Firstborn from the dead

I love Isaiah 53. This Old Testament chapter gives such insights into the promised Messiah – who he would be, what he would suffer, and how he would heal the broken relationship between God and His creation. Following cross-references to other passages in both the Old and New Testaments, brings to light many hidden details woven into this remarkable prophecy.

Seeing that we are coming up to yet another Passover anniversary (the Christian’s “Easter”) which pointed forward to the sacrificial work of the “Lamb of God” slain to set us free from death, it seems completely fitting to focus this blog on Isaiah 53.

Who Will Believe the Report?

The Messianic chapter begins with a despairing remark, “Who has believed what he has heard from us?” (ESV) It seems incredible that a prophecy given a thousand years before it was fulfilled would not be believed when it finally occurred.

However, outside of  Isaiah 53 and Psalm 22, there are not many prophecies which speak so clearly and specifically about the sufferings the Messiah would endure. This may be the reason that few understood that suffering and death was part of God’s plan for his Son’s life. When one understands the role of suffering in the life of the Messiah, it becomes clear that the Law was also full of allusions to his sacrifice. The Messiah is the Passover lamb, the sin offering, the blood that cleanses and atones, and much more. As Jesus Christ said to his disciples, “These are the words which I spake unto you, while I was yet with you, that all things must be fulfilled, which were written in the law of Moses, and in the prophets, and in the psalms, concerning me. Then opened he their understanding, that they might understand the scriptures, And said unto them, Thus it is written, and thus it behoved Christ to suffer, and to rise from the dead the third day:” (Luke 24:44-46)

Everything about Jesus Christ’s life was prophesied far in advance of his coming. Looking back on the Law of Moses, the Prophets (such as Isaiah) and the Psalms, we can view the details and understand his life in a fuller way. Click here for a cross-reference chart showing many connections between Isaiah 53 and the Old and New Testaments.

In the New Testament, John 12:37-38 quotes the despairing remark from Isaiah 53:1, “Though he had done so many signs before them, they still did not believe in him, so that the word spoken by the prophet Isaiah might be fulfilled:” Even though Jesus did many indisputable miracles, few believed in him – he was not what they were expecting their Messiah to be.

A Root and A Branch

We are told in Isaiah 53:2 that, “he shall grow up before him as a tender plant, and as a root out of a dry ground.” This word ‘root’ has the idea of a ‘sucker plant’ – a new growth coming from an old root. So many prophecies of Messiah refer to a ‘root’ or ‘branch’ coming from the root of Jesse (Isaiah 11:1-2, 9-10, Jeremiah 23:5-6; Zechariah 6:12-13). David, the son of Jesse, had been promised that one of his descendants would be ‘God’s Son,’ a king who will sit on David’s throne FOREVER! (2 Samuel 7:11-17, Psalm 89:20-48)

When the angel Gabriel told Mary she would have a son, in Luke 1, he said that, “the Lord God shall give unto him the throne of his father David: And he shall reign over the house of Jacob for ever; and of his kingdom there shall be no end.”

Jesus Christ is called the ‘Son of David’ in Matthew 1:1, and the apostles refer to him as being a descendant of David in Acts 2:29-30; 13:22-23. While Jesus was and is the ‘Son of God,’ he is also the son of Abraham, Jesse, David, Nathan… and so on down the line to Mary.  As explained to Mary by the Angel Gabriel, “The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you; therefore the child to be born will be called holy—the Son of God.” (Luke 1:34-35) God’s Holy Spirit power acted miraculously upon an egg in Mary’s womb (who was herself a descendant of Abraham and David), creating a baby without the involvement of a human father. God, who can form a living man from dust as he did with Adam, heal barren wombs to bear children, and restore a ‘dead’ womb as he did with Sarah at 90 years old, can certainly create a baby from an egg, without a sperm! 

The Messiah’s Appearance

Isaiah 53:2 also tells us that, “he had no form or majesty that we should look at him,
and no beauty that we should desire him.” The words and phrases used here seem to describe the Messiah’s physical presence, speaking of his form (figure) and his beauty (appearance), and telling us that he was not a man to be admired or desired for his outward appearance. Such a revelation may be surprising as we are used to seeing the very attractive, well-formed, blue-eyed paintings of Jesus. Human-beings generally like their heroes to be handsome, good-looking individuals. However, perhaps it was God’s plan to diminish the outward appearance of his Son, in order that we might be attracted to the Messiah’s character and godly attributes.

Despised and Rejected

Sadly, Isaiah 53:3 tells us that the Messiah would be ‘despised and rejected,’ and that we would turn away from him and not hold him in high esteem. This is echoed in Psalm 22:6-8, “But I am a worm, and no man; a reproach of men, and despised of the people.” Had Jesus been built like King Saul – a head taller than everyone and very handsome, he may have won many hearts for the wrong reasons. Instead, at the end of his life, hardly any stood by his side and most called for his destruction. As it says in John 1:10-11, “... the world knew him not. He came unto his own, and his own received him not.”

Why Was the Messiah Afflicted?

“Surely he hath borne our griefs, and carried our sorrows, we are told in Isaiah 53:4-5, “yet we did esteem him stricken, smitten of God, and afflicted. But he was wounded for our transgressions, he was bruised for our iniquities: the chastisement of our peace was upon him; and with his stripes we are healed.” This is one of the clearest prophecies in the Old Testament telling us that the Messiah was to suffer for OUR sins. Understanding the sacrifices in the Law of Moses, we see many allusions and types, but here in Isaiah 53, we are told clearly that the Messiah was to be the sacrifice for sin – a sacrifice that brought healing. All the other sacrifices in the Law had been made in anticipation of the real sacrifice that God required, “Wherefore the law was our schoolmaster to bring us unto Christ, that we might be justified by faith.” (Galatians 3:24) God required a willing sacrifice from a man who had never sinned and didn’t deserve to die; a man who chose, everyday of his life, to submit his will to his Father’s. (John 5:30; Luke 22:42; Hebrews 10:3-10) Unlike the sacrifices under the Law which needed to be offered again and again for sin, ‘Christ was ONCE offered to bear the sins of many; and unto them that look for him shall he appear the second time without sin unto salvation.’ (Hebrews 9:25-28; see also 1 Peter 2:24; 1 Peter 3:15; Romans 4:25)

Like Sheep That Go Astray

In verse 6 of Isaiah 53, we have the simile, “All we like sheep have gone astray;
we have turned—every one—to his own way.” Another passage in the Old Testament gives a reason for this scattering of the sheep. Ezekiel 34 alludes to the leaders of Israel being selfish shepherds, more interested in eating the flock, than in caring for them. In Ezekiel 34, God has compassion on his lost sheep, saying, “Behold, I, even I, will both search for my sheep, and seek them out.” Jesus refers to himself as the good shepherd who would ‘give his life’ for the sheep (John 10:11). In speaking of Jesus’ death and resurrection in 1 Peter 2:24-25 it says, “Who his own self bare our sins in his own body on the tree, that we, being dead to sins, should live unto righteousness: by whose stripes ye were healed. For ye were as sheep going astray; but are now returned unto the Shepherd and Bishop of your souls.”

The Passover Lamb

Not only is Jesus the good shepherd, but he is also the lamb! In verse 7 of Isaiah 53, we are told that he was brought ‘as a lamb to the slaughter, and as a sheep before her shearers is dumb, so he opened not his mouth.’

The feast of Passover pointed forward to the Messiah’s sacrifice as the lamb of God.’ Exodus 12:17-23 records the details of this feast, when the blood from a ‘lamb without blemish’ was painted on the doorposts.  Painting the doorposts with the lamb’s blood saved the firstborns from death when the destroying angel passed through Egypt. The angel ‘passed over’ the homes with blood on the lintels and doorposts.

Jesus Christ was crucified at the time of Passover. (Luke 22:7, 14-19) He is spoken of as, ‘the Lamb slain from the foundation of the world,’ (Revelation 13:8) since the promise of his sacrifice was given to Adam and Eve after the very first sin (Genesis 3:15).

When the Ethiopian Eunuch was travelling in his chariot, puzzling over the words in Isaiah 53, ‘like a lamb that is led to the slaughter, and like a sheep that before its shearers is silent, so he opened not his mouth,’ Philip explained that the lamb referred to in this passage is the Lord Jesus. (Acts 8:32-35) In Hebrews 9:13-14, we are told, “For if the blood of goats and bulls, and the sprinkling of defiled persons with the ashes of a heifer, sanctify for the purification of the flesh, how much more will the blood of Christ, who through the eternal Spirit offered himself without blemish to God, purify our conscience from dead works to serve the living God.”

Cut off

How was the Messiah taken from ‘prison’ and ‘judgement,’ as verse 8 of Isaiah 53, indicates? ‘Prison’ has the idea of ‘constraint or closure, or oppression.‘ ‘Judgement’ has the idea of ‘a verdict, or a sentence.’

Jesus was given an unfair trial, greatly oppressed and then led out to be crucified. He was cut off out of the land of the living: for the transgression of my people was he stricken.’

There is another Old Testament reference to the Messiah being ‘cut off.’ Daniel 9:26-27 also records a prophecy of Messiah’s coming, giving a prophetic timeline for when he would appear which begins with the command to return and build Jerusalem. Daniel was told, “And after threescore and two weeks shall Messiah be cut off, but not for himself: and the people of the prince that shall come shall destroy the city and the sanctuary; and the end thereof shall be with a flood, and unto the end of the war desolations are determined. And he shall confirm the covenant with many for one week: and in the midst of the week he shall cause the sacrifice and the oblation to cease…”

The Messiah would be ‘cut off’ for the sins of others, not his own. With his ultimate, willing sacrifice of himself, he ended the need for sacrifices and oblations to be offered according to the Law. “…with his own blood He entered the Most Holy Place once for all, having obtained eternal redemption… now, once at the end of the ages, He has appeared to put away sin by the sacrifice of Himself.” (Hebrews 9:12, 26)

A Grave With the Wicked and the Rich

We are told in Isaiah 53:9, that ‘he made his grave with the wicked, and with the rich in his death; because he had done no violence, neither was any deceit in his mouth.” Jesus Christ died between two criminals (Luke 23:33). A rich man named Joseph, claimed his body and buried Jesus in his own newly-hewn tomb. The fact that there was never any deceit or guile in Jesus’ mouth, is reiterated in 1 Peter 2:21-23, “because Christ also suffered for us, leaving us an example, that ye should follow his steps: Who did no sin, neither was guile found in his mouth: Who, when he was reviled, reviled not again; when he suffered, he threatened not; but committed himself to him that judgeth righteously:”

It Pleased the Lord to Bruise Him?

So, why did it ‘please the LORD to bruise him,’ as we are told in Isaiah 53:10? It ‘pleased’ the LORD only in the sense that it was God’s plan and purpose from the very beginning. After the first sin, God promised to bring a seed of the woman’ to crush the ‘head of the serpent’ (Genesis 3:15). Once sin had entered the beautiful world God created, the only way to overcome the sentence of death, was for sin to be fatally crushed by the perfect obedience of another. (Hebrews 2:14) In the process of crushing the serpent’s head (a fatal blow), the seed of the woman was to be ‘bruised on the heel’ by the seed of the serpent (a temporary wound). We are told in 2 Corinthians 5:18-21 that God was in Christ, reconciling the world unto himself, not imputing their trespasses unto them…For he made him to be sin for us, who knew no sin; that we might be made the righteousness of God in him.”

A Happy Outcome

Finally, in the last couple of verses in Isaiah 53, we reach the happy outcome of the sufferings, when the Messiah will “see the travail of his soul, and be satisfied: by his knowledge shall my righteous servant justify many; for he shall bear their iniquities.”

Now that the sacrifice has been accomplished and Jesus sits at his Father’s right hand, he sees the many sons and daughters he has brought to glory. He is not ashamed to call us ‘brethren,’ and to see us as the children which God hath given me.’ (Hebrews 2:10-13) By his obedience ‘many will be made righteous.’ (Romans 5:19) Where Adam’s lack of obedience brought death on all God’s creation, “through one man’s righteous act the free gift came to all men, resulting in the justification of life” (Romans 5:15-19).

Resurrection

However, it wasn’t just the death of Jesus that brought us life. If he was still dead, Paul says in 1 Corinthians 15:12-19, that we would still have ‘no hope,’ and all those “who have fallen asleep in Christ have perished.” If perfect obedience led to nothing but death – what kind of a hope would that be?

However, this is the good news – “But in fact Christ has been raised from the dead, the firstfruits of those who have fallen asleep. For as by a man came death, by a man has come also the resurrection of the dead. For as in Adam all die, so also in Christ shall all be made alive.”

Through Jesus Christ’s willing sacrifice, our sins can be forgiven and we, like him (the firstfruits), can be raised from the dead and given immortal life. (1 John 3:2-3; Romans 8:29) Where Adam brought the curse of death on the world, Jesus Christ brought the gift of life forever!

Thank you, Lord Jesus, for giving up everything in this life, submitting your will to your Father’s, and enduring great suffering in order to bring salvation to the world!

 

Since Jesus was the first to rise from the dead’ (Acts 26), and he will ‘transform our lowly body to be like his glorious body’ (Phil. 3) – it only makes sense to investigate what happened to Jesus’ earthly body? Was it left behind in the tomb to rot and decay? Was Jesus given immortality at his resurrection, or did he already possess an undying spirit before he was crucified? Does it matter? And is the promise of resurrection crucial to the hope of living forever?

Did Jesus’ Body Rot and Decay?

When Mary came to wrap Jesus’ body with spices – the tomb was empty! The body was gone! (John 20) The linen cloths that had bound his body were lying by themselves – Jesus’ body had been unwrapped. While the disciples were perplexed that they could not find his body, the angels explained, “Why do you seek the living among the dead? He is not here, but has risen. (Luke 24:5-6 ESV)

Later, the guards were bribed to say that the disciples had stolen Jesus’ body away as they slept. (Matthew 28:11-15) However, Peter clearly lays out the truth of the matter in Acts 2.

Referring to an Old Testament prophecy given to David, Peter says, “… this Jesus… God raised him up, loosing the pangs of death, because it was not possible for him to be held by it. For David says concerning him, ‘my flesh also will dwell in hope. For you will not abandon my soul to Hades, or let your Holy One see corruption...’ Brothers, I may say to you with confidence about the patriarch David that he both died and was buried, and his tomb is with us to this day. Being therefore a prophet, and knowing that God had sworn with an oath to him that he would set one of his descendants on his throne, he foresaw and spoke about the resurrection of the Christ, that he was not abandoned to Hades, nor did his flesh see corruption. This Jesus God raised up, and of that we all are witnesses.” (Acts 2:22-32 – Quote from Psalm 16:9-10)

“My Flesh Also will Dwell in Hope”

Psalm 16:9-10, the passage quoted above, is a ‘Messianic’ prophecy. After his resurrection, Jesus explained to his disciples that everything about him was clearly prophesied “in the Law of Moses and the Prophets and the Psalms.” (Luke 24:25-27, 44-46) God had clearly foretold in the Old Testament what would happen to Jesus’ body. As Peter points out, the Psalm says, “my flesh also will dwell in hope. For you will not abandon my soul to Hades, or let your Holy One see corruption...”

The only part of us that can decay is our mortal body – our ‘flesh’. Jesus’ ‘flesh’ was going to rest in hope – hope of what? Hope of being made alive again! He would not see ‘corruption’. This word ‘corruption’ in Strong’s Concordance has the meaning to ‘decay’. Strong’s personal definition is ‘to rot thoroughly’! Only a mortal body can rot. Jesus’ mortal body did not! If you want to investigate this topic more thoroughly – click here for our Discovery Lesson on Resurrection

“Did not see Corruption”

The Apostle Paul made a similar argument in Acts 13, saying, “And we bring you the good news that what God promised to the fathers, this he has fulfilled to us their children by raising Jesus, as also it is written in the second Psalm,“‘You are my Son, today I have begotten you.’ And as for the fact that he raised him from the dead, no more to return to corruption, he has spoken in this way, “‘I will give you the holy and sure blessings of David.’ Therefore he says also in another Psalm, “‘You will not let your Holy One see corruption.’ For David, after he had served the purpose of God in his own generation, fell asleep and was laid with his fathers and saw corruption, but he whom God raised up did not see corruption.”

The Apostle Paul clearly points out that this Psalm couldn’t be talking about David; they all knew that David ‘fell asleep’ and ‘saw corruption’. But Jesus, did ‘not see corruption’. His mortal body was brought back to life! He is the ‘firstborn from the dead.’ (Colossians 1:18)

The Lineage of Jesus Christ

Why is it important that Jesus’ mortal body be raised? It is very important in order to fulfill the Old Testament prophecies of Jesus. Truly Jesus was conceived miraculously by God’s Holy Spirit power causing an egg in Mary’s womb to become a child without a man’s involvement, (Luke 1:34-35) and was therefore God’s Son. Yet Jesus’ human lineage was also the subject of several Old Testament prophecies and New Testament commentary. For example, the promise to David, “When your days are fulfilled and you lie down with your fathers, I will raise up your offspring after you, who shall come from your body, and I will establish his kingdom. He shall build a house for my name, and I will establish the throne of his kingdom forever. I will be to him a father, and he shall be to me a son.” (2 Samuel 7:12-14)

Gabriel’s Message

The promise made to David was reiterated in Gabriel’s message to Mary, “And the angel said to her, “Do not be afraid, Mary, for you have found favor with God. And behold, you will conceive in your womb and bear a son, and you shall call his name Jesus. He will be great and will be called the Son of the Most High. And the Lord God will give to him the throne of his father David, and he will reign over the house of Jacob forever, and of his kingdom there will be no end.” (Luke 1:30-33)

The New Testament genealogy of Jesus Christ goes through David, Abraham and Adam and Eve – significant individuals who were promised a son that would redeem mankind and bring God’s blessings to the earth. (Luke 3; Genesis 3:15; 12:1-2; 22:15-18; 2 Samuel 7:12-14)

“Descended From David”

After Jesus Christ has gone to heaven, Paul still makes mention of Jesus’ earthly lineage:

“Remember Jesus Christ, risen from the dead, the offspring of David, as preached in my gospel,” (2 Timothy 2:8) and, “Paul, a servant of Christ Jesus, called to be an apostle, set apart for the gospel of God, which he promised beforehand through his prophets in the holy Scriptures, concerning his Son, who was descended from David according to the flesh and was declared to be the Son of God in power according to the Spirit of holiness by his resurrection from the dead, Jesus Christ our Lord,” (Romans 1:1-3) The earthly lineage of Jesus Christ is very important as it fulfilled personal promises God made to the forefathers.

“This Mortal Body Must Put on Immortality”

From the passages in Acts we see very clearly that Jesus’ mortal body was raised from the dead before corruption set in (as it would on the 4th day) and that he was GIVEN immortality.  We find no promises in the Bible that our mortal bodies will avoid corruption! However, we are told by Paul in 1 Corinthians 15:53, that “this perishable body must put on the imperishable, and this mortal body must put on immortality.” Our bodies will be raised and then we are given immortality – if God is pleased to give us this incredible gift. “For the wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.” (Romans 6:23)

Perished??

In our investigation of the original Gospel hope, we found that resurrection was the consistent hope of Old and New Testament believers. So much so, that the Apostle Paul says in 1 Corinthians 15, that if Jesus hadn’t risen from the dead, then “Then those also who have fallen asleep in Christ have perished.” 

PERISHED? A true statement, if all the Old Testament believers are in their graves, ‘fast asleep’ awaiting the hope of resurrection. A very confusing statement if those Old Testament believers never really died and are happily enjoying paradise now.

A Greek Fable

Our next blog will consider a Greek fable that crept into early Christianity after Jesus ascended to heaven and is now such an established and cherished belief that few realize it can be easily shown to be false. Some would say, “A false hope is better than no hope at all” – but is it? And if we hold onto a false hope, what other aspects of the true Gospel message will become distorted? God Willing, we will look into this matter primarily from Scripture but also with reference to the historical development of this teaching.

What happens after death? Is there hope we will live again? Or do we never really die – just change forms? Is resurrection even important? Paul says,  if Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile and you are still in your sins. Then those also who have fallen asleep in Christ have perished.” (1 Corinthians 15:17-18) As much as Jesus’ crucifixion was the sacrifice required for forgiveness – the resurrection of Jesus was also essential for salvation!

Expressed Hope of Believers

In looking at the expressed hope of believers in both Old and New Testaments, resurrection is consistently what was expected and earnestly desired. Job said, “For I know that my redeemer liveth, and that he shall stand at the latter day upon the earth: and though after my skin worms destroy this body, yet in my flesh shall I see God: whom I shall see for myself, and mine eyes shall behold, and not another…” (Job 19:25-27)

In speaking about her dead brother, Martha said, “I know that he will rise again in the resurrection on the last day.” (John 11:24) This was the only hope she expressed!

The FIRST to Rise

But what exactly is resurrection? Paul says that Jesus was the first to rise from the dead, (Acts 26:23) yet several resurrections took place in the Old and New Testaments. In what way was Jesus the FIRST? Is Jesus’ resurrection anything like the resurrection God has promised for us? Does being the FIRST imply that similar resurrections would follow?

In other passages, Jesus is spoken of as being the ‘firstborn from the dead’ and ‘the beginning of God’s creation’ – this seems to imply more to follow. (Rev. 1:5, 3:14, Colossians 1:18) In Romans chapter six we read, “For if we have been united with him in a death like his, we shall certainly be united with him in a resurrection like his...  We know that Christ, being raised from the dead, will never die again; death no longer has dominion over him. For the death he died he died to sin, once for all, but the life he lives he lives to God.”

Will Never Die Again

Notice that Paul says in Romans 6 that Jesus ‘will never die again’ – in other words he has been given the eternal life God has promised to believers, “to those who by patience in well-doing seek for glory and honor and immortality, he will give eternal life;” (Romans 2:7 and 6:23)  In all the other resurrections that took place in the Old and New Testaments, people were only resurrected to live and then die again. Jesus Christ was the first to be resurrected to eternal life!

Resurrected like Jesus?

Do we have hope of being resurrected like Jesus was? This was certainly the hope that the Apostle Paul clung to and shared with the Philippians.

“… that I may know him and the power of his resurrection, and may share his sufferings, becoming like him in his death, that by any means possible I may attain the resurrection from the dead... But our citizenship is in heaven, and from it we await a Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ, who will transform our lowly body to be like his glorious body,” (Philippians 3:10, 20-21)

A Spiritual Body

Paul’s hope was to have his mortal body become like Jesus’ glorious body! In 1 Corinthians 15, Paul writes extensively on the hope of resurrection, explaining the supernatural changes that must take place so that we can life forever.

“ Just as we have borne the image of the man of dust, we shall also bear the image of the man of heaven. For the trumpet will sound, and the dead will be raised imperishable, and we shall be changed. For this perishable body must put on the imperishable, and this mortal body must put on immortality.” (1 Corinthians 15:49, 52-53)

We all have lived in the natural body, created out of dust, like our great-great-great ancestor Adam, and just like Jesus Christ 2000 years ago. Through Jesus we have hope of becoming transformed, like he was, into an undying body sustained by God’s spirit power.

What Happened to Jesus’ Earthly Body?

Some would believe that a part of us never dies, that immortality is something we all possess from conception. This belief makes resurrection rather redundant, which leads many Christians to question why it’s even necessary. Since we are told Jesus is the firstborn from the dead (Colossians 1:18), it is helpful to investigate whether a part of him lived on and departed from his body, or whether his earthly body was brought back to life. The Scriptures are very clear on this exciting topic! Our Discovery Lesson on Resurrection gives a wealth of Bible passages to consider and some interesting word studies to aid our investigation.

Our next blog will be “What Happened to Jesus’ Earthly Body?”