In an interview with One for Israel Ministry, a Jewish man, named Israel, shared how he became a Christian while serving in the US Navy.
And specifically, it was one chapter in the book of Isaiah that challenged him to believe Jesus was the Jewish Messiah.
Israel had grown up in a Jewish home and at his Bar Mitzvah, the Rabbi warned Israel against believing in Jesus and as well told him never to read the New Testament, because it was just for gentiles.
When he joined the US Navy in 1960, he tried fitting in with the other sailors by drinking and cavorting with the girls, but this only violated his conscience and made him feel guilty.
At the time, the US Navy was giving Bibles to the sailors according to their faith. There were Bibles for Catholics and protestants and Jews also received their own Bible, the Tanakh, that only contained the Old Testament.
But when one of his fellow sailors encouraged Israel to read Isaiah 53, that talks about the suffering of Christ on the cross, Israel was shocked. Because after reading it, he understood that this passage was talking about Jesus.
4 Surely he took up our pain
and bore our suffering,
yet we considered him punished by God,
stricken by him, and afflicted.
5 But he was pierced for our transgressions,
he was crushed for our iniquities;
the punishment that brought us peace was on him,
and by his wounds we are healed.
6 We all, like sheep, have gone astray,
each of us has turned to our own way;
and the Lord has laid on him
the iniquity of us all. (Isaiah 53: 4-6 NIV)
He initially thought that the Navy had given him the wrong Bible, one intended for either the protestants or Catholics.
But after checking his Tanankh and finding it had been published by the Hebrew Publishing Company, a Jewish printer, he was even more puzzled because his Jewish Bible was obviously talking about Christ.
This led him to eventually start reading the New Testament, where he quickly realized that much of it had been written by Jews who were simply proclaiming that Jesus was the Jewish Messiah.
His friend, who had suggested Isaiah 53, told Israel that he needed to believe in Jesus for his salvation.
And early one morning, 3 AM, Israel chose to accept Jesus as the Jewish Messiah and said that decision revolutionized his life.
Though Isaiah 53 challenged Israel to accept Jesus, it was also a passage that he was unfamiliar with because over the past few hundred years, Jewish rabbis have purposely avoided discussing this chapter.
In his article, Isaiah 53 – The Forbidden Chapter, Dr. Eitan Bar writes that according to Raphael Levi, a Jewish historian from the 17th century, Isaiah 53 was traditionally read during the Haftarah, that involves the public reading from the prophets during a Jewish service.
It typically follows the reading from the Torah or the law of Moses.
Most believe the practice of reading from the prophets started in 168 BC, when King Antiochus IV Epiphanes forbid the Jews from reading of the book of Moses during their services, resulting in the rabbis reading from the prophets instead.
After the death of King Antiochus, the ban was ended, but the tradition of reading from the prophets continued, followed by a reading from the books of Moses.
But according to Raphael Levi, sometime after the death of Christ, the reading of Isaiah 53 started to become a problem in local synagogues and was causing confusion and strife, because of its description of the suffering of the Messiah, that so eerily paralleled the death of Christ.
As a result, the decision was made during the Haftarah, that the Rabbis would read to Isaiah 52 and then jump to Isaiah 54, completely bypassing the controversial passage.
As a result, many Jews, like Israel, are completely unaware of this description of Christ’s death on the cross found in the Jewish Old Testament.
And though modern Jewish teachers try to explain away Isaiah 53, by stating that it is referring to the nation of Israel, prior to Christ, the ancient rabbis traditionally understood this passage to be a description of the suffering of the Messiah.
In his article, Dr. Eitan Bar cites several of these ancient Jewish teachers who believed this was this the case, including the Midrash Konen that writes in his explanation of Isaiah 53:
“Thus says the Messiah: Endure the sufferings and the sentence your Master who makes you suffer because of the sin of Yisroel. Thus it is written, “He was wounded because of our transgressions, he was crushed because of our iniquities”, until the time the end comes.”