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Portraits of Christ: Isaiah

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Introduction: Talmudic References to Jesus

Tonight I want to investigate he historical and religious evidence for our belief in Jesus Christ. It is often acceptable to simply believe in Jesus without any reason for doing so. And if Scripture gave us the command to do so, we would certainly encourage you to senselessly believe in Jesus. Yet, Scripture does not encourage us to do such things. The Scriptures don’t require us to believe without evidence. Rather, there are several proofs that render us the reason to believe.
Many Jewish writings, notably the Talmud, have been said to refer to Jesus in negative terms. The Talmud is a compilation of commentaries written over time on the Mishnah. These commentaries were oral traditions that were given by the early rabbis. It was the primary source for study during the first century. It also served as a base text for understanding how to live as a legal and moral Jew. It shapes the understanding of the Jewish mind and way of living. The Mishnah is a collection of writings containing the regulations and beliefs of key rabbis from the 3rd century who have defined what it means to live as a Jew.
In its broadest sense, the Talmud is a set of books consisting of the Mishna (“repeated study”), the Gemara (“completion”), and certain auxiliary materials. The Mishna is a collection of originally oral laws supplementing scriptural laws. (Britannica)
Here’s what the Talmud had to say about Jesus:
The Talmud contains the following negative writings:
The Lexham Bible Dictionary Summary of Key Passages



b. Shabbat 104b

Miriam, a women’s hairdresser, committed adultery with Pantera; therefore the “son of Stada” is the “son of Pantera.”

b. Sanhedrin 107b

Jesus was a disciple of Joshua ben Perahiah and fled with him to Egypt during persecution that came during the reign of Alexander Jannaeus; Jesus later became an idolater (compare b. Sotah 47a).

b. Sanhedrin 43a

Jesus had 5 disciples and was hung on the Sabbath of the Passover for practicing sorcery and leading Israel astray.

b. Sanhedrin 67a

The “son of Stada” was hanged the day before Passover for apostasy and idolatry.

Summary of Talmudic writings: The following passages are the ones most commonly invoked in the discussion of how Jesus is portrayed in the Talmud. Many of the relevant portions had been cut from printed editions of the Talmud until the 20th century, but recent English translations like Neusner’s Babylonian Talmud include the passages. These passages and more are discussed in detailed treatments of the topic such as those by Laible (“Jesus Christ in the Talmud”), Herford (Christianity in the Talmud), Pick (Jesus in the Talmud), and Schäfer (/Jesus in the Talmud). (Mangum, D. (2016). Jesus in the Talmud. In J. D. Barry, D. Bomar, D. R. Brown, R. Klippenstein, D. Mangum, C. Sinclair Wolcott, L. Wentz, E. Ritzema, & W. Widder (Eds.), The Lexham Bible Dictionary. Lexham Press.)
The question is: Is there anything in the Old Testament that provides any insight on what the Messiah should be? If so, does Jesus fit the description?

The Prophet Isaiah

The prophet Isaiah was the son of Amoz. He was married to a prophetess and they had two sons together: Shear-jashub and Maher-shalal-hash-baz. Isaiah’s name and the name of his sons are significant and telling of the times he prophesied during.
Shear-jashub means a remnant shall return (Isaiah 7:3).
Maher-shalal-hash-baz means quickly plunder; it hurries, the loot (Isaiah 8:1, 3).
Isaiah means Yahweh saves.
The prophet’s ministry covered four kings of Judah:
Furthermore, the Assyrians ruled during Isaiah’s ministry and he spanned a total of four Assyrian kings. Though, his lifetime covered these times, his prophecies covered a span of history went beyond his lifetime. Isaiah 1-39 has a special emphasis on the things occurring during Isaiah’s own lifetime.
As Israel was being chastised through the Assyrian Empire, Isaiah warned Israel of her sins and called for repentance. An example that covers Isaiah’s current time while looking into the future is found in Isaiah 39:5-8. Here, we see Isaiah speaking of Babylon who is yet to come.
However in Isaiah 40-66, Isaiah’s prophetic concerns change from that of Assyria and turns to the time of Babylon’s reign. The change of the world’s most dominant empire led the prophet to see new things. Consequently, he focuses on how God would act in lieu of Babylon’s dominance and even speaks of its demise through Cyrus and the Persian Empire (Isaiah 45:1).
The point we want to consider tonight is the portrait that Isaiah has about the coming Messiah and the role He plays in Israel’s history. Furthermore, it is important to recognize how the apostles and first century followers used Isaiah’s writings to define the role of the Messiah in their own time. Jesus actually uses the writings of Isaiah to refer to Himself. Furthermore, Isaiah is the most quoted prophet in the Bible. So, he’s worth looking at and understanding to see how we are to interpret and understand the life and ministry of Jesus Christ.

Isaiah’s Portraits of Jesus

Born of a virgin (Isaiah 7:14; Matthew 1:23)
Leader from Exile (Isaiah 11)
Light to the Gentiles and eternal ruler (Isaiah 9:1-7; Matthew 4:15-16)
Justice-Bringer (Isaiah 42:1-7)
Suffering Servant (Isaiah 52:14-53:12; Matthew 8:14-17, Acts 8:32-33; Luke 22:37)
Leader of New Creation (Isaiah 65:17, 66:22; 2 Corinthians 5:17, 2 Peter 3:13, Revelation 21:1)
Isaiah’s book ends with a glorious hope of Israel’s restoration and the Messiah bringing of a new creation and new earth. Essentially when we think about what this new creation will look like, we imagine it looking like the things we just covered. This new creation includes:
Israel freed from exile
The nations brought to the light of Israel’s King and Messiah
Kingdom of justice
The sins of all covered by the suffering servant
New creation begins


When we think about Isaiah’s portrait of Jesus, we find that he sees Jesus as a restorative figure whose purpose is to bring Israel back together for the purpose of bringing the world back together. Isaiah’s portrait of Jesus is not simply one of a soteriological figure who redeems “us” from our sins. This is too narrow of a view. Rather, it is a view of a figure who exists in a particular time within history to bring about God’s restorative and climactic work.
Now, what does this mean for us today? It means our vision of Christ must expand to include the whole biblical picture of Christ. Furthermore, if our ministry is to reflect the ministry of Christ and His first followers, we must also expand our ministerial practices.
That is, we are not just called to “save souls for heaven.” We are also called to
free people from their bondage (both naturally and spiritually)
be a light to those who are not exposed to the testimony of Jesus
carry and be people of justice
suffer for the name of Christ
bring about new creation through the work of the Spirit
The identity of Christ should inform our ministerial obligation. If it is not, we are living out a faith that replicates a Christ the biblical narrative is not informed of. These portraits should help us build stronger ministries and a better appreciation for Christ.
Now as we think through the New Testament writers, we should understand that their portraits align with the Old Testament portrait. For, Jesus is not defined by the imagination of the apostles and New Testament writers. Rather, they have used the Old Testament as their source to interpret their own times.
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