by Sam E. Stone
Isaiah 53 is the most quoted section from the Old Testament prophets in all the New Testament. An example of the importance of this chapter is found in Acts 8 when Philip converted the Ethiopian official. An angel of the Lord instructed Philip to approach his chariot and stay near it (v. 29). The man was reading aloud from this very text! “Do you understand what you are reading?” Philip asked. “How can I unless someone explains it to me?” the man replied (vv. 30, 31).
Then he invited Philip to come up and ride with him. He asked, “Who is the prophet talking about, himself or someone else?” That was all Philip needed. “[He] began with that very passage of Scripture and told him the good news about Jesus” (v. 35). The New Testament remains the best commentary on the Old Testament, as we will learn today.
His Appearance/Isaiah 53:1-3
The verses immediately before our printed text (52:13-15) show that the presentation of the Servant goes from triumph, through suffering, to victory. They summarize the divine standpoint while chapter 53 gives the human observation.
Who has believed our message and to whom has the arm of the Lord been revealed? This quotation was repeated by New Testament writers as well (see John 12:38; Romans 10:16). Many were reluctant to believe Jesus had the ability to meet every need. He is compared to a tender shoot and a root out of dry ground, suggesting something small or fragile. This fits with Isaiah’s promise that the Messiah “will come up from the stump of Jesse” (Isaiah 11:1, 10). David himself seemed an unlikely choice when he was named king.
The reaction of people 700 years later was accurately described by the prophet—despised and rejected by men, a man of sorrows, and familiar with suffering. While it is true that large crowds followed Jesus for part of his ministry, most of them turned away from him near the end (see Mark 14:50).
His Suffering/Isaiah 53:4-9
Those familiar with the New Testament will recognize familiar expressions from Isaiah 53 that explain what happened to the Suffering Servant, Jesus. Surely he took up our infirmities and carried our sorrows. Matthew 8:17 cites the fulfillment of this verse as Jesus healed many.
When Jesus was stricken, smitten, and afflicted, some felt he was being punished by God. Instead, he was pierced for our transgressions (see Psalm 22; John 19:34). All of the pain and grief Jesus suffered was because of our sins; he had none of his own. Peter alluded to this: “By his wounds you have been healed” (1 Peter 2:24, 25). Jesus, the true Lamb of God (John 1:29, 35), was led like a lamb to the slaughter. When facing the authorities, he said nothing in his own defense (see Matthew 27:12-14; Luke 23:8, 9).
He was assigned a grave with the wicked, and with the rich in his death. When he died on a cross between two thieves some concluded “guilt by association.” When he died, a wealthy Jewish leader named Joseph of Arimathea took his body and buried it in his own tomb (Matthew 27:57-60).
His Reward/Isaiah 53:10-12
In v. 10 the tone changes showing the exaltation and triumph of the Lord. Yet it was the Lord’s will to crush him and cause him to suffer. What evil men did to Christ served to further God’s ultimate plan. His Son Jesus would die for the sins of the world. The Old Testament sacrifices were inadequate. Nothing could atone for sin except this one solitary sacrifice. Because Christ is the sinless Lamb of God, he lives forever. Though the Lord makes his life a guilt offering, he will see his offspring and prolong his days. As John Oswalt put it, “The Servant did not come to tell people what God wants; rather, he came to be what God wants for us.” His resurrection accomplished this. After the suffering of his soul, he will see the light of life and be satisfied . . . . My righteous servant will justify many.
The Ethiopian nobleman (mentioned earlier) learned this from Philip. He quickly acknowledged that Jesus is the Son of God. In repentance, he was baptized into him (Acts 8:38). We can have our sins completely covered by the sacrifice of Jesus’ blood as well. Jesus gave his life as a ransom for all who will trust and obey him (Matthew 20:28). Praise God!
Sam E. Stone is the former editor of Christian Standard. He continues his writing and speaking ministry from his home in Cincinnati, Ohio.