Isaiah 53:1-12.

Prophecies of the Coming Messiah

Copyright © 2007, American Journal of Biblical Theology   Scripture quotes from KJV

Judean Wilderness                                    

"Have it your way!"  We often have a well-defined model of how we want and expect our world to appear as we interact with it.  Those responsible for product sales spare no effort in their attempt to determine what people want and expect from their products in order to maximize profits.  Sellers want our expectations satisfied so that we will purchase and re-purchase their products.  Skilled merchants understand the basic nature of man, a nature that responds positively when their expectations are realized and negatively when they are not.

We apply this formula when we order food from a restaurant.  We have an expectation that is based upon many factors, and when the food arrives, we are free to be critical of its form and content.  The writer of the menu attempts to describe the meal in a way that will attract an order, and the chef attempts to cook a meal that fulfills the expectation of the customer.  If an automobile does not perform to the level of our expectations, we refer to it as a "lemon."  If an employee does not perform to the level of our expectations, the employee may be disciplined or fired.  If a product does not perform to the level of our expectations, we may return it to the store for a refund.  We choose products on a store shelf that appear to most closely meet our expectations for performance and price. 

Sometimes our expectations can form a model that is so well-defined that we miss something important when it does not quite match that which we are looking for.  A good example is how we often fail to recognize someone we know when we meet them in a context that is radically different from the norm.  Sometimes we just can not see things that do not fit nicely into our little box of expectations.   How great a part do our expectations play in the way we accept the many things we see and do in this life?  Do you set the level of your expectations so high that you are difficult to satisfy?

This set of expectations play a large part in defining our world view, the box of rules within which we comfortably live.  As long as things fit within that box, we are satisfied, but things that do not fit our little box are rejected, ignored, or all-together missed. When our expectations cause us to be blind to what clearly appears before us, we are experiencing what is referred to by some as "paradigm paralysis," a behavior that is literally dysfunctional.

One area of life where people suffer most from paradigm paralysis is in their recognition of God's grace and His purpose in the salvation of man through faith in Him.  God's plan has always been to redeem those who place their faith and trust in Him, a redemption that is provided through the atonement paid by Jesus Christ on the Cross of Calvary.  Yet, the expectations that people have concerning God leave many blind to the gospel message.  Throughout the history of man, people have tended to create their own gods that fit their own viewpoints concerning the world around them.  However, God has revealed Himself to mankind from the very beginning, through the patriarchs such as Adam and Noah, and through the Hebrew lineage of Abraham, Isaac, Israel, etc.  He also revealed His purpose through the Hebrew prophets as God chose to bring His redemptive purpose through the house of Abraham.  Not only did God reveal His purpose, He also revealed the nature and work of the coming Messiah who would bring to culmination His redemptive work.

If any group of people should have recognized the Messiah, it was the Jews.  The prophets had given them many detailed and accurate descriptions of the coming Messiah, suitable for recognizing Him when He came.1  However, they gave little or no importance to the testimonies of the patriarchs and prophets, preferring to apply their own interpretation to fit their own model and persecuting those who disagreed with it.  Instead of looking for a Messiah who would reconcile them to God, they expected a Messiah who would be a worldly king who would defend them from their enemies, and in the time of the first century the Jews thought the Messiah would rise up and defeat the Rom..  They could not understand that the scope of the Messiah's victory would be far broader than that of a simple national struggle since they were so obsessed with their worldly political status. 

One of the most graphic descriptions of the nature and purpose of the coming Messiah are in four poems, or songs, that Isaiah writes (42:1-4,49:1-6, 50:4-9, 52:13-53:12) and the following passage is from the last of these.

Isaiah 53:1.

Who hath believed our report? and to whom is the arm of the LORD revealed?

As we approach Isaiah's Servant Song, we should note that the Hebrew form of poetry is used.  Instead of rhyming words, Hebrew poetry rhymes ideas or concepts.  Consequently, each idea that is presented is repeated.  However, Isaiah takes advantage of this literary form and uses the pair to describe more completely what it is he is presenting.  We can see this rhyming in 53:1 as the statement has two similar clauses, each further illustrating the idea of the other.  As this passage is read, pay close attention to the duplicate patterns, as each contributes to our understanding of the author's message.

Isaiah writes his prophesy in the past tense, as if the coming of the messiah had already taken place.  When the Messiah did come, most of the Jews, in particular the Jerusalem leadership, failed to link Jesus with the prophesies that they already knew.  Blinded by their well-defined expectations of a world leader, they could not believe that Jesus was the Messiah.  Jesus would do a mighty work as He came to save all people from the condemnation of the separation of God that sin engenders in all mankind.  To whom was this work (arm of the LORD) revealed?  We find that those who believed that Jesus is the Messiah were very few: limited to the 12 apostles and at least 150 other disciples who are often mentioned individually and by group throughout the New Testament.  How could the entire nation fail to recognize the Messiah who fulfilled all of the prophecies concerning Himself?  The answer is the same today:  disbelief.  

The pattern of disbelief has continued through the centuries with very few believing "our report," even today.  

Isaiah 53:2.

For he shall grow up before him as a tender plant, and as a root out of a dry ground: he hath no form nor comeliness; and when we shall see him, there is no beauty that we should desire him.

One area in which our expectations are denied is in Jesus' appearance.  God commanded that no "graven image" be made, meaning simply that man is not to make icons to be worshipped.  The legalistic Jews over-applied this commandment, decreeing by law that all drawing images of people, animals, and plants is contrary to the Law.  Consequently, though we do have images of others who lived during Jesus' time, we have none of Jesus, Himself.  The study of this passage may reveal that those images of Jesus that we have come to accept from artistic interpretation are quite erroneous.

Tender Plant / Root from dry ground.  Isaiah describes Jesus' appearance to be quite different than that which we tend to depict today.  Movie producers would have a hard time finding an actor to accurately play Jesus, and audiences would be unresponsive because of one simple truth:  Jesus was not a physically attractive man.  Jesus was raised by Joseph and Mary, and later only by Mary.  Joseph was a worker of wood, but we know he is out of Jesus' life sometime after Jesus became a young man.  Jesus was called the "Son of Mary", not the "Son of Joseph," forever impressing the stigma of bearing a fatherless child upon Mary.  These people were poor, and rejected by society as a whole.  So, Jesus grew up poor in a village that was not respected by the community.  A tender plant that grows in dry ground is withered and stressed, and one who grows up poor and rejected shows the signs of such stress.  These signs could be seen on Jesus.

What were the Jews expecting for their Messiah?  Certainly, this poor son of Mary could not be the Messiah.  We may be reminded that David also received the same treatment when Samuel came to Eli to anoint the next king.

No Comeliness / No Beauty.  It may be noticeable that when artists render their interpretations of the appearance of Jesus, they do so by employing every form of beauty they can.  Jesus is always depicted as a handsome man who has the physical appearance of that which any culture considers attractive and handsome.  Isaiah describes Jesus as quite plain, one who would not attract attention based upon his good looks.  When the Jerusalem Jews looked upon Jesus they would say, "certainly this man can be no king" simply because of His lack of beauty.  His hair and skin would be dark, a product of His Jewish lineage, and His skin was probably quite rough and mottled both from his mean upbringing and from the stresses of growing up in an arid and sunny region.

Who is "we"?  Some discussion has taken place over the years concerning who Isaiah is referring to in this passage, with most agreeing that Isaiah is identifying with his Jewish nations, Israel and Judah, those to whom the prophecy was directly written.  Isaiah's definition of "we" can easily be extrapolated to refer to all who have had the opportunity to know who Jesus is and has rejected Him.  This would include, not only the Jewish descendants who live today, but also those non-Jews who have rejected the gospel.  God's Word was not meant for only Abraham and his descendents, but for all people who, through learning of God's love, would turn to Him in faith.

What were the Jews expecting?  Certainly this unattractive, grizzled man could not be the Messiah.  We may recall that Saul was selected as the first King of Israel, and his only asset was his physical appearance.

Isaiah 53:3.

He is despised and rejected of men; a man of sorrows, and acquainted with grief: and we hid as it were our faces from him; he was despised, and we esteemed him not.

The Jews were looking for a celebrated king, not a fatherless child from a no-account village, or despised criminal.  Society looked down on Jesus immediately from his birth, referring to Him as the Son of Mary, a constant reminder that he was considered a child who was concieved out of wedlock.  Jesus would have faced rejection throughout His entire life, a rejection that was only repeated when He started His redemptive ministry.  The Jewish leadership hated Jesus from the very beginning of that ministry when His message did not match their expectations.  His message stressed the demonstration of true love over the keeping of Jewish tradition and the law of the scribes.  His call for repentance and faith exposed the hypocrisy of the Jerusalem Jews.  His rejection of the Jerusalem traditions and His claim to be able to forgive sins brought charges of blasphemy from the Pharisees who quickly came to despise him.  As we look at Jesus' ministry we can see the accuracy of Isaiah's prophesy.  Jesus was a man of sorrow who grieved over those who rejected God's offer of grace as He watched the Jerusalem Jews turn away from Him and reject Him.

Though Isaiah's description of the Messiah is clear, the Jews still held to the image of a victorious military leader who would restore Israel as a nation.  The redemptive ministry of Jesus was not what they were expecting at all.

Isaiah 53:4.

Surely he hath borne our griefs, and carried our sorrows: yet we did esteem him stricken, smitten of God, and afflicted.  

The Jews attributed misfortune, disease, suffering, and grief to the just reward for sin.  The smug Jerusalem Jews viewed Jesus' suffering as a just reward for His own sins, never realizing that it was for their sins that He was crucified.  They mocked Him as they crucified Him, as they attributing His pain to God's judgment.  They believed that they were righteous because of their adherence to Mosaic Law and the Jewish traditions, failing to recognize that their attempts at keeping the law did not prevent them from continuing in sin, a sin that separates them from God.  It is we who deserve separation from God, and it is we who deserve to experience the penalty for our sins.  It is our grief and our sorrows that Jesus bore for us.

Isaiah 53:5-6.

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. 6All we like sheep have gone astray; we have turned every one to his own way; and the LORD hath laid on him the iniquity of us all.

What was the purpose of the coming of the Messiah?  The Jews could never look past their nationalism and see God's true purpose for them.  They looked back to the kingdom of David when Israel was free of foreign domination and control, a state that lasted a very short time for the troubled nations of Israel and Judah.  They saw the Messiah as the One who would free them from the bondage of foreign domination.  However, God's plan was that the Messiah would do far more for the people He loves.  He would free them from the bondage that dooms them to eternal separation from God: the bondage of transgression.  Transgressions are those sins that we commit by choice, literally in rebellion against God.  Iniquities refer to the godless "debauchery," behavior that is the product of unrestrained human nature.  It is this sin that separates people from a Holy and Just God.  These are also the sins that found no remedy in the sacrificial system of the Old Testament.

Jesus suffered on the cross, shedding His blood when He was brutally scourged, as the one true and final sacrifice so that all who place their faith and trust in God would find forgiveness for those sins.  It was for our iniquities and for our transgressions that Jesus was wounded, bruised, and died.  The penalty for our sin was placed upon Him, upon Messiah, upon God Himself. 

Isaiah 53:7.

He was oppressed, and he was afflicted, yet he opened not his mouth: he is brought as a lamb to the slaughter, and as a sheep before her shearers is dumb, so he openeth not his mouth.

As Isaiah describes the suffering of the Messiah he notes that, like a lamb to the slaughter, he offered no physical or verbal resistance.  Where those for whom He died would have responded with violence, Jesus demonstrated a spirit of calm peace.  Jesus' treatment at the hands of the Roman guards during His beating that preceded the flogging was particularly brutal.  The guards fed off the cries for mercy of those whom they tortured, and Jesus was silent.  They went from punching to pulling out His beard in an effort to get Him to cry out.  As Jesus, the Messiah and Creator, humbled Himself and endured this treatment at the hands of ungodly men, He knew the purpose of this sacrifice would be to save even those who beat and tortured Him.  It was to save the ones who crucified Him.  It was to save the ones who despised Him.  Jesus went before the Roman crucifixion like a lamb to slaughter, probably praying continually for the physical strength and endurance that would be necessary to take His place on the cross of Calvary. 

Some argue that Jesus contradicted this prophesy and demonstrated a point of spiritual weakness when He cried out "My God, My God, why has Thou forsaken me (Matt. 27:46)" while He hung, crucified on the cross.  However, these are not Jesus' own words of despair ... these are the first words of Psalm 22, a prophesy of the crucifixion.  Jesus' quote points out this Psalm of David that graphically describes the details of the crucifixion of the Messiah, illustrating how all of these events are fulfilling the last prophesies of the Messiah's ministry.  As for the apparent despair in these words, the Psalm starts with these words of sorrow, but ends with words of victory. 

Isaiah 53:8.

He was taken from prison and from judgment: 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.

Isaiah continues to describe Jesus' treatment during His passion.  Jesus experienced imprisonment and was taken to His death following His judgment at the hands of the Rom..  The Israelites defined themselves by the Land of God's promise, a land that was held through generations.  With no future hope, the Jews placed their hope in their ancestry.   One of the most grievous travesties would be experienced by one who is killed before he has an opportunity to have children because their ancestral line would be cut off.  Isaiah prophesies that the Messiah would be cut off in this way, dying without leaving behind an heir.  Again, Isaiah reminds us that this sacrifice was also given by the Messiah for the transgressions of the people.

Isaiah 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.

Isaiah clearly states the injustice done to the Messiah.  How could a king be treated so unjustly?  One can understand how the Jews, expecting a victorious military leader who would reign as the new King of a united Israel could not fit the description that Isaiah presented.  Their conclusion was simply that Isaiah's prophesy referred to someone other than the Messiah.  By discounting Isaiah's words, selecting only those words of scripture that fit their own world view, they missed the Messiah.  Jesus' death held a form of irony that could be fulfilled only through the grace and wisdom of God and certainly through nothing man could ever do.  Though Jesus had done no wrong, and as much as the Pharisees hated his teachings, Jesus never stated anything that held any form of error or deceit, He was treated as a criminal and crucified in the company of thieves.  To the ancient mind, to be found guilty was to be guilty, and to be guilty of anything was to be worthy only of being despised.  Hence, being crucified with thieves was to be as a thief, and to be buried in association with the wicked is to be buried with the wicked.

It is unlikely that either of the two thieves were buried in a tomb.  Even if their families were rich enough to have a carved-out tomb in which to lay them, the shame that their crucifixion brought upon their families would most likely have cost them that honor.  The Hebrew word for evil hell, Gehenna, comes from the name of the place outside the city where the unclaimed dead were piled and burned, the place where the bodies of the two thieves were probably discarded.  However, Joseph of Arimathea, a disciple of Jesus, was wealthy and asked that Jesus be buried in his family tomb.  In this act, this disciple unwittingly fulfilled Isaiah's prophesy that Jesus would also die with the rich.  The Hebrew words that are rendered "made his grave" and "death" refer to the manner of death and the place of burial, respectively, helping us to understand Isaiah's meaning:  Jesus' manner of death was shared with thieves, yet his place of burial was among the rich.    We might remember again that these words were penned approximately 700 years prior to the crucifixion of Christ (740 - 698 B.C.) 

Isaiah 53:10-11.

Yet it pleased the LORD to bruise him; he hath put him to grief: when thou shalt make his soul an offering for sin, he shall see his seed, he shall prolong his days, and the pleasure of the LORD shall prosper in his hand. 11He shall see of the travail of his soul, and shall be satisfied: by his knowledge shall my righteous servant justify many; for he shall bear their iniquities.

The suffering of the Messiah was not without purpose, nor was it contrary to God's plan.  God demonstrated through the entire history of man, and most fully through the experience of Israel, that man cannot be made perfect by any manner of his own work.  Before man was given the law of Moses, faith was literally impossible to find, with almost every man, like sheep, turning astray.  Through Moses, God laid down a model of righteousness, a written illustration of what a righteous person looks like.  This model became interpreted as law, and in such was found a law that no person could keep.  Given a free choice, people simply cannot live without committing sin, and it is sin that separates man from God.  Since man cannot pay the penalty for his own sin, God chose to do it for us.  God came down to man to take upon Himself the punishment for our sins when He hung on the cross and became sin, Himself.  Though the event was the most dramatic and horrific event in the history of man, Jesus' death paid the sin debt.  Jesus paid a debt that He did not owe so that those who place their faith and trust in God will be found righteous.  Man could do no work to find righteousness, so that work was done by God. 

Though childless, he shall see his seed.  Though put to death, he will prolong his days.  Though stricken by transgressions, the LORD shall prosper in his work.  These are all seeming contradictions that could not be explained except through the atoning death of the Messiah on the Cross of Calvary.  Jesus' heirs are all of those who find eternal salvation by placing their faith and trust in God, trusting in God's word that reveals the Savior and Lordship of Jesus.  Though He was put to death, He rose again and ascended into Heaven.  And though He took on the guilt of transgressions, He did so without sin.  These are all prophecies that were fulfilled in Jesus, and only in Jesus.

Isaiah 53:12.

Therefore will I divide him a portion with the great, and he shall divide the spoil with the strong; because he hath poured out his soul unto death: and he was numbered with the transgressors; and he bare the sin of many, and made intercession for the transgressors.

Jesus' death on the cross had a clear purpose: so that He could make intercession for sinful man.   Can someone come to a saving faith in God and reject Jesus' Lordship and Messiahship?  Can someone reject the deity of Christ and find saving faith?  Both of these are the same question, and the answer is simply, no.  Intercession for transgressors is found only in the Messiah: only in Jesus.  When one turns to God in faith and trust, one must also trust His Word, or that trust is in vain.  His Word became flesh and dwelt among us (John 1:1-14) in the Messiah, Jesus.  The sin of man finds forgiveness only in the work that Jesus did on the cross.  Sin loses its power to condemn us only when Jesus stands as our intercessor. 

Any study of Isaiah's servant songs: the prophesies of the life, ministry, and death of the Messiah, serves to reveal a prophesy that has been entirely, completely, and accurately fulfilled in the life, ministry, and death of Jesus.   After Jesus' resurrection and ascension, His identity as the Messiah was fully revealed.  The Hebrew Christians no longer called Him Jesus son of Mary, or Jesus son of Joseph.  He was now  Y'shua Meshia.  The Greek form of this name is Jesus Christ. 

The Jews failed to recognize the true Messiah because they formed another Messiah in their own world view.  They could not equate Isaiah's Messiah with the Messiah that they truly wanted, nor the one that Israel is still looking for.  They could not rationalize Isaiah's Messiah with any human reason.  The same is still true today.  Even after 2000 years of evidence, modern Jews still reject Isaiah's prophetic description of Jesus.  At the same time, with such a simple plan of grace, Jews and non-Jews alike reject the sacrifice that the Messiah gave at the cross.  God Himself, the Creator and Judge, came down from His place in Eternity to indwell the life of a man, Jesus, who went to the cross to pay the penalty for sin for all who would place their faith and trust in Him.  Salvation is that simple:  it is just a choice to believe in God's Word, and accept God for who He is, both Savior and Lord.  Satan believes in God and is forever lost.  Satan believes in Jesus and is forever lost.  Satan believes in the Holy Spirit and is forever lost.  Satan rejects God's Lordship, the Christian embraces it. 

Do not let another day pass without knowing for certain that Jesus is your own Lord and Savior.  Jesus is the suffering servant of Isaiah's prophesy, but He is also the exalted LORD, and is worthy to be trusted, worthy to be praised, and worthy to be worshipped.  Let us praise Him and worship Him together, joint heirs with Him in eternity.  

1 Old Testament Scriptures that Describe the Coming Messiah
The Messianic Prophecy Old Testament Record New Testament Record
The Messiah will be the offspring of the woman (Eve) Genesis 3:15 Galatians 4:4
The Messiah will be a descendant of Abraham, through whom everyone on earth will be blessed Genesis 12:3; 18:18 Acts 3:25,26
The Messiah will be a descendant of Judah Genesis 49:10 Matt. 1:2; Luke 3:33
The Messiah will be a prophet like Moses Deuteronomy 18:15-19 Acts 3:22,23
The Messiah will be the Son of God Psalm 2:7 Matt. 3:17; Mark 1:11; Luke 3:22
The Messiah will be raised from the dead (resurrected) Psalm 16:10,11 Matt. 28:5-9; Mark 16:6; Luke 24:4-7; John 20:11-16; Acts 1:3,2:32
The Messiah crucifixion experience Psalm 22 Matt. 27:34-50; John 19:17-30
The Messiah will be sneered at and mocked Psalm 22:7 Luke 23:11,35-39
The Messiah will be pierced through hands and feet Psalm 22:16 Luke 23:33,24:36-39;
John 19:18,20:19-20,24-27
The Messiah’s bones will not be broken (a person’s legs were usually broken after being crucified to speed up their death) Psalm 22:17 and 34:20 John 19:31-33,36
Men Will Gamble for the Messiah’s clothing Psalm 22:18 Matt. 27:35; Mark 15:24; Luke 23:34; John 19:23,24
The Messiah will accused by false witnesses Psalm 35:11 Matt. 26:59,60; Mark 14:56,57
The Messiah will be hated without a cause Psalm 35:19 and 69:4 John 15:23-25
The Messiah will be betrayed by a friend Psalm 41:9 John 13:18,21
The Messiah will ascend to heaven (at the right hand of God) Psalm 68:18 Luke 24:51; Acts 1:9; 2:33-35; 3:20-21; 5:31,32; 7:55-56; Rom. 8:34; Eph. 1:20,21; Col. 3:1; Heb. 1:3; 8:1; 10:12; 12:2; 1 Pet 3:22
The Messiah will be given vinegar and gall to drink Psalm 69:21 Matt. 27:34; Mark 15:23; John 19:29,30
Great kings will pay homage and tribute to the Messiah Psalm 72:10,11 Matt. 2:1-11
The Messiah is a “stone the builders rejected” who will become the “head cornerstone” Psalm 118:22,23; Isaiah 28:16 Matt. 21:42,43; Acts 4:11; Eph. 2:20; 1 Peter 2:6-8
The Messiah will be a descendant of David Psalm 132:11; Jer. 23:5,6; 33:15,16 Luke 1:32,33
The Messiah will be a born of a virgin Isaiah 7:14 Matt. 1:18-25; Luke 1:26-35
The Messiah’s first spiritual work will be in Galilee Isaiah 9:1-7 Matt. 4:12-16
The Messiah will make the blind see, the deaf hear, etc. Isaiah 35:5-6 Matt. 11:3-6; John 11:47
The Messiah will be beaten, mocked, and spat upon Isaiah 50:6 Matt. 26:67; 27:26-31
The “Gospel according to Isaiah” Isaiah 52:13-53:12 Matt., Mark, Luke, John
People will hear and not believe the “arm of the LORD” Isaiah 53:1 John 12:37,38
The Messiah will be rejected Isaiah 53:3 Matt. 27:20-25; Mark 15:8-14; Luke 23:18-23; John 19:14,15
The Messiah will be killed Isaiah 53:5-9 Matt. 27:50; Mark 15:37-39; Luke 23:46; John 19:30
The Messiah will be silent in front of his accusers Isaiah 53:7 Matt. 26:62,63 and 27:12-14
The Messiah will be buried with the rich Isaiah 53:9 Matt. 27:59,60; Mark 15:46; Luke 23:52,53; John 19:38-42
The Messiah will be crucified with criminals Isaiah 53:12 Matt. 27:38; Mark 15:27; Luke 23:32,33
The Messiah is part of the new and everlasting covenant Isaiah 55:3-4; Jer. 31:31-34 Matt. 26:28; Mark 14:24; Luke 22:20; Heb. 8:6-13
The Messiah will be our intercessor Isaiah 59:16 Hebrews 9:15
The Messiah has two missions Isaiah 61:1-3 (first mission ends at “. . . year of the LORD’s favor”) First mission: Luke 4:16-21; Second mission: to be fulfilled at the end of the world
The Messiah will come at a specific time Daniel 9:25-26 Galatians 4:4; Eph. 1:10
The Messiah will be born in Bethlehem Micah 5:2 Matt. 2:1; Luke 2:4-7
The Messiah will enter Jerusalem riding a donkey Zechariah 9:9 Matt. 21:1-11
The Messiah will be sold for 30 pieces of silver Zechariah 11:12,13 Matt. 26:15; Matt. 27:3-10
The Messiah will forsaken by His disciples Zechariah 13:7 Matt. 26:31,56
The Messiah will enter the Temple with authority Malachi 3:1 Matt. 21:12; Luke 19:45