Paper on Isaiah 53


There are many who believe that Isaiah 53 begins in the previous chapter at Isaiah 52:13. The assumption is not without good reason. It was not until the year 1207 A.D. that the Bible was divided up into chapters. A very famous English archbishop, Steven Langton, did this. He was the man who prepared the “Magna Carta.” Three hundred and fifty years later, this printer, called Robert Stevens, divided the chapters into verses. This is why we have the Bible in its present form. All of God’s true servants believe in the inspired Word of God, but they do not believe that the divisions made by these two well-meaning men were inspired. Our present reading is an example of this. Surely Isaiah 52:13-15 is introductory to and belongs to chapter 53.


The Suffering Servant

The subject we wish to consider in these verses is Jehovah’s Servant or “Jehovah’s Suffering Servant.”

“Behold, my servant shall deal prudently, he shall be exalted and extolled, and be very high. As many were astonished at thee; his visage was so marred more than any man and his form more than the sons of men: 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.”

Note the three words in Isaiah 52:13, “Behold, my Servant.” In these words, God, through the prophet, is directing our attention to gaze earnestly upon “His Suffering Servant.” In Isaiah there are at least four portraits of Christ as the, Servant of God. It is not my intention to discuss these at this time. I want to confine our thoughts to the words of the prophet in Isaiah 52:13, “Behold, my Servant.”

There is a twofold view given in the Scripture regarding Christ as “God’s Servant.” On the one hand, He is presented as being weak or meek, and being despised, rejected and slain. On the other hand, He is presented to us as a Mighty Conqueror taking vengeance on the nations of the world, and also, in His infinite wisdom and strength, restoring Israel to her pristine glory. The former events would refer to His first advent, the latter to His second advent.

Isaiah 52:13-15 tells us of both of these advents. It is thrilling to think that Christ is exalted and will return. When He comes, He will reign over the earth for 1,000 years. He will reign prudently or wisely. He will reign well. He shall be exalted, extolled and made very high. This description fits the prophet’s utterance in chapter 53:10, “the pleasure of the Lord shall prosper in His hand.”


Christ, Humbled and Exalted

Before we go on to consider the humiliation and sufferings of the Lord, not only at the hands of cruel men, but at the hand of Almighty God, it is fitting to remind ourselves that, the Blessed One who was humiliated so, is now seated in glory on God’s right hand. One day soon, He will come in the air, and rapture His Church; then after a period of at least seven years, He will come to the earth in power and glory to redeem the godly remnant of Israel and the redeemed of the Tribulation. At this time, “every eye shall see Him, and they also who pierced Him; and all the nations of the earth shall wail because of Him.” See Revelation 1:7. That will be the crowning day for the Lord.

The hymn-writer said:

“Our Lord is now rejected, and by the world disowned,

By the many still neglected, but by the few enthroned.

But then He’ll come in power; the hour is drawing nigh,

The crowning day is coming by and by.”

It is wonderful to think that we, who are His people, will share His glory; we will appreciate and rejoice, as never before, in the glories, excellencies, and worth of the One whom we are privileged to call Savior.

It is clearly seen that Isaiah 52:13-15 deal with Christ’s ultimate exaltation. “Behold, My servant shall deal prudently. He shall be exalted, extolled, and be very high.” This final exaltation is reserved for the future. The truth expressed also in Isaiah 52:15 is still future:

“So shall He sprinkle (or startle) many nations; the king shall shut their mouth at Him: for that which they had not been told they shall see; and that which they had not heard they shall consider.”

I want to leave the future aspect of the coming of the Lord and His ultimate exaltation to a future chapter. What I want to engage our minds with at this time is Isaiah 52:14, which speaks about His humiliation. “As many as were astounded at Thee,” or “astonished at Thee.” During His lifetime, many were astonished at Him. He was a mystery; no one, not even His disciples understood Him. Even today, there are those of His own people who are astonished at Him, especially when they consider that, “His visage was so marred more than any man, and His form more than the sons of men.”

Let us now consider His humiliation: Philippians 2 brings us very close to the fact of the Lord’s humiliation. First of all, Paul describes Him in His unexcelled glory, “Who being in the form of God, thought it not robbery to be equal with God.” I believe in the deity of Christ. The Scriptures declare that Christ was God. Our verse says that, “He was in the form of God, and thought it not a thing to be grasped after to be equal with God.” The inference here is that He was God, co-equal and co-eternal. Thank God for the clear teaching on the eternal sonship and deity of Christ.

This One, who is God, divested Himself of His personal glory, and “emptied Himself into a body of human flesh, took upon Himself the form of a servant, and was made in the likeness of men.” The Lord was rejected because “He made Himself the Son of God.” The Lord did not “make Himself” the Son of God. He was the Son of God. He did “make Himself of no reputation, He humbled Himself and became obedient unto death.” Not just a natural death, a most unnatural one—“the death of the cross.” In this profound portion of the Word we have the fact that though He was perfect God, He became perfect man. What a beautiful blend of deity and humanity we see in God’s perfect Servant.

This was the One of whom the prophet spoke, “His visage was marred more than any man’s, and His form more than the son’s men.” (Isaiah 52:14) These are profound words. How can we finite beings grasp this meaning? It is a mystery how our Lord was mutilated so. Oh, that we could appreciate it!

These verses speak of a perfect disfiguration—if there is such a thing. No one was ever disfigured the way our Lord was disfigured. It was absolute. His face and His whole appearance were so mutilated that when men were finished beating Him, He was not recognizable as a man. It is a great mystery that the Lord Jesus allowed Himself to be treated so.

This mystery deepens when we consider the words of our Savior, “A body Thou hast prepared Me.” The body He lived in was given to Him by God. It was a prepared body. And it makes it all the sadder to think that the body that was prepared for Him, and given to Him by His Father, was marred and scarred beyond recognition. The disfiguration is further emphasized when contrasted with His transfiguration on the mount. There we see His glory; here we see His abject humiliation.


The Suffering of Christ

Let us now look at some of the actual experiences of our Lord prior to His crucifixion. Consider the pathos that must have gripped His heart as He gathered with His disciples to celebrate the Passover. The Lord knew exactly the symbolic meaning of this feast. He not only looked backward to its institution, but also looked forward and saw Himself as the true Passover Lamb. His must have been a harrowing experience.

After celebrating the Passover, He took a loaf of bread from the table and said to His disciples, “This bread is a symbol of my body.” The Lord knew the Scriptures better than any living man. He had said to His disciples at least three times previously, “I am going to Jerusalem, and will suffer all that the prophets have spoken concerning Me.” After returning thanks, He broke the bread and gave it to His disciples, and said, “This is my body.”

Can you imagine the thoughts that were going through the Lord’s mind when He did this? Even before Calvary, He was no stranger to the awfulness of it. In fact, Calvary was enacted in Heaven long before the foundations of the world were laid. Peter said, “He was a lamb foreordained before the foundation of the world.” Therefore the Lord knew what was about the befall Him. Then He took the cup in which was the wine, and He said, “This is my blood, drink ye all of it.” “My blood […] My body,” the Savior said. He could see Himself hanging on a cross, the blood flowing from His veins.

To further emphasize the Lord’s deep suffering before the cross, look at Mark 14:32-34:

“And they came to a place which was called Gethsemane; and He said to His disciples, ‘Sit ye here, while I shall pray,’ and He took with Him Peter, James and John and began to be greatly amazed, and to be very depressed.”

Try and picture in your mind our Lord’s suffering as a man as He contemplated the Cross. “He began to be greatly troubled and to be very distressed.” Due to the overwhelming pressure of immediate events, there evidently were obvious physical changes in our Lord’s appearance. Peter, James and John saw these changes. Though enveloped in horror and anguish He looked at them and said, “My soul is exceedingly sorrowful unto death.” Our Lord’s sufferings were not only physical, but also spiritual and soul sufferings. Note: He says here, “My soul is exceedingly sorrowful unto death.”

At this point, He left them and went a little further into the Garden, where He fell on the ground. The word “fell” carries with it the thought of “falling repeatedly” on the ground. The Lord was so crushed in His soul and in His spirit, that His physical frame and strength were inadequate to support Him. Can you visualize the Lord staggering into the Garden, falling repeatedly, and while in that prostrate position praying, “if it were possible, that the hour might pass from Him?” These are startling words. Here was our Lord in the supreme crisis of His purpose on earth. The hour that He had come for is almost upon Him. As a man, He shrank from it, and He looked up into the face of His Father and pleaded,  

“Abba, Father all things are possible unto Thee. Take away this cup from Me; Nevertheless not what I will, but what Thou wilt.” - Mark 14:36

The titles that the Lord used in addressing God are interesting. Firstly, the Lord appealed to God as His Father, saying, “Father if it be possible, let this cup pass from Me.” He is appealing from the strongest human relationship, that of a son to a father, and evoking the help of omnipotence saying, “all things are possible to Thee.” Then, our Lord uses the very intimate term “Abba.” This is an endearing word that infants used. It would equate with our word “Daddy.” When uttered, it conveys the idea of unreasoning trust. There was never an appeal like this made to a father, and furthermore, one met with such an instant response. Abba, though omnipotent, was powerless on this occasion. God’s heart must have been well nigh broken as He anticipated His Son being plunged into the vortex of His wrath.

You may be better able to understand this if you have stood beside the bed of one of your little ones, wracked in fever, eyes burning, cheeks aflame and as they have looked appealingly into your face, they gasp out with complete abandon, “Daddy, help me.” However, you couldn’t help them, even though your heart was stirred and burning tears fell profusely. “Help me, Daddy!” Even though your heart was well nigh broken, you could not help them. That is exactly how God felt when Christ appealed in the most intimate term, “Abba, Father let this hour pass from Me.” “Take away this cup from Me.” We should be eternally grateful to God, our Father, that He didn’t help Him, because if He had delivered Christ, we would have been eternally lost.

After the Lord had gone through that terrible experience, He made His way back to His disciples. How He needed the support and comfort of His own at this time. But alas, He found them sleeping! They were unconcerned. They did not appreciate His awful struggle. They did not understand. Even Peter, who a few hours previously had vehemently declared, “Though all men forsake You, yet will not I forsake You.” The Lord needed him at this time, but he, along with James and John, was lying asleep.

After the Lord had wakened them, He went back into the Garden. Mark says that He prayed the same prayer, and went through the same experiences. Once again he came back to His disciples for comfort, help, and support, and He found them sleeping again. He then went into the Garden for the third time and possibly at this point He had the experience as recorded by Luke the physician. “His sweat was as it were great drops of blood falling down to the ground.” Oh, the anguish of the Lord, not only physical, but also of the soul. Can any one of us fathom or understand the depths of the suffering of “God’s Suffering Servant?”

In my duty as a medical orderly, while a P.O.W. with the Japanese, I saw many men die. Some were too weak to protest their going. Others fought to their last breath. Some struggled bravely, calling desperately for help. Beads of sweat stood out on their foreheads - their bodies were drenched in perspiration. Despite their fierce struggles I never saw any of them sweat drops of blood. Christ’s suffering cannot be measured in terms of human pain. Blessed Savior!

When He went back to His disciples the third time He said to them,

“Sleep on now and take your rest. The hour is come; behold the Son of man is betrayed into the hands of sinners. Rise up, let us go; lo, he that betrayeth Me is at hand.” Mark 14:41-42

Immediately after Jesus had spoken these words to His disciples Judas came leading a large group armed with swords and clubs. Between them they had arranged a sign. “Whomsoever I shall kiss, that same is He; take Him and lead Him away safely.” As the multitude approached, Judas made straight for Jesus and said, “Master, master,” and kissed Him. The thought here is that Judas kissed the Lord repeatedly. What an open show of affection - what a hypocrite. This is the only time that we read of Christ being kissed on the cheek, and to think it was by a traitor.

At this point, they took Him and led Him away. He may have been buffeted on the way, but He was not as one unwilling, pushed or dragged. “He was led as a lamb to the slaughter” (see Isaiah 53:7). From this point on He was the object of derision. He was mocked and jeered at. He was brutally beaten. The soldiers mocked Him, mobbed Him and scoffed at Him. He suffered every indignity that was possible to heap upon Him. The merciless Roman soldier lashed him; with his whip he tore the flesh from the back of the Lord. With this terrible treatment there came into focus the words of the prophet hundreds of years before, “I gave my back to the smiters.” The prophet also said that the Suffering Servant would give His cheeks to them that plucked off the hair; and that He would not hide His face from shame and spitting (see Isaiah 50:6).

These predictions are awesome! Cruel soldiers grasped handfuls of our Lord’s beard and pulled it from His face, leaving it mutilated and bleeding. Into these open wounds they poured their vile spittle. That’s the picture the Spirit is bringing before us here. Is there any wonder why the Psalmist wrote in Psalm 22 such meaningful words concerning our Lord, “I am a worm and not a man?” The Psalmist depicts the Lord as feeling like a worm, loathed, despised and rejected. The worm is one of the lowest forms of life on our planet. We are repulsed by its looks, and certainly would never think of touching it. The Lord Jesus became a reproach of men. He was utterly rejected and despised.

Now, getting back to our text, can you see with the eye of faith, the “face that was marred more than any man’s?” Can you see the “form that was so marred that it was not recognizable as a human being?” With this picture in your mind, let me remind you of the Scripture which says,

“Is it nothing to you, all ye that pass by? Behold and see if there be any sorrow like unto my sorrow, wherewith the Lord hath afflicted Me in the day of his fierce anger.” Lam. 1:12

Dear brother and sister, do the sufferings of Christ touch your heart?

How greatly Jesus must have loved you!

“His, the wounds, the curse, the gall;

His, the stripes, He bore them all;

His, the dying cry of pain;

When our sins He did sustain.”

As the Spirit humbles our heart and anoints our eyes, may our hearts respond in complete surrender.

“Were the whole realm of nature mine,

That were an offering far too small.

Love so amazing, so divine,

Shall have my heart, my life, my all.”