Jesus: The Suffering Servant

Isaiah 52:13 – 53:12

Of all the Old Testament prophets, one stands tall above all others: the evangelist Isaiah. In these few verses, he fully explains God’s motive behind the Messiah’s sufferings.  Nothing in the entire Old Testament can compare to this passage in force and beauty. This passage is central to Isaiah 40-66 and is central to the book of Isaiah. Indeed, it sums up the entire Old Testament. There is one continuous theme: Messianic sacrifice. This great passage, beginning with the last three verses of chapter 52 and continuing through all twelve verses of chapter 53, addresses the discrepancy between the Messiah’s humiliation and exaltation. In a sense, chapter 53 is an expansion and commentary of the final three verses of chapter 52. His account is so accurate one might think Isaiah was standing near the Cross when Jesus was crucified, writing down these details. However, the prophet lived seven centuries before Calvary.

The entire passage can be divided into five parts, each containing three verses:

52:13-15 – Messiah’s two advents contrasted
53:1-3 – Messiah’s humility and Israel’s unbelief  
53:4-6 – Messiah’s atonement
53:7-9 – Messiah’s submission
53:10-12 – Messiah’s reward for faithfulness

Earlier in his book, Isaiah has stated that the Deliverer will come, but here he tells what that deliverance will cost. Even in his own day, Isaiah’s portrayal of the Messiah was misunderstood. The entire passage seems to express amazement that so few will comprehend the messianic mission and the astonishment of the very nation Christ came to liberate. “He came unto His own, and they received Him not” (John 1:11).

These verses represent the entire range of Jesus sufferings, death, resurrection and glorification. Before He was exalted, He was subjected to the deepest humiliation (52:13-14). But in the end, even Kings will bow to Him (v. 15). This passage is a succinct expression of the depth of the sorrow and degradation He was subjected to for our sakes. It lays out the divine design of Jehovah behind the sufferings and death of His only Son. Many liberal theologians claim this passage does not refer to Jesus Christ at all. But if the picture that Isaiah paints here is not that of the Messiah, whose portrait is he painting?

This passage makes it easy to see why the slain Lamb of God is “worthy to receive power and riches and wisdom and strength and honor and glory and blessing” (Revelation 5:12).

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