Isaiah 53: Did Jesus Have Long Life?

  1. LONG LIFE

Question:

My question pertains to an objection you raised in your tape series regarding the christological reading of Isaiah 53, specifically verse 10. This verse says that the Servant’s days will be prolonged. Jesus, however, died young. However, if we were to believe in the resurrection, that Jesus rose in the flesh, why can we not say that his life has been prolonged? The human side of him would now be about 2,000 years old. One would think that this could be called having a prolonged life. Is there a fault in this reasoning?

Answer:

Before answering your question, we will begin with a brief overview of the 53rd chapter of Isaiah1 for our readers who are unfamiliar with this most-debated section of the Bible.

The 53 chapter of Isaiah is the last of rd the four famed “Servant Songs”2

at the end of the Book of Isaiah. Contained in Isaiah 41-53 are four soothing “Servant Songs,” which are pregnant with stunning End Time prophecy and comfort for the children of Israel.

Without hesitating, the prophet consoles his traumatized Servant by unveiling the glorious redemption of the righteous remnant of Israel, who the prophet repeatedly identifies as God’s servant. Isaiah 53 is the culmination of Isaiah’s moving narrative describes the Almighty’s servant-nation who, after a brutal and seemingly endless exile, is elevated and redeemed in the eyes of her former oppressors – the gentile nations. The 53 chapter of Isaiah begins rd with an extraordinary soliloquy expressed by the surprised gentile kings of nations at the End of Days as they finally be hold the righteous remnant of the Jewish people raised up and glorified.

The final redemption of Israel is not what hernon-Jewish neighbors expected. The astonished reaction of the gentiles to the Messianic Age is a common theme throughout the Hebrew Prophets, and the baffled reaction of the gentiles is recorded in Isaiah 53rd with greater clarity than any other chapter in the Bible.

What startling news will astound the world’s leaders? What will they finally grasp that will amaze them beyond measure? Everything that they have ever heard or considered is in stark contrast to what they will finally witness in the Messianic Age. They will place their hands over their mouths in numbed bewilderment as they behold the glory of the remnant of the Jewish people, finally vindicated and redeemed by the “arm of the Lord” (53:1). Let’s examine Isaiah 52:15-53:1, which are the introductory verses to Isaiah 53:

So shall he startle many nations; kings shall shut their mouths because of him; for that which has not been told them they shall see, and that which they have not heard they shall understand. Who has believed what we have heard? And to whom has the arm of the Lord been revealed?

In Isaiah 53:2-8, the kings of nations continue to humbly express their heartfelt confession. Only now they finally conclude that the nation of Israel suffered throughout their long and bitter exile asa result of the mindless sins of their own citizens. In the past, these world leaders surmised that theJews were stricken and smitten by God because they stubbornly rejected the gods of the other nations. But now, as they bear witness to the glorious messianic redemption, they are astounded. They will finally grasp that Israel suffered as a result of the destructive arrogance and devastating reckless behavior of their own peoples.

From Isaiah 53:9 through the following powerful chapters, the God of Israel alone is speaking. The Gentiles are listening silently. In 53:10, the verse about which you were asking, God is enumerating the blessings that are bestowed on those who have chosen the path of devotion and “have made their souls a restitution.” These manifold blessings mirror the promised blessings to the faithful at the end of the Book of Deuteronomy. In these last chapters of the Pentateuch, the Almighty promises prolonged life and children to those who are devoted to the life-giving teachings of the Torah.

And now we come to your question. In an effort to support their christological position, missionaries frequently argue that Isaiah 53 is speaking about Jesus. In fact, Isaiah 53 stands out as the biblical text most used by missionaries. There are, however, countless ways to prove from this chapter and the chapters that surround it that Isaiah 53 is referring to the faithful remnant of Israel and not the Christian messiah.

In Isaiah 53:10, the verse about which you were asking, the servant is promised long life and seed.

Let’s explore this introductory passage to Isaiah’s fourth and final Servant Song:

And the Lord wished to crush him, He made him ill; if his soul makes itself restitution, he shall see seed, He shall prolong his days, and God’s purpose shall prosper in his hand.

(Isaiah 53:10)

For the Church, this verse presents numerous staggering problems. To begin with, Jesus did not have any biological children. The Hebrew word [rz (zerah), which appears in Isaiah 53:10 – it is the blessing bestowed on the servant – means "seed." This Hebrew word can only refer to biological offspring when used in connection with a person's children, never metaphoric children, such as disciples. The Hebrew word that can refer to metaphoric children is !b (ben). Moreover, according to Church teachings, Jesus died when he was approximately 30 years old, less than half the expected life span of an ordinary man (Psalm 90:10). Obviously, both the blessing of a home filled with children and long life were not fulfilled in Jesus' lifetime.

Missionaries respond to this glaring problem by explaining that Jesus had long life in his resurrection, where he lives forever. Therefore, they argue, Jesus indeed lived a very, very long life. This response, however, does little to relieve their problem. To begin with, the Hebrew words in this verse ~ymy %yray (ya'arich yamim), meaning "long life" or a "prolonged life," do not mean or refer to an eternal life which has no end, but rather a lengthening of days which eventually come to an end. These Hebrew words are therefore never applied in the Jewish Scriptures to anyone who is to live forever. In Tanach, therefore, God is never said to have long life. In fact, the words ya'arich yamim appear in a number of places throughout Jewish Scriptures, including Deuteronomy 17:20, Deuteronomy 25:15, Proverbs 28:16, and Ecclesiastes 8:13. In each and every verse where this phrase appears, these words refer to an extended mortal life, not an eternal one. When the Jewish Scriptures speak of an eternal resurrected life, as in Daniel 12:2, the Hebrew words לְחַיֵּי עוֹלָם (l'chayai olam) are used.

The staggering problem missionaries must confront in this text cannot be overstated. Bear in mind that virtually all of Christian apologists zealously espouse the doctrine of the Trinity. This core Church tenet declares that Jesus was not just a man, but God Himself, manifested in the flesh – the second Person in the triune godhead. This is no small matter in Christian theology. I have encountered many Hebrew-Christians who were expelled from Messianic conference or denied membership in a Messianic congregation because they questioned this well-guarded doctrine.

To better understanding of this doctrine, we need to go back to the Council of Nicea where it all began. Assembled by the Emperor Constantine in 325 C.E., it was the most important council in Church history in both its scope and focus. Luther called it "the most sacred of all councils."3 At the Council of Nicea it was declared that Jesus was of the same substance (Greek: homousios) as the Father. In essence, according to this Christian belief, Jesus shared one being with the Father and in full deity. This doctrine does not hold that Jesus was half God and half man. Rather, in the original language of this foundational Christian creed, he is "God of God, Light of Light, very God of very God . . ."4

Bearing all this in mind, how can God be promised long life? Even if missionaries argue that this blessing in Isaiah 53:10 is referring to that time after Jesus' supposed resurrection, how can God promise Himself, or give Himself anything for that matter? Moreover, how can God be promised longevity when He is eternal? How can God bestow the blessing of long life upon a messiah, who the Church insists, exists for eternity? Such a blessing would be absurd. Furthermore, why is God talking to Himself?

Finally, it is essential to carefully study the surrounding chapters of Isaiah 53 in order to grasp a clear understanding of the "Suffering Servant." The context of Isaiah 53 immediately reveals that the prophet is speaking of the nation of Israel in the singular. It is a tragedy that few missionaries are as familiar with the 52 and 54 chapters of Isaiah as they are with the 53rd. The nd th consequence of this unbalanced knowledge is obvious.

Isaiah 52 and 54 both serve as an indictment against the Christianization of Isaiah 53. To this day I have yet to encounter a Christian who can recite these chapters from memory. This cannot be said of Isaiah 53, which evangelicals can spout off by heart without hesitating.

The contiguous relationship between Isaiah 52 through 54 is evident because the theme, poetic structure, and motif of Isaiah 53 closely mimics the illustrative language of Isaiah 52 and 54. As in Isaiah 53, Isaiah 52 and 54 clearly identify Israel in the singular, suffering innocently as a result of the vile wickedness of the gentile nations. In addition, all three of these exhilarating chapters vividly describe the glorious redemption of Israel in full view of the gentiles, her former persecutors.

For example, in Isaiah 52:4 the prophet recounts that "Assyria oppressed him [Israel] without cause.” This central theme conveyed Isaiah 52 – the nation of Israel innocently suffered as a single individual at the hands of the gentiles – is precisely the same underlying topic of Isaiah 53.

In the following chapter, the motif remains unchanged. In Isaiah 54, the prophet recounts how Israel, in the singular, is “despised,” “forsaken,” and “afflicted.” These are the identical descriptions of the nation of Israel found in the previous chapter, Isaiah 53. In fact, it is so manifestly evident from these chapters that Isaiah 53 is speaking of the righteous remnant of Israel, that a great many Christian commentators unhesitatingly agree that this chapter speaks of no one else but the Almighty’s Chosen People. If Hebrew-Christians would pore over the entire Book of Isaiah with the same zeal as they do Isaiah 53, few of them would have abandoned the faith of their ancestors.

Over the years, so many Hebrew-Christians have turned to me and pondered aloud as they finally decided to leave the Church, “Why weren’t you there with the answers 11 years ago when I first got involved?” My response is always the same, “The answers to your questions were always there. I just teach the Bible.”

Sincerely yours,

Rabbi Tovia Singer


  1. Although these passages are commonly referred to as “Isaiah 53,” this text refers to 15 verses beginning with Isaiah 52:13 and ending with 53:12. The chapter break at the end of 52:15 is artificial. 

  2. These verses in the Servant Songs include:

    Isaiah 41:8-9

    But thou, Israel, art My servant, Jacob whom I have chosen, the seed of Abraham My friend. Whom I grasped from the ends of the earth, and from it nobles I called you, and I said to you, “You are My servant”; I chose you and I did not despise you.

    Isaiah 44:1-2

    Yet hear now, O Jacob My servant and Israel, whom I have chosen. So said the Lord your Maker, and He who formed you from the womb shall aid you. Fear not, My servant Jacob, and Jeshurun whom I have chosen.

    Isaiah 44:21

    Remember these, O Jacob and Israel, for thou art My servant; I have formed thee; thou art My servant, O Israel, thou shalt not be forgotten of Me.

    Isaiah 45:4

    For the sake of My servant Jacob, and Israel My chosen one, and I called to you by your name. . . .

    Isaiah 48:20

    Leave Babylon, flee from the Chaldeans; with a voice of singing declare, tell this, publicize it to the end of the earth; say, “The Lord has redeemed His servant Jacob.”

    Isaiah 49:3

    And said to me, thou art My servant, O Israel in whom I will be glorified! 

  3. Gordon Rupp, Luther's Progress to the Diet of Worms (New York: Harper and Row Publishers, 1964), pp. 66. 

  4. The Third Ecumenical Council. The Council of Ephesus, p. 202).