The Remarkable Reality of Isaiah’s Messiah
Writing in the latter part of the first century A.D., the apostle John quoted Isaiah 53:1 and 6:10 and testified that the Messianic prophet was referring to Jesus of Nazareth (John 12:36-41).1 In the early-to-mid 60s, the apostle Peter quoted Isaiah 53:5,9 and applied the suffering Servant passage to Jesus (1 Peter 2:24,22). The apostle Matthew testified that Jesus fulfilled
- Isaiah 7:14 by being born of the virgin Mary (Matthew 1:18-2:1),
- Isaiah 9:1-2 by dwelling in Capernaum, “which is…in the regions of Zebulun and Naphtali” (Matthew 4:12-17),
- Isaiah 53:4 by healing many who were sick and demon-possessed (Matthew 8:16-17),
- Isaiah 53:12 by being “numbered with the transgressors” (Matthew 27:38; cf. Mark 15:27-28),
- Isaiah 53:9 when “they made His grave…with the rich at His death” (Matthew 27:57-60).
Luke reminded his first-century readers that Jesus fulfilled Isaiah 9:7 by sitting on “the throne of His father David…forever” (Luke 1:32-33; Acts 2:30-36; cf. 2 Samuel 7:12-13). Mark began his gospel account quoting Isaiah 40:3 and identified not only the forerunner of the Messiah as John the baptizer, but the Messiah Himself as Jesus (Mark 1:1-15; cf. Luke 3:4-6). Paul, the Old Testament scholar,2 former persecutor of the Church, and later devoted Christian apologist, quoted Isaiah 11:10 and attested that this prophecy was one of “the promises made to the fathers” which was fulfilled in Jesus (Romans 15:8,12).
In the early-to-mid 30s (very shortly after the establishment of the Church), an Ethiopian proselyte was returning from Jerusalem reading from the scroll of Isaiah, specifically 53:7-8 (Acts 8:28-33). The Ethiopian asked the evangelist Philip, “[O]f whom does the prophet say this, of himself or of some other man?” (Acts 8:34). “Then Philip opened his mouth, and beginning at this Scripture, preached Jesus to him” (8:35). Who was the suffering Servant of Isaiah 53? Once again, the answer is Jesus. The consistent, recurring testimony of the often threatened, persecuted, and martyred New Testament apostles and prophets is unmistakable: the Messiah of Whom Isaiah frequently prophesied was Jesus of Nazareth.
Considering the plethora of testimony throughout the New Testament that Jesus was the fulfillment of the Messianic prophecies of Isaiah, it should come as no surprise that early on in Jesus’ ministry, He read publicly from Isaiah and made Himself known as the Messiah. While in the synagogue in His hometown of Nazareth, He was given the scroll of Isaiah “and found the place where it was written: ‘The Spirit of the Lord was upon me, because He has anointed me to proclaim good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim liberty to the captives and recovering of sight to the blind, to set at liberty those who are oppressed, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor’” (Luke 4:17-19, ESV). Jesus not only read from Isaiah’s prophecy of the coming Messiah (Isaiah 61:1-2), He also made an astonishing announcement: “Today this Scripture is fulfilled in your hearing” (Luke 4:21). Jesus plainly and succinctly announced that He was Isaiah’s marvelous Messiah.
Jesus and the New Testament apostles and prophets quoted from the prophet Isaiah dozens of times—primarily to prove that Jesus of Nazareth was the long-awaited Messiah. Jesus perfectly fulfilled every prophecy, sufficiently proving3 His identification as humankind’s Divine, Sovereign Savior.
Any rational person knows that it is beyond the ability of humanity to foretell the future. People can have knowledge of many things about the past and the present, but no one knows the future. We may speculate about what the stock market is going to do in the coming days and years, or we can make an educated guess at who is going to win a particular game, etc., but no mere human being actually knows the future.4
I live in a tri-county area of Alabama with a population of nearly 400,000 people. For many years, I have passed a “fortune-teller’s” place of business on my way to and from work. Are there long lines at this establishment? Are there crowds of people anxiously waiting outside for someone to tell them who is going to win the lottery, the Super Bowl, or the next election? Nothing could be farther from the truth. “Business” is, for all intents and purposes, nonexistent. It seems evident that the vast majority of people have come to the reasonable conclusion that only an all-knowing, supernatural Being knows the future.5
The Bible acknowledges such a logical conclusion about the knowledge of future events. Jeremiah wrote: “When the word of the prophet comes to pass, the prophet will be known as one whom the Lord has truly sent” (Jeremiah 28:9). On the other hand, “Who is he who speaks and it comes to pass, when the Lord has not commanded it?” (Lamentations 3:37). That is, those who prophesy things that do not come to pass, “the Lord has not sent;” “they prophesy falsely” (Jeremiah 28:15; 29:8-9; cf. Deuteronomy 18:21-22). Indeed, no one accurately foretells the future unless the omniscient God of heaven informs him of it.6
If only God knows the future, then a logical way to prove that (1) He exists, (2) the Bible writers were correct about the Messiah, and (3) Jesus was and is the long-awaited Sovereign Messiah is (a) if real prophecies about the Messiah were made, and (b) Jesus fulfilled those prophecies.
How Do We Know the Prophecies Were Real?
How do we know that the supposed prophecies of Isaiah were not simply made up in the first century? How can we know that Jesus and the New Testament writers did not fake the “future-telling” of Isaiah? Could it be that Jesus, Paul, and all other first-century apostles and prophets were mere con men who claimed Jesus fulfilled prophecies (that were never actually made)?
First, if Jesus and the Bible writers were liars, then they repeatedly pronounced their own destruction, for they claimed that lying is sinful and that all impenitent liars will suffer eternal punishment.7
Second, the early audiences of Jesus and the New Testament prophets were devout Jews,8 who could have easily fact-checked their use of Isaiah and whether Jesus fit the description of the Messiah.
Third, non-biblical sources refer to and quote Isaiah. The first-century Jewish historian Josephus, for example, refers to “the book which Isaiah left behind him of his prophecies.”9 Josephus then quotes from and summarizes Isaiah 44:28-45:3 and notes how “this was foretold by Isaiah one hundred and forty years before the temple was demolished” (in 586 B.C.). Indeed, Josephus believed that Isaiah lived, prophesied, and wrote his book long before the New Testament was penned.
Finally, and perhaps most importantly, we have tangible, verifiable archaeological evidence that the book of Isaiah was in existence in its totality long before Jesus or any New Testament writer ever could have invented the many Messianic prophecies in Isaiah. Among the Dead Sea Scrolls (discovered in the 1940s and 50s) were 19 different manuscripts of Isaiah, as well as five commentaries10 on the book.11 Most scholars acknowledge that these manuscripts were made several decades or even a century or two before Jesus began His ministry around A.D. 27, and well before the first New Testament books were penned around the middle of the first-century A.D. One manuscript of Isaiah, known as the “Great Isaiah Scroll” (1QIsaa), contains the book of Isaiah in its entirety. What’s more, the scroll is conservatively dated to at least 100 B.C. (and very possibly as much as 200 B.C.).12
Though skeptics may reject that the Messianic prophet Isaiah actually prophesied in the 8th century B.C. (in the days of Jewish kings Uzziah, Jotham, Ahaz, and Hezekiah, as Isaiah 1:1 claims), they cannot justifiably dismiss the hard evidence among the Dead Sea Scrolls. Verifiable proof exists that the New Testament writers did not invent the Isaiah prophecies and mislead simpletons about Jesus’ alleged Messiahship. On the contrary, it was largely an in-depth study of the Old Testament scriptures that led many thousands of first-century Jews (as well as countless Gentiles) to acknowledge Jesus’ fulfillment of the many Messianic prophecies.13
Why Should We Believe the New Testament Writers?
Some might argue that, though Isaiah’s prophecies were already in existence well before the time of Jesus, we cannot really know if Jesus fulfilled those prophecies. The evidence, however, firmly stands on the side of the New Testament writers, indicating that Jesus actually did fulfill the Old Testament Messianic prophecies.
First, Jesus of Nazareth was a real historical Person, affirmed even by various first and second century hostile, secular sources.14
Second, the case built for the authenticity of Jesus’ fulfillment of Isaiah’s prophecies stands upon not what one writer testified but multiple independent writers. Even leading unbelievers admit that the events in Jesus’ life were recorded by more than one writer.15 If scholars of ancient history generally render facts unimpeachable when two or three sources are in agreement, then the multiple attestations of Jesus’ fulfillment of Old Testament prophecies (by Matthew, Mark, Luke, John, James, Paul, Peter, and Jude) is extremely impressive.
Third, as stated earlier, if the Bible writers were sinful deceivers, they repeatedly pronounced their own destruction, claiming that impenitent liars would suffer eternal damnation.
Fourth, as Wayne Jackson observed, “If the New Testament writers did not believe in eternal accountability, and so callously fabricated the documents that affirmed Jesus’ divine nature, why would they have subjected themselves to the persecution that accompanied Christianity—since this life would be all they believed they would ever enjoy? It makes no sense at all. This is a problem that no skeptic can explain. The New Testament documents are reliable!”16
Fifth, the New Testament apostles and prophets consistently challenged first-century Jews to compare the recent life of Jesus of Nazareth with the Old Testament prophecies concerning the Messiah. The apostle Paul’s “custom” was to enter Jewish synagogues on the Sabbath and reason with the Jews from the Old Testament about the Christ, “explaining” and “demonstrating” Jesus’ fulfillment of the Messianic prophecies.17
Sixth, Paul’s teachings could withstand thorough, analytical scrutiny. The Bereans, for example, “searched the Scriptures daily to find out whether these things were so. Therefore many of them believed” (Acts 17:11-12).
This leads us to our last point: In the immediate 30 years following the life of Jesus, tens of thousands of Jews (Acts 21:20), including “a great many” Jewish priests (Acts 6:7), became followers of Jesus, the Christ. What did these Jews believe about the Old Testament? That it is the inspired Word of God, just as it claims thousands of times. And what did these Old Testament believers realize about Jesus of Nazareth, Who had only recently lived among them? That, indeed, He was the long-awaited Messiah.
Did Isaiah not predict (among other things) that a virgin-born, Galilee-dwelling, morally perfect, miracle-working Divine Ruler would be afflicted, oppressed, wounded, struck, bruised, pierced, and spat upon? Did Isaiah not predict that the Messianic suffering Servant would be numbered with the transgressors and yet also be buried with the rich? He did.
Who came along hundreds of years later and fulfilled all of these prophecies (and more) with exact precision? Who proved His Messiahship with such fulfillment? Who did the New Testament apostles and prophets repeatedly testify (at their own peril) with great specificity the One and Only fulfiller of these prophecies? Jesus of Nazareth.
Though many more prophecies are found throughout the Old Testament, Isaiah’s accurate predictions alone are more than capable of sufficiently spotlighting the Messiah, Who came along hundreds of years later as the suffering Servant and ruling Redeemer. Who else but Jesus could the prophesied Messiah have been?
1 Isaiah also foretold of those who rejected Jesus’ teachings.
2 Philippians 3:4-6.
3 Along with the supernatural miracles He worked (John 20:30-31).
4 Perhaps there is no better example in recent times of humankind’s inability to know the future than Donald Trump’s rise in politics. Do you recall how, early on in the primary process, virtually no one thought the life-long businessman, Donald Trump, would ever be elected President of the United States? Even the most seemingly politically informed Americans—both Democrats and Republicans—did not give Donald Trump a chance (at least early on in the process). Yet, the virtually incomprehensible happened in 2017: Mr. Trump won the Republican nomination and then went on to become the 45th President of the United States.
5 Granted, atheists do not believe in God, but even they know that if, theoretically, such an omniscient Being does exist, then He would have the ability to know the future.
6 Diviners may occasionally and vaguely “predict” something that comes to pass, but such guesswork or weatherman-like predictions are far from the supernatural foreknowledge of God.
7 John 8:44; Acts 5:3; Ephesians 4:25; Revelation 21:8.
8 E.g., Jews traveled from all over—from many distant lands—to Jerusalem on the first Pentecost after Jesus’ resurrection and heard various Old Testament scriptures applied to Jesus and the establishment of His Kingdom (Acts 2:5-40). Devout Jews who were in synagogues on Sabbath days were challenged to compare the recent life of Christ with the prophecies He was said to have fulfilled (Acts 13:14ff; 17:1-4,10-12).
9 Antiquities of the Jews, 11:1:2.
10 These commentaries are known as pesharim [John D. Barry (2013), “The Great Isaiah Scroll and the Original Bible: An Interview with Dr. Peter Flint,” Associates for Biblical Research, April 17, biblearchaeology.org/research/topics/ancient-manuscripts/2812-the-great-isaiah-scroll-and-the-original-bible-an-interview-with-dr-peter-flint].
11 Obviously, if a commentary exists on a book, then the book on which that commentary is based has already been in existence.
12 Even the pro-atheistic, pro-evolution magazine New Scientist admitted that the Great Isaiah Scroll “was completed around the 2nd century BC” [Krista Charles (2021), “AI Analysis Shows Two Scribes Wrote One of the Dead Sea Scrolls,” New Scientist, April 21, https://www.newscientist.com/article/2275298-ai-analysis-shows-two-scribes-wrote-one-of-the-dead-sea-scrolls/].
13 Cf. Luke 24:27; Acts 9:20; 17:10-12; 21:20; 28:23.
14 See Kyle Butt (2000), “The Historical Christ—Fact or Fiction?” Reason & Revelation, 20:1-6, January, https://apologeticspress.org/the-historical-christ-fact-or-fiction-187/.
15 Cf. Dan Barker (1992), Losing Faith in Faith (Madison, WI: Freedom From Religion Foundation), p. 179; cf. also Tad S. Clements (1990), Science vs. Religion (Buffalo, NY: Prometheus), p. 193.
16 “Are the Gospel Writers Credible?” (2022), Christian Courier, https://christiancourier.com/articles/are-the-gospel-writers-credible.
17 Acts 17:1-4; cf. 9:20; 13:5; 13:14-41; 18:4.
REPRODUCTION & DISCLAIMERS: We are happy to grant permission for this article to be reproduced in part or in its entirety, as long as our stipulations are observed.