So if they didn’t think their Messiah would have nothing less than a glorious life, what did they make of these prophecies which spoke of a man born of a Virgin, dying on a cross, and not having his legs broken? Whom did they think that would be? If not the Messiah, than who? And if not important, why where they included in the Old Testament?
Just like what I said: these passages were not usually read with the messiah in mind. Isaiah 52-53, for example, was apparently seen in one case as referring to Isaiah himself, to the death he supposedly suffered in the hands of King Manasseh. When the passage was read with the messiah in mind (which wasn’t always the case), only the glorious bits are applied to him; the parts where suffering is described is usually applied to others; say, sinful Israel before the coming of the messiah or the messiah’s enemies who are judged by him.
For example, a Targum (Aramaic translation) of Isaiah 52-53 renders the passage as following. In fact, this Targum is pretty much our only source from the period besides early Christian sources that link the messiah with the passage. I’ll quote it in full:
Behold, my servant the Messiah shall prosper, He shall be exalted and extolled, and He shall be very strong.
As the house of Israel anxiously hoped for Him many days, (which was poor among the nations; their appearance and their brightness being worse than that of the sons of men: )
Thus shall He scatter many nations; before Him kings shall keep silence: they shall put their hands upon their mouths, for that which had not been told them shall they see: and that which they had not heard shall they consider.
Who hath believed this our report? And to whom is now the power of the arm of the Lord revealed?
The righteous shall be great before Him, behold, like branches that bud; and like a tree which sends forth its roots by the streams of water, thus shall the generation of the just multiply in the land, which hath need of Him.
His visage shall not be the visage of a common person, neither His fear the fear of a plebeian; but a holy brightness shall be His brightness, that every one who seeth Him shall contemplate Him.
Although He shall be in contempt; yet He shall cut off the glory of all the wicked, they shall be weak and wretched.
Lo, we are in contempt and not esteemed, as a man of pain and appointed to sickness, and as if He had removed the face of His Shekinah from us.
Therefore He shall pray for our sins, and our and our iniquities for His sake shall be forgiven us; for we are considered crushed, smitten of the Lord, and afflicted.
He shall build the house of the sanctuary, which has been profaned on account of our sins; He was delivered over on account of our iniquities, and through His doctrine peace shall be multiplied upon us, and through the teaching of His words our sins shall be forgiven us.
All we like sheep have been scattered, every one of us has turned to his own way; it pleased the Lord to forgive the sins of all of us for His sake.
He shall pray and He shall be answered, yea, before He shall open His mouth, He shall be heard; He shall deliver over the mighty of the nations as a lamb to the slaughter, and like a sheep before her shearers is dumb, none shall in His presence open his mouth, or speak a word.
He shall gather our captives from affliction and pain, and who shall be able to narrate the wonderful works which shall be done for us in His days? He shall remove the rule of the nations from the land of Israel, the sins which my people have committed have come upon them.
And he shall deliver the wicked into hell, and the riches of treasures which they got by violence unto the death of Abaddon, thay they who commit sin shall not remain, and that they should not speak folly with their mouth.
And it was the pleasure of the Lord to refine and to purify the remnant of His people, in order to cleanse their souls for sin, that they might see the kingdom of their Messiah, that their sons and daughters might multiply, and prolong their days, and those that keep the law of the Lord shall prosper through His pleasure.
He shall deliver their souls from the servitude of the nations, they shall see the vengeance upon their enemies; they shall be satisfied with the spoil of their kings. By His wisdom He shall justify the righteous, in order to make many to keep the law, and He shall pray for their sins.
Therefore I will divide to Him the spoil of many people, and the treasures of strong fortifications; He shall divide the spoil; because He has delivered His life unto death, and He shall make the rebellious to keep the law; He shall pray for the sins of many, and as for the transgressors, each shall be pardoned for His sake.
You might notice in this (rather free) rendition that instead of the messiah suffering, it is “we” who suffer - the messiah in this rendering would intercede to the Lord for the people of Israel and God will have mercy on them via the messiah; he will be “in contempt,” but apparently, no suffering is in order for him. If anything, it is his enemies who will actually suffer and die.
In other words, nobody seems to have realized that these passages were supposed to hint to the messiah’s fate until Jesus showed the true meaning of the Scriptures, as we Christians would say. That’s why Jesus had to explain the Scriptures the two travelers to Emmaus, and why Philip had to help the Ethiopian eunuch for a proper understanding of Isaiah 53.
Jesus and the early Christians sort of ran against the grain when they considered these passages as messianic. Heck, they were probably even the first to do so. Interpreting them in a messianic context apparently just wasn’t heard of before, as far as we know it. If precedents do exist, they were apparently so rare and so in the minority that they didn’t leave any trace in the records.