Isaiah 52:13 – 53:12
by Rev. Dan Bergman
“Behold, my servant shall deal prudently, he shall be exalted and extolled, and be very high. 14 As many were astonied at thee; his visage was so marred more than any man, and his form more than the sons of men: 15 So shall he sprinkle many nations; the kings shall shut their mouths at him: for that which had not been told them shall they see; and that which they had not heard shall they consider. 1 Who hath believed our report? and to whom is the arm of the LORD revealed? 2 For he shall grow up before him as a tender plant, and as a root out of a dry ground: he hath no form nor comeliness; and when we shall see him, there is no beauty that we should desire him. 3 He is despised and rejected of men; a man of sorrows, and acquainted with grief: and we hid as it were our faces from him; he was despised, and we esteemed him not. 4 Surely he hath borne our griefs, and carried our sorrows: yet we did esteem him stricken, smitten of God, and afflicted. 5 But he was wounded for our transgressions, he was bruised for our iniquities: the chastisement of our peace was upon him; and with his stripes we are healed. 6 All we like sheep have gone astray; we have turned every one to his own way; and the LORD hath laid on him the iniquity of us all. 7 He was oppressed, and he was afflicted, yet he opened not his mouth: he is brought as a lamb to the slaughter, and as a sheep before her shearers is dumb, so he openeth not his mouth. 8 He was taken from prison and from judgment: and who shall declare his generation? for he was cut off out of the land of the living: for the transgression of my people was he stricken. 9 And he made his grave with the wicked, and with the rich in his death; because he had done no violence, neither was any deceit in his mouth. 10 Yet it pleased the LORD to bruise him; he hath put him to grief: when thou shalt make his soul an offering for sin, he shall see his seed, he shall prolong his days, and the pleasure of the LORD shall prosper in his hand. 11 He shall see of the travail of his soul, and shall be satisfied: by his knowledge shall my righteous servant justify many; for he shall bear their iniquities. 12 Therefore will I divide him a portion with the great, and he shall divide the spoil with the strong; because he hath poured out his soul unto death: and he was numbered with the transgressors; and he bare the sin of many, and made intercession for the transgressors.”
There rests in the pages of the prophets, a brilliant jewel. This jewel shines so brightly, that one viewing its beauty is instantly awestruck. This jewel of prophecy was hewn some 700 years before the events prophesied therein came to fruition. It speaks not of a conquest, or the coming of a towering charismatic military figure, but in contrast, it tells of a servant. I invite you to grab your Bible, and walk with me through the words given by the Creator to Isaiah, as he tells of the Suffering Servant.
As we walk through these pages, we will no doubt encounter opposition as to our application of this prophecy. Modern Jewish thought as a whole has come to reject any interpretation of this text that may point to Jesus as the Messiah. This is mostly in response to those who argued that Isaiah 53 was in fact, referring to Jesus. As we will see, modern Jewish thought identifies the servant as Israel.
Within chapters 40-66, the word “servant” is used some 18 times. The majority of these uses refer specifically to Israel, and those references are qualified as such when the prophet tells us so. There are also a few times when the word “servant” is referring to Isaiah himself; these are also verified by the passages themselves. One of the servant passages in Isaiah that cannot be applied to Isaiah, or Israel, begins at the end of chapter 52, and continues through chapter 53.
The Servant’s Introduction
The immediate context is the salvation and redemption of Jerusalem by the LORD’s holy arm. We read in verse 13 that the Servant shall “deal prudently” or prosper (as the same Hebrew word is rendered in Jeremiah 23:5). It also says He will be exalted. This is important as a stark contrast can be seen in the next verse; this Servant would be marred and disfigured more than any man.
Although Israel has certainly undergone great persecution and trials, this passage is not referring to them. The fulfillment of this can be seen at Mary’s reaction to seeing the resurrected Jesus in the Garden. She couldn’t even tell it was Jesus until He spoke her name!
Isaiah goes on to say that the Servant would “sprinkle many nations.”1 This act of sprinkling is referred to in the New Testament speaking of the shedding of Jesus’ blood and its application to the hearts and lives of those who would put their faith and trust in Him alone for their salvation.2
Any application of the identity of the Suffering Servant to Israel requires that the “our” of 53:1 be someone other than an Israelite. The popular rabbinical interpretation claims that the ones speaking in verse 1 are the Gentile kings of 52:15. This idea has many problems. The verse itself speaks of “the arm of the LORD” which ties back to the previous chapter, where Isaiah speaks of the LORD bearing “His holy arm in the eyes of all the nations.”3 Who reported about the “arm of the LORD?” Oftentimes the most simple, most obvious interpretation is the best one. Who is the writer of this book? And who is his audience? If Isaiah wrote the book of Isaiah to Israel (and he did), the “we, our, and us” would obviously point to Isaiah and his people (53:8)!
Loved and Received or Despised and Rejected?
Verses 2-4 describe the Messiah from Israel’s viewpoint. This gives amazing insight as to how they would react to Him. I have heard more than one skeptic cite Israel’s rejection of Jesus as proof that He couldn’t have been the Messiah. On the contrary, it was prophesied by Isaiah that Israel as a nation would despise and reject Him. The end of verse 3 could literally be translated with the idea of not even giving Him thought. This whole concept is lacking in the majority of Jewish belief regarding the Messiah.
Our Transgressions, His Stripes
The foundation of a substitutionary atonement is an obvious and loudly ringing theme of Isaiah 53, especially in verses 5 and 6. In striving to remove any possibility of applying this to Jesus, many rabbinical commentators have connected the “our” to Gentile kings, and the “his” to Israel. This application is absurd, as Michael Brown points out:
… According to Jeremiah 30:11, God would completely destroy the nations among whom he scattered his people… So, God’s people would suffer for their own sins (in keeping with the Torah promises of blessings for obedience and curses for disobedience), often at the hands of their enemies, but then the Lord would destroy those enemies. This is the opposite of what Isaiah 53 states: the servant was guiltless, suffering for the sins of his guilty people, who are then healed by his suffering.
…If they [the Gentile kings] were the speakers, they should have said, “We inflicted great suffering on the people of Israel, who were guilty of great sin against God, but we went too far in our punishments and now Israel’s God will utterly destroy us. There is quite a difference!”4
Before His slaughter, this Servant would remain silent. He would not plead for mercy from His accusers, He would not so much as defend Himself verbally from the onslaught of those that would seek His demise. When Jesus was taken captive in the garden He was only defended by Peter, who was rebuked by Christ after zealously slicing off a captor’s ear. Jesus healed the man’s ear, and went quietly into judgment.5
“And when he was accused of the chief priests and elders, he answered nothing. Then said Pilate unto him, Hearest thou not how many things they witness against thee? And he answered him to never a word; insomuch that the governor marvelled greatly,” Matthew 27:12-14.
The Death and Resurrection of the Messiah
After being held and judged as a criminal, He would be “cut off”. This is a phrase that is used often in the Bible. It can be used as a kind of excommunication in instances where the guilty party is removed from the religious community of Israel, or it can be used to describe physical death. The context makes it clear when it states that He was “cut off out of the land of the living”. He would die. Isaiah tells us that it was for the transgressions of his people!
The Messiah was guiltless. He had done no violence and His speech contained no deceit. We need look no further than Isaiah 1 to realize that this can’t be Israel. The Hebrew behind the phrase “made his grave” in verse 9 shows that He voluntarily gave Himself over to death.
The remaining verses of this chapter show us that the Messiah’s death is a “guilt offering” (that is the Hebrew word that is used). After the Messiah’s death is described, we find the Lord saying that His days would be prolonged, and that He would “see his seed.” This makes no sense outside of the idea of resurrection. Those that trust in Him would be justified.6
Elijah de Vidas, a 16th Century Rabbi understood the gravity of this passage:
“The meaning of ‘He was wounded for our transgressions, bruised for our iniquities’ is, that since the Messiah bears our iniquities which produce the effect of His being bruised, it follows that whoever will not admit that Messiah thus suffers for our iniquities must endure and suffer for them himself.”
Let us pray for Isaiah’s people to see Jesus gleaming in the brilliance of this prophetic jewel!
1 Isaiah 52:15 KJV
2 See Hebrews 10:22 and 12:24
3 Isaiah 52:10 KJV
4 Darrel Bock, “The Gospel According to Isaiah 53 ” (Kregel Academic and Professional, Grand Rapids, MI, 2012) p.77
5 See Luke 22:47-51 and John 18:10,11
6 See Psalm 2