A Closer Look at the Cross: Jesus – Lamb Led To Slaughter and a Man of Sorrow” Isaiah 53:1-12

04 Apr

A closer look at prophecy and what it means to our coming Lord.

Isaiah 53: This chapter could not better describe the suffering of our Lord at Calvary if it were written after the fact. It also argues for the divine inspiration of the bible.. .for the odds that all these events could have been otherwise predicted were 10 to the 17th power.

It has become evident through this prophecy that Someone is coming. That dim and shadowy Figure which appears occasionally in the opening chapters is emerging ever more clearly as we move through this book. Here in the 53rd chapter the Messiah steps out into full and glorious view.

It is hard to understand how anyone can read this great chapter and not see Jesus in it. We have already commented on the fact that, through the centuries, Jewish people have held that it does not refer to Jesus of Nazareth, but rather that the nation of Israel is the “Servant of Jehovah.” The primary reason for their feeling is that they expected a different kind of Messiah.

The Jews had done like many of us do with Scripture — they had selected verses that appealed to them and formulated from them a vision of a Deliverer who would come with military might and power. He would overcome the Roman tyrants, they thought, set Israel free, and fulfill the promises of God to make it the chief of the nations of earth. Because our Lord did not fulfill those promises, they have maintained that this prophecy does not apply to him. Yet here in this great chapter it is clear that God’s suffering Servant is brought before us.

The passage actually begins in the closing verses of Chapter 52, which belong with Chapter 53. Taken together with it, these verses constitute five stanzas that depict various foreviews of the work of the Messiah, each one bringing out a different aspect of his work and life.

Beginning in Verse 13, Chapter 52, we have God himself announcing the presence of the Servant.

Behold, my servant shall prosper,   he shall be exalted and lifted up,   and shall be very high.
As many were astonished at him —   his appearance was so marred, beyond human semblance,
and his form beyond that of the sons of men — so shall he startle many nations;
kings shall shut their mouths because of him; for that which has not been told them they shall see, and that which they have not heard they shall understand. {Isa 52:13-15 RSV}

This section, which describes the remarkable impact that the Messiah would make upon mankind, opens with a declaration that he would be successful in all that he did: “Behold, my servant shall prosper.” That success would be accomplished in three specific stages, described here: “He shall be exalted; he shall be lifted up; he shall be very high.” Commentators see in this the events that happened to Jesus after the crucifixion:

First, in the words, “He shall be exalted,” there is a reference to the resurrection. Jesus was brought back from the dead, stepping into a condition of life that no man had ever entered before. Lazarus had been resurrected, in a sense, but he merely returned to this earthly life. Jesus, however, became the “firstborn from the dead,” {Col 1:18}. He was thus exalted to a higher dimension of existence.

Then, “he shall be lifted up.” After his resurrection, Jesus took his disciples to the Mount of Olives and while he was speaking to them he ascended into the heavens until a cloud received him out of sight. So he was physically and literally “lifted up.”

Thirdly, the passage says, “He shall be very high.” The Hebrew puts it rather graphically: “He shall be high, very.” We cannot but recall the words of the Apostle Paul in the letter to the Philippians. Speaking of Jesus, he says, “Wherefore God has highly exalted him and given him the name which is above every name, that at the name of Jesus every knee shall bow and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father,” {Phil 2:9-11}. Thus by his resurrection, his ascension, and his kingly exaltation the Messiah has made tremendous impact upon humanity.

Further, it is said of him here that “many were astonished at him.” This happened in two different ways. First, as Verse 14 implies, many were “astonished” at his death: “His appearance was so marred, beyond human semblance, and his form beyond that of the sons of men.” This is descriptive of the face of Jesus after he had endured the terrible Roman scourging, the beatings, the blows to his face with the rod, which the soldiers mockingly called a king’s scepter, and the crushing of the crown of thorns upon his head. By the time he was impaled on the cross, his face was a bloody mess. This is what the prophet sees: our Lord’s appearance was so marred that those who passed by were “astonished” at his visage.

But Verse 15 describes another form of astonishment: “so shall he startle many nations.” This refers to the tremendous accomplishments he achieved, not only during his ministry, but through the intervening centuries since. Many have commented on the remarkable achievements of Jesus.

Kenneth Scott Latourette, a well known historian, has said,

As the centuries pass, the evidence is accumulating that, measured by his effect on history, Jesus is the most influential life ever lived on this planet.

G.K. Chesterton has written,

There was a man who dwelt in the East centuries ago, and now I cannot look at a sheep or a sparrow, a lily or a cornfield, a raven or a sunset, a vineyard or a mountain without thinking of him. If this be not to be divine, what is it?

Truly, our Lord has made an astonishing impact upon our world. He is the Man who cannot be forgotten.

  Verses 1-3: (As Men Saw Him).

(Isaiah 53:1-3)  “Who has believed our message and to whom has the arm of the LORD been revealed? {2} He grew up before him 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. {3} He was despised and rejected by men, a man of sorrows, and familiar with suffering. Like one from whom men hide their faces he was despised, and we esteemed him not.”

Isaiah 53 describes the life and ministry of Jesus Christ (vv. 1-4), His death (vv. 5-8) and burial (v. 9), and His resurrection and exaltation (vv. 10-12). The theme that ties the chapter together is that the innocent Servant died in the place of the guilty. When theologians speak about “the vicarious atonement,” that is what they mean. We cannot explain everything about the Cross, but this much seems clear: Jesus took the place of guilty sinners and paid the price for their salvation.

There is quite a contrast between “the arm of the Lord,” which speaks of mighty power, and “a root out of a dry ground,” which is an image of humiliation and weakness. When God made the universe, He used His fingers (Ps. 8:3), and when He delivered Israel from Egypt, it was by His strong hand (Ex. 13:3). But to save lost sinners, He had to bare His mighty arm! Yet people still refuse to believe this great demonstration of God’s power (Rom. 1:16; John 12:37-40).

The Servant is God, and yet He becomes human and grows up! The Child is born—that is His humanity; the Son is given—that is His deity (Isa. 9:6). In writing about Israel’s future, Isaiah has already used the image of a tree: Messiah is the Branch of the Lord (4:2); the remnant is like the stumps of trees chopped down (6:13); the proud nations will be hewn down like trees, but out of David’s seemingly dead stump, the “rod of Jesse” will come (10:33-11:1). Because Jesus Christ is God, He is the “root of David,” but because He is man, He is the “offspring of David” (Rev. 22:16).

Israel was not a paradise when Jesus was born; politically and spiritually, it was a wilderness of dry ground. He did not come as a great tree but as a “tender plant.” He was born in poverty in Bethlehem and grew up in a carpenter’s shop in despised Nazareth (John 1:43-46). Because of His words and works, Jesus attracted great crowds, but nothing about His physical appearance made Him different from any other Jewish man. While few people deliberately try to be unattractive, modern society has made a religion out physical beauty. It is good to remember that Jesus succeeded without it.

Once they understood what He demanded of them, how did most people treat the Servant? The way they treated any other slave: They despised Him, put a cheap price on Him (thirty pieces of silver), and “looked the other way when He went by” (Isa. 53:3, tlb). They were ashamed of Him because He did not represent the things that were important to them: things like wealth (Luke 16:14), social prestige (14:7-14; 15:12), reputation (18:9-14), being served by others (22:24-27), and pampering yourself (Matt. 16:21-28). He is rejected today for the same reasons.

In this paragraph, the surpassing glory of the Lord Jesus Christ is hidden behind obscurity, poverty, humiliation, misery, and shame; and this is the great example that “God’s thoughts and God’s ways are as much higher than those of men as the heavens are higher than the earth,” as Isaiah would more fully elaborate in Isa. 55:8.

In Isa. 53:1, the language suggests that “no one” believed the report, or hearkened to the Word of God; but the apostle Paul’s word shows that the statements here are hyperbole; for he said, “Not all hearkened to the good tidings” (Rom. 10:16). Those who hearkened were the apostles of the New Testament Church and those who followed their leadership. Nevertheless, the very small percentage of the Old Israel who believed and obeyed the Son of God fully justified the hyperbole. A similar use of this figure of speech is seen in Luke 7:29-30, as compared with Matt. 3:5.

“As a tender plant, and as a root out of dry ground … “ (Isa. 53:2), Here are given the conditions of Jesus’ earthly environment which seem to be revealed as the reason why he had no comeliness or beauty that would cause him to be desired by men.

We cannot believe that the physical unattractiveness or ugliness of the Son of God are meant by the lack of beauty or comeliness on his part. The tremendous attractiveness of Jesus for the great women of that era who knew him absolutely denies any denial of the power and magnetism of his personality (Luke 7:37, 38; 8:1-4, etc.) Likewise the appeal that Jesus had for the rugged fishermen of Galilee, and the authority of his strong right arm with the whips when he drove the money changers out of the temple; none of these facts will harmonize with an unattractive countenance or any form of personal “ugliness.” No! What is meant is that none of the trappings of wealth, office, social status, or any other such things which are so honored among men, belonged to Jesus.

“As a root out of dry ground … “ (Isa. 53:2). What is the “dry ground” here? “This refers to a corrupt age and nation, and the arid soil of mankind.” Both the nation of Israel and all of the nations of the pre-Christian Gentile world were at this time judicially hardened by God Himself; and nothing could have seemed more impossible to the citizens of that dissolute age than the fact that God’s Holy Messiah would be born to humble parents in some obscure village, and that the salvation of all the world would be available through that Child alone!

The lack of beauty and comeliness spoken of here has been the occasion of all kinds of derogatory statements about Christ. For example, Wardle stated that the passage means: “He was despised, pain-stricken and diseased, so that men turned away from him in revulsion.” No word in all the Bible justifies such a statement as this. The emphasis upon the lack of beauty and comeliness refers not at all to the physical appearance of Jesus except during those terrible scenes of Holy Week, during which he was denied sleep, beaten unmercifully by a Roman chastisement, mocked some six times in all, crowned with a crown of thorns, tortured to death on the Cross, compelled to carry the cross till he fainted, being struck in the face with a reed, reviled and spit upon! This was the time when his visage was marred, and the last vestiges of his physical beauty perished under the venomous, inhuman treatment of Satan and his sons who put him to death.

“Despised and rejected of men … “ (Isa. 53:3). Archer rendered this as, “Lacking men of distinction as his supporters.” This harmonizes with the fact that a tax collector and common fishermen were among his apostles, whereas distinguished persons like the rich young ruler turned away from him. “Men still persist in avoiding facing the ‘real Jesus,’ preferring what they call ‘the historical Jesus’ who would not trouble them with the Cross.”

The first three verses of Chapter 53 describe the Messiah’s strange rejection. These words express the feelings of the repentant nation when at last they recognize him at his return.

These remarkable words are felt by any person who comes to Christ and remembers how lightly he regarded him when he first learned of him.

Here the nation asks, “Who has believed our report, that which we have heard. The arm of the Lord was revealed to us, but we did not understand who he was.” Looking back, they can see how he fulfilled these words.

He grew up before Jehovah as a “young plant.” That speaks of the hidden years at Nazareth when, in the obscurity of the carpenter’s shop no one knew who he was except his Heavenly Father. He was the “root out of dry ground.” We have already seen Isaiah’s prediction that a root would rise up from the stem of David, from whom Joseph and Mary were both descended. But the House of David had fallen on evil days. The royal line had become impoverished and no one recognized its claims to leadership within Israel. When our Lord came he was indeed a root out of very dry ground.

The passage continues, “He had no form or comeliness that we should look at him, and no beauty that we should desire him.” Again, these are words that refer to our Lord’s appearance as he hung upon the cross. He was a pitiful figure to behold, hanging naked, blood covering his face, worn and shattered by suffering. Indeed he had “no beauty that we should desire him.”

He was truly “a man of sorrows, and acquainted with grief.” There is no record in Scripture that Jesus ever laughed. I think he did laugh, for you cannot read some of his parables, or some of the things he said to his disciples, without sensing a smile on his face or hearing a chuckle in his voice. But there is no account that he ever laughed. He was “a man of sorrows and acquainted with grief.”

We must remember that all through his boyhood, and even into his manhood, he was pursued by nasty cracks about his birth, inferring that he was an illegitimate son, born to a faithless maiden who had broken her vow of betrothal. His brothers misunderstood him and did not believe in him. They were embarrassed at some of the things he said and did. It was not until after the resurrection that they believed in him. He was called a drunkard and a glutton, and was said to be possessed by a devil. He was called a Samaritan, a disparaging term. He had no home to go to.

He said himself, “Foxes have holes, birds have their nests, but the Son of Man has nowhere to lay his head,” {Matt 8:20, Luke 9:50}. Sometimes his disciples left him alone to go about their business, but he had to go out to the Garden of Gethsemane and sleep alone beneath the o lives trees. He became at one point “Public Enemy No. 1.” In the weeks before his crucifixion the Pharisees offered a reward to anyone who would turn him in. Surely he was rejected of men! In the words of the Apostle John, “He came unto his own, and his own people received him not,” {John 1:11 RSV}.

It’s written in the predictive present tense. if the Servant has come, been rejected, slaughtered, and the people of Israel are looking at it in retrospect!

And we remember that Jesus (John 12:38) and Paul (Rom. 10:16) each quoted from this prophecy to express similar shock to the blindness of the Jews.

Jesus lacked the credentials they were looking for in a Messiah . A tender, green plant in dry parched ground is regarded with skepticism as to its origin and its it was with Christ.

He was just a carpenter’s boy… and nothing “good’ came out of Nazareth! There was nothing in his physical appearance that would draw men to Him… He didn’t physically meet the “qualifications” of one who would be a king.

Verses 4-6 (As God Saw Him).

(Isaiah 53:4-6)  “Surely he took up our infirmities and carried our sorrows, yet we considered him stricken by God, smitten by him, and afflicted. {5} But he was pierced for our transgressions, he was crushed for our iniquities; the punishment that brought us peace was upon him, and by his wounds we are healed. {6} We all, like sheep, have gone astray, each of us has turned to his own way; and the LORD has laid on him the iniquity of us all.”

This is the heart of the Song of the Servant; here we learn why Jesus suffered, that it was not for himself but for us that he suffered. Note the emphatic recurrence of the word “our,” as in our griefs, our sorrows, our transgressions, our peace, and our healing. “The atoning significance of the suffering is expounded here.”

Right here is the vital heart of Christianity: The case of Adam’s race was hopeless. All had sinned and fallen short of God’s glory. The penalty of sin is death, and the justice of God required that the penalty be paid; otherwise all of the human race would have been lost forever. But there was no one who could pay it. What was the solution? God Himself stepped into the human race; and, in the person of his Son, paid the penalty himself upon the Cross! Thanks be to God for his unspeakable gift! No wonder that Satan executed every cruelty possible upon Jesus; because without the sacrifice of Jesus in paying the penalty of human transgressions, Satan would have achieved his purpose of the total destruction of Adam’s race.

The words “borne our griefs” in Isa. 53:4 in the Hebrew are literally “borne our sicknesses”; but this is not a reference to Jesus’ suffering from all our sicknesses, but to his healing all diseases. It was to make this point clear that the translators rendered the word “griefs.” Thus, “The rendition griefs is justifiable.”

“We did deem him stricken of God, and afflicted … “ (Isa. 53:4). There is an inadvertent condemnation of the whole human race in this. No tendency among men is any more prevalent than that of attributing all the sorrows on earth to the fault and sins of the suffering people. This unhappy trait of men is often noted in scripture. The parents of the man born blind, asked, “Who sinned this man, or his parents, that he should have been born blind?” (John 9); and the citizens of Malta attributed Paul’s snakebite to the supposed criminality of the apostle (Acts 28:4). This indicates that the terrible and unlawful punishments, even death, that befell Jesus were considered by the people as being the natural result of the sins of Jesus. How wrong and misguided were the people!

“Chastisement … “ (Isa. 53:5). Little did Pilate know, when he ordered the chastisement of Jesus that his command caused the fulfillment of this specific prophecy of the Christ. That the chastisement was indeed for “our sins” and for “our peace” is certain; because the Roman Procurator declared upon the occasion of his command that it was not indeed for anything that Jesus was guilty of; and he declared him innocent on that very occasion!

“Stripes … “ (Isa. 53:5) is another reference to the chastisement; and modern treatment of criminals has no indication whatever of the terrible and sadistic brutality that accompanied such “scourgings.” Excavations of the old judgment seat of Pilate have discovered the very truncated pillar upon which our Lord might have been chained, while two Roman soldiers, standing one on each side, with the brutal whips made lethal and bloody by small pieces of bone or glass chips attached to the cords of the whips, applied the awful punishment, first to the back, and then after turning the victim over, to the chest and face, each soldier smiting the victim with all his strength, and taking time about with their blows, tortured the victim within an inch of his life. No wonder the Lord fainted under the weight of the cross. After that chastisement, Jesus presented such a pitiable spectacle, that Pilate actually thought the Jews would declare that he needed no more punishment; and so he brought Jesus out and presented him to the mob, saying, “Behold the Man”! How pitifully wrong was Pilate’s underestimation of the sadistic hatred of that Jewish mob screaming for his crucifixion!

“Jehovah hath laid on him the iniquity of us all … “ (Isa. 53:6). No greater declaration from Jehovah was ever given than this affirmation that Jesus Christ suffered for the sins of all men. The perfect, sinless life of Jesus was a sacrifice sufficiently adequate to atone for the sins of all mankind.

Note here that the prophecy states that Jehovah laid the sins of all men upon Jesus. This corresponds with Paul’s statement that “God set forth his son to be a propitiation, through faith, in his blood” (Rom. 3:25). Thus the initiative lay with God in the sufferings of Jesus upon the Cross. (1) God so loved the world that HE GAVE HIS ONLY BEGOTTEN SON. God was not the only one, however, who had a part in Jesus’ sacrifice upon the Cross. (2) Satan did indeed bruise the heel of the Seed of Woman. (3) Christ himself engineered his death upon Calvary (Luke 9:31). (4) The Jews crucified him. (5) the Romans crucified him. (6) The human race crucified him. (7) Every man crucified him. Were you there when they crucified my Lord? See the extensive discussion of these seven under the question, “Who Crucified Christ?” in Vol. 6 (Romans) of my New Testament Series of Commentaries, pp. 117-122.

Jesus took our place. As Peter puts it, “He bore our sins in his own body upon the tree,” {cf, 1 Pet 2:24}. He took our sins and paid the price for them. He had no sins of his own and Scripture is very careful to record the sinlessness of Jesus himself. He was not suffering for his own transgressions, but for the sins of others.

One writer has put it rather well,

It was for me that Jesus died, For me and a world of men
Just as sinful and just as slow to give back his love again.
And he did not wait until I came to him. He loved me at my worst.
He needn’t ever have died for me If I could have loved him first.

That is the problem, isn’t it? Why do not we love him first? Why is it that we can only learn to love our Lord when we have beheld his suffering; his excruciating agony on our behalf? Why is it we find such difficulty in obeying the first commandment, “Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart and all thy soul, and all thy strength,” {Deut 6:5 KJV}. It is because of our transgressions, as this passage declares. They have cut us off from the divine gift of love that ought to be in every human heart.

Sin is a disease that has afflicted our entire race. We cannot understand the depth of human depravity until we see the awful agony through which our Lord passed; behold the hours of darkness and hear the terrible orphaned cry, “My God, my God, why hast Thou forsaken me?” {Matt 27:46, Mark 15:34 KJV}. All this spells out for us what we really are like. Most think of ourselves as decent people, good people. We have not done, perhaps, some of the terrible things that others have done.

But when we see in the cross of Jesus the depth of evil in our hearts we understand that sin is a disease that has infiltrated our whole lives. Man, who was created in the image of God and once wore the glory of his manhood, has become bruised and marred, sick and broken, his conscience ruined, his understanding faulty, his will enfeebled. The principle of integrity and the resolve to do right has been completely undermined in all of us. We know this to be true. No wonder, then, this verse comes as the best of news: He was wounded for our transgressions. The bruising that he felt was the chastisement that we deserved, but it was laid upon him.

There is no way to read this and fail to see that our Lord is the great divine Substitute for the evil of the human heart. We can lay hold of this personally by the honest admission stated in Verse 6: “All we like sheep have gone astray; we have turned every one to his own way.” How true that is of each of us! Who can claim anything else? I grew up in Monta-a-a-a-na, and I know something about sheep. Sheep are very foolish and willful creatures. They can find a hole in the fence and get out, but they cannot find it to get back in. Someone must go and get them every time. How true are the words, “We have turned every one to his own way.”

Frank Sinatra made a song popular a few years ago, “I Did It My Way.” When you hear that it sounds like something admirable, something everybody ought to emulate. How proud we feel that we did it “our way.” But when you turn to the record of the Scripture, you find that that is the problem, not the solution. Everyone is doing things “their way,” so we have a race that is in constant conflict, forever striving with one another, unable to work anything out, because we all did it “our way.”

The way to lay hold of the redemption of Jesus is to admit that “All we like sheep have gone astray. We have turned every one to his own way”; and then to believe the next line, “But the Lord has laid on him the iniquity of us all.” One Christian put his testimony in a rather quaint way. He said, “I stooped down low and went in at the first ‘all,’ and I stood up straight and came out at the last.” Notice that this verse begins and ends with the word “all”: “All we like sheep have gone astray.” This man said, “I stooped down low and went in at that ‘all.'” In other words, “I acknowledged that I, too, was part of that crowd that had gone astray.” Ah, “But I stood up straight and came out at the last ‘all.'” He understood that “The Lord has laid on him the iniquity of us all.” He bore our punishment and took our place.

Unusual pain, sorrow, and grief were equated with unusual guilt in the ancient world. Job’s four friends provide the best example of that attitude for us today.

Jesus corrected this concept in Luke 13:1-5, when He said that those upon whom the tower of Siloam fell were not worse sinners than others, but that all calamities were warnings to the world to repent.

His suffering was vicarious: “taking the place of another.”

While His death was painful and violent, it brought healing and peace.

Verses 7-9: (As Christ Saw Himself)

(Isaiah 53:7-9)  “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 her shearers is silent, so he did not open his mouth. {8} By oppression and judgment he was taken away. And who can speak of his descendants? For he was cut off from the land of the living; for the transgression of my people he was stricken. {9} 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.”

This stanza is a return to the theme of suffering on the part of the Servant, stressing in the first verse (Isa. 53:7) his silence in the face of accusers, mockers, and the “judges” of the tribunals before which he was arraigned.

“The Septuagint (LXX) renders part of this passage, as follows: He was led as a sheep to the slaughter, and as a lamb before the shearer is dumb, so he opens not his mouth. In his humiliation, his judgment was taken away; who shall declare his generation? for his life is taken from the earth: because of the iniquities of my people he was led to death.”

It is evident at once that the declarations of our version (American Standard Version) and the Septuagint (LXX) vary considerably. Isa. 53:8, for example, in the Septuagint (LXX) states that it was Jesus’ judgment of innocence pronounced by Pilate which was “taken away” through mob violence and the humiliation of Jesus; but in the American Standard Version it is Jesus who is taken away. We believe that both renditions are correct, because both are true. When Philip encountered the Ethiopian eunuch on the road to Gaza (Acts 8:29ff), the portion of Isaiah which the eunuch was reading and which formed the basis of Philip’s preaching Jesus unto him evidently came from the LXX.

“As a lamb that is led to the slaughter … “ (Isa. 53:7). This is an agricultural simile based on the truth that a goat slaughtered in the traditional manner responds with blood-curdling cries that can be heard a mile away; but a sheep submits to the butcher’s knife silently. The same phenomenon occurs when the animals are sheared. Jesus submitted to the outrages perpetrated against himself, offering no more resistance than a lamb, either sheared or slaughtered.

“In his humiliation … his judgment was taken away … “ (Isa. 53:7, as in LXX), The verdict of Pilate was one of innocence; but, swayed by the yells of the bloodthirsty mob, Pilate took away his judgment and ordered his crucifixion.

“His generation who shall declare?” (Isa. 53:7, LXX). There are two understandings of this, both of which may be right, for both are true. (1) “Who shall declare the number of those who share his life, and are, as it were, sprung from him? i.e., Who can count his faithful followers?”

(2) Bruce, however, rendered the passage, “Who can describe his generation?” Who indeed could describe that wicked generation which despised and murdered the Son of God? What a crescendo of shame was reached by that evil company who resisted every word of the Saviour of mankind, mocked him, hated him, denied the signs he performed before their very eyes, suborned witnesses to swear lies at his trials, rejected and shouted out of court the verdict of innocence announced by the governor of the nation, and through political blackmail, mob violence, and personal intimidation of the Procurator, demanded and achieved his crucifixion? Who could describe the moral idiocy of a generation that taunted the helpless victim even upon the cross, that gloated over his death, and that, when he rose from the dead, bribed the sixteen witnesses of it with gold to deny that it had indeed occurred? Who indeed can describe that generation?

Bruce further stated that between the times of Isaiah’s promised “Immanuel” (Isa. 7:14) and Daniel’s “Son of Man” (Dan. 7:15), and the personal ministry of Christ, “No one identified the Suffering Servant of Isaiah with the Davidic Messiah, except Jesus.”

Christ did indeed identify himself as the Suffering Servant of Isaiah. “A Servant … who would give his life a ransom for many” (Mark 10:45). “How is it written of the Son of Man, that he should suffer many things and be set at naught”? (Mark 9:12). “How indeed, unless the Son of Man be also the Servant of the Lord”? Thus Jesus Christ himself affirmed that the Son of Man and the Suffering Servant are one and the same!

In our opinion, Isa. 53:8, as in the American Standard Version is much weaker than the Septuagint (LXX); and that may have accounted for the fact of the New Testament quotation’s following the LXX. In our version, Isa. 53:8 becomes a rather long sentence, stressing the fact that Christ died instead of the Old Israel, to whom the stroke was due. Of course, this is true enough; but if this indeed is the correct rendition, why was not the vicarious nature of Jesus’ death stated in the previous stanza? It is the “sufferings” which are discussed here? We may read it either way; and it is true either way!

“And they made his grave with the wicked, and with a rich man in his death … “ (Isa. 53:9). This is the most amazing prophecy in Isaiah. The significant fact is that the word “wicked” here is plural, and the words “rich man” are singular.

“Those who condemned Christ to be crucified with two malefactors on the common execution ground, ‘the place of a skull’ meant his grave to be with the wicked (of course, that is the reason why so many soldiers were assigned to the task of crucifixion; they would dig the graves. – J.B.C.), with whom it would naturally have been, but for the interference of Joseph of Arimathea. The Romans buried crucified persons with their crosses near the scene of their crucifixion.”

This does not prophesy that Christ would be buried in two graves, but that “they” would make two graves. There is no way that this prophecy could have been fulfilled by one grave; two are absolutely required!

There is a great deal more than appears in the lines here. Jonah also, the great Old Testament type of Jesus, being the only one of the Old Testament specifically cited and identified as a type of Himself by the Lord, had two graves. There is hardly room in a work of this kind for a full account of that; but the reader is referred to Vol. 1 (Joel, Amos, Jonah) in our series of commentaries on the minor prophets, pp. 345-347.

A servant is not permitted to talk back; he or she must submit to the will of the master or mistress. Jesus Christ was silent before those who accused Him as well as those who afflicted him. He was silent before Caiaphas (Matt. 26:62-63), the chief priests and elders (27:12), Pilate (27:14; John 19:9) and Herod Antipas (Luke 23:9). He did not speak when the soldiers mocked Him and beat Him (1 Peter 2:21-23). This is what impressed the Ethiopian treasurer as he read this passage in Isaiah (Acts 8:26-40).

Isaiah 53:7 speaks of His silence under suffering and verse 8 of His silence when illegally tried and condemned to death. In today’s courts, a person can be found guilty of terrible crimes, but if it can be proved that something in the trial was illegal, the case must be tried again. Everything about His trials was illegal, yet Jesus did not appeal for another trial. “The cup which my Father hath given me. shall I not drink it?” (John 18:11 kjv)

The Servant is compared to a lamb (Isa. 53:7), which is one of the frequent symbols of the Savior in Scripture. A lamb died for each Jewish household at Passover (Ex. 12:1-13), and the Servant died for His people, the nation of Israel (Isa. 53:8). Jesus is “the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world” (John 1:29, nkjv), and twenty-eight times in the Book of Revelation, Jesus Christ is referred to as the Lamb.

Since Jesus Christ was crucified with criminals as a criminal, it was logical that His dead body would be left unburied, but God had other plans. The burial of Jesus Christ is as much a part of the Gospel as is His death (1 Cor. 15:1-5), for the burial is proof that He actually died. The Roman authorities would not have released the body to Joseph and Nicodemus if the victim had not been dead (John 19:38-42; Mark 15:42-47). A wealthy man like Joseph would never carve out a tomb for himself so near to a place of execution, particularly when his home was miles away. He prepared it for Jesus and had the spices and graveclothes ready for the burial. How wonderfully God fulfilled Isaiah’s prophecy!

Once again, Scripture preserves carefully the sinlessness of Jesus himself. He was without sin, but he bore the sins of others. That is why he did it in silence. He had no interest in defending himself, so he never spoke in his own defense. It is a striking thing that in the gospel accounts of the trials of Jesus he never spoke up on his own behalf or tried to escape the penalty. This amazed both Pilate and Caiaphas.

When our Lord stood before the High Priest, he was silent until the High Priest put him on oath to tell them who he was. When he stood before Pilate, he was silent until to remain silent was to deny his very Kingship. Then he spoke briefly, acknowledging who he was. When he was with the soldiers, they smote him and spat him and put the crown of thorns on his head, yet he said not a word. Peter says, “When he was reviled he reviled not again,” {cf, 1 Pet 2:23}.

Truly, “As a lamb before her shearers is dumb, so he opened not his mouth.” When he went before contemptuous, sneering Herod, he stood absolutely silent. He would not say one word to him. He was returned at last to Pilate because Herod could find nothing wrong with him.

By oppression and judgment he was taken away. {Isa 53:6a RSV}

It is very apparent to anyone reading the gospel accounts that the trials that Jesus went through were a farce. The Jewish trial before the High Priest was illegal. It was held at night, which was contrary to the law. Pilate several times admitted that he could find no wrong in him, and yet he pronounced upon him the sentence of death. How true are these words, “by oppression and judgment he was taken away.”

He was “stricken for the transgression of my people.” Remember that as the crowd was crying out, “Crucify him, crucify him,” they added these significant words, “Let his blood be upon us and upon our children.” Thereby they acknowledged that he was indeed “stricken for the transgressions of my people.”

But when at last the deed was done and he cried with a loud voice, “It is finished” {John 19:30}, his friends came to take him down from the cross. No enemy hands touched his body after his death, only those who loved him. As they removed his bloody body, the dear lips were silent, the wondrous voice was stilled, the light had gone from his eyes, and the great heart beat no more.

But instead of throwing him on a rubbish heap, as the authorities intended, they “made his grave with the rich,” just as Isaiah had predicted written 720 years before the event. Joseph of Arimathea, a rich man, offered to put the body of Jesus in his new tomb that had never been used. Someone has put that rather remarkably, “He who came from a virgin womb, must be laid in a virgin tomb.”

Then in the last stanza his ultimate triumph is pictured. Yet it was the will of the Lord to bruise him; he has put him to grief; when he makes himself an offering for sin, he shall see his offspring, he shall prolong his days; the will of the Lord shall prosper in his hand; he shall see the fruit of the travail of his soul and be satisfied; by his knowledge shall the righteous one, my servant, make many to be accounted righteous; and he shall bear their iniquities. Therefore I will divide him a portion with the great; and he shall divide the spoil with the strong; because he poured out his soul to death, and was numbered with the transgressors; yet he bore the sin of many, and made intercession for the transgressors.

The Satisfied Servant (Isa. 53:10-12)

“He shall prolong his days … “ (Isa. 53:10). For one who was indeed put to death, this is undeniably a prophecy of his resurrection from the dead. By no other means, whatever, could it be said that of one who had poured out his soul unto death that he would “prolong his days.” As Christ himself stated it: “I am the first and the last and the Living one; and I was dead, and, behold, I am alive forever more, and I have the keys of death and of Hades” (Rev. 1:18).

This stanza points to the glorification which God appointed for the Suffering Servant after the sufferings ended, constituting the problem that remained insoluble for the pre-Christian prophets. See 1 Pet. 1:10-12. Added to the exaltation prophesied in the first stanza, the eternity of The Lord Jesus Christ is clearly visible.

This last stanza makes the worldwide success of Christ the marvel of all ages. He shall see his seed, i.e., number his followers in the countless millions; he shall prolong his days, i.e., be raised from the dead; the pleasure of Jehovah shall prosper in his hand, i. e., righteousness shall prosper in the world; he shall justify many, i. e., countless millions shall be saved from their sins through him; I will divide him a portion with the great, i.e., Jesus Christ shall attain worldwide and perpetual “greatness.” In connection with this it should be remembered that all history falls into A.D. and B.C, and that more great and beautiful buildings have been constructed and dedicated to his glory in a single century than were ever erected and dedicated to all the kings and potentates who ever lived in the previous millenniums of human history, etc.

“He was numbered with the transgressors and made intercession for the transgressors” (Isa. 53:12). This prophecy was fulfilled by the Saviour himself when he prayed for those who nailed him to the cross, “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do” (Luke 23:34).

Once, as this writer traveled southward on the Missouri-Pacific from St. Louis to Little Rock, a Unitarian noticed my reading the New Testament; and he said: “You Christians have your arithmetic all wrong. How could the atoning sacrifice of one man wipe out the sins of billions of men'”?.

The reply was: “Indeed, you are right. The sacrifice of one man would not even wipe out that one man’s sins, much less the sins of all men. Your mistake, Sir, is in your failure to see that Jesus Christ was in no sense whatever only one man. He was and is The Son of God, God manifested in the flesh; and that Holy Being’s atoning sacrifice was more than sufficient to wipe out the sins of all the myriads of men who ever lived.” This answer left the questioner without reply.

The prophet now explains the Cross from God’s point of view. Even though Jesus was crucified by the hands of wicked men, His death was determined beforehand by God (Act 2:22-23). Jesus was not a martyr, nor was His death an accident. He was God’s sacrifice for the sins of the world.

He did not remain dead! “He shall prolong his days” (Isa. 53:10 kjv) means that the Servant was resurrected to live forever. In His resurrection, He triumphed over every enemy and claimed the spoils of victory (Eph. 1:19-23; 4:8). Satan offered Christ a glorious kingdom in return for worship (Matt. 4:8-10), which would have meant bypassing the cross. Jesus was “obedient unto death,” and God “highly exalted Him” (Phil. 2:8-10).

Another part of His “reward” is found in the statement, “He shall see his seed [descendants]” (Isa. 53:10). To die childless was a grief and shame to the Jews, but Jesus gave birth to a spiritual family because of His travail on the cross (v. 11). Isaiah’s statement about Isaiah’s natural family (8:18) is quoted in Hebrews 2:13 and applied to Christ and His spiritual family.

The Servant’s work on the cross brought satisfaction (Isa. 53:11). To begin with, the Servant satisfied the heart of the Father. “I do always those things that please him [the Father] (John 8:29). The heavenly Father did not find enjoyment in seeing His beloved Son suffer, for the Father is not pleased with the death of the wicked, let alone the death of the righteous Son of God. But the Father was pleased that His Son’s obedience accomplished the redemption that He had planned from eternity (1 Peter 1:20). “It is finished” (John 19:30).

The death of the Servant also satisfied the Law of God. The theological term for this is “propitiation” (Rom. 3:25; 1 John 2:2). In pagan religions, the word meant “to offer a sacrifice to placate an angry god,” but the Christian meaning is much richer. God is angry at sin because it offends His holiness and violates His holy Law. In His holiness, He must judge sinners, but in His love, He desires to forgive them. God cannot ignore sin or compromise with it, for that would be contrary to His own nature and Law.

How did God solve the problem? The Judge took the place of the criminals and met the just demands of His own holy Law! “He was numbered with the transgressors” and even prayed for them (Isa. 53:12; Luke 22:37; 23:33-34). The Law has been satisfied, and God can now graciously forgive all who receive His Son.

Grace is love that has paid a price, and sinners are saved by grace (Eph. 2:8-10). Justice can only condemn the wicked and justify the righteous (1 Kings 8:32), but grace justifies the ungodly when they trust Jesus Christ! (See Isa. 53:11; Rom. 4:5.) To justify means “to declare righteous.” He took our sins that we might receive the gift of His righteousness (2 Cor. 5:21; Rom. 5:17). Justification means God declares believing sinners righteous in Christ and never again keeps a record of their sins. (See Ps. 32:1-2 and Rom. 4:1-8.)

On the morning of May 29, 1953, Sir Edmund Hillary and Tenzing Norgay conquered Mt. Everest, the highest mountain peak in the world. Nobody has yet “conquered” Isaiah 53, for there are always new heights to reach. The important thing is to know personally God’s righteous Servant, Jesus Christ, whose conquest of sin is the subject of this chapter. “By his knowledge [i.e., knowing Him personally by faith] shall My righteous Servant justify many” (v. 11).

“Now this is eternal life; that they may know you, the only true God, and Jesus Christ, whom you have sent” (John 17:3, niv).

The Hebrew in Verse 10 is rather remarkable. Our version says, “It was the will of the Lord to bruise him,” but the Hebrew literally says, “It pleased Jehovah to bruise him. He has put him to grief.” The question comes, “How could it please God to put his Son to death, in the agony and torture of a crucifixion?” How could God find any pleasure in that?

When the question is asked, “Who is responsible for the death of Jesus?” the world rather blatantly answers, “It was the Jews who put him to death.” That is true. The Jewish rulers did deliver him up to be crucified. But it is also true that the Gentiles crucified Jesus.

Pilate, as the representative of the supreme government of earth at that time, put him to death, so that both Jew and Gentile are responsible. But that still does not exhaust the matter. We must go beyond that to this mysterious statement, “It pleased Jehovah to bruise him. He has put him to grief.”

When we face the question of why and how could God the Father ever take any delight in the death of his beloved Son, the only clue we have is that remarkable promise in Verse 32 of Romans 8, “He who spared not his own Son but delivered him up for us all, for us all, how shall he not with him also freely give us all things?” As hard as it is to believe, we must understand that God loved the lost race of mankind more than he loved his Son, and was willing to deliver him up to death that our race may find a way out of the disease and death of sin. That is all we can say on that.

Perhaps one of the hymns puts it best,

On Christ almighty vengeance fell, That would have sunk a world to hell.
He bore it for a chosen race, And thus becomes our Hiding Place.

Verses 10 and 11 describe a resurrection, and the satisfaction that Messiah feels when he sees what his sufferings have accomplished. We are told, “He shall see his offspring, he shall prolong his days.” That cannot be said of any human being who dies. How can a dead man see his offspring? How can a dead man prolong his days? But clearly, after death, after he has “made his grave with the wicked,” here is One who shall “see his offspring and prolong his days.” Resurrection is clearly in view.

“He shall see the fruit of the travail of his soul and be satisfied.” What a remarkable statement! Nothing else could satisfy Jesus than to see the redeemed brought to his Father. Nothing else could do it. This was the relentless desire that drove him through pain, tears and death-hell itself-to achieve what he always wanted: a world freed from pain, torment, death and injustice; a world of men delivered from crying, sorrow, sadness and heartache; a world in which men and women would live in peace and in power, fulfilling the tremendous possibilities that God incorporated in man when he made him in the beginning.

This is what he is after, and nothing can satisfy him but that. As the writer of Hebrews says, “For the joy that was set before him he endured the cross, despising the shame thereof,” {cf, Heb 12:2}. This will at last bring satisfaction to his heart.

Verse 12 summarizes all this: “He will make many righteous and he shall bear their iniquities. Therefore I will divide him a portion with the great and he shall divide the spoil with the strong.” This is a reference to Paul’s word in Romans 8, that we are “heirs with Christ” {Rom 8:17}, and that we will share with him the inheritance that he has achieved. It is for those who “out of weakness have been made strong” {Heb 11:34} by faith in his death and life. So the chapter ends, “Because he poured out his soul to death, and was numbered with the transgressors; yet he bore the sin of many, and made intercession for the transgressors.”

This is a love story. What kind of love is this that awakens within us a response of deep and abiding gratitude, a willingness to admit that we need help? Our only adequate response is found in the words of a hymn,

Oh, love that will not let me go, I rest my weary soul in Thee.
I give thee back the life I owe, That in thine ocean depths its flow May richer fuller be.

All His suffering was borne without a word of protest or complaint.

His sacrifice would bring Him reward (vs. 12) and He poured out His soul (vs. 12).

Verse 10:  the Hebrew word “khaphetz” means “delighted, or desired” and indicates that the death of the Messiah involved more than a sterile, unfeeling, deterministic plan of an unfeeling God.

While it’s difficult to understand, it pleased God that His Son die.

Christ lives on.. .and carries out the work of atonement, redemption, justification, sanctification, and intercession.. for US.

Isaiah’s Portrayal of the Servant of the Lord: Summary and Conclusions

The “suffering servant” song is clearly one of the most significant and hotly debated passages in Isaiah, if not the entire Bible. Because Christians understandably see Jesus throughout this passage, every effort has been made in the commentary to this point to consider all of the servant songs solely within the context of Isaiah. The time has come, however, to consider the servant songs in the larger context of Scripture, including the New Testament identification of the servant with Jesus.

In the first 39 chapters of the book of Isaiah, God applies the designation “servant” to Isaiah himself (20:3), to Eliakim (22:20), and to David (37:35). In chapters 40-48 the label is applied to Israel in a collective sense, frequently in parallel with terms such as “chosen” or “witnesses” (cf. 41:8-9; 43:10; 44:1, 21, 26; 45:4; 48:20). Unlike Isaiah, Eliakim, and David, however, Israel collectively has miserably failed in its role as God’s servant. Isaiah has pointed out Israel’s failure from the beginning of the book, and in 42:19 this failure is explicitly connected to the servant image: Who is blind but my servant, and deaf like the messenger I send? Who is blind like the one committed to me, blind like the servant of the Lord?

Isaiah 42 also introduces the first of the “servant songs” (vv. 1-7) that present the ideal servant, the one who faithfully and effectively accomplishes God’s will. In the first song he appears as one who is gentle and compassionate, yet empowered by God so that he “establishes justice on earth” and functions as “a light to the Gentiles.” Chapters 40-48 emphasize the sovereignty of God and the way he delivers Israel from Babylonian exile through Cyrus. Since the servant theme in these chapters highlights Israel’s failed servanthood, 42:1-7 might be initially understood to anticipate a time when Israel will more faithfully fulfill its role as God’s servant-witness.

The focus shifts significantly in Isaiah 49-57. These chapters say nothing about Cyrus, but instead move the servant to center stage. In fact, after the final servant song (52:13-53:12), Isaiah does not mention the servant again although God’s people are designated by the plural “servants” several times in the rest of the book (cf. 54:17; 56:6; 63:17; 65:9, 13-15; 66:14).

Isaiah 49 opens this section of the book with the second servant song. In verse 3 Israel is paralleled with the servant for the last time. This point is significant because here the servant songs begin to distinguish between Israel and the servant. In verse 5 the servant functions “to bring Jacob back” to God, and in verse 6 “to bring back the preserved of Israel.” The one who restores Israel also assumes the role assigned to servant-Israel in the first song as “a light for the Gentiles” in order to bring “salvation to the ends of the earth.”

The third servant song (50:4-9) implicitly contrasts the servant with Israel by portraying him as one who is receptive to God and thus obedient and thoroughly instructed. In what might appear to be a strange combination, this song also introduces the servant as one who receives abuse. In spite of this abuse, the servant is determined to remain faithful, confident that God will vindicate him no matter what man attempts to do against him. Although the notion of the ideal servant’s suffering might be surprising, many other faithful servants of God, including the prophets, have also experienced violent rejection.

The final servant song (52:13-53:12) brings together the distinction between the servant and Israel and the theme of suffering, taking each to a higher level. The servant suffers because of Israel’s failures and on behalf of Israel’s failures. Isaiah has made it clear from the outset that the reason for Israel’s failure to enjoy the covenant blessings and to fulfill God’s purpose toward the nations is sin. The downward spiral of Israel’s rebellion has descended so far that prophetic messages and acts of discipline will not suffice. The earlier chapters of Isaiah juxtapose analyses of Israel’s seemingly hopeless spiritual condition with scenes of a glorious future (cf. 1:2-9 with 2:1-4; 3:8-9 with 4:2-6; and 5:1-7, 25-30; 6:11-13; 8:21-22 with 9:1-7). Although Isaiah accounts for this transformation by saying, “The zeal of the Lord Almighty will accomplish this” (9:7), he never explains how God will overcome the problem of sin. The final servant song roots the explanation in the person of the servant.

The servant will suffer, even to the point of death. Yet because he is innocent and righteous, his death can bring peace and healing to the guilty ones for whom he suffers. In 1:5-6, Israel is portrayed as a person beaten and wounded from head to toe as a result of sin. Much of the language from that passage reappears in 53:4-5 as the blows and wounds are laid upon the servant. By taking Israel’s sins upon himself, the servant makes it possible for Israel’s relationship with God to be restored and through Israel for God’s saving power to be revealed to the nations. God thus begins his work of restoration by returning his people from exile through a powerful pagan king, but he accomplishes a greater work of restoration through a suffering servant. Because in his death the servant accomplishes God’s will, God also vindicates him and gives him an exalted future.

Who, then, is this servant? As noted above, Israel would seem at first to be the obvious answer. As Isaiah’s portrait of the servant unfolds, however, Israel becomes an object of the servant’s ministry, along with the nations who need to “see the light” that sinful Israel has actually obscured. Isaiah clearly seeks both to identify the servant with Israel and to distinguish the two at the same time. This point favors identifying the servant as a group or individual within Israel through whom God restores his people and accomplishes his outreach to the nations. The faithful remnant certainly suffered as a result of the sins of the nation as a whole. Their very existence can be considered redemptive in that God spared the nation for their sake (cf. 65:8; the results of the failure to find such a “remnant” in Sodom and Gomorrah). On an individual level, righteous persons like Jeremiah suffered at the hands of—and in a sense on behalf of—the nation (cf. Jer 11:18-20).

There is no doubt some measure of appropriateness in identifying faithful individuals with the ideal servant. In Isaiah 65:8, however, God says he will not destroy the entire nation because of his servants. As noted above, the exclusive use of the plural after the final servant song appears deliberate. In every age faithful believers serve God as they bear witness to him. The New Testament repeatedly labels Christians “servants/slaves” (εὐαγγελίζω). When Jesus appears to Paul on the road to Damascus, he says, “I have appeared to you to appoint you as a servant and as a witness of what you have seen of me and what I will show you.” The opening verses of Revelation describe John as a “servant… who testifies to everything he saw.” Both of these individuals suffer greatly in fulfilling their calling.

Attempts to identify the servant of Isaiah’s servant songs with such individuals fall short, however, because of the climactic elements in the final song. The servant’s suffering occurs not merely because of his association with the covenant people (cf. righteous individuals like Daniel in the exile), or on behalf of the covenant people (serving as a preservative element), or because of the hostility of the covenant people (cf. Jeremiah). The serious problem of Israel’s sin requires a suffering with a greater meaning than any of these possibilities, as does the sacrificial language of Isaiah 52:13-53:12. Sin is the obstacle that lies between Israel as God’s covenant people and Israel as God’s witness/light to the nations. The servant must be able to remove that obstacle if the will of the Lord is to prosper in his hand (53:10).

The New Testament identifies Jesus with the servant in numerous passages. Jesus’ healing ministry is cast as the fulfillment of the first servant song (Matt 12:15-21). Jesus exhorts his disciples to recognize that the greatest among them must be their servant (Matt 20:26), even as he has come to them “not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many” (Matt 20:28). It is in this role as “ransom” that Jesus is most closely linked to the final servant song. He is “the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world” (John 1:29). The Ethiopian eunuch is reading about the suffering servant when God sends Philip to him to explain that the prophet is speaking about Jesus, leading to the eunuch’s conversion (Acts 8:26ff.). Peter calls Christians who suffer for their faith to look to the example of Jesus who, though sinless, silently accepted mistreatment and in the process “bore our sins in his body on the tree” (1 Pet 2:21-25).

Jesus’ nature, the New Testament claims, uniquely qualifies him to bear the sins of others. Hebrews stresses his special relationship to the Father as the foundation for his fulfillment of the ideals of sacrifice and priesthood. In him alone the righteousness of God has been revealed so that, even though all have sinned, God can remain just and still justify those who turn to Jesus (Rom 3:21-26).

The New Testament also presents Jesus as the messiah, raising the issue of the relationship between the servant and the messiah. Parallels between the servant songs and the messianic texts in the earlier chapters of Isaiah have already been pointed out. In 55:3 God speaks of an “everlasting covenant” based on his “faithful love promised to David, and in the next verse refers to David as a “witness to the peoples.” It is inappropriate, therefore, to draw a complete line of separation between the messiah and the servant. It is more accurate to speak of a shift of emphasis from the more customary Davidic messiah in the earlier portions of Isaiah to the servant in the later portions of the book while retaining lines of continuity between the two.

The historical bridge in Isaiah 36-39 points to a significant reason for this shift of emphasis. Although messianic texts such as 9:1ff. and 11:1ff. have implications beyond Israel’s immediate future, God does deliver Israel from the Assyrian threat (chapters 1-35) through one from the line of David (Hezekiah). Isaiah 40-66, on the other hand, considers Israel’s future in light of the Babylonian exile. The line of David survives, but never resumes its place on an earthly throne with political and military power. Isaiah’s servant songs mark another step in the progress of God’s revelation. Through them God makes known (and history confirms) that a better future and the inclusion of the nations in the covenant relationship will not come about through political power but through redemptive suffering.

If it was God’s intention to prepare his people for a redemptive sufferer, centuries of Jewish bondage to a succession of conquerors seem to have undermined that intention. When Peter first publicly confesses Jesus as the messiah and Jesus responds by speaking of the necessity of his suffering and death, Peter cannot harmonize the two ideas (Matt 16:16ff.). If Jesus’ closest disciples struggle to grasp this concept, how much more would the crowds who longed to be free of foreign rule?

Little if any evidence exists for a Jewish expectation of a suffering messiah by the first century, especially one whose death provides atonement. Some have detected such an expectation among the Dead Sea Scrolls, but the case is tenuous at best. An interesting response to a suffering messiah appears in the Targum Jonathan on Isaiah 52:13-53:12. The date of this Targum is debated, so it is not clear if it is written in response to Christian teaching. The Targum interprets this passage from Isaiah messianically, but it attributes only the triumphant elements to the messiah. The suffering it applies either to the Jewish people or to the Gentiles who are punished by the messiah. For whatever reason, this interpretation obviously resists associating suffering and death with the messiah.

In time Judaism did come to embrace the notion of a suffering messiah. The failure of the Bar Kokhba revolt (a.d. 125-135), which had raised hopes of a messianic overthrow of Rome, may have opened the door to consideration of this concept. Once again, no atoning significance is attached to the death of this messianic figure. Since the Middle Ages, however, at least partly in response to Christian teachings, “the prevailing exegesis among the Jews [has] regarded the Suffering Servant as being the Jewish people itself, whose sufferings were regarded as atoning for the sins of the world.”

Given the atmosphere of the hunger for political freedom in the first century, how culpable were the first disciples of Jesus for failing to recognize a place for the suffering and death of the messiah according to Scripture? Jesus’ words to the disciples on the road to Emmaus (Luke 24:25-27) are pointed:

He said to them, “How foolish you are, and how slow of heart to believe all that the prophets have spoken! Did not the Christ have to suffer these things and then enter his glory?” And beginning with Moses and all the Prophets, he explained to them what was said in all the Scriptures concerning himself.

Apart from the servant passages, the evidence appears to be meager for such an understanding. The language Luke uses to describe Jesus’ instruction to the disciples, however, obviously consists of more than the listing of a number of proof texts. Perhaps he draws their attention to the consistent way God has worked through that which is weak and insignificant by human standards. Perhaps he points to the initial decision by David’s family not even to bring him before Samuel as one who might be God’s anointed, or to David’s many hardships before he is vindicated as king. Perhaps he leads them to consider the many laments in the psalms. The classic lament, Psalm 22, demonstrates how God is glorified when he vindicates the righteous sufferer. Given the significant passages in Isaiah and the larger context of the Old Testament, a messiah who triumphs through suffering and death should not have been such a surprise.

The major argument against identifying the servant ultimately with Israel or the faithful remnant or righteous individuals is that these identifications fail to do justice to the atonement language of 52:13-53:12. The system of atonement through animal sacrifices revealed most fully in Leviticus affirms God’s holiness, the disastrous effects of alienation from God because of sin, and the death penalty for sin that the animal substitutes pay. This system communicates powerfully, yet is fundamentally flawed because of the limitations of the human priests and the animal sacrifices. The New Testament claims that the suffering and death of Jesus as the Son of God provide atonement for sin once and for all. Any alternative that denies the need for atonement or holds that sinful human beings by their own righteousness can provide this atonement fails to do justice to the very foundations of the Old Testament, not just to a single passage in Isaiah.


– VICARIOUS: He died in our place.

— VOLUNTARY: We should serve Him willingly every day.

— VICTORY:  His victory made it possible for us to have victory.

“To this day, the fact remains that when a man is brought face to face with Jesus Christ, he must either hate Him or love Him; he must either submit to Him, or desire to destroy Him.  No man who realizes what Jesus Christ demands can possibly remain neutral. He must either be His lover or His foe.”

Which will we choose, today?

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Posted by on April 4, 2022 in cross


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