For Christians and Jews, there is no better example of Bible prophecy than Isaiah chapters 52 and 53. It forms a complete picture of Jesus suffering and Jesus the Messiah. Many Jews have become Messianic Jews because of these verses that were written over 600 years before Jesus was born!
CHAPTER 52 VERSES:
Isaiah 52:13-15 Behold, my servant shall deal prudently, he shall be exalted and extolled, and be very high. As many were astonied (astonished) 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; 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.
Commentary: The Messiah as Sin-bearing Sacrifice (52:13–53:12)
The closing verses of chapter 52 really belong to chapter 53. They trace the history of the Servant of Jehovah from His earthly life to the cross and then to His glorious appearing. Adolph Saphir, himself a Hebrew Christian, rhapsodizes on this greatest of all prophecies of the cross:
Blessed, precious chapter, how many of God’s ancient covenant people have been led by thee to the foot of Christ’s cross!—that cross over which was written, “Jesus Christ, the King of the Jews!” And oh! what a glorious commentary shall be given of thee when, in the latter days, repentant and believing Israel, looking unto Him whom they have pierced, shall exclaim, “Surely He hath borne our griefs, and carried our sorrows; yet we did esteem Him stricken, smitten of God, and afflicted!”
CHAPTER 53 VERSES:
1 Who hath believed our report? and to whom is the arm of the LORD revealed? 2 For he shall grow up before him as a tender plant, and as a root out of a dry ground: he hath no form nor comeliness; and when we shall see him, there is no beauty that we should desire him. 3 He is despised and rejected of men; a man of sorrows, and acquainted with grief: and we hid as it were our faces from him; he was despised, and we esteemed him not.
4 Surely he hath borne our griefs, and carried our sorrows: yet we did esteem him stricken, smitten of God, and afflicted. 5 But he was wounded for our transgressions, he was bruised for our iniquities: the chastisement of our peace was upon him; and with his stripes we are healed. 6 All we like sheep have gone astray; we have turned every one to his own way; and the LORD hath laid on him the iniquity of us all. 7 He was oppressed, and he was afflicted, yet he opened not his mouth: he is brought as a lamb to the slaughter, and as a sheep before her shearers is dumb, so he openeth not his mouth. 8 He was taken from prison and from judgment: and who shall declare his generation? for he was cut off out of the land of the living: for the transgression of my people was he stricken. 9 And he made his grave with the wicked, and with the rich in his death; because he had done no violence, neither was any deceit in his mouth.
10 Yet it pleased the LORD to bruise him; he hath put him to grief: when thou shalt make his soul an offering for sin, he shall see his seed, he shall prolong his days, and the pleasure of the LORD shall prosper in his hand. 11 He shall see of the travail of his soul, and shall be satisfied: by his knowledge shall my righteous servant justify many; for he shall bear their iniquities. 12 Therefore will I divide him a portion with the great, and he shall divide the spoil with the strong; because he hath poured out his soul unto death: and he was numbered with the transgressors; and he bare the sin of many, and made intercession for the transgressors.
53:1 The repentant remnant of Israel recalls that when the report of the Messiah’s First Advent went forth, not many believed. And consequently the saving power of the LORD was not revealed to many either.
53:2 The Lord Jesus grew up before the delighted gaze of Jehovah like an exotic, tender plant in this world of sin. He was like a root out of dry ground. Israel was the dry ground, a most unlikely soil. The nation of Israel could see no beauty in Him, nothing in His appearance to attract them.
F. B. Meyer describes the mystery of His humiliation:
The tender plant; the sucker painfully pushing its way through the crust of the caked ground; the absence of natural attractiveness. Such imagery awaits and receives its full interpretation from the New Testament, with its story of Christ’s peasant parentage, his manger-bed, and lowly circumstances—fisherfolk his choice disciples; poverty his constant lot; the common people his devoted admirers; thieves and malefactors on either side of his cross; the lowly and poor the constituents of his Church. This were humiliation indeed, though the irregularities of human lot are scarce distinguishable from the heights whence He came.
53:3 Despised and rejected, He was a Man of sorrows who knew what grief was. To men He was repulsive; even by Israel He was not appreciated.
“Man of Sorrows,” what a name
For the Son of God who came
Ruined sinners to reclaim!
Hallelujah! what a Saviour!
Bearing shame and scoffing rude,
In my place condemned He stood;
Sealed my pardon with His blood;
Hallelujah! what a Saviour!
—Philip P. Bliss
53:4–6 The remnant now knows and acknowledges the truth about Him. They confess: “It was our griefs He bore, our sorrows He carried, yet as we saw Him on the cross, we thought He was being punished by God for His own sins. But no! It was for our transgressions, for our iniquities, and in order that we might have peace, in order that we might be healed. The truth is that we were the ones who went astray and who walked in self-will, and Jehovah placed our iniquity on Him, the sinless Substitute.” Until that time when the remnant acknowledges Him, we who are Christians can confess:
He was wounded for our transgressions,
He bore our sins in His body on the tree;
For our guilt He gave us peace,
From our bondage gave release,
And with His stripes, and with His stripes,
And with His stripes our souls are healed.
He was numbered among transgressors,
We did esteem Him forsaken by His God;
As our sacrifice He died,
That the law be satisfied,
And all our sin, and all our sin,
And all our sin was laid on Him.
We had wandered, we all had wandered,
Far from the fold of “the Shepherd of the sheep”;
But He sought us where we were,
On the mountains bleak and bare,
And brought us home, and brought us home,
And brought us safely home to God.
—Thomas O. Chisholm
Our Lord Jesus suffered all five kinds of wounds known to medical science: contusions—blows by a rod; lacerations—scourging; penetrating wounds—crown of thorns; perforating wounds—nails; incised wounds—the spear.
53:7, 8 Like a sheep, that is, silent and uncomplaining before its shearers, He endured the cross. He was hurried away from prison and a fair trial (or “by oppression and judgment He was taken away”). It seemed impossible that He would have any posterity since He was cut off in His prime, slain for the sins of the people.
53:9 Wicked men plotted to bury Him with the criminals, but God overruled, and He was with the rich at His death—in the new tomb of Joseph of Arimathea. Men plotted a shameful burial for Him although He had done no wrong, spoken no lie.
53:10, 11a Yet the LORD saw fit to bruise Him, to put Him to grief. When His soul has been made an offering for sin, He will see His posterity, that is, all those who believe on Him, He shall prolong His days, living in the power of an endless life. All God’s purposes shall be realized through Him. Seeing the multitudes of those who have been redeemed by His blood He will be amply satisfied.
53:11b “By His knowledge My righteous Servant shall justify many.” This may mean that His knowledge of the Father’s will led Him to the cross, and it is by His death and resurrection that He can reckon believers to be righteous. Or it may mean “by the knowledge of Him,” that is, it is by coming to know Him that men are justified (John 17:3). In either case, it is through His bearing their iniquities that justification is possible for the “many.”
The last stanza of Thomas Chisholm’s hymn, quoted above, reads triumphantly:
Who can number His generation?
Who shall declare all the triumphs of His Cross?
Millions, dead, now live again,
Myriads follow in His train!
Victorious Lord, victorious Lord,
Victorious Lord and coming King!
53:12 Another result of His finished work is that Jehovah will divide Him a portion with the great, that is, with the saints, whose only greatness lies in their connection with Him. And He shall divide the spoil with the strong; here again the strong are those believers who are weak in themselves but strong in the Lord.
Four reasons for His glorious triumph are given.
(1) He poured out His soul unto death;
(2) He was numbered with the transgressors, that is, the two thieves;
(3) He bore the sin of many;
(4) He made intercession for the transgressors.
David Baron comments:
The verb … yaphˊgiaˊ (“made intercession”) is an instance of the imperfect or indefinite future, and expresses a work begun, but not yet ended. Its most striking fulfilment, as Delitzsch observes, was the prayer of the crucified Saviour, “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do.” But this work of intercession which He began on the cross He still continues at the right hand of God, where He is now seated, a Prince and a Saviour, to give repentance unto Israel and the forgiveness of sins.
On the paradoxes of this great passage as a whole, Moody comments:
Despised, yet accepted and adored. Poor, yet rich. To die, yet to live. The Rabbis said there must be a double Messiah to fulfill this chapter.