Messiah in the Gospel of Isaiah
Dr. Gerald L. Stover of Lansdale, Pennsylvania, has served the Lord for many years as a Bible teacher, author and Christian education consultant.
Isaiah 52:13-15 may be viewed as the great Preface to the 53rd chapter of Isaiah. In Isaiah 52:13 we viewed the astounding Program of Grace. Isaiah 52:14 was occupied with The Preview of Golgotha. With but a few words the prophet presents an astonishing portrait of Calvary. The third movement of truth is occupied with The Prophecy of Glory (52:15). Grace and glory sum up the content of the Preface to chapter 53. Verse 15 reads,
So shall He sprinkle many nations; the kings shall shut their mouths at Him: for that which had not been told them shall they see; and that which they had not heard shall they consider.
On the word sprinkle there has been some controversy, although in view of the context one wonders why the problem since it is one of atonement. The priestly and atoning work of the Servant of Jehovah stands out so prominently in the passage (52:13-15) as well as in chapter 53. Jerome translated the word with sprinkle. In the Syriac the word purify means to cleanse by expiation for sin. The Hebrew word is found in many passages of the Old Testament and the particular form of the word appearing in Isaiah 52:15 invariably indicates sprinkle. It is used of the sprinkling of the blood as in Leviticus 4:6; and in Leviticus 16:14-16, a passage dealing with the sprinkling of the blood on the Day of Atonement. In Leviticus 14:51 it is used of the sprinkling of water and blood. In Leviticus 8:10-12 it is associated with the sprinkling of oil. It seems quite clear to this writer that Isaiah intended that we should understand the word as being used of atonement, expiation of sin, and this by the sprinkling of the blood of sacrifice. It should be noted that some liberals are disturbed by the use of sprinkle, but this need not disturb us in the least.
Many nations refers us to the Gentiles. This can only mean that Messiah would make atonement, not only for the sins of Israel, but that the blood shed at Calvary would likewise provide atonement for many nations, meaning Gentiles. It is properly rendered sprinkle in the NASB. The ASV (1901) concurs with this translation, although its footnote recognizes that some prefer startle as the proper translation. The fact that sprinkle had priority in the thinking of the American revisers would indicate preference for sprinkle. Messiah’s engagement in the sprinkling of the blood of atonement for sin is doubtless to be preferred, and in so recognizing this fact, the death of Messiah is said to reach out beyond Israel and to include the Gentiles in God’s provision for atonement from sin. In the light of the fact that Isaiah taught that Messiah would finish the work of atonement (52:13), we now view the atonement as being complete in that it is to be offered to Jews and Gentiles.
The little word “So” would indicate that atonement is made by the sprinkling of His blood. Atonement was not made by our Lord acting as a reformer, a wise teacher. He acts as the Lamb of God that “taketh away the sin of the world” (John 1:29). Looking ahead into chapter 53 we note that He, Himself, was considered to be unclean, even as a leper would be viewed, and yet, it is His offering of Himself once for all and for sin, that provides cleansing for mankind.
Note that “kings shall be awed into silence.” The astonishment of verse 14 had to do with the dreadful sufferings of the Cross; the astonishment of verse 15 emphasizes the admiration, veneration and honor bestowed upon Him by kings. In Psalm 2 kings of the earth are viewed as raging against God and His Messiah. Here they are viewed in a humble and submissive attitude toward Him as King.
Many Gentiles will have been saved during the days of the Tribulation Period (Rev. 7:1-8). The prophet Isaiah adds that many will behold Him in His exaltation, and doubtless at His coming there will be those who had never heard the message of the gospel and who will now behold His glory. And during His reign on earth in millennial times many will be born (Isaiah 65:20) of those living in the flesh on the earth — many such will render allegiance in the King of kings and Lord of lords.
There is no teaching here that would justify belief in a second chance after death on the part of any one, kings or peasants. Death seals the doom of all who have heard and rejected the gospel and who died in their unbelief. However, in the hour of His revelation from Heaven in all His glory, we are taught that “every eye shall see Him, and they also which pierced Him” (Revelation1:7). These are living persons who have not experienced death, and doubtless those who believe then are those who had never heard a clear presentation of the gospel of salvation. Their amazement at His power and glory is that which Isaiah mentions in verse 15.
Unfortunately the chapter division appears where it does, and we urge our readers to continue with verse 1 as though it belongs to chapter 52.
The Preaching of Isaiah
As we enter chapter 53 it would appear that we enter into the Holy of Holies of Old Testament prophecy. This chapter has been described as “that sacred chamber wherein is pictured and foretold the sufferings of Christ and the glory that should follow.” Isaiah 53 has been described as the loftiest thing that Old Testament prophecy, outstripping itself, has ever achieved. Indeed, if Isaiah is the evangelist of the Old Testament prophetic books, then this great chapter is his gospel. Someone has said that Isaiah, like the Apostle Paul, is determined to know nothing save Jesus Christ and Him crucified. This great chapter seems to have a twofold purpose, namely: (1) to foretell the coming of Messiah who would, by the offering of Himself, make atonement for sin; and (2) to foretell the text of Israel’s confession of their national transgression against Messiah. This confession will accompany repentance in that day when Messiah is revealed to the nation in power and glory (Zechariah 12:10). Verse 1 deals with the preaching of Isaiah and points up two tremendous facts: (A) The Message of God; and (B) The Might of God.
The word “report” (v. 1) has in it the idea of tidings, message or news. When Isaiah speaks of “our” message he is really joining the ranks of others of the prophets whose message had likewise been rejected. Joel, Jonah, Hosea, Micah and others had preceded Isaiah in his ministry. All of God’s men had been discredited by those who had heard the preaching of the prophets.
Men in Isaiah’s day were little different from men in our day. Men of all the ages have been self-seeking, self-centred, lovers of pleasure, irreligious, sensual and desirous of possessions. They have not been concerned with the message of God. They have accepted all of the blessings and benefits of God; they have given nothing in return. Ingratitude, shameless irreverence and hardness of heart — these are the attitudes of natural men, and very often the stance of men and women who make profession of relation to God but whose hearts are empty. One can virtually see the prophet look up and cry out to God in his deep sense of having been rejected.
God is pure spirit Being (John 4:24) and as such does not possess parts — arms, hands, eyes, legs. “And to whom is the arm of the Lord revealed?” is an anthropomorphism, that is, a matter of employing the language of men with which to explain God and His attributes. We often speak of the “arm of the law” in order to point up the power of the law. Isaiah, in order to express the power of God spoke of his “arm.” What he actually said was, “Who believed the message of God; in whose life has the power of God done its mighty work?” Perhaps Paul had Isaiah 53:1 in mind when he associated the message of God with the might of God in Romans 1:16. The message of divine grace is a message of mighty power, a life-changing message, but it must be received by faith (John 1:12).
The Person of Messiah
Isaiah 53:2-3 concerns itself with the incomparable Person of Jesus Christ. Four facts are brought into focus at this point in Isaiah’s presentation of our Lord Jesus Christ: (A) His humanity (53:2a); (B) His divine origin (53:2b); (C) No regal glory (53:2c); and (D) No Messianic appeal (53:d). This simply means that Isaiah was led to speak of Messiah’s humanity and divine origin, and to point out that He did not possess that regal glory or splendor normally with kings. For this reason He did not appeal to the nation, Israel, as the promised Messiah.
In presenting the Person of the Messiah, Isaiah was led to emphasize His unique and yet true humanity, as well as His divine origin. Thus it is declared that His deity is unqualifiedly real. Then it is declared that His presentation of Himself to the nation, Israel, was without the usual regal splendor associated normally with the kingly status. The result? Isaiah taught that he thus had no Messianic appeal to the nation. How true it is that “He came unto His own, but His own received Him not” (John 1:11).