Isaiah 52:13 – 53:12
The pattern of divine revelation is to announce, then act, and then explain. (See the notes on 43:12.) We see this in the awakening the disciples had after the death and resurrection of Christ. They saw the events, yet the sufferings of Christ had been announced well in advance in the Old Testament (Luke 24:25,26). God had spoken in Old Testament texts, then He acted in Christ. Afterwards He opened their understanding, and so the New Testament epistles followed. When the complex of the Lord’s death and resurrection was history, the Holy Spirit gave additional revelation guiding the apostles in interpreting the things of Christ (John 14:25; 16:12-15; 1 Corinthians 2:6-16).
- 53:12 is the greatest advance announcement God would make of the death of
Christ. It preceded the cross by 700 years. No prophet of
precedes this song Many treat this familiar Scripture as an
isolated text with little attention to the buildup that precedes it. No one can
appreciate a solution unless there is a grasp of the problem, so Isaiah speaks
first of the need for the sacrifice and the benefits that come from it. In
40:1,2 the word of comfort includes payment for sin resulting in satisfaction;
it does not elaborate; that awaits Isaiah 53. In the chapters that follow
Isaiah 40, the deliverance from
The first song in chapter 42 has Christ’s success in bringing a saving message to the nations. It does not hint at suffering. Later in chapter 49 there is a mention of His being abhorred, and then in chapter 50 His suffering is magnified, but without an explanation for it. Finally in this last song, the purpose of the suffering is revealed.
52:13 All three words in Hebrew describing the Servant are used elsewhere in Isaiah to describe the glory of God (raised, 57:15; lifted up, 6:1; & highly exalted, 5:16). Their use here reveals the deity of Christ. (“Raised, lifted up and highly exalted” may be intended to portray the sequence of the resurrection, ascension and enthronement of Christ.) Yet in John 12:32 lifted up refers to Christ being lifted up on the cross. Yet that act of submission to the will of the Father does exalt Christ, for contrary to the horrid sight, it displays the glory of divine grace and love.
52:14 Without warning Isaiah switches immediately
to many being appalled at Christ. He does not say yet what caused the
humiliation. The text moves from the
majesty of God to a situation where Christ became so degraded in appearance
that He seemed less than human. No one in all of history has stepped down in
rank and dignity to compare with Christ making Himself nothing (Philippians
2:6-11). The Lord Jesus is the same Lord God of
52:15 Another surprise. The second great reversal is that kings who were once shocked at Him, would one day shut their mouths in awe and respect. The humiliation was terrible but temporary. His exalted position (Revelation 1:12-18) would become known to the nations (1 Timothy 3:16).
Many The song begins and ends with “many”. Many appalled (52:14); many nations affected (52:15). He would bear the sins of many (53:12) and many would be justified (53:11). In this way, the image of nations responding as a group to the gospel in the first two songs is now balanced with mention of many individuals. This is important because we believe in Christ one by one.
That Christ will move from being a servant beneath kings to being worshipped by them (49:7) is repeated. No one can read and believe these verses without being given a great sense of confidence in the massive impact the gospel will make in the world. In our day we have seen already how much of this song has been fulfilled; we should believe the Lord to do the rest.
The Lord Jesus will sprinkle or startle many nations. It is not clear how this should be translated. If He sprinkles, that carries the idea that as a priest He brings cleansing from sin. This fits in with the concept of sacrifice later in the song. Or it could be that He startles, because He was not known for His greatness, and then they learn Who He is and are silent before Him. This makes for a good contrast between being appalled at Him and amazed at Him. (I think “sprinkle” fits the context better.)
One other mystery remains in
this stanza. This Person that the nations reject is the One they come to
understand, yet He is one they had not heard about. “That which they have not heard they will understand.” There is a
mystery of a transformed view of Christ. (See also Romans 10:19,20.) Isaiah
does not tell how they find out. It would not fit any Scripture, such as Romans
10:14-18, to say they come to believe apart from all human communication about
Him. It may mean nations come to believe in Him about Whom they have had no
knowledge in their tradition. This fits Isaiah’s theme that distant islands
(42:4) completely oblivious to his prophecy, would become the loyal followers
of the Lord Jesus when the message eventually came to them. This also fits the
enigma that many with a heritage of the knowledge of the God of Israel would
repudiate it, while those without the news would embrace it (Matthew 8:10-12).
God would send His gospel to the Jews first (Romans 1:16), yet would bring
mostly Gentiles to Himself as in 52:15, before bringing back the descendants of
53:1 The true knowledge of the Servant comes by a message in words, a revelation from God. This stanza shows how impossible it is for man to know Christ by mere observation. How would one ever know that the carpenter’s son is the Son of God? Our eyes do not show us Who Christ is; we must receive a message, but in v.1 the message given was not received. Man has another problem; since he is dead in sin (Ephesians 2:1), he cannot hear the message (John 8:42-47). Those who do not belong to God have only hostility for the things of the Spirit (Romans 8:5-8), and they cannot come to Christ unless drawn by God Himself (John 6:44). Yet faith comes by hearing (Romans 10:17). How then can anyone believe? In order to be saved, a man must believe a message his nature is unwilling to accept. All faith in Christ is the result of God bringing a person to believe. (Note how the Lord quoted 54:13 in John 6:43-45.) Did Israelites accept the good news? The answer is No (Romans 10:16). Did they understand? No, they did not. The ones speaking in this stanza speak first of their unbelief, and then of truth about Christ that God brought them to understand.
Christ appeared among His
rejecting people (John 1:10,11). A man with no extraordinary appearance was in
the region of Galilee, just as 9:1 said, yet their scholars said He could not
be the Messiah because He was from
1) the powerful prophetic ministry of John the Baptist,
3) casting out the powers of Satan,
5) making legitimate claim,
6) the support of the Scriptures, and
7) His resurrection,
His people should have acknowledged Him. He was the Arm of the Lord; only the elect remnant believed in Him. The others could not see or hear (Romans 11:1-10).
53:2 Just as a new and tender plant emerges from the ground, Jesus was as human as any other child of Adam. (Adam means “earth”.) Jesus came into a human family. He was once a baby and then a little boy. People assumed that such a person could never be the Lord Himself, so very much a part of our life on earth (Luke 2:52). To observing eyes, He was not impressive; He lacked a grand appearance to make people gravitate to Him. It does not fit when churches promote pomp and dazzling sights. The Christ we represent appeared in the world without beauty to the human eye, yet present among us was the very glory of God Himself (John 1:14).
52:3 The Man of Sorrows Twice Isaiah says in v.3 that Jesus would be despised, deprived of due respect and association, a man scorned and mocked (50:6). The scorn heaped on Jesus was not limited to His crucifixion. Christians may not have a cross exactly like that of the Lord Jesus, but we shall always face scorn, and are blessed for accepting it cheerfully (Matthew 5:10-12). When Isaiah speaks of Jesus as a “man of sorrows” it is not a reference to a melancholy temperament but of His experience of suffering. The following verses will expand on the sufferings, giving their source and purpose. For what He endured, He was shunned and accounted a worthless man. The conventional wisdom was that He was nothing. They did not understand Who He was or what He was here to do. These two things, Who He is as a Person, and what His work was, are two areas of Christian doctrine under perpetual attack by the devil throughout history. As “the Arm of the Lord”, we know Who He is. The rest of the song will dwell on His work.
53:4 Everything changes! They have learned that the troubles Christ experienced and the infirmities He bore were not His own, but were for those He came to save – in spite of their initial disdain for Him. “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 John 4:10). They thought His sorrows were what He deserved; they now understand that He lifted their sorrows off them. The death of Christ is not merely exemplary; it is substitutionary, set out repeatedly in a He-for-us series. They thought He was smitten by God (in one sense He was) and afflicted as evidence that God was against Him. They had no idea that God had sent Him, and that the smiting from God was really directed at Him for them. In 51:22, the wrath of God was removed from His sinful people. In v.4, we see where that wrath for sin went when the Son was smitten by the Father because of the sins of those He represented. The following verses will make clear that sins were laid on Him; v.4 speaks of sins’ results, the sorrows and infirmities that are the life of fallen man. This shows, that in one sense Jesus suffered all His life for sinners by experiencing the miseries of human life.
Now Isaiah moves from consequences to the
core of the problem. Sin is rebellion, therefore in justice God must respond
accordingly. Two words are used in v.5 for sin; the first shows how much our
sin is against God; the second, how ungodly sin makes us to be. God cannot
maintain His glory if He is passive about our sin. He will either deal with the
sinner directly, or else with one who represents that sinner. In His grace, He
sent One willing and able to bear what our sins deserve. What happened
physically in the body and experience of Christ was as real in history as the
sin we have committed. There was a time and a place on this earth (
Isaiah has moved on from v.4. He writes in v.5 of the judicial response to sin. Under God’s judgment, sin has one uniform penalty – death! (Romans 5:12; 6:23; Genesis 2:17). It is not possible in dealing with sin to punish sin in the abstract; the object of God’s reaction to sin is the sinner who committed it! God does not send sins to hell; he sends sinners. And so Jesus was pierced; He is the one Who was crushed, and God laid directly on Him our punishment. The atoning death is not mere talk; it was the killing of a Man Who had come under the wrath of God. “Pierced” is the verb in 51:9 for killing the dragon. It is hard to believe that a word showing an act of God against the enemy, would be the word to show the act of God against His Son! “Crushed” is the idea of trampled. Jesus Christ on the cross satisfied the justice of God by enduring the death we deserved and His justice required.
53:6 Here the remnant remember they were once ignorant sheep, oblivious to the danger their sins created, and unable to remedy it. Before they were aware of their need, Christ was doing something about it. Sin has its group dynamic, but Isaiah makes plain that we are individually responsible and guilty of individual sins – “each one of us has turned to his own way.” “The Lord laid on Him.” does not mean that Christ was experiencing sin (1 Peter 2:22). It does not mean He simply felt its oppressive pressure. Jesus is not a Savior from sin because He entered into the life of humans, though the temptation to sin was real, He did not enter into sin at all. What God laid on Him was the charge of our sin, i.e., our guilt. In a courtroom scenario, Jesus is not guilty of any wrong. We are the guilty ones. But while He could never take sin into His conduct, He could take the accusation of sin against us on Himself. It is as if the Lord Jesus said, “Yes they did it, but I will accept the accusation of what they did and the penalty they deserve.” This is what happened in the death of Christ.
Sin was laid on Christ by the Father. There is a mysterious and wonderful fellowship the Father and Son share. Jesus was not here to overcome the reluctance of the Father to forgive us. They shared the same purpose. The Father provided Him for us, “For God so loved the word that He [the Father] gave His only begotten Son…” (John 3:16). The grace found in Jesus is an accurate reflection of the same love found in the Father’s heart because He is the exact likeness of His Father (Colossians 1:15; Hebrews 1:3). The grace of the Lord Jesus and the love of God cannot be separated. What Christ did on the cross was what the Father did by means of Him as God reconciled Himself to His people (2 Corinthians 5:18). He laid on our Mediator the sin that separated us from Him, so He could show His favor forever. Isaiah does not say only that sin was laid on Jesus; he says it was the Lord Who did it.
53:7 In the Old Testament, innocent animals were sacrificed for sinners. Attached to such sacrifices, God promised forgiveness (Leviticus 4:20). Not one of those animal victims had knowledge of what was happening to it; none died voluntarily. Here Isaiah shows the Lord Jesus going to the cross without resistance, fully aware of all that would happen (Matthew 16:21; Luke 12:50; John 12:23-33). Here we have a special obedience. Jesus was obedient to the law as a man born under it (Galatians 4:4), a duty common to all. This verse shows He was also obedient to the specific mission from His Father, that will of God that He should be a sacrifice (Hebrews 10:5-7). It is not the plan of God that everyone should die willingly at the hands of violent men. It was a unique unrepeatable mission of this Man that He should die this way, on this occasion (John 17:1), for the salvation of others.
He was taken away to die. He was “cut
off” by death. His contemporaries (not His offspring) did not ponder or see why
He would die. His disciples did not understand His crucifixion until after the
resurrection (John 2:22; Matthew 16:22,23). No one prayed with Him in
53:9 His burial If one dies the death of a criminal, one does not expect the executioners to spend much in lavish care of the corpse. The continuous trash-burning fire outside a city would be the ordinary place for a criminal’s body to be thrown. (Compare 66:24.) It would not receive a noble end. But this man did not deserve His death. Jesus was the only sinless man in history. At some point, the Lord would intervene with vigor to rescue Him from wicked men in answer to His prayer in Psalm 22, to put an end to His humiliation. When His death was an established fact certain to men, surely made clear by the Roman spear in the side, then the Father acted to have His body treated properly. Only those who loved Him touched Him (John 19:38-42). His body was not thrown into a common grave; it was laid in a rich man’s unused tomb (Matthew 27:57-61). God’s people read this prophecy for centuries, and it must have puzzled them. When it happened as the Gospels record, it would make very clear that the Lord Jesus is the One Isaiah was writing about. (See Acts 8:30-35).
53:10 It was the will of the Lord that He should die. This will of God is accomplished as it prospered in the activity of the Servant of the Lord. There is a pleasure of God here. His delight is not a sadism that enjoys suffering. The pleasure of God was that His grace could bring about salvation in the death of His Son. Christ is the provision and the Father is the cheerful provider. He was glad to employ this necessary means of rescuing sinners who would otherwise could only be under His wrath. Only by crushing Christ could we be saved. We sinned and could not redeem ourselves, but God, in Christ, paid reparations in the guilt offering. For Christ’s efforts, those who benefit from His sacrifice become His children or offspring. The will of the Lord cannot prosper in the hand of a dead man. To say His “days will be prolonged” is to prophecy that the One Who died will live again.
53:11 The resurrection is a divine reward. Because of the submissive suffering of His life laid down, He will be given His life to take up again in exaltation. In His human flesh, He will see the light of physical life again. He will see His children; He will see His success and be satisfied with His accomplishments. He was truly acting wisely (52:13). In the end, God will not allow Him to be made the fool. The resurrection is His vindication. We must never forget that on Friday, He received what we deserved, but on Sunday, He received what He deserved.
The Servant has knowledge,
accurate insight to what He needed to do so that He could bring justification.
53:12 It is sad that the opening of the verse has not been translated well. In fact as the NIV and ESV render this text, it suffers a note of anti-climax. It does not fit the opening stanza where kings shut their mouths in awe and wonder to think that Christ’s reward was merely “a portion among the great”. It is far better to render it, “I will apportion to him the many, and the strong he will apportion as spoil...” In other words, the Servant receives as His own all the ones He died to save. Christ gave Himself up to make His church holy, so He would have her as his Bride (Ephesians 5:25-27). He will have all the people the Father has given Him (John 6:37; 17:2). The kings of the earth (52:15) are His conquest, the strong over whom He reigns in majesty. Once He was in the hands of Pilate; now Pilate and all other rulers are in His hands.
V.12 ends with four statements which justify Christ’s exalted position: 1) His death was voluntary (John 10:18); 2) He was identified with the sinners He came to save; 3) He bore the sin of His own, the many, and shall always have our gratitude; 4) As Mediator, He has pleaded our cause before the High King of Heaven and won His favor for us by His sacrifice and intercession. A death alone will not save us; the One who offered Himself must connect His sacrifice to those He intended to benefit from it.
 For the seven items above, see in order: 1) John 1:29-34; 5:33-35; 2) John 7:30: 10:25-39; 14:11; 3) Matthew 12:22-28; 4) Matthew 7:28,29; 13:54; John 2:22, 7:14,14, 46; 5) Matthew 16:13-20; John 4:25,26; 5:16-18; 9:35-37; plus all the I AM’s of the Gospel of John; 6) Mark 9:12; 14:21; Luke 4:17; 18:31; 24:44-49; John 5:39; 7) Matthew 12:38-40; John 2:18-22; Acts 1:3.
 Undoubtedly, one reason the religious leaders wanted Jesus crucified rather than stoned was so they could refer to Deuteronomy 21:22,23 as proof that He was cursed by God. In so doing they did not prove Him a wicked man. They helped to make the gospel more clear, as in Galatians 3:13.
 The Jerusalem Bible has: “Hence I will grant whole hordes for his tribute, and he shall divide the spoil with the mighty…”