Messiah in the Gospel of Isaiah
Dr. Gerald L. Stover of Landsdale, Pennsylvania, has served the Lord for many years as a Bible teacher, author and Christian education consultant. He has been a past contributor to “Food for the Flock,” this current article being the first of a brief series of studies on Isaiah 53.
Augustine wrote, “Methinks Isaiah writes not a prophecy, but a gospel.” Isaiah has been referred to as “The Fifth Gospel.” Polycarp, the disciple of the Apostle John, called Isaiah 52:13-53:12 the Golden Passional of the Old Testament.” Another has observed, “It looks as if it (Isaiah 52:13-53:12) had been written beneath the cross of Golgotha.”
Isaiah, like Paul the Apostle, is determined to know none but Jesus Christ and Him crucified. In Isaiah 1-39 God is revealed in all His holiness, righteousness and justice. In Isaiah 40-66 He is revealed as redeeming, comforting and enriching the lives of His people. Isaiah 53 is the central chapter of the last twenty-seven chapters of this great prophecy. Jesus Christ and Him crucified is at the very heart of the redemptive section (40-66) of Isaiah, even as He is at the heart of the redemptive program of God.
Isaiah means “The Salvation of Jehovah.” Isaiah 53 is indeed the heartbeat of God’s plan to save men from the condemnation of sin. All the light of sacred glory converges on this holy portion of the Word of God. The believer stands on holy ground and waits with deep reverence as the Holy Spirit pulls aside the veil that the Holy of Holies of our Lord’s sufferings might be exposed to reverent affection. The sobs of the Saviour fall upon the ears of the one who passes through the portal of the last three verses of Isaiah 52 into the sanctuary of suffering and glory in Isaiah 53. Herein is the heart of God laid bare manifesting its munificent grace to the delight of the child of God. This section of Isaiah is written in the minor key, and constitutes the Holy Spirit’s reminder of the incalculable price that the incarnate God paid for our redemption. This Scripture is the acme of suffering, the crucible of God’s purpose in atonement, the hope of a despairing world, and the joy of every believer.
The last three verses of Isaiah 52 constitute a prologue to chapter fifty-three. There are thorns and diadems in these words. Here the tears of the cross are crystalized into jewels set in Messiah’s crown. There are great mountain peaks of glory and deep valleys of suffering before us. Herein is prosperity and poverty, suffering and glory, tragedy and triumph, woe and wonder. F. C. Jennings translated Isaiah 52:13-14 as follows:
Behold my servant, He shall act wisely, raised shall He be, extolled shall He be, high shall He be, yea the Highest.
As there were many astonished at thee, (so marred was His visage, more than that of a man, more marred was His form than of all Adam’s sons).
As a translation of Isaiah 52:15 this writer prefers,
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. (KJV)
The chapter and verse divisions of the Bible are not inspired, and while many are quite helpful, there are times when they break the thread of thought being presented. It is regrettable that the chapter division (chapter 53) appears where it does. Chapter 53 is really a continuance of the message found in 52:13-15. In our study we will disregard the chapter division and consider the passage of Isaiah 52:12 - 53:12 to be one continuous message concerning Messiah.
Before we enter into the study of this portion of Isaiah, perhaps it will be best to present the outline of the whole so that our readers can refer to it from time to time as they examine the exposition yet to come.
1. The Preface (Isaiah 52:13-15)
A. The Program of Grace (52:13)
1. His finished work (v. 13a)
2. His resurrection (v. 13b)
3. His ascension (v. 13c)
4. His exaltation (v. 13d)
B. The Preview of Golgotha (52:14)
1. The astonishment of men (v. 14a)
2. The affliction of Messiah (v. 14b)
C. The Prophecy of Glory (52:15)
1. The astonishment of glory (v. 15a)
2. The atonement for sin (v. 15b)
3. The affirmation of the gospel (v. 15c)
II. The Preaching of Isaiah (Isaiah 53:1)
A .The Message of God (la)
B. The Might of God (lb)
III. The Person of Messiah (Isaiah 53:2-3)
A. His Humanity (2a)
B. His Divine Origin (2b)
C. No Regal Glory (2c)
D. No Messianic Appeal (3)
IV. The Passion of Messiah (Isaiah 53:4-9)
A. Israel’s Confession (4-5)
B. Messiah’s Atoning Death (6-8)
C. Messiah’s Burial (9)
V. The Program of Messiah (Isaiah 53:10-12)
A. Messiah’s Resurrection (10a)
B. Messiah’s Program of Grace (10b)
C. Messiah’s Satisfaction (11a)
D. Messiah’s Grace (11b)
E. Messiah’s Inheritance (12a)
F. Messiah’s Priestly Ministry (12b)
Behold, my servant shall deal prudently; He shall be exalted and extolled, and be very high. (Isaiah 52:13 KJV).
Behold, my servant, He shall act wisely, raised shall He be, extolled shall He be, high shall He be, yea, the highest. (F. C. Jennings Translation).
The words “Behold, my servant” introduce us to the preface (52:13). “Behold” is the translation of one word (Heb. hinneh), a word used by God for the purpose of calling attention to important matters. In this instance it points the reader to God’s Son, the Messiah, who is cast here in the role of a servant. Those familiar with the Epistle to the Hebrews will immediately recall the words.
Wherefore, holy brethren, partakers of the heavenly calling, consider the Apostle and High Priest of our profession, Christ Jesus (Hebrews 3:1).
The Holy Spirit loves to call attention to our Lord Jesus Christ as indicated in John 16:13, 14.
Nevertheless, when He, the Spirit of truth, is come, He will guide you into all truth; for He shall not speak of Himself, but whatever He shall hear, that shall He speak; and He will show you things to come.
He shall glorify me; for He shall receive of mine, and shall show it unto you.
Even in the Old Testament it was the joy of the Spirit of God to point to the coming Messiah and call to one’s attention the graces and beauties, the lights and perfections of God’s Son. And it must be said that if a ministry is truly spiritual it will draw attention to Christ Jesus. It is quite obvious then that the Holy Spirit at this point in Isaiah’s great prophecy would point its readers to Messiah, the Lord Jesus Christ.
The servant of Jehovah is not Israel. Many scholars in the field of Judaics have hitherto pointed to the nation Israel as the fulfilment of this Messianic passage. Did not Rashi, the ancient scholar apply it to Israel? Kimchi did likewise, but the wise scholar in Israel, Aben Ezra expressed grave doubts about this interpretation. Rashi applied it to Israel, but in all honesty had to point out that the Messianic interpretation of this section of Isaiah was quite universal. The great Maimonides, regarded by many as the highest authority in Judaism, rejected the idea that the servant of Jehovah was Israel here.
Israel is addressed as servant, but always by name with the exception of Isaiah 43:10 where the subject is addressed in the plural to avoid a mistake. In Isaiah 43:10 the nation is addressed as “my witness.” Then in the singular as “my servant.” It is crystal clear that the nation is referred to thus as His servant. No such designation occurs in Isaiah 52 - 53. See Isaiah 41:8; 44:21; 45:4; 49:3 where the nation is named as the servant of God. The servant of Isaiah 52:13 is by no means the nation of Israel.
In Isaiah 53 the One who suffers is obviously innocent. Could this have been said of a nation whose sacrifices were by this time objectionable to God? Alseeh (Alsheich) was the chief rabbi in Safet, Upper Galilee, in the 16th century. In his “Commentaries on the Earlier Prophets,” he says,
Our rabbis with one voice accept and affirm the opinion that the prophet is speaking of the King Messiah and we ourselves adhere to the same view.
Many in Israel find the idea of a suffering Messiah repugnant. Gentiles, too, have been known to consider blood atonement as offensive. When man has little consciousness of his sin, and what that sin means to a holy God, one is not surprised that that man has little appreciation of a Saviour who died for the sins of mankind.
Perhaps the Holy Spirit will grant, to all who read these studies a fresh appreciation of what the Cross meant to our Lord Jesus Christ, and create within us a greater degree of dedication to His Lordship.