The Suffering Servant
Isaiah 52:13 – 53:12[i]
When God speaks, we expect deep and powerful thoughts, piercing to even the dividing of joints and marrow or soul and spirit. (Hebrews 4:12)
When God speaks, we expect truth.
We have this with the Bible. It is obvious that it is no ordinary book.
Written by about 40 different authors over a span of 1,600 years, no book is even a close second for unity, depth of content and historical accuracy.
Some things contained in the Bible are so remarkable that those who oppose the Bible invent stories to explain them away. For example, Daniel accurately predicts the history of the Babylonian, Persian, Greek and Roman empires. Daniel was writing history before it happened. This is impossible. No man can foresee or foretell the future. However, Daniel did it accurately. Therefore, some people say that Daniel’s account was written after the events. They do this by rewriting history and contradicting historical evidence. The book of Daniel is not the only book of the Bible that contains such remarkable things. The Bible is full of remarkable things.
Is this not what we should expect when God speaks?
Isaiah 52:13 through Isaiah 53:12 is one of the most remarkable passages in the Bible. It is a portrait of Jesus. It is a brief description of His life, His purpose and His accomplishments. It is the most accurate and concise description of these things that we have, and it was written 700 years before Jesus was born.
In the Gospel Project curriculum, Adam Dooley likens Isaiah 53 to the Mt. Everest of the Bible.[ii] It is a majestic high point, perhaps the highest.
Isaiah reveals much about our Savior. He ministered in Judah during the reigns of Uzziah, Jotham, Ahaz and Hezekiah. These four kings reigned over the kingdom of Judah. Jewish tradition holds that Hezekiah’s son, Manasseh, executed Isaiah a few years after Manasseh ascended the throne. (Jewish tradition holds that Manasseh had Isaiah sawn in two, which would mean Hebrews 11:37 is referring to Isaiah.) This means Isaiah ministered over a period of approximately 50 years. Isaiah ministered during a time of political turmoil with Assyria becoming an ever-greater threat to his nation. His message was a call to trust in the Holy One of Israel. A large part of this call to trust was the promise of the Messiah. Because of this, some of our clearest and dearest prophesies concerning Jesus are found in Isaiah. For example, Isaiah 7:14 foretells the virgin birth of Jesus when it says: “The Lord himself will give you the sign. Look! The virgin will conceive a child! She will give birth to a son and will call him Immanuel (which means ‘God is with us’).” Isaiah 9:1-7 is magnificent prophecy of the coming kingdom and contains the famous verse 6, which says:
For a child is born to us, a son is given to us. The government will rest on his shoulders. And he will be called: Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.
Isaiah also contains four “Servant Songs.” These are songs or poems written about the Lord’s Servant. The Lord’s Servant in this case refers to the coming Messiah. These servant songs are found in Isaiah 42:1-4, 49:1-6, 50:4-9 and finally Isaiah 52:13 through 53. These songs describe Jesus and His ministry. They are as follows:
Chosen Servant, Isaiah 42:1-4
Commissioned Servant, Isaiah 49:1-6
Obedient Servant, Isaiah 50:4-9
Suffering Servant, Isaiah 52:13-53:12
These songs rise up to ever-increasing heights as they describe the ministry and life of the Lord Jesus. The song of the Suffering Servant is the pinnacle. It is the “Everest” of the prophesies concerning our Lord Jesus.
The Song of the Suffering Servant is divided into five sections. They are as follows:
1. My Servant shall be high and lifted up, exalted. 52:13-15
This section describes the high, exalted position of Jesus earned by making himself a voluntary sacrifice for sins.
2. He was despised and rejected by men. vs 2-3
This section describes the plain, humble beginning, life and place the Lord of Glory occupied when He lived among us.
3. The Lord laid on Him the iniquities of us all. Isaiah 53:4-6
This section describes how Jesus paid for our sins, and suffered in our place.
4. Like a lamb that is led to the slaughter. Isaiah 53:7-9
This section provides a picture of Jesus as the sacrificial Lamb of God, and shows the horrible injustice He suffered.
5. The will of the Lord will prosper in his hand. Isaiah 53:10-12
This section provides the conclusion. It tells of the success of Jesus’ ministry, His victory and His satisfaction.
He was despised and rejected.
It was our weaknesses he carried.
It was our sorrows that weighed him down.
He was pierced for our rebellion.
He was crushed for our sins.
He was led like a lamb to the slaughter.
He had done no wrong.
He had never deceived anyone.
It was the Lord’s good plan to crush him.
I have friends who minister to Jewish people. God’s plans still include the Jewish people. The Church has not replaced the Jewish nation in God’s plans. The Apostle Paul explains this in Romans 11. As God’s chosen people, the Jewish people have as part of their heritage the Old Testament Scriptures. They were entrusted with the Law and the Prophets. Isaiah wrote and ministered to the Jewish people as a Jewish prophet to a Jewish nation. However, the friends I mentioned tell me of occasions where they read Isaiah 53 with a Jewish person. When asked who this passage is talking about the person will often recognize that it is talking about Jesus. Occasionally, the person does not recognize that the passage is from the Hebrew Scriptures, and is surprised to find that it is. Of course, religious Jews and scholars know this passage and have gone to some lengths to explain how this passage is not about Jesus. The point is the passage plainly talks about Jesus and clearly teaches His substitutionary atonement.
As part of this song, Isaiah 53:1 asks a two-part question. It says, “Who has believed our message? To whom has the LORD revealed his powerful arm?”
Let’s try to answer the first part of the question.
In Isaiah’s day, some believed and some did not. He ministered for over 50 years and yet the nation did not turn, and it was not saved. In fact, Isaiah’s life ended when he was executed for his preaching. Obviously, not everyone believed.
In our day, it is much the same. In over 50 percent of the world, it is not safe or legal to preach Jesus Christ the way Isaiah 53 does. In 2010, 32 percent of the world called themselves Christian. This would mean that two thirds of the world does not accept the Christian worldview, the Bible as the Word of God and the fact that God has spoken. Even among Christians, many do not believe the Bible is the Word of God. It is possible to be Christian in name only. The doctrines that I teach are “evangelical.” This represents the beliefs of 13 percent of the world’s population.[iii] Therefore, let’s draw the line of those who have believed “our message” at somewhere between 10 and 30 percent. I do not believe that everyone who calls himself or herself “evangelical” believes, and I believe that many who do not call themselves “evangelical” are my brothers and sisters in Christ.
The answer to “Who has believed our message?” is, “Not many.”
Next, let’s consider the second part of Isaiah’s question.
“To whom has the LORD revealed his powerful arm?”
This is an interesting question. Psalm 19:1 says, “The heavens proclaim the glory of God. The skies display his craftsmanship.” Therefore, since all humanity sees the skies, we can say in answer to this first question, “to everyone.” This is consistent with Romans 1 that tells us:
18But God shows his anger from heaven against all sinful, wicked people who suppress the truth by their wickedness. 19They know the truth about God because he has made it obvious to them. 20For ever since the world was created, people have seen the earth and sky. Through everything God made, they can clearly see his invisible qualities—his eternal power and divine nature. So they have no excuse for not knowing God. (Romans 1:18-20)
The truth about God is obvious. However, there is another point in Isaiah’s question. Let me repeat what he says, “To whom has the LORD revealed his powerful arm?” The arm is a reference to strength. Psalm 19 in referring to the skies, the stars and all of creation says that these things display God’s craftsmanship. The Hebrew language in which David wrote the Psalm says, “the works of His hand.” This is why some translations say, “handiwork.” This is a reference to God’s skill and craftsmanship, not a display of His mighty power. Of course, the mighty expanse of space and the awesome power displayed in nature speak of power beyond our comprehension, but these awesome aspects of nature speak more of God’s skill. It is in relation to Jesus that God says He bares His arm and displays His power. This makes me think of Hebrews 2:3. It asks the question:
So what makes us think we can escape if we ignore this great salvation that was first announced by the Lord Jesus himself and then delivered to us by those who heard him speak?
The God who displayed His handiwork by making Mt. Everest displays His power by telling us about Jesus 700 years before Jesus was even born. What is more, this is just one of many such displays of power. No plan of God’s can be thwarted. No purpose of His can be stopped. We should expect amazing things when God speaks, and this is exactly what we have.
If you and I have even a shadow of unbelief in our hearts, the words of Isaiah 53:1 should haunt us until we get right with God.
Who has believed our message?
To whom has the LORD revealed his powerful arm?
[i] Unless otherwise noted Scripture quotations are taken from the Holy Bible, New Living Translation. Copyright © 1996, 2004, 2007 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers, Inc., Carol Steam, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.
[ii] The Gospel Project, Fall 2016 Session 5, “God Reveals the Suffering Servant. © 2016 LifeWay Christian Resources.