As we celebrate Easter today throughout the Christian world, we have great reason to turn to the New Testament accounts of what is commonly referred to as Holy Week. Beginning with Palm Sunday is commemorated Christ’s triumphal entry into Jerusalem. During this week, He visits the temple, heals, feasts at Passover, administers the sacrament, prays in Gethsemane, and is judged, scourged, and crucified. The week then comes to an end as the Tomb is empty, and He has Risen.
These various accounts by the Gospel writers give us a detailed depiction of the above me n fi one d events. There are precious teachings contained that help to allude to some of the why. Restoration scripture helps us to better comprehend the circumstances and purposes of this week. But there is one principal prophet that saw many of these events over 700 years before they took place. Isaiah gives us some rich insight as to the purposes and happenings of the final week of the life of Jesus Christ.
Jesus, Himself, sincerely expressed that, “Great are the words of Isaiah”? (3 Nephi 23:1) His emphasis on this record is so profound because of the degree to which the words of Isaiah contain lavish prophecies of His divinely appointed mission. The risen Lord commanded them and, in turn, us, to “search…diligently…the words of Isaiah. For surely he spake, as touching all things concerning my people which are of the house of Israel…And all things that he spake have been and shall be, even according to the words which he spake.” (3 Nephi 23:1–3.)
Those words from Jesus came to the Nephite people on the American continent after His resurrection. He had just quoted the fifty-fourth chapter of Isaiah in its entirety. He wanted to relay the importance of His work on the people. Isaiah places increased emphasis on not only Christ but also the Gathering of Israel and the covenants that have been promised.
Let us look at a few passages of Isaiah that relate directly to the Savior’s role as the Messiah.
“with everlasting kindness will I have mercy on thee, saith the Lord thy Redeemer.” Before this, Isaiah quotes Jehovah by stating that “For a small moment have I forsaken thee, but with great mercies will I gather thee.”
Through Isaiah, we understand the great mercy of our Savior. Most people tend to relate the Old Testament to a different God than what we see in the New. Isaiah contradicts that notion for me. In Isaiah, I see the great mercy of God.
Repeatedly, we see the Lord express through Isaiah that His arm is stretched out still. We saw this physically occur as Jesus reached out to the sinking Peter. We see this as spiritually possible only through the Atonement of Jesus Christ. Mercy can only satisfy justice through One who could ransom Himself for all others.
No matter what may afflict us during this life, we are not to remain in darkness. He is there for us. As dark as the world was between the crucifixion and resurrection, there was light again. Because He is Risen, we have light and hope. Isaiah paints a glorious picture of hope throughout all of his writings.
In the preceding two chapters of Isaiah, we have the precursor to this redeeming power. I will focus on a few passages next.
“for the Lord hath comforted his people, he hath redeemed Jerusalem.” As we come to understand how Isaiah uses words and references we are able to get an increased understanding of what he is talking about. Here, he references the Lord’s redeeming of Jerusalem. The reference to Jerusalem is to His covenant people. Isaiah knew how Christ would come. Yes, there will come the day when Christ delivers the Covenant people from the physical powers of the world, but through His atoning sacrifice, He has redeemed all who will make and keep His covenants.
Through Gethsemane, we find comfort. Alma gives us a more precious insight into the comfort offered.
Alma 7:11. And he shall go forth, suffering pains and afflictions and temptations of every kind; and this that the word might be fulfilled which saith he will take upon him the pains and the sicknesses of his people.
12. And he will take upon him death, that he may loose the bands of death which bind his people; and he will take upon him their infirmities, that his bowels may be filled with mercy, according to the flesh, that he may know according to the flesh how to succor his people according to their infirmities.
13. Now the Spirit knoweth all things; nevertheless the Son of God suffereth according to the flesh that he might take upon him the sins of his people, that he might blot out their transgressions according to the power of his deliverance; and now behold, this is the testimony which is in me.
Isaiah understood that comfort would come through the Messiah. He knew as Alma did that this would be a spiritual comfort according to the flesh. He knew that it would come about by the healing power in Christ. We are healed, comforted, redeemed, and resurrected because of the events that took place that Easter weekend nearly 2000 Years ago.
Isaiah 53:3-5, 7-9
3. He is despised and rejected of men; a man of sorrows, and acquainted with grief: and we hid as it were our faces from him; he was despised, and we esteemed him not.
4. Surely he hath borne our griefs, and carried our sorrows: yet we did esteem him stricken, smitten of God, and afflicted.
5. But he was wounded for our transgressions, he was bruised for our iniquities: the chastisement of our peace was upon him; and with his stripes we are healed.
7. He was oppressed, and he was afflicted, yet he opened not his mouth: he is brought as a lamb to the slaughter, and as a sheep before her shearers is dumb, so he openeth not his mouth.
8. He was taken from prison and from judgment: and who shall declare his generation? for he was cut off out of the land of the living: for the transgression of my people was he stricken.
9. And he made his grave with the wicked, and with the rich in his death; because he had done no violence, neither was any deceit in his mouth.
These passages in Isaiah are among the most aligned to the Easter story. These statements portray a vivid image of the suffering, burden, and attitude of Jesus Christ as He went through the great ordeals of Gethsemane and Golgotha. Isaiah saw and understood (as much as one could without directly enduring it) the weight that would be born by Christ.
Isaiah saw this week played out. He understood the reason why. He looked to Christ and prophecies of Him because He had seen Him. Christ quoted the words of Isaiah in both His mortal ministry as well as after His resurrection as aforementioned. Several Book of Mormon prophets also quoted him, for great are the words of Isaiah. Let us ponder them often.
“Nephi said: “… my soul delighteth in the words of Isaiah. …” (2 Nephi 25:5.) Personally, I feel about Isaiah and his utterances the same way Nephi felt and think that if I expect to go where Nephi and Isaiah have gone, I had better speak their language, think their thoughts, know what they knew, believe and teach what they believed and taught, and live as they lived. It just may be that my salvation (and yours also!) does in fact depend upon our ability to understand the writings of Isaiah as fully and truly as Nephi understood them.” (Bruce R. McConkie, Ten Keys to Understanding Isaiah, Ensign, October 1973)
“Thy dead men shall live, together with my dead body shall they arise.”
How much more definitive could Isaiah be here? He explicitly quotes Jesus in reference to His almighty resurrection that would indeed occur. As Jesus would rise, so would all of the human family from Eve and Adam on down throughout all of time.
Through Isaiah, we see that all well again rise as spirit and body will be reunited in our perfect form. This is the ultimate story of Easter. It is the message that He overcame death for Himself and subsequently all of God’s children. That means that we all arise with Christ’s dead body. He broke those bands, and Isaiah understood that.
As Though They Had Already Come
As we read through much of Isaiah, we ought to recognize the past or present tense often used. This tense is commonly used for things in the future. The usage of past tense for future events shows a belief in these events as though they had already occurred. He often used words like was, has, hath, and is to relate to Christ’s life and final week.
In his final testimony, Abinadi quotes Isaiah and then offers inspired commentary. In doing so, he expresses this thought by stating that “if Christ had not come into the world, speaking of things to come as though they had already come, there could have been no redemption.” Along with Isaiah, the Book of Mormon prophets understood this principle of living as though Atonement had already occurred.
13 And the Lord God hath sent his holy prophets among all the children of men, to declare these things to every kindred, nation, and tongue, that thereby whosoever should believe that Christ should come, the same might receive remission of their sins, and rejoice with exceedingly great joy, even as though he had already come among them.
I love the visual that we get here from Isaiah and other prophets. He is writing this prophesy over 700 years before Christ would be born, but he writes it in past tense. He relates it as if it had already happened. This is one of the most evident areas that I see in the Bible of this attitude of looking forward to Christ as if He had already come and offered redemption through His great and last sacrifice. Isaiah saw Christ as if the Atonement had already taken place.
Hopefully, through this, you see the power of the prophet Isaiah and his mission to foretell the coming of Christ. We become familiar with Isaiah’s prophecy of the birth of Jesus through Handel’s Messiah, but his prophecies of the work of Jehovah in the flesh are rich. Here, we begin to understand why Nephi stated, “my soul delighteth in the words of Isaiah… they are of worth unto the children of men… [and] for [your] good have I written them.” (2 Nephi 25:5,8)
As we understand, the underlying message of Isaiah is most often on Christ and covenants, then we begin to see the richness of his words. It is why the Book of Mormon contains over 20 directly quoted chapters of Isaiah and the associated commentary of Nephi, Jacob, Abinadi, Samuel, and Jesus Himself. Through Isaiah, we can better understand who Christ was and what His role is in our eternal progress.
Jacob 4:4 For, for this intent have we written these things, that they may know that we knew of Christ, and we had a hope of his glory many hundred years before his coming; and not only we ourselves had a hope of his glory, but also all the holy prophets which were before us.
5 Behold, they believed in Christ and worshiped the Father in his name, and also we worship the Father in his name. And for this intent we keep the law of Moses, it pointing our souls to him; and for this cause it is sanctified unto us for righteousness, even as it was accounted unto Abraham in the wilderness to be obedient unto the commands of God in offering up his son Isaac, which is a similitude of God and his Only Begotten Son.
6 Wherefore, we search the prophets, and we have many revelations and the spirit of prophecy; and having all these witnesses we obtain a hope, and our faith becometh unshaken, insomuch that we truly can command in the name of Jesus and the very trees obey us, or the mountains, or the waves of the sea.
7 Nevertheless, the Lord God showeth us our weakness that we may know that it is by his grace, and his great condescensions unto the children of men, that we have power to do these things.