Isaiah 53: Didn't Isaiah say?
Updated: Dec 5, 2021
Have I mentioned that Isaiah is quoted eighty times in the New Testament? It was not only Jesus who pointed to Isaiah as the prophet who pointed to him, but other New Testament writers like Luke and Paul and Peter and John and whoever it was who wrote the book of Hebrews quoted Isaiah’s prophecies about the coming Messiah. By divine inspiration, Isaiah provided us with detailed descriptions of our Savior’s sufferings and death, taking us back in time so we can marvel today at Jesus’ obedience while he was on the earth.
For this study, I linked many of chapter 53’s prophecies to their fulfillment recorded in the New Testament. No doubt some will be familiar to you.
So here we go:
Chapter 53 begins with a question: “LORD, who has believed our report? And to whom has the arm of the LORD been revealed?” (verse 1)
It turns out Isaiah wasn’t just talking about the “whos” of his day but also the skeptics Jesus encountered in his. That’s really not so hard to believe. Who would have expected that the arm of the LORD—His strength and delivering power—would be revealed by a humble man who spent most of his time talking to ordinary people?
Some recognized the man of interest in Isaiah’s message. There was the remnant—descendants of Isaiah’s students who passed the truth from generation to generation—and men like the Ethiopian eunuch who was introduced to Jesus while reading Isaiah’s scroll (Acts 8:26-35). Many who met Jesus recognized God at work because of what they read in Isaiah.
But there were many more who didn’t. Jesus performed signs and wonders and miracles in their midst, yet they still couldn’t believe he had come to save them. When that happened, John said, the words of Isaiah were fulfilled: “Lord, who has believed our report? And to whom has the arm of the Lord been revealed?” (John 12:37-38)
His inference, I think, was “not many.”
Again, there were reasons:
He grew up before him like a tender shoot, and like a root out of dry ground. He had no beauty or majesty to attract us to him, nothing in his appearance that we should desire him. (verse 2)
He began his life quietly (John 2:1-11; Matthew 9:30). He came from a place not known for men of great worth. After all, can anything good come out of Nazareth (John 1:46)? Most likely he looked like an average Jewish man, not the white, glowing guy we see in Renaissance paintings. And though the crowds found his teachings compelling, he certainly didn’t look like anyone important in his carpenter’s tunic.
He was despised and rejected by mankind, a man of suffering, and familiar with pain. Like one from whom people hide their faces he was despised, and we held him in low esteem. (verse 3)
His family thought he was crazy (Mark 3:21). He was shunned by the teachers of the Law (Mark 3:22). When he was arrested by the religious elite and marched down the street by the Romans, he looked nothing like you would expect the Son of God to look. He was beaten, covered with bruises, filled with grief and sorrow. Certainly, as he walked through the streets of Jerusalem on the way to Golgatha, his bloody broken body didn’t say “King.”
Surely he took up our pain and bore our suffering, yet we considered him punished by God, stricken by him, and afflicted.
But he was pierced for our transgressions, he was crushed for our iniquities (verse 4-5)
The priests accused him and called for his execution. The crowds who once listened to his teachings cried, “Crucify him! Crucify him!” Yet, the punishment he endured wasn’t for any sins he’d committed. It was for theirs and for ours and for all those who will ever walk this earth. He underwent whipping and spitting and mocking on our behalf, and the bottom line is he did it because his Father asked him to (Luke 22:42).
How can we reconcile the horror of it all with this: the Father loves the Son and has entrusted all things to His hand (John 3:35)? All I can come up with is that Jesus’ obedience to His Father and the Father’s trust in him (Matthew 4; Luke 4) demonstrated their love for one another and their mutual love for us. For if, while we were God’s enemies, we were reconciled to Him through the death of his Son, how much more, having been reconciled, shall we be saved through his life (Romans 5:10)!
Presenting offerings of lambs and goats and bulls and birds before the altar of God was an essential requirement of the Jewish Law. Passages in the Talmud say that over a million lambs could be slaughtered in one day. And every time a lamb was sacrificed, the Father was reminded that the time was coming when the lamb would be His Son.
The punishment that brought us peace was on him
and by his wounds we are healed. (verse 5)
His Son took our punishment and gave us peace. If we live without the peace he purchased, we count his sacrifice too small.
The gospels record that on one occasion when Jesus visited Peter’s house, Peter’s mother-in-law had a fever. Jesus touched her hand, the fever left, and she felt so much better she got up and served them. That evening people brought others who were ill, and according to Matthew, Jesus healed them all. Isaiah’s prophecy in chapter 53 was fulfilled: “He Himself took our illnesses and carried away our diseases.” (Matthew 8:14-17)
Now—ready for a rant?
There are segments (many and large) in the body of Christ who either don’t believe Jesus cares about the health of our bodies or that the price he paid wasn’t enough to cover them. They say the word “healed” in Isaiah 53:5 doesn’t mean physical healing. Some are quite adamant about that. They’ve written pages and pages and books and blogs just to explain it; they’ll lead you around in circles and down rabbit holes just to convince you that “healed” doesn’t really mean healed. Goodness, why not just read the verse? Matthew, Mark, and Luke all quoted Isaiah 53:5 while reporting that Jesus healed a fever. Are you telling me the lady’s fever was really not a fever? For Pete’s sake, let me never get so smart I’m dangerous.
And while many commentators make a point of saying that “healing” doesn’t include the healing of our bodies, books dedicated to the study of words (Mounce’s Complete Expository Dictionary and the New International Dictionary of New Testament Theology, for example) make a point of saying it does. Personally, I have more confidence in those who study than in those who make comments.
And now, a bit about sheep:
We all, like sheep, have gone astray, each of us has turned to our own way (verse 6) Sheep stray; it’s in their nature. Either they don’t pay attention to where they’re going, or they get distracted by greener grass. Some get scared by wolves and run. But somehow they end up where they’re not supposed to be. Same with us. We get in trouble when we don’t pay attention to our Shepherd. We run after what we want, get lost along the way, and are a little more willful than the wooly kind. We’re also subject to the iniquity of mankind, compliments of our ancestors in the garden. Yet as old and established as Adam’s sin was, it was carried away by the sufferings of Jesus. and the Lord has laid on him the iniquity of us all.
He was oppressed and afflicted, yet he did not open his mouth; he was led like a lamb to the slaughter, and as a sheep before its shearers is silent, so he did not open his mouth. (verses 6-7) You may have noticed that Jesus wasn’t a bit hesitant to challenge the pious, but when it came to saving his own life, he said nothing. He was silent before Caiaphas (Matthew 26:62-63), the chief priests and elders (Matthew 27:12), Pilate (Matthew 27:14; John 19:9), and Herod Antipas (Luke 23:9). Neither did he speak a word in his own defense to the soldiers who mocked and beat him. Unlike a lamb being led to the slaughter without a clue, Jesus knew where he was going yet willingly went. He carried our sins to the cross in his broken body so that we might die to sin and live for righteousness (1 Peter 2:24).
By oppression and judgment he was taken away. Yet who of his generation protested? (verse 8)
While the gospels say a lot about what the high priest and his officials said, we read almost nothing about the disciples. Peter became famous for his denial, but the others were painfully silent.
For he was cut off from the land of the living; for the transgression of my people he was punished. (verse 8)
He was assigned a grave with the wicked, and with the rich in his death,
though he had done no violence, nor was any deceit in his mouth. (verse 9)
Whether wicked or righteous, all who died in Israel were assigned a grave, and hirelings made sure they got there. But in the case of Jesus, it was the well-known who came to retrieve his body. Verse 9 was fulfilled when Joseph of Arimathea and Nicodemus, men of standing among the Jews but secret disciples of Jesus, made sure his body was embalmed, bound, and laid in Joseph’s tomb.
Yet it was the Lord’s will to crush him and cause him to suffer, and though the Lord makes his life an offering for sin,
he will see his offspring and prolong his days, and the will of the Lord will prosper in his hand. (verse 10)
I doubt the Father found enjoyment in seeing His beloved Son suffer; He’s not even pleased with the death of the wicked (Ezekiel 18:23, 32). Yet because of His desire for many sons and daughters, His one perfect Son paid the price for us all, clearing us of sin so we can live for Him (1 Peter 2:23-24).
It’s been about 1,989 years since Jesus was crucified, buried, and resurrected, yet his heritage continues. Regardless of what the doomsday naysayers try to tell us, Christ's body is growing and his righteousness will win the earth.
After he has suffered, he will be satisfied;
by his knowledge my righteous servant will justify many, and he will bear their iniquities.
He knows what he’s doing and He’s good at what he does. He’s not sorry he said “yes” to the Father, and he is satisfied with the result. So, the Father says,
“I will give him a portion among the great, and he will divide the spoils with the strong, because he poured out his life unto death, and was numbered with the transgressors. For he bore the sin of many, and made intercession for the transgressors.”
The company he died for will be many, great and strong. And all was made possible because while he was dying, he was praying: “Father, forgive them; they don’t know what they’re doing (Luke 23:34).”
His reward for that—if you can believe it—is sharing his riches with us! In ages to come, we’ll be eternal examples of the incomparable riches of God’s kindness and grace (Ephesians 2:7).
All of heaven is watching now. Since we’re surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let’s throw off everything that hinders us from living the life of freedom he’s purchased for us. Let’s steer clear of the transgressions that can trip us up, and let’s run with perseverance the race He’s marked out for us, keeping our eyes on Jesus, the pioneer and perfecter of our faith (Hebrews 12:1-2).