While there may be disagreement over the fullest understanding of Scripture’s term “the people of God,” there is no disagreement that at minimum it includes the people of Israel as an ethnic group. This is certainly how Joseph would have understood the words of the angel of the Lord when he said, “She will bear a son, and you will call his name Jesus, for he will save his people from their sins (Matt. 1:21, ESV).” But as the Gospels and subsequent history reveal, the people of Israel have largely rejected Jesus as the Messiah, the Savior from their sins (as well as others).
With a desire to provide a robust, thorough and evangelistic tool to aid in the evangelism of the Jewish people, Chosen People Ministries leader Mitch Glaser has teamed up with Darrell Bock and a solid line up of evangelical scholars to produce The Gospel According to Isaiah 53: Encountering the Suffering Servant in Jewish and Christian Theology. As Glaser states, “This book was written to help readers to utilize the truths of this magnificent chapter in bringing the Good News to those who do not yet know Jesus,” with a desire to “deepen their understanding of Isaiah 53 and to better equip the saints for ministry among the Jewish people” (p. 21).
Structure of the Book
Part One gives an overview of both the Jewish and Christian interpretations of Isaiah 53. The Christian interpretations, though they may vary on some details, hold in common the belief that the Suffering Servant in Isaiah 53 is Jesus Christ the Son of God. Richard Averbeck deals with the literary, historical and hermeneutical issues surrounding Isaiah 53. In chapter two Michael Brown lays out the various Jewish interpretations of Isaiah 53 which all have in common the Suffering Servant as the Jewish people themselves. Brown walks through Isaiah 53 verse by verse giving the Jewish interpretation of each as well as a response.
Part Two deals with Isaiah 53 and biblical theology. Walter Kaiser Jr. addresses the issue of identifying the nature of the Servant of the Lord. As the section indicates, Kaiser deals with the biblical theological identity of the Servant of the Lord. Kaiser really brings to the fore how the New Testament Gospels continue this Servant of the Lord theme/identity which is fulfilled in Jesus Christ (Matt. 20:28; Mk. 10:45; Lk. 22:37). The chapters by Darrell Bock and Craig A. Evans show the reader that Isaiah 53 is quoted or alluded to throughout the entire New Testament in every book and author. In the conclusion of the book, Bock has provided a number of helpful charts showing the quotations of and allusions to Isaiah 53 in the NT. Perhaps the best chapter of part two is David L. Allen’s chapter on the substitutionary atonement aspect of Isaiah 53. After a solid treatment of the subject, Allen concludes with the following:
The upshot of Isaiah 53 is threefold: 1) Isaiah clearly states that God ordained the Servant’s suffering, 2) the Servant is not suffering for his own sins, and 3) the Servant substitutes himself for the people and suffer for them. (p. 184)
Robert B. Chisholm Jr. closes out part two by addressing the forgiveness and salvation aspects of Isaiah 53. The Suffering Servant both bears the guilt of his people and removes the penalty their sin incurred, thus saving them from their sins.
Part Three addresses a number of practical issues related to Isaiah 53. John S. Feinberg gives a timely discussion on the postmodern themes in Isaiah 53. Capitalizing on the narrative emphasis of postmoderns, Feinberg stresses the personal narrative structure of the chapter stating, “It is also the story of a God who wants so desperately to have a relationship with his people that he sent his servant to tell them and show them how much he cares for them” (p. 214). Mitch Glaser then gives his own testimony of how Isaiah 53 was instrumental in his conversion. Glaser overviews some of the various methods in which Isaiah 53 has been and is used in Jewish evangelism. He then details the polemical use, major points of argumentation from, contemporary objections to and responses to those objections to Isaiah 53.
There are a number of elements that distinguish The Gospel According to Isaiah 53. First, the contributors of the book are all conservative evangelical scholars who are well known in their fields of expertise. These men are qualified to speak in the fields their chapters address. Second, the book has an evangelistic and apologetic focus. The desire of the contributors is to equip the reader with the apologetic tools they need to defend the Christian interpretation of Isaiah 53 as well as use it to evangelize Jews with the chapter. Third, the book is accessible to Christians ranging from pastors to laymen. To be sure there is plenty of detailed exegesis and technical analysis of Isaiah 52-53 and its themes. However, much of the book is accessible to average Christians and it will make them more familiar with the contents of Isaiah 53 and equip them to engage in Jewish evangelism. Fourth, while the book clearly defends a Christ-centered interpretation of Isaiah 53, all of the contributors interact with the standard Jewish interpretations of the chapter. Not only is there a chapter on the Jewish interpretations of Isaiah 53 each contributor interacts with these interpretations throughout their defense of the Christian interpretation. This side-by-side presentation makes the book better accomplish its goal of equipping the Christian with the tools they need to evangelize Jews. Finally, as mentioned, the book is very exegetical in nature as most chapters in part one and two mine the depths of the relevant verses.
If you are looking to gain a deeper and clearer understanding of the Christ-centered nature of Isaiah 53 and want to be better equipped to evangelize Jews for Christ then The Gospel According to Isaiah 53 is the best place to start. This would be a great book for a Bible study or to use as a guide in one-on-one while witnessing to a Jewish friend or family neighbor.
Craig Hurst received his BA in Church Ministries from Clearwater Christian College and is pursuing the MA in theology at Calvary Baptist Theological Seminary in Lansdale, PA. He currently lives outside of Grand Rapids, MI and attends Grace Community Church, where he serves as a volunteer youth worker (along with his wife), and teaches some elective classes. He blogs at Theology for the Road.