Home » Isaiah 53: God Crushed Jesus?

Isaiah 53: God Crushed Jesus?

by Dr. Eitan Bar
17 minutes read

Yet it was the LORD’s will to crush him
and cause him to suffer.

(Isaiah 53:10)

Without any context, the first part of Isaiah 53:10 does indeed sound as if God crushed and took pleasure in the suffering of his own Son. Preachers of Divine Abuse picked an obscure Old Testament verse written many centuries before Christ because this idea appears nowhere in the pages of the New Testament. They often use this Old Testament verse, teaching that God is some kind of an abuser who receives pleasure from crushing his loved one. Here is a classic example by reformed Baptist pastor C.J. Mahaney:

Who killed Jesus? The Father. The Father killed the Son. Feel God’s love for you revealed in Isaiah 53:10. He crushed his son for you! He crushed Him! He bruised him! He punished him! He disfigured him! He crushed him! With all of the righteous wrath that we deserved. That’s what the Father did. So great was His love.[i]

Likewise, David Platt uses Isaiah 53 in that same manner:

So how can God show both holy hatred and holy love toward sinners at the same time? This is the climactic question of the Bible, and the answer is the cross. At the cross, God showed the full expression of his wrath. Look at the verbs in Isaiah. He was stricken, smitten, afflicted, wounded, crushed, and chastised. Jesus was pulverized under the weight of God’s wrath — as he stood in our place. [ii]  

In his book “The Gospel According to God,” John MacArthur says:

The text shockingly says, “It was the will of the LORD to crush him; he has put him to grief” (Isa.53:10)…The servant’s death was God’s doing.[iii]

But again, this interpretation was never given by any of the New Testament apostles, who mentioned Isaiah 53 in their writings.

Who Crushed Christ?

Were the apostles unaware of Isaiah chapter 53? Did they overrule it? Or maybe they simply had another interpretation of Isaiah 53 in mind? First, let’s see what Isaiah 53 is not about and how the interpretation of Divine Abuse is wrong. Later, we will see what Isaiah 53 is indeed about.

Isaiah 53 in light of the New Testament

The apostles’ perception was that it was men who crushed Christ and took pleasure in his suffering, while God overturned their doing by resurrecting him. In fact, the easiest way to refute the notion that Isaiah 53 speaks of the Father as the one abusing Christ (while enjoying it) is with the New Testament’s mentioning of Isaiah 53. In his writings, Peter refers to Jesus as the suffering servant of Isaiah 53, but in a dramatically different way than how preachers of Divine Abuse do:

When they hurled their insults at him, he did not retaliate; when he suffered, he made no threats. Instead, he entrusted himself to him who judges justly.“He himself bore our sins” in his body on the cross, so that we might die to sins and live for righteousness; “by his wounds you have been healed.”For “you were like sheep going astray,” but now you have returned to the Shepherd and Overseer of your souls. (1st Peter 2:23–25).

According to Peter, Jesus could threaten and retaliate when he suffered on the cross. Is Peter saying Jesus could fight back and take revenge against his Father in heaven? Of course not. Peter understood the evildoers (“they”; “their”) to be those who crushed Jesus. Likewise, any other quotation, reference, or allusion in the New Testament to the 53rd chapter of Isaiah never once proposed that God was the source of Christ’s suffering.[1] None of the apostles suggested that “the Father killed the Son” or that the father “bruised him, punished him, disfigured him, and crushed him.” Peter’s analysis of Isaiah 53 is alone enough to dismiss Divine Abuse’s interpretation of Isaiah 53:10, but notice what Peter was telling some Jewish leaders in Jerusalem:

You killed the Author of life, whom God raised from the dead. To this we are witnesses.
(Acts 3:15)

Men crushed, and God raised Him from the dead. The same was preached in front of the Jewish Sanhedrin:

It is by the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, whom you crucified but whom God raised from the dead, that this man stands before you healed. (Acts 4:10)

And again:

The God of our ancestors raised Jesus from the dead—whom you killed by hanging him on a cross. (Acts 5:30).

The apostles preaching the gospel in the book of acts were convinced all God did to Jesus was to bring him back to life. In his epistles, the apostle Paul claimed the same as well.[2] In short, the New Testament writers put the whole blame for the killing of Jesus solely on mankind, simultaneously crediting God for his resurrection only.

The abuse, rejection, and murder of Christ were undoubtedly evil sins. God did not kill Jesus, and it is impossible for God to delight, take pleasure, or want evil: “For You are not a God who takes pleasure in wickedness; no evil dwells with You.” (Psalm 5:4; see also Psalm 92:15 and Romans 9:14). Therefore, if the rejection, torture, and killing of Christ were injustice and sinful, and they most definitely were, God could not have any desire in them. God merely allowed them.

Theologian Greg Boyd does a great job explaining who is crushing Christ in Isaiah 53:

It was humans who “despised and rejected” this servant as they “hid their faces” from him (v. 3). It was before accusing humans that this servant “did not open his mouth” (v. 7), and it was violent humans who “oppressed and afflicted” this man (v. 7). So too, it was by human “oppression and judgment” that this man “was taken away … cut off from the land of the living” and “was assigned a grave with the wicked” (vs. 8-9). And it was humans from among “his generation” who failed to protest this man’s unjust treatment at the hands of other humans (v. 8). It is thus clear that for Isaiah, as much as for New Testament authors, Christ was “afflicted” by God only in the sense that it was God who delivered him over to violent humans to experience the death-consequences of our transgressions.[iv]

It will be unprecedented and unperceivable to think that God would receive satisfaction from the fact people rejected, abused, and killed his innocent and righteous servant, let alone attribute any of these evils to God himself. I cannot stress this enough: it was not God who crushed Jesus. It was wicked men who murdered Jesus. All humanity, born in Adam, is at fault for killing Jesus. Not God. The all-knowing, all-loving God knew we would do so, yet allowed Christ to become the ultimate atoning sacrifice for our sake, once and for all. Sinners killed Jesus; God raised him from the dead. That was the gospel preached by the apostles. Thomas McCall summarizes it well:

The earliest apostolic preaching of the cross insists that the death of Christ was the result of the sinful actions of the very sinners Christ came to save. There is no ambiguity about it: again and again, the gospel proclamation insists that “you killed him” (e.g., Acts 2:23). And it draws a sharp contrast between the actions of the sinful humans who are responsible for the death of Jesus and the actions of God: “You killed him”—”but God raised him from the dead” (NIV; Acts 2:24)…The earliest Christian preachers do not say that God killed Jesus; to the contrary, the responsibility for the death of Christ clearly falls upon sinful humanity. At the same time, however, in the early apostolic preaching there is no indication that this was in any way a senseless accident or an unforeseen tragedy. To the contrary, this proclamation of the gospel includes the affirmation that this was within the providence of an omniscient God. Jesus Christ was “handed over” according to “God’s deliberate plan and foreknowledge.” (Acts 2:23)[v]

Herod is another proof that the devil, not God, wanted to kill Christ when he committed the massacre of innocent babies in an attempt to kill baby Jesus. 

Even in preparation for the passion, during Jesus’s last supper with his disciples, we are told it was Satan who entered Judas — a sinner with evil motivation — to betray Jesus so he would be killed (John 13:2, 13:27; Luke 22:3).

Isaiah 53 in light of Genesis 3:15

Perhaps the “checkmate” for our Isaiah 53 debate is found in Genesis 3:15. Bible scholars point to the fact that Isaiah 53:10 echoes the promise given in Genesis 3:15. Andrew Robert Fausset notes (in his commentary on Isaiah 53:10) that: “Genesis 3:15, was hereby fulfilled.”[vi] Genesis 3:15 is known as the famous prophetic promise God gave that one day in the future, the promised one (Christ) will be killed by the serpent (and vice versa):

He will crush your head,
and you will strike his heel

Who is it in Genesis 3:15 that will kill Christ? Not the good God but the serpent. Satan is the one striking the Messiah. Think about the irony here for a moment: Some modern preachers blame God for striking Jesus, while at the same time, Genesis foretells Satan would strike Jesus. It seems we have a decision to make, either we go with Divine Abuse’s interpretation, which proclaims God struck Jesus, or we go with the prophetic interpretation of Genesis 3:15, which claims that the serpent struck Jesus. Which interpretation better fits the teachings of the New Testament? According to the gospels and epistles, Satan was behind the betrayal, arrest, torture, and execution of Jesus, not his Father God.

To attribute demonic actions to God is the height of blasphemy. Earlier, I referred to a statement by reformed pastor Jared Wilson of The Gospel Coalition, who said that “a wrathless cross” (meaning a gospel whereby God did not abuse and kill Jesus) is a “satanic doctrine.” Considering Genesis 3:15 teaches that Jesus was killed by Satan, I think irony just died a thousand deaths.

Isaiah 53

Isaiah 53 and Psalm 22 are perhaps the strongest messianic prophecies foretelling the Messiah’s rejection, torture, and death.[3] Isaiah 53, however, is an unusual and challenging text. It is a poetic prophecy written from the perspective of the nation of Israel in the future, looking back in time. Then, Israel finally understands it was wrong all along, rejecting and killing its own Messiah. In verse four, Israel looks back in repentance and says:

Surely he took up our pain and bore our suffering, yet we considered him punished by God, stricken by him, and afflicted.

If we are to consider Isaiah 53:10 in light of Isaiah 53:4, then it is Israel who wrongly thought the Messiah to be crushed by God. Isaiah predicted that Jesus would be struck, disfigured, spat on, mocked, and killed hundreds of years before Christ’s crucifixion, not by God but by men (Mark 15:17-19, Matthew 27:39-44). Israel confused his suffering as being a punishment from God. Ironically, this same error is now being repeated by Christian preachers.

How should we read Isaiah 53?

When we speak with people, we don’t stop to analyze what genre the conversation is or what each word means. According to context, our mind interprets language automatically when we listen and talk to one another. It is more challenging to do so when we read a text; therefore, we sometimes re-read parts to ensure we understand them correctly. But for some reason, some Christians make an exception with the Bible, taking every word in it literally and as if the Bible is a textbook or a manual written in the 21st century and their mother tongue language.[4] When we read ancient stories, parables, and figures of speech, ignoring their genre and context and reading them only literally, we may mistakenly come to believe that women get saved by having babies (1st Timothy 2:15), that we should pluck our eyes out (Matthew 18:9), or that we literally eat and drink the very blood and flesh of Christ.[5] (John 6:54).

In the case of Isaiah’s 53rd chapter,[6] we know Isaiah is not attempting to give a literal historical account of events that took place (histography). Instead, we read it as a poetic prophecy written using a lot of metaphors and figurative language to describe Israel’s future point of view in retrospect. Poetry, metaphors, and figurative language are not to be read literally.

Isaiah 53 is about a time when Israel as a nation will finally understand that we rejected our Messiah. We must pay close attention to symbolism, metaphorical and figurative language in the text of Isaiah. Otherwise, if we take everything literally, we will end up with some strange and funny ideas. For instance, we might mistakenly think that God has a physical hand reaching down from the heavens and touching people (53:1). We might think the Servant (Christ) is a root growing somewhere in the desert (53:2). We might think that human beings are livestock (53:6). Or we might think that Jesus is a mute (53:7) who had biological children (53:10). However, we know to treat these words as metaphors and as a figurative and symbolic language. In the same way, we should treat “crush” in verse 10.

To crush?

The first half of verse 10 reads: “Yet it was the LORD’s will to crush him and cause him to suffer.” The word most relevant to our discussion here is, of course, “crush,” which is a translation of the Hebrew word “DAKA.” Historically, there has been a linguistic debate regarding the meaning of the word “DAKA” in this verse. For example, in the ancient Septuagint translation (also known as the LXX, A translation from Hebrew to Greek), the word DAKA in Isaiah 53:10 was translated as “cleansed.” Jeremy Schipper (Ph.D. in Hebrew Bible from Princeton Theological Seminary) explains:

The LXX has the servant’s disability removed by translating 53:10 as “Yet the LORD determined to cleanse him [the servant] of his disease.”[vii]

English translations that used the Septuagint, like the ABP, translated: “God was willing to cleanse him from the wounds.” So, the word ‘DAKA’ (which was translated as ‘crush’ in most English translations) may also be understood as ‘cleansed.’

But for the sake of argument, let’s reject this option. Then, we still have to figure out what “crush” meant to the original readers of this text.

We know that Jesus was literally nailed, not crushed. So figuratively speaking, what does it mean that it was God’s will for him to be crushed? I will argue that DAKA, to the original reader and in context, meant “humble.”

In Psalm 34:18, for example, the same Hebrew word (DAKA) is used to figuratively speak of humble people: “The Lord is close to the brokenhearted and saves those who are crushed in spirit.” God saves the lowly (“crushed in spirit”).

Jeremiah 34:10 is another example whereby the Hebrew ‘DAKA’ was translated ‘humble’:

To this day they have not humbled themselves or shown reverence, nor have they followed my law and the decrees I set before you and your ancestors.

In light of this, we should see ‘DAKA’ in the meaning that God wanted the Servant-Messiah to be humble despite being the Son of God who suffers unjustly. God wanted Christ to humble himself and not resist. Evildoers “crushed” Jesus, but God wanted Christ to be obedient, humble himself, and “crush” his pride:

Christ Jesus: Who, being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be used to his own advantage; rather, he made himself nothing by taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness. And being found in appearance as a man, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to death— even death on a cross! Therefore God exalted him to the highest place. (Philippians 2:5-9)

Many times in our lives, we experience injustice. Our primal instinct is to fight back and take revenge (which will only cause the other side to retaliate again). But if we do an eye for an eye, everyone will be left blind.[7] Instead, we can humble ourselves, allowing God the space to show up and act on our behalf.

Before the modern interpretation of Isaiah 53 by preachers of Divine Abuse, the 19th-century commentary on Isaiah 53 by Hebrew expert Franz Delitzsch and Carl Friedrich Keil puts the entire blame for the suffering of the servant solely on men:

It was men who inflicted upon the Servant of God such crushing suffering, such deep sorrow.[viii]

According to Delitzsch and Keil, in his wisdom, God merely used men’s sin to progress his plan as he:

 Made the sin of men subservient to His pleasure, His will, and predetermined counsel.[ix]

God allowed men to abuse Jesus yet used it to advance his plan of salvation. Christ humbling himself and crushing his pride resulted in salvation for mankind. Imagine that! The Son of God humbles himself in front of men, wicked evil men. Christ’s humbleness that led to his self-sacrificial act is what brought God pleasure. God does not punish, torture, or kill innocents. God, however, knows how to use everything, evil included, to advance his plans and bring out glory and redemption.[8] This should serve as a comforting reminder for all of us.

Scriptures often describe God as one who receives satisfaction and pleasure from sacrifices.[9] The sacrifices produced a “pleasing aroma” that God enjoyed “smelling” because, among other things, they symbolized humbleness. Bearing this in mind, consider the very beginning of Isaiah, where God declares he is not pleased with the smell coming from Israel’s sacrifices:

 The multitude of your sacrifices— what are they to me?” says the Lord. “I have more than enough of burnt offerings, of rams and the fat of fattened animals; I have no pleasure in the blood of bulls and lambs and goats. (Isaiah 1:11)

God took no pleasure in Israel’s sacrifices because Israel behaved the opposite of being humbled and lowly. They were being proud, evil, and abusive (verses 16-17). Therefore, their offerings got rejected. However, in contrast with the offerings sacrificed by unrighteous Israel in the first chapter of Isaiah, the sacrifice by the righteous Servant of God and the ultimate representative of Israel in chapter 53 does bring a pleasing aroma to God. In chapter 53, God is pleased with the aroma coming from the righteous and lowly Messiah because he humbled himself and sacrificed himself. Christ, the Servant of the Lord, became the ideal concept of love — a righteous one humbling himself and giving up his own life for the sake of sinners. He could have retaliated, but he humbled himself instead. In that sense, God’s will for him was to be crushed. When we sacrifice for the sake of others — those who hate us especially — we create a pleasing aroma to God. Isaiah 53 is not a chapter about an angry God who crushed Jesus and enjoyed his suffering. Isaiah 53 is a chapter about a God who is so loving that he humbles himself even before sinners – to save sinners.

What servant is God after?

As a father, I could never take pleasure in the suffering of my son, but if I knew he chose to suffer to save a friend’s life, I would be proud and take pleasure in his sacrificial love. Likewise, God could only take pleasure in the humility, obedience, perseverance, and self-sacrifice act of Christ. Not in his suffering. And definitely not in causing it.

However, preachers of Divine Abuse try to convince us that God wants to see blood – as if dead creatures bring pleasure to the God of the living. But this is not at all the case. It is the sacrificial act of being willing to give everything up for the sake of others that merry the heart of God. Humility, in contrast with pride, is what God is after. Divine Abuse shares a gospel whereby God is so upset with your sin that he had to shy away from you. But I think Isaiah 53 is an excellent reminder of the opposite, that to be righteous in God’s eyes is not about locking yourself away from sinners but about loving, serving, and even dying — for the sake of sinners.

The self-sacrificial act of Christ is not a call to hide in shelters and criticize the sinful world outside as if we are any better than anyone else (that’s pride). Christ’s sacrifice is a reminder we, too, are called to sacrifice for those that only an hour ago we complained about. If we humble ourselves through self-sacrifice and humility as Christ did, the outcome will be a pleasing aroma to God. Christ’s death can “make many to be accounted righteous” (Isaiah 53:11). This is what it means to “offer your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and pleasing to God.” (Romans 12:1; see also Philippians 4:18). When you serve others and sacrifice for them, you create the aroma God is after.

Jesus “took up our pain and bore our suffering” (Isaiah 53:4) not because God abused him, as told by preachers of Divine Abuse, but because he had perfect empathy. When you empathize with someone, when you “mourn with those who mourn.” (Romans 12:15) you feel their pain and suffer with them. When Christ walked on earth, that’s exactly what he did. He took up our our pain. He related with those suffering. (John 11:33-36) He did so until the end.

To end our discussion on Isaiah 53, let’s reflect on the obedience of Jesus. True obedience is an expression of love and respect through free will, not obedience due to someone demanding it or because you are forced. Obedience by compulsion is fake. It’s only external and demonstrated out of fear of being caught and punished. Fear doesn’t change the heart in positive ways. Forcing obedience is not love and nourishment; it is what societies do to criminals as a last resort. However, God doesn’t look at us as criminals but as children. The goal of obedience is not obedience for the sake of blind legalistic submission but the ability to endure sufferings out of choice and because of love for the sake of others:

Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit. Rather, in humility value others above yourselves, not looking to your own interests but each of you to the interests of the others. In your relationships with one another, have the same mindset as Christ Jesus, who, being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be used to his own advantage; rather, he made himself nothing by taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness. And being found in appearance as a man, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to death- even death on a cross! (Philippians 2:3-8)

People love laws, but God’s law is love. People are quick to judge, but God’s judgment is through mercy. People fight to become leaders, but God’s leadership is by dying for sinners.

In contrast with self-flagellation that is practiced in many religions, we are to keep obedient through suffering, not for our sake and not to glorify ourselves, but for the benefit of others who can be redeemed through our acts of sacrifice. These self-sacrificial acts of love for others create the pleasing aroma God looks for. This is what Isaiah 53 is all about.

This article is based on my new book, ‘The “Gospel” of Divine Abuse,’ available on this Amazon page.
A free sample is available here.

[1] Matthew 8:14-17; John 12:37-41; Luke 22:35-38; 1 Peter 2:19-25; Acts 8:26-35; Romans 10:11-21.

[2] For example: 1st Thess. 2:14-15

[3] For more about Jesus in the Old Testament prophecies, see my book: “Refuting Rabbinic Objections to Christianity & Messianic Prophecies.”

[4] Even in the case of those who speak modern Greek or Hebrew, like me, the biblical languages are not identical and offer some challenges.

[5] In the Catholic church, for example, ‘transubstantiation’ is based on a literal interpretation of the words of Jesus in John 6:32-58. According to the teaching of some in the Catholic Church, the whole substance of bread changes into the substance of the body of Christ, and of the whole substance of wine into the substance of the blood of Christ. So, when the believer drinks the wine and eats the bread, he practically eats and drinks human flesh and blood. This of course would have been a foreign idea to the Jewish followers of Jesus, as it is forbidden by the Law (for example, Leviticus 17:13-14)

[6] Which actually starts at 52:13.

[7] I take “An eye for an eye” (Exodus 21:23–27) as a limitation not to over retaliate. If your nasty neighbor killed your sheep, don’t revenge by going after his daughter with a bow and arrow.   

[8] Even when it comes to the worst of evils mankind can produce. Israel’s first prime minister, David Ben-Gurion, said that if it weren’t for the holocaust, the modern state of Israel would not exist.

[9] For example: Genesis 8:21; Leviticus 1:9, 23:18; Ephesians 5:2, 2nd Corinthians 2:15; etc.    

[i] C.J. Mahaney, “The Cross: A Meditation on Jesus’ Atoning Death.” May 29, 2006. New Attitude Conference; Louisville, KY. Available at https://vimeo.com/5289815, at minute 48.

[ii] David Platt, Sep 24, 2011 speech, Desiring God 2011 National Conference. 

[iii] John MacArthur, “The Gospel according to God”, Hagefen Publishing, Rishon Le Tzion, 2019, page 139. Hebrew version.

[iv] Greg Boyd, “Did Yahweh Crush His Son?” Aug 2017, ReKnew.

[v] Thomas H. McCall, Against God and Nature: The Doctrine of Sin, Foundations of Christian Theology, ed. John S. Feinberg (Wheaton: Crossway, 2019), 344.

[vi] Fausset, A. R. (n.d.). A Commentary, Critical, Experimental, and Practical, on the Old and New Testaments: Job–Isaiah: Vol. III (p. 732). William Collins, Sons, & Company, Limited.

[vii] Jeremy Schipper, “Disability and Isaiah’s Suffering Servant”, Oxford University Press, 2011, page 67.

[viii] Keil, C. F., & Delitzsch, F. (1996). Commentary on the Old Testament (Vol. 7, p. 517). Hendrickson.

[ix] Ibid.

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Dr. Eitan Bar
Author, Theologian, Activist