One of the clearest pictures of the gospel in the Old Testament is Isaiah chapter 53; a passage referred to as The Suffering Servant. It is the fourth and final Servant Song found in the book of Isaiah. It identifies the suffering servant as our sin-bearer.
“Who has believed what he has heard from us? And to whom has the arm of the LORD been revealed? For he grew up before him like a young plant, and like a root out of dry ground; he had no form or majesty that we should look at him, and no beauty that we should desire him. He was despised and rejected by men; a man of sorrows, and acquainted with grief; and as one from whom men hide their faces he was despised, and we esteemed him not” (Isaiah 53:1-3).
“Who has believed?” Unbelief in the servant was natural. He was obscure and outwardly unimpressive. He was despised, rejected, and acquainted with sorrow and grief of various sorts throughout his whole life.
“Surely he has borne our griefs and carried our sorrows; yet we esteemed him stricken, smitten by God, and afflicted. But he was wounded for our transgressions; he was crushed for our iniquities; upon him was the chastisement that brought us peace, and with his stripes we are healed. All we like sheep have gone astray; we have turned – every one – to his own way; and the LORD has laid on him the iniquity of us all” (Isaiah 53:4-6).
Here, in the heart of the passage, we see the servant bear the sins of others. Acting as a substitute, with no understanding from those he is rescuing, the servant took upon himself the bitter consequences of our sin. “All we have gone astray.” There is none righteous. We all needed the rescue of our sin-bearer.
“He was oppressed, and he was afflicted, yet he opened not his mouth; like a lamb that is led to the slaughter, and like a sheep that before its shearers is silent, so he opened not his mouth. By oppression and judgment he was taken away; and as for his generation, who considered that he was cut off out of the land of the living, stricken for the transgression of my people?” (Isaiah 53:7-8).
The servant died in innocence. “Like a lamb led to the slaughter” represents the servant’s innocence, his submission, and his refusal to open his mouth in his own defense. But despite his innocence, the servant is wrongly condemned. Oh, how this chapter is saturated with Jesus Christ, the spotless Lamb of God!
“And they made his grave with the wicked and with a rich man in his death, although he had done no violence, and there was no deceit in his mouth” (Isaiah 53:9).
The parallels between the description of the servant in this verse and the death of Jesus are striking. The servant was condemned as a criminal “with the wicked”. Jesus died with the wicked; with a thief on each side of Him at His crucifixion. The servant was connected to a rich man in his death. Jesus was buried in the tomb of a rich man, Joseph of Arimathea. The servant in Isaiah 53 had “done no violence and there was no deceit in his mouth.” He was completely innocent in deed and word. Jesus was completely innocent in deed and word. Jesus was a person of complete and perfect moral purity, a true substitute for sinners.
“Yet it was the will of the LORD to crush him; he has put him to grief; when his soul makes an offering for guilt, he shall see his offspring; he shall prolong his days; the will of the LORD shall prosper in his hand. Out of the anguish of his soul he shall see and be satisfied; by his knowledge shall the righteous one, my servant, make many to be accounted righteous, and he shall bear their iniquities. Therefore I will divide him a portion with the many, and he shall divide the spoil with the strong, because he poured out his soul to death and was numbered with the transgressors; yet he bore the sin of many, and makes intercession for the transgressors” (Isaiah 53:10-12).
The servant was crushed, but victorious. His “offering for guilt” – his sacrificial death in our place – was for our guilt. His “offspring” are those who strayed (vs 6) who have now returned as his children. “Prolong his days” highlights that death is not the servant’s end. He will live forever.
When the servant makes “many” to be accounted righteous by “bearing their iniquities”, it shows us that his salvation is for all the world, not just Israel. And his sacrificial death will lead to glory. Why? Because he “poured out his soul to death” and “bore the sins of many”. He now “makes intercession for us, the sinners”. His intercession secures our acceptance before God.
And we know that this intercessor is Christ Himself. “For there is one God, and one mediator between God and men, the man Christ Jesus, who gave Himself as a ransom for all” (I Tim 2:5-6).
Wow! I have gone over my normal length and have still only scratched the surface of the richness of the gospel in Isaiah 53. (You can find more in the ESV Study Bible notes where much of this material came from.) Over 700 years before Christ, Isaiah was directed by the LORD to put down on paper this powerful record of the coming Christ. The suffering servant who died in your place on Good Friday so long ago was announced many many years before. Jesus Christ clearly fulfilled this announcement. Jesus Christ is our suffering servant. Jesus Christ is our rescuer. Jesus Christ is our redeemer. Jesus Christ is the one and only deliverer of our souls. Amen!