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The Suffering Messiah


Cleansing sacrifices occupied the central place in the religious life of the Hebrew people. Every orthodox Hebrew knew from childhood the law that sin can be ironed out only through a redeeming bloody sacrifice. All the high holy days and family events were accompanied by sacrifices. The prophets did not explain wherein lay the cleansing power of the sacrifice. However, from their predictions about the sufferings of the Messiah it is apparent that Old Testament sacrifices pointed to the great expiatory Sacrifice of the Messiah, which He was to bring for the remission of the sins of the world. From this great Sacrifice the Old Testament sacrifices drew their meaning and strength. The internal connection between sin and the subsequent sufferings and death of a person, as well as between the voluntary sufferings and subsequent salvation of people — to this day is not completely understood. Here we will not attempt to explain this inner bond, but will dwell on the actual predictions about the Messiah’s forthcoming sufferings for our salvation.

     The most vivid and detailed prediction about the sufferings of the Messiah is the prophecy of Isaiah, which occupies one and a half chapters of his book (the end of the 52nd and all of the 53rd). This prophecy contains such details of the sufferings of Christ, that the reader gets the impression that the prophet Isaiah wrote it at the foot of Golgotha, even though, as we know, the prophet Isaiah lived over seven centuries BC. We present here this prophecy.

 

“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. 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. 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. And they made His grave with the wicked; But with the rich at His death, Because He had done no violence, Nor was any deceit in His mouth. Yet it pleased the LORD to bruise Him; He has put Him to grief. When You make His soul an offering for sin, He shall see His seed, He shall prolong His days, And the pleasure of the LORD shall prosper in His hand. He shall see the labor of His soul, and be satisfied. By His knowledge My righteous Servant shall justify many, For He shall bear their iniquities. Therefore I will divide Him a portion with the great, And He shall divide the spoil with the strong, Because He poured out His soul unto death, And He was numbered with the transgressors, And He bore the sin of many, And made intercession for the transgressors” (Is. 53:1-12).

 

The introductory phrase of this prophecy (who has believed our report? And to whom has the arm of the LORD been revealed) witnesses the extraordinary nature of the described event, demanding considerable willful effort on the part of the reader in order to believe it. Truly, the previous prophecies of Isaiah spoke of the greatness and glory of the Messiah. The present prophecy speaks of His voluntary humiliation, suffering and death! The Messiah, being completely clean of personal sins and holy, endures all these sufferings for the cleansing of human lawlessness.

     King David also described the sufferings of the Savior on the Cross very vividly in his 22nd psalm. Although the speech is in the first person in this psalm, King David could not write about himself of course, because he did not bear such sufferings. Here he, as the prototype of the Messiah, prophetically attributed to himself that, which in fact referred to his Descendant — Christ. It is remarkable that several of the words of this psalm were repeated precisely by Christ during his crucifixion. We present here several phrases from the 22nd psalm and the parallel Gospel text:

 

7th verse: “All that see Me laugh Me to scorn,” compare to Mark 15:29.

16th verse: “They pierced My hands and My feet,” compare to Luke 23:33.

18th verse: “They part My garments among them, and cast lots upon My vesture,” compare to Matthew 27:35.

8th verse: “He trusted on the Lord that He would deliver him: let Him deliver Him.” This phrase was repeated word for word by the High Priests and the scribes, Gospel of St. Matthew 27:43.

1st verse: “My God, My God, why hast thou forsaken me?” — so exclaimed the Lord before His death, see Matthew 27:46.

 

In addition, the prophet Isaiah wrote the following details about the sufferings of the Messiah, which were also fulfilled precisely. The speech is in the first person: “The Lord God hath given me the tongue of the learned, that I should know how to speak a word in season to him that is weary... I gave My back to the smiters, and My cheeks to them that plucked off the hair: I hid not My face from shame and spitting. For the Lord God will help me; therefore shall I not be disgraced” (Is. 50:4-7), compare to Matthew 26:67.

     In the light of these prophecies about the sufferings of the Messiah, the ancient enigmatic prophecy of the patriarch Jacob becomes comprehensible, as told to his son Judah, which was already partially mentioned in the second chapter. Here we give the prophecy of Judah fully:Judah is a lion’s whelp: from the prey, my son, thou art gone up: he stooped down, he couched as a lion, and as an old lion; who shall rouse him up? The sceptre shall not depart from Judah, nor a lawgiver from between his feet, until Shiloh comes; and unto him shall the gathering of the people be. Binding his donkey unto the vine, and his ass’s colt unto the choice vine; he washed his garments in wine, and his clothes in the blood of grapes” (Gen. 49:9-11). In this prophecy the Lion with his greatness and power symbolizes the Messiah, Who was to be born of the tribe of Judah. The question of the patriarch about who will raise the sleeping Lion, allegorically refers to the death of the Messiah, named in the Holy Scriptures “the Lion of the tribe of Juda” (Rev. 5:5). The following prophetic words of Jacob about the cleansing of the raiments in the juice of the grapes also speak about the death of the Messiah. Grapes are the symbol of blood. The words about the female donkey and the ass’s colt were fulfilled, when the Lord Jesus Christ before His sufferings on the cross, sitting on an ass’s colt, rode into Jerusalem. The prophet Daniel also prophesied about the time when the Messiah was to suffer, as we shall see in the next chapter.

     The prophecy, no less definite, of Zechariah, living two centuries after Isaiah (500 years BC), should be added to these ancient affirmations about the sufferings of the Messiah. In the third chapter of his book the prophet Zechariah describes the vision of the great priest Joshua, dressed at first in bloody, then later in light vestments. The clothing of the priest Joshua symbolizes the moral condition (state) of the people: at first sinful, then later — righteous. In the vision described there are many interesting details relating to the sacrament of redemption, but we will here present only the concluding words of God the Father: “For, behold, I will bring forth my servant the BRANCH. For behold the stone that I have laid before Joshua; upon one stone shall be seven eyes; behold, I will engrave the graving thereof, saith the Lord of hosts, and I will remove the iniquity of that land in one day... and they shall look upon Me whom they have pierced, and they shall mourn for Him, as one mourneth for his only son... In that day there shall be a fountain opened to the house of David and to the inhabitants of Jerusalem for sin and for uncleanness” (Zech. 3:8-9; 12:10-13:1).

     The name Branch we have already seen in the Prophet Isaiah. It refers to the Messiah, as does the symbolic naming of Him as the (corner) stone. It is noteworthy that, according to the prophecy, the forgiveness of the sins of the people will occur in a single day. In other words, one particular Sacrifice will perform the redemption of sins! The second part of the prophecy, found in the 12th chapter, speaks of the sufferings of the Messiah on the Cross, of His being pierced by a spear, and of the repentance of the people. All these events did take place and are described in the Gospels.

     No matter how difficult it was for the Old Testament person to rise to the belief in the necessity of these expiatory sufferings of the Messiah, still, several Old Testament Judean writers correctly understood the prophecy in the 53rd chapter of the book of Isaiah. We present here valuable thoughts on this subject from ancient Hebrew books.What is the Name of the Messiah?” is asked in the Talmud, and the reply is:The compassionate one, as it is writtenThese sins of ours He carries and feels compassion for us” (tractates (Massektoth), Talmud Babli. In another part of the Talmud it says:The Messiah takes unto Himself all the suffering and torture for the sins of the Israelites. Had He not taken unto Himself this suffering, then not one person in the world could have stood the unavoidable execution as a consequence for breaking the law” (Jalkut Chadach, fol. 154, col 4, 29, Tit). The Rabbi Moshe Goddarshan writes in the Midrash (the book, interpreting the Holy Scripture):

 

“The Holy and Blessed God made the following agreement with the Messiah, saying to Him: Messiah My Righteous One! The sins of the people will be imposed upon you as a heavy yoke: Thine eyes shall see no light, Thine ears shall hear terrible curses, Thy mouth shall taste bitterness, Thy tongue shall cleave to Thy throat… and Thy soul shall succumb from anguish and gasping. Are You reconciled to that? If You accept to take upon Yourself all these sufferings: very well then. If not, then I shall this minute annihilate mankind — sinners. To this the Messiah answered: Lord of the universe! I gladly accept all these sufferings on one condition, that Thou shall resurrect from the dead during My time, beginning with Adam and to this day, and shall not only save only them, but also all those that You had planned to create and have not created as yet. To that the Holy and Blessed God answered: yes, I agree. In that instant the Messiah gladly took upon Himself all the suffering as it was written:He was tortured, but suffered willingly… as a sheep led to slaughter” (from discussions on the book of Genesis).

 

These testimonies of orthodox Hebrew experts of the Holy Scriptures are valuable, because they show how great a significance the prophecy of Isaiah had for strengthening faith in the power of the sufferings of the Messiah on the Cross to bring salvation.

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