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The Suffering Servant – Isaiah 53

Read the Passage: Isaiah 53

Appearance (53:1–3)

As was previously noted, the book of Isaiah contains four so-called “Servant Songs,” which are sometimes referred to as “Servant Poems.” These Songs, given at Isa. 42:1–4; 49:1–6; 50:4–7; and 52:13–53:12, describe a Servant of God, who ultimately is Jesus Christ. Today’s passage contains the last, longest, and likely most well-know of the four Servant Songs. In this passage, Isaiah describes the suffering of Christ in very striking details. Note that Isaiah 53 is quoted explicitly seven times in the New Testament in relation to Jesus Christ (cf. Matt. 8:17; Mark 10:28; Luke 22:37; John 12:38; Acts 8:33; Rom. 10:16; 1 Pet. 2:22, 24) and there are many other allusions to this chapter elsewhere in the New Testament. This Servant Song actually begins in the previous chapter where Christ’s victory is mentioned first (cf. Isa. 52:13) as well as His disfigurement (cf. Isa. 52:14).

While Isa. 52:13–15 reports Christ’s work on and after the cross, Isa. 53:1–2 describes the world’s reception of Jesus (or lack thereof) before His crucifixion. In this passage Isaiah alludes to mankind’s rejection of Christ as he asks, “Who has believed our report? And to whom has the arm of the Lord been revealed?” Indeed, Jesus was revealed to many, but few believed (cf. Matt. 22:14). While the first half of Isa. 53:2 describes the Father’s gracious view of the Son, the second half of the verse records mankind’s biased view of Christ. Although God the Father greatly prized His Son, as one would a tender plant growing in an unexpected place, mankind esteemed Jesus to be without splendor and beauty. Isa. 53:3 teaches that Christ was not desired by mankind but was despised and rejected. Jesus, then, was “a man of sorrows and acquainted with grief” (Isa. 53:3).

Atonement (53:4–9)

In Isa. 53:4–6 the prophet describes Jesus’ atonement for the sins of mankind. Although Christ “bore our griefs and carried our sorrows” (Isa. 53:4a) in His crucifixion mankind viewed Jesus’ death as being the result of His own sins! Somewhat incredibly, Isaiah writes, “We esteemed Him stricken, smitten by God, and afflicted” (Isa. 53:4b). By way of correction, in Isa. 53:5 the prophet is clear that Jesus’ death on the cross was on account of our sins, not His own wrongdoing. Indeed, Christ was wounded, bruised, chastised, and striped because of our transgressions. As Paul later wrote, “He made Him who knew no sin to be sin for us, that we might become the righteousness of God in Him” (2 Cor. 5:21). Isa. 53:6 is an important verse, as here we can see that mankind is naturally prone to wander and to turn inward; yet, the Father has sacrificed His Son in order to rescue mankind.

Lest mankind think Jesus was forced, coerced, or tricked into dying on the cross, in Isa. 53:7 the prophet notes two times that Jesus went quietly to His death. The voluntary nature of Christ’s death is important, for it displays His love for mankind and it clearly conveys the substitutionary nature of His death. Observe John’s emphasis on the voluntary nature of Jesus’ death as he records Christ’s teaching, “I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd gives His life for the sheep. . . . No one takes my life from Me, but I lay it down of Myself. I have power to lay it down, and I have power to take it again” (John 10:11, 18; cf. John 19:30). Isa. 53:9 is one of the most specific prophesies related to Jesus’ death, as here we read that Christ would die with the wicked—i.e., the thieves (cf. Matt. 27:38)—and be buried with the rich—i.e., Joseph of Arimathea (cf. Luke 23:33; John 19:38–42).

Appeasement (53:10–12)

In Isa. 53:10 we read, “It pleased the Lord to bruise Him.” Similarly, in Isa. 53:11 the prophet notes, “He shall see the labor of His soul and be satisfied.” The idea here is that Jesus’ atonement gratified God, for it provided propitiation for mankind’s sins. To propitiate means “to satisfy the wrath of.” In Rom. 3:25 Paul taught, “God put forward [Jesus] as a propitiation by his blood, to be received by faith. This was to show God’s righteousness, because in his divine forbearance he had passed over former sins” (cf. Heb. 2:17; 1 John 2:2; 4:10). Thus, Jesus’ death both expiated man’s sin and propitiated God’s wrath. This is what brought pleasure to God—that is, not Christ’s sufferings and death per se, but the satisfaction of man’s outstanding sin debt. Observe Isaiah’s teaching Jesus “bore the sins of many” (Isa. 53:12) guards against the idea of universal salvation.

Application Questions:

  1. When you think of Jesus Christ, do you ever think about His suffering? What benefits might there be in meditating upon Jesus’ suffering?
  2. Was Jesus’ death on the cross necessary for the forgiveness of the sins of man (cf. Gen. 2:17; John 14:6; Gal. 3:21)?
  3. In His incarnation, why do you think God the Son chose to be born into lowly circumstances and to be physically unremarkable?
  4. How does sin warp the way we see the world, other believers, and Christ? How did your view of Jesus change once you were converted?
  5. What was is about Jesus’ death that “pleased the Lord” (Isa. 53:10)? Doesn’t this idea make God seem unjust or even cruel?
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