The Sovereign LORD has opened my ears,
and I have not been rebellious;
I have not drawn back.
I offered my back to those who beat me,
my cheeks to those who pulled out my beard;
I did not hide my face
from mocking and spitting.
Because the Sovereign LORD helps me,
I will not be disgraced.
Therefore have I set my face like flint,
and I know I will not be put to shame.
He who vindicates me is near.
Who then will bring charges against me?
Let us face each other!
Who is my accuser?
Let him confront me!
It is the Sovereign LORD who helps me.
Who is he that will condemn me?
They will all wear out like a garment;
the moths will eat them up.
Who among you fears the LORD
and obeys the word of his servant?
Let him who walks in the dark,
who has no light,
trust in the name of the LORD
—Isaiah 50:5-10, NIV
There is much dispute among scholars of various theological persuasions as to the exact messianic content of the Old Testament. Some claim persuasively that much of the prophecies of Jesus Christ have been read into the Old Testament rather than out of it; that this interpretation was never intended by the prophets who wrote them. Others agree, but add that the Holy Spirit intended a second, more spiritual meaning that transcended the awareness of the prophet who first composed the words. The first group criticizes this as reducing Holy Scripture to some form of ‘automatic writing’ such as was popular in various self-improvement cults around the time of the Second World War. The second group responds by citing the usage of the Old Testament in New Testament citations. And in this manner the scholars go round and round, not reaching a persuasive consensus for those who stand outside the dispute.
I contend that we do not need to probe the minds and intentions of the Hebrew prophets, nor does our interpretation of passages like this one hinge upon our understanding of the inspiration of Holy Scripture. The reason is that all of Christianity is predicated in some way or the other on the man Jesus Christ, and whatever we may say about Hebrew prophets or the dynamics of inspiration, one thing remains indisputably clear: Jesus believed that the entire Old Testament (or ‘the Law and the Prophets’ as it was designated by first-century Jews) pointed to Him, prophesied about Him, and was to be fulfilled by Him. To Jesus, the entire Old Testament was nothing more or less than a personal letter written by His Father and addressed to Him for the benefit of all.
Therefore it is valid for Christians to seek enlightenment about Jesus in Old Testament passages like this, because we know that Jesus consciously took these prophecies as the model for His life and ministry.
Today, if a man is on trial for his life, the attorneys in the case may seek expert testimony on the man’s inner thoughts and personality based on an analysis of his favorite song, his television viewing habits, and the books he read. If a man is accused of terrorism, we will draw differing conclusions about him, depending on whether we find his bedroom strewn with the works of Dr. Seuss or Abbie Hoffmann. No defense attorney will object on the grounds that neither Seuss nor Hoffmann had the defendant in mind when he wrote the book!
Jesus was on trial for His life and the charge was blasphemy, that is, claiming to be God’s Son. No expert witness rose to speak about His favorite books, the one that influenced His life and guided every step of His ministry, but the evidence remains and is bound between the covers of your Bible. It’s there for you to read yourself. Jesus was greatly influenced by the statements in the Old Testament that we call ‘messianic.’ He felt they spoke of Him. He lived His life accordingly. If you wish to understand His personality intimately, to be acquainted with His motives for everything He did, it’s all there for you to read.
Doesn’t this passage from Isaiah shed much light on Jesus’ motivation for His comportment before the Sanhedrin, and later before Pilate? In reading it, do we not penetrate into His private thoughts as He was tried, judged, and sentenced?
Suppose a dear friend of yours died, and you discovered a scrapbook that you never knew about before. Would you not sit down with that book and spend long, reverent hours pouring over it and pondering its contents carefully? Would you not sigh with every picture and read every newspaper clipping pasted in there? Would you not learn many new and insightful things about your friend?
You cannot travel back in time to walk with Jesus on the gravelly road. You cannot see the flash of His eyes, His smile, or His indignation. You have not seen His face. You do not know if He was shorter or taller than you, or if His build was stocky or slender. You cannot keep watch with Him in the garden, or comfort His mother on that gruesome Saturday after the crucifixion. But you have His scrapbook! All His favorite things are in there; all the things that set the very agenda for His life.
You can get to know Jesus in a deeply personal and intimate way. You can know Him as intimately as any apostle. You have His very life and soul within your hands.
Actually, those who argue that we are reading Messianic prophecies into the Old Testament rather than out of it have a weaker case than they think, because they are basing their argumentation on the current Hebrew text, which was compiled by the Masoretes centuries after the beginning of the Christian era. Rabbis and Christian writers in the New Testament era used the Septuagint, a Greek translation, as authoritative because the Hebrew manuscripts from which it was translated were lost when the Romans destroyed the Temple in AD 70 and burned down the Library of Alexandria in 48 AD.
The Septuagint is based on older and perhaps better Hebrew manuscripts than the current Hebrew Bible, so perhaps we should take the New Testament's Messianic interpretations more seriously.