NOTES ON ISAIAH 52:13-53:1-12
Subject of the passage
The Jewish Midrash or commentary on 1 Samuel 16:1 states, “King Messiah, of whom it is written, ‘He was wounded for our transgressions'”. So there was a recognition by some Jews at least that Isaiah 53 was about the Messiah.
Philip the evangelist made it very clear to the eunuch from Ethiopia, who was reading from Isaiah 53, that the prophet was speaking of the Lord Jesus, and not himself. We read, “Then Philip opened his mouth, and began at the same scripture, and preached unto him Jesus”, Acts 8:35. And the apostle Paul confirms this, for when he is thinking of the unbelief of the nation of Israel, and their refusal to obey the gospel of Christ, he quotes the words of Isaiah when he asks, “Who hath believed our report?”. Clearly the apostle believed the report Isaiah gave was about Christ. The apostle John also believed the passage was about the Lord Jesus, for in 12:38 he quotes Isaiah 53:1, then in verse 40 he quotes Isaiah 6:9,10, and then comments in verse 41, “These things said Esaias, when he saw His glory, and spake of Him”. So Philip, Paul, and John combine to assure us that the passage refers to the Lord Jesus.
Survey of the passage
We come now to the final Servant passage in Isaiah. In Isaiah 42:1-9 we learn of the delight the Servant brought to God. In 42:19-21 His determination to not be tempted, and stray from the path of obedience. In 49:1-12 the diligence of the Servant is to the fore. In 50:4-11 it is His doctrine. But in this passage it is His destiny that is in view.
We may look at it as the future response of the nation of Israel to the One whom they crucified centuries earlier. At present they are cast off by God for having crucified His Son, (although individual Jews can be saved if they repent and believe the gospel). All this will change in the future, however, for God will pour out upon them “the Spirit of grace and supplications; and they shall look upon Me whom they have pierced, and they shall mourn for Him as one mourneth for his only son, and shall be in bitterness for Him, as one that is in bitterness for his firstborn”, Zechariah 12:10. At last they will realise their mistake, and will find that what their Messiah did on the cross is for their benefit, since, as Isaiah says in this very passage, “for the transgression of my people was He stricken”, 53:8.
Structure of the passage
The whole may be divided into five sections, as follows:
||Christ’s highest exaltation and deepest humiliation
||Christ’s humble background
||Christ’s sufferings in the hours of darkness
||Christ’s arrest, trial, execution and burial
||Christ’s achievements in resurrection
Each of these sections begins with introductory statements, as follows:
(a) “Behold, My servant shall deal prudently, He shall be exalted and extolled, and be very high”. This gives us the assurance that God’s Servant will work in accordance with God’s will, and will be rewarded with the highest honours.
(b) “Who hath believed our report? and to whom is the arm of the Lord revealed?” This introduces us to the idea that the initial response of the nation of Israel to God’s Servant will be one of unbelief.
(c) “Surely He hath borne our griefs, and carried our sorrows: yet we did esteem Him stricken, smitten of God, and afflicted”. This section deals with the misunderstanding of the nation as to the nature and cause of His sufferings.
(d) “He was oppressed, and He was afflicted, yet He opened not His mouth:” The prophet takes us through the process by which the Messiah was eventually executed, and shows that in His burial God intervened.
(e) “Yet it pleased the Lord to bruise Him; He hath put Him to grief:” Despite appearances, the sufferings of the Messiah were not the result of His faults, but God’s determining will. They have been followed by compensating glories and achievements.
These five sections are designed to answer questions the nation of Israel may have about Jesus of Nazareth. They have their reasons for not believing in Him. Are those reasons valid?
He did not defend Himself when He was unjustly treated, as might be expected of a powerful Messiah.
Explanation, 52:13-15. It was God’s will that this should happen so that the wickedness of ignorant men might be exposed.
His lowly circumstances and obscure life do not suggest that He was the Messiah.
Explanation, 53:1-3. The prophet Micah had said that He would be born in Bethlehem, but isaiah indicated that He would be hidden in God’s hand until His manifestation to Israel, Isaiah 49:2. They misunderstood the prophecy that “the Lord, whom ye seek, shall suddenly come to His temple”, Malachi 3:1. That is a reference to His coming in judgement, not His first coming in grace.
Normally, sufferings are the result of sin, so why did He suffer so much if He was sinless?
Explanation, 53:4-6. He was wounded for our transgressions, not His own. The Old Testament establishes the principle that God accepts a substitute for sinners, either in the form of an animal, or a sinless mediator.
A process of arrest, trial, sentence and execution was gone through with, why should anyone complain?
Explanation, 53:7-9. That process was flawed, for He was “oppressed”, “afflicted”, shorn of dignity, and deprived of just judgement. Finally, He was “cut off” without just reason, being sentenced by the representative of Rome who had three times declared His innocence.
Nothing has been seen of Him since His burial, and the reports of His resurrection are mostly from women, who were not allowed to testify in Jewish courts.
Explanation, 53:10-12. There is precedent for God’s man not being received by the people the first time he came, but received when he comes the second time. Stephen spoke of this when he cited Joseph, Acts 7:9-16, and Moses, 25,35, both of whom were received after they had been rejected. The report about Christ must be received by faith, and does not depend on how things look to us. The fact that the reports are mainly from women shows that the gospels are not forgeries, for a fraudster would avoid their testimony because he knew it would be discounted. The gospel writers were confident they wrote the truth, being acquainted with many male eye-witnesses, as well as the women.
(a) 52:13-15 Highest exaltation and deepest humiliation.
52:13 “Behold, My servant shall deal prudently, He shall be exalted and extolled, and be very high”.
Behold- in the first Servant passage, God exhorted Israel to behold His servant. They were to realise that as a nation they had failed to be faithful in their service for God, and He was going to introduce one who would not fail at all. They must turn their eyes upon Him. Here, however, the emphasis is on what He will achieve as God’s prudent servant, even though at times it would seem He was not God’s servant at all.
My servant shall deal prudently- He will be marked by wisdom, and as a consequence, He will prosper in that which He does in God’s service. The reason He will truly prosper is because it is the pleasure of the Lord that prospers in His hand, 53:10. This is the secret of true spiritual prosperity, even the doing of the will of God.
He shall be exalted and extolled, and be very high- each of these descriptions has the idea of being lifted up. The majority of this whole passage up until 53:9 emphasises how He was humbled in different ways, whether by the circumstances of His upbringing, the reception He received generally, the experiences He had on the cross, or the way men treated Him at His trial and execution. However, we learn here that the exaltation of the Servant is assured, even though we have not yet been told how He was humbled.
As He Himself said, “For whosoever exalteth himself shall be abased; and he that humbleth himself shall be exalted”, Luke 14:11. The apostle Paul reminds us that Christ Jesus “humbled Himself…wherefore also God hath highly exalted Him”, Philippians 2:9.
We might think of Him as being exalted, (for He has “ascended up far above all heavens”, Ephesians 4:10), compared to His low estate upon the earth. He is extolled, (having been given “a name which is above every name”, Philippians 2;9), compared to the despising of Him upon the earth. He has been made very high, (for God has set Him “far above all principality, and power, and might, and dominion, and every name that is named, not only in this world, but in that which is to come”, Ephesians 1:21), compared to the low place men gave Him as they rejected Him and crucified Him.
Another feature of these three expressions is that they are all ascribed to God by Isaiah, (“high and lifted up”, 6:1; “High and Lofty One that inhabiteth eternity”, 57:15). This reminds us that the one who is in the form of a Servant, is also in the form of God, as the apostle Paul makes clear in Philippians 2:6,7. We are assured by this that despite appearances, and despite His wholesale rejection by men, His claim to equality with God is valid.
52:14 As many were astonied at Thee; His visage was so marred more than any man, and His form more than the sons of men:
As many were astonied at Thee- the “as” of this phrase has its counterpart in the “so” of the next verse. The measure of astonishment at what happened to Him at His first coming, will be matched by the reaction of the nation at His second coming. What happened was truly astonishing, as the rest of the verse explains. We could see the connection between the two words by thinking of the rest of this verse as a parenthesis, as follows, “As many were astonied at Thee; (His visage was so marred more than any man, and His form more than the sons of men:) so shall He sprinkle many nations”.
His visage was so marred more than any man- this is a reference to the blows that were inflicted upon the Servant when He was in the high priest’s palace. Luke tells us, “And the men that held Jesus mocked Him, and smote Him. And when they had blindfolded Him, they struck Him on the face, and asked Him saying, ‘Prophesy, who is it that smote Thee?'”, Luke 22:53,54. The word Luke uses for “smote” means “to flay, beat, scourge, strike, smite, or thrash”. This is no mild blow therefore, but vicious and brutal. No doubt this is the same treatment that Isaiah has already told us about when he records beforehand the words of Christ Himself, “I gave…My cheeks to them that plucked off the hair”, Isaiah 50:6. The wounds He received far exceed what has been meted out to any other man; He stands out in His suffering, and He will stand out in His glory, for no man shall be glorified as much as He.
Remember this is in the palace of Caiaphas, the high priest, who stands by whilst his officers inflict these blows to His face. It is not the whim of the bystanders, but the deliberate maltreatment of the prisoner. And prisoner He was, for John specifically tells us “Now Annas had sent Him bound unto Caiaphas the high priest”, John 18:24. The emphasis in that sentence is on the word bound, and John is pointing out the seriousness of the situation, for it was not lawful to bind a prisoner before he had been found guilty, and it was certainly not lawful to smite a bound prisoner.
Jacob, as he lay dying, and as he looked into the future, said of Levi, the tribe from which the priesthood would come, “Instruments of cruelty are in their habitations…cursed be their anger, for it was fierce; and their wrath, for it was cruel”, Genesis 49:5,7. Remember that the blows to the face of Christ are inflicted in the high priest’s palace, Matthew 26:57,58. So Jacob’s prophecy is coming true, for the instruments of cruelty are in his house. He who should have been officiating at the altar, using the holy instruments of sacrifice in the House of God, is allowing the use of instruments of cruelty in his own house.
But why is it this marring of the visage that is highlighted here? Remember this chapter is designed to bring the nation of Israel to repentance. They have convinced themselves that they were right to condemn Him for blasphemy, but those who think deeply about what happened at Christ’s trial, may very well harbour misgivings at the way they treated Him. This could be God’s shock treatment of them, bringing home to them in this dramatic way the wickedness of what they did. They will move from thinking about how they treated Him, to thinking about how they tried Him.
And His form more than the sons of men- so His form was marred, as well as His face. This would be a reference to the scourging ordered by Pilate. Ordered, we should remember, after he has pronounced Christ innocent. We read that Pilate said to the chief priests, “Ye have brought this man unto me, as one that perverteth the people: and behold, I, having examined Him before you, have found no fault in this man touching those things whereof ye accuse Him…I will therefore chastise Him, and release Him”, Luke 23:14,16. Then again, “I have found no cause of death in Him: I will therefore chastise Him, and let Him go”, verse 22. So he ordered the scourging knowing full well that He was innocent. It is true Pilate was required to scourge a prisoner, but only after he had been convicted, and was about to be crucified. To scourge an innocent man and then intend to release Him, or worse still, to scourge an innocent man and then crucify Him, is an flagrant outrage, and the gravest miscarriage of justice there could be. This would be the case with any man, but in the case of the Son of God it is an affront to heaven.
It is said that in the excavations beneath Jerusalem, where the Roman garrison was situated, there are rooms whose ceilings are supported by pillars. There is one room, however, where there is a pillar in the middle of the room, that does nothing to support the roof. Is this the pillar where the prisoners were tied when they were being scourged?
So it was that the Lord Jesus was subjected to what was called “the intermediate death”, a beating so cruel and vicious that many did not survive it. Trained and brutal soldiers would take it in turns to thrash the prisoner with lashes to which pieces of bone or jagged iron were attached, which would rip away the flesh from the upper part of the body. As the psalmist said, “The ploughers ploughed upon my back: they made long their furrows”, Psalm 129:3. So it came to pass that God’s Servant could say, “I gave My back to the smiters, and My cheeks to them that plucked off the hair”, Isaiah 50:6.
Jew and Gentile combined to maltreat God’s servant. We recall the words of Peter on the Day of Pentecost, as he accused the nation of crucifying their Messiah, “Him, being delivered by the determinate counsel and foreknowledge of God, ye have taken, and by wicked hands have crucified and slain”, Acts 2:23. So the Jews took Him, but they handed Him over to wicked or lawless hands. The hands of the Gentiles were not restrained by God’s law as the hands of the Jews were. So it was that Christ was crucified lawlessly. But because the Jews did the handing over, (which they did because they could not inflict capital punishment, but were determined to see Him crucified), they were alike guilty. Both sections of humanity have come together in a common desire to rid themselves of God’s Christ. This is what the psalmist said would happen when he wrote, “Why do the heathen rage, and the people imagine a vain thing? The kings of the earth set themselves, and the rulers take counsel together, against the Lord, and against His Anointed, saying, ‘Let us break Their bands asunder, and cast away Their cords from us'”, Psalm 2:1-3. See also Acts 4:25-28.
So we are presented in this verse with the sight of a man deprived of justice, and maltreated in the process. Now the Jews still believe they were right to crucify Jesus of Nazareth because He claimed to be the Son of God, and this was, they believed, blasphemy, since they did not accept His claim to be equal with God, (even though He gave more than ample proof that this was the case). But what they may very well have misgivings about is the way this was done. And the marring of the visage and the form in such a cruel way was gratuitous violence, and should have had no place in the process they followed. Their system of justice was normally heavily weighted in favour of the accused, as we shall see later on, but this was the exception. So it is this aspect of the treatment they gave to God’s Servant that is being used here to highlight their guilt.
52:15 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.
So shall He sprinkle many nations- the first use of this word ‘sprinkle’ is in Exodus 29:21, when Aaron and his sons were sprinkled by Moses with the blood of consecration and the oil of sanctification. It is used later on when a leper was sprinkled with the water of purification that was stained with the blood of a bird, so that he could be pronounced clean, Leviticus 14:5-7. The Levites also were sprinkled with the water of purifying that was mixed with the ashes of the red heifer, Numbers 8:7. And a person who had contracted defilement through contact with a dead body was also sprinkled with this water, Numbers 19:17-19. The other instances of the use of this particular word for sprinkling are in relation to the altar, the tabernacle, and the ark of the covenant, and the tents of those who are defiled. In other words, the sprinkling of objects, not people.
So the response of God’s Servant to the wicked treatment He received at His first coming, is to make available the remedy for their sin as a nation. Zechariah says, “In that day there shall be a fountain opened to the house of David and to the inhabitants of Jerusalem for sin and uncleanness”, Zechariah 13:1. The day referred to being when they look upon the one they pierced long centuries before.
So it is that Israel will be “priests of the Lord”, for the blood of Christ will consecrate them, and “ministers of our God”, for they will be purified from the sin of their evil dealings with their Messiah long ago, Isaiah 61:6. Moreover the stroke of spiritual leprosy that is upon them for crucifying their Messiah, and the defilement they have contracted by their dispersion amonst the Gentiles, will be dealt with in a holy way.
It is said of the ashes of the red heifer that a clean person was to “lay them up without the camp in a clean place, and it shall be kept for the children of Israel for a water of separation: it is a purification for sin”, Numbers 19:9. Such was the provision in the Old Testament, but in the Epistle to the Hebrews we read, “For if the blood of bulls and goats, and the ashes of an heifer sprinkling the unclean, sanctifieth to the purifying of the flesh: how much more shall the blood of Christ, who through the eternal Spirit offered Himself without spot to God, purge your conscience from dead works to serve the living God?” Hebrews 9:13,14. Notice that in Numbers the ashes are laid up outside the camp, so to benefit from their spiritual counterpart, Israel must “go forth unto Him without the camp”, as they were exhorted long ago, Hebrews 13:13. That is where the blessing is. It is not limited to Israel however, for it is many nations that shall be sprinkled. The word ‘from’ is found in the Hebrew text, so the idea is of that those from the Gentile nations shall come into the good of His work at Calvary.
The kings shall shut their mouths at Him- Isaiah has already told us that “kings shall see and arise, princes also shall worship”, 49:7. Instead of standing before Pilate, and being judged by him, Christ shall be the one who sits on the throne, and kings and princes will stand before Him to be judged. The psalmist foretold that “all kings shall fall down before Him: all nations shall serve Him”, Psalm 72:11. The kings of the earth rose up at the crucifixion, “For of a truth against Thy holy child Jesus, whom Thou hast anointed, both Herod, and Pontius Pilate. With the Gentiles, and the people of Israel, were gathered together”, Acts 4:27. Soon it will be Christ who is in the ascendancy.
For that which had not been told them shall they see- the apostle Paul used these words in connection with those who had not heard the gospel, and his desire to preach to the unevangelised, Romans 15:21. The last view of Christ that the world had was of Him hanging, dead, upon a cross, and then being laid in a sepulchre. But He rose again, appeared to His own, and then ascended to heaven. The gospel bears testimony to this, and many have seen Him by faith. These spoken of here have not been told of His ascended glory, but when they see Him coming to earth in His glory, they will realise the gospel of an ascended, glorified Christ, is true. We should remember that the kings of the earth will largely be in league with the Antichrist, and God will “send them strong delusion, that they should believe a lie”, 2 Thessalonians 2:11. These kings are not said to believe, but simply see what they had not seen before, a glorified Christ, and consider what they had not heard before, the reasons for His death. They are the moral descendants of those who crucified Him, and they must be confronted with the consequences of what they did to Him.
And that which they had not heard shall they consider- the apostle Paul states with regard to the wisdom of God “which none of the princes of this world knew: for had they known it, they would not have crucified the Lord of glory”, 1 Corinthians 2:8. This is a staggering statement. The apostle is not saying that if the princes of this world knew about Christ better, they would not have crucified Him, out of reverence for Him. Rather, he is saying that if the princes had known the outcome of the work of Calvary, they would have sought to frustrate that outcome by not crucifying Him; not because they wished to act in mercy, but because they were hostile to the purpose of God through a crucified Saviour. So these kings now realise what the purpose of the death of Christ was, and consider its implications without necessarily repenting and believing.
(b) 53:1-3 Christ’s humble background.
53:1 Who hath believed our report? and to whom is the arm of the Lord revealed?
Who hath believed our report? The form of this question expects the answer, “Not many”. This is how the apostle Paul used the words. He writes about Israel, “But they have not all obeyed the gospel. For Esaias saith, ‘Lord, who hath believed our report?'” Notice that Paul is telling us, by the Spirit, to whom Isaiah addressed his question, even the Lord. He was conscious that the report he gave was the report that came from God, and Paul took up that thought in Romans 10:14-17, as we shall see.
The reasons for the large-scale unbelief that are implied in the prophet’s question are given in the next verses, beginning with “for”, or because. It is the task of the prophet to counteract this spirit of scepticism. He does so by facing up to the facts about Christ’s experiences, but giving rational reasons why these things took place. Having told us that even when Christ comes in glory the kings will only see and consider, and will not necessarily believe, is it any surprise that when He is absent, having been crucified, men do not believe in Him? Isaiah is writing as if he has projected his mind to the future, when Israel will be converted, and as he looks back from that vantage point he has to conclude that the results have been sparse, for comparatively few from amongst the nation have believed during this present age. Paul called them “a remnant according to the election of grace”, Romans 11:5. Immediately before those words, he had referred to the fact that Elijah thought he alone remained true to God, but it was not so, for God had reserved to Himself “seven thousand men who have not bowed the knee to Baal”, verse 4. Even so it is now, and just a few from Israel have believed. We should remember that although the nation has been judicially blinded by God for rejecting and crucifying His Son, individuals from the nation are free to accept the gospel; the apostle himself, a Jew of the tribe of Benjamin, (and therefore not a proselyte from among the Gentiles), was testimony to that, Romans 11:1.
The unbelief of men, Jew or Gentile, is all the more serious because the gospel is a report, and forms the link between the mind and heart of God and the mind and heart of man. Faith cometh by hearing, (the word is the same as ‘report’), and hearing (the report) by the word of God, Romans 10:17. The preacher hears the word of God, to prepare him for his task, and he passes it on to those who are inclined to listen, and what he has heard from God now becomes a report to men. If they accept it, then it is because the report has convinced them; faith has come through the agency of the authentic report of the gospel.
And to whom is the arm of the Lord revealed? Having spoken of the lack of belief on the part of Israel, and of men generally, the prophet now comments on the Divine side of things, that of revealing Christ to men. On the face of it, viewing the passage as a whole, we might think that the nation of Israel could not be expected to believe in Jesus of Nazareth. He was of humble circumstances, despised and rejected during His life, and finally hung upon a cross of shame after being tried by the courts of Jews and Gentiles. How could they be expected to welcome such an one as their Messiah? But as the prophet will show, things are not what they seem, and Isaiah will give to us God’s view of the whole matter. It is up to men whether they are prepared to accept that side of things by faith. If they are, then to them is the arm of the Lord revealed.
The arm of the Lord is not physical, of course. God is spoken of as having eyes and ears and arms in what is called the language of accommodation, where our inability to understand is helped by the use of figurative language. The arm is a metaphor for power, and Christ is called the power of God, 1 Corinthians 1:24. But this seems to make things even more difficult, for a man brutally ill-treated, and then crucified on a cross, is not what the natural man would think of as a powerful figure. And the nation of Israel consisted largely of natural men, whatever they would say otherwise.
The prophet has a difficult task before him, then, as he faithfully records the way in which the Lord Jesus was rejected by the nation to which He belonged, and to which He came. But he has been encouraged at the outset by God’s word to him, that the Servant of whom he writes will be exalted, extolled, and made very high, 52:13. The end is certain, therefore, and Isaiah can tell us of the humiliation of God’s Servant, knowing that He will be exalted by God, even though men will seek to drag Him down.
53:2 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.
For He shall grow up before Him as a tender plant- when the prophets wished to portray the greatness of Gentile rulers, they spoke of them as mighty cedars, seemingly immovable and mightily impressive. How great the contrast here! Not a massive towering figure, apparently, but a tender, seemingly vulnerable plant. The prophets sets the tone by saying that this plant grows up before God. That is the key to the matter. It is God’s view of things that is vital, and the difference between faith and unbelief is that faith accepts God’s estimate of things, and unbelief accepts man’s opinion. If the nation of Israel is to move from unbelief to faith in Jesus of Nazareth, and accept Him as their Messiah, then they must accept what God says about Him here. After all, Isaiah’s prophecy is part of the oracles of God, which they claim to cherish.
The word used here for tender plant is “the sucker or twig of a tree felled, but sprouting”. Isaiah had said previously, “And there shall come forth a rod out of the stem of Jesse, and a branch shall grow out of his roots: and the Spirit of the Lord shall rest upon Him…and He shall smite the earth with the breath of His mouth, and with the breath of His lips shall He slay the wicked”, Isaiah 11,1,2,4. In the previous verses the Assyrian, an enemy of Israel, is described as if he were a tree, whose branch the Lord will “lop with terror”, and “the high ones of stature shall be hewn down”, Isaiah 10:33. By contrast, the branch out of the roots of obscure Jesse shall slay the wicked, meaning the final Antichrist. So this tender plant is the means whereby great and powerful things are going to be done, but before that He must take the low place, for it is “he that humbleth himself shall be exalted”, Luke 14:11. In other words, He is, after all, the arm of the Lord, through whom the power of God shall be known.
At present, the tree of the House of David is felled, for Judah, David’s kingly tribe, has been taken into captivity, and what Hosea prophesied has come to pass, for he wrote, “For the children of Israel shall abide many days without a king and without a prince”, Hosea 4:4. At the time of the captivity, God began to be known as “the God of heaven”, for He had abandoned His capital on the earth, Jerusalem, and it lay in ruins. This was the signal for the Times of the Gentiles to begin, and they continue still.
The psalmist Ethan the Ezrahite lamented the way God had dealt with the house of David, for he said that He had “been wroth with Thine anointed. Thou hast made void the covenant of Thy servant: Thou hast profaned his crown by casting it to the ground”, Psalm 89:38,39. However, Ethan was encouraged by the fact that God said, “My covenant I will not break, nor alter the thing that is gone out of My lips. Once have I sworn by My holiness that I will not lie unto David. His seed shall endure for ever, and his throne as the sun before Me. It shall be established for ever as the moon, and as a faithful witness in heaven”, verses 34-37. David himself, in a psalm that anticipated the reign of the Messiah, called Him the King’s Son. And this is how the New Testament opens, with Matthew writing, “The book of the generation of Jesus Christ, the Son of David, the Son of Abraham”, Matthew 1:1.
However, Job said, “For there is hope of a tree, if it be cut down, that it will sprout again, and that the tender branch thereof shall not cease. Though the root thereof wax old in the earth, and the stock thereof die in the ground; yet through the scent of water it will bud, and bring forth boughs like a plant”, Job 14:7-9. And so it came to pass, for the Holy Spirit is often symbolised as water, and we read in Matthew 1:18 that Mary was “with child of the Holy Spirit”. And Luke gives more detail, for he records the words of the angel to Mary, “The Holy Spirit shall come upon thee, and the power of the Highest shall overshadow thee: therefore also that Holy Thing that shall be born of thee shall be called the Son of God”, Luke 1:35. So it was that the fallen tree of David’s House is given hope, through the scent of water, and the resulting branch out of his roots.
Interestingly, the word Isaiah used for “branch” in 11:1 is netser, and many believe that this is the basis of the name Nazareth. So every time the Lord Jesus was addressed as Jesus of Nazareth, there was testimony, unwittingly, that He was the glorious Messiah. Men thought it was a title of disgrace, but it is otherwise. And He was pleased to identify Himself by that name to Saul on the road to Damascus, Acts 22:8, for He is waiting for His revelation to Israel still.
We read that when Joseph returned with the child Jesus and Mary from Egypt, “being warned of God in a dream, he turned aside into the parts of Galilee: and he came and dwelt in a city called Nazareth: that it might be fulfilled which was spoken by the prophets, ‘He shall be called a Nazarene'”, Matthew 2:22,23. This may read rather strangely to us, for although Matthew does not tell us where Joseph and Mary lived before they were married, Luke does, and it was Nazareth, Luke 1:26, (Mary), and 2:4, (Joseph). And yet Matthew seems to write as if when they came out of Egypt they intended to live in Judea, but God instructed them to go to live in Nazareth, as if it was the first time they had lived there. Perhaps they were concerned that the people of Nazareth might gossip about the circumstances surrounding the birth of their child. They would be despised and rejected of men in Nazareth. But it was God’s will that His Son should grow up in a place of no repute, (“Can there any good thing come out of Nazareth?” John 1:46). So Matthew is justified in saying that the things the prophets spoke about Him as a despised one, would be symbolised by Him being an inhabitant of Nazareth, the despised place. Notice Matthew does not quote a specific prophecy in one place in the books of the prophets. He refers to what the prophets, (plural), said, not what they wrote. This was the general tenor of their speaking of the Messiah. So we might think of the fact that he seems to suggest Mary and Joseph were not at Nazareth before, as a literary device, to make Nazareth His own city in a particular way, and not simply that it was where Joseph and Mary lived before.
And as a root out of a dry ground- so He is not only going to grow up before God as a tender plant, but also as a root. Here we are introduced to the secret of the Messiah’s Person, for as the tender plant out of the stock of Jesse He possesses real manhood. But as the root He is seen to have Godhood too. The Lord Jesus described Himself as “the root and the offspring of David”, Revelation 22:16. Thus He claimed not only to be Son of David, but David’s Lord, the originator of the Davidic line. When the learned ones in Israel came to question Him towards the close of His ministry, having answered their questions, He had one for them, and it was this, “‘What think ye of Christ? Whose son is He?’ They say unto Him, ‘The son of David’. He saith unto them, ‘How then doth David in Spirit call Him Lord, saying, The Lord said unto my Lord, Sit thou on My right hand, till I make Thine enemies Thy footstool? If David then call Him ‘Lord’, how is He his son?” And no man was able to answer Him a word, neither durst any man from that day forth ask Him any more questions”, Matthew 22:41-46. So even in far-off Old Testament times, recorded in Psalm 110:1, the fact was known that there was one who shared the name of Lord with God.
Now every godly Jew would recite the words of Deuteronomy 6:4,5 every day, saying, “Hear O Israel: the Lord our God is one Lord: and thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thine heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy might”. There was constant testimony in Israel to the fact that there was only one Lord, and yet there was testimony through David by the Spirit that there was another who could be rightfully called Lord also. How is this apparent contradiction resolved? Only by recognising that Jesus of Nazareth is Lord, equally with the Father and the Spirit in the Godhead. When confronted with this undeniable truth, the Pharisees had nothing to say, for they were not prepared to recognise the Deity of Christ.
So Jesus of Nazareth grows up before God as a root out of dry ground. His Father recognises His Deity, even if men generally do not, for after His time of obscurity in Nazareth, He is hailed as His Beloved Son, thus showing the Father’s acknowledgement of Him.
But the root is out of a dry ground. Dry ground does not produce for God; it is barren and useless. Such was the nation of Israel spiritually; such was the House of David also, for he himself said, “He that ruleth over men must be just, ruling in the fear of God…although my house be not so with God; yet He hath made with me an everlasting covenant, ordered in all things, and sure: for this is all my salvation and my desire, although He make it not to grow”, 2 Samuel 23:3,5. In Isaiah 53 we learn, however, that God did eventually make David’s hopes to grow, and the tender plant sprang up.
He hath no form nor comeliness- the word translated ‘form’ here is the same as is found in 52:14, where the reference is to the bodily frame of the Lord Jesus. The word ‘comeliness’ has to do with glory and magnificence. We are never told any details as to the features of the Lord Jesus, only in figurative language. We know that He grew in wisdom and stature, Luke 2:52, and every stage of His growing up was perfect, without being outlandish. His physical frame, however, did not appeal to Israel as being that of a king. Nor had He the bearing of one who seeks to dominate men. He had made Himself of no reputation, and was content to live amongst men as one who did not stand out, even though He was the Son of God.
When Israel chose Saul to be their king they were governed by their natural reasoning, so they chose one who was head and shoulders above everyone else, “every inch a king”, they might have said, 1 Samuel 10:2,3. So it was that when Samuel was instructed to go to anoint Saul’s replacement, he was told, when Eliab was brought before him, “Look not on his countenance, or on the height of his stature; because I have refused him: for man seeth not as God seeth; for man looketh on the outward appearance, but the Lord looketh on the heart”, 1 Samuel 16:7. So it was that David was chosen, and God described him as “a man after Mine own heart”, Acts 13:22. So Israel are making the same mistake as when they chose Saul, for they are looking on the outward appearance, and they dismiss Christ as unsuitable.
And when we shall see Him, there is no beauty that we should desire Him- so there comes a moment when He emerges out of obscurity, and Israel sees Him. That moment was His baptism, and Mark tells us that “Jesus came from Nazareth of Galilee, and was baptized by John in Jordan”. So even though He has come out from the despised place, He still takes the low place, for the Jordan Valley is the lowest place on earth. The apostle Paul referred twice to this moment. In the synagogue in Antioch of Pisidia, he described it as “His coming”, Acts 13:24. He also wrote to the Philippians that having been found in fashion as a man, (a reference to His life in Nazareth), “He humbled Himself, and became obedient unto death, even the death of the cross”, Philippians 2:8. His willingness to be baptized was a further stage on His path to the cross, and represented His commitment to Calvary.
Sadly, however, the decision of the nation at large when “He came unto His own”, was to receive Him not, John 1:11. He was not the warrior-king they were expecting, who could overthrow the Romans and give them freedom. The reason they thought like this was they had ignored the passages like Isaiah 53 which spoke of a suffering Messiah, and only concentrated on the glorious king aspect of the prophetic writings. As the Lord Jesus said to the two on the road to Emmaus, “O fools, and slow of heart to believe all that the prophets have spoken: ought not Christ to have suffered these things, and to enter into His glory?” The word ‘ought’ has the sense of obligation. The Lord was under obligation to suffer, for He was set on a path that would fulfil eternal counsels. Peter spoke of the “sufferings of Christ”, 1 Peter 1:11, and the preposition he used signifies the sufferings that belong to Christ- they are His by Divine decree. The beauty the nation was looking for was the “outward appearance” God warned Samuel about. They had no interest in the superb moral beauty of Christ.
53:3 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.
He is despised and rejected of men- not content with merely ignoring Him, the nation actively despised Him for His character and His teaching. Whilst many in Israel believed on Him, the rulers were against Him, and plotted His death. As a previous Servant passage has said, He is “Him whom men despiseth”, and the one “the nation abhorreth”, Isaiah 49:7. The underlying reason for this is that darkness hates the light, “For this is the condemnation, that light is come into the world, and men loved darkness rather than light, because their deeds were evil. For every one that doeth evil hateth the light, neither cometh to the light, lest his deeds should be reproved”, John 3:19,20. The light of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ repulsed the sinners in Israel.
A man of sorrows, and acquainted with grief- this is not to say He was miserable. A miserable person dwells upon himself; Christ was sorrowful because of the sorrows of others. He looked out on a world of sadness and grief, and sympathetically associated with it all. Sorrow came in with the fall of man, and He had come to deal with the root cause of sorrow. His was no passing contact with the griefs of men which themselves caused Him grief. He was the acquaintance of grief, its lifelong companion.
He knew sadness because of the sin and unbelief of men; disappointment when His disciples made such slow progress in Divine things; grief as He wept over the city that would soon reject Him, and condemn itself, as a consequence, to be levelled to the ground. Think of the grief of heart when His loyalty to God, His desires to be subject to Divine purpose, His confidence in Divine promises, were all called into question by the Devil in the wilderness.
Despite this, He could speak of His joy, John 15:11, a joy that was specially and uniquely His, for He was conscious all the time that He was in the line of His Father’s will. Nothing could take away from that, not even sympathy for the griefs and sorrows of men.
And we hid as it were our faces from Him- this is the measure of their hatred of Him. They could not stand the sight of Him, for His life and His teaching condemned them utterly, and instead of realising their sinfulness, and repenting of it and coming to Him in faith, they reacted by refusing even to look at Him. If they had done so, they would have seen the glory of God in His face, 2 Corinthians 4:6. It was not that they hid their faces because they were afraid to look upon God, (God said to Moses,”for no man shall see Me and live”, Exodus 33:20), for they did not believe He was the Son of God. They did not wish others to see them looking at Him as if they were admiring Him, for they found Him an embarrassment.
He was despised, and we esteemed Him not- notice the different tenses the prophet uses. “He is despised…He was despised”. As he projects his mind forward to the days of the Messiah, Isaiah says, “He is despised”. But then he tells us beforehand of the reaction of the nation of Israel in the future, and in a repentant spirit they admit that He was despised when He came to them the first time, and they did not esteem Him as they should. Their thinking about Him was gravely wrong. This is why they will have to repent, for their thinking about Him will need to radically change.
(c) 53:4-6 Christ’s sufferings in the hours of darkness.
One of the things that caused Christ grief was His impending sufferings. He said, as He neared the cross, “My soul is exceeding sorrowful, even unto death”, Matthew 26:38. Even the prospect of the coming agonies caused Him to have a near-death experience. What would it be like when, on the cross, He felt the full weight of Divine wrath? As with the first two sections, the prophet gives us a one-verse introduction, summing it up by telling of the bearing of griefs and carrying of sorrows.
53:4 Surely He hath borne our griefs, and carried our sorrows: yet we did esteem Him stricken, smitten of God, and afflicted.
Surely He hath borne our griefs, and carried our sorrows- in their fullest meaning, these words refer to the sufferings of Christ in the hours of darkness upon the cross. Peter alludes to them when he writes, “Who His own self bear our sins upon the tree”, 1 Peter 2:24. But Matthew also makes reference to them, in a limited way. His words are, “When the even was come, they brought unto Him many that were possessed with devils: and He cast out the spirits with His word, and healed all that were sick: that it might be fulfilled which was spoken by Esaias the prophet, saying, Himself took our infirmities, and bare our sicknesses”, Matthew 8:16,17.
This might seem to indicate a final fulfillment, until we remember that there are three ways in which quotations from the Old Testament are introduced by writers in the New Testament, as follows:
1. Where the Greek word “ina” is used, then it is “in order that it might be fulfilled”, and the prophecy has been finally fulfilled.
2. Where the word “tole” is found, then it is “was fulfilled”, and indicates that the event was merely a case in point, and what happened was an illustration of what was said in the prophecy, and it might be “fulfilled” in that way on another occasion.
3. Where the word “opus” is used, as is the case in Matthew 8:17, it is “so that it might be”, and the fulfilment is not complete, but an event which was within the scope and intention of the prophecy.
So Matthew is not saying that sins were borne during the life of the Lord Jesus, but he is saying that there was an event that was included in the scope of the prophecy of Isaiah, but which did not exhaust its meaning. So when the Lord Jesus healed a person, He lifted the load in deep sympathy, thus removing the griefs and sorrows that the illness caused, so that instead of the ill person bearing those sorrows, the Lord Jesus bore them for him. Coupled with this, virtue or power went out from Christ to heal the disease that caused the sorrow, see Luke 8:46.
The Lord Jesus healed all manner of diseases, Matthew 4:23, and the power of the Lord was present to heal all who were sick, even Pharisees, Luke 5:17. The miracles that are recorded in detail are those that present to us some spiritual lesson, and illustrate some particular sinful condition of man. For instance man is blind, unable to perceive the truth of God, deaf to the voice of God, dumb in the praise of God, lame as to the ways of God, defiled as to the holiness of God, and so on. Those that are recorded in detail, however, are but a sample from the full range of disease that was dealt with by Christ. There was nothing too hard for the Lord to deal with.
This is not to say that Christ transferred the actual sickness and infirmity onto Himself. It was the griefs and sorrows of men that He sympathetically bore, not in some detached way, for Matthew says “Himself”, indicating deep personal involvement in the thing. But He did carry sickness and infirmity in the sense He took control of them, and transformed them into wellness and strength. We remember His own words when the woman with the issue of blood was healed, “I perceive that virtue is gone out from Me”, Luke 6:46. So there was a two-way exchange, sickness from the sufferer to Him; healing from Him to the sufferer.
But Isaiah is speaking of the ultimate healing, when the root cause of sickness and infirmity is dealt with by His work at Calvary. These things came in when man sinned, and creation, including man, was subject to bondage, and groaned and travailed in pain. He is the Second man, however, who is come to “restore that which He took not away”, Psalm 69:4. So the ultimate bearing of griefs and carrying of sorrows relates to the bearing of the things, even sins, which cause the grief and sorrow. By carrying away the greater, sins, He deals with the lesser, griefs and sorrows. When it was a question of bearing sins, Peter indicates that it was in His own body when He was on the tree. Matthew does not say that the sicknesses and sorrows were borne in His body, as if He became ill, but simply that He bore them.
Yet we did esteem Him stricken, smitten of God, and afflicted- as they ponder what happened to Jesus of Nazareth, how He was hung upon a cross to suffer and die, they realise that their estimate of what was happening was completely wrong. To them, as Jews, suffering must be the consequence of sinning. He suffered much, He must have sinned much. Had He not been tried by their court, and that of Pilate, and sentenced to be crucified? When He was upon the cross the chief priests virtually called upon God to authenticate His claim to be Son of God, and prove them wrong. They said, “He trusted in God, let Him deliver Him now, if He will have Him: for He said, ‘I am Son of God'”, Matthew 27:43. When David was in extreme difficulty, he records that God “sent from above, He took me; He drew me out of many waters; He delivered me from my strong enemy, and from them that hated me: for they were too strong for me. They prevented me in the day of my calamity: But the Lord was my stay. He brought me forth also into a large place: He delivered me because He delighted in me”, 2 Samuel 22:17-20.
No Divine hand reached down to rescue Christ, however, and his enemies concluded that God was judging Him for making such a daring and, (to their way of thinking), blasphemous claim, to be the Son of God. He is stricken and smitten of God, they say, for God has struck Him down in judgement because of His bold claims, using the Jewish nation to effect this. As a result He is afflicted, a word which suggests humbling. His high claims, they judge, have been refuted and proved wrong, and now He is given His proper place, amongst the transgressors. Little did they realise then that He humbled Himself, and became obedient even to the extent of being crucified on a cross. Far from cancelling His claims, His sufferings vindicated them. And further vindication would come when He was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father. He was “declared to be the Son of God with power, according to the Spirit of holiness, by the resurrection of the dead”, Romans 1:4.
53:5 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.
But He was wounded for our transgressions- the ‘but’ introduces us to their changed view of things, as the Spirit of God works upon the nation of Israel in the future to produce repentance and faith. The real reason for the striking and the smiting is now given to us. It is not that He was suffering for His own sins, for He had none; He was pure in thought, word, deed, and nature. His sufferings were vicarious, endured on behalf of others. The nation of Israel in the future will realise that, appalling as His physical wounds were, they did not tell all that was happening at the cross. There were deeper and more profound things taking place. We could think of the wounding as corresponding to Him being stricken; the bruising to Him being smitten, and the chastising to Him being afflicted.
Transgressions are expressions of rebellion, the acts of those who have broken away from just authority. Such persons deserve to be struck down by the authority they have risen up against. The Lord Jesus was “numbered with the transgressors”. He who had always obeyed, and in whom was no element of rebellion, either against God or man, was numbered with those who were guilty. We have already heard Him say, “I was not rebellious, neither turned away back”, Isaiah 50:5, and this was true.
It is interesting to notice that the stubborn and rebellious son was to be stoned to death, Deuteronomy 21:18-21. But then we are immediately told that one who had committed a sin worthy of death, and who had been put to death, was to be hung up on a tree, verses 22,23. The apostle Paul quotes these words in relation to Christ, Galatians 3:3. The Jews could not stone Him to death because the Romans had withdrawn the right to carry out the death penalty from them, but they did deliver Him into the hands of wicked, Gentile men, who executed Him by hanging Him on a tree, the judgement of a transgressor.
He was bruised for our iniquities- man is not only a transgressor, he is full of iniquity. This means he is crooked and perverse, not only rebelling against the right way as a transgressor, but walking in the wrong way. We read in verse 10 that it pleased the Lord to bruise Him, so this establishes that the wounding and the bruising are from God, not from men. The primary meaning of the word translated ‘bruise’ is to crumble, and it is translated elsewhere as ‘break in pieces’, or ‘crush’. There is a thoroughness about this word, telling us of the way God dealt with our sins. He left nothing not dealt with, but judged Christ in detail for every one.
The chastisement of our peace was upon Him- Pilate said to the Jews, “I will chastise Him, and let Him go”, Luke 23:22. But that chastisement, which took the form of cruel scourging, was as nothing compared to the scourge of God. We were rebels against God, and the only way for us to be at peace with Him was for our substitute to endure the penalty for our sins. And this He did.
And with His stripes we are healed- stripes are the wound-marks left when blows have been inflicted; they are the evidence of the severity of the treatment. We need to be careful about how we understand the fact that healing comes through His stripes, for there are those who believe this to relate to physical healing, and they wish to use this expression to support their supposed ability to heal illness today.
We do well to note the following considerations:
First, there was no physical healing for the people of Israel on the Day of Atonement, Leviticus 16, despite the fact that iniquity, transgression, and sin were dealt with then.
Second, every cell in the believer’s body is subject to decay and replacement, for the redemption of the body has not yet taken place, Romans 8:23. If we gain complete healing at conversion, then there is no “bondage of corruption” to be delivered from in the future.
Third, believers should not expect ever to be ill if the healing is physical, for the word is “were ye healed”, so it is complete, and in the past. The prophet is not talking about an ongoing process.
Fourth, when Paul’s “thorn”, (whatever it was), was not removed, he was told that the Lord’s grace was sufficient, enabling him to bear the burden, 2 Corinthians 12:9. He was not told to claim healing. He learnt to glory in infirmities, and did not fret because they had not been removed.
Fifth, those who had the gift of healing were never instructed to only heal unbelievers; so it is envisaged that believers would be ill.
Sixth, the apostle Peter does not cite “By whose stripes ye we were healed” as an incentive, as if it is something to be gained subsequent to conversion. His exhortations to live as those dead to sins, and live to righteousness are followed by the mention of healing, for the fact believers have been restored to the right path is seen in what follows, for they had returned to their shepherd. They had been healed of their backslidings.
In the context of Isaiah 53, the wounding was for our transgression, the bruising was for our iniquities, the chastisement (implying the rod of correction) was for our peace of conscience, and with His stripes we are healed, so the sufferings mentioned are spiritual, and from God. “It pleased the Lord to bruise Him”. If we say the stripes were physical, then we have to say that there was bearing of sins before He hung on the tree, for He was ill-treated on several occasions and by different groups of people before He was taken out to be crucified. But if the stripes are spiritual, then so must the healing be. Note that the prophet immediately speaks of sheep going astray, and this is the thought behind the need for healing, as we see from the following scriptures:
Isaiah 57:17,18, “And he went on frowardly (perversely) in the way of His heart. I have seen his ways, and will heal him”.
Jeremiah 3:21,22, “for they have perverted their way…return, ye backsliding children, and I will heal your backslidings”.
Hosea l4:1,4- “O Israel, return unto the Lord…I will heal their backslidings, I will love them freely”.
Hebrews 12:13, “and make straight paths for your feet, lest that which is lame be turned out of the way; but let it rather be healed“.
So we see the connection the prophets make between going astray, and being healed. This is why the apostle Peter, having quoted Isaiah’s words about healing, 1 Peter 2:24, goes on to quote his words about going astray, verse 25.
The remembrance of the way the Lord Jesus suffered when “it pleased the Lord to bruise Him”, would be a great encouragement to the slaves Peter was seeking to encourage, who were perhaps smarting under the lash of their cruel masters. Their physical suffering from men was as nothing compared to the suffering their Saviour endured so that they might be healed in soul.
53:6 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.
All we like sheep have gone astray- in the context in which Peter uses these words, it is clear that he is implying that servants who have to suffer for evil-doing, and those who revile their tormentors, are in a backsliding condition. The remedy is for them to return to their shepherd, who suffered for sins not His own, and who brings back the wanderer. Peter had also been in a backsliding condition, having denied his Lord, but he returned to the shepherd of his soul, who said, “Feed My sheep”, John 21:16, at the fire of coals. Charcoal can be revived, even after it has grown cold and dull. Peter had burned brightly when the Lord was by His side, but had grown cold in the High Priest’s Palace, and denied Him. His experience by the fire of charcoal warms him again. This could be the experience of these backsliding ones too. They could return to the shepherd and bishop of their souls. As the shepherd, the Lord Jesus cares for us, as Peter heard Him say in John 10:9,10. As bishop, the Lord Jesus watches over us and our interests, as Peter saw Him do in John 18:8,9; see also John 17:12. Note that the welfare of the soul is His major concern, without which health of the body is valueless. On the other hand, if as slaves they were battered in body, then they could bear this since they were restored in soul. As the Shepherd He goes before the flock, setting them the example, and leading them in “the paths of righteousness for His name’s sake”. As Bishop, (the word gives the idea of looking or watching over), He watches over the flock, so that all His sheep are before Him and under His eye, as they “lie down in green pastures”.
The nation of Israel went astray when they rejected the Good Shepherd and crucified Him. He waits to receive them back, however, for Isaiah tells us that when He comes again as the Chief Shepherd, “He shall feed His flock like a shepherd: He shall gather the lambs with His arm, and carry them in His bosom, and shall gently lead those that are with young”, Isaiah 40:11. The only way they can be brought back like this is because He gave His life for them, and suffered to deal with the things that caused them to go astray.
We have turned every one to his own way- whilst restoration for Israel will be national, that does not mean they will not need to personally repent and believe, admitting they have gone their own way, in particular, preferring their carnal thoughts about Jesus of Nazareth to what God said about Him.
And the Lord hath laid on Him the iniquity of us all- this is pure grace. Instead of final judgement for the nation, they are presented with one who had laid on Himself their dreadful load of iniquity. They had been perverse and crooked in the dealings with Him, and yet that very crookedness was taken upon Himself. Could there be a greater exhibition of love to the nation? The High Priest laid the sins of Israel figuratively on the head of the scapegoat on the Day of Atonement, but this verse tells us of the reality, and it is God who lays the sins upon Christ, and He carries them “as far as the east is from the west”, Psalm 103:12.
(d) 53:7-9 Christ’s arrest, trial, execution and burial
We come now to an examination by the prophet as to how it was that the Messiah was found on a cross at all. They might think that His arrest and execution was done in accordance with their law in a fair way, but the prophet will show it was otherwise, and they consequently need to rethink their position about Him.
53:7 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.
He was oppressed, and He was afflicted, yet He opened not His mouth- the idea of being oppressed is that of being under a taskmaster, like Israel were in Egypt. The idea of being afflicted is that of being humbled, as Israel were in the wilderness. The response of Israel to both these experiences was to murmur and complain. But the sinlessness of the Messiah is seen in that, despite being oppressed and afflicted unjustly, He did not complain, and opened not His mouth. His burden was far greater than Israel’s was in Egypt, and His afflictions were of another order altogether.
He is brought as a lamb to the slaughter- the word used here very rarely means a sacrificial slaughter, so the emphasis is on the fact that He was arrested so as to be killed. The authorities would be satisfied with nothing else. Caiaphas was judge of the proceedings, but he had already expressed what his verdict would be, so he was not an unprejudiced judge. He had said, when told about the raising of Lazarus, “it is expedient for us, that one man should die for the people, and that the whole nation perish not”, John 11:50. John adds, “And this spake he not of himself, but being high priest that year, he prophesied that Jesus should die for that nation”, verse 51. Then we read, “Then from that day forth they took counsel together for to put Him to death”, verse 53.
And as a sheep before her shearers is dumb, so He openeth not His mouth- there were times when the Lord Jesus did speak during His so-called trials, but there were other times when He remained silent. The difference is this, that when He was silent, it was because He was being shorn of His glory, and He is like a sheep before its shearers, making Himself of no reputation. When He spoke it was to defend the interests of others, whether it be His Father, or His disciples. This is how the matter unfolded:
1. Before Annas and Caiaphas He was asked about His doctrine and His disciples. He takes control of the conversation, and speaks of His doctrine, but is silent about His disciples, to defend them from the authorities, John 18:19-24.
2. Before Caiaphas, the scribes and the elders, He is accused by false witnesses, but “Jesus held His peace”, Matthew 26:63. He will not give any credence to false witness, for it was contrary to God’s Law. He will allow Himself to be “shorn”, before doing that.
3. When put on oath by the High Priest, He answered, for that was required by God, and He would defend God’s interests at all times.
4. When He was blindfolded by the servants of the high priest, and asked to prophesy as to who was smiting Him, there was no response, Matthew 26:67,68. He was indeed a prophet, and knew all things, but He would not use this knowledge to alleviate His sufferings, nor seek glory for His prophetic ability.
5. When asked by Pilate if He was the King of the Jews, He answered, for to not answer would be thought of as insolence, and rebellion against the authority of Rome, vested in Pilate, Matthew 27:11. Those who resist the authority of God’s rulers resist the ordinance of God, Romans 13:2.
6. When, immediately after, He was accused by the chief priests and elders, He answered nothing, Matthew 27:12. They were not acting justly, for they had changed the charge on which they had condemned Him, and He would not co-operate in their injustice.
7. Herod “questioned Him with many words”, Luke 23:9, “But He answered nothing”. This was a strong rebuke for Herod’s treatment of John the Baptist. He had refused to listen to his rebukes, he would certainly not listen to Christ, who would have said the same things as John had said.
8. Finally, before Pilate again, who asked, “Whence art Thou”? John 19:9, “But Jesus gave Him no answer”. He has already virtually answered the question anyway, and Pilate has scourged Him even though he stated He was innocent. To answer in such circumstances would be to collude with wickedness.
53:8 He was taken from prison and from judgement: 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.
He was taken from prison and from judgement- the Lord Jesus had prophesied that He would be “delivered into the hands of men, and they shall kill Him”, Mark 9:31, and so it came to pass. Having been betrayed by Judas, He was arrested and bound, John 18:12,24. He is brought to slaughter, and men sought to shear Him of His glory. Now the word ‘prison’ has the idea of restraint, and highlights the fact that the arrest and trials of Christ were riddled with illegality. Consider the following things:
1. The arrest should have been done voluntarily by those who were witnesses to the crime. It was illegal for the temple guard acting for the High Priest to make the arrest.
2. The arrest should not have been at night, and constituted an act of violence. This is why the disciples were preparing to prevent it. Malchus was probably one of those foremost in the arrest. If Peter had been preventing a legal arrest, he himself should have been arrested. The fact that he was not, shows that the authorities knew they were in the wrong.
3. The prisoner was bound, which was unnecessary violence, since He was surrounded by only a few men, and the arrest party consisted of many, perhaps hundreds.
4. The prisoner was taken to Annas first, but he was not the proper magistrate.
5. He was interrogated at night, which was prohibited by law.
6. He was detained in a private house.
7. He was struck gratuitously before any charges had been brought, John 18:22.
8. This happened when He was bound, another violation. John highlights it by saying, “Now Annas had sent Him bound unto Caiaphas the high priest”, John 18:24, the emphasis being on the word ‘bound’. They struck a bound prisoner, and Caiaphas looked on and did nothing.
When the first trial before Caiaphas, the chief priests and the elders of the people took place, the following was true:
1. The trial was conducted by Caiaphas, who was prejudiced, because he had already said that it was expedient for one man (meaning Christ), to die for the nation, John 11:49-52.
2. Caiaphas acted as judge and accuser.
3. Witnesses should come forward voluntarily, but these were “sought”, after the attempt to find honest witnesses against Christ was unsuccessful, Matthew 26:59,60.
4. Witnesses who did not speak the truth were to be stoned to death.
5. If witnesses did not agree, the case was to be dismissed immediately. This did not happen.
6. To put a prisoner on oath, and therefore, in effect, to force him to incriminate himself, was illegal. Christ responded to the oath only because it was “by the Living God”.
7. The confession of an individual against himself should not decide a condemnation.
8. If the accused wished to speak, he was to be given the most profound attention.
From the foregoing it is very evident that His trials were illegitimate and invalid. Yet they were undeterred by any such considerations. As we shall see, the proceedings had a profound effect on Nicodemus and Joseph of Arimathea, and they come to represent the nation of a day to come who shall realise that their Messiah was executed illegally, and for motives other than strict justice.
So it did come to pass that He was bound, and taken from one place to another. To Annas first, then Caiaphas, then the Council, then to Pilate, then to Herod, back to Pilate, who spoke to Him on two occasions, and finally sentenced Him to death. He was taken from prison.
But He was also taken from judgement. First, the judgement of Annas, although we do not know what it was, then the judgement of Caiaphas on his own. Then the judgement of the council, of Pilate, of Herod, and finally of Pilate again. And all the time the judgement is biased and faulty. It is not simply that He is taken from one judgment place to another, and from one charge to another, but in a moral sense He was separated from true judgement by the perverted opinions of men about Himself.
No wonder Peter said “ye denied the Holy One and the Just, and desired a murderer to be granted unto you; and killed the Prince of Life”, Acts 14,15. In this way he pointed out the difference between their unholiness and injustice and the character of the one they were condemning. What greater perversion of justice could there have been than when the Son of God was executed, and a murderer went free in exchange?
He was also taken from judgement in the sense that the accusations against Him were changed according to who was the judge, and what he considered expedient.
The first charge was brought by false witnesses, who said, “This fellow said, ‘I am able to destroy the temple of God, and to build it in three days'”, Matthew 26:61. This charge was dropped because the witnesses did not agree amongst themselves, Mark 14:59.
The second charge was that He claimed to be Christ, the Son of God, Matthew 26:63,64. On the basis of an admission by Christ that this was so, the Sanhedrim’s sentence was, “He is guilty of death”.
But when the led Him to Pilate they knew that he would not be interested in such a charge, so they substituted another, and began to accuse Him, saying, “We found this fellow perverting the nation, and forbidding to give tribute to Caesar, saying that He Himself is Christ a king”, Luke 23:2. Now the charge that He tried to prevent giving tribute to Caesar is clearly a bare-faced lie, and unworthy of any administers of justice, but more so because it is a Jewish religious body that is making these outrageous statements.
Pilate goes to the heart of the matter and asks Christ the direct question, “Art Thou the King of the Jews”? The Lord answers in the affirmative. Having questioned Him further, John 18:33-38, Pilate comes to his conclusion, “I find in Him no fault at all”. Nevertheless, wishing to close the proceedings, he “delivered Jesus to their will”, Luke 23:25.
Thus it was that He was charged with two offences, namely, claiming to be Son of God, and also to be King of the Jews. The ram caught in a thicket on Moriah was held by its two horns, Genesis 22:13, and God’s appointed sacrifice is the same. His two powerful claims are fastened on by the wicked, and serve to bring Him to death. But by being held by its horns, the ram in the thicket was unspoiled as to its fleece, and so was Christ unspoiled. Men might have sought to shear Him of His glories, but God raised Him from the dead and decisively vindicated Him.
And who shall declare His generation? for He was cut off out of the land of the living- as Son of God and King of Israel the Lord Jesus had a double generation. He is the Only begotten Son of God, and He is the true Son of David. But these things were denied by the rulers of the nation, and He was cut off out of the land of the living, where those things should be known and recognised. How will they be declared? The answer is in resurrection, for the gospel makes known that He was “made of the seed of David according to the flesh; and declared to be the Son of God, according to the Spirit of holiness, by the resurrection from the dead”, Romans 1:3,4. So the answer to the prophet’s question. “who shall declare His generation?” is, “Those who preach the gospel will declare His generation, for it is at the heart of the gospel message”. Even His cutting off showed Him to be the Messiah the Prince of whom Gabriel spoke, Daniel 9:26. Moses had offered to be blotted out of the book that God had written, meaning the book of those who living upon the earth. In other words, he offered to die for the people. This was refused however, lest anything detract from the death of Christ for the nation. He really was cut off.
For the transgression of My people was He stricken- the prophet is quick to tell us why He died. Not because of rebellion against authority, but the rebellion of those who accused Him, and the rest of the nation besides. God has used their wickedness to further His goodness. As Joseph said to his brothers after they had been put through tribulation for having betrayed him, and after they had realised that he was lord, “But as for you, ye thought evil against me; but God meant it unto good, to bring to pass, as it is this day, to save much people alive”, Genesis 50:20.
53:9 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.
And He made His grave with the wicked- verses 7 and 8 have described the way men treated the Lord Jesus. They oppressed and afflicted Him, sought to destroy His character, and at last took Him and slaughtered Him on a cross. In all this it seemed as if they were in control, and that He was the helpless victim of circumstances, but this verse tells us it was not so. The apostle Peter emphasised this on the day of Pentecost when he declared that the nation of Israel had by means of the wicked hands of the Gentiles crucified Him, and allowed that crucifixion process to continue until He was slain, Acts 2:23; they callously allowed Him to suffer, and only planned to curtail His sufferings because the feast day was near. There was another dimension to this, however, as Peter points out at the same time. The fact is that He was delivered by the determinate counsel and foreknowledge of God. Men were only allowed to do what they did because it was part of God’s plan. Indeed, the basis of God’s plan. Now Isaiah 53:10 tells us that the pleasure of the Lord prospers in the hand of the Lord Jesus. As God’s Firstborn Son, as well as His Only begotten Son, He was charged with the task of administering God’s affairs. Not in any dispassionate way, but personally, and a major part of those affairs involved Him in suffering of different sorts. He suffered in life, as earlier verses of the chapter have told us; He suffered in the three hours of darkness, as verse 5 has told us; He suffered injustice and cruelty at the hands of men, as verses 7 and 8 clearly show. But He not only suffered in these ways, as He carried out the will of His Father, He was in control as He did so. So, for instance, we find verses 7-9 alternate between passive and active. He was oppressed…He was afflicted, yet He opened not His mouth. Passive in oppression and affliction, but active in not opening His mouth. He is brought…He is dumb. Men bring Him, and He passively allows this, but He actively remained as dumb. So also in verse 8. He is taken…He was cut off…stricken. But then the active, He made. Each time the active is the answer to the passive. So when He made His grave with the wicked, He was responding to something that He had passively allowed, but during which He was totally in control.
The question is, of course, in what way was He in control so that He made His grave with the wicked? And if He was in control in this matter, why did it not happen? And how can He make His grave with the wicked and with the rich at the same time? So tightly interwoven is this prophecy that it can be fulfilled in the experience of only one man.
We need to notice that the word wicked is in the plural, and the word rich is in the singular. So there are wicked men, and there is a rich man. The word for wicked used here is an actively bad person. We know that all have sinned, but not all set out to be actively bad. We are told in verse 12 that the Lord Jesus was “numbered with the transgressors”, and the word transgressors means persons who have broken away in revolt against just authority. The words are quoted by Mark when he describes the Lord Jesus being crucified between two thieves. So we begin to see a picture building up of Christ in some way making His grave with wicked men by being crucified. He submitted Himself to arrest, trial and execution, knowing that normally the end result of that process was to be flung unceremoniously, (and in company with the others crucified with Him), into a pit dug at the foot of the cross. But even though it is true that He submitted Himself to the process of arrest and all that followed, nonetheless He was in complete control of the situation. He did not call for the legions of angels that were at His disposal, Matthew 26:53. He did not allow His followers to try to prevent His arrest, and rebuked Peter for attempting it, and remedied the damage he had done with his sword. He could at any moment have passed through the midst of them and gone His way, as He had done several times during His ministry when the crowds were hostile. He did none of these things. And by thus not resisting He ensured that His grave would be with the others crucified with Him, even though this was a distasteful prospect, and normally to be avoided at all costs.
It is interesting to notice that the words “He was numbered with the transgressors” are quoted twice in the gospel records. Once by Mark as he records the crucifixion, as we have noted, but prior to that by the Lord Jesus as He is about to leave the Upper Room and make His way to Gethsemane, Luke 22:37. So these words bracket together the whole series of events from the arrest in Gethsemane, to the crucifixion at Golgotha.
There is a big problem, however, with this situation, and it is this. It is vitally important that the Lord Jesus be put in an easily identified and publicly-known grave, and, moreover, is put there on His own. If He is buried at the foot of the cross with the two thieves, who is to know whether He has risen from the dead? In theory those near of kin to the thieves could even come to the place, remove the body of their relative, and claim he had risen from the dead! And even if this is unlikely to be attempted, the followers of the Lord could be accused of doing the same, and pretending that He had risen.
There is also the consideration that the psalmist prophesied by the Spirit that God would not suffer His Holy One, meaning the Messiah, to see corruption, Psalm 16:10. There would certainly be corruption in a grave at the foot of the cross, with the remains of many criminals mingling together there. Now of course whilst the whole of creation is in the bondage of corruption, nonetheless only humans are morally corrupt. So the requirement is that the Lord Jesus must be buried in a marked grave, which has had no-one else in it before, and has no-one else in it whilst He is there. Only in this way can it be sure that the One who was put into it is the One who came out.
And with the rich in His death- how is this situation going to come about? It will be necessary for this grave to be more than a marked grave in the ground. It will need to be secure and unused. This involves expense, and the Lord Jesus had not the material resources to arrange for this to happen. Yet our passage says “He made His grave…with the rich in His death.” It is certainly not that He had influential friends who could rise to the occasion in this matter. His followers were poor, as He was. And yet in a real sense He does arrange this matter, for our passage says “He made His grave…with the rich”.
In the event, the rich individual pinpointed in this passage was Joseph of Arimathea. He was not a prominent member of the disciples that followed the Lord. In fact, he was only a disciple secretly, because he feared the Jews, and what they would think of him. For he was a counsellor, meaning that he was a member of the Sanhedrin, and as such was one of those spoken of in John 12:42,43, which reads, “Nevertheless among the chief rulers also many believed on Him; but because of the Pharisees they did not confess Him, lest they should be put out of the synagogue: for they loved the praise of men more than the praise of God”. Luke records that “the same had not consented to the counsel and the deed of them”, Luke 23:51. The “them” referring to his fellow-members of the Sanhedrin.
He was assisted by a Pharisee, Nicodemus, who also was a secret disciple, and who is designated by John as “he that came to Jesus by night”, reminding us of his conversation with the Lord Jesus in John 3. He presumably was a member of the Sanhedrin since he is described as a ruler of the Jews, John 3:1. He seems to have had great influence amongst them as we see from John 7:45-53. The chief priests and Pharisees had sent officers to arrest the Lord Jesus, no doubt on the pretence that He had interrupted the temple services by crying out, “If any man thirst, let him come unto Me and drink”, verse 37. The officers returned without Him, and when the Pharisees protested at this, Nicodemus said, “Doth our law judge any man, before it hear him, and know what he doeth? Thus he showed himself to be prepared to defend the interests of Christ in a small way, and to appeal for justice to be done. Things have changed, now, however, for he has to make a decision. He cannot be neutral about Christ any longer, and something makes him side with Christ publicly, like Joseph of Arimathea.
We might well ask ourselves what it is that convinced them of the genuineness of Christ’s claims. Remember, our answer must be in line with what the prophet said, which was, “He made His grave…with the rich in His death”. We notice that the words “in His death” are only applicable to His grave with the rich. The prophet did not say “He made His grave with the wicked in His death”. So to all intents and purposes He was destined for a grave with the wicked; but in the event, and by His own ordering, His grave was actually with the rich in His death.
We are told several things about the character of Joseph.
First, that he was a good man, the direct opposite of the wicked men between whom the Lord Jesus was crucified.
Second, that he was just man, meaning he was diligent in trying to keep the law, in direct contrast to the transgressors, who rebelled against all law. Third, he waited for the kingdom of God, showing that he had a longing for the fulfilment of the Old Testament prophecies about the Messiah.
Fourth, he was a rich man, so is a candidate for the role marked out in Isaiah 53.
Fifth, he was an honourable counsellor, which implies that, (as indeed was the case), there were members of the Sanhedrim who were not honourable. Sixth, he was prepared to make sacrifices, for he gave up his own tomb in favour of the carpenter from Nazareth.
Seventh, he came from secret discipleship to open and bold discipleship at last.
It is the first three qualities that we need to focus on. Now a reading of the gospel records will show that the whole council, meaning the Sanhedrin, of which Joseph was a member, were present at the first trial before Caiaphas. Matthew 26:59 reads, “Now the chief priests, and elders, and all the council, sought false witness against Jesus, to put Him to death”. Here is the first test for Joseph. He is a just man, and he must ask himself whether justice is being done here. He is a good man, and must ask himself if the prisoner is being treated respectfully.
Now at some time during these proceedings Joseph made a stand. We read that he “had not consented to the counsel and deed of them”, Luke 23:51, the “them” meaning the other members of the Sanhedrim. Their deliberations, and what they had done, both by sins of omission and by commission, he disagreed with strongly. But there was more than the breaking of rules involved here. The prisoner is special, and is making dramatic claims. There was something about the way those claims were made that convinced Joseph. What that was is told us in the next phrases in Isaiah 53:9.
Because He had done no violence, neither was any deceit in His mouth- the reason why Joseph came forward to offer his tomb, is because there was no violence with Christ, and because he came to believe that when He testified as to His person, there was no deceit in His mouth.
Peter tells us that “when He was reviled, He reviled not again; when He suffered He threatened not”, 1 Peter 2:23. There was something about the way Christ presented Himself, His poise, His calm, His answers, and His restraint under the most intense provocation that so impressed Joseph, that he was resolved to distance himself from the decision of the Sanhedrim. It is too late to resign membership, but he can “bring forth works unto repentance” by honouring Christ in His death, and dustance himself from dishonour done to Him in His life by the nation.
The testimony of the Lord Jesus revolved around His claim to be the Son of God, and the Messiah, and the Son of Man. Joseph comes to believe that His claims were true, and resolves to act accordingly. His mind is made up, he must absolve himself from complicity in the crime of murdering the Son of God, by repentance and faith in Him, as Peter exhorted the rest of the nation to do at Pentecost, six weeks later.
Now this is very powerful testimony from within the council-chamber itself, and from one who was present as a member of that council. It is also a powerful rebuke for those who remained steadfast in their hostility towards Christ after His resurrection.
So it is that after the Lord Jesus had died Joseph steps boldly forward. And he becomes a strong incentive for the nation of a future day to reconsider their position, and do as he did, honour Christ as He should be honoured, by recognising His claims.
We ought to notice that when Peter quotes these words he enlarges them by the same Spirit who inspired Isaiah. Peter, who had been with the Lord Jesus through many experiences, says, “Who did no sin”, 1 Peter 2:22. It was not just violent sins that were absent; it was all sins altogether.
(e) 53:10-12 Christ’s achievements in resurrection.
53:10 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.
Yet it pleased the Lord to bruise Him- the word ‘yet’ takes us back in thought to verse 5, “He was bruised for our iniquities”, and also introduces a contrast to verses 7-9, where man seemed to be in control of events. As Peter pointed out on the Day of Pentecost, “Him, being delivered by the determinate counsel and foreknowledge of God, ye have taken, and by wicked hands have crucified and slain”, Acts 2:23. Men thought the arrangements were theirs, but it was far otherwise. Well before they had made their determinations, in eternity in fact, He had made His, and it was these that were carried out. In accordance with this prior determination, it was His good pleasure to bruise His Servant. It is true that men bruised Him physically, but this is bruising in the judicial and moral realm, a bruising for our iniquities, as verse 5 has told us. Of course, this does not mean that it gave God joy to deal with His Servant thus. But just as in our country certain criminals are detained “at the Queen’s pleasure”, meaning for as long as she sees fit, so Christ was dealt with in relation to our criminality, in the way our God saw fit.
He hath put Him to grief- the carrying of our sins, (that is, the taking responsibility for them), caused the Servant much grief. The load was heavy, and the grief bowed down His soul, but He accepted it, for it was His Father who was subjecting Him to it. Men caused Him grief to satisfy their wicked designs, as they tortured Him physically and mentally, but God put Him to grief to satisfy His eternal designs, as He gave Him the task of dealing with the sins of men. The nation of Israel will learn this in a day to come, and realise that Jesus of Nazareth was the object of eternal counsels, and that He was serving God in the matter of bearing sins, as no one else could. Far from being bowed down with His own sins, (as they thought), He was bowed down with theirs.
When Thou shalt make His soul an offering for sin- the particular word for offering here is trespass offering, a form of sin offering which specially emphasised the idea of treachery and unfaithfulness. That treachery has been outlined in verses 7-9. How appropriate this is, for the nation of Israel, represented by its rulers, were guilty of the worst kind of treachery, the betrayal of the Son of God. It was Judas who acted for them and led them to Christ so they could arrest Him, but really, they were the betrayers. And Stephen, the first Christian martyr told them as much, for he said, “Which of the prophets have not your fathers persecuted? And they have slain them which shewed before of the coming of the Just One; of whom ye have been now the betrayers and murderers”, Acts 7:52. Yet in the wonderful grace of God, the very one whom they betrayed, is the one who can forgive their betrayal of Him, for He has become their trespass offering, if they will have it.
He shall see His seed- on the basis of the fact that God bruised Him, put Him to grief, and made Him the effectual trespass offering, seven things result, (as indicated by the use of the word “shall”), and this is the first. It was always a cause of sadness to Israelites if they had no son and heir. We remember Abraham’s sad lament in Genesis 15:2, “I go childless”; that is, he was about to die, (or so he thought), and leave no heir. All that he had built up in his lifetime would be dispersed, and go to others. This was no doubt in the minds of those who looked on at Calvary. A young man dying childless, with no one to benefit from His life’s achievements. But how different it was to their view of it! Dying childless, yes; but with no one to benefit? Definitely not! He shall see His seed, but not physical children. We get a glimpse of this in John 21:5 when the Lord Jesus, raised from the dead, called out to His disciples as they came into shore in their boat, “Children, have ye any meat?” And in Hebrews 2:13 we hear Him quoting the words of Isaiah, “Behold, I and the children which God hath given Me”. This is a quotation from Isaiah 8:18. Isaiah had the task of warning the wicked king Ahaz of impending captivity at the hands of the Assyrians. As a sign to Israel, Isaiah was instructed by God to name his two sons in a particular way. One was to be Shear-jashub, a name which means “A remnant shall return”, and the other, Maher-shalal-hash-baz, which means “In making haste to the spoil he hasteneth the prey”. So when Isaiah said to the nation, “Behold, I and the children which God hath given me”, they were a “sign and a wonder” to Israel. Maher-shalal-hash-baz was testimony that the Assyrian would indeed hasten to invade the land, and take them as a prey. The other son, however, was God’s promise that even though that happened, a remnant would return from captivity. So during the present age, believers from the nation of Israel are likewise a testimony to coming judgement on the nation in the form of the Great Tribulation, (and to a lesser extent the destruction of Jerusalem in AD 70), and also to the fact that God will be favourable to His people and ensure that a remnant of them will know His salvation. And that remnant will constitute the seed who will inherit the promises to Abraham.
So He was “cut off out of the land of the living”, but in resurrection He has a spiritual seed, those to whom He passes on the benefits of that which He did in His life and His death. It is interesting to notice that the section of the trespass offering passage that deals with unfaithfulness and treachery, Leviticus 6:1-7, only allows a ram for an offering. Of course, if the ram dies, the line ends, and there will be no more additions to the flock by him. But in resurrection Christ takes up His life again, and can have a seed, for He does not abide alone, but brings forth much fruit, John 12:24.
He shall prolong His days- here is the second ‘shall’. Men cut Him off in the prime of life, but He will have a prolonging of life. And for how long? Psalm 21:4 says, “He asked life of Thee, and Thou gavest it Him, even length of days for ever and ever”. There are two reasons why He lives for ever. First, because He has died unto sin once, and has robbed it of its power to dominate either Him or His people. He now lives only to God, the question of sin forever settled at Calvary, Romans 6:10. Second, having willingly subjected Himself to death, He has reasserted His Divine right to live for ever. As He said to John, “I am He that liveth”, (which means He is the living one, not simply that He is alive now- He is eternal life personified, 1 John 1:2). “And was dead”, (temporarily and necessarily, so as to deal with death, and sin its cause); “and behold, I am alive for evermore”, (for He has taken His life again, never to relinquish it), Revelation 1:18. He who is “the Same”, the unvarying and eternal one, is the same “yesterday”, when He was on earth, “today”, now that He is in heaven, and “for ever”, when heaven and earth have passed away, Hebrews 13:8.
And the pleasure of the Lord shall prosper in His hand- the third ‘shall’. At the outset of the Servant passage we were told that “My Servant shall deal prudently”, where the thought is that He would so deal with His master’s matters that they would prosper. And here we are told that in resurrection, as in life, the Father’s interests would be faithfully served by His Servant. We read that “the Father loveth the Son, and hath committed all things into His hand”, John 3:35. As God’s firstborn, He is charged with the duty of administering the Father’s affairs, and this He has done, and will do, effectively and faithfully, so that those affairs prosper. We read several things about the hands of Joseph, and the first one is that “the Lord made all that he did to prosper in his hand”, Genesis 39:3. This is a faint foreshadowing of how Christ would be. The Lord Jesus has still much to do, and here is the assurance that all to which He sets His hand will prosper.
53:11 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.
He shall see of the travail of His soul, and shall be satisfied- we come now to the fourth ‘shall’. Travail means hard work, and does not refer to childbirth. The Servant has been diligent, and now He can see the results of His labours. The first recorded words of the Lord Jesus were, “How is it that ye sought Me? Wist ye not that I must be about My Father’s business?”, Luke 2:49. These words were spoken before He had embarked on His public ministry, but nonetheless His life was devoted to the interests of His Father. This is one reason why the commendation came to Him at His baptism, “well pleased”, for He had shown Himself to be faithful in obscurity. He showed Himself faithful amidst publicity, too, so that just before He delivered His spirit to God He could say, “It is finished”. All that the Father had given Him to do up to that point had been faithfully carried out.
Note that it is the travail of His soul. Three times over we read of the soul of the Lord Jesus in this passage. In verse 10, “Thou shalt make His soul an offering for sin”. In verse 12, “He hath poured out His soul unto death”, and this verse speaks of the travail of His soul. Since the other two references are to His death, it is likely that this one is too. As He contemplated Calvary, the Lord Jesus said, “Now is My soul troubled”, John 12:27. And in another place He said, “My soul is exceeding sorrowful, even unto death”, Matthew 26:38. We learn from this how keenly He felt the burden that was His to bear. His was no casual labour. He loved the Lord His God with all His soul, Deuteronomy 6:5, and this was seen in the diligence of His service, even though the task was difficult.
When the nation of Israel has come into the good of what their Messiah did for them at Calvary, then He will see the result of His work. His heart shall be fully gratified as they turn to God in repentance and faith.
But we should remember that the great desire of this Servant is to please His God, and it is the pleasure of the Lord that shall prosper in His hand, verse 10. So the greatest soul-satisfaction that He shall enjoy is the knowledge that He has pleased His God in all things. We hear Him say, as He muses upon Calvary, “Now is My soul troubled: and what shall I say? ‘Father, save Me from this hour?’ But for this cause came I unto this hour. ‘Father, glorify Thy name’. Then came there a voice from heaven, saying, ‘I have both glorified it, and will glorify it again'”, John 12:27,28. Since the Father has indeed glorified His name through the death of His Son, then we may say that even now He sees the results of the travail of His soul, and is satisfied, and that satisfaction shall last for all eternity.
By His knowledge shall My righteous servant justify many- the fifth ‘shall’. The Servant’s work was intelligent, as He dealt with the question of sin. He had Divine insight into the demands of God’s throne in regard to sin, and was uniquely placed to satisfy those demands. This He did, and those who believe are “justified freely by His grace, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus”, Romans 3:24. It is appropriate that the one who is charged with the task of bringing in justification, should be described as God righteous servant. He can be relied on to act in righteousness in the matter. His death at Calvary was an act of righteousness, this being the meaning of the word ‘righteousness’ the apostle Paul used in Romans 5:18, where he wrote, “Therefore as by the offence of one judgement came upon all men to condemnation; even so by the righteousness of one the free gift came upon all men to justification of life”. In great contrast to the offending act of Adam when he sinned against God, the righteous act of Christ when He died for sins brings righteousness within the range of all men. When they believe, righteousness is imputed to them, and God’s reckoning of what they are can justly change. We should be truly grateful that grace reigns through righteousness, Romans 5:21, for that means that all Christ’s dealing in relation to the matter of sins, have been on a righteous basis. We may rest in His work with confidence, knowing that there is no matter outstanding to be settled later.
Not only is this great blessing available to men now, as the gospel of God’s grace is preached, but it will be available to the nation of Israel in the future. At present, they are “ignorant of God’s righteousness, and going about to establish their own righteousness, have not submitted themselves unto the righteousness of God”, Romans 10:3. But one day they will learn that “Christ is the end of the law for righteousness to every one that believeth”, verse 4.
For He shall bear their iniquities- the sixth ‘shall’. We learn here that the basis upon which righteousness can be imputed is the sin-bearing of Christ at Calvary. The prophet has already told us that at the Calvary, “The Lord hath laid on Him the iniquity of us all”, verse 6. Iniquity is perverseness, a departure from the right way, so we immediately see the connection between ‘not going right’, and ‘being reckoned right’. The apostle Peter made that connection when he wrote, “Who His own self bare our sins in His body on the tree, that we, being dead to sins, should live unto righteousness: ‘By whose stripes ye are healed’. For ye were ‘as sheep going astray’; but are now returned unto the shepherd and bishop of your souls”, 1 Peter 2:24,25. Our response to Him bearing our sins, should be to live unto righteousness. Our Shepherd leads in the paths of righteousness, Psalm 23:3, and delivers us from moving in the wrong paths, the paths of perversity and iniquity. So being reckoned righteous has its practical day-by-day implications.
53:12 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.
Therefore will I divide Him a portion with the great, and He shall divide the spoil with the strong- we now come to the final ‘shall’ of the end of the passage, and learn that as a result of God doing something, the Servant does another. The thing that God does is divide Him a portion with the great; the thing He does is to divide the spoil with the strong. These two things happen for four reasons, with which the passage closes.
It is only to be expected that God, having been served so well by His Servant, should recompense Him. The passage had begun with a description of the servant as one exalted in position, extolled in praise, and very high in honour. But who are the ‘great’ and the ‘strong’ mentioned here? Some say this is a general statement, simply meaning that just as victors gain and divide the spoil, so He is the same. But we should remember the context of this chapter. It has in view the conversion of the nation of Israel as they at last realise that Jesus of Nazareth is indeed their true Messiah. In Daniel Chapter 7 we learn about the way the Lord Jesus will utterly destroy Gentile dominion, and set up a kingdom that shall never be destroyed. Daniel learned that “the Son of Man came to the Ancient of Days, and they brought Him near before Him. And there will be given unto Him dominion, and glory, and a kingdom, that all people, nations, and languages, should serve Him: His dominion is an everlasting dominion, which shall not pass away, and His kingdom that which shall not be destroyed”, Daniel 7:13,14. Yet we read in verse 18 that “the saints of the Most High shall take the kingdom, and possess the kingdom for ever, even for ever and ever”. And then in verse 27 we find that “the kingdom, and dominion, and the greatness of the kingdom under the whole heaven, shall be given to the people of the saints of the Most High, whose kingdom is an everlasting kingdom, and all dominions shall serve and obey Him”.
Now it is true that elsewhere in the Book of Daniel, in the next chapter for instance, the word saint is used of an angel; see also the references to holy ones in 4:17,23, where the same word is being translated. But it is also true that Scripture is definite that “unto the angels hath He not put in subjection the world to come”, Hebrews 2:5. So we know that those who receive dominion in Daniel 7 are men, and not angels. They are described in a two-fold way, firstly as “the saints of the Most High”, verse 18, and then, “the people of the saints of the Most High”, verse 27, the word for people being in the singular. The title Most High is used of God in reference to His total supremacy, especially when it will be manifest during the reign of Christ on the earth. So the saints of the Most High are believers, and they reign for a thousand years with Christ. To identify them, an angel informed Daniel that they were a definite people, the people (consisting of) the saints of the Most High. This enables us to say that the reference is to the nation of Israel, restored and reconciled to their Messiah. And with this agrees the word of Revelation 20:6, which refers to those who have part in the first resurrection, and “they shall be priests of God and of Christ, and shall reign with Him a thousand years”. The fact that they are priests explains why they are called saints, (for Aaron the high priest was called “the saint of the Lord”, Psalm 106:16), and the fact that they are kings explains why they take the kingdom.
So returning to Isaiah 53, we now know that God will divide to Christ the portion that is His due, and He, in turn, will divide the spoil with the strong. For His people will be willing in the day of His power, Psalm 110:3. How characteristic of Him to wish to share the results of His work with others.
Because He hath poured out His soul unto death- there are four reasons why God will honour Him in this way, and this is the first one, His total surrender of Himself to the death of the cross. He was “obedient unto death”, Philippians 2:8; not in the sense, of course, that He obeyed death in some way, as if under obligation to it, but rather, He was obedient to His Father even to the extreme of going to the death of the cross.
The expression “poured out His soul” would remind us of the words of God in Leviticus 17:11. After forbidding the Israelites to eat blood, He gives the reason, “For the life of the flesh is in the blood: and I have given it to you upon the altar to make an atonement for your souls; for it is the blood that maketh an atonement for the soul”. So the blood is for the altar, for God, and not for the use of man. The reason being that it is the life of the animal. So when we read that the Servant poured out His soul unto death, we are to understand it to mean that He gave His life in sacrifice. His was total surrender to the will of God, with no holding back, or reserving of anything to Himself. The shedding of blood and the pouring out of the soul mean, for Him, the same thing.
The four expressions that conclude this Servant passage have a certain connection. They sum up what happened at Calvary. He poured out His soul in death; He was crucified between two thieves, and therefore numbered with the transgressors; He bare the sin of many in the hours of darkness on the cross; and He made intercession for the transgressors, praying, “Father, forgive them, they know not what they do”. We may relate these things to what happened on the great Day of Atonement, which has future application to the nation of Israel, when they come into the good of Calvary. First, a bullock and a goat were slain before the Lord, meaning at the door of the tabernacle near the altar of burnt offering. The method of killing would comply with the requirement of Leviticus 17:11 quoted above, so that the blood was shed and collected in a bason. This blood would be taken and sprinkled on the Mercy Seat upon the ark, in the very presence of God. So the killing is before the Lord, and the sprinkling is in His presence also. So it was that at Calvary Christ was acting before the Lord, and the effect of what He did reached right into the presence of God.
And He was numbered with the transgressors- this phrase would emphasise that He was crucified, corresponding to the goat upon which the Lord’s lot fell. We read, “And with Him they crucify two thieves; the one on His right hand, and the other on the left. And the scripture was fulfilled, which saith, ‘And He was numbered with the transgressors'”, Mark 27,28. Now the doctrine behind the crucifixion of Christ is that it is the setting aside of that which is of Adam, (represented by the two thieves), so that what is of God may take its place, as a result of the resurrection of Christ. When the Romans crucified a man they were saying, in effect, that they would not allow such a person in their society. Because man is a sinner, God cannot allow him into the society of heaven; he must be crucified. But that only cancels out what he is as a person, it does not admit to heaven. Something else is necessary. Those who gain heaven do so because they are associated by God with Christ in His crucifixion, when they believe. They are co-crucified with Christ. He was numbered with the transgressors that the transgressors, if they believe, may be numbered with Him.
And He bare the sin of many- here is the counterpart of the work of the scapegoat, upon whose head the sins of the nation of Israel were laid, figuratively, and who bare them into a land not inhabited. We are here reminded of the work of Christ during the hours of darkness, as He took responsibility for the totality of man’s sins, and endured the loneliness of the “land not inhabited” as a result, being forsaken of His God.
And made intercession for the transgressors- we read, “And when they were come to the place which is called Calvary, there they crucified Him, and the malefactors, one on the right hand, and the other on the left. Then said Jesus, ‘Father, forgive them: for they know not what they do'”, Luke 23:23,24. No doubt He was praying for the men who actually crucified Him, for they did not realise the implications of what they were doing. They were simply obeying orders. But there is surely a wider scope to His prayer. Why was He being crucified at all. It was because the princes of this world were ignorant, 1 Corinthians 2:8. As Peter would say later, “I wot that through ignorance ye did it, as did also your rulers”, Acts 3:17. And as Paul testified, as he described himself before he was saved, “but I obtained mercy, because I did it ignorantly, in unbelief”, 1 Timothy 1:13. And herein lies hope for the nation of Israel, for the trespass offering was specifically said to be God’s provision for sins of ignorance, Leviticus 5:14. They may avail themselves of the sacrifice of their Messiah, encouraged by the fact that even when being crucified He had prayed for them. One of the uses to which the blood of the offering on the Day of Atonement was put was to sprinkle it upon the Altar of Incense which was before the Lord, Leviticus 16:18,19. See also Exodus 30:10. Incense was a symbol of prayer, (see Psalm 141:2), and the blood of Christ has secured the effectiveness of the prayers of the Messiah for His people.
“Behold, He cometh with clouds;
and every eye shall see Him,
and they also which pierced Him:
and all kindreds of the earth shall wail because of Him.
Even so, Amen”,