This is one of Isaiah’s prophetic Servant Songs (the others are Isaiah 42:1-9; 49:1-9; 50:4-11 and 61). It is the ‘Mount Everest’ of Prophecy.
In 52:13 God introduces the central character as ‘My Servant’ (also 53:11) and the theme of the Song is the Mission that He successfully accomplishes. The Jews have consistently recognised that this speaks of the Messiah as God’s suffering Servant, until recently, when in the face of the Christian claim that it was clearly fulfilled by Jesus, they now forbid it to be read in the synagogues and say that the Servant is Israel. This can’t be, for unlike Israel, the Servant: (1) is innocent and sinless, (2) suffers for the sins of the world (Israel suffered for her own sins), (3) suffers without complaint, (4) is an individual who is distinguished from Israel (referred to as ‘my people’ and ‘we’ and ‘our’).
The New Testament clearly identifies the Person as JESUS CHRIST (Acts 8:30-35, 1Peter 2:24,25; Matt 8:17; also Isa 42:1 and Matt 12:18).
As a Song it divides into 5 Sections of 3 Verses each.
Each Section focuses on a major theme that is introduced in the first line. The first is an Overview from God’s viewpoint showing the final triumph of the Servant, following His suffering. The next Sections then tell the story in greater detail.
Section 1 - The Great Reversal (52:13-15).
God: “Behold, My Servant shall prosper (He will succeed in His mission through His wisdom). He shall be exalted (the Resurrection) and lifted up (Ascension) and be very high (His Session at the right-hand of God)- according as many were appalled at You (His exaltation is ‘according to’ His humiliation). His appearance (face) was marred more than any man, and His form (body) more than the sons of men: so shall He sprinkle many nations (with His blood). (As a result of His work): The (Gentile) kings shall shut their mouths at Him: for what had not been told them shall they see; and what they had not heard shall they perceive.”
Prophecy 1. The Messiah will be God’s Servant, who will succeed in His mission by knowing and doing God’s will perfectly. This will be proven by His 3-fold exaltation to heaven after fulfilling His ministry on earth. Fulfilled by Christ (Philippians 2:8-11, Ephesians 1:19-22, Acts 1:8-11).
Prophecy 2. But first, He must suffer extreme humiliation - the basis for His exaltation (Phil 2:8,9).
Prophecy 3. He will suffer extreme (appalling) physical punishment, abusing His face and body more than any other man. Fulfilled by Christ in His Passion (Luke 18:31-33, Matthew 26:67-68).
Prophecy 4. His suffering will have a sacrificial purpose. His life-blood will be poured out and be sprinkled upon (applied to) all peoples (not just Israel) for their forgiveness and cleansing from sin. Thus He will die as an innocent sacrificial lamb providing atonement and salvation for all (Rev 1:5).
Prophecy 5. When the Gentiles hear the Gospel of what He has done for them, they will be amazed and awed for they had never heard anything like this before. Many Gentiles will believe and be saved, even many of their kings. Fulfilled in Church History (see especially Romans 15:18-21).
Section 2 - His Great Humilation and Rejection (53:1-3).
“Who has believed our (God’s) report? and to whom is the arm of the Lord revealed? This indicates Israel’s initial unbelief, which she now explains:
‘For He grew up before Him(God) as a tender plant (shoot) and as a root out of dry ground. He had no (stately) form nor splendour that we should look upon Him, nor beauty (exceptional appearance) that we should desire Him. He was despised and rejected of men; a man of sorrows (‘makob’ includes physical pains), and acquainted with grief (‘choli’ includes physical disease). As one from whom men hide their face; He was despised and we esteemed Him not.’”
Prophecy 6. The message of Christ and salvation through His blood goes out, but most of Israel will not believe God’s report. His people will not believe in Him. Fulfilled: John 12:37,38; Romans 10:16.
Prophecy 7. However those who do believe the report (of Christ fulfilling Isaiah 53), are the very same as those who experience the arm (power) of the Lord in salvation. God applies the forgiveness and healing purchased by Christ to them. Salvation by grace through faith (Rom 3:21-26, Eph 2:8).
Prophecy 8. His rejection by Israel is because they did not expect the Messiah to come in humiliation as a Suffering Servant, suffering an accursed death, even though it was predicted here and elsewhere.
Prophecy 9. From birth He would be holy, growing through a godly childhood into perfect manhood.
Prophecy 10. However, there was nothing unusual about the physical circumstances of His birth and upbringing, which were normal, indeed rather poor (confirming Isaiah 11:1). Fulfilled: Luke 2:7, 22-24, c.f. Leviticus 12:1-8). He would grow up with life, at a time of spiritual dryness in the nation.
Prophecy 11. He would have the appearance of an ordinary man (not dressed as a king nor possessing unusual looks to draw men to Him). His true glory and majesty would be veiled (Philippians 2:7,8).
Prophecy 12. He is despised and rejected by men, suffering great sorrow and grief, not receiving the respect He deserved, but shunned. Fulfilled in Christ in His ministry and supremely in His death when all turned away from Him and He bore the full curse of sin (Gal 3:13), so that men could not look on Him.
Section 3: His Substitution - the Great Replacement (53:4-6).
“Surely He has borne (‘nasa’ = to lift and carry away, used also in v12 for our sins, see Leviticus 16:22) our griefs (‘choli’ = sicknesses), and carried (‘sabal’ =
to take upon Himself and bear as a heavy load, used also in v 11 for our sin and its punishment) our sorrows (‘makob’ = pains). Yet we did esteem Him stricken (killed), smitten of God (in judgement), and afflicted (punished for His own sins). But He was wounded (pierced) for our transgressions (acts of disobedience), He was bruised (crushed) for our iniquities (acts of rebellion) the chastisement (punishment) of (providing) our peace (‘shalom’ = complete well-being) was (fell) upon Him, and with His stripes (literally: ‘bruise’) we were healed (or ‘healing is to us’). All we like sheep have gone astray; we have turned every one to His own way (this is the essence of sin) and the Lord has laid (made to meet together) upon Him the iniquity (sin with its curse) of us all.”
Prophecy 13. Israel, who initially rejected Him, will finally realise the Divine purpose of His suffering - that He did not die as a punishment for His own sin (as they first believed -see Deut 21:23), but for their sins. Thus He died as a sinless substitute for all the world, bearing our sin, sickness, judgement and curse, so that we might all receive restoration in every area of our being and life, especially in our relationship with God (peace with God). Fulfilled on the Cross (1Peter 2:24,25; Gal 3:13,14).
Prophecy 14. He would suffer physically. He would be pierced through (John 19:34,37; 20:27). His back would be whipped (Matt 27:26). He would carry our sicknesses and pains in His body and thus provide healing for all. Thus He would have a healing ministry to all based on the Cross (Matt8:16,17)
Section 4: His Death - the Great Restraint (53:7-9).
“He was oppressed and afflicted, yet He opened not His mouth. He was led as a (innocent) lamb to the slaughter and as a sheep before her shearers is dumb, so He opened not His mouth. From oppression (prison) and judgement (trial) He was taken away (to death), and who of His generation considered (that): ‘He was cut off out of the land of the living (executed) for the transgression of my people - to whom the (death) stroke was due’? And they assigned Him a grave with the wicked, but (others made His grave) with a rich man in His death(s), although He had done no violence, neither was any deceit in His mouth.”
Prophecy 12. He was sinless, both in actions and words, innocent of what He was accused - namely, revolt against Rome (violence) and blasphemy (deceit - false claims of Deity) (1Peter 2:22,23, John 18:38).
Prophecy 13. He will be oppressed and afflicted (treated unfairly - Matt 27:27-31), yet remained silent before His accusers (Mt 26:62,63, 27:12-14, Lk 23:9, Mark15:3-5). Despite His innocence, He humbly subjected Himself to the unjust treatment and false accusations, saying nothing in His defense, nor making any complaint or curse, nor calling upon God or angels for deliverance, but voluntarily gave up His life to execution. He died as an innocent, sacrificial (Passover) Lamb (1Cor5:7, John 1:29, Acts 8:32-35).
Prophecy 14. He will be unjustly imprisoned and persecuted (Matt 26:47-27:31), tried (John18:13-22), convicted and executed (Matt 27:35). But few in Israel would understand that His death is for the sins of the world. v8 could also read: ‘who can speak of His descendants - for He was cut off out of the land of the living?’ - indicating that He will be killed as a young man, before having children.
Prophecy 15. Although innocent, they planned to bury Him as a criminal, but God would now start to vindicate Him, by giving Him a rich man’s grave to be buried in instead (Matthew 27:57-60, John 19:31-42)
Prophecy 16. He would suffer ‘deaths’. He experienced total (physical and spiritual) death for us all.
Section 5: The Great Reward (53:10-12). “Yet it pleased the Lord to bruise (crush) Him, He has made Him sick (‘choli’,with our sicknesses, v4). When (after) He makes His soul an offering (sacrifice) for sin, He will see His seed, He shall prolong His days (He is resurrected to eternal life), and the pleasure of the Lord (believers) shall prosper in His hand. He shall see (the results) of the travail (painful labour, as a Mother in child-birth) of His soul, and be satisfied.
God says: ‘By the knowledge of Him (through knowing Him as Saviour), My righteous Servant will justify many, for He shall bear (‘sabal’, v4) their iniquities. Therefore I will divide Him a portion with the great, and He shall divide the spoil with the strong, because He has poured out His soul unto death and He was numbered with the transgressors and He bore (‘nasa’, v4) the sin of many and made intercession for the transgressors.”
Prophecy 17. He is God’s Servant doing His will. His suffering and death was all God’s Plan (John 18:11, Acts 2:23; Rev 13:8). God was pleased to put our sin and curse upon Him, punishing Him in our place, for it achieved our salvation
How could one man bear the sin and punishment of the whole human-race? Because He is the God-Man! (Acts 20:28).
Prophecy 18. After accomplishing His sacrificial work as our sin-offering (Matt 20:28, Jn 19:30) He will be resurrected unto eternal life. First He voluntarily SUFFERS unto death, then enters His GLORY, His obedience rewarded (52:13,14).
Prophecy 19. He will be satisfied with the results of His labour - the spiritual children He brought forth (born-again) through the labour-pains of His death and resurrection, who receive forgiveness, healing and eternal life (1Peter 1:3, John 12:24, Psalm 22:31), who are His pleasure (Hebrews 12:2), whom He holds in His hand and prospers.
Prophecy 20. For ‘the many’ who believe (know Him), He will accomplish a Great Exchange of His righteousness for our sin resulting in our justification before God (1Pet 2:24, 2Cor 5:21, Rom 5:8,9). He was the sin-bearer for all mankind (Heb 9:28). He died for all, but this Exchange is only applied to believers, who receive it and benefit from it.
Prophecy 21. This righteous Man gave His life to save us. In bearing our sin and its penalty (death, Deut 19:21) He was reckoned as a sinner (grouped with criminals) in death (Lk22:37,23:32, Mk15:28, Gal3:13)- (but soon to be vindicated).
Prophecy 22. He intercedes for all mankind, even us, whose sin took Him to the Cross (Luke 23:34, Rom 8:32, Heb 9:25)
Prophecy 23. God will be satifisfied with His suffering. Therefore God will exalt Him and give Him every blessing (rewards of His sacrificial death and victorious conquest) including His supreme authority and Kingdom (Matt 28:18), which He shares with His followers (who identify with Him), making them great and strong. Thus Messiah will finally come into His Kingdom, but only after first suffering a sacrificial death as the sinless substitute for man and then rising again. Thus Isaiah 53 gives the key to resolving the 2 streams of Messianic Prophecy (the Suffering Servant and the Glorious King). This is not fulfilled in 2 men (as some Jews believed), but in one Man who would first suffer unto death and then enter His glory as King-exactly the main point Jesus made in expounding Messianic Prophecy (Luke 24:25-27).