Sign of the Coming Servant

In our last post we had seen that the prophet Daniel had predicted that the Masih would be ‘cut off’.  This seemed to contradict other prophets who wrote that the Masih would rule.  But the contradiction is resolved when we realize that the prophets were looking at two different comings of the Masih.  One coming to be ‘cut off’ and the other to ‘rule’.  The Jewish nation, by and large, missed this because they did not know all the scriptures.  This should be taken as a warning for us that we do not do the same.

We come to the close of our journey through the Zabur.  But we have a little more to learn.  The Prophet Isaiah (see him in the timeline below) had prophesied

When Isaiah lived
Historical Timeline of Prophet Isaiah (PBUH) with some other prophets in Zabur

about the coming Masih usng the image of a Branch.  But he also wrote about a coming person whom he called the Servant.  He wrote a long passage about this coming Servant.  Who was this ‘Servant’?  What was he going to do?  We look at the passage in detail.  I reproduce it exactly and in full here below, insert some comments to explain.

The Coming Servant predicted by the Prophet Isaiah.  The complete passage from Isaiah 52:13-53:12)

See, my servant will act wisely;
he will be raised and lifted up and highly exalted.
14 Just as there were many who were appalled at him
his appearance was so disfigured beyond that of any human being
and his form marred beyond human likeness—
15 so he will sprinkle many nations,
and kings will shut their mouths because of him.
For what they were not told, they will see,
and what they have not heard, they will understand.

We know that this Servant will be a human man because Isaiah refers as a ‘he’, ‘him’, ‘his’.  When Harun (PBUH) would give his sacrifice for the Israelites he would sprinkle the people with the blood – and then their sins were covered and would not be held against them.  When it says that the Servant will ‘sprinkle’ the prophet Isaiah means that in a similar way this Servant will sprinkle people of their sins like Harun (PBUH) did for the Israelites when he made the sacrifices.

But the Servant will sprinkle ‘many nations’.  So the Servant is not coming for the Jews only.  This reminds us of the promises to Ibrahim (PBUH) when Allah said (Sign 1 and Sign 3) that ‘all nations’ would be blessed through his offspring.  But in doing this sprinkling the ‘appearance’ and ‘form’ of the Servant will be ‘disfigured’ and ‘marred’. Though it is not clear what the Servant will do to be disfigured like this, one day the nations ‘will understand

53 Who has believed our message
and to whom has the arm of the Lord been revealed?
He [The Servant] grew up before him [The LORD] like a tender shoot,
and like a root out of dry ground.
He had no beauty or majesty to attract us to him,
nothing in his appearance that we should desire him.
He was despised and rejected by mankind,
a man of suffering, and familiar with pain.
Like one from whom people hide their faces
he was despised, and we held him in low esteem.

For some reason, though the Servant would sprinkle many nations, he would also be ‘despised’ and ‘rejected’, full of ‘suffering’ and ‘familiar with pain’.

Surely he took up our pain
and bore our suffering,

yet we considered him punished by God,
stricken by him, and afflicted.
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.

The Servant will take ‘our’ pain.  This Servant will also be ‘pierced’ and ‘crushed’ in ‘punishment’.  This punishment will bring us (those in the many nations) ‘peace’ and make us ‘healed’.

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.

We saw in the Sign of our Thirst, how easily we go to our own ‘broken wells’ to satisfy our thirst instead of turning to Allah.  We have ‘gone astray’ each of us ‘turned to our own way’.  This is sin (= iniquity).

He was oppressed and afflicted,
yet he did not open his mouth;
he was led like a lamb to the slaughter,
and as a sheep before its shearers is silent,
so he did not open his mouth

With the prophets Abel, Noah, Ibrahim, Musa and Harun (PBUT) they brought lambs to be given in sacrifice.  But The Servant himself will be like a lamb going to the ‘slaughter’.  But he will not protest or even ‘open his mouth’.

.By oppression and judgment he was taken away.
Yet who of his generation protested?
For he was cut off from the land of the living;
for the transgression of my people he was punished.

This Servant was ‘cut off’ from the ‘land of the living’.  Is this what the prophet Daniel meant when he said that the Masih would be ‘cut off’?  The exact same words are used!  What does it mean to be ‘cut off from the land of the living’ except that one will die?

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.

If he was assigned ‘a grave’ this Servant must have died.  He died condemned as a ‘wicked’ man even though ‘he had done no violence’ and no ‘deceit was in his mouth’

10 Yet it was the Lord’s will to crush him and cause him to suffer,
and though the Lord makes his life an offering for sin,
he will see his offspring and prolong his days,
and the will of the Lord will prosper in his hand

This whole cruel death was not some terrible accident or misfortune. It was explicitly ‘the LORD’s will’ to ‘crush him’.  But why?  Just like Harun’s sacrifice was an ‘offering for sin’ so that the person giving the sacrifice could be held blameless, here the ‘life’ of this Servant is also an ‘offering for sin’.  For whose sin?  Well considering that ‘many nations’ would be ‘sprinkled’ (from above) it must be the sin of the peoples in the ‘many nations’.

.11 After he has suffered, he will see the light of life and be satisfied; by his knowledge my righteous servant will justify many, and he will bear their iniquities.

Though the prophecy of the Servant is gruesome here it changes tone and become very optimistic and even triumphant.  After this terrible ‘suffering’ (of being ‘cut off from the land of the living’ and assigned ‘a grave’), this Servant will see ‘the light of life’.  He will come back to life?!  And in so doing this Servant will ‘justify’ many.

To ‘justify’ is the same as giving ‘righteousness’.  Remember that to get ‘Righteousness’ from the Law of Musa one had to keep ALL the commands ALL the time.  But the prophet Ibrahim (Sign 2) was ‘credited’ or given ‘righteousness’.  It was given to him simply because of his trust.  In a similar way this Servant will justify, or credit righteousness to ‘many’.  Is righteousness not something that we both want and need?

12 Therefore I will give him a portion among the great,
and he will divide the spoils with the strong,
because he poured out his life unto death,
and was numbered with the transgressors.
For he bore the sin of many,
and made intercession for the transgressors.

This Servant will be among ‘the great’ because he volunteered (‘poured’) out his life ‘unto death’.  And he died as one who was numbered as a ‘transgressor’, that is as a ‘sinner’.  Because the Servant did this he can make ‘intercession’ on behalf of the ‘transgressors’.  An intercessor is an intermediary between two parties,  The two parties here must be the ‘many people’ and ‘the LORD’.  This “servant’ is sufficiently worthy to interceded or plead on our behalf to Allah himself!

Who is this Servant?  How would all these things happen?  Can and will he ‘intercede’ on behalf of ‘many’ from different ‘nations’ to Allah himself?  We conclude the Zabur by looking at the last prophecy and then we go to the Injil itself.

The Masih: Coming to rule … or be ‘cut off’?

In our last articles we have seen how the prophets gave signs predicting the name of the Masih (the prediction was Jesus) and predicting the time of his coming. These are amazingly specific prophecies, recorded and set in writing hundreds of years before the coming of Jesus (Is al Masih – PBUH) and they correctly predicted him. These prophecies were written down, and are still there(!), in the Jewish scriptures – not in the Injil or the Qur’an. The question then arises as to why the Jewish people did not and still (mostly) do not accept Jesus as Christ (the Masih) since this is written in their book.

Before we look at this question, I should clarify that asking the question in the way that I did is not quite accurate. Many Jews in the lifetime of Jesus (Isa – PBUH) did accept him as the Masih. And today there are also many who accept him as the Masih. But the fact remains, as a nation, they did not accept him. So why?

Why do the Jews not accept Isa (PBUH) as the Masih?

The Gospel of Matthew (Injil) records an encounter between Isa (PBUH) and the Jewish religious teachers (called Pharisees and Sadducees – they had a similar role as imams have today). They had posed a trick question to him and here is Jesus reply:

Jesus replied, “You are in error because you do not know the Scriptures or the power of God. (Matthew 22:29)

This exchange gives us an important clue. Though these were leaders who taught the Taurat and Zabur to the people, Jesus accused them of not knowing the scriptures and not knowing the power of God. What did he mean by this? How could the experts not ‘know the scriptures’?

The Jews did not know ALL the scriptures

When you study what the leaders talked about and referenced in the Taurat and Zabur you will notice that they were very aware of only certain prophecies – and not other ones. So we saw, for example, in the Sign of the Virgin’s Son, that the experts knew the prophecy that the Masih would come from Bethlehem. Here is the verse that the experts in the Law quoted to King Herod at the birth of Isa to show where the Masih was to be born:

“But you, Bethlehem Ephrathah,

though you are small among the clans of Judah,

out of you will come for me

one who will be ruler over Israel,

whose origins are from of old,

from ancient times.” (Micah 5:2)

You will see that they knew the verse that referenced the Christ (= Masih – see here for why these terms are the same) and that this verse refers to him as the ‘ruler’. Another passage, well-known to the Jewish experts, was Psalm 2, inspired by Dawood (PBUH) which first introduced the title ‘Christ’ and which said that the ‘Christ’ would be ‘installed as King in Zion” (= Jerusalem or Al Quds) as we see in the passage.

The kings of the earth take their stand … against the LORD and against his Masih … The One enthroned in heaven laughs; the Lord scoffs at them… saying, “I have installed my King on Zion, my holy hill … (Psalm 2 of Zabur)

The Jewish teachers were also well aware of the following passages from Zabur

O Lord, … For the sake of Dawud your servant, do not reject your Masih. The Lord swore an oath to Dawud, a sure oath that he will not revoke: “One of your own descendants I will place on your throne— … “Here I will make a horn grow for Dawud and set up a lamp for my Masih. (Psalm 132:10-18 of Zabur)

The Jews did not know the power of God by limiting it by their logic

So they knew certain passages, all of which pointed in one direction – that the Masih would rule with power. Given that in the time of Isa (Jesus – PBUH) the Jews lived under Roman occupation in the land of Israel (see here for history of Jews) this was the only kind of Masih that they wanted. They wanted a Masih that would come with power and repel the hated Romans and set up the powerful Kingdom that King Dawud had established 1000 years before (see here for background to King Dawud). This yearning to have a Masih shaped from their own desires rather than from the plan of Allah kept them from studying all their scriptures.

Then they used their human reason to limit the power of God in their thinking. The prophecies said that the Masih would rule in Jerusalem. Jesus did not rule with power from Jerusalem. So he could not be the Masih! It was simple logic. They limited the power of God by confining Him to their linear and human logic.

The Jews to this day largely do not know the prophecies of Zabur. Though it is in their book, called the Tanakh (=Taurat + Zabur) but if they read anything they just read the Taurat. They are ignoring God’s commands to know ALL the scriptures and are therefore ignorant of the other prophecies, and by limiting God with their human logic, they reason that since the Masih is to rule, and Isa did not rule, he cannot be the Masih. End of story! No need to investigate the question further! To this day most Jews do not look further into the issue.

The Masih: Coming to be … ‘cut off’

But if they did examine the scriptures they would learn something that we are now about to learn. In the last article we saw that the prophet Daniel (PBUH) correctly predicted the time of the coming of the Masih. But now notice what else he said about this Messiah (= Anointed One=Masih=Christ)

So you are to know and discern that from the issuing of a decree to restore and rebuild Jerusalem until Messiah (or Anointed One) the Prince there will be seven weeks and sixty-two weeks; it will be built again, with plaza and moat, even in times of distress. Then after the sixty-two weeks the Messiah will be cut off and have nothing, and the people of the prince who is to come will destroy the city and the sanctuary. And its end will come with a flood; even to the end there will be war; desolations are determined. (Daniel 9:25-26)

Notice what Daniel says will happen to the Masih when he arrives. Does Daniel predict that the Masih will rule? That he will occupy the throne of his ancestor Dawud and destroy the occupying Roman power? No!  In fact it says, quite clearly, that the Masih will be ‘cut off and will have nothing’. Then it says that foreign people will destroy the sanctuary (the Jewish Temple) and the city (Jerusalem) and that it would become desolate. If you look at the history of the Israelites you will see that this indeed happened. Forty years after the passing of Jesus the Romans came and burned down the Temple, destroyed Jerusalem and sent the Jews into worldwide exile so that they were driven from the land. Events happened in 70 AD exactly as prophesied by Daniel around 537 BC, and predicted previously by the Prophet Musa (PBUH) in the Curses.

So Daniel predicted the Masih was not going to rule! Instead he would be ‘cut off and have nothing’. The Jewish leaders missed this because they did not ‘know the scriptures’. But this raises another problem. Is there not a contradiction between the prophecy of Daniel (‘cut off’) and those that the Jews were familiar with (the Masih would rule). After all, if all the prophets had messages from Allah, all of them would have to come true as specified by Musa (PBUH) in the Taurat. How could it be possible that the Masih would be cut off AND that he would rule? It seemed that their human logic had outsmarted the ‘power of God’.

Contradiction between ‘Rule’ and ‘Cut off’ explained

But of course their logic was not stronger than the power of God. They were simply, as we humans do, not recognizing an assumption they were making. They assumed that the Masih was to come only once. If that were the case then there would indeed be a contradiction between the rule of the Masih and his being ‘cut off’. So they limited the power of God in their minds because of their logic, but in the end it was their logic that was faulty. The Masih was to come two times. In the first coming he would fulfill the ‘cut off and have nothing’ prophecies and only in the second coming would he fulfill the ‘ruling’ prophecies. From that perspective the ‘contradiction’ is easily resolved.

Do we also miss ALL the scriptures and limit the power of God?

But what did it mean that the Masih would be ‘cut off and have nothing’? We will look at this question soon  But for now perhaps it would be more useful to reflect on how the Jews missed the signs. We have already seen two reasons why the Jews did not see the signs of the Masih. There is also a third reason, which is recorded for us in the Gospel of John (Injil) in another exchange between Jesus (Isa – pbuh) and the religious leaders where he says to them.

You study the Scriptures diligently because you think that in them you have eternal life. These are the very Scriptures that testify about me, yet you refuse to come to me to have life…. How can you believe since you accept glory from one another but do not seek the glory that comes from the only God? (John 5: 39-44)

In other words, the third reason that the Jews missed the signs of the Masih was because they simply ‘refused’ to accept them because they were more interested in winning the approval of each other rather than approval from God!

The Jews are not more misguided and wrong-headed than other people. Yet it is easy for us to sit in judgment over them for missing the signs that Jesus was the Masih. But before we point our fingers at them perhaps we should look at ourselves. Can we honestly say that we know ‘all the scriptures’? Do we not, like the Jews, simply look at the scriptures that we like, are comfortable with, and understand? And do we not often use our human logic to limit the power of God in our minds?  Or do we even sometimes refuse to accept the scriptures because we are concerned about what others think more than what God has said?

The manner in which the Jews missed the signs should be a warning to us. We dare not limit ourselves to only the scriptures that we are familiar with and that we happen to like. We dare not limit the power of God by our human logic. And we dare not refuse to accept what the scriptures teach. Armed with these warnings from how the Jews missed the signs of the coming Masih we now turn to understand the coming of a key person – The Servant.

The Coming Masih: In Signs of ‘Seven’

Many times in the Qur’an, we see that Allah uses cycles in seven.  For example, Surah at-Talaq (Surah 65 – The Divorce) states

God is He Who created seven Firmaments and of the earth a similar number. Through the midst of them (all) descends His Command: that ye may know that God has power over all things, and that God comprehends, all things in (His) Knowledge. (Surah at-Talaq 65:12)

And Surah An-Naba (Surah 78 – The Tidings) says

And (have We not) built over you the seven firmaments, (Surah An-Naba 78:12)

It should not surprise us then that the timing of the coming of the Masih was also given in sevens, as we see below.

As we have explored the prophets we have been learning that though they were sometimes separated from one another by hundreds of years – so they could not humanly coordinate their prophecies with each other – yet their prophecies developed a central theme of the coming Masih (= Christ). We saw that the prophet Isaiah (PBUH) had used the Sign of the Branch from a stump, and then the prophet Zechariah (PBUH) had prophesied that this Branch would have the name Hebrew name Yhowshuwa, which in Greek was Iesous, which is Jesus in English and Isa in Arabic. Yes, the very name of the Masih (= Christ) was prophesied 500 years before Isa al Masih – Jesus (PBUH)– ever lived. This prophecy is written down in the Book of the Jews, (not in the Injil), which is still read and accepted – but not understood – by the Jews.

The Prophet Daniel

We now come to the prophet Daniel (PBUH). He lived in the exile in Babylon and was a powerful official in the Babylonian and Persian governments – as well as a prophet. The timeline below shows where the prophet Daniel (pbuh) lived in the history of the prophets.

 The Prophets Daniel & Nehemiah shown in timeline with other prophets of Zabur
The Prophets Daniel & Nehemiah shown in timeline with other prophets of Zabur

In his book, the prophet Daniel (PBUH), receives a message from the angel Gabriel (Jabril). Daniel and Mary, the mother of Jesus (Isa – PBUH), are the only ones in the whole Bible (al kitab) to have messages given by Gabriel. So we should pay particular attention to this message. The angel Gabriel (Jabril) told him that:

Gabriel … came to me in swift flight about the time of the evening sacrifice… and said to me, “…Seventy ‘sevens’ are decreed for your people and your holy city to finish transgression, to put an end to sin, to atone for wickedness, to bring in everlasting righteousness, to seal up vision and prophecy and to anoint the most holy.

“Know and understand this: From the issuing of the decree to restore and rebuild Jerusalem until the Anointed One, the ruler, comes, there will be seven ‘sevens,’ and sixty-two ‘sevens.’ It will be rebuilt with streets and a trench, but in times of trouble.  After the sixty-two ‘sevens,’ the Anointed One will be cut off and will have nothing. The people of the ruler who will come will destroy the city and the sanctuary. The end will come like a flood: War will continue until the end, and desolations have been decreed. (Daniel 9:21-26)

We see that this is a prophecy of the coming of the ‘Anointed One’ (= Christ = Masih as we saw here). The angel Gabriel gave a timetable of when the Masih was to come. Gabriel said there would be a counting down that would begin with ‘the issuing of the decree to restore and rebuild Jerusalem’. Though Daniel was given this message (around the year 537 BC) he did not live to see the start of this count-down.

The Issuing of the Decree to restore and rebuild Jerusalem

In fact it was Nehemiah, who lived almost one hundred years after Daniel (PBUH), that saw the start of this countdown. He was the cup-bearer to the Persian Emperor Artaxerxes and thus lived in Susa which is in present-day Iran. See when he lived in the timeline above.  He tells us in his book that

In the month of Nisan in the twentieth year of King Artaxerxes, … The king said to me, “What is it you want?”

Then I prayed to the God of heaven,  and I answered the king, “If it pleases the king and if your servant has found favor in his sight, let him send me to the city in Judah where my fathers are buried so that I can rebuild it.”…

I also said to him, “… And may I have a letter to Asaph, keeper of the king’s forest, so he will give me timber to make beams for the gates of the citadel by the temple and for the city wall and for the residence I will occupy?” And because the gracious hand of my God was upon me, the king granted my requests.  So I went to the governors of Trans-Euphrates and gave them the king’s letters…

I went to Jerusalem, … (Nehemiah 2:1-11)

This records the “issuing of the decree to restore and rebuild Jerusalem” that Daniel had prophesied would one day come. And we see that it occurred in the 20th year of the Persian Emperor Artaxerxes, who is well-known in history as starting his reign in 465 BC. Thus his 20th year would place this decree in the year 444 BC. Gabriel had sent a message to the prophet Daniel (PBUH) and given a sign for the start of the countdown. Almost a hundred years later, the Persian Emperor, not knowing about this prophecy of Daniel, issues this decree – setting in motion the countdown that had been written would bring the Anointed One – the Masih.

The mysterious Sevens

The message of Gabriel given to the prophet Daniel indicated that it would take “seven ‘sevens’ and sixty-two ‘sevens’” and then the Masih would be revealed. So what is a ‘Seven’?  In the Taurat of Musa (PBUH) , there was a cycle of seven of years. Every 7th year the land was to rest from agriculture so that the soil could replenish its nutrients. So a ‘Seven’ is a 7-year cycle. With that in mind we see that from the issuing of the decree the countdown would come in two parts. The first part was ‘seven sevens’ or seven 7-year periods. This, 7*7=49 years, was the time it took to rebuild Jerusalem. This was followed by sixty-two sevens, so the total countdown was 7*7 + 62*7 = 483 years. In other words, from the issuing of the decree of Artaxerxes, there would be 483 years until the Masih was revealed.

360-day year

We have to make one little calendar adjustment. As many nations did in ancient times, the prophets used a year-length that was 360 days long. There are different ways to designate the length of a ‘year’ in a calendar. The western one (based on solar revolution) is 365.24 days long, and the Muslim one is 354 days (based on cycles of moon), and one that Daniel used was half-way at 360 days long. So 483 ‘360-day’ years is 483*360/365.24 = 476 solar years.

The Arrival of the Masih predicted to the year

With this information we can calculate when the Masih was supposed to come. We will go from the ‘BC’ era to the ‘AD’ era and there is only 1 year from 1BC – 1AD (There is no ‘zero’ year). The information for this calculation is summarized in the table

Start year 444 BC (20th year of Artaxerxes)
Length of time 476 solar years
Expected arrival in Western Calendar (-444 + 476 + 1) (‘+1’ because there is no 0 AD) = 33
Expected year 33 AD

Jesus of Nazareth came to Jerusalem riding on a donkey in what has become the well-known celebration of Palm Sunday. That day he announced himself and rode into Jerusalem as their Masih. The year was 33 AD.

The prophets Daniel and Nehemiah, though they did not know each other since they lived 100 years apart, were coordinated by Allah to receive prophecies and set in motion the countdown that would reveal the Masih. And about 570 years after the prophet Daniel received his message from Gabriel, Isa entered Jerusalem as the Masih. That is a very remarkable prophecy and precise fulfillment. Along with the prediction of the name of the Masih given by the prophet Zechariah, these prophets form a truly amazing group of predictions so that all those who want to know can see the plan of Allah unfold.

But if these prophecies of Zabur are so remarkable, and they are written in the Jewish Book – not the Injil – why do the Jews not accept Isa as the Masih? It is in their book! It should be obvious we think, especially with such precise and remarkably fulfilled predictions. It is in understanding why the Jews do not accept Isa as the Masih that we learn some further remarkable things about the coming of this One foretold by the prophets. We look at this question in the next article.