Mark Drogin
Home Page

 Remnant of Israel Website

A thematic introduction to the fourth Gospel

submitted to Fr. Denis Farkasfalvy, O Cist.

Johannine Literature:  Theology 6325

by Mark Drogin


This paper will briefly examine the influence on the fourth Gospel of the Suffering Servant texts from the Book of Isaiah, specifically, the One, like a lamb, who takes away our sins by suffering and dying for us.

By examining the fourth Gospel’s use of Isaiah, I will present a thematic overview of the entire Gospel rather than a critical exegesis of any particular passage.

The fourth Gospel repeatedly announces that eternal life is offered to us through the Word made flesh. We are invited to believe. Eternal life is the reward given to those who are “saved” through faith.

For God so loved the world that he gave his only-begotten Son, that those who believe in him may not perish, but may have eternal life. For God sent his Son into the world… that the world might be saved through him. (Jn 3:16-17)

Part One

Behold, the Servant from the Root of Jesse

Who Takes Away Our Sins:


The problem with Isaiah 53

No text available before the New Testament, other than Isaiah 53, describes one who – even though he is innocent – takes away our sins by suffering and dying for us. [1] Accepted as a pre-Pauline formula, 1 Corinthians 15:3 is one of the Church’s earliest traditions: “For I passed on to you as of first importance what I also received, that Christ died in behalf of our sins according to the scriptures.” I assume, and ask my reader to accept this assumption, that the evangelist of the fourth Gospel knew and believed this tradition, and assumed the readers of the Gospel also accepted this tradition.

A. According to what Scripture?

The question is “according to what scripture?” The suffering Servant text in Isaiah 53 is the only answer. “Nowhere else in the scriptures… is there a text which speaks so explicitly of a savior figure who dies in behalf of the sins of others.” [2]

Dr. Farmer’s argument provides an example for my attempt to present a thematic – or conceptual – overview of the fourth Gospel rather than a critical exegesis of any particular passage. Dr. Farmer claims a “conceptual kinship” rather than a “verbal kinship.” Citing his method (at length) as a precedent, I ask the reader to accept my method in this paper as a legitimate reflection on the fourth Gospel:

The reference to Christ dying in behalf of the sins of others exhibits a certain verbal kinship with the text of Isaiah 53:4-9, and many would conclude that there is indeed an echo of Isaiah 53 in this passage. However, this verbal kinship is not by itself compelling evidence of a clear connection between 1 Corinthians 15:3 and Isaiah 53:4-9. What serves to make this connection compelling is a conceptual similarity. Nowhere else in the scriptures that were available to Paul is there a text which speaks so explicitly of a savior figure who dies in behalf of the sins of others. It is this conceptual kinship more than any particular verbal kinship which leads scholars to identify Isaiah 53 as the most important scripture being referred to in this traditional formulation. [3]

But there is a serious problem with Isaiah 53: it was, perhaps, the biggest problem for the Apostles and evangelists in the first century and it remains (if not the biggest, at least one of) the biggest stumbling blocks to faith today. [4] Each New Testament writer treats this problem differently. Paul is explicit: he asks “Where is the wise man?… Has not God turned to foolishness the wisdom of this world?” (1 Cor 1:20) Paul preached only “Jesus Christ and Him crucified.” (1 Cor 2:2) The verbal kinship with Isaiah 53 may not be compelling but the conceptual kinship is certain.

Matthew and Luke both carefully present genealogies to “prove” that Jesus of Nazareth is descended from the lineage of David (Paul affirms this in Romans 1:3). The problem for the first Gospel is not the Royal Davidic Lineage, but Joseph and Nazareth. [5] Matthew 2:23 attributes fulfillment of prophesy to this place in Galilee. If nothing else, Nazareth indicates Jesus’ lowliness. Isaiah 53 describes a lowly Messiah. Again, if there is not a literal kinship, there is an unavoidable conceptual kinship between Nazareth and the lowliness of the Servant in Is 53. [6]

B. Expecting a triumphant, glorious Messiah

Two thousand years ago, there was a great expectation of a savior, a messiah. There are many different interpretations of “under the fig tree” in John 1 (and I will return to them later). One interpretation found in Jewish and Christian sources is that “one under the fig tree” was a person studying the prophecies and seeking the Messiah of Israel. [7] The common problem for all the apostles and followers of Jesus was simply that “before the destruction of Jerusalem, the Jews looked for the coming of a Messiah to save Jerusalem; afterwards, they looked for a Messiah to restore Jerusalem.” [8]

Were Jewish people in the early first century (BC and AD) familiar with Isaiah 53 and did they see it as a messianic prophecy? Driver and Neubauer, in the above-cited volume, affirm without question that the characteristics of the Suffering Servant were known and understood. “The question was not, ‘what is the picture?’ In this all are agreed; but ‘Whose image or likeness does it bear?’” [9] There were differing views that seemed irreconcilable.

But clearly none beforehand would understand how it could be fulfilled in one person. For none could tell beforehand, how death, which closes all on this earth, was to be the vestibule to a God-given kingdom; or how kings should bow down before one who had been the object of contempt…. Those of old, to whom the later Jews referred as authorities, dwelt on one or the other side of the picture; some on the vicarious sufferings of the Messiah, some on the exaltation, without attempting to reconcile the two. [10]

Charles Hoffman, an orthodox Jew born in Berlin in 1933, escaped on May 13, 1939. Several years later, he became a Catholic. Recently, Hoffman wrote in Inside the Vatican, “A divine suffering Messiah remains to this day an obstacle for Jews, as it was for the Pharisees at the time of Jesus.” [11] St. Paul wrote that this suffering-and-dying Messiah was a scandal to the Jews 1950 years ago. It is a scandal todayJews are taught to expect a glorious triumphant Messiah, as Hoffman writes in April 2004.

Jesus was not the glorious Messiah I had been taught to expect, but one Who suffered and died. As an orthodox Jew I had no choice but to reject Him. I saw that Jewish leaders also had to reject Jesus…. As an Orthodox Jew, I had been taught to believe in a glorious Messiah who would restore Israel to greatness above all the nations. [12]

In sum, ancient Jewish traditions regarding the messiah are uncertain. “The apparent contradictions between a Messiah who suffers and dies and one who comes in power and glory,” writes Roy Schoeman, another orthodox Jew who is now Catholic, “were resolved by the Talmudic Rabbis proposing two Messiahs rather than one.” [13] Schoeman cites Talmudic sources showing a Jewish tradition of a suffering messiah, but again, the resolution assumes that the suffering messiah and the triumphant messiah cannot be one person. Schoeman now sees these two ancient messianic traditions of Israel remaining distinct when applied to Jesus:

The first, Messiah ben Joseph, will be defeated by his enemies, suffer and die. The second, Messiah ben David, will lead Israel to its final victory…. It is haunting that the Messiah who suffers and dies is “Messiah ben Joseph.” Jesus will, of course, come a second time in power and glory to usher in the Messianic Kingdom in its fullness. The first time He came, He came to suffer and die – and He was, quite literally, known as Jesus the son of Joseph [of Nazareth]…. Messiah ben David is as perfect a name for Jesus in His second coming as Messiah ben Joseph is in His first. [14]

C. Not two Messiahs

Schoeman’s distinctions are too simplistic – the reality in the fourth Gospel is not so “black-and-white,” not exclusively “either/or.” Son of Joseph and Son of David are perfectly united in Jesus of Nazareth. Jesus of Nazareth is one Person who has the same identity yesterday, today and forever. The Suffering Servant and the glorious triumphant Royal Davidic King are two descriptions of the same Person. This is one of the primary themes of the fourth Gospel. [15] Jesus the son of Joseph of Nazareth (Philip’s proclamation) is the Logos, the Word that stands forever.

“And we saw His glory – glory as of the only-begotten of the Father – full of grace and truth.” (Jn 1:14) “The hour has come for the Son of Man to be glorified.” (Jn 12:23) “Now is the Son of Man glorified, and God is glorified in Him.” (Jn 13:31) “Father, the hour has come! Glorify thy Son, that thy Son may glorify thee…. I have glorified thee on earth; I have accomplished the work that thou hast given me to do.” (Jn 17:1, 4) The Last Supper, Crucifixion, and Resurrection are one inseparable event. The Triduum (Holy Thursday, Good Friday, Easter Sunday) is one inseparable event in our Sacred Liturgy. Son of Joseph and Son of David are united in Jesus of Nazareth. Ephraim and Judah are united in one Israel under one King in Jesus of Nazareth (Isaiah 11:13 is fulfilled): “The envy of Ephraim shall pass away, and the rivalry of Judah be removed; Ephraim shall not be jealous of Judah, and Judah shall not be hostile to Ephraim.” [16]

The Divine Person in Isaiah 53 (who suffers, dies and is raised – who is brought low and exalted) is the dominant theme throughout the fourth Gospel. Between the Gospel’s first and last chapters we find layer upon layer of revelation pointing to the fulfillment of the Book of Isaiah.

“In the beginning was the Word…. And the Word was made flesh.” (Jn 1:1 and 14) This Word of God is a Person who dwelt among us and we saw His Glory. The last chapter concludes with the command to “Feed my sheep.” The food that the Apostle will feed us is precisely this Word of God made flesh. This Person, the Logos, is the Bread of Life and unless we eat this Bread we will not have eternal life. The Suffering Servant of Is 53 is the Word made flesh; He is the food Peter feeds to us. (Jn 21:15, 16, 17)

Salvation is from the Jews

The Prologue states: “a man named John was sent from God.” The explicit identification of “a man named John” with the “Voice proclaiming” (in Isaiah 40) is essential to all four Gospels (Mt 3:1-3; Mk 1:2-4; Lk 1 and 3:4ff). In the fourth Gospel, he states in the first person: “I am the ‘voice’… as Isaiah the prophet said.” (Jn 1:23) The Word of God (Logos) is tightly linked to the “Voice proclaiming” because the “Voice” is told to proclaim: “The Word of our God stands forever.” (Is 40:8) The fourth Gospel tells us repeatedly that we also may “stand forever” through faith in the Word made flesh.

Following the Prologue, there is a direct reference to Isaiah 53: “Behold the Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world.” [17] The Savior is the One Who takes away our sins; salvation means our sins are removed and we are saved from death. Jesus says, “Salvation is from the Jews.” (Jn 4:22) In this sense, “The Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world” is literally synonymous with “the Savior of the world” (Jn 4:42).

The evangelist does not focus our attention on Jesus’ statement that salvation is from the Jews, I propose, because it was widely known and believed. Both the Latin and the Greek (of Jn 4:22) use the preposition “ex.” Salvation is “out of,” or “from” the Jews/Judeans simply because the Savior is from the Tribe of Judah (through the Royal Lineage of David). This is explicit in Isaiah 11:1 and understood throughout Isaiah. The Davidic Lineage is assumed in the fourth Gospel; it does not need to be stated.

Above, I said that Is 11:13 points to the reconciliation of the dual Jewish tradition of Messiah ben Joseph and Messiah ben David. It is Jesus of Nazareth, the bud from the root of Jesse (Is 11:1) who saves us, but first Ephraim and Judah are reconciled. Isaiah 49:6 [18] tells us that all the Tribes of Israel must be united before the People of God become a Light to the Nations. Paul, in the Epistle to the Romans, recognizes this divine sequence: “The Gospel is the power of God for everyone who believes: for the Jew first, and then the Greek.” (Rom 1:16; 2:9 and 10) [19]

Eternal life

The Voice in Isaiah 40 is told to proclaim, “The Word of our God stands forever.” (Is 40:8) The fourth Gospel tells us that Jesus of Nazareth is this Word of God, the Logos, and this Logos is the One who takes away our sins. It is through Jesus that we may attain eternal life.

In Jerusalem, Jesus says to the Jews, “You search the scriptures because you think you have eternal life through them.” (Jn 5:39; emphasis added) In striking contrast, Simon Peter’s confession points to the living flesh-and-blood Person rather than a book: “You have the words of eternal life.” (Jn 6:68; emphasis added) Peter’s statement is in the context of the “Bread of Life Discourse” (Jn 6:26-58) where Jesus repeats explicitly: “I am the bread of life” (v 35); “Amen, amen, I say to you, whoever believes has eternal life. I am the bread of life” (v 47-48); “I am the living bread… whoever eats this bread will live forever” (v 51; also vs 54, 58). Jesus is the Logos, the Word of God (mentioned in Is 40:8) that “will stand forever.” Peter’s confession in 6:68 affirms that this Word of God is the Bread of Life and whoever eats this Bread will have eternal life. The evangelist contrasts Peter’s profession (“we know and believe”) with Jesus’ words to those who seek – apparently in vain – eternal life in the Scriptures. (Jn 5:38-40)

You must die

The crowd said to Jesus, “Lord, give us always this bread.” (Jn 6:34) Jesus insists that we must eat His flesh. How do we do this? How are we actually saved through faith. The evangelist gave us a hint in chapter 3: “you must be born from above.” (Jn 3:3 and 7) With Nicodemus we ask, “How can this happen?” Jesus’ answer in chapter 3 is not yet plain. But when the Gentiles (Greeks) ask to see Jesus, He tells us plainly that He will die and we must follow Him.

The hour has come for the Son of Man to be glorified. Amen, amen, I say to you unless the grain of wheat falls into the ground and dies, it remains alone…. He who loves his life, loses it; and he who hates his life in this world, keeps it unto life everlasting. If anyone serves me, let him follow me. (Jn 12:23-26; emphasis added)

This is a hard saying. Who can listen to it? Jesus is telling the disciples that they must die in order to gain eternal life, but they will not grasp the fullness of what is required until after Pentecost when the Holy Spirit will reveal it to them. Throughout the fourth Gospel, Jesus is pointing to the Divine Plan for His followers to become Witnesses (literally, to be “martyrs”) for the Gospel. And what is the Gospel? It is the Good News revealed by Isaiah (cf. Is 52:7) that the Servant of the Lord will suffer and die to take away our sins.

What does Jesus add to Isaiah’s Good News? Jesus makes it possible for each of us to join Him, to suffer and die with Him. In fact, He commands us to give our lives as He does if we wish to enter eternal life. In chapter 1, John announces that he is the Voice in Is 40 and immediately directs us to the Servant in Is 53. This is a distinctly Johannine theme and it cannot be understood without Isaiah 53. [20] And, as Jesus said to Nathaniel, you will see greater things than this.

“You also will bear witness”

Looking again at Peter’s confession, “You have the words of eternal life,” consider Jesus’ reply: “Did I not choose you twelve?” (Jn 6:70) At the Last Supper Jesus again says, “I have chosen you.” (Jn 15:19) In chapter 6 it is unclear what this means for those who are chosen (Jesus’ response to Peter in 6:70 seems out of place or inappropriate), but in chapter 15 Jesus explains more specifically what is required for a disciple to follow Him: we have to be martyrs.

I have told you this so that my joy may be in you and your joy may be complete. This is my commandment: love one another as I love you. No one has greater love than this, to lay down one’s life for one’s friends…. It was not you who chose me, but I who chose you…. I have chosen you out of the world, the world hates you…. If they persecuted me, they will persecute you… And you also bear witness [martureite] because you have been with me from the beginning. (Jn 15:11-13, 16, 19, 20, 27)

As the Father sends Jesus, Jesus will send the Apostles.

As Jesus is the Father’s Chosen One, Jesus chooses the Apostles. The consequences of this “chosenness” are humiliation and death before exaltation and glory. [21] Jesus reveals this only gradually to the disciples. Levenson, an observant Jew, sees this “theology of chosenness” clearly identified with the Servant (who takes away our sins) in Isaiah 42:1: “This is my servant, whom I uphold, my chosen one, in whom I delight.” [22] In the first chapter of the fourth Gospel, John proclaims that Jesus of Nazareth is this Chosen Servant of the Lord (identified in Is 42:1) who takes away our sins.

The Lamb who takes away our sins is the Chosen One in Is 42 – the Suffering Servant. There is only one Messiah, the same yesterday, today and forever. [23]

The “footwashing”

Eugenio Zolli, the former Chief Rabbi of Rome, presents convincing evidence to show that Jesus, in the Johannine Last Supper Discourse, “intends to associate Himself with the ideas developed so copiously in Isaiah” in order to reveal His divinity. [24] Zolli, a highly respected Hebrew scholar, explains that the full meaning of Jesus’ words in the Johannine Last Supper Discourse is only understood as a fulfillment of Deutero-Isaiah.

After Jesus finished the [footwashing] designed to raise the disciples to the dignity of divine messengers, He passes on to another matter of supreme gravity and capital importance: He offers them proof of His divinity. His words are a clear allusion to Isaiah 41:17ff. [25]

Zolli fills the next page and a half with citations from chapters 41 to 48 of Isaiah showing that the Redeemer [26] is God Himself. Deutero-Isaiah is necessary – although not sufficient – to understand how the fourth Gospel reveals Jesus’ divinity.

The footwashing was a necessary action to cleanse the Apostles in preparation for being sent by Jesus as the Father sent the Son: in other words, to prepare them to be martyrs. [27] Jesus revealed Himself as the Suffering Servant by removing His clothes and performing a task that only slaves performed. But why this particular action? Did God choose any random action to reveal His coming as a slave? No. Jesus told Peter explicitly that it was necessary for Him to wash Peter’s feet. The disciples will have to give their lives. The footwashing/anointing in chapter 12 also is associated with His death.

Jesus will institute His Church through these disciples. He will give them divine power. The footwashing, more than a symbol, was a necessary efficacious action to prepare the disciples to receive Divine Authority on Pentecost.

Giving divine authority to the Apostles – “as the Father has sent me, so I send you” – is the formal institution of the all the Sacraments, the establishment of the Apostolic Church with divine authority. This divine authority would not be actuated until after Pentecost, but I believe the Gospel includes the footwashing in the Last Supper account because it was necessary – in some way – for the establishment of the Church. “As I have done to you, so you also should do.” (Jn 13:15) Jesus is the Servant in Isaiah who takes away their sins. He is going to give these disciples the divine power to forgive sins (Jn 20:23). They can only receive this divine power by laying down their lives: this cannot be understood apart from Isaiah 53.

“How beautiful are the feet…” (Is 52:7) is inserted strategically by Paul into the middle (Rm 10:15) of Romans 9 – 11. The Greek word for “beautiful” used by Paul (from the LXX) does not signify “comeliness” or “attractiveness”; it signifies “appropriateness.” It could be translated “fitting,” or “proper.” Conceptually it describes feet that are properly prepared to proclaim the Gospel. Isaiah 52:7 is a preface to Isaiah 53 – the Servant who bears our sins is the One Proclaiming Good. Jesus will give this Divine Power only to the Apostles (to establish an Apostolic Church). [28] Even though this will not be fulfilled until after Pentecost, it was necessary for Jesus to “cleanse” the Twelve by making their feet “beautiful” – “proper” – to proclaim the WORD.


Nathaniel’s Tears: Tears of Repentance – Tears of Joy

What shall I Proclaim?

All flesh is grass…  the grass withers, the flower wilts…

And the Word of our God stands forever.

Isaiah 40:6-8   

The last chapter of the fourth Gospel forms a “book-end” or “inclusio” with the first chapter. In the first chapter Jesus is gathering His disciples; in the last chapter He is sending them out to be the Light to the nations (“Feed my sheep”). [29]

We find a unique grouping at the beginning of chapter 21: nowhere else in any scripture or tradition do we find Peter, Thomas, and Nathaniel grouped together. These three are not only named together, each one is given a secondary identification! Why are these three grouped together with such emphasis?

Peter, Thomas and Nathaniel are the only three disciples who – after making a personal profession of Faith in Jesus – are told directly (face-to-face) by Jesus Himself about the manner in which they received the Gift of Faith. [30] To Nathaniel, Jesus said: “You believe because I said….” (Jn 1:50) To Thomas, Jesus said: “You believe because you have seen me.” (Jn 20:29) To Peter, Jesus said: “Flesh and blood has not revealed this to you but my Father in Heaven.” (Mt 16:17) To the objection that the Matthean text should not be used to explain the Johannine text, I respond as follows. The tradition (recorded in Mt 16) of Jesus naming Andrew’s brother Cephas and giving him the keys is so fundamental and universal that we must assume John, his community, and his readers would know and believe this tradition.

Further, I respond that Peter’s proclamation of Faith is included in the fourth Gospel also: “You have the words of eternal life. We have come to believe and know that you are the Holy One of God.” [31] Jesus answered, “Did I not choose you twelve?” (Jn 6:68-70)

The entire Gospel is “written that you may come to believe that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God, and through this belief you may have life in His name.” (Jn 20:31) “An eyewitness has testified, and his testimony is true; he knows that he is speaking the truth, so that you also may come to believe.” (Jn 19:35) So, it is fitting that the last chapter begins with three examples of personal and distinct gifts of Faith.

There are also Isaian themes in these three stories. Jesus, when He saw Nathaniel approaching, quoted a verse from Psalm 32: “Behold [a man] in whom there is found no guile.” This text follows closely after John’s proclamation that Jesus is the One who takes away sins (Is 53). Psalm 32 states explicitly that God takes away sins: “Then I declared my sin to you; my guilt I did not hide. I said ‘I confess my faults to the Lord,’ and you took away the guilt of my sin.”

“Under the fig tree” is very likely symbolic language for one familiar with the Psalms, especially Psalm 32. One “under the fig tree” probably refers to a penitent who prays and studies – especially the Psalms – in the manner that the Divine Office and Lectio Divina are studied and prayed in the Church. By literally quoting this Psalm, Jesus links us directly to Isaiah 53. “Nowhere else in the life and faith of Israel outside of Isaiah 53 do we find a reference to a savior figure who gives his life in a redemptive act…. All such soteriological statements in the New Testament appear to find their ideal conceptual origin in Isaiah 53.” [32]

One in whom is found no guile (quoting Psalm 32) refers to a penitent who confesses his sins with contrition and seeks His Mercy. “Nathaniel’s Tears: Tears of Repentance – Tears of Joy” describes Nathaniel’s ecstatic outburst when he “sees” that Jesus of Nazareth truly knows that he (Nathaniel) is without guile. Only God knows if I am without guile. We might say that Nathaniel had a momentary Beatific Vision. “I saw you under the fig tree” might have communicated to Nathaniel that Jesus heard Nathaniel confessing his sins and begging for mercy. Jesus’ citation of Psalm 32 revealed to Nathaniel that God would truly “take away his sins.” As any truly contrite penitent who receives absolution from God, Nathaniel would have burst into Tears of Joy.

But this was only a momentary beatific (“Blessed is the man in whom is found no guile”) glimpse of the forgiveness to come through the Sacrifice on Calvary, so Jesus immediately said: “You will see greater things than this.”

But Nathaniel does not yet know that Jesus is God. His Faith comes through a brief “beatific” knowledge of things to come. Thomas, in direct contrast, literally “manipulates” Jesus’ wounds before he “sees” the Resurrection. Thomas’ Faith comes through sensory knowledge, through direct tangible experience. Nathaniel’s knowledge was a momentary glimpse of things to come, but Thomas sees the reality of the Resurrection in the present. Thomas’ Apostolic Profession, “My Lord, and My God,” is the final statement in the Gospel before the second ending. Jesus is Risen from the dead and He is God!

This final proclamation concludes Jesus’ teaching to the Apostles. After this, they will be taught by the Holy Spirit.

Peter is not first in chapter 1, but he is first in chapter 21 – he stands at the head of the Apostles. Unlike Nathaniel who believes because Jesus “said,” and unlike Thomas who believes because he “saw,” Peter’s Faith is not revealed through flesh and blood but directly from the Father (not through any experience but directly “infused”).

So we are able to see three basic archetypes of Faith in Peter, Thomas, and Nathaniel. In the early stages, we are Nathaniel; we are contrite and have a desire to repent. We are seeking forgiveness. We are consoled when we glimpse – briefly – that God truly can and will “take away our sins.” This is the beginning of our Faith – we will see many more things than this.

Along the way, we go from Faith to Faith (as do all the disciples throughout this Gospel). Our Faith is strengthened as the gift of the theological virtue of Faith is gradually infused into our souls. With Peter, we have come to know and believe that Jesus has the words of eternal life. Although we have matured since the initial “Nathaniel” phase, like Peter we still have a long road to travel before we will join Jesus on Calvary instead of denying Him and running away.

Finally, after the Resurrection and after Jesus breathes on the disciples and says “Receive the Holy Spirit…”, with Thomas we still wait for a personal invitation from Jesus to come and see. Our Faith is affirmed by our sensory temporal experience.

Chapter 21 begins with this compressed symbolic summary of our Faith journey (with Peter, Thomas and Nathaniel – symbolizing infused, experiential, and beatific knowledge). Then we must go out, with Peter, from Galilee to feed the Bread of Life, the Word [33], to all of God’s sheep. We must become the Eucharist.


Bellinger, William H., and Farmer, William R. (editors) Jesus and the Suffering Servant: Isaiah 53 and Christian Origins; Trinity Press, Harrisburg, PA, 1998.

Driver, Samuel, and Neubauer, Adolf, The “Suffering Servant” of Isaiah According to the Jewish Interpreters; Eugene, OR, Wipf and Stock Publishers, 1999; previously published by James Parker and Co., 1877.

Hoffman, Charles, “Letters to the Editor,” Inside the Vatican, March-April 2004; New Hope, KY, Urbi et Orbi Communications; Year 12, #3; 10-11.

Levenson, Jon D., The Death and Resurrection of the Beloved Son: The Transformation of Child Sacrifice in Judaism and Christianity; New Haven, Yale University Press, 1993.

Schoeman, Roy, Salvation Is From the Jews; San Francisco, Ignatius Press, 2004.

Zolli, Eugenio, The Nazarene: Studies in New Testament Exegesis; New Hope, KY, Remnant of Israel, 1999.


1. Zech 12:10 is cited in Jn 19:37 and describes a suffering messiah. But Zechariah (although it affirms Is 53) does not say the pierced one will bear our sins. Only Is 53 says He will bear our sins.

2. This is the conclusion of Dr. William R. Farmer in chapter 15 of Jesus and the Suffering Servant: Isaiah 53 and Christian Origins, edited by William H. Bellinger, Jr. and William R. Farmer (Trinity Press, Harrisburg, PA, 1998); 263.

3. Ibid.

4. Yes, Isaiah 53 is the stumbling block referred to in 1 Cor 1:23, because the Messiah is not supposed to suffer and die. See also Romans 11:9 where Paul cites David.

5. Regardless of the unquestionable grammatical identification (in Jn 1:45) of Nazareth with Jesus and not with Joseph, Nazareth is associated with Joseph. Jesus is associated with Nazareth through Joseph conceptually if not literally or grammatically. Jesus and Mary lived in Nazareth because Joseph lived there.

6. In fact the overwhelming opinion in the Church for 1900 years has seen Mt 2:23 as a reference to Is 11:1. This is an explicit association of the Isaian Servant with Nazareth.

7. “Under the fig tree” is seen by some as a place of prayer and penance where a penitent could pray the Psalms and meditate on the One Who Is To Come in the hope of recognizing Him when He comes.

8. Driver, Samuel, and Neubauer, Adolf, The “Suffering Servant” of Isaiah According to the Jewish Interpreters (Eugene, Oregon, Wipf and Stock Publishers, 1999; previously published by James Parker and Co., 1877); xl.

9. Ibid., xxxix.

10. Ibid., xxxix-xl; emphasis added.

11. Charles Hoffman, “Letters to the Editor,” Inside the Vatican, March-April 2004 (New Hope, KY, Urbi et Orbi Communications); Year 12, #3; 10-11.

12. Ibid.

13. Schoeman, Roy, Salvation Is From the Jews (San Francisco, Ignatius Press, 2004); 118-119.

14. Ibid., 119, 122.

15. The first verse of the first Gospel (Mt 1:1) also refers to this union of glory and lowliness. Son of David is the Royal exalted glorious identity. Son of Abraham is Isaac, the prototype of one who – though innocent – willingly accepts his father’s intention to offer the son as sacrificial victim for the whole people.

16. Ezek 37:15ff is quite explicit. The stick of Judah and the stick of Joseph will form one stick.

17. Some scholars disagree with this statement. Jesus and the Suffering Servant (edited by Bellinger and Farmer) is an entire volume devoted to this question. To say the “Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world” refers to the Paschal Lamb is too simplistic. If we say we don’t know to what it refers, we deny the Holy Spirit’s work through the Word in the People of God. We can say with certitude that Isaiah 53 describes a person “like a lamb” who “takes away the sins of the world.” The fourth Gospel repeatedly refers to Isaiah and the work of the Servant. Jesus reveals to the disciples that He is this Servant of Yahweh by removing His clothes and washing their feet. The word, “Gospel,” in Isaiah 52:7 means the “good news” of the One who “takes away our sins.” The Hebrew word, basar, is the same word for “flesh.” This famous verse in Is 52:7, quoted in Romans 10:15, can be understood as “How beautiful are the feet of the One Who Enfleshes Good (basar).” The Hebrew text is open to the meaning that this One (who bears the news) is Good Incarnate. This One in Is 52:7 is the Suffering Servant in Is 53 who bears our sins.

18. “It is too little, he says, for you to be my servant, to raise up the tribes of Jacob, and restore the survivors (netzrim) of Israel; I will make you a light to the nations, that my salvation may reach to the ends of the earth.”

19. This divine sequence (foretold in Is 49:6) of first gathering all the Tribes of Israel (symbolized in Is 11:13 by the reconciliation of Ephraim and Judah), before the People of God become a Light to the Nations also provides a key for understanding the meaning of “all Israel will be saved” in Rom 11:26. But that is beyond the scope of this paper.

20. Isaiah 53 is not sufficient to understand that Jesus is telling us that we must do what He does; but Isaiah 53 is necessary to understand what is required for anyone who follows Jesus.

21. Levenson, Jon D., The Death and Resurrection of the Beloved Son: The Transformation of Child Sacrifice in Judaism and Christianity (New Haven, Yale University Press, 1993); 202.

22. Ibid., 200; my emphasis.

23. Am I reading too much into this text? Yes, if I were arguing that the son of Zachary and Elizabeth, named John, was intentionally pointing out the fulfillment of Deutero-Isaiah. I don’t know if he was aware of this or not. Although God sent the Voice who prepares the way of the Lord, it is likely that John did not fully grasp the significance of what he said. But the significance of these words is not excluded. Did the evangelist see the fulfillment of Isaiah 53 here? Did Isaiah see it? Without answering these questions, we know that the fulfillment of Isaiah’s prophecy was seen by Divine Providence.

24. Zolli, Eugenio, The Nazarene: Studies in New Testament Exegesis (New Hope, KY, Remnant of Israel, 1999); 231.

25. Ibid., 229.

26. Is 41:14; 43:14; 44:6, 24; 47:4; 48:17; 49:7, 26.

27. Those who claim the footwashing is nothing more than a demonstration of humility ignore the depth and powerful coherence of the fourth Gospel. If they were correct, the footwashing would not be essential to the theme of the fourth Gospel. I strongly disagree. The literary and formal emphasis given to the episode is required because of its theological and ecclesiological significance.

28. We might understand the “mountains” in Is 52:7 as the bishops under the Twelve.

29. We find this concept in Is 49:6. First, the Tribes of Israel will be gathered together, the Twelve will be united. Then united Israel, the Twelve, will be a Light to the Nations.

30. Jesus not only speaks to each one face-to-face, what He says is unique for each of the three.

31. “The Holy One of Israel” is used several times in Isaiah 41 – 48.

32. Farmer, William R., in Bellinger and Farmer, Jesus and the Suffering Servant; 264 and 265.

33. 153 fish represent the whole Torah, the complete Word of God. Jesus is the Word.

Copyright ©; Mark Drogin 2005

This version: 13th June 2005


 Mark Drogin
Home Page

 Remnant of Israel Website