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 consultant.
As we studied Isaiah 53:4 we became painfully aware of Israel’s attitude toward Jesus of Nazareth and His Messianic claims. He was literally nothing to them. In fact, as we follow the text of their ultimate confession of their national sin against Messiah, they are heard to say, “… yet we did esteem Him stricken, smitten of God, and afflicted.”
These are hard words. “Stricken” is a word that would have been used in referring to a leper, one afflicted with a shocking disease by the Lord presumably. Jerome’s Vulgate renders it, “…we thought Him to be a leper.” They viewed Jesus of Nazareth as being under divine judgment. They esteemed Jesus of Nazareth as being under divine judgment. They esteemed Jesus as being smitten by God in the sense that He was judicially afflicted. It never occurred to Israel the He was suffering for the sins of the nation and others. Peter declares:
And now brethren, I know that through ignorance ye did it, as did also your rulers (Acts 3:17).
Which none of the princes of this world knew, for had they known it, they would not have crucified the Lord of glory (1 Corinthians 2:8).
Continuing Israel’s confession in the day of His revelation to the nation, we read:
But He was wounded for our transgressions, He was bruised for our iniquities: the chastisement of our peace was upon Him; and with His stripes we are healed (Isaiah 53:5).
Keep in mind that Isaiah 53:4, 5 touch down upon the repentance of many in Israel in that future moment when they shall see Him coming as the glorified Messiah. These words are really prophetic of what will be the attitude of the nation in the great day of His revelation. These words are prophetic of what will be Israel’s attitude in that hour when they see Him in all His glory and mourn for Him in the light of Zechariah 12:10. In that day Israel will actually confess that His death was for the sins of Israel. And it is interesting that the repentant Israel will in that day touch upon the manner of our Lord’s death — “But he was wounded for our transgressions…” (verse 5). “Wounded” means to pierce through, a word highly descriptive of crucifixion. Note Zechariah 12:10; Revelation 1:7. Actually it comes from a word meaning “to bore through, to pierce.”
His was a vicarious death, a death in the stead of others. The use of the word “bruised” in verse 5 would indicate that He was weighted down, crushed under the weight of sin and sorrows of humanity. He died bearing the full weight of the guilt of the world of mankind. The peace which has become ours accrues from the fact that He bore the penalty of the world’s sins in His own body on the cross.
Messiah’s Atoning Death
The confession of Israel continues from verse 5. In many respects this could be our testimony as well. We were gone astray. No one seemed to care for our lives. We were prey to wicked philosophies and strange beliefs. We knew not the Word of God (1 Peter 2:25; Ezekiel 34:5; Matthew 9:36), and we pursued a path of our own choosing. We pursued our own goals in life and endeavored to satisfy our own purposes. It does not say that we turned to the devil’s way. We turned to our own way, but then — this is really characteristic of all humanity without Christ.
The translation “and the Lord hath laid on Him the iniquity of us all” is rather weak. The real sense of the passage is a violent one. It might better read, “and the Lord hath caused to strike or fall on Him the iniquity of us all.” See 2 Samuel 1:15 and note how David dealt with the Amalekite who slew Saul. It would seem that in the passage before us, God caused the sins of all the ages, of all mankind, to rush upon the Lord Jesus Christ. They overwhelmed Him at a place called Calvary. There He suffered for us, in our stead. The thrust of the wrath of God was at Him. It does not mean that He, Himself, sinned, but it does mean that as the sacrifice for sin, He was judged or slain for all mankind.
Verse 7 reads in part, “He was oppressed and he was afflicted; yet He opened not His mouth …” The word “oppressed” carries with it the idea of oppression, vexation or ill-treatment. Delitzsch translates it, “He was ill-treated.” Von Orelli translates it “He was used violently.” He was deeply afflicted, subjected to pains and sorrows hard to be borne. The trial of our blessed Lord was the most shameful and disgraceful in human history. It was a mockery of justice. The oral law governing the courts of Israel was well known to all who participated in Jewish legal proceedings. Later these laws were codified and became part of the Mishna, but this was not until 200-500 A.D. The Sanhedrin was in our Lord’s case (this being a capital case) comprised of seventy judges plus one, the one being the presiding Judge, even the High Priest. There were laws governing every aspect of court proceedings, but they were thrown to the winds. They had no plans to find Him innocent!
There were points in the trial of our Lord when He did not reply, even though He was deeply afflicted or oppressed (Matt. 26:59-62; 27:12-14; Mark 15:1-6; John 19:9). As a lamb brought to the slaughter, He was without protest. There were no railing accusations on His part, no vociferous pronouncements of His innocence, no detailed protests —none of this characterized His trial and death. He courteously gave answer to certain questions concerning His person and work. He resorted to no complaint, for that would have militated against the voluntary character of His death.
Verse 8 constitutes one of the most difficult verses in the chapter. It would seem that the general idea of the passage is that the sufferings that He endured for His people were brought to a close by His being cut off by death after a very unjust trial. In fact, the word “judgment” in this passage refers to judicial decisions. Delitzsch translates it with “unrighteous legal proceedings.” In other words, after experiencing the most unjust trial, He was cut off by death. There is no thought of “prison” in the usual sense of the word. The word refers to a shutting up, a constraint or vexation and in this sense, the word might better be rendered “violent oppression.” From all this He was removed by death.
Isaiah adds, “…and who shall declare His generation? For He was cut off out of the land of the living: for the transgression of my people was He stricken” (verse 9).
Delitzsch and other translators render the passage in terms like:
“…and of His contemporaries who considered this: ‘He was snatched out of the land of the living, seeing that, on account of the transgression of my people, vengeance fell on Him?’”
No one of His generation really understood the real meaning of His death on the cross. They completely misunderstood in that they believed Him to suffer for His own sins, not for the sins of others. They suggested that He was in conflict with God, that He was being punished by God for His bold pronouncements that He was equal to God. No one really considered Him to be the God-man, the Son of God incarnate, and that as such He was bearing the load of the world’s guilt to Calvary and would die as the Sin-bearer. His people rejected Him, the Romans disdained Him. How few there were to find in Him God’s Redeemer from sin! Chapter 53 opens with the question, “Who hath believed our report?” Well might we ask the question as did Isaiah, for while there are many Christians, the tragedy is that so great a part of the human family passes Him by. He means little or nothing to a world that has little or no consciousness of sin. How then should men delight in the concept of a Saviour?
Lord Jesus Christ, our Saviour Thou,
With joy we worship Thee,
We know Thou hast redeemed us,
By dying on the tree.