Crucifixion Predicted in the Messiah Prophecies?
Often asked is the question of whether crucifixion was predicted in the prophecies. When Jesus of Nazareth was asked this question, he pointed to prophecies to be fulfilled by the Messiah.
Prophecies are seldom as clear as Micah’s Bethlehem prophecy predicting the Ruler of Israel would come from Bethlehem or Zechariah’s prophecy foretelling the King of Israel would come riding on the foal of a donkey. Some are delivered in perplexing, oracle-style prophecies often requiring knowledge of historical context, analogies or symbolisms, and intermingling the present and future.
Three parashahs or passages from the Old Testament, the Tenakh, are the focus of potential crucifixion prophecies – Psalms 22:1-24, Isaiah 52:13-53:12 and Zechariah 12:8-14. Historical and modern medical analysis are consistent with them.
Historical context substantiating these prophecies first comes from Cicero, Rome’s most celebrated orator and lawyer. In a murder prosecution case, he described how a victim of a Roman crucifixion was first scourged, “exposed to torture and nailed on that cross” – it was “the most miserable and the most painful punishment appropriate to slaves alone.”
Jewish historian Josephus wrote several accounts about the terrors of crucifixion and how it became a commonplace means to kill Jews, convicted or innocent. Rescued victims did not even survive an attempted crucifixion as attested by his own personal experience.
Modern forensic medical expert analysis of a crucifixion provides further context. The act of merely trying to take a breath added to the excruciating pain of being nailed to a cross by pulling at the nail wounds driven through nerves in the wrists while pushing up full body weight on nailed feet. Many of the crucifixion victims most likely died by asphyxiation. Add to that the psychological suffering from enduring scorn, humiliation, taunting and insults.
Psalms prophecies might include the well-known yet controversial, Psalms 22, depicting a man whose “bones [are] out of joint,” “heart has turned to wax,” “tongue sticks to the roof of my mouth,” and “they have pierced my hands and feet.” The parashah also describes the psychological torture of enduring agony and humiliation.
Zechariah 12:10 succinctly says the Messiah will be killed and “… they will mourn for him as one mourns for an only child, and grieve bitterly for him as one grieves for a firstborn son.” While both Judaism and Christianity have disagreements, even among themselves, on the exact meaning of the prophecy, they agree the Messiah would be killed by being “thrust through” or “pierced.” Gospel accounts describe Jesus being pierced by nails and thrust with a spear.
Isaiah chapters 52-53 parashah of “My Servant” describes the manner of death that is wholly consistent with a Roman crucifixion. His plight is depicted to have a physical “appearance was so disfigured beyond that of any man and his form marred beyond human likeness.” Graphically, the parashah describes the mental anguish of “My Servant” who experiences “suffering of his soul,” is “despised and rejected by men” and is considered “stricken by God, smitten by him, and afflicted.”
Hebrew word chalal in Isaiah 53:5 is one of those words that have multiple meanings, in this case, over 20 definitions and variations. The primary definition in a negative context is “to profane, defile, pollute, desecrate” and in a positive sense, “begin.”
Virtually all Bibles translate chalal, in about a 50/50 split, as either “pierced” or “wounded” including the Jewish Publication Society and the William Davidson translation of “wounded.” However, The Complete Jewish Bible translates chalal as “pained” with Rabbi Rashi’s commentary, “…he was chastised so that there be peace for the entire world.”
Jewish authorities are virtually silent on the Isaiah 52-53 parashah’s graphic depiction being consistent with that of a crucifixion and thus it does not foretell the death of “My Servant.” However, certain verses within this parashah of Isaiah are acknowledged in the Talmud and by Rabbi sages as Messiah prophecies.
Rabbi Jose the Galilean quoted Isaiah 53:5 declaring the prophecy referred to “King Messiah” who would be “wounded” for our transgressions. Jose the Galilean was a Talmud contributor recognized for his authority on sacrifices and the Temple. Independently he wrote the Messiah would be wounded for our transgressions quoting from Isaiah 53.7.
Rabbi Maimonides similarly identified the Messiah as the subject of Isaiah 52:15 and 53:2. The Rabbi expounded the Messiah could be identified by his origins and his wonders. Talmud tractate Sanhedrin 98b quotes Isaiah 53:3 as the basis for one of the names of the Messiah.
Rabbi Moshe Kohen ibn Crispin said “My Servant” in Isaiah 52:13 refers to “King Messiah.” Crispin is renowned for his twelfth century authorship of Sefer ha-Musar meaning the Book of Instruction. Crispin boldly disagreed with the prevailing Jewish view that “My Servant” is a metaphor referring to the nation of Israel.
Six of the 15 verses of the Isaiah 52-53 parashah – Isaiah 52:13,15, 53:2, 3, 5, 7 – are considered by various Jewish authorities to be prophecies about the Messiah. For this reason, it becomes challenging to claim the entire parashah is not a prophecy about the Messiah.
Jesus of Nazareth himself referred to the prophecies describing the manner of death for the Messiah. Days before entering Jerusalem for the last time, Jesus forewarned his Disciples predicting in precise detail of what he was about to endure as foretold by the prophets:
LK 18:31-32 “Jesus took the Twelve aside and told them, “We are going up to Jerusalem, and everything that is written by the prophets about the Son of Man will be fulfilled. He will be turned over to the Gentiles. They will mock him, insult him, spit on him, flog him and kill him.”(NIV)
History, Judaism and Christainity affirm that Jesus of Nazareth was subjected to the horrific physical and psychological designs of a crucifixion consistent with accounts of historians and modern forensic science analysis. Is crucifixion predicted in the Messiah prophecies foretelling the manner of suffering and death by the Messiah?
Rabbi Crispin profoundly summed up the challenge for each person to arrive at his or her own conclusion about the prophecies:
“… if any one should arise claiming to be himself the Messiah, we may reflect, and look to see whether we can observe in him any resemblance to the traits described here: if there is any such resemblance, then we may believe that he is the Messiah our righteousness; but if not, we cannot do so.” – Rabbi Crispin
Updated February 5, 2023.
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