The Suffering Servant
Isaiah 52:13-53:12


     Those who have long held to the theory that the Servant is Israel are losing ground among scholars.  Rabbi Moshe Alshekh said, "Rabbis with one voice affirm the opinion that the prophet is speaking of king Messiah."  Again Babylonian Talmud Sanhedrin 98b states, "What is his name?...The rabbis said, 'His name is "the leper scholar," as it is written, surely he hath borne our griefs, and carried our sorrows:  yet we did esteem him a leper, smitten of God, and afflicted.'" We see from this quote that they thought Isaiah 53 referred to a Suffering Messiah.

     This is one of the grandest and most loved passages in the Word of God.  Hebrew prophecy rises to its highest pinnacle with the theme of vicarious atonement. It is here that the Old Testament reaches a grand climax in its revelation of the Redeemer. All of the inspired movements come together in this symphony on salvation through the vicarious sacrifice of the Suffering Savior.

     It is through the Servant's vicarious suffering that salvation is achieved and He is highly exalted. With powerful language, the Hebrew prophet Isaiah describes how the grace of God has delivered the people out of the bondage of sin through His Suffering Servant. Who is this magnificent deliverer? HaShem Speaks of His Servant (52:13a). The Song of the Suffering Servant begins in 52:13, not at 53:1. The end of chapter fifty-two is an introduction to the song of the sufferer. The song begins on a triumphant note of success. Isaiah assumes his readers know the three previous Servant Songs.  Let's reverently and carefully examine "the most important text in the Old Testament."

The Servant has a divine mission to accomplish (42:1-4) through suffering (49:1-7; 50:4-7). He has reserved telling us the reason for the intense suffering until now. The LORD introduces His Servant and the major themes of the poem in the opening verses. The themes and sub-themes will appear and reappear in great sweeping movements. "Behold, my servant shall deal prudently, he shall be exalted and extolled, and be very high."  There is no greater honor in the Old Testament than being called the "servant" of the LORD.

     God the Father introduced His Son at the beginning of His public ministry. At the baptism of Jesus and later at His transfiguration God the Father spoke from heaven saying, "This is my beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased." (Matthew 3:16-17; 17:5). On occasion Jesus said, "When ye have lifted up the Son of man, then shall ye know that I am he, and that I do nothing of myself; but as my Father hath taught me, I speak these things." (John 8:28).

The Success of the Divine Servant (v. 13b).
Our song begins on a triumphant note of victory. God's servant will "prosper" in His redemptive work. He will prove to be successful in God's eyes. The result of His prudent dealing will issue in success. He will prosper. It is a superlative degree of success. He will achieve what He set out to do. The success of the Servant comes as a result of effective action. This will not be the way men will view Him. They will see Him as being punished for His own sins. However, He will accomplish much through His wise dealings because He is God's servant and God is His source of wisdom and blessings. God causes Him to prosper (53:10). It is an ever-increasing exaltation of the Messiah, which leads to an extreme exaltation. Isaiah uses words usually reserved for God. The powerful triad of verbs reads: "he shall be exalted and extolled, and be very high."

     Who ever achieved greater success than the LORD's Christ? The only place where such a great exaltation has ever been fulfilled is the resurrection, ascension and reign of Jesus Christ. He towers above all other men throughout history. Isaiah says the Servant will receive the very highest exaltation. It will be a complete and utter exaltation." God will give Him a name that is above every name. The Scriptures present an ever-increasing exaltation of Christ. "This Jesus hath God raised up, whereof we all are witnesses. Therefore being by the right hand of God exalted, and having received of the Father the promise of the Holy Ghost, he hath shed forth this, which ye now see and hear" (Acts 2:32-33). "The God of Abraham, and of Isaac, and of Jacob, the God of our fathers, hath glorified his Son Jesus;" (Acts 3:13, cf. vv. 14-15, 18). "Unto you first God, having raised up his Son Jesus, sent him to bless you, in turning away every one of you from his iniquities." (v. 26).

     Acts 1:1-11 gives a historical account of the ascension of Jesus Christ. He will achieve unusual exaltation, but it comes only after extreme humiliation. The Supreme Suffering of the Divine Servant (v. 14). Men will be so astonished at His state when they see how He has been so marred by wounds and stripes. Nevertheless, He will also become so elevated that kings and nations will be struck dumb with astonishment. "As many were astonied at thee; his visage was so marred more than any man, and his form more than the sons of men:" (Isa 52:14)   Isaiah tells us the sufferings of the Servant were to such a depth and degree that they were more than any person has ever endured. Men would be astonished and filled with horror at the sight of His marred appearance. They would be appalled by the agony that was heaped upon Him. His suffering would be so intense and severe that His form would be so distorted that it would lose all likeness of a man.

     No wonder when these words were actually fulfilled in history they startled the nations. Men through the ages have been astonished by the spectacle of His cross and His glory through suffering. It is blank astonishment excited by the spectacle of unparalleled suffering that is in the minds of the beholders. One's astonishment is as grand as the other. The people will be "astonied," i.e., paralyzed with astonishment, because their views of Him were so distorted. They will look upon Him as one of their own that had leprosy and they would cry, "Unclean!" Why were they astonished? It is His disfigurement. "...his visage was so marred more than any man, and his form more than the sons of men:" (52:14b,c). His appearance was so marred that He no longer appeared as a human. It is a strong word. It was a distortion that destroys all likeness to a man. It was the effects of the Roman soldiers beating Him with scourges until His body was like bloody pulp. He was badly mutilated, more than any person could bear.

     Isaiah has in mind unthinkable suffering. This was an extreme humiliation for the Son of God, the Creator to endure at the hands of pagan creatures. The crucifixion and scourging were the most cruel inventions of depraved minds to make suffering as horrible and painful as possible. It was so cruel that Roman law forbade its citizens to ever be crucified regardless of the circumstances.

      What makes the scene even more extreme is the fact that His own people regarded His disfigurement as a punishment for His own sins. "For ye know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that, though he was rich, yet for your sakes he became poor, that ye through his poverty might be rich." (2 Corinthians 8:9). Who were these people who are "astonied" at Him? Probably they are the people of "many nations" and their kings (v. 15). When people see Him at the Second Coming, they will be absolutely astounded.

     The humiliation of Christ is seen in many passages of Scripture (Hebrews 9:11-16, 22-28; 10:10-21). Not only did He die for our sins, but He is also our only Mediator between God and sinful men. The ascended Lord is at the right hand of the Father in heaven interceding for us at this time. The Supreme Exaltation of the Divine Servant (v. 15). Thus He will sprinkle many nations, Kings will shut their mouths on account of Him; For what had not been told them they will see, And what they had not heard they will understand. What will be the results this divine sufferer will accomplish? The Suffering Servant will "sprinkle many nations." The image is that of the priest sprinkling of blood of the sacrifice with the tips of the fingers upon the veil in the Temple and upon the Mercy Seat with the purpose of expiation.  Leviticus 4:6 reads, "And the priest shall dip his finger in the blood, and sprinkle of the blood seven times before the LORD, before the vail of the sanctuary" (cf. 8:11; 14:7). Jesus Christ is "the Lamb of God, which taketh away the sin of the world." (John 1:29).

     The religious leaders regarded the Servant as unclean and in the need of purification rites. However, He is the pure and innocent priest who brings cleansing for others. The sprinkling has reference to cleansing from sin (1 Peter 1:2; Hebrews 10:22; 12:24; 9:13-14). Not only will He sprinkle many nations, but He will also shut their mouths in speechless astonishment. They will be dumbstruck. The overpowering impression that He will make upon rulers is He will leave them speechless with amazement. They will stand dumb with awe and amazement. We still "stand amazed in the presence of Jesus the Nazarene." Nations will be astonished. They are electrified by surprise of the over-powering effect of the extreme humiliation and extreme exaltation of the Servant. They will be dumbstruck because they miscalculated and prejudiced so badly the Servant. There is nothing they can say when they grasp the truth. The One who has been brought so low will be greatly exalted. They have seen nothing like this before and they are left speechless.

"And being found in fashion as a man, he humbled himself, and became obedient unto death, even the death of the cross. Wherefore God also hath highly exalted him, and given him a name which is above every name: That at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, of things in heaven, and things in earth, and things under the earth; And that every tongue should confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father."  (Philippians 2:8-11).

He will be exalted to the right hand of God (Philippians 2:9; Colossians 3:1; Hebrews 1:3; 8:1; 10:12; 12:2; 1 Peter 3:22). 

Who is this divine servant?
      The words of this song can only be fulfilled in the person and work of Jesus Christ.  No one else in history has ever gone from the deepest degradation possible to the loftiest glorification in heaven. It is something unheard of before. Even the most exalted men will stand in awe before Him. Examine these verses again in the light of the historical fulfillment of Jesus Christ. Read the passage again and replace the pronouns  that refer to the divine Servant with the name of Jesus Christ.

    Have you put your trust in Jesus Christ as your divine substitute who died in your place on the cross? Are you enjoying His peace and assurance that all your sins have been covered by the death of Jesus Christ? Ask Jesus Christ to be your personal Saviour today.

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