As we look back on Isaiahs prophecies knowing what took place through Jesus, our response today is to wonder how anyone could possibly describe the cross so accurately over 700 years before it took place. But at the time when Isaiah wrote this he only knew he was describing the Messiah dying like a guilt offering (53:10) but he couldnt have known how to connect these sufferings with the glorious Messiah he also saw (1Pe 1:10-12). Thankfully, we do. We know a mystery Isaiah didnt know (1Co 2:6-10; Eph 3:1-10; 6:19; 1Ti 3:9). We know that what might appear to be two different Messiahs are actually one person whom God will send on two occasions. First as our guilt offering so that when He returns He wont have to judge us but will be our victorious king. Today, you and I are located in a season of history which falls between these two events. We look back in time and put our faith in Isaiahs suffering Messiah, and we look forward in time to His return which will bring to the entire earth the glories Isaiah also describes.
Have you ever read through the prophecy of Isaiah and found yourself confused by what you read there? Some passages describe a glorious triumphant king who will set up a government on earth full of peace and justice and prosperity, but in others he describes an abused, rejected king who will be viciously executed. If youve found yourself puzzled by this youre not alone. Not even Isaiah himself or the other prophets of the Old Testament understood (1Pe 1:10-12). And if you recall John the Baptist got confused. When he first baptized Jesus he had a remarkable revelation (Jn 1:29-34), but later on he became disappointed that Jesus hadnt brought the Messianic Age (Mt 11:1-6). Or, maybe you recall the discussion that the evangelist Philip had with the Ethiopian court official (Ac 8:26-35). The official couldnt put the two pictures together either.
No one could really believe that God would allow the Messiah to be treated this way. And this was the reason why so many Jews abandoned Him when He was crucified. They thought His suffering was indisputable proof that He couldnt be the Messiah (Lk 23:35-43), so in their minds God must be punishing Him for blasphemously claiming to be someone He wasnt. And it should be no surprise that the debate about who it is who is suffering in Isaiah continues on today. So lets listen to some of these passages in Isaiah and see for ourselves.
V 1: Listen Gentiles! The Messiah I am going to send will save you too.
V 1: I will prepare Him for My service even while He is still in His mothers womb.
V 2: But while He is growing up I will hide Him from the public eye in order to prepare Him to speak My word.
V 3: One of the names I will give My servant is Israel because He will finally fulfill the calling I had for that nation, though they rejected it (Ex 19:5, 6).
Vs 3, 4: When you see Him you will be seeing My glory, yet He will be rejected by most of the nation.
V 5: He will know that His assignment is to bring the people called Israel back to Me. I will honor Him and give Him strength.
V 6: My servant will save more than Israel. He will bring salvation to all the nations of the earth.
V 7: Most of Israel will despise Him, but He will be honored by many Gentile nations even in the remote parts of the earth.
Vs 8-13: I will answer My servants prayers and save Him from the grip of death, and I will ultimately use Him to rescue Israel and restore them to the land.
Vs 14-16: It will appear for a season that I have abandoned Israel, but I could never forsake Abrahams children.
V 17: Israel will be rebuilt
V 18: Those scattered all over the world will return.
Vs 19, 20: The population will swell in size.
V 21: This revival of the nation will be a sovereign work by Me.
V 1: There will come a time when it will appear that I have abandoned Israel for her sins.
V 2: This will result from the fact that they did not receive My servant whom I sent.
Vs 2, 3: The fact that I dont rescue them during this period isnt because I dont have the power. I could perform another Exodus if I wanted to.
V 4: My servant will accurately speak My word.
V 4: He will hear Me speak to Him.
V 5: He will obey what I tell Him to do and this will cause Him to suffer.
V 6: He will be violently persecuted.
V 7: In this midst of this abuse My servant will have faith that I will rescue Him.
V 8: He will trust that I will vindicate Him when Hes accused of sin.
V 9: He will outlast His accusers.
V 10: I call on men and women of faith to believe in My servant.
V 11: I warn those of you who walk by the light of human revelation: you will perish.
V 1: People of faith, listen!
V 2: Abraham and Sarah are your spiritual parents, so be like them. They believed I would do great miracles even when there was no evidence at hand.
V 3: They believed that I would multiply their one child until he became a great nation and that I would give their children the promised land. You must also believe like this.
Vs 4, 5: The Messiah will come and He will rule the earth from Jerusalem. He will teach the Gentile people to walk in the justice and righteousness of God.
V 6: Someday the heavens and earth will be destroyed and so will unbelievers; but not believers.
Vs 7, 8: Listen all you true believers: dont fear the hostility of the ungodly. They will be destroyed in the judgment; but you who are righteous will live forever.
Vs 9, 10: My servant will come in power and destroy the demonic forces that hold My people in bondage. And I will deliver them by great miracles just as I did when I dried up the Red Sea.
V 11: I will regather Israel and bless the land.
V 12: Fear God, not mortals. I am the creator and I am eternal.
V 13: After He has finished His suffering I will seat the Messiah at My right hand (Psa 110:1) and govern the world through Him.
V 14: But the horror that will be done to Him before this will be astonishing. His body will be brutalized.
V 15: His death will atone for the sins of many Gentiles, even though they dont have the long history of revelation that Israel has.
V 1: Israel wont recognize this suffering Messiah when He comes
V 2: because He will be born to a humble family and look like a common man rather than royalty.
V 3: He will be despised and abandoned and suffer greatly when He comes. What will be done to Him will be so awful people wont be able to bear to look at Him.
V 4: Most of the nation will assume that His suffering is Gods punishment for His sin, but the truth is God placed the punishment we deserved on Him. He also experienced the grief and sorrow and sickness of all humanity being placed on Him.
V 5: God will punish Him as though He had committed the sins of all humanity. In the course of His execution He will be pierced, crushed in spirit and scourged. But the result for us will be forgiveness, peace and healing.
V 6: Every human has wandered away from God like sheep wander away from their shepherd. But God chose to punish Him instead of us.
V 7: In the course of His torment He will not defend Himself or beg for mercy or shout in anger or scream in pain.
V 8: He will be imprisoned and then taken out and denied justice because few in Israel during His generation will recognize who He is or that His death was for them.
V 9: Though God will allow Him to be treated this way He is righteous and God wont let His body be dishonored. He will have it placed in a beautiful tomb rather than buried among criminals.
Vs 10, 11: As terrible as these events will be, His death will please God for He will die as our substitute so that our sins can be forgiven. And He wont stay dead. He will be resurrected and see the results of His sacrifice.
V 12: After raising Him from the dead God will honor Him and give Him the spiritual treasure that He has taken away from the devil (people).
Why did someone have to die? Why couldnt God just forgive us and move on or decide that animal blood was enough?
saw so clearly that in its truest sense substitution needs a person to take the place. Animal sacrifices can illustrate the principle, but only one who voluntarily accepts the role (53:7) and voluntarily pours out himself (53:12)that is to say, provides a will to take the place of the sinful will (see: Heb 10:5-9)can achieve by a true substitution the full, indeed final, salvation of those for whom he dies (Motyer, Isaiah, IVP, 1999, p. 27).
Israel didnt really see that they were sinners and in trouble with God, that if He didnt come first to atone them when He came in glory He would have to damn them. And the same is true for us. Read Revelation 5:5, 6, 9, 10-14.
1) When did you first realize you were a sinner and needed mercy?
2) When you read Isaiah 53 how does it make you feel? Tell us why.