Isaiah’s Influence on the New Testament’s Portrayal of Jesus

It is clear that the story of redemption, that is, the promise of a new covenant, made by God in the Old Testament, had been left unfinished. God’s promise to save Israel and the world by crushing the serpent had yet to materialize, in the Old Testament. The New Testament claims that the promise of a kingdom, disclosed in the Old Testament, was fulfilled through Jesus Christ’s death and resurrection.[1] The following analysis will provide four ways in which the book of Isaiah has influenced how the New Testament portrayed Jesus.

The New David

According to Isaiah, salvation hinged on the promise of a new David. The promise of a new David relates to the covenant with King David.[2] This new David would come from a descendant of King David. “A shoot will come up from the stump of Jesse; from his roots a Branch will bear fruit.” (Isa.11:1-10 [NIV]). Isaiah proclaimed that the one who is coming “will reign on David’s throne” (Isa. 9:6-7). The books of Matthew and Luke record the genealogy of Jesus. There is a minor discrepancy between them regarding who Joseph’s father was, but the point is made clear regarding the genealogy of Jesus; he was a descendant from David. Although, the lineage is traced through Joseph, who was Jesus’ earthly father. “…Obed the father of Jesse, and Jesse the father of King David…and Jacob the father of Joseph, the husband of Mary, of whom was born Jesus, who is called Christ.” (Matt.1:5-6, 16). Here we have the first of four influences in which the book of Isaiah influenced the way the New Testament portrayed Jesus. Clearly, the decision to include the genealogy of Jesus, which portrayed him as the offspring of David, was influenced by prophesy, found in the book of Isaiah.

Jesus’ Birth

Isaiah describes the new David as, “Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace” (Isa. 9:6). Making it evident he is more than simply a descendant of David. The first part of the sentence in Isaiah 9:6 proclaimed “For us a child is born…”

However, the coming of such a king was not fulfilled in Isaiah’s time. In Isaiah 7, there is an interesting passage: “The virgin will be with child and give birth to a son, and will call him Immanuel” (Isa. 7:14). Once again, the influences of Isaiah are seen in two of the synoptic gospels, Matthew and Luke. “She [Mary] will give birth to a son, and you are to give him the name Jesus, because he will save his people from their sins” (Matt. 1:21). In the next verse the author acknowledged that this was to fulfill the prophecy in Isaiah 7:14. Likewise, the same references are found in Luke. An angel was sent by God to inform Mary, “a virgin pledged to be married to a man named Joseph, a descendant of David,” that God had found favor with her and she would become pregnant (Luke 1:26-27). In this comparison, Jesus was portrayed by the New Testament, which was influenced by the book of Isaiah, as not only having a miraculous conception, but as a divine being from birth.

Jesus as God

The description provided in Isaiah 9:6 regarding the coming of the new David is describing God. The author assigned the title “Mighty God” and “Everlasting Father” in the passage to describe the new David. Although, the prophet does not state it explicitly, Christians believe it can be inferred when comparing the passages in Isaiah with those of John, who clearly viewed Jesus as God. Isaiah 53:1 is referenced in John 12:38. Furthermore, several passages in John disclose that Jesus and God are one and the same. For example, when the Pharisees challenged his authority, Jesus stated, …” If you knew, you would know my Father also” (John 8:19). Thus, the author of the book of John views Jesus as God, influenced (at least partially) by the book of Isaiah.

Jesus’ Suffering and Atonement

An Old Testament passage that appears to have had a major influence on the New Testament is also found in the book of Isaiah. Isaiah 53 seems to be one of the best sources that can be compared with how the New Testament portrayed Jesus. Beginning with verse nine in Isaiah 53: “He was assigned a grave with the wicked, and with the rich in his death, though he had done no violence, nor was any deceit in his mouth. Yet it was the Lord’s will to crush him and cause him to suffer, and though the Lord makes his life a guilt offering, he will see his offspring and prolong his days, and the will of the Lord will prosper in his hand.” This is seen throughout the New Testament by the way Jesus lived—without sin—innocent. Still, it was God’s will for him to be the offering in place of the guilty, according to Christian theology. Moreover, Jesus was crucified with “the wicked,” assigned a grave with them, but was buried with the rich—supplied by Joseph of Arimathea; clearly fulfilling the first half of the prophesy in verse nine.

The standard Roman practice was to leave the crucified on their crosses for days while they died a slow and painful death. Afterward, the victims were usually given a dishonorable burial in a shallow grave where scavengers and insects would feed off their corpses.[3] The Romans made an exception with Jerusalem and permitted crucified victims there to be removed from their crosses and given a proper burial before sunset. This practice continued until the late 60’s (Josephus, Wars of the Jews, 4:317).

There are passages in the same chapter of Isaiah that have influenced passages in other parts of the New Testament. For Example, “But he was pierced for our transgressions, he was crushed for our iniquities; the punishment that brought us peace was upon him, and by his wounds we are healed” (Isa. 53:5). This passage may have influenced the passage in John; where one of the soldiers pierced Jesus’ side (Jn. 19:34). Although, this passage is attributed to Exodus, Numbers, and Psalms, regarding the prophesy “Not one of his bones will be broken” (Jn. 19:36-37). Still, Isaiah clearly influenced John to portray Jesus as the sacrificial Lamb. “…he was led like a lamb to the slaughter” (Isa. 53:7). The prophecy begins to materialize in the first chapter of John when he proclaims, “Look, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sins of the world!” (Jn. 1:29). Moreover, many Christians believe that the end of the chapter makes it clear that the suffering servant was Jesus, “For he bore the sin of many, and made intercession for the transgressors.” Evident in the Gospel of John, Jesus testifies that God was the one who sent the servant, because He loved the world and those that believed would not be condemned but saved through him, fulfilling God’s plan (Jn. 3:16-17). The influences of Isaiah are clearly seen in the book of John, evident in the way John portrayed Jesus.

Conclusion

The fingerprints of Isaiah can be seen throughout the new Testament.[4] Moreover, the influences from the book of Isaiah are manifested in the New Testament by the way the Gospels portrayed Jesus. However, these prophecies were more than simple influences for how Jesus was portrayed by the Gospel writers. For Christians, they revealed the fulfillment of prophecy; contributing to the authenticity of Scripture. Much like the Dead Sea Scrolls have confirmed the accuracy of Isaiah, the New Testament has confirmed the prophecies of Isaiah for Christians.[5] This analysis has reached its conclusion and has only provided four specific ways in which the book of Isaiah has influenced how the New Testament portrayed Jesus. Ben Witherington provided a nearly exhaustive list of passages that were impacted by the book of Isaiah, in his book, Isaiah Old and New. The following is a sample:

Matthew                                                         Isaiah

1:23                                                                  7:14

3:3                                                                    40:3

4:15–16                                                            9:1–2, 61:1–2

5:34–35                                                            66:1

8:17                                                                 53:4

Matthew                                                         Isaiah

11:5                                                                 26:19; 29:18; 35:5–6; 61:1

12:18–21                                                         42:1–4

13:13–15                                                         6:9–10

15:7–9                                                             29:13

21:13                                                               56:7

24:29                                                               13:10, 34

Mark                                                              Isaiah

1:3                                                                   40:3

4:12                                                                 6:9–10

7:6–7                                                               29:13

9:44, 48                                                           66:24

11:17                                                               56:7

12:1–12                                                           5:1–2

13:24–25                                                         13:10, 34:4

15:28                                                               53:12

Luke                                                               Isaiah

2:29–32                                                           49:6

3:4–6                                                               40:3–5

3:8                                                                   51:2

4:17–19                                                           61:1–2

6:20–23                                                           61:1–2

6:24–26                                                           61:3

6:29–30                                                           50:6

7:18–29                                                           61

7:22                                                                 26:19; 29:18–19; 35:5–6; 49:6;

10:15                                                               14:13, 15

10:23–24                                                         6:9–10

19:46                                                               56:7

22:37                                                               53:12

John                                                                Isaiah

1:23                                                                 40:3

6:45                                                                 54:13

12:38                                                               53:1

12:39–40                                                         6:10

12:41                                                               6:1–3

Acts                                                                Isaiah

7:48–50                                                           66:1–2

8:32–33                                                           53:12

13:34                                                               55:3

13:47                                                               49:6

28:25–27                                                         6:9–10

There are many more, too numerous for the scope of this analysis, but this source reveals the enormous impact Isaiah had on the entirety of the New Testament.[6]

Bibliography

Albright, Willian F. “The Dead-Sea Scrolls.” The American Scholar 22, no. 1 (1952): 77-85.

http://www.jstor.org/stable/41210077.

Licona, Michael. “Licona’s Statement: The New Testament Gospels are Historically Reliable    

Accounts of Jesus.” The Best Schools. (2016). Accessed April 11, 2018, http://thebestschools.org/special/ehrman-licona-dialogue-reliability-new-testament/.

Schreiner, Thomas R. The King in His Beauty: A Biblical Theology of the Old and New

            Testaments. Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, 2013.

Witherington, Ben. “Isaianic Fingerprints Everywhere.” In Isaiah Old and New: Exegesis,

Intertextuality, and Hermeneutics, 13-40. Minneapolis: Augsburg Fortress, Publishers, 2017. https://www.jstor.org/stable/j.ctt1ggjhbz.6.


[1] Thomas R. Schreiner, The King in His Beauty: A Biblical Theology of the Old and New Testaments (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, 2013), 428. 

[2] Ibid.,334.

[3] Michael Licona, “Licona’s Statement: The New Testament Gospels are Historically Reliable    

Accounts of Jesus.” The Best Schools. (2016). Accessed April 11, 2018, http://thebestschools.org/special/ehrman-licona-dialogue-reliability-new-testament/.

[4] Ben Witherington, “Isaianic Fingerprints Everywhere,” in Isaiah Old and New (Augsburg Fortress Publishers, 2017), 13, https://www.jstor.org/stable/j.ctt1ggjhbz.6.

[5] William F. Albright, “The Dead-Sea Scrolls,” The American Scholar 22, no.1 (1952): 84, http://www.jstor.org/stable/41210077.

[6] Ben Witherington, “Isaianic Fingerprints Everywhere,” in Isaiah Old and New, 14-22

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