Isaiah 53:2–12comment (0)
July 25, 2013
By Jeffery M. Leonard
Related Scripture: Isaiah 53:2–12
Bible Studies for Life
Assistant Professor of Religion, Samford University
God Promises the Messiah
The Messiah Became One of Us (2–3)
The words of the Hebrew prophets have resonated anew in every generation of God’s people. Amos’ call to “let justice roll down like water and righteousness like a mighty stream” echoed just as powerfully in the days of slavery and the civil rights movement as it did when the prophet first spoke his words to ancient Israel. It is the inexhaustible power of the prophets’ words that has made them so meaningful to later generations. To read the prophets solely as an exercise in prediction and fulfillment is to rob them of much of this power. The prophets did not idly muse about the distant future or passively convey unintelligible messages about events centuries removed from their day. They spoke to their own generations, calling them to be accountable to God’s word in their own day.
When Judah’s King Ahaz was threatened in Isaiah 7 by enemy kings, Isaiah assured him that God would help him withstand this assault. As proof, Isaiah provided a sign to Ahaz: a woman would give birth to a son, a son whose name, Immanuel, meant literally “God with us.” Had Isaiah’s sign referred solely to the birth of Jesus, it would surely have provided cold comfort to the Judean king. To know that some seven centuries hence, a miraculous birth would take place in Israel would have meant little to Ahaz. It was to the birth of Ahaz’s own son, Hezekiah, a son who stood as proof that his line would continue, that Isaiah’s sign first referred. Later generations, though, could not avoid seeing a deeper meaning in Isaiah’s sign. When Matthew wrote of the birth of God’s own Son to a virgin named Mary, he could hardly help seeing a deeper and more profound echo of Isaiah’s ancient words. In Jesus, an even greater “Immanuel” had come.
The descriptions of the “servant” in the second half of Isaiah fall into a similar category of prophetic message. When the prophet first described the servant, it seems likely he had in mind some depiction of the nation of Israel. In Isaiah 41:8, God calls to “Israel, my servant, Jacob, whom I have chosen.” He says to Israel again the next verse, “You are my servant.” Similar language permeates this section of the prophet’s work. But if Isaiah’s first reference was to Israel as God’s servant, a later generation of God’s people would find a much more profound fulfillment in another servant of God: Jesus himself.
The Messiah Suffered for Us (4–9)
Throughout His earthly ministry, Jesus’ followers waited expectantly for Him to take up the reins of Messianic rule and establish His kingdom on earth. Although He had regularly warned His disciples of His impending fate, Jesus’ terrible death on the cross blindsided His followers, leaving them scrambling to understand how their expectations could have been so mistaken. It was the mournful lament over the suffering servant in Isaiah 53 that would serve as the lens through which the early Christians could make sense of Jesus’ sufferings.
Through Isaiah 53, the early Christians came to understand Jesus had suffered for them. Peter vividly recalls Jesus’ silent endurance of His humiliation, insisting, “He bore our sins” in His body on the cross (1 Pet. 2:23–25). Paul similarly affirms, “He was delivered over to death for our sins” (Rom. 4:25). Just as Isaiah’s servant had suffered for someone else, Jesus was understood to have suffered on behalf of His people.
The Messiah Rescues Us (10–12)
Although Isaiah’s description of the servant’s suffering is tragic, it is not hopeless. Isaiah says “it was the LORD’s will to crush him,” but he also says “he will see his offspring and prolong his days.” The servant who suffers will also “see the light of life and be satisfied.” Jesus’ followers found a similar message in the Messiah’s sufferings. Although Jesus died on behalf of His people, His death was regarded as a beginning, not an end. Through the resurrection and the promise of life it gave to His people, Jesus also saw the light of life and lived to see His spiritual offspring as they turned to Him.