Question: If Abinadi quotes chapter 53 of Isaiah to the priests of King Noah to convince them that the Holy One of Israel will be born on the earth as the Son of God, why does Abinadi quote the last two verses of chapter 53 about God’s Servant. Isn’t all of chapter 53 about Jesus Christ?
Answer: While in the last three verses of chapter 52 and last two verses of chapter 53 Israel’s God Jehovah is speaking about his servant (Isaiah 52:13–15; 53:11–12), in Isaiah 53:1–10 a spokesperson for God’s people—likely the servant—is speaking about Israel’s God Jehovah. Because biblical scholars have mistakenly lumped these passages into one, many people are confused about the different identities of these two messianic persons.
Jesus, for example—speaking as Israel’s God Jehovah to the Nephites at Bountiful—quotes Isaiah 52:13–15 about his servant in the context of the house of Israel’s end-time restoration. That is the time when the gospel turns from the Ephraimite Gentiles to Israel’s natural lineages: “And when that day shall come, it shall come to pass that kings shall shut their mouths; for that which had not been told them shall they see; and that which they had not heard shall they consider. For in that day, for my sake shall the Father work a work, which shall be a great and a marvelous work among them; and there shall be among them those who will not believe it, although a man shall declare it unto them.
“But behold, the life of my servant shall be in my hand; therefore they shall not hurt him, although he shall be marred because of them. Yet I will heal him for I will show unto them that my wisdom is greater than the cunning of the devil. Therefore it shall come to pass that whosoever will not believe in my words, who am Jesus Christ, which the Father shall cause him to bring forth unto the Gentiles, and shall give unto him power that he shall bring them forth unto the Gentiles, (it shall be done even as Moses said) they shall be cut off from among my people who are of the covenant.” (3 Nephi 21:8–11; cf. Isaiah 52:13–15; 57:18–19) Jesus’ “words” in which “he did expound all things, even from the beginning until the time that he should come in his glory” (3 Nephi 26:1–4) are on the large plates of Nephi, not on the small plates from which the Book of Mormon was taken.
The prophet Abinadi nevertheless quotes the whole of chapter 53—though not Isaiah 52:13–15—in support of Jehovah/Jesus’ coming to redeem his people. That is because proxy salvation under the terms of the Davidic Covenant operates on the same principle for both Jehovah/Jesus and his servant; and that principle needed to be articulated to show how Israel’s God would redeem his people. The only difference in this principle’s application was that Jehovah/Jesus obtained his people’s spiritual salvation while the servant obtains his people’s temporal salvation. As encapsulated in Isaiah 53:11, on that principle of proxy salvation under the terms of the Davidic Covenant all messianic roles are based:
“He shall see the toil of his soul and be satisfied; because of his knowledge, and by bearing their iniquities, shall my servant, the righteous one, vindicate many. I will assign him an inheritance among the great, and he shall divide the spoil with the mighty, because he poured out his soul unto death, and was numbered with criminals—he bore the sins of many, and made intercession for the transgressors.” (Isaiah 53:11–12) While Israel’s God goes “like a lamb to the slaughter” (Isaiah 53:7), his servant lives to “divide the spoil with the mighty” (Isaiah 53:12). While Israel’s God is “cut off from the land of the living for the crime of my people to whom the blow was due” (Isaiah 53:8), his servant suffers “marring” but continues alive on the level of a seraph (Isaiah 52:13–15; 53:12)
Each one’s “knowledge” (Isaiah 53:11) consists of the terms of the Davidic Covenant—that if he answers for the iniquities of those to whom he ministers, his God will deliver both him and them from a mortal threat. In Jehovah/Jesus’ case, that mortal threat was death itself, the ultimate mortal threat. In the case of his servant, it is the end-time holocaust unleashed upon the world in God’s Day of Judgment. As Paul notes, it was in the act of redeeming his people from their sins that Jesus “took upon himself the form of a servant” (Philippians 2:7)—the role of a proxy savior—though he was not his own end-time servant who would restore the house of Israel.