Gregorio Billikopf used a pseudepigraphal book entitled The Ascension of Isaiah, which is a Christian book composed between 100–300 AD, to develop an understanding of what Isaiah meant in Isaiah 53:2 when he wrote, “he hath no form nor comeliness” as well as, “no beauty that we should desire him.”
Billikopf explains that in Ascension of Isaiah, Isaiah is guided by an angel who takes him to each of seven heavens, “with each of the higher heavens being more glorious and full of light than the former one.
The majesty, light, and glory of one of the personages Isaiah meets in one of the lower heavens is so overwhelming that Isaiah begins to prostrate himself. His angelic guide, however, restrains the Prophet from making the mistake of adoring a fellow-servant. Isaiah’s own countenance is changed in ever-increasing glory as he ascends the heavens one by one. In the process of time, the Prophet arrives in the seventh heaven where he beholds the glory surrounding the Father, the Son, and the Holy Ghost and Isaiah is able to worship God.”
Then he explained the primary purpose of the trip Isaiah “embarked upon …was to witness the condescension of the Son of Man. Isaiah arrives as the Messiah is making final preparations to depart from the presence of the Father, leaving behind ‘the glory which [He] had with [the Father] before the world was’ (John 17:5b)…
So it is that Isaiah is able to behold the Savior as He leaves the seventh heaven and descends one heaven at a time.”
Billikopf, whose native language is Spanish, uses English beautifully as he continues, “An exquisitely painful and humbling panorama is placed before us as Christ descends further. Beginning with the fifth heaven, He is not recognized by the people as the Son of Man, for He transforms Himself to match the glory of lowest of those who are present. There is nothing of an external nature in Him that sets Him apart. The Savior of mankind is ignored completely and expected to give the required passwords1 ‘before the angels who stand as sentinels’ (Brigham Young, Journal of Discourses 2:31) before entering each of the heavens.”
He writes that the Savior’s “beauty and glory are not perceived. And the angel who conducted me said unto me: ‘Understand, Isaiah, and see how the transformation and descent of the Lord will appear [or, ‘in order that thou mayest see the transformation of the Lord’] …And I saw when He descended into the fifth heaven He made Himself like unto the form of the angels there, and they did not praise Him (nor worship Him); for His form was like unto theirs.’”2
“The Holy One of Israel continues this process of transformation until Isaiah is permitted to see ‘a woman of the family of David the prophet, named Mary, a Virgin, and she was espoused to a man named Joseph, a carpenter…'” (Ascension of Isaiah, 11:2b). Billikopf explained that while Isaiah saw many things in his vision, “none more important than the condescension of Christ.”
“In Isaiah 53:2, Isaiah is making it clear that the Son of Man did not come in His glory and that He could only be seen with the discernment of the Spirit. John the Baptist bears witness of Him when he says: ‘Behold the Lamb of God, which taketh away the sin of the world’ (John 1:29b). The Baptist is telling us to open our eyes, to behold, to look upon the Holy One of Israel with the witness of the Holy Spirit and know that He is the Son of God.
“Recall that after the resurrection, the Savior appeared to His disciples on the road to Emmaus: ‘But their eyes were holden that they should not know him’ (Luke 24:16),” he wrote. And though they couldn’t recognize Him “there was something that witnessed peace to them: ‘And it came to pass, as he sat at meat with them, he took bread, and blessed it, and brake, and gave to them. And their eyes were opened, and they knew him, and he vanished out of their sight. And they said one to another, Did not our heart burn within us, while he talked with us by the way, and while he opened to us the scriptures?’ (Luke 24:30-32). ”
Billikopf explained that “we can likewise have our eyes opened by hearing the word at General Conference and other Church meetings,” and by immersing ourselves in the scriptures, especially the Book of Mormon” and then listening closely to the Spirit. “Can we also be witnesses and behold His condescension before the children of men?” he asked.
Book of Mormon parallel
Billikopf then draws this parallel from the Book of Mormon:
“Nephi was likewise privileged to watch the condescension of the Son of Man. The young Book of Mormon prophet was explicitly told that he was there to be a witness of Christ: ‘and him shall ye witness; and after ye have witnessed him ye shall bear record that it is the Son of God’ (1 Nephi 11:7).”
He explained that the purpose of Nephi’s vision was more than just to understand the individual elements of Lehi’s vision. It was “to be present—again, at the exact moment—when the Son of Man left behind His glory by the side of the Father to come down to earth to die for us that we might turn to Christ and live,” he wrote
The Spirit of the Lord
“Let us return to 1 Nephi:” Billikopf writes “’… for I spake unto him as a man speaketh; for I beheld that he was in the form of a man; yet nevertheless, I knew that it was the Spirit of the Lord; and he spake unto me as a man speaketh with another. And it came to pass that he said unto me: Look! And I looked as if to look upon him, and I saw him not; for he had gone from before my presence. And it came to pass that I saw the heavens open, and an angel came down and stood before me; and he said unto me: Nephi, what beholdest thou? And I said unto him: A virgin, most beautiful and fair above all other virgins. And he said unto me: Knowest thou the condescension of God? … And he said unto me: Behold, the virgin whom thou seest is the mother of the Son of God, after the manner of the flesh’ (1 Nephi 11:11b–12, 14–16, 18).”
“Note some of the expressions of interest from our quote of 1 Nephi, such as, ‘for I spake unto him as a man speaketh; for I beheld that he was in the form of a man; yet nevertheless, I knew that it was the Spirit of the Lord,’ and ‘and he spake unto me as a man speaketh with another.’”
The author asks, “Why do you think that Nephi put such an emphasis on the fact that the Spirit of the Lord spoke as any man would to another? Who was this Spirit of the Lord with whom Nephi spoke? I invite you to ponder Ether 3:9-16. Do you see similarities between what the brother of Jared and Nephi experienced?”
“Note how both prophets were taught through questions. Both were asked about their faith in the Messiah who would appear on the earth on the meridian of time.
“Why do you think the Spirit of the Lord left Nephi just before the Jesus the Christ was born in Bethlehem? Why did an angel have to come to take over as Nephi’s guide?
“May I suggest, with much humility, that perhaps Nephi, just as the brother of Jared, had the great privilege of speaking with the premortal Christ and be ministered by Him? It was Nephi who gave one of the most powerful testimonies of the divinity of Christ that was ever offered, together with that of the brother of Jared, Isaiah, and the Prophet Joseph Smith.”
Closing he asks again, “can we also be witnesses and behold His condescension before the children of men?”
Every Tuesday in the coming weeks, look for articles by Gregorio regarding his thoughts on Isaiah.
NOTE: Another version of this article was first published in Fairmormon, 1 June 2016.
1 “Your endowment is, to receive all those ordinances in the House of the Lord, which are necessary for you, after you have departed this life, to enable you to walk back to the presence of the Father, passing the angels who stand as sentinels, being enabled to give them the keywords, the signs and tokens, pertaining to the Holy Priesthood, and gain your eternal exaltation in spite of earth and hell” (Journal of Discourses, 2:31).
2 Charles, R.H. (Editor). Ascension of Isaiah, 10:18, 20. Translated from the Ethiopic Version, which, together with the new Greek fragment, the Latin versions and the Latin translation of the Slavonic, is here published in full. London: Adam and Black, 1900, 72. While we do not consider the Ascension of Isaiah scripture, Latter-day Saints have multiple reasons to be interested in this manuscript. There are remarkable similarities to the Vision of Joseph F. Smith (see D&C 138), where the great disciples of Christ of ancient days were present, such as Adam and Enoch in the spirit world; as well as to things we learn in sacred places. The Ascension of Isaiah shows that at least some early Christians believed that God the Father, the Son and the Holy Ghost were three distinct beings, but one in purpose. It is not known if this book was written by Isaiah, or at a later date. It is suggested that the original text may well have existed before the time of Christ but may have been amended by early Christians. At any rate, what we have has not been preserved in its purity.
Author: Gregorio Billikopf was born in Chile in 1954. After reading the Book of Mormon over a four-day period he discovered Christ and joined The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints in 1974. His parental grandfather was a Lithuanian Jew and grandmother a German Jew. His mother’s side of the family is Chilean. Billikopf felt stirred to study Isaiah after reading the words of the Savior in 3 Nephi 23:1. Gregorio is the author of Isaiah Testifies of Christ. He worked for the University of California for 34 years and published books on labor productivity and on mediation and conflict management. Gregorio and his wife Linda live in Chile.