By Brian Anderson
Isaiah chapter 53 is one of the most wonderful and precious chapters
in the entire Bible. Martin Luther, the great reformer, said
that it ought to be written on parchment of gold and lettered
in diamonds. It has been referred to as the "golden passional
of the Old Testament" and the "holy of holies of Isaiah."
Nowhere in the Old Testament does the glorious gospel of Jesus
Christ shine more brilliantly than in Isaiah 53. The Puritan
commentator Matthew Henry has made the observation, "This
chapter is so replenished with the unsearchable riches of Christ
that it may be called rather the gospel of the evangelist Isaiah
than the prophecy of the prophet Isaiah." Here we have the
most lengthy, full, and rich instruction in the entire Bible on
the sufferings and death of Jesus Christ. It is almost as if
Isaiah were transported in time 750 years into the future to see
with his own eyes the abuse, rejection, and humiliation of our
Lord. It's as though he were standing among the rabble of people
on Golgotha and taking notes of exactly what happened. Thomas
Manton, another puritan pastor, has stated, "Isaiah 53 may
rather be called the gospel than the prophecy of Isaiah. It contains
so ample and clear a discovery of Jesus Christ, that one would
rather account it historical than prophetical. Other prophecies
are explained by the history of Christ in the New Testament, but
this prophecy explains the history."
It would seem that the apostles of Jesus Christ understood the
significance of this chapter in Isaiah, for every verse except
for verse two is picked up and applied to Jesus Christ somewhere
in the New Testament, some verses several times. Jesus applied
Isaiah 53:12 to himself in Luke 22:37. Matthew applied Isaiah
53:4 to the healing ministry of Christ (Mt. 8:16-17), and Peter
made allusions to Isaiah 53:5-9 in 1 Peter 2:21-25. Moreover,
Isaiah 53:7-8 was the very text the Holy Spirit made use of in
converting the Ethiopian Eunuch through the ministry of Philip
The central theme of Isaiah 53 is the atoning death of Jesus Christ.
Christ's substitutionary sin-bearing work on behalf of His people
shines clearly and unmistakably throughout the entire passage.
It should not surprise us that such a magnificent portion of
Scripture has the cross of Jesus Christ as its focal point, for
indeed, the centerpiece of all of Scripture is the cross of Christ.
The Old Testament in its entirety points to the cross. It expects
the cross, anticipates the cross, and is incomplete without the
cross. Likewise, the New Testament looks back to the cross, is
established on the cross, and explains the cross.
How do we know that the atoning death of Jesus Christ is the primary
theme of the Old Testament? Let me turn your attention to a story
in Luke 24. There we find two men to whom Jesus appeared in His
post-resurrected form. Having no idea who they were talking to,
they spoke with Him about the events of the last few days. They
told Him that a man named Jesus of Nazareth had recently been
crucified. They had hoped that He was Israel's Messiah, but now
those dreams were dashed. An odd thing had taken place, though.
Some women had gone to His tomb three days after His crucifixion
and had found it empty. Now they didn't know what to believe.
In response to all of this Jesus replies in verse 25, "O
foolish men and slow of heart to believe in all that the prophets
have spoken! Was it not necessary for the Christ to suffer
these things and to enter into His glory? And beginning with
Moses and with all the prophets, He explained to them the things
concerning Himself in all the Scriptures." Later in verse
44 Jesus goes on to say to the 11 disciples, "'These are
My words which I spoke to you while I was still with you, that
all things which are written about Me in the Law of Moses and
the Prophets and the Psalms must be fulfilled.' Then He opened
their minds to understand the Scriptures, and He said to them,
'Thus it is written, that the Christ should suffer and rise
again from the dead the third day; and that repentance for
forgiveness of sins should be proclaimed in His name to all the
nations, beginning from Jerusalem." Jesus is declaring here
that all the Old Testament Scriptures had His death and resurrection
as their primary theme!
That should not really be difficult to believe when you consider
for a moment the types embedded in the Old Testament that looked
forward to Christ's death upon the cross. For example, Abraham
was called of God to offer his only son upon a mountain as a burnt
offering, clearly pointing forward to the day when another Father
would offer His only begotten Son upon another mountain to atone
for our sins (Heb. 11:17-19). Likewise, when God determined to
release His people from slavery in Egypt, He instructed them to
kill a male lamb a year old, and apply its blood to the lintel
and doorposts of the house so that when the angel of death went
on his errand of vengeance he would pass over these homes and
not destroy the firstborn within. However, the families where
no blood was applied to the door would find that the destroyer
had taken the life of their firstborn. All of this points to
Christ as the Lamb of God who would take away the sins of those
who had applied His blood to their guilty souls through faith
(1 Cor. 5:7). Another fascinating picture of the cross can be
found in Leviticus 16. There we find a description of the Day
of Atonement. On this special day the high priest would make
atonement for the sins of the people. To do so he would lay his
hand upon a live goat while confessing the sins of the people
of Israel. This scapegoat would then be led away into the wilderness
never to return. Additionally, the high priest would slay another
goat and take its blood within the veil into the holy of holies
where God's glorious presence was manifested in a brilliant, uncreated
light. This was the one and only day of the year that any man
was permitted in this holy place. There in the holy of holies,
the high priest would sprinkle the shed blood of the innocent
substitute on top of the mercy seat. (The mercy seat was a slab
of pure gold lying on top of the ark of the covenant.) Inside
this ark the tables of the ten commandments had been deposited.
Because the people had broken the ten commandments, the blood
must be shed and sprinkled on the mercy seat to cover their sins
in the sight of God. By sprinkling the blood on the mercy seat,
the high priest was beseeching God to have mercy on the people
by accepting the death of the innocent goat instead of their death.
Likewise, our great High Priest, the Lord Jesus Christ has done
marvelous things through His work on the cross. Not only has
He borne our sin away, never to return, but He has also satisfied
God's justice, bearing the wrath of His Father which we justly
deserved. These are just a sampling of the various types to be
found in our Old Testament in which the cross of Jesus Christ
is foreshadowed hundreds of years in advance.
Furthermore, the atoning death of our adorable Savior is foreshadowed
often in Old Testament prophecies. Consider these words from
Psalm 22:7-8, 14-18, "All who see me sneer at me; they separate
with the lip, they wag the head, saying, 'Commit yourself to the
Lord; let Him deliver him; let Him rescue him, because He delights
in him.' I am poured out like water, and all my bones are out
of joint; my heart is like wax; it is melted within me. My strength
is dried up like a potsherd, and my tongue cleaves to my jaws;
and Thou dost lay me in the dust of death. For dogs have surrounded
me; a band of evildoers has encompassed me; they pierced my hands
and my feet. I can count all my bones. They look, they stare
at me; they divide my garments among them, and for my clothing
they cast lots." Notice also the language of Daniel 9:26,
"Messiah will be cut off and have nothing." Furthermore,
the whole of Isaiah 53, which we will examine in detail later,
is a prophecy of the death, resurrection, and glory of Jesus Christ.
Moreover, the cross of Christ is obviously the central theme of
the New Testament. Consider, for example the content of the four
gospels. In the books of Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John there
are 89 chapters in all. Of those 89 chapters, 85 of them cover
the last 3 years in the life of Christ. Of those 85 chapters,
27 of them cover the last 8 days in His life! This amazing fact
leads us to believe that the overwhelming concern of the gospel
writers was to declare the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ.
In addition, consider for a moment the book of Acts. As you read
the sermons of Peter and Paul you quickly find that in every message
they made a beeline for the cross. In Peter's first sermon on
the day of Pentecost he thunders, "Men of Israel, listen
to these words: Jesus the Nazarene, a man attested to you by
God with miracles and wonders and signs which God performed through
Him in your midst, just as you yourselves know -- this Man, delivered
up by the predetermined plan and foreknowledge of God, you nailed
to a cross by the hands of godless men and put Him to death (Acts
2:22-23). In Peter's next sermon we find him relating this, "But
the things which God announced beforehand by the mouth of all
the prophets, that His Christ should suffer, He has thus fulfilled
(Acts 3:18). Again in Acts 4 Peter declares, "let it be
known to all of you, and to all the people of Israel, that by
the name of Jesus Christ the Nazarene, whom you crucified, whom
God raised from the dead -- by this name this man stands here
before you in good health (Acts 4:10). In Acts 5:30 again we
read, "The God of our fathers raised up Jesus, whom you had
put to death by hanging Him on a cross." When Peter preaches
to Cornelius and his household his theme is the same, "And
we are witnesses of all the things He did both in the land of
the Jews and in Jerusalem. And they also put Him to death by
hanging Him on a cross (Acts 10:39). The crucifixion of the Son
of God was also a key theme in Paul's preaching. "And though
they found no ground for putting Him to death, they asked Pilate
that He be executed (Acts 13:28). All the way through the Book
of Acts the scarlet thread of the atoning death of Jesus Christ
is seen as a primary element in apostolic preaching.
Furthermore, a major portion of the New Testament epistles is
taken up with explaining the cross and its implications for the
believer. When Paul wants to teach Christians about their sanctification,
he does so by telling them that they have died with Christ, and
thus are dead to sin (Rom. 6:1-11). When Paul wants to teach
husbands how they are to treat their wives he directs them to
look at the example of Jesus who loved the church and gave Himself
for her (Eph. 5:22-33). When Paul wants to teach the church about
how they are to love one another he says that they must walk in
love, just as Christ also loved them, and gave Himself up for
them (Eph. 5:1-2). When Paul urges them to forgive one another
he says "just as God in Christ has forgiven us" (Eph.
4:32). When Paul wants to teach the church about the importance
of humility he again refers them to the cross and declares, "and
being found in appearance as a man, He humbled Himself by becoming
obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross" (Phil.
Besides all of this, Christ has left two ordinances to be observed
by the church -- baptism and the Lord's Supper. In each one the
cross is central. In baptism we express our union with Christ
in His death and resurrection. In the Lord's Supper we proclaim
the Lord's death until He comes.
Additionally, when we come to the book of Revelation the title
used most often of Jesus Christ is the Lamb. This title of Christ
is found an astounding 28 times in a book of only 22 chapters!
Its great theme is "Worthy is the Lamb who was slain to
receive power and riches and wisdom and might and honor and glory
and blessing" (Rev. 5:12).
Clearly, the preoccupation of the New Testament, just like that
of the Old Testament, is the atoning work of Christ for sinners.
It is like the hub of a wheel. All the other truths of Scripture,
like spokes, are connected to it, but it remains central in all
However, of all that God has declared to us about the atoning
work of Jesus Christ, the Mount Everest is found here in Isaiah
53. Seven hundred and fifty years before the birth of Christ,
the prophet Isaiah put down on paper a record of Christ's crucifixion
so vivid and real, that we can hardly believe he wasn't an eyewitness.
Isaiah 53 actually begins in Isaiah 52:13. It would have made
more sense for those who devised the chapter divisions of the
Bible to have begun a new chapter division at 52:13 and concluded
the chapter with 53:12, for the entire section details the person
and work of God's Servant. From Isaiah 52:13 through 53:12 there
are five paragraphs of three verses each. Each paragraph builds
towards the next in a logical progression. In 52:13-15 we see
the overall Mission of God's Servant. In 53:1-3 we see the Rejection
of God's Servant. In 53:4-6 we see the Sufferings of God's Servant.
In 53:7-9 we see the Death of God's Servant. Finally, in 53:10-12
we see the Triumphs of God's Servant now that He is raised from
the dead. Note the progression: mission, rejection, sufferings,
death and triumphant resurrection. It's almost as if Isaiah were
writing down a condensed version of Christ's earthly work.
It is my fervent prayer that as you read through these meditations
on Isaiah 53, God will fill you with a great sense of the excellence
and beauty of your glorious Redeemer! May the wonder of Christ's
dying love flood your souls and produce a renewed love for Jesus
in your heart! In heaven we will be singing a new song with these
lyrics, "Worthy art Thou to take the book, and to break its
seals; for Thou wast slain, and didst purchase for God with Thy
blood men from every tribe and tongue and people and nation"
(Rev. 5:9). Let's join the heavenly chorus in rapturous song
now, as we anticipate singing it to Him one day face to face.
May Christ Jesus be glorified in His church world without end!
The Mission Of God's Servant
"Behold, My servant will prosper, He will be high and
lifted up, and greatly exalted. Just as many were astonished
at you, My people, so His appearance was marred more than any
man, and His form more than the sons of men. Thus He will sprinkle
many nations, kings will shut their mouths on account of Him;
for what had not been told them they will see, and what they had
not heard they will understand." Isaiah 52:13-15
This precious passage of Scripture opens in Isaiah 52:13 with
the words, "Behold, My Servant will prosper."
The entire passage, from 52:13 - 53:12 is dealing with God's
Servant. In case we might get the idea that the person being
described has changed along the way, in 52:11 we read again, "My
Servant will justify the many." From beginning to
end the Servant of God is the subject of this peerless gospel
portrait. In this first paragraph the Holy Spirit has recorded
for us the mission of God's Servant.
The Success Of The Mission Of God's Servant
The initial paragraph opens up with "Behold!"
Here God the Father is speaking of His beloved Son. He wants
to arrest our attention. He's saying, "Behold! Look! Listen
and tune in! I've got something very important to tell you about
this Servant of mine." Well, what are to behold? Obviously
we are to behold God's Servant -- "Behold, My Servant
will prosper." I find it interesting that God describes
the Lord Jesus Christ as His Servant. A servant is one who does
the will of his master. By identifying Christ as His Servant,
God is telling us that Jesus Christ came to earth to do His will.
He came to keep His commandments. In John 10:17-18 Jesus declares,
"For this reason the Father loves Me, because I lay down
My life that I may take it again. No one has taken it away from
Me, but I lay it down on My own initiative. I have authority
to lay it down, and I have authority to take it up again. This
commandment I received from My Father." Here Jesus
tells us that His laying down of His life and His rising again
from the dead were done in obedience to God's commandment. In
other words, what Jesus said and did on earth was not done in
independence of His Father, but was done in obedience to His Father's
will. He expressly states this in many places. Consider His
words in the following passages:
John 5:19 "Truly, truly, I say to you, the Son can
do nothing of Himself, unless it is something He sees the Father
doing; for whatever the Father does, these things the Son also
does in like manner."
John 5:30 "I can do nothing on My own initiative.
As I hear, I judge; and My judgment is just, because I do not
seek My own will, but the will of Him who sent Me."
John 6:38 "For I have come down from heaven, not
to do My own will, but the will of Him who sent Me."
John 8:28 "When you lift up the Son of Man, then
you will know that I am He, and I do nothing on My own initiative,
but I speak these things as the Father taught Me."
John 12:49 "For I did not speak on My own initiative,
but the Father Himself who sent Me has given Me commandment, what
to say, and what to speak."
I think these statements of Christ make it abundantly clear that
Christ was a Man on a mission. He came down from heaven, not
to do His own will, but the will of His Father. What was that
mission? Well, long before the world was made, God, knowing that
Adam and Eve would sin against Him and plunge the whole world
into death, depravity, and darkness, decided that He would not
allow the whole human race to suffer the torments of hell, although
He would have been entirely just in doing so. Instead, He determined
that He would save a people out of this wicked world for His own
praise and glory. These people were chosen by the Father, and
then given to Christ. Jesus was charged with the mission of coming
to the earth, becoming a man, living a perfect life, dying a substitutionary
death, and then rising again from the dead to sit at the Father's
right hand in heaven. He was to do all of this as the Representative
Head of these people His Father had chosen. He would be born
for them, live for them, die for them, rise for them, and rule
the universe at the Father's right hand for them. Before the
foundation of the world, the Father gave His Son the charge of
securing the eternal salvation of every one of His sheep. Consider
the words of our Lord and His apostles:
John 6:38-39 "For I have come down from heaven, not
to do My own will, but the will of Him who sent Me. And this
is the will of Him who sent Me, that of all that He has given
Me I lose nothing, but raise it up on the last day."
John 17:2,6,9 "Even as Thou gavest Him authority
over all mankind, that to all whom Thou hast given Him, He may
give eternal life... I manifested Thy name to the men whom Thou
gavest Me out of the world; Thine they were, and Thou gavest them
to Me, and they have kept Thy word... I ask on their behalf;
I do not ask on behalf of the world, but of those whom Thou hast
given Me; for they are Thine."
1 Peter 1:20-21 "For He was foreknown before the
foundation of the world, but has appeared in these last times
for the sake of you who through Him are believers in God."
Revelation 13:8 "And all who dwell on the earth will
worship him (the beast), everyone whose name has not been written
from the foundation of the world in the book of life of the Lamb
who has been slain."
"Behold, My Servant will prosper." Over
750 years before Jesus was ever born, God the Father declared
that Jesus would successfully complete the mission He had assigned
Him. The Hebrew words for "will prosper" have the meaning
of "to act wisely so as to experience success and prosperity."
From the divine perspective, the successful accomplishment of
Christ's mission was never in doubt. Though Herod tried to kill
all male babies under two years of age, he could never succeed
in killing Jesus, for the Father had declared that His Servant
would prosper. Though the religious leaders tried to stone Him
and cast Him off the side of a cliff before His hour had come,
it was impossible for them to carry out their plans, for it was
foretold that His Servant would prosper. As Jesus was just about
to expire His last breath He cried, "It is finished!"
Something was accomplished at the cross! Jesus wasn't "hoping"
His death would accomplish something. No, He was absolutely certain
that His death had accomplished the eternal purpose of His Heavenly
Father. Even before He came to the earth, Christ had the promise
of His Father that He would be successful in making atonement
for the sins of His people. Nothing under heaven could stop Him
from prospering in His Father's mission. Never was atonement
for our sin in any way in jeopardy. Hallelujah, what a Savior!
The Exaltation After The Mission Of God's
"He will be high and lifted up, and greatly exalted."
The three phrases, "high", "lifted up",
and "greatly exalted" are used in the book of Isaiah
to speak of the highest rank and position in the universe. They
are used as adjectives to describe Jehovah Himself. I find it
interesting that Isaiah is not content to use just one of the
terms, but must pile one superlative upon another to ensure to
us that Jesus Christ would be exalted to the supreme place. It
appears that the Holy Spirit is emphasizing the fact that God
would reward His Son for His obedience and sufferings. Some passages
in the New Testament give clarity to Isaiah's words:
Ephesians 1:20-23 "which He brought about in Christ,
when He raised Him from the dead, and seated Him at His right
hand in the heavenly places, far above all rule and authority
and power and dominion, and every name that is named, not only
in this age, but also in the one to come. And He put all things
in subjection under His feet, and gave Him as head over all things
to the church, which is His body, the fullness of Him who fills
all in all."
Philippians 2:8-11 "And being found in appearance
as a man, He humbled Himself by becoming obedient to the point
of death, even death on a cross. Therefore also God highly exalted
Him, and bestowed on Him the name which is above every name, that
at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, of those who are in
heaven, and on earth, and under the earth, and that every tongue
should confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God
Hebrews 1:3 "And He is the radiance of His glory
and the exact representation of His nature, and upholds all things
by the word of His power. When He had made purification of sins,
He sat down at the right hand of the Majesty on high."
Today Christ reigns from heaven as the supreme Lord over the entire
universe. He is administering God's kingdom for the glory of
His Father and the good of His church. Oh, what an exalted position
our Lord has assumed! Is this the Jesus you know? Is He high,
lifted up, and greatly exalted in your mind, heart and life?
Too often we reduce Jesus to our pal or buddy, when we ought to
be filled with reverence and awe at His supreme majesty! See
the Lord Jesus Christ today for who He is -- the risen and exalted
Son of the living God! Bow down before Him in reverent worship.
Determine that you will no longer be flippant or irreverent towards
Him, but instead serve Him as the King of kings, and Lord of Lords,
who alone possesses immortality and dwells in unapproachable light,
whom no man has seen or can see!
The Humiliation In The Mission Of God's
"Just as many were astonished at you, My people."
The word "astonished" here means to be appalled or
horrified. At whom were many appalled? The New American Standard
Bible supplies the words "My people" which leaves us
with the impression that many were astonished when they saw the
Jewish people. I believe this is incorrect. These words are
not in the original, but were added by the translators. In this
passage the Father is speaking directly to His Son. The Jewish
people are not even in view in this entire chapter. After consulting
ten other translations, I didn't find these words supplied in
any of them. There is little doubt that the One that many were
astonished at is not the Jewish people, but the same One being
spoken of in the entire section -- the Lord Jesus Christ.
"Just as many were astonished." Who were
these "many" who were astonished? Evidently, the prophet
is speaking of those who saw Christ in His awful sufferings.
The next two lines are sort of a parenthesis, explaining what
is meant by the statement, "Just as many were astonished
at you, My people." Note how the New International Version
has translated verse 14, "Just as there were many who were
appalled at Him - His appearance was so disfigured beyond that
of any man and His form marred beyond human likeness - so will
He sprinkle many nations." Notice how part of that verse
is set off by dashes. It's the New International Version translators'
way of pointing out that these words really form a parenthesis
which explains the first line of verse 14.
"So His appearance was marred more than any man, and His
form more than the sons of men." By this expression
the Holy Spirit is indicating that as Christ hung from that Roman
cross, He ceased to even resemble a man. He no longer possessed
the semblance of humanity. I think a few moments of reflection
on His sufferings will show how this was so. By the time Jesus
was finally nailed to the cross He had gone at least 24 hours
without sleep, and at least 12 hours without food or water. He
had been beaten, spat upon, and subjected to having portions of
His beard plucked out. He had been interrogated relentlessly
throughout the night. He had been scourged by a Roman soldier
with a cat-of-nine tails. Add to all of this the crown of thorns
driven into His skull, with the blood trickling down His face,
the sweat mingling with the blood as He is forced to carry the
heavy cross-piece to the execution site, and the fact that all
of His bones were out of joint, and I think you can readily understand
why Jesus would no longer resemble a man. I don't think the movies
depicting the life of Christ do justice to the horror of His sufferings.
As Christ's exaltation and glorification were of the highest nature,
so His degradation was of the lowest nature. Our Blessed Lord
stooped from the highest place in the universe, to assume the
lowest position under heaven. "For you know the grace of
our Lord Jesus Christ, that though He was rich, yet for your sake
He became poor, that you through His poverty might become rich"
(2 Cor. 8:9). Oh, I wonder if we really appreciate the depths
of suffering to which Christ willingly went to save us. Not only
did He condescend to take upon Himself human nature eternally,
live and die as a poor man, but He was also willing to be beaten
and bloodied so badly that the people of His day did not even
recognize Him as a man any longer! Oh, how this ought to break
our hearts for our own sins which caused Him to be nailed to that
The Fruit Of The Mission Of God's Servant
"Thus He will sprinkle" The word "sprinkle"
is a technical word found in the Mosaic law for ritual purification.
According to the Law of Moses, either blood or water was sprinkled
by the priests to bring cleansing to others. Christ in His obedience
unto death was acting as a priest of God in order to cleanse us
from our sin. This is the work He will prosper in and on account
of which He will be so greatly exalted. The work of an Old Testament
high priest was two-fold: to offer sacrifice for the sins of
the people, and then to intercede for them within the veil. Jesus
Christ as our Great High Priest, has offered Himself as the substitutionary
Lamb of God upon Calvary's cross, and then has entered within
the veil into heaven itself to intercede that the virtue of His
shed blood would be applied to all His people. During those three
hours of darkness on Calvary, the cross became an altar, and the
Son of Man became the Lamb of God to atone for our sins. Now
that He has been exalted to the Father's right hand, He sends
His Spirit into the hearts of His people to apply the virtue of
that cleansing blood to their souls.
"Many nations" Here we have a glimpse into that
wonderful truth that Christ would not just die for the sins of
the people of Israel, but as a Savior of the world. He will die
for many nations, not just the one nation of Israel. That's why
we read in Revelation 5:9 "And they sang a new song, saying,
'Worthy art Thou to take the book, and to break its seals; for
Thou wast slain, and didst purchase for God with Thy blood men
from every tribe and tongue and people and nation.'"
That's why the unbelieving high priest Caiaphas prophesied and
said that Jesus was going to die for the nation, and not for the
nation only, but that He might also gather together into one the
children of God who are scattered abroad (Jn. 11:51-52). God
has an elect people out of every tribe, tongue, people and nation,
and Jesus has atoned for all of their sins.
"Kings will shut their mouths on account of Him; for what
had not been told them they will see, and what they had not heard
they will understand." What a picture! The highest,
proudest, most noble of men will be so awed by the majesty of
His presence as they recognize Him for who He is that they will
humbly submit their lives to Him in silence. There are two different
ways in which this statement will be fulfilled.
First, it will be fulfilled in the preaching of the gospel. As
Christ's servants preach the everlasting gospel the world over,
some kings will hear, be convicted of sin, and be regenerated
by the power of the Holy Spirit. They will hear and see things
they had never heard and seen before. As the Holy Spirit reveals
to them their own guilt and wretchedness, they will see and understand
the wonderful truths of the gospel.
Secondly, this statement will also be fulfilled at the second
coming of Christ. At that time, every person who has ever lived,
including kings, will recognize Christ for who He is. At that
time their mouths will be shut on account of Him. They will not
be able to justify themselves. All men will be raised from the
dead and gathered before Him. The books will be opened, and all
the world will see them for who they are. No excuses will be
accepted in that day. No man will be permitted to open his mouth
in his defense. On that day all the world will see and hear things
they never understood before. They will realize that Jesus is
not just a good man, a teacher, a prophet, a miracle worker, a
fiction of someone's overworked imagination, or someone to consider
only at Christmas. They will see and perceive that the One that
they scorned, rejected, and ignored is the God of the universe
who reigns and judges all men with perfect justice!
What does our text reveal about the mission of God's Servant?
Well, it reveals that it will be successful, that it will be
followed by great exaltation, that it would involve deep humiliation,
and that it would wash away the sins of people from many different
nations including even kings. What a grand sweeping look at Christ's
mission we find in these three short verses!
Now that you have seen something of the glory of Christ in this
passage, I think a few heart-searching questions are in order:
Are you worshipping the Jesus of the Bible? There are
many different Christs that people vainly worship. There is the
Baby Jesus that multitudes of unsaved people worship at Christmas,
but live indifferently to the rest of the year. There is the
Doctor Jesus that many pray to when they are sick and in need
of healing, but once healed go on their way in neglect of Him.
There is the Genie Jesus who is commanded by the positive confessions
of many to give them wealth and riches. There is also the Psychiatrist
Jesus who is appealed to in order to gain a better self-esteem
or emotional wholeness. I'm not talking about those Christs.
I'm talking about Jesus the Savior! The Scripture declares,
"you shall call His name Jesus, for it is He who will save
His people from their sins." Jesus didn't come to fix our
temporary problems. He came to save us from sin and hell and
make us holy! If you aren't interested in that Jesus, you don't
have the right one! Today this same Jesus is exalted as the supreme
person in all of the universe and one day will return to judge
all men. Oh, worship Him! Fear Him! Reverence Him!
Another question which must be faced is this -- "Does Christ's
work of atonement occupy the primary place of importance in your
mind and heart?" So often once a Christian has been saved
a few years, he decides that he wants to get beyond the elemental
things of Christianity like the cross, and go on to bigger and
better things. My friends, there is nothing bigger and better
than the cross of Jesus Christ. No matter how long you spend
meditating on and studying Christ's work on Calvary, you will
never plumb the depths of the riches of God's Word on this matter.
Christian, don't let anything besides the cross of Christ steal
away your heart! It's amazing how easily we can be excited about
the San Francisco 49'ers or the Oakland Athletics, or fighting
abortion or pornography, and yet have a cold heart to the glory
of Christ and His saving work. May that declaration of the apostle
Paul be ours, "But may it never be that I should boast, except
in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, through which the world
has been crucified to me, and I to the world" (Gal.6:14).
The Rejection Of God's Servant
"Who has believed our message? And to whom has the arm
of the Lord been revealed? For He grew up before Him like a tender
shoot, and like a root out of parched ground; He has no stately
form or majesty that we should look upon Him, nor appearance that
we should be attracted to Him. He was despised and forsaken of
men, a man of sorrows, and acquainted with grief; and like one
from whom men hide their face, He was despised, and we did not
esteem Him." Isaiah 53:1-3
Christ's overall mission was described in Isaiah 52:13-15. Isaiah
now describes the first aspect of that mission -- His rejection.
In this section there is a question posed in two similar ways
in verse one, followed by the answer to the question in verses
two and three.
The thrust of the question is, "Why aren't all men believing?"
In order to understand why this question would even be asked,
we need to see the great contrast between 52:13-15 and 53:13.
In the previous chapter we saw that many nations would be sprinkled,
and even kings would shut their mouths on account of Him. This
points to the worldwide spread of the gospel in the New Testament
church. The gospel was not just for the Jews, but for every nation
under heaven. There would be some from every nation who would
come to believe on Christ and receive the riches of salvation.
But in spite of this glowing optimism in 52:13-15, chapter 53
opens up with "Who has believed our message? And to whom
has the arm of the Lord been revealed?" This was the
question the gospel preachers in the first century asked when
they witnessed so few of their fellow Jews believing on Christ.
The question would quite naturally have surfaced, "If Christ
is really Israel's long-awaited Messiah, why aren't the Jews receiving
Him now that He has come? Isn't He the One they have been awaiting
for centuries? What's gone wrong?" Here we have a hint
that though the gospel would triumph in the hearts of the Gentiles
around the world, comparatively few of the Jews would turn in
faith to Christ and be saved. We see this same truth in Romans
10:1 where the apostle Paul laments, "Brethren, my heart's
desire and my prayer to God for them (the Jews) is for their salvation."
Who Is Asking The Question? The first thing to ask ourselves
as we approach this passage is, "Who are the persons asking
the question?" It can't be a single individual like God
or Isaiah because the question is "Who has believed OUR message?"
There were a number of persons asking this question. The key
to determining the answer to who was asking the question is found
in the immediate context of chapter 52. Isaiah has been prophesying
that Israel would be carried into captivity by the Babylonians
because of their idolatry. Later God would free them to return
home to Palestine. In 52:7 we find the mention of messengers
who would come to these captives bearing the good news that they
are free to return to their homeland. "How lovely on the
mountains are the feet of him who brings good news, who announces
peace and brings good news of happiness, who announces salvation,
and says to Zion, 'Your God reigns!'" Their triumphant message
is, "Your God reigns!" No doubt, many Jews had come
to the conclusion that Jehovah was no greater than the tribal
deities of the Philistines or the Babylonians. In their minds
He was no more able to deliver than any other god of the heathen.
But suddenly someone comes running over the mountains with the
message of glad tidings that God reigns. He has proven it by
setting the people of Israel free! He has broken the chains of
the Babylonians that bound them and has released them to go home.
That is the message of 52:9-11 "Break forth, shout joyfully
together, you waste places of Jerusalem; for the LORD has comforted
His people, He has redeemed Jerusalem. The LORD has bared His
holy arm in the sight of all the nations, that all the ends of
the earth may see the salvation of our God. Depart, depart, go
out from there, touch nothing unclean; go out of the midst of
her, purify yourselves, you who carry the vessels of the LORD."
These messengers were bearers of a gospel. They told of the
good news that God had released His captive people. Isaiah 52:7
tells us that these messengers announce peace, bring good news
of happiness and announce salvation. The deliverance from Babylonian
captivity was only a faint picture of the far greater deliverance
from sin that Christ has accomplished for us. These messengers
of good news in Isaiah 52:7 are the Old Testament counterparts
to the New Testament gospel preachers who proclaim peace, good
news and salvation to lost sinners. These New Testament gospel
preachers are the ones asking the question "Lord, who has
believed our report?" I have come to this conclusion because
Paul applies Isaiah 52:7 to first century gospel preachers in
Romans 10:15-17. Note his words: "And how shall they preach
unless they are sent? Just as it is written, 'How beautiful are
the feet of those who bring glad tidings of good things!' However,
they did not all heed the glad tidings; for Isaiah says, 'Lord,
who has believed our report?' So faith comes from hearing, and
hearing by the word of Christ." In this passage the apostle
Paul is declaring that the gospel preachers of the first century
who brought the Word of Christ are fulfilling this passage from
Isaiah 52:7. In Isaiah's day the Israelites experienced a physical
release from Babylonian captivity. But this physical release
was only a picture of the spiritual release from sin, Satan, death
and hell that gospel preachers announce under the New Covenant.
Paul is declaring to us in Romans 10:16 that as his Jewish contemporaries
rejected Jesus Christ, Isaiah 53:1 was being fulfilled.
What Is the Message They Didn't Believe? Now that we have
discovered who is asking the question, we must determine what
it was that these first century Jews did not believe. Romans
10:15-16 will supply the answer. "And how shall they preach
unless they are sent? Just as it is written, 'How beautiful are
the feet of those who bring glad tidings of good things!'
However, they did not all heed the glad tidings; for Isaiah
says, 'Lord, who has believed our report?'" It's
clear that the message that the Jews did not embrace was the glad
tidings, which is just another way of talking about the gospel.
The gospel is the glad tidings of what God has done in Christ
to save sinners. It declares that any sinner who comes to God
repenting of his sin and trusting in Christ will be rescued from
the wrath to come and live eternally with God in heaven. It is
the joyous proclamation of what God has done to save men enslaved
to sin. However, although this message was wonderful, thrilling,
and joyous, few of the Jewish people believed it.
Why Didn't The Jews Believe The Gospel? This is the next
logical question. If the message of the gospel is such wonderful
news, why didn't the Jews eagerly embrace it? Well to answer
this question we must first understand that in 53:1 we have an
instance of Hebrew parallelism. This particular literary device
shows up often in the Old Testament. Hebrew parallelism is the
setting forth of the same truth in a single verse in slightly
different ways. In 53:1 the first line is saying substantially
the same thing as the second, only using different words. "Who
has believed our message? And to whom has the arm of the Lord
been revealed?" In other words, to believe the message of
the gospel is to have the arm of the Lord revealed to you. What
is the arm of the Lord? It is the message of 53:1, or
in other words, the gospel of Christ. The arm of the Lord conveys
the idea of the power of God. Isaiah 52:10 declares, "The
Lord has bared His holy arm in the sight of all the nations,
that all the ends of the earth may see the salvation of our God."
You see, to all the other nations, Jehovah was a joke. He hadn't
kept His people from captivity. Babylon had conquered Israel
just as they had conquered all the other nations. But now, God
has rolled up His sleeves to bare His holy arm in order to display
His strength and power in the eyes of all the nations. No wonder
Paul says in Romans 1:16, "For I am not ashamed of the gospel,
for it is the power of God to salvation," In 1 Corinthians
1:18 he says again, "For the word of the cross is
to those who are perishing foolishness, but to us who are being
saved it is the power of God." Thus, when Isaiah
says "And to whom is the arm of the Lord revealed?"
he's asking, "to whom was the gospel of Jesus Christ revealed
in power so as to save men from sin and bring them to eternal
glory?" The gospel of Jesus Christ is God's arm. It is
His power when accompanied by the regenerating ministry of the
Holy Spirit. Paul writes in 1 Thessalonians 1:4-5 "knowing,
brethren beloved by God, His choice of you; for our gospel did
not come to you in word only, but also in power and in the
Holy Spirit and with full conviction."
God is declaring to us that the reason the Jews didn't believe
in Jesus Christ is because the gospel was not revealed to them
in power. Again the parallelism of Isaiah 53:1 reveals that to
believe the gospel is the same thing as to have the arm of the
Lord revealed. Therefore, those who do not believe the gospel
do so because the gospel has not been revealed to them. In other
words, God has not opened their blinded eyes to the wonderful
truths of His good news. This truth should not stumble us. It
is clearly taught in other places of Scripture. For example,
consider Matthew 11:25-27, "At that time Jesus answered
and said, "I praise Thee, O Father, Lord of heaven and earth,
that Thou didst hide these things from the wise and intelligent
and didst reveal them to babes. Yes, Father, for thus
it was well-pleasing in Thy sight. All things have been handed
over to Me by My Father; and no one knows the Son, except the
Father; nor does anyone know the Father, except the Son, and anyone
to whom the Son wills to reveal Him." Here we are taught
that no one can come to know God unless Jesus Christ chooses to
reveal God to them. Apart from His shining in their hearts to
give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face
of Christ (2 Cor.4:6) we will never savingly believe in Jesus
Christ. Furthermore we have the inspired words of the Holy Spirit
in John 12:37-39, "But though He had performed so many signs
before them, yet they were not believing in Him; that the
word of Isaiah the prophet might be fulfilled, which he spoke,
'Lord, who has believed our report? And to whom has the arm of
the Lord been revealed?' For this cause they could not believe,
for Isaiah said again, 'He has blinded their eyes, and He hardened
their heart; lest they see with their eyes, and perceive with
their heart, and be converted, and I heal them.'" Except
God grant a man special regenerating grace, he cannot believe
on Christ to the saving of his soul.
You see, something must happen inside a man before he can believe
in Christ. God must perform a supernatural operation in a man's
heart to enable him to come to Christ in saving faith. According
to the Word of God, faith and repentance are not abilities we
possess in ourselves, but are gifts of grace bestowed by our Sovereign
God on those He intends to save (Eph.2:8, 2 Tim.2:25, Acts 5:31,
Perhaps the reason entertainment is so pervasive in the Christianity
of our own day is because we have ceased to believe this important
truth, that our salvation is not of ourselves, but from a sovereign
God. We see scores of churches adopting the seeker sensitive
model of church growth and evangelism. Because seeker sensitive
churches believe that men have the ability in themselves to make
a decision for Christ and secure their own salvation, they try
to make church as comfortable and attractive to lost sinners as
possible. Professional music and drama grace the stage of the
church each Sunday morning along with a short and positive, but
often watered down message that is sure not to offend the seeker.
The goal of these methods is to induce the unsuspecting sinner
to make his decision for Christ, while he is being entertained
and made to feel comfortable in church. The subjects of sin,
repentance, judgment, and the wrath of God are avoided as they
may scare away the seeker before he has made his decision. This
must also be why the altar call is so prevalent in our own day.
We have ceased to believe the Bible when it comes to the way
God saves sinners. We think that if we can just persuade a man
to walk down an aisle, he has secured his salvation. We forget
all too readily that even if we could get a man to walk an aisle
1,000 times and attend 1,000 seeker sensitive services, if God
does not give a man a revelation of the glory of the gospel, he
will remain dead in his sins. Our temptation today is to adopt
one of these modern unbiblical practices if the preaching of the
gospel of Jesus Christ and His apostles doesn't produce results.
But we must remain true to God's Word. He has called us to proclaim
the pure, unadulterated gospel of Christ. This is the message
that God has always honored by accompanying it with His power
to save. If this message doesn't result in the salvation of men,
then we'll just have to let the chips fall where they will, because
it is the only message God has given us to preach!
We've seen the question that these first century preachers of
the gospel were posing. They wanted to know why so few of their
countrymen were believing in Jesus Christ. Now let's take a look
at the human answer as to why all men did not believe in Jesus
Christ. Basically, the answer can be summed up in one sentence
-- He was not the Messiah they wanted!
His Origin Was All Wrong. Isaiah 53:2 tells us, "For
He grew up before Him like a tender shoot, and like a root out
of parched ground." The word tender shoot means
"a suckling." It can refer to a human suckling or a
sucker plant. The context demands that a sucker plant is in view.
This is a plant that grows out of the roots of another plant.
In Isaiah 11:1 this is how the Lord Jesus Christ is described,
"Then a shoot will spring from the stem of Jesse, and a branch
from his roots will bear fruit." Jesus Christ was a branch
that sprung from the roots of Jesse (David's father). Try to
envision an old stump from what was once a great and magnificent
tree out in a dry, barren land. This stump is dormant and dead.
However, suddenly a sucker plant begins to grow out from the
side of this stump. The old, dead stump represents the house
of David, which had once been a giant tree. Often in the Scriptures,
a tree represents a kingdom. But David's kingdom had long since
fallen into ruin. It had decayed and been chopped down. At the
time of the birth of Christ, no one was sitting on the throne
of David. Israel was just a vassal state of Rome, existing at
its pleasure. The royal line had fallen into a lowly condition.
It was like an old, dead, dried up stump. And it was out of
this lowly, humble condition, that Jesus Christ came forth.
The Jews were looking for a Messiah who would be a great and mighty
king; one who would come from David's royal line and sit upon
His throne, and destroy all their enemies. However, when Christ
came, He lacked these majestic origins, being born in a stable
and cradled in a manger. He was born to poor parents who had
to offer the poor man's sacrifice of turtledoves when they presented
Him to the Lord. He was the obscure son of a carpenter who lived
as a poor man all His life. When He arrived on the scene, what
was the response of the people? "Is this not the carpenter's
son? Is not His mother called Mary, and His brothers, James and
Joseph and Simon and Judas? And His sisters, are they not all
with us? Where then did this man get all these things? And they
took offense at Him" (Mt. 13:55-57). Because His origin
was all wrong, the religious leaders of His day despised and rejected
Him, even to the point of trying to stone Him and throw Him off
the side of a cliff.
His Appearance Was All Wrong. Not only were Christ's origins
all wrong to be the Messiah the people wanted, but His appearance
was wrong as well. Isaiah 53:2 goes on to say, "He has
no stately form or majesty that we should look upon Him, nor appearance
that we should be attracted to Him." Christ didn't appear
in regal attire. The Jews were looking for the Messiah to be
decked out in gorgeous robes, with a crown on his head, accompanied
by the noble and dignified people of His day, riding into Jerusalem
on a great white steed. Instead, He was very ordinary in His
appearance. In all likelihood, He looked very much like any other
normal Jewish man of His day. When He did ride into Jerusalem,
He did so on a borrowed donkey, not a great white stallion. He
lived a simple life with followers who were the rabble and outcasts
of His day -- tax collectors, prostitutes and fishermen. His
image was completely wrong for the Jewish nation's idea of the
It is interesting that today the so-called "experts"
say that the church must project the right image if they are to
be successful in God's work. They must give the impression that
they are on the move and that things are happening. They must
have a beautiful building, flashy bulletins, top-notch music,
and a witty, humorous pastor. They must communicate the message,
"We've got it together!" However, Jesus projected the
image of a humble, meek, servant of God. He was not attractive
to sinners. In fact He's still not! To believers, Christ is
altogether lovely, the fairest of ten thousand, the bright and
morning star. He is beautiful beyond description to the eye of
faith. But to the natural eye He is despised and rejected, and
always will be unless God reveals the power of the gospel to him.
Today when we want our kids to be impressed with Jesus, we may
invite a famous football player to their high school campus to
speak to them about Christ. We think that if we can get someone
who is successful in the world to put in a good word for Jesus,
then we can sell Christ to the masses. Instead, we ought to be
on our knees in prayer that the Spirit of God would make this
crucified Jew an object of glory and beauty to sinners! Do you
see His beauty? Is He all together lovely to you? Is He the
treasure that for joy over it you are willing to sell all that
you have to buy the field in which it is hid? Oh, may the Spirit
of God open our eyes to His glory!
His Lifestyle Was All Wrong. Not only was Christ's origin
and appearance all wrong, but His lifestyle was all wrong to be
Messiah as well. Isaiah 53:3 tells us He was "a man of
sorrows and acquainted with grief." This sorrow and
grief spoken of were His own. It was the sorrow and grief He
endured while living on this sin-cursed earth. It was the result
of the persecution, scoffing, and contempt leveled against Him.
It was the result of being accused of being demon-possessed,
a drunkard, a man born of fornication, a blasphemer, and a Samaritan.
It's interesting that though the Bible tells us three times that
Jesus wept, it no where tells us that He laughed. Not only did
He personally experience this sorrow and grief because of the
way He was treated, but it was also the result of His entering
into the sorrow and grief of others. The phrase "a man of
sorrows and acquainted with grief" can also be translated
"a man of pains and acquainted with sicknesses." It
appears that during His earthly ministry Jesus sought out human
misery. Those that came to Him were the lepers, the vile, the
lowly, the unclean, the prostitutes, and the despised. Jesus
knew firsthand the shattering effects of sin and this made Him
a sober man. He wasn't a clown, or a joke-teller. There was
a solemnity that emerged from His sensitivity to the devastating
effects of sin. If all you wanted was mindless chit chat or a
few jokes, Jesus was not a comfortable person to be around.
How much does the church today partake of the Spirit of Christ?
Is the purpose of going to church to laugh uncontrollably "in
the Spirit"? Should we be trying to put on a comedy act,
so that people leave giggling and laughing, sure to come back?
I don't think so. The purpose of meeting together is to worship
the living God and hear His Word that we might obey His voice!
Though we ought to experience the joy of the Holy Spirit as we
meet together, there are times when we ought to leave church weeping!
There are times when we should leave a worship service feeling
bad, troubled, and convicted of our sins. I'm concerned that
there is something terribly wrong when we attend church in order
to get our laughs for the week.
As a result of the fact that Jesus' origins, appearance, and lifestyle
were all wrong, the Jews rejected Him. Isaiah 53:3 tells us that
"He was despised and forsaken of men." Not
only was He not an object of admiration, He was an object of derision.
Men were repulsed by Him. In the words of our text, "He
was like one from whom men hide their face." They hid
their faces from Him. To them, He was a nobody. He was not the
Messiah they wanted! He was all wrong for the job!
But what was the real reason the Jews rejected Jesus Christ?
What is the real reason men and women reject Him today? The answer
lies in the Biblical doctrine of human depravity. Today, Jesus
Christ is still despised and rejected. He's still not the kind
of Savior that men want. Men want a freedom to sin, not a freedom
from sin. They have no use for a kingdom in which truth and holiness
reign. The blessedness He came to give is not what men want.
Why is this so? The stream can be traced all the way back to
the fountainhead of human depravity. It's our wicked heart that
makes us spurn His holy love. When God came walking into town,
how did men treat Him? They took the hands that cured leprosy,
healed withered limbs, and gave sight to the blind, and drove
nails through them. They took the feet that had carried Him about
doing good and healing all oppressed of the devil, and drove spikes
through them. They took the noblest brow that ever graced this
world and pressed a crown of thorns into it. When the holy, spotless
Son of God came to earth, what did we do? We murdered Him! We
flatter ourselves by saying, "We would have treated Him differently
if He appeared today." My friend, you and I are made of
the very same stuff as they were! Do you see the roots of what
we are? The core of our being is just as rotten as theirs. We
all are born with a wicked heart. Our depravity would take God
and murder Him if it had a chance! Oh, let this thought humble
you! If it were not for the grace of God, we would still be despising
and forsaking Him today.
But do you now think this way concerning Jesus? Before it was
true that we despised and forsook Him. We did not esteem Him.
He held no value in our eyes. God came and we looked in His
eyes and were disgusted. We turned away and didn't want to have
anything to do with Him. We rejected, ignored, and neglected
the One who came to save us! But now everything has changed.
God has enabled us to see a beauty and loveliness in Christ that
thrills our souls! Being a Christian is not just that now we
like to go to church instead of going to bars. It is not just
that we like to do religious things instead of sinful things.
It's not just being enraptured with a system of doctrine. No,
being a Christian means that we love Christ with all our hearts!
The person of Jesus captivates us. Is that true of you? If
you see more glory in a one dollar bill than in the face of Jesus
Christ, chances are that you are still lost. But to those who
believe, He is precious! Oh saints, go on to give Him the glory
and honor He is so worthy of!
The Sufferings Of God's Servant
"Surely our griefs He Himself bore, and our sorrows He
carried; yet we ourselves esteemed Him stricken, smitten of God,
and afflicted. But He was pierced through for our transgressions,
He was crushed for our iniquities; the chastening for our well-being
fell upon Him, and by His scourging we are healed. All of us
like sheep have gone astray, each of us has turned to his own
way; but the LORD has caused the iniquity of us all to fall on
Him." Isaiah 53:4-6
If Isaiah 53 is the Mount Everest of all that God has to say on
the subject of the atoning work of Jesus Christ, then Isaiah 53:4-6
is the topmost tip of that mountain. This paragraph gets at the
heart of what substitionary atonement is all about. Oh, may the
omnipotent Spirit of God give us grace to see the unsearchable
riches found here!
To begin with it would be helpful for us to determine who is the
one doing the speaking when we arrive at Isaiah 53:4. To be sure,
Isaiah is the one writing this prophecy, but whose perspective
is He writing from? Isaiah 53:1 asks the question, "Who
has believed our message?" In Romans 10:16 we
find that Paul says this passage was fulfilled in the first century
when the Jews rejected Jesus Christ and the gospel that the early
preachers proclaimed. These primitive gospel preachers are lamenting
the fact that their countrymen, the Jews, have rejected their
Messiah when He came. They go on from there, giving us the answer
to their question. The reason why the Jews rejected Jesus Christ
was that He didn't have the right origin, appearance or lifestyle.
But as we come to verse 4, these same early preachers say "Surely
our griefs He Himself bore." The early gospel preachers
are giving their testimony. Before, they too had despised and
rejected Him. There was nothing in Him to attract them, but rather
everything to repulse them. However, now they have had a change
of mind regarding Him. Now they see everything so differently!
They understand now who He was and what He was doing. Here Isaiah
speaks of Christ bearing our griefs and sorrows. The Hebrew
word translated "griefs" here normally means sickness.
In fact, it is translated that way 20 out of 24 times in the King
James version. Likewise the word translated "sorrows"
often has the meaning of pains. Some expositors, noting this,
say that Isaiah was simply using figurative language to describe
sin. They believe he is referring to sin under the figure of sickness.
In other words, they believe Isaiah was simply saying that Christ
bore our sins. Though that is true, I don't think it is the correct
interpretation here. My reasoning is quite simple. Matthew,
under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, tells us what it means
in Matthew 8:16-17 where we read, "And when evening had come,
they brought to Him many who were demon-possessed; and He cast
out the spirits with a word, and healed all who were ill in
order that what was spoken through Isaiah the prophet might be
fulfilled, saying, "He Himself took our infirmities,
and carried away our disease." According to Matthew, Isaiah
53:4 was fulfilled in the healing ministry of Jesus Christ. Some
Bible teachers claim that healing is in the atonement. What they
mean by that is that Christ bore our sicknesses in the same way
that He bore our sins. Therefore, just as an individual receives
the forgiveness of his sins by faith, he also can receive the
healing of his illnesses by faith. They believe that both are
gifts guaranteed by the atoning work of Christ, and can be claimed
by faith. They believe that if an individual is not forgiven,
it is because he does not possess faith. Likewise, if a man is
not healed, it must be because he does not possess enough faith.
But this is just not true. Matthew clearly teaches us that Isaiah
was speaking of Christ's healing ministry, not His atoning work
on the cross when he said that Christ bore our sicknesses and
carried away our pains. The passage is speaking of Christ, lifting
up and carrying away the pains and sicknesses of people in His
earthly healing ministry.
Isaiah goes on to say, "Yet, we ourselves esteemed Him
stricken, smitten of God, and afflicted." Isaiah begins
with "yet." He's representing these early gospel preachers
as saying, "In spite of all that, we ourselves esteemed Him
stricken, smitten of God, and afflicted. We figured that He must
have been a great sinner to suffer so much. When we saw Him whipped,
beaten, scourged, and crucified, we figured He must have been
a great blasphemer. As we saw Him flanked with a thief on each
side, we said He must be a marked man." What these gospel
preachers are really saying is, "We should have known better!
When we saw Him suffer and die, we should have known that it
was not for His own sins that God was punishing Him. If we had
only looked at His gracious, compassionate ministry of healing,
we would have put two and two together and known that He was not
suffering for His own sins. It's interesting that this is exactly
the conclusion that John comes to in John 12:37-38, "But
though He had performed so many signs before them, yet they were
not believing in Him; that the word of Isaiah the prophet might
be fulfilled, which he spoke, 'Lord, who has believed our report,
and to whom has the arm of the Lord been revealed?'" John
is saying that the people of Christ's day ought to have believed.
They saw the signs, miracles, and the healings of Christ, but
they didn't believe in Him. In spite of all the evidence, they
thought God was getting Him back for some great sin He had committed!
But they were wrong! They ought to have known that someone so
good, kind, compassionate and loving as to spend untold hours
healing the sick and delivering the demon-possessed could not
be suffering these agonies on the cross for His own sins. But
now they have experienced a change of mind. The arm of the Lord
has been revealed to them! They understand what was happening
as Jesus Christ hung from that Roman cross from 9:00 a.m. to 3:00
p.m., and they are anxious to proclaim the atoning work of Christ
to us. It is at this point that we have, in my opinion, the clearest
teaching on the doctrine of substitionary sufferings in all of
the Bible. In Isaiah 53:5-6 we are told that Messiah's sufferings
were violent, penal, substitionary, appointed, and effectual.
Christ's Sufferings Were Severe
Notice the words Isaiah uses to describe Christ's sufferings.
But He was pierced through for our transgressions.
The words "pierced through" refer to being perforated
or to being run through on a battlefield. He was crushed
for our iniquities. Christ was broken into pieces. Of course
here Isaiah is using figurative language. Jesus wasn't literally
crushed into little pieces, but the sufferings He endured were
similar to a man being crushed under a great weight. This speaks
of His agonies as the crushing weight of the sin of His people
was laid on His back. The chastening for our well-being
fell upon Him. This chastening describes a severe punishment.
And by His scourging we are healed. A Roman scourging
was an excruciating ordeal. It was performed with a cat-of-nine
tails. This instrument had a wooden handle to which leather strips
were attached with pieces of bone, metal or glass sewn into the
tips. When the slash came across a man's back it would literally
strip the skin right off. That's why the soldiers counted their
whippings in stripes. As the lash came across the back and then
was jerked back it would leave a red stripe. Sometimes a man
was so torn by the scourges that his muscles and bowels were exposed.
Many men went stark, raving mad under the scourging. Others
went blind and some died. Jesus Christ, under this horrendous
ordeal became one mass of open, raw, quivering flesh trickling
with blood. But the Lord has caused the iniquity of us all
to fall on Him. The word "fall" is used
in the Old Testament to refer to someone falling on another person
in order to attack and kill them. Our sins were like a great
and mighty army which encircled and then fell upon Christ until
He died under their savagery.
I'm convinced we can never completely understand the severity
of Christ's sufferings. He was pierced, crushed, chastened, and
scourged, and then the blazing fury of divine wrath fell on Him!
Christ suffered in every dimension. His physical sufferings
included sleeplessness, hunger, thirst, physical beating, scourging,
exhaustion, and then six hours of torture wherein he suffered
asphyxiation. His emotional sufferings included the fact that
He was betrayed by one of his closest associates, and then deserted
by almost all of His closest friends. Yet, however severe the
physical and emotional tortures of Christ were, His spiritual
sufferings were by far the most intense. Herein Christ suffered
the inner anguish of soul when He was abandoned by His Father.
There on the cross when He cried, "My God, My God, why have
You forsaken Me?", Jesus was experiencing the withdrawal
of every expression of the grace of God. For a sinner to experience
the abandonment of God is a horrible thought, but for the holy,
spotless Son of God it meant infinite suffering. From all eternity
Christ had been the continual object of His Father's delight,
but on the cross He experienced the separation of His Father's
loving embrace as He suffered the fullness of His Father's wrath
against sin! In a very real sense, on the cross Christ experienced
hell, and all of this was for our sake!
Christ's Sufferings Were Penal
When I describe Christ's sufferings as penal, I am referring to
the fact that He was enduring the penalty for the transgressions
of others. Penal sufferings are the endurance of punishment for
the violation of a law. Our penal codes are a body of laws which
indicate the kinds of punishments that correspond to particular
crimes. There on the cross, Jesus Christ was being treated as
a common criminal. How fitting it was that He was crucified between
two thieves. Jesus was not suffering discipline like believers
do when God needs to correct them to perfect their character.
Neither was Christ suffering as a martyr to give us an example
of non-retaliation. Instead, He was suffering as a criminal by
enduring the penalty of the crimes we had committed against divine
Which crimes was He punished for? Well, our text speaks of transgressions
and iniquities. A "transgression" is an act
of rebellion against the authority of God. God draws a line in
the sand and commands us to stay on the other side, but we in
defiance step over the boundary line. An "iniquity"
is an act of perversion. For example, God tells us what is the
right use of our physical bodies, but in defiance we defy His
commands and use them in an immoral way. Both transgressions
and iniquities are violations of God's law. All of us like
sheep have gone astray, each of us has turned to his own way."
Often a sheep will get loose from the fold and break through
a fence. We were like sheep. We broke through the boundary of
God's law which He, in love, had established for us. Furthermore,
we turned to our own way. This is the essence of sin -- living
independently from God. The world applauds this independent spirit,
but God is grieved by it.
Christ's Sufferings Were Substitionary
Notice, that "He was pierced through for OUR transgressions.
He was crushed for OUR iniquities. The chastening for OUR well-being
fell upon Him, and by HIS scourging WE are healed. Jesus Christ
died on our behalf, in our stead. If these words from Isaiah
53 don't teach the doctrine of substitionary sin-bearing, then
no words in the English language can teach it. We all know the
meaning of substitution. If a football player breaks his leg,
the coach sends in a substitute. The job of the substitute is
to do what the regular player would have done in his place. That
is exactly what Jesus Christ did on the cross. He did what we
ought to have done. We ought to have faced the fullness of God's
fury against our sin, but Christ bore those sufferings in our
place. Consider these texts from the New Testament:
Matthew 20:28 "just as the Son of Man did not come
to be served, but to serve, and to give His life a ransom for
many." Here the preposition "for" means "in
Matthew 26:27-28 "And when He had taken a cup and
given thanks, He gave it to them, saying, "Drink from it,
all of you; for this is My blood of the covenant, which is poured
out for many for forgiveness of sins."
John 10:11 "I am the good shepherd; the good shepherd
lays down His life for the sheep."
Ephesians 5:25 "Husbands, love your wives, just as
Christ also loved the church and gave Himself up for her."
Titus 2:13-14 "looking for the blessed hope and the
appearing of the glory of our great God and Savior, Christ Jesus;
who gave Himself for us, that He might redeem us from every
lawless deed and purify for Himself a people for His own possession,
zealous for good deeds."
The wonderful truth of the Bible is that our salvation was obtained
by the substitionary sin-bearing of Jesus Christ on Calvary's
cross! He did for us what we never could have done for ourselves.
He stepped in and actually bore the full penalty of the wrath
of God against our sins, that we might not ever have to suffer
it! All praise, glory and honor to the Lamb who has redeemed
men out of every tribe, tongue, people and nation!
Christ's Sufferings Were Appointed
Our text declares in Isaiah 53:6 "But the Lord has
caused the iniquity of us all to fall on Him." Have
you ever stopped to ponder the source of Christ's sufferings?
It would be easy for someone to conclude that Pontius Pilate
was the source of Christ's sufferings, for after all, it was Pilate
who gave the official order to deliver Jesus up to be crucified
(Mt. 27:26). Someone else might conclude that Christ's sufferings
ultimately stem from Judas Iscariot, for he was the one who betrayed
Christ into the hands of the Jewish leaders for thirty pieces
of silver. Another might reasonably conclude that the ones ultimately
responsible for Christ's sufferings were the Jewish leaders, for
they were the ones who came up with the trumped up charges that
ultimately led to His execution (Lk. 23:2). Someone else might
conclude that the source of Christ's sufferings was the Roman
soldiers, for they were the ones who actually drove the spikes
into His hands and feet, and thrust the spear through His side.
Or perhaps Satan was the one ultimately responsible, for after
all, that wicked one put the idea of betraying Jesus into the
heart of Judas (Jn. 13:2). Others conclude that it was actually
all of us who are ultimately responsible for the death of Christ,
for He was pierced through for our transgressions and crushed
for our iniquities (Is. 53:5). Although all of these statements
are true in part, I submit to you that ultimately the source of
Christ's sufferings was none of these persons. Ultimately God
Himself was responsible for Christ's death! Does not our
text tell us that the Lord has caused the iniquity of us
all to fall on Him?! This truth is not taught only in this one
isolated text. Consider the following:
Acts 2:23 "this Man, delivered up by the predetermined
plan and foreknowledge of God, you nailed to a cross by the
hands of godless men and put Him to death."
Acts 4:27-28 "For truly in this city there were gathered
together against Thy holy servant Jesus, whom Thou didst anoint,
both Herod and Pontius Pilate, along with the Gentiles and the
peoples of Israel, to do whatever Thy hand and Thy purpose
predestined to occur."
These texts declare to us in no uncertain terms that the cross
of Jesus Christ was part of a predetermined plan. The cross was
included in God's predestined purposes. Therefore, God Himself
was the One ultimately responsible for Christ's sufferings. Jesus
Himself states as much in Matthew 26:31 where He quotes Zechariah
13:7 and states, "You will all fall away because of Me this
night, for it is written, 'I will strike down the shepherd, and
the sheep of the flock shall be scattered.'" The incredible
truth is that "the Lord was pleased to crush Him" (Is.
53:10). Just as Abraham was commanded to kill and sacrifice his
beloved son, Isaac, so too, God the Father did not spare His own
Son, but delivered Him up for us all! So often we think of the
sufferings of the cross only in terms of what Jesus endured, but
it is equally true that God the Father must have endured untold
agonies in giving up His Son to a tortuous death!
All of this should teach us a very important lesson. Jesus didn't
cause God to love us by dying for us. It is sometimes imagined
that Jesus changed God's disposition towards us from hate to love.
It is fancied that God's holy hatred burned against us, but because
Christ loved us, He has turned away God's hatred and caused Him
to love us. In this scenario, God the Father and Jesus Christ
would be at odds with one another. It is true that Christ bore
the full brunt of God's blazing wrath against our sins on the
cross, but that does not mean that God hated us previously. No,
from eternity we were chosen to be united to Christ, and thus
loved in Christ. Christ's death does not secure God's love; rather,
God's love secured Christ's death! "In this is love, not
that we loved God, but that He loved us and sent His Son to be
the propitiation for our sins" (1 Jn. 4:10). "For God
so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever
believes in Him should not perish, but have eternal life"
(Jn. 3:16). These passages teach us that God sent Jesus because
He loved us. God's love for His people was no afterthought, but
has existed from all eternity. "I have loved you with an
everlasting love; therefore I have drawn you with lovingkindness
(Jer. 31:3). Why not stop for a moment right where you are to
praise and thank God for setting His great heart of love upon
you from all eternity and sending His Son to die for you!
Christ's Sufferings Were Effectual
Our text tells us, "by His scourging we are healed."
Here we have another example of Hebrew parallelism. The line
directly before this one states, "The chastening for our
well-being fell upon Him." The words scourging
and chastening are parallel, and the words healed
and well-being are parallel. The Hebrew word behind "well-being"
is "shalom." It means peace, wholeness, or prosperity
in every area of life. It speaks of an individual who is brought
into an intimate relationship with God. The individual who has
received God's "shalom" has gone from hostility with
God to intimacy with God because of Christ's chastening. No longer
are his sins liable to God's wrath, but instead he is the recipient
of His special love. Therefore, when our text tells us that we
are healed, it does not refer to physical healing, but the healing
of our relationship with God. By Adam's fall our relationship
to God was ruined. Furthermore, we had no ability to make it
right again. Our case was hopeless from the human standpoint.
But by Christ's death, it has been put right again.
The effectiveness of Christ's death is further strengthened when
we turn to 1 Peter 2:24 and note how Peter alludes to this passage
in Isaiah. "And He Himself bore our sins in His body on
the cross, that we might die to sin and live to righteousness;
for by His wounds you were healed." Notice that Peter on
the other side of the cross puts the healing in the past tense.
"By His wounds you were healed." The healing
of our relationship with God was secured at the cross. It was
purchased there. The fatal disease of sin defies all human cure.
The only remedy was the cross of Christ, and His death has secured
a healed and restored relationship with God. Peter does not state
this truth in terms of what is potentially true, but what is actually
true. He says "you were healed." That's
why Christ could cry in His last moments on the cross, "It
is finished!" His work was perfectly accomplished once and
for all then and there. Jesus wasn't just doing His best to heal
some folks. His chastisement obtained peace and His scourging
secured healing! The cross was not just His best attempt to heal
us, as long as He could find some people who would accept what
He did of their free will. No, His cross-work actually secured
the salvation of all His people. In other words, this text teaches
us that Christ did not die to make all men savable. Rather, He
died to save His people from their sins (Mt. 1:21). Can
this truth be substantiated from other clear passages in the New
Testament? Indeed it can! Consider these from the book of Hebrews
(the most explicit, prolonged teaching in the New Testament on
the sacrifice of Christ):
Hebrews 9:12 "and not through the blood of goats
and calves, but through His own blood, He entered the holy place
once for all, having obtained eternal redemption."
Hebrews 10:10,14 "By this will we have been sanctified
through the offering of the body of Jesus Christ once for all.
For by one offering He has perfected for all time those
who are sanctified."
Now, let me ask you, "Who is Isaiah saying was healed?"
Well, from what we have learned, it was those who previously
despised and rejected Him, but now have come to see His beauty,
and understand that He was punished in their place. They have
been made willing to confess their sin, and trust that Christ
in His death has secured their healing. Obviously, the ones who
were healed are believers in Jesus Christ. One hymn writer has
expressed the wonderful truth of the efficacy of Christ's sufferings
in these lines:
"Dear dying Lamb, Thy precious blood shall never
lose its power
Till all the ransomed church of God be saved to sin no
Have you ever gloried in the effectiveness of Christ's death?
Has this tremendous truth ever gripped your soul and brought
you to adoring worship? I pray that it would now as the Holy
Spirit applies this wonderful truth to your heart!
There are two truths that emerge from our study in Isaiah 53:4-6.
The first concerns the matchless security of the believer. For
the child of God there can be a wonderful sense of security in
God's love knowing that all his sins have been borne away. The
punishment that he deserves has been endured by his Substitute.
Now all is peace. His relationship with God is healed. How
could anyone be any more secure than the person who knows Christ
has paid the penalty for all his sins? In Daniel 9:24 the prophet
declares that Christ would "finish the transgression, make
an end of sin, make atonement for iniquity, and bring in everlasting
righteousness." I don't think our glorious security could
be stated in stronger words! Our sins were finished at the cross!
He made an end of them -- destroyed them! In their place, He
has brought to us everlasting righteousness! If it is true that
He made an end of our sins, then there is no more sin that we
will ever have to answer for. Oh, glory in the matchless grace
and favor of God which He has brought to you through the cross
of His well-beloved! August Toplady, writing along these lines
"Payment God cannot twice demand
First at my bleeding Savior's hand
And then again at mine!"
Until God can be unjust and demand two payments for a single debt,
He cannot destroy the soul for whom Jesus died! Rejoice and worship!
Another truth that just as clearly emerges from the text is that
of the horrible future of the unbeliever. We have seen that Christ
endured the full fury of the wrath of God against sin, but what
about those who do not trust in His atoning sacrifice? What will
be their portion? They will become an eternal, ever-burning,
unconsumed sacrifice on the altar of divine justice in the midst
of an unquenchable fire! The thought is too painful to endure,
but that is what Holy Scripture declares. "For if we go
on sinning willfully after receiving the knowledge of the truth,
there no longer remains a sacrifice for sins, but a certain terrifying
expectation of judgment, and 'the fury of a fire which will consume
the adversaries.' Anyone who has set aside the Law of Moses dies
without mercy on the testimony of two or three witnesses. How
much severer punishment do you think he will deserve who has trampled
under foot the Son of God, and has regarded as unclean the blood
of the covenant by which he was sanctified, and has insulted the
Spirit of grace? For we know Him who said, 'Vengeance is Mine,
I will repay.' And again, 'the Lord will judge His people. It
is a terrifying thing to fall into the hands of the living God"
(Heb. 10:26-31). If you are not a Christian, lay hold of Jesus
Christ! Flee from the wrath to come! Don't let anything stop
you. Don't stop in your pursuit of Christ until you know that
God has saved you. Anything less will prove eternally fatal.
The Death Of God's Servant
"He was oppressed and He was afflicted, yet He did not
open His mouth; like a lamb that is led to slaughter, and like
a sheep that is silent before its shearers, so He did not open
His mouth. By oppression and judgment He was taken away; and
as for His generation, who considered that He was cut off out
of the land of the living, for the transgression of my people
to whom the stroke was due? His grave was assigned with wicked
men, yet He was with a rich man in His death, because He had done
no violence, nor was there any deceit in His mouth." Isaiah
Up to this point in this great section of God's Word we have witnessed
the unfolding progressive work of God's Suffering Servant. First
we saw the overall mission of God's Servant. We were told that
he would be successful, exalted, humiliated, and fruitful in this
mission given Him by His Father. Secondly, we were told of the
rejection of God's Servant, who was rejected because He had the
wrong origin, appearance and lifestyle. He was all wrong for
the job of Messiah, because He wasn't what the people were expecting.
Thus He was despised, rejected and lightly esteemed. Thirdly,
we are told of the sufferings of God's Servant. These sufferings,
we are informed, would be severe, penal, substitionary, appointed
and effectual. Now, in this section of Scripture we are introduced
to the death of God's Servant. His mission led to His rejection,
sufferings, and ultimately to His death. Notice all the expressions
of death in this section. Verse 8 speaks of being "taken
away" and "cut off out of the land of the living."
Verse 9 speaks of His "grave" and His "death."
The Son of God was given a mission. When He came to execute
that mission He was rejected. Because He was rejected, He suffered
and His sufferings ultimately led to His death.
While our study in Isaiah 53:4-6 was theological in nature, Isaiah
53:7-9 is more historical. While Isaiah 53:4-6 tells us what
the substitionary atonement means, Isaiah 53:7-9 tells us how
this atonement took place. This section of Scripture informs
us of the injustice, demeanor, purpose and burial of God's Servant
in His death.
The Injustice Towards God's Servant At
Isaiah 53:8 informs us, "By oppression and judgment He
was taken away." The idea here can be restated like
this, "By oppressive judgment He was taken away." The
judgment others made on Christ was oppressive. He was a victim
of oppression. He was spared no abuse. The word "oppression"
speaks of being treated harshly and beaten down. This is exactly
what took place during Christ's trial. I should have rather referred
to it as a mock trial, for in truth it was more like a kangaroo
court. This trial was a travesty of justice. The Jewish religious
leaders already knew what they wanted to do with Jesus. They
were just looking for an excuse to get rid of Him. Notice how
John's gospel records the events of that night, "So the Roman
cohort and the commander, and the officers of the Jews, arrested
Jesus and bound Him, and led Him to Annas first; for he was father-in-law
of Caiaphas, who was high priest that year. Now Caiaphas was
the one who had advised the Jews that it was expedient for
one man to die on behalf of the people" (Jn. 18:12-14).
This travesty of justice can be seen clearly in the many different
violations of the judicial system which were violated that night.
I will just mention four of them.
First, according to Jewish law, there were to be no trials at
night. All trials were to be conducted between the morning and
evening sacrifices, in order to show that nothing was being done
secretly. This trial was held some time between 12:00 midnight
and 6:00 a.m.
Second, the person on trial was not supposed to speak in his own
defense. Yet this stipulation of Jewish law was lightly swept
aside by the high priest himself. In John 18:19-21 we read, "The
high priest therefore questioned Jesus about His disciples, and
about His teaching. Jesus answered him, 'I have spoken openly
to the world; I always taught in synagogues, and in the temple,
where all the Jews come together; and I spoke nothing in secret.
Why do you question Me? Question those who have heard what I
spoke to them; behold, these know what I said.'" Evidently
Jesus knew their question of Him was illegal, and so turned the
tables on them, asking them why they were questioning Him when
all had heard his teaching openly and in public.
Third, the high priest was not allowed to speak at a judicial
hearing. It was felt that a man of such powerful persuasion might
easily influence the rest of the judges. In this case, the high
priest not only spoke, but served as the prosecutor. "And
the high priest said to Him, 'I adjure You by the living God,
that You tell us whether You are the Christ, the Son of God.'
Jesus said to him, 'You have said it yourself; nevertheless I
tell you, hereafter you shall see the Son of Man sitting at the
right hand of power, and coming on the clouds of heaven.' Then
the high priest tore his robes, saying, 'He has blasphemed! What
further need do we have of witnesses? Behold, you have now heard
the blasphemy; what do you think?' They answered and said, 'He
is deserving of death!' (Mt. 26:63-66).
Finally, Jewish law stipulated that in death penalty cases, 24
hours must elapse before execution. This condition was given
so that the judges would have time to go home and pray about the
judgment before actually executing the criminal. In the case
of Christ, in less than 10 hours He was being nailed to a cross!
The Jews were not interested in justice. They only wanted Jesus
out of the way.
The Demeanor of God's Servant Before His
Isaiah 53:7 repeatedly states that Jesus did not open his mouth
during this trial. "He was oppressed and He was afflicted,
yet He did not open His mouth. Like a lamb that is led
to slaughter, and like a sheep that is silent before its shearers,
so He did not open His mouth."
Jesus refused to open His mouth in self-defense. Matthew 27:12-14
states, "And while He was being accused by the chief priests
and elders, He made no answer. Then Pilate said to Him, 'Do you
not hear how many things they testify against You?' And He did
not answer him with regard to even a single charge, so that the
governor was quite amazed." The only time He spoke was to
prevent any miscommunication from being received. Everything
He said brought about His death rather than prevented it.
Jesus also refused to open His mouth in threats. If it were one
of us, we might be tempted to say, "You just wait. You'll
get yours! You might think you can get away with this, but judgment
day is coming!" But from the holy lips of Jesus there was
none of that. Instead, notice how the apostle Peter describes
his meek resignation to God's will in 1 Peter 2:21-23, "For
you have been called for this purpose, since Christ also suffered
for you, leaving you an example for you to follow in His steps,
who committed no sin, nor was any deceit found in His mouth; and
while being reviled, He did not revile in return; while
suffering, He uttered no threats, but kept entrusting
Himself to Him who judges righteously."
Furthermore, Jesus refused to open His mouth in complaint against
God. He didn't moan and groan about His sufferings and how unjust
the Father was to treat Him so. When He cried out, "My God,
My God, why hast Thou forsaken Me?" it wasn't because He
was rebelling against His Father's will, but because He deeply
felt the loss of His presence.
Our text further describes Christ "like a lamb that is
led to slaughter." A lamb is willingly led to slaughter
because it is ignorant of its impending fate. Likewise, Jesus
Christ knew all things, but went willingly anyway. The Bible
says He was led; He was not dragged kicking and screaming. All
of this speaks of His voluntarily giving Himself up to death.
This phrase gives us the picture of an animal who is utterly
helpless to save itself from death. That is what Christ looked
like to all around Him, but this was the furthest thing from the
truth. When six hundred soldiers came out to arrest Him with
clubs and swords He simply said, "I Am!" and they all
fell backwards onto the ground. He had to wait around for them
to get up to arrest Him. Jesus actually had to help the soldiers
arrest Him! Christ wasn't helpless at all, but He surrendered
passively into the hands of His enemies.
Isaiah 53:7 goes on to say, "And like a sheep that is
silent before its shearers." Jesus is also pictured
as a sheep before its shearers. This is an apt picture of Christ
for, just as a lamb is stripped of its wool by its shearers, so
too, Jesus was stripped of His dignity as a man, His rights as
a Jewish citizen, His comfort in the beatings, His clothing as
it was taken from Him, and finally of His very life. He was stripped
In all of the events leading up to His death, Jesus is the perfect
model of meekness, humility, and quiet resignation to the Father's
will. Oh, how true were His words, "I am gentle and humble
in heart" (Mt. 11:29). We would do well to learn a lesson
from the Master here on how to respond to unjust sufferings!
The Purpose Of God's Servant In His Death
Isaiah 53:7 tells us that "He was oppressed and
He was afflicted." In Exodus 3:7 the Hebrew word here
translated "oppressed" is used for taskmasters whose
job it was to exact a quantity of work from the slaves serving
under them. In Christ's death, an exaction was made. God's holy
law must be satisfied. Justice must be satisfied. The punishment
for the sins of His people must be exacted of Him. You see, we
had incurred a debt which all the men on earth or the angels in
heaven could not pay. Even if we lived perfectly the rest of
our lives, there is nothing we could do to pay our past debt of
disobedience. Thus, it would appear that the only response of
a holy God to our sin must be to consign us to everlasting damnation
in hell. The demands of His justice are inflexible. God cannot
and will not ignore sin. He must bring His wrath on whomever
He finds guilt as an expression of His holy nature. God will
not even exempt His own Son if He finds our sins on Him. But
thanks be to God, though we were deeply in debt to God's justice
and had no way of paying it, Jesus Christ became the surety for
His people. A surety is a person who agrees to be legally responsible
if another defaults on his debt. All of us defaulted on our responsibility
to live in obedience to God and because of this, Christ has fully
satisfied God's justice by dying in our stead in order to pay
back every last red cent of debt we owed! Hallelujah!
Our text tells us also that "He was afflicted."
The word is used in the Old Testament of a person who is
punished to such an extent that he is bowed down in abject humility.
It is used of a woman in the book of Judges who was raped by
many men until she finally died. It speaks of being ravaged.
Not only was an exaction price made, but Christ humbled Himself
to suffer the ravages that our sins deserved. All glory to His
At this point, a phrase in our text answers an important question
as to why Christ was punished. Isaiah 53:8 says, "He
was cut off out of the land of the living, for the transgression
of my people to whom the stroke was due?" Whose
transgressions is the prophet speaking of? The New American Standard
Bible puts the word "my" in lower case letters, indicating
that it is the prophet Isaiah who is speaking, but I believe this
is incorrect. The word "my" is capitalized to show
that it refers to God in the New King James, Young's Literal,
and Green's Literal versions. The phrase "My people"
occurs 16 other times in chapters 40-66 of Isaiah. In every single
instance it refers to God's people. Additionally, every other
time the person in Isaiah 52:13 through Isaiah 53:12 speaks in
the singular it is God, not Isaiah who is speaking (Is. 52:13;
53:11,12). It seems clear that there should be no exception here.
There is little doubt that the text is declaring that Christ
would be cut off out of the land of the living for the transgressions
of God's people, to whom the stroke was due. This is important,
for it establishes the fact that Christ was not going to the cross
to die only for the Jews, or for all men without exception. Rather,
He was going to the cross to die for a particular group of people
-- God's people. Notice how other passages which speak of His
death particularize the group for whom He died:
Isaiah 53:12 "He Himself bore the sin of many."
Matthew 1:21 "you shall call His name Jesus, for
it is He who will save His people from their sins."
John 10:15 "I lay down My life for the sheep."
Acts 20:28 "Be on guard for yourselves, and for all
the flock, among which the Holy Spirit has made you overseers,
to shepherd the church of God which He purchased with His
Eph. 5:25-27 "Husbands, love your wives, just as
Christ also loved the church and gave Himself up for her;
that He might sanctify her, having cleansed her
by the washing of water with the word, that He might present to
Himself the church in all her glory, having no spot
or wrinkle or any such thing; but that she would be holy
These passages make it clear that God had a special design in
the death of His Son. Before the foundation of the world, God
gave His Son a people. These people are designated as "His
people, the elect, the church, the sheep, and the many."
They were committed into His hands and God made Him responsible
to come and save them by atoning for their sins. Christ,
in His sacrificial death, successfully atoned for the sins of
all those who will ever be saved. That was the purpose of God's
Servant in His death. Hallelujah, He was successful! When He
said, "It is finished" He meant it!
The Burial Of God's Servant Upon His Death
Isaiah 53:9 says, "His grave was assigned with wicked
men." More than likely, the soldiers had already dug
a common grave where Christ would be buried along with the two
thieves, as this was the common procedure of the day. Sometimes
those crucified were not buried at all, but just left for the
wild beasts and birds to devour. Golgotha means "the place
of the skull." It may have been given that name because
of all of the skulls lying around.
"Yet He was with a rich man in His death." Against
all odds, Pilate granted wealthy Joseph of Arimathea permission
to bury Him in his own tomb. The moment Christ finished making
atonement for sin, God began to exalt Him. Why? Because He
had done no violence, nor was there any deceit in His mouth."
God exalted His Son because He was innocent of all the charges
made against Him. Violence and deceit were two of the charges
the Jews made against Christ (Lk. 23:2,14). In having Christ
buried in a rich man's tomb God is saying, "No! He's innocent!
I will honor Him in His death, because He is the spotless lamb
sacrificed for sinners!" The sinlessness of Jesus Christ
is attested by overwhelming evidence. Consider the testimony
Judas: "I have sinned by betraying innocent
blood" (Mt. 27:4).
Pilate: "I find no guilt in Him" (stated
three times in Jn. 18:38; 19:4,6).
Pilate's Wife: "Have nothing to do with that righteous
man, for last night I suffered greatly in a dream because of Him"
The Thief On The Cross: "We indeed suffer justly,
for we are receiving what we deserve for our deeds; but this
man has done nothing wrong" (Lk. 23:41).
The Centurion: "Certainly this man was innocent"
Jesus was buried in dignity and in honor, by being laid in a rich
man's tomb. Now suppose that Christ had been buried in a little
old shallow grave next to the crucifixion site. If the disciples
had said three days later that the body had risen, it could be
said that some dog came along and dragged the body away. But
He was buried in a rock chamber, with a stone rolled across the
front, with a seal of the Roman insignia, and a guard of Roman
soldiers. Therefore, when the body disappeared, in spite of these
many obstacles, the evidence for Jesus' resurrection becomes clear
and forceful indeed. God knew what He was doing in having Joseph
bury the body of Jesus!
The Resurrection Of God's Servant
"But the Lord was pleased to crush Him, putting Him to
grief; if He would render Himself as a guilt offering, He will
see His offspring, He will prolong His days, and the good pleasure
of the Lord will prosper in His hand. As a result of the anguish
of His soul, He will see it and be satisfied; by His knowledge
the righteous One, My Servant, will justify the many, as He will
bear their iniquities. Therefore, I will allot Him a portion
with the great, and He will divide the booty with the strong;
because He poured out Himself to death, and was numbered with
the transgressors; yet He Himself bore the sin of many, and interceded
for the transgressors." Isaiah 53:10-12
In these series of studies we have been tracing the history of
an individual named in this passage as "God's Servant"
(Is. 52:13; 53:11). In a very orderly way Isaiah has painted
a portrait of this Servant. He has told us of His mission, rejection,
sufferings and death. When He came to execute His Father's mission,
He was rejected. His rejection led to His sufferings which terminated
in His death. But then what? Now that God's Servant has accomplished
His task of making atonement for sin, now what? Is that the end?
Is that all? Do we leave Him as a forsaken, despised, pierced,
wounded, oppressed and afflicted sufferer? No, a thousand times
no! God wants us to know that in the final analysis Jesus Christ
is not a victim, but a VICTOR! Through His mighty resurrection
from the dead He is not just a rejected Messianic candidate, but
a co-partner in a divine master plan which will not end in humiliation,
but in exaltation. Ultimately the work of this Servant will bring
pleasure to the heart of God and satisfaction to the Lord Jesus
Our text informs us, "If He would render Himself as a
guilt offering, He will see His offspring, He will prolong His
days, and the good pleasure of the Lord will prosper in His hands."
But wait a minute! We have previously read that He was pierced,
crushed, chastened, scourged, oppressed, afflicted, taken away,
and cut off out of the land of the living. We read of His grave
and His death. How can it possibly be said that He will prolong
His days? After a man is dead in the grave how can He prolong
His days? Of course, these words point to the glorious truth
of Christ's resurrection from the dead. That is how He is able
to see His offspring! After His mission, rejection, sufferings
and death, Isaiah chronicles the tremendous triumphs of Christ's
This final paragraph centers on the results of Christ's resurrection.
They speak of the rewards of His sufferings. Notice the "if,
then" clause. "If He would render Himself as a guilt
offering, He will see His offspring..." This final paragraph
of Isaiah 53 is written in the language of a covenant. Surely,
it is true that the Father and Son covenanted together before
the foundation of the world to glorify themselves in the salvation
of a vast number of sinners. The Father and the Son both had
a specific part to play. The Son promised to come and represent
all those the Father had given Him. He would be born, live, die
and rise again on their behalf. He would work out a righteousness
for them which would be imputed to them when they believe. He
would have their sins imputed to Him, so that when He died their
sins would be put away and completely paid for. That's the meaning
of, "If He would render Himself as a guilt offering..."
The Father promised to do certain things for the Son as a reward
for His faithful sufferings and obedience unto death. Our text
declares to us this promise in five particulars: the Father
promised His Son that He would see His people, accomplish God's
pleasure for His people, justify His people, be glorified by His
people, and share the spoils of victory with His people. Upon
being raised from the dead, Jesus Christ knew of certain infallible
benefits which would accrue to Him. Usually we think of the benefits
which accrue to us as a result of Christ's death. Well, the benefits
mentioned in Isaiah 53:10-12 accrue to Christ Himself! Notice
the certainty of the text. Eight times in these three verses
we see the word "will." God promises eight times something
"will" happen upon Christ's successful completion of
His mission. I want to focus in on five benefits which accrue
to Jesus Christ as a result of His finished work and glorious
He Will See His People
The Bible says that Jesus will see His offspring. Who are these
"offspring?" In verse 11 they are called "the
many". In verse 12 they are referred to as "the great,"
"the strong," and "many". Can we be any more
specific as to who these "offspring" are? Well, I believe
that Hebrews 2:10 and 2:13 can be of help. There we read, "For
it was fitting for Him, for whom are all things, and through whom
are all things, in bringing many sons to glory, to perfect
the author of their salvation through sufferings... Behold, I
and the children whom God has given Me." These offspring
are the many sons who would be brought to glory. They are the
children whom God had given Him. One day in heaven there will
be a roll call and our Savior will search to see whether all of
His sheep He purchased with His blood are there. At that time,
all His sheep will pass under His hand, and He will count them.
He will call them all by name, for He knows those He has redeemed
in His death. And my friend, all of His offspring will
be there! None will be missing. All those who were ever born
of the Spirit will answer in that day, "Present, and accounted
for!" Notice His words in John 6:38-39, "For I have
come down from heaven, not to do My own will, but the will of
Him who sent Me. And this is the will of Him who sent Me, that
of all that He has given Me I lose nothing, but
raise it up on the last day." Because of His mighty resurrection
and ascension to the right hand of God, He will see every one
of His blood-bought, blood-born children in glory! What about
you? Will you be there to answer the roll?
He Will Accomplish God's Pleasure For
We read in Isaiah 53:10-11 that "the good pleasure of
the Lord will prosper in His hand." After Christ was
exalted to the supreme position in the universe at the right hand
of the throne of God, He was given all authority in heaven and
earth to execute God's decrees and counsels. God's good pleasure
now would prosper and succeed in His capable, almighty hands.
Listen to the way the prophet Isaiah describes this truth in
46:9-10, "Remember the former things long past, for I am
God, and there is no other; I am God, and there is no one like
Me, declaring the end from the beginning and from ancient times
things which have not been done, saying, 'My purpose will
be established, and I will accomplish all My good pleasure.'"
In this passage, the purpose of God is parallel to His good pleasure.
Thus we see that the purpose of God is the good pleasure of God.
When it says that the good pleasure of the Lord will prosper
in the hands of Christ, it means that God's purpose and decrees
will be accomplished as a result of Christ ruling and reigning
in the heavens. The running of this universe has been turned
over to Jesus Christ. He is God's right hand man and is running
the show! We don't have to wait for Him to return to the earth
for Him to begin to reign, for the Scriptures teach that He is
reigning right now. As a direct result of His sovereign rule
over the entire creation of God, He is bringing to pass all of
God's eternal counsels and decrees. Not one of God's purposes
shall ever be thwarted!
We read furthermore that "As a result of the anguish of
His soul, He will see it and be satisfied." The word
"anguish" refers to toilsome labor or work. Jesus Christ
had a definite work to do. Now, we might not be satisfied with
our paycheck after a hard week's work, but Christ is going to
be satisfied with His! What does the Bible mean when it says
"He will see it and be satisfied?" Well, the
context demands that the immediate antecedent be the "good
pleasure of the Lord." As a result of Christ's toilsome
labor, He will see the good pleasure of the Lord accomplished,
and this will bring Him supreme satisfaction. What then is this
good pleasure of the Lord that He is going to see? It must mean
that He is going to see God glorified. Jesus is going to see
divine justice satisfied. He is going to see Satan's kingdom
destroyed. Jesus will see God's kingdom established. He is going
to see every one of His offspring. He is going to see an innumerable
multitude saved from every tribe, tongue, people and nation.
Jesus will see the Holy Spirit poured out in the earth. He is
going to see the gospel go forth in all the earth. He is going
to see gospel churches planted all over this planet. He is going
to see the kingdoms of this world become His own kingdom. He
is going to see every one of His sheep brought home to His fold.
He is going to see every enemy become His footstool. He is going
to see the graves emptied on resurrection day. He is going to
see death destroyed. He is going to see all the nations standing
before Him in judgment. He is going to see the new heaven and
the new earth. Furthermore, He is going to see every creature
in heaven and in earth bowing before Him confessing that He is
Lord to the glory of God the Father. That's what He is going
to see! And when He sees it, He will be satisfied! Because He
has risen, He will see all the Father's good pleasure perfectly
fulfilled in time.
He Will Justify His People
In Isaiah 53:11 we read of the glorious truth of justification
by faith. "By His knowledge the Righteous One, My Servant,
will justify the many, as He will bear their iniquities."
Notice, first of all the appropriation of our justification.
We read that it is by "His knowledge" that the many
will be justified. Now, this does not mean the knowledge that
Christ possesses. Rather, it refers to our knowledge of Him.
We appropriate our justification by coming to know Christ. What
does it mean to know Christ? It means to possess saving faith.
It is to have a personal revelation of Christ made to you from
God. Thus, you don't just know a few facts about Christ, but
rather, you know Him. A divine, saving relationship has been
established. Our text declares that when a sinner comes to know
Christ through genuine saving faith He is justified. The next
question that must be addressed is, "What does it mean to
be justified?" A more important question could not be asked!
To be justified means to be declared righteous by God. It is
to be given a right standing in God's presence. It is to have
every sin taken away and the perfect righteousness of Christ imputed
to your account. Notice that justification is appropriated by
knowing, not doing (Rom. 3:28; 4:4-5). It is received by believing,
not behaving, and is obtained by trusting, not performing. The
battle cry of the reformers was this very truth -- justification
by grace alone, through faith alone, in Christ alone. Are you
one of the many who have been justified by coming to know Him?
Notice, secondly the grounds of our justification. Our
text speaks of the righteous life of Jesus Christ. The
Servant is here referred to as "the Righteous One."
Now, that may seem like a minor detail, but the perfect righteousness
of Christ is absolutely essential for our justification. If we
are to stand in perfection before God we must be clothed with
the righteousness of Another. Praise be to God, that is exactly
what we have in Christ. He was our representative, not only in
His death, but also in His life. Christ not only died for us,
but He also lived for us. He exchanged places with us. When
we believe upon Him, we receive His perfect righteousness while
He takes our sin.
There is another ground of our justification mentioned in this
passage as well. It is the sin-bearing death of Christ.
It is stated in this way, "My Servant will justify the many,
as He will bear their iniquities." Christ bears our sin
upon His own shoulders and carries away our iniquities. How can
God justify a guilty sinner? There is only one way. He must
take away their sin, and He did that at the cross. There He made
an end of sin, and put away iniquity. But whose iniquities did
He bear? The Bible says it was the iniquities of "the many"
whom he justified. In other words, Christ's justification and
sin-bearing are co-extensive. The same group that is justified,
is the same group whose sins were borne by Him at the cross.
The word "many" is opposed to all. Christ did not bear
and take away the sins of every man. If He did, then every man
would end up in heaven. He bore the sins of all those He intended
to justify; all the many sons He decreed to bring to glory. But
the word "many" also is opposed to a few. It may look
like He is saving only a few when believers are compared to the
lost at any given moment in time. But when all of them have been
brought together in heaven, there will be a vast host that no
man can number. Now, a dead man can't declare anyone righteous.
Jesus Christ had to be raised from the dead in order to pronounce
all His believing people just in His sight. Oh, what a glorious
fruit of His triumphant resurrection!
He Will Be Glorified By His People
"Therefore I will allot Him a portion with the great."
Interestingly enough, the word for "great" here
is the same Hebrew word translated "many" in verse 11.
What our passage is most likely teaching us is that as a reward
for Christ's perfect obedience and death, the Father would allot
Him a portion among all of the millions of sons He would bring
to glory. But what portion would the Father give Him? Isaiah
52:13 answers that question for us. There it says, "He will
be high and lifted up, and greatly exalted." Jesus Christ
was awarded the supreme position in the universe as a reward for
His faithful work at Calvary. In fact, Jesus Christ is going
to be the centerpiece of heaven. All the adoring eyes in heaven
will be riveted upon Him there. "Worthy is the Lamb who
was slain to receive power and riches and wisdom and might and
honor and glory and blessing" (Rev. 5:12). For all eternity
He will be the focus of our adoring worship. We won't be able
to take our eyes off of Him! For all eternity we will look upon
His pierced hands and feet and remember that the only reason
we are there is because of Him. One certain and infallible result
of Christ's mighty resurrection is that He will be glorified for
all eternity by His believing people.
He Will Share The Spoils of Victory With
Isaiah tells us that "He will divide the booty with the
strong." The word "booty" describes the spoils
of victory a general takes after a military conquest. These spoils
might include horses, food, tents, and prisoners of war. Jesus
Christ in His death and resurrection was a great Champion. "When
He had disarmed the rulers and authorities, He made a public display
of them, having triumphed over them through Him" (Col. 2:15).
Christ has triumphed over sin, Satan, death and hell. In His
victory He has taken some spoils. These spoils include such things
as forgiveness of sins, the gift of eternal life, the pouring
out of the Holy Spirit, the adoption as sons, the gifts of repentance
and faith, spiritual gifts to serve Him and His church, and the
glorification of our bodies in the last day. Now from His exalted
position in heaven, Jesus divides these gifts to His people.
Everything that Christ has received as the fruit of His death
and resurrection He grants to us. We are co-heirs with Him!
In Hebrews 1:2 we are told that Christ is the heir of all things.
If then we are co-heirs with Him, what does that make us? We
too, are the heirs of all things. No wonder that Paul says in
1 Corinthians 3:22 "all things belong to you". Have
you ever considered how rich you are? Ephesians 3:8 tells us
that we are the recipients of the unfathomable riches of Christ!
Begin to glory in your wealth as a recipient of His matchless
victory at Calvary!
Conclusion: Responding To God's Servant
When we see the glorious work of Jesus Christ, what can we possibly
say in response? About the only thing we can say is what the
Apostle Paul said in Romans 8:31-34, "What then shall we
say to these things? If God is for us, who is against us? He
who did not spare His own Son, but delivered Him up for us all,
how will He not also with Him freely give us all things? Who
will bring a charge against God's elect? God is the one who justifies;
who is the one who condemns? Christ Jesus is He who died, yes,
rather who was raised, who is at the right hand of God, who also
intercedes for us." Oh, what a glorious Savior we worship!
He is the One who came down from heaven to be humiliated, suffer
shame, be rejected, scorned, persecuted, abused, and finally to
die. But in His death He ransomed a vast host which no man can
number. He paid fully and finally for ever sin they would ever
commit. He put away our sins by His successful finished work.
But then He rose victorious from the grave, triumphing over death,
hell and Satan. And He now ever lives to make sure that they
will be with Him in glory! His powerful intercessions bring to
pass all of God's eternal purposes. The Sovereign One now rules
the universe to accomplish His Father's will. That sovereign
will of the Father cannot and will not ever be thwarted. If you
are His child, redeemed by His blood, born of His Spirit, adopted
into His family, and justified by His grace you will never perish!
Your eternal salvation is as sure as Christ's eternal existence!
For any of Christ's sheep to fail to receive the blessings of
eternal salvation, Christ Himself would have to fail in His mission
and work. That, my friend, can never happen. Jesus was victorious
in His work, and will apply that accomplished redemption unfailingly
to all of His sheep. That's why Paul goes on to say in Romans
8:35-39, "Who shall separate us from the love of Christ?
Shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or
nakedness, or peril, or sword? Just as it is written, 'For Thy
sake we are being put to death all day long; we were considered
as sheep to be slaughtered.' But in all these things we overwhelmingly
conquer through Him who loved us. For I am convinced that neither
death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor things present,
nor things to come, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor any
other created thing, shall be able to separate us from the love
of God, which is in Christ Jesus our Lord." Do you see the
absolute security of every child of God?! My encouragement to
you is to take your eyes off of yourself, and fix them on Jesus,
the author and finisher of your faith. Look to Him to complete
the great work He began in you. Look to Him not only to save
you, but to keep you. Look to Him to grant every spiritual blessing
you need along the way to heaven. Look to Him and never take
your eyes off of Him! He, and He alone is worthy of your spiritual
gaze, your adoration, your obedience and worship. Grant Him all
that He is worthy of. Prostrate yourself in spirit at His matchless
feet in wonder and praise, and then rise to do His bidding to
bring glory! Saints of God, glorify Him world without end!