When Jesus walked with two of His disciples on the road to Emmaus in Luke 24, He asked them why they did not believe what the prophets had spoken about Jesus, that Jesus would suffer and then enter into His glory. He followed up his question with an exposition of the Scriptures starting with Moses and all of the prophets all of the things concerning Him. They did not yet know Jesus was the one who was speaking to them, but their hearts burned at His words.
In the course of at most a couple of hours, Jesus could not have expounded to them every Scripture about Himself from what we call the Old Testament. It makes us curios which ones he would have chosen. It seems to me that this passage from Isaiah 53 would be near the top of the list. Let us hear what the prophet says about Jesus.
Exposition of the Text
Isaiah wrote some 700 years before the time of Christ. Many liberal scholars dispute that the second half of Isaiah was written by Isaiah, but even the most liberal of them have to concede that this passage existed in writing hundreds of years before Christ. So they cannot simply dismiss what this passage says. They try to make it apply to the nation of Israel rather than about Jesus. They would claim that Isaiah or the “second Isaiah” considered Israel to be the suffering servant who suffered in behalf of others. But if we were to seriously examine this, we can see from Scripture many occasions where Israel suffered punishment for its own sins from the hand of God. But one would be hard pressed to find evidence of Israel suffering as an atonement for the sins of others.
This passage is so descriptive of the suffering of Jesus that it is hard to imagine that Isaiah had anyone in mind than the Jesus who is to come. Even if the prophet was not fully aware of the person of the Messiah, we must understand that the Holy Spirit, who is the true author of all Scripture certainly knew that Christ would come and suffer for His people.
Isaiah 53 is one of the four servant songs in the book, so this is not the only passage which talks about Christ’s sufferings. But it is the clearest of them. It begins with a lament that so few will see what God was doing in the person of Jesus. They would reject the idea that the Messiah should suffer out of hand. They were looking for a Messiah who would come in power and glory and restore the national fortunes of Israel. They did not believe that Jesus should suffer first and then enter His glory. The Emmaus disciples did not see this either, until Jesus revealed it. They would by God’s grace, along with others, come to understand what this passage taught.
The passage basically says that there would be nothing extraordinary about the physical appearance of Jesus when He came. He would not stand out in a crowd. This is one reason why the Sanhedrin needed the help of Judas to identify Him. He wasn’t like King Saul who stood head and shoulders above the people. He would be more like the diminutive stature of His ancestor, King David, who was the smallest of all his many brothers. We have no pictures of Jesus to confirm that his appearance was ordinary, but the evidence of Scripture confirms that Isaiah was correct in his prediction of the appearance of Jesus
Isaiah also predicts that Israel would take Jesus lightly. This idea of “lightly” is the exact opposite of “glory”, a word in Hebrew means “to be heavy”, or “to carry weight”. Isaiah predicted Israel would reject Jesus, and that Jesus would weep over their rejection. Luke records Jesus’ weeping over the city of Jerusalem on Palm Sunday. Perhaps this rejection hurt Jesus more than the nails which pierced His hands and feet, and the stripes on His back.
Isaiah mentions in an earlier passage that Jesus’ appearance would be so disfigured as to almost make Him unrecognizable as a human being (52:14). This idea is repeated in verse 3 in which He was so badly beaten that one would have to turn their face from Him. How could such suffering and ugliness be from God?
But it was from God. Verse 4 tells us that this stricken Jesus who was so rejected by His own people was smitten by God for the very people who had put Him on the cross. All of the trauma His body suffered was for our rebellion against God. The stripes which lacerated his body were for our healing. This was more than the healing of the physical body. It was for the healing of the soul as well.
Isaiah describes us as sheep. Sheep are prone to wander off and are unable to protect themselves from wolves and other predators. The shepherd and his voice is their only protection. However, these “sheep” crucified their Shepherd. This should have resulted in the utter loss of the flock, but the LORD used it for the saving of the flock. In this way the LORD turns the greatest of disasters that could happen to sheep into a means of their ultimate blessing and forgiveness. No wonder why so many cannot believe this report!
Isaiah predicted that the Messiah would not defend himself before the Sanhedrin. The only words He would speak before Caiaphas would only serve to condemn Him. He who could have called legions of angels to protect Him went as a lamb to the slaughter. This Lamb of God was condemned and sent in chains to Pilate as a prisoner to be judged and condemned by Rome also. Isaiah says that He was cut off from the land of the living, which is another way of saying that he was to be killed. Isaiah repeats the sacrificial nature of Jesus’ death for the rebellion of His people. He took upon Himself the punishment which was due us.
Another prediction is that Jesus would be buried with the wicked and the rich. We know that Jesus was buried in the tomb of Joseph of Arimathea, a rich man’s tomb. Yet Isaiah proclaims the innocence of this man’s death. He had suffered injury but had injured no one. Neither was He a deceiver. His suffering was entirely due to the hand of the LORD as a substitutionary atonement for the very people who deserved His wrath. Jesus became the offering for our sin.
Isaiah also predicts the resurrection of Jesus. In verse 10, it says that this suffering servant would see His children, which we understand as the church. This buried Messiah would have to rise again if He were to prolong his days and to know that His sacrificial death had justified many who would actually believe the LORD’s report. If this suffering servant was not to rise from the grave, then how would he see the division of the spoil of Satan and receive an inheritance. These verses just would not make any sense apart from the resurrection of Jesus.
Isaiah also makes one more important prophecy about the suffering of Jesus. It says that He would be numbered among or in the midst of the transgressors. We know Jesus was crucified between two insurrectionists who had probably been involved with the plot of Barabbas to over throw Rome. But even on the cross, Jesus was making intercession for the rebels. One of them would be saved while hanging on a cross, a centurion would confess Christ. And Nicodemus and perhaps Joseph of Arimathea would come to saving faith, demonstrated by their publicly incurring uncleanness by taking the dead body of a cursed individual from the cross. This same Jesus was the one who cried out to the Father to forgive those who had hung him on the cross.
This text serves as proof that God is sovereign over the acts of history. He predicted the suffering and sacrificial death of Jesus long before the fact, so that when it happened, people would believe. Yet, in spite of this clear proof, there are so many today who reject the report we bring that Christ has died for us, that God raised Him on the third day, and that Jesus is returning in glory for His bride. We should think that everyone should believe and give thanks for what God has done. We cry like Isaiah in despair when we see so many who are hardened to the point that despite the clearest of evidence still continue in rebellion against God.
We can rejoice that God has opened our eyes to the truth, even as he opened the eyes of the Emmaus disciples. We cannot truly boast that we figured this out and more than they. Even though the report is plain and should be believed by all, the wicked rebellion in our hearts against God blinds us to this obvious truth. Paul in Romans agrees that God has clearly revealed Himself, both in nature and in Scripture. However, we also repress this truth because we like Satan aspire to be God ourselves.
What we need to do is to continue to report what God has done for us and for all in Jesus Christ. We cannot bring people to saving faith. This is by the mercy of God alone. But God does tell us to proclaim the good news to every nation. We are to make disciples of them first by winning them (baptizing) and then teaching them everything that Jesus taught. We need to pray that God will open their eyes so they might see and their ears that they might hear. This is their only hope and ours.