The Suffering Messiah

The most daunting thought when writing a paper to show that Jesus of Nazareth fulfilled the requirements of Isaiah 53 is that the passage itself states that no-one, or at least very few, are going to believe the words you write. Whilst it contains some concrete predictions which were clearly fulfilled the intensity of the passage comes not from the narrative but from the explanations given for some of the events. A malefactor beaten was a common sight in Roman Palestine; it is when we read that he was 'bruised for our iniquities' or even that 'it pleased the Lord to bruise Him' that the enormity of the passage becomes clear. Therefore in what follows I will attempt to show the links between Isaiah 53 and the life of the Lord. However I shall aim to do so in a manner which will speak to an open or believing heart; those that wish to say "yeah - but ..." will have room to complain.

The unbelief which would great the servant of Isaiah 53 was an express feature of the Lord's time upon earth. As Matthew Henry points out Isa 53:1 is explicitly quoted in John 12:38. The Lord worked many miracles and yet the people did not believe on Him. In Mark 6:6 we find the Messiah Himself marveled at the unbelief even though He would have known of Isa 53:1. JFB points out that this disbelief in the message of the Messiah was not restricted to His walk upon the earth. In Rom 10:16 Paul applies the same verse[1] to those that refuse to believe the gospel.

JFB points out that the gospels are almost entirely silent as to the appearance of the Lord. We do get some gentle hints that his appearance was unremarkable. In Luk 2:52 we hear that He increased in wisdom and stature and in favor. So He grew stronger and able to work and wiser but we do not read of him being fair to look upon. This is an interesting contrast to Moses who was 'exceeding fair[2]' or David who had a beautiful countenance[3]. In addition Henry makes the interesting observation that in John 8:57 the people observed that He looked 'under 50' which was almost twenty years over His true age. This could easily be the sign of a 'man of sorrows' acquainted with grief.

The stripes of Isaiah 53:5 are one of the more graphic predictions of this passage and they clearly resonated with the Lord that would be enduring them. In all three synoptic gospels (Mat 20:19, Mar 10:34, Luk 18:33) He predicts His scourging, death and resurrection. John 19:1 tells us that just such a scourging occurred. Luke 23:16 refers to this as 'chastisement' which immediately reminds us of the 'chastisement of our peace' again found in Isa 53:5.

As well as being physically fulfilled Isa 53:4-6 is a good juncture to note the spiritual undercurrent to the visible proceedings.  Isa 53:4 claims He was smitten of God, Isa 53:5 states that it was for our sakes He suffered and Isa 63:6 states that the iniquity of us all was laid upon Him. That this was the Lord's doing is revealed most clearly in Gethsemane. The famous words, "nevertheless not my will, but thine, be done[4]" make clear that what followed was divinely mandated. In fact the Lord was in no doubt that He could pray for twelve legions of angels[5] that would be come to His assistance if required. The fact that the Lord carried our sin is obviously a fundamental tenet of the Gospel[6] yet it is also hinted at in the physical accounts of the crucifixion. In Mat 27:46 we read that the Lord called "my God, my God, why has thou forsaken me?" Many believe that the Lord turned His face from the Son because He was unable to look upon sin.

The events surrounding the crucifixion also provide the fulfillment of many of the predictions in Isa 53:7-9.  We are told that He would be silent before His oppressors. This facet of His behavior is noted in Matthew 26:63, Matthew 27:14, Mark 14:61 and John 19:9. We also know from Pilate's reaction in Matthew 27:14 that it was extremely abnormal for a prisoner to say nothing in His own defense.

Matthew 27:27 then provides the fulfillment of Isa 53:8 where we are told he would be 'taken from judgment'. We see the soldiers taking Jesus, stripping Him and mocking Him as king of the Jews. As we are all well aware the passage then continues to show the Lord being crucified and eventually yielding up the His Spirit. Again this is a fulfillment of the statement in Isa 53:8 that He would be 'cut off'. It is perhaps worthy of note that whilst Isaiah is speaking of a servant being 'cut off' the exact same prediction is made in Daniel 9:26 that the Messiah shall be 'cut off'. Thus those that seek to avoid the application of Isaiah 53 to the Messiah are still faced with the prediction that the Messiah would die, and not for Himself.

The circumstances of the Lords death and burial are well known so I shall not repeat them here other than to point out the clarity of the prediction in Isa 53:9.

Isa 53:9 And he made his grave with the wicked, and with the rich in his death; because he had done no violence, neither was any deceit in his mouth.

We know of course that the Lord died between two malefactors; he was with the wicked. We know too that Joseph of Arimathaea went to collect the body and lay it in His own tomb[7]. The fact that Jesus had done no wrong was explicitly stated by Pilate[8] and was implicitly stated by the fact that the Jews had been unable to get two witnesses to agree against Him.

The last three verses of Isaiah 53 were not, at least in my opinion, fulfilled by the Lord during His time upon the earth. They speak of a time when we shall see why it pleased the Lord to bruise Him. When He will be visible, glorious and sharing the spoil with the strong. It speaks of a time when He shall look back upon His humiliation and be satisfied. Of course this is partially true today. There is rejoicing in Heaven over every individual that is saved. However there will come a time when Christ is visibly, globally vindicated[9] and I believe that is the time referred to in the last three verses of this chapter.

As daunting as it is to commence upon a paper such as this it is even more difficult to close. How exactly to you summarize the fact that the pre-existent Messiah armed with the power of the universe and a retinue of over sixty thousand angels should chose to take on humble human form, live a fairly unpleasant life and then be tortured and crucified for those things that I have done wrong? Perhaps you don't. Perhaps you just leave the thoughts dangling in mid-air in the hopes that the reader will not be one that chooses to ignore either the fact of the report that scripture has left us or the enormity of its implications.


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