Isaiah 53:1-9: Salvation Is Grounded On The Servant’s Degradation And Exaltation
|Seven times Jewish Christian writers of the New Testament directly identify Jesus as the fulfillment of the role of the suffering Servant/Savior as prophesied with great specificity in Isaiah 52:13-53:12.|
|52:15 (LXX)||Romans 15:21|
|53:1 (LXX)||John 12:38|
|53:7-8 (LXX)||Acts 8:32-33|
|53:9||1 Peter 2:22|
Why did they do this? The drew these correlations because they knew from firsthand experience with Christ’s life that He fulfilled everything Isaiah prophesied the coming Servant/Savior would be and do when He arrived to deal with mankind’s sin problem.
When they weren’t quoting Isaianic texts to unequivocally demonstrate the prophesied Servant/Savior had come, they couldn’t help but give noticeable allusions to how His life intersected and completed this magnificent, moving prophecy.
|52:13 (lifted up)||John 3:14; 8:28; 12:32|
|53 (suffer and rise)||Luke 24:27|
|53 (delivered over/into)||Matt. 17:22 (and parallels)|
|53:2 (like a root)||Matt. 2:23|
|53:3 (suffer contempt)||Matt. 17:12b; Mark 9:12b|
|53:4 (derided and mocked)||Matt. 27:39-43 (and parallels)|
|53:5 (chastisement)||Matt. 26:67|
|53:6-7 (sin of all)||John 1:29|
|53:7 (life of shepherd for the sheep)||John 10:11, 15, 17|
|53:7 (remained silent)||Matt. 26:63; Mark 14:61|
|53:9 (grave with the wicked)||Matt. 26:24|
|53:9 (rich man in burial)||Matt. 27:57|
|53:10-12 (bore the sin of many)||Matt. 20:28; Mark 10:45|
|53:11 (righteous one makes others righteous)||Matt. 3:15|
|53:12 (numbered with transgressors)||Matt. 27:38|
Christ’s life so completed everything prophesied about His sorrowful yet spectacular redemptive mission, these Jewish writers couldn’t help but drop it into their writings. Why did they do this? To convince you that Jesus was, in fact, the God-man who came to do the hard, costly work secure your potential for salvation and an eternal relationship with Him.
The question now is quite clear: What will you do with the precise prophetic information? Only one man was ever qualified to bear all our sin as a substitutionary sacrifice before the Holy Father to satisfy His anger and wrath against that sin and His name was Jesus. I pray as we continue to study how His life lovingly fulfilled what Isaiah said would constitute His redemptive mission you will move from disbelief to belief, from being lost to being saved.
By way of review, we need to restate the main motif of this tremendous prophetic passage:
Salvation Is Grounded On The Servant’s Degradation And Exaltation (Isaiah 52:13-53:12)
As we have said, Christ’s redemptive work to assuage the Father’s wrath against our sin is truly a rags to riches story. From the first movement of the prophecy we see this in what Isaiah showcases as . . .
The Mystery Of The Servant, Jesus (Isaiah 52:13-15)
What is the mystery? It has everything to do with how the Father strategically planned to send His holy Servant, His Son (Isa. 7:14; 9:6; Psalm 2) to first experience terrible degradation for our sin on His way to enjoying heavenly exaltation once His redemptive mission reached fruition at His resurrection. If you ever wondered if God loves you, think again. If you ever wondered if God wants a relationship with you, think again. The mystery of His salvific work answers both of those thoughts in the most definitive fashion.
Now, whereas these opening verses of the prophecy give us the overview of the Servant’s redemptive mission, Isaiah turns in chapter 53, verses 1 through 3, to acquaint us with what we might call . . .
The Rejection Of The Servant, Jesus (Isaiah 53:1-3)
The Old Testament did, indeed, prophesy a Davidic Messiah who would come and deal with evil and reign supremely (Dan. 2:36-45; 7:9-14; Zech. 12-14). What Israel failed to understand, however, is long before the Messiah would reign He would first come and experience great hostility in His noble, holy quest to deal definitively with mankind’s sin. Isaiah makes this clear starting with the first verse of this chapter:
1 Who has believed our message? And to whom has the arm of the LORD been revealed?
In John chapter 12, verses 37 through 38, John equates these verses with Christ’s miraculous works:
37 But though He had performed so many signs before them, yet they were not believing in Him; 38 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 12).
Christ performed miracles only God could pull off, and He, along with the disciples verified how these validated His divinity and messiahship (John 14:7-9); however, the majority of the people simply held tenaciously to their unbelief. Shocking, isn’t it?
Isaiah prophesied how smart thinking people, who had a history of seeing divine miracles in their community (cf. the stories from the Old Testament), would by and large not believe the message of the Messiah whether it was a miraculous event or a powerful word in teaching. Yes, despite the best evidence of His divine identity, most would grossly miscalculate who He was. And speaking of the LORD’s powerful arm merely underscores His ability to do the unimaginable, like parting the Red Sea or guarding Daniel’s three friends from the fire of the furnace. Jesus would, and did, reveal this divine power; however, it still would fail to soften hard hearts to see Him as the suffering divine Savior.
Along these lines, think of how Christ gave eyesight to the man born blind in John 9. Talk about miraculous power. Talk about incontrovertible evidence verifying His identity. However, the Pharisees, the religious leaders of the day, merely disregarded the hard evidence so they could focus on the fact Jesus had dared to perform a work by healing on the holy Sabbath (John 9:14). You, too, have been given incontrovertible evidence concerning the identify of Jesus. The odds of one man fulfilling only forty-eight of sixty exact prophesies, like those we encounter in Isaiah 53, are, is 1 chance in 10 to the 157 power. The math shows us Christ didn’t accidentally fulfill these prophesies. On the contrary, mathematically His prophetic fulfillment should settle His identity once and for all; but it doesn’t because it was prophesied most would blow by the hard evidence. Do you?
In Christ’s day, the majority of Jews didn’t recognize Him because He wasn’t what they expected:
2 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.
Isaiah prophesied the suffering Servant wouldn’t be like any man we would pick to battle sin. His origins would resemble not a stately oak tree, but a tender, fragile shoot coming out of the ground. He wouldn’t be rippling with muscles, sporting a six-pack, and enjoying well-defined triceps . . . to tap into our cultural thinking. On the contrary, He’d be somewhat of a weakling, something akin to a root popping out of dry, cracked soil which doesn’t have much promise for making it in a rough and tumble world. And He wouldn’t look regal either, like Saul who stood head and shoulders above all other Israelites (1 Sam. 9:1-2). Walk into a room with Saul present, and you couldn’t help but notice him: talk, dark, and handsome.
The Servant would, on the other hand, be a very unassuming individual looks-wise, something akin to your average man of the day. It is amazing how God looks not upon the outer, but the inner. When He chose Israel’s king to replace Saul, who was an utter failure, He chose youthful, inexperienced David based on his inner spirituality and sensitivity to Him (1 Sam. 16:1ff). The same criteria would apply to the Servant as well. Outwardly it wouldn’t look like He could accomplish much, but inwardly He possessed the spiritual and psychological strength to take sin head-on and summarily defeat it. Again, I must ask, “Have you miscalculated the person and work of Jesus, the Servant?”
With verse three, we learn more regarding why people would turn from Him:
3 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.
The perpetual rejection of Christ’s word and works took a toll on Him, as prophesied. As people despised and forsook Him, He, who loved life and people, became a deeply sorrowful, sad man, and man who exuded grief. After He excoriated the vile Pharisees for their sham of faith and unrelenting legalism, and warned them how they would continue to persecute and kill His witnesses, He exclaimed:
37 O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, who kills the prophets and stones those who are sent to her! How often I wanted to gather your children together, the way a hen gathers her chicks under her wings, and you were unwilling (Matt. 23).
He, their Savior, our Savior, wanted their love and acceptance, but all He received was their collective hatred, opposition, and disinformation. To study the gospels is to see this just didn’t occur with the religious class, but with most common folks. For instance, when He miraculously gave new, healthy skin to ten lepers who cried out for deliverance, nine thoughtlessly walked away without giving thanks to Him, and only one stopped, turn, and said, “Thank you, Lord” (Luke 17:12-19). No wonder grief filled His life, and people saw and sensed the sorrow and grief and turned away from Him instead of extoling and esteeming Him. Yes, it all came down just as Isaiah prophesied, and people today still despise and forsake Him when they shouldn’t because of why He came to this old earth.
Are you guilty of rejecting Jesus? What are your reasons?
- I don’t believe in a divine being.
- I think man is basically good and society makes him evil.
- I’m not convinced Jesus was the Messiah because this is so intolerant of other religions which teach differently.
- I really do enjoy my lifestyle and don’t want anyone messing with it.
- I am afraid of what my wife/husband would think if I ever embraced faith in Jesus.
- I don’t think God could, or would, ever have a son.
Like the Jews of Christ’s day I must say your reasons are far from valid, and when you wind up in eternity without Him in a place where you will experience unimaginable pain and suffering, your reasons will not comfort you. Comfort comes when you stop rejecting Him and place your faith in His redemptive work for you (Rom. 10:9).
Turning to verses 4 through 6, Isaiah shows how the Servant’s utter and unjust degradation divinely led to Him defeating sin. What a plot twist. I agree with Dr. Walk Kaiser, a famous Old Testament scholar, who labels this section appropriately . . .
The Atonement Of The Servant, Jesus (Isaiah 53:4-6)
What is atonement? Here is how the Baker Encyclopedia of the Bible defines this key word:
The Hebrew term frequently translated “atone” has the basic meaning “to wipe out,” “to erase,” “to cover,” or perhaps more generally “to remove.” In the kjv it is translated by such expressions as “to make atonement,” “forgive,” “appease,” “pacify,” “pardon,” “purge,” “put off,” and “reconcile.”
Theologically, atonement is needed for people because they are sinners (Jer. 17:9; Psalm 14:3; Rom. 3:23; 6:23 ) and God is utterly holy. So, in order for man to have a relationship with God, sin has to be atoned for on His terms, which involves the right prescribed sacrifice. True, the word “atone” does not occur in Isaiah 53; however, concept is well-represented in all of the substitutionary sacrificial language. As you can note,
4 Surely our griefs He Himself bore, and our sorrows He carried; yet we ourselves esteemed Him stricken, smitten of God, and afflicted. 5 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. 6 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.
The words “bore” and “carried” are easily reminiscent of the Day of Atonement, or Yom Kippur (Lev. 16). On this day the sins of the nation were transferred to the sacrificial animal (Lev. 16:15), and they were carried away by being placed on the scapegoat, which, in turn, was turned loose into the wilderness (Lev. 16:21). Everything about Isaiah’s prophecy weds the greater work of the suffering Servant to the atonement concepts built into this high and holy day in Israel. Just as the sin of the nation, therefore, was placed on the chosen goat, so all of mankind’s iniquity fell on the Servant, Jesus. And just as sin was dealt with through the sacrifice of the prescribed animal, so sin was dealt with through the greater sacrifice of the divine son, Jesus (Heb. 9:11-15). The former work enjoyed temporary atonement, while the latter enjoys eternal coverage and cleansing for sin for repentant sinners.
Humbling, wouldn’t you agree? He who knew no sin became sin for you so the Father’s wrath against your sin could be diverted from you to himself. What an injustice, but what love. Verse 5 captures this substitutionary idea well:
5 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. . 6 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.
Place heavy emphasis here upon the word “our.” Nails would pierce His hands and feet for our transgressions. The horrendous nature of the crucifixion would literally crush the life out of Him, but He would, and did, do it for our iniquities, not His. On a positive note, it was, and is, by means of His brutal scourging at the hands of the ruthless Roman lictors He secured the possibility of healing. This does not refer to physical healing, but to spiritual healing from sin because this is the emphasis not just of this short pericope, but of the entire prophetic passage.
What did Isaiah prophesy would be the typical response from sinners? Like a bunch of mindless sheep, we’d conclude all of this horror happened to Him because He must have deserved it. That, at least, was the mindset of those Jews who chanted, “Crucify Him.” We’d also be prone to wander morally and spiritually off the reservation of truth like a bunch of sorry sheep, choosing to live wickedly, while He, on the other hand, permitted the sin of all time to be placed on His holy body. You cannot even begin to imagine how repressive, dark, and dismal this must have been for Him.
Why, again, did He do this? Because of love. Because of a desire to make it possible for us to have an eternal relationship with Him. His work reminds me of the old hymn, Glorious Day, which says,
One day when Heaven was filled with His praises
One day when sin was as black as could be
Jesus came forth to be born of a virgin
Dwelt among men, my example is He
Living, He loved me
Dying, He saved me
Buried, He carried my sins far away
Rising, He justified freely forever
One day He's coming
Oh glorious day, oh glorious day
One day they led Him up Calvary's mountain
One day they nailed Him to die on a tree
Suffering anguish, despised and rejected
Bearing our sins, my Redeemer is He
Living, He loved me
Dying, He saved me
Buried, He carried my sins far away
Rising, He justified freely forever
One day He's coming
Oh glorious day, oh glorious day
Any lost sheep here who want to come into the fold of the Servant Shepherd? He stands at the gate waiting to receive you.
Moving from the Servant’s prophesied work of atonement for sinners, Isaiah next shocks us by speaking about how He would respond to the unjust treatment. When most would cry foul, verbally attempt to defend themselves, hire a big gun attorney to secure their release from false charges, it was not to be so with the Servant. We see this in what Dr. Kaiser calls . . .
The Submission Of The Servant, Jesus (Isaiah 53:7-9)
Note how the Servant was prophesied to do the unthinkable. He would be unjustly and brutally treated as He bore our sin, however, He would not utter one word in His defense.
7 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.
The Father’s redemptive plan for sinners called for the death of the Servant, His Son, and the Servant/Son would bear all of this brutality and respond in complete silence. It is well-noted how sheep will make no sounds even if they are being cut by shearers, and if they are walking toward their certain deaths, they will do so quietly. Jesus, like a sheep, stood before His vile, vicious accusers and let the silence convict and condemn them.
8 Now Herod was very glad when he saw Jesus; for he had wanted to see Him for a long time, because he had been hearing about Him and was hoping to see some sign performed by Him. 9 And he questioned Him at some length; but He answered him nothing (Luke 23).
To speak to Herod would have been to cast spiritual pearls before swine, so Jesus remained silent. True, He did speak a little here and there in His Jewish and Roman trials (John 18:20; Luke 22:66ff; Matt. 26:64ff; John 18:34ff); however, by the time we reach the third phase of the Roman trial, which became Christ’s second and last appearance before Pilate, Jesus had nothing to say as the politician ruled to have Him crucified even though he found Him innocent of all charges (Matt. 27:15-26; Mark 15:6-15; Luke 23:13-25; John 18:39-19:16). Truly, like an innocent sheep He went to His death silently. He did so because He didn’t want to say anything which would pre-empt the Father’s eternal plan to secure atonement for sinners like you and me. What courage. What love.
Verse 8 prophesied, again, how this divine atonement would be secured the hard way: through the Servant’s death by being ruthlessly “cut off.”
8 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?
What’s the answer to the question? No many. Yes, few understood the Servant’s death was directly wedded our transgression, not His. He willingly and lovingly submitted himself to the Father’s redemptive plan, and nothing would distract or deter Him from fulfilling this powerful, perfect plan. Peter didn’t understand this when he cut off the ear the High Priest’s servant when they came to arrest Jesus. He quickly learned this truth when Jesus rebuffed him.
Put your sword back into its place; for all those who take up the sword shall perish by the sword. 53 Or do you think that I cannot appeal to My Father, and He will at once put at My disposal more than twelve legions of angels? 54 How then shall the Scriptures be fulfilled, that it must happen this way? (Matt. 26).
Jesus could have called 72,000 powerful angelic beings to rescue Him from the false arrest in the garden of Gethsemane, but He resisted because passages like Isaiah would have been unfulfilled, and He couldn’t do that because He came to specifically fulfill the Father’s redemptive will (John 4:34; 5:23-24, 30, 36-27, 38; 6:29, 38-39, 44, 57; 7:17, 18, 28, 29, 33).
Just as His sacrifice fulfilled this prophecy to the letter, so too did how His death played out.
9 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.
Yes, He, the innocent One, died between wicked me, (plural) . . . although one thief did come to worship Him as the Lord and Savior (Luke 23:43). And, yes, His body was lain, as prophesied, in the costly tomb of a wealthy man whom we know as Joseph of Arimathea, who also became a Christ-follower (Matt. 27:57). Once more, Jesus could not have controlled any of these events. He could have just as easily been crucified alone and laid in a common grave of a pauper, but this is not what happened because it was not what the Father said would happen some 800 years before the fact. Do you say you need proof to believe in Jesus? I think you have all you need. God lovingly has not given you so much proof so as to overpower your free will, nor has He so hidden Himself you cannot find Him. Conversely, He has given you enough internal and external evidence so you can see your sin and ultimate need of the Savior, Jesus, the Servant.
And just why did this Servant, this Sacrifice receive such special treatment by being placed in a wealthy man’s spacious, costly tomb? Because He, the sinless one, who challenged people to find sin in His life (John 8:46), lovingly submitted himself to the redemptive plan only the God-man could pull-off.
Isn’t this all so ironic? He who knew no sin became sin so you who know sin could become a saint. He left glory so you could have the opportunity to leave this old earth for glory. He died so you might live. He experienced divine wrath so you could experience divine joy. His story truly is all about spiritual rags to riches, and today He stands ready to share His riches with you. So, give Him your sinful rags and He’ll give you the riches called forgiveness.
 Robert W. Lyon and Peter Toon, “Atonement,” Baker Encyclopedia of the Bible (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Book House, 1988), 231–232.