21). Jesus was telling them He was the divine Servant, the “Anointed One” (Hebrew, Moshiach) about whom Isaiah spoke.
Wrote Buksbazen, “Jewish commentators apply these words to the prophet himself. But no prophet ever spoke of himself in this manner….The mission described in verses 1–3 is of such a sweeping nature that only God Himself is able to perform it.”2
The book of Isaiah contains many direct and indirect references to the Messiah, calling Him “the Branch of the Lᴏʀᴅ” (4:2), the “Rod from the stem of Jesse” (11:1), “[God’s] Servant” (42:1), and “[God’s] Elect One in whom My soul delights” (v. 1).
It declares Him to be the rightful heir to the throne of David (9:7; cf. Lk.1:32–33) and says He will authenticate His Messiahship by healing the blind, deaf, and lame (Isa. 29:18; 35:5–6; cf. Mt. 11:3–5; Lk. 7:22). He also will establish a New Covenant (Isa. 55:3–4; cf. Lk. 22:20) and will someday establish a literal, Messianic Kingdom over which He will reign and in which He will be worshiped (Isa. 9:7; 66:22–23; cf. Lk. 1:32–33; 22:18, 29–30; Jn. 18:36).
Isaiah’s One and Only Savior
The people of Israel viewed God as their Savior (Isa. 43:3; 45:15, 21). The experiences of the Exodus and their desert wanderings convinced them only God could save. Under inspiration, Isaiah prophesied of a Redeemer who would come into this world as a babe: “For unto us a Child is born, unto us a Son is given; and the government will be upon His shoulder. And His name will be called Wonderful, Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace” (9:6). Wrote Buksbazen,
His birth as a child indicates His humanity. That He is given “unto us” (lanu) as a son, emphasizes the fact that He is God’s gift to His people. His supernatural character is further indicated by the fact that…in a peculiar way God has entrusted to Him the rule over His people….The peculiar double-membered four names given to the child underline His divine character.3
Buksbazen also said Jewish commentators did not dispute the Messianic nature of the prophecy “until modern times, when the Christological controversy became very heated.”4 In fact, Targum Jonathan, a first-century Aramaic translation and commentary of the Hebrew Bible, paraphrased Isaiah 9:6 this way:
For to us a Son is born, to us a Son is given: and He shall receive the Law upon Him to keep it; and His Name is called from of old, Wonderful, Counselor, Eloha [God on High], The Mighty, Abiding to Eternity, The Messiah, because peace shall be multiplied on us in His days.
This rabbinic view agrees with the prophet Isaiah, that the Son who is “born” and “given” is God.
Anyone who knew and understood Isaiah’s prophecy must have rejoiced when they learned what the angel told the shepherds in Bethlehem: “For there is born to you this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord” (Lk. 2:11). The divine Messiah had come, and He would redeem His people.
Isaiah’s One and Only Way
The Suffering Servant Song in Isaiah 52:13—53:12 is viewed as the highest pinnacle of Isaiah’s prophecy. An unbiased reading can yield no other interpretation than that of a Messiah who suffers, dies, and rises again to bring eternal redemption to His people: “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” (53:5).
The Suffering Servant is the Suffering Savior. John Richard Sampey (1863–1946), a scholar who later became president of Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, said concerning Isaiah 53,
The New Testament application of this great prophecy to Jesus is not an accommodation of words originally spoken of Israel as a nation, but a recognition of the fact that the prophet painted in advance a portrait of which Jesus Christ is the original. 5
Isaiah’s gospel message was not too different from the gospel we preach today. It went like this:
- God is holy (43:15).
- Everyone has sinned against God (59:12).
- Sin separates us from God (v. 2).
- Messiah will deal with the sin issue (53:6).
- We must seek and call on Him to receive redemption (55:6).
The rabbis once declared, “All the prophets prophesied concerning, or up to, the days of the Messiah” (Talmud Sanhedrin 99a). As Jesus stood in the Nazareth synagogue, perhaps a few realized the fulfillment of Isaiah’s prophecies. How welcome His good news would have been to those who believed.
- Victor Buksbazen, The Prophet Isaiah (1971: Bellmawr, NJ: The Friends of Israel Gospel Ministry, Inc., 2008), 78.
- Ibid., 462.
- Ibid. 163.
- Richard Sampey, cited in Gilbert Guffin, The Gospel in Isaiah (Nashville, TN: Convention Press, 1968), 79.