In a prior article we examined three of the four "Suffering Servant" passages in the book of Isaiah.
In Isaiah 42:1-4 the Servant was presented as One having a mission, yet the nature of that mission was not revealed. In Isaiah 49:1-7 we were told that the Servant would suffer in obedience to the word of God, but the purpose of His suffering was not explained. Then, in Isaiah 50:4-9, we were told the Servant would suffer, i.e., He would give His back to those who would strike Him, and He would not turn His face away from those who plucked out His beard. In this article we will examine the final "Suffering Servant" passage where Isaiah reveals the cause of the suffering the Servant would endure.
"Behold, My Servant shall deal prudently; He shall be exalted and extolled and be very high. Just as many were astonished at you, so His visage was marred more than any man, and His form more than the sons of men; so shall He sprinkle many nations. Kings shall shut their mouths at Him; for what had not been told them they shall see, and what they had not heard they shall consider. Who has believed our report? And to whom has the arm of the Lord been revealed? For He shall grow up before Him as a tender plant, and as a root out of dry ground. He has no form or comeliness; and when we see Him, there is no beauty that we should desire Him. He is despised and rejected by men, a Man of sorrows and acquainted with grief. And we hid, as it were, our faces from Him; He was despised, and we did not esteem Him. 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 bruised for our iniquities; the chastisement for our peace was upon Him, and by 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. He was oppressed and He was afflicted, yet He opened not His mouth; He was led as a lamb to the slaughter, and as a sheep before its shearers is silent, so He opened not His mouth. He was taken from prison and from judgment, And who will declare His generation? For He was cut off from the land of the living; for the transgressions of My people He was stricken. And they made His grave with the wicked -- but with the rich at His death, because He had done no violence, nor was any deceit in His mouth. Yet it pleased the Lord to bruise Him; He has put Him to grief. When You 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. He shall see the labor of His soul, and be satisfied. By His knowledge My righteous Servant shall justify many, for He shall bear their iniquities. Therefore I will divide Him a portion with the great, and He shall divide the spoil with the strong, because He poured out His soul unto death, and He was numbered with the transgressors, and He bore the sin of many, and made intercession for the transgressors." (Isa. 52:13 - 53:12).
This final song deals with both the purpose of the suffering the Servant had to endure and explains what He achieved as a result of the suffering. The Servant was going to conquer as a sufferer, not as a warrior, "the Lion of the tribe of Judah, the Root of David, has prevailed" (cf. Rev. 5:5). From His shameful suffering and inhumane treatment on the cross He is to emerge in triumph and glory.
The Servant will be "exalted and extolled and be very high" (Isa. 52:13), which speaks of three stages of His exaltation. The first stage of His exaltation was His resurrection, where He was "declared to be the Son of God with power, according to the Spirit of holiness, by the resurrection from the dead" (Rom. 1:4). The second stage of His exaltation occurred at His ascension, where "He was taken up, and a cloud received Him out of their sight" (Acts 1:9). The third stage of His exaltation occurred when He was "exalted to the right hand of God" (Acts 2:33) and "sat down at the right hand of the Majesty on high" (Heb. 1:3).
However, before the Servant could be exalted, He was going to have to endure more pain and suffering than any mortal could possibly imagine. We are told that "His visage was marred more than any man" (Isa. 52:14). This prophecy began to be fulfilled when Pilate ordered Christ to be scourged (Matt. 27:26). We need to remember that Christ was not whipped, flogged or striped -- He was scourged! The Romans called scourging "halfway death."
A scourging could only be administered by a trained Roman "lictor." Christ was stripped of all clothing and His hands tied above His head. The lictor would then use a flagellum to torture his victim. A flagellum is a cat-o'-nine-tails -- a whip made with thongs of leather -- each strip had a piece of bone or lead tied to the ends so it would cut deeper into the flesh. Josephus speaks of a man named Ananus who was "whipped until his bones were bare." Eusebius speaks of a martyr in Smyrna who was scourged until "the deepest veins and arteries were exposed, and even the inner organs of the body were seen."
"But He was wounded for our transgressions, He was bruised for our iniquities; the chastisement for our peace was upon Him, and by His stripes we are healed." (Isa. 53:5). The soldiers hit Christ and smote Him with a reed, which served as a mock scepter (Matt. 27:27-31). His thorn-crowned brow caused His features to be hidden. "I can count all My bones. They look and stare at Me" (Psa. 22:17).
The servant will not remain in humiliation forever. "Therefore God also has highly exalted Him and given Him the name which is above every name, that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, of those in heaven, and of those on earth, and of those under the earth, and that every tongue should confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father" (Phil. 2:9-11).
He would "sprinkle" many nations (Isa. 52:15). The word "sprinkle" in this passage is a technical word used throughout the Old Testament of the "sprinkling" of the priests (cf. Lev. 6:27; 8:11; 14:7). The purpose of sprinkling was not decontamination, but to obtain ritual purity; hence, the one who does the sprinkling had to be pure.
Men would entirely misjudge the Servant of the Lord (Isa. 53:2). There was no physical beauty that drew others to Him. Men hid their face from Him -- they regarded Him as nothing. "We esteemed Him stricken, smitten by God, and afflicted" (Isa. 53:4). They looked upon His sufferings as the punishment for His own sins.
The reason for His sufferings is our sins. "He was wounded for our transgressions, He was bruised for our iniquities ... and the Lord has laid on Him the iniquity of us all" (Isa. 53:5-6). The words "wounded" and "bruised" (Isa. 53:5) are the strongest terms used to describe a violent and agonizing death. Peter reminds us Him who "bore our sins in His own body on the tree, that we, having died to sins, might live for righteousness -- by whose stripes you were healed" (1 Peter 2:24).
Isaiah then emphasizes the Servant's voluntary endurance of His suffering. "He was oppressed and He was afflicted, yet He opened not His mouth; He was led as a lamb to the slaughter, and as a sheep before its shearers is silent, so He opened not his mouth" (Isa. 53:7). In the gospel of John our Lord told His disciples: "Therefore My Father loves Me, because I lay down My life that I may take it again. No one takes it from Me, but I lay it down of Myself. I have power to lay it down, and I have power to take it again. This command I have received from My Father." (John 10:17-18).
"Crucifixion was a Roman, not a Jewish, form of punishment. It was usually preceded by scourging, which, carried out thoroughly, left the body a mass of swollen and bloody flesh ... All who cared to witness the horrible spectacle were free to do so; the Romans, who thought it necessary to rule by terror, chose, for capital offenses by other than Roman citizens, what Cicero called 'the most cruel and hideous of tortures.' The offender's hands and feet were bound (seldom nailed) to the wood; a projecting block supported the backbone or the feet; unless mercifully killed, the victim would linger there for two or three days, suffering the agony of immobility, unable to brush away the insects that fed upon his naked flesh, and slowly losing strength until the heart failed and brought an end. Even the Romans sometimes pitied the victim, and offered him a stupefying drink." (Will Durant, Caesar And Christ, p. 572).
The Roman cross was like a capital "T." The crossbeam (patibulum) weighed about 100 pounds -- it was tied across His shoulders and He was led out through a road now known as the Via Dolorosa. Let your mind picture the procession with Christ and the two thieves being led away by a Roman Centurion. "He was taken from prison and from judgment, and who will declare His generation?" (Isa. 53:8).
Despite His efforts to walk erect He falls and rough wood gouges His body. The Roman Centurion compels Simon to carry the cross the rest of the way from the Fortress Antonia to Calvary (Luke 23:26). "And a great multitude of the people followed Him, and women who also mourned and lamented Him. But Jesus, turning to them, said, 'Daughters of Jerusalem, do not weep for Me, but weep for yourselves and for your children.'" (Luke 23:27-28).
At Golgotha, Jesus is thrown back onto the rough wood and spikes are driven into His hands. The cross beam is lifted up carefully, and His left foot is pressed back against the right and a nail is driven in. The Son of God is now crucified! "Now from the sixth hour until the ninth hour there was darkness over all the land" (Matt. 27:45).
"They made His grave with the wicked" (Isa. 53:9) refers to the intention of the government to give Him a state burial. However, He was "with the rich at His death" -- this refers to Joseph of Arimathea who "went to Pilate and asked for the body of Jesus" (Matt. 27:58). Joseph then took the body of our Lord, "wrapped it in a clean linen cloth, and laid it in his new tomb which he had hewn out of the rock; and he rolled a large stone against the door of the tomb, and departed" (Matt. 27:59-60).
The God of Heaven was pleased with the suffering of His righteous servant (Isa. 53:10-12). As Peter announced on the day of Pentecost, "Therefore let all the house of Israel know assuredly that God has made this Jesus, whom you crucified, both Lord and Christ" (Acts 2:36).
Why did Christ come to this earth in the form of a man? Listen to how the Hebrew writer explains it: "Inasmuch then as the children have partaken of flesh and blood, He Himself likewise shared in the same, that through death He might destroy him who had the power of death, that is, the devil, and release those who through fear of death were all their lifetime subject to bondage. For indeed He does not give aid to angels, but He does give aid to the seed of Abraham. Therefore, in all things He had to be made like His brethren, that He might be a merciful and faithful High Priest in things pertaining to God, to make propitiation for the sins of the people. For in that He Himself has suffered, being tempted, He is able to aid those who are tempted." (Heb. 2:14-18)
At this very moment that suffering Servant is our glorious Redeemer, the "King of kings and Lord of lords" (Rev. 19:16). "But we see Jesus, who was made a little lower than the angels, for the suffering of death crowned with glory and honor, that He, by the grace of God, might taste death for everyone" (Heb. 2:9).