A Portion With The Great
“Lo, Your Salvation Comes” – The Messiah in Isaiah Special Series
When Jesus confronted the disbelieving Jews of His day, He told them His identity was testified to by the Scriptures: “You search the Scriptures, because you think that in them you have eternal life; and it is these that bear witness of Me” (John 5:39). We understand this statement to be generic to the entire Old Testament, but we can also say that Isaiah would be chief among those Old Testament writers who looked to Jesus, and provided us with the testimony of His Messianic identity. Statistically, no book of the Old Testament is quoted more often than the book of Isaiah in identifying Messiah as Jesus of Nazareth (85 times). Isaiah told us of His virgin birth, His Galilean presence, His Divine Nature, and His government that will draw all men to God. It is well said then in John 12:41 that “these things Isaiah said because he saw His glory, and he spoke of Him.” Perhaps the summarizing message of Isaiah’s prophecy is Isaiah chapter 53. There we have a concise report of Messiah (Hebrew for the anointed (one), translated as Christ in Greek) and His life, death, and purpose.
Imagine, if you would, that we are on a journey through the book of Isaiah. We are closing on the end of our journey by chapter 53. It makes sense in this perspective to expect that Isaiah here identify the works and the nature of Messiah with unique clarity. We might conclude that this clarity is why it (Isaiah 53) is referenced multiple times throughout the New Testament. Matthew 8:17 points to Isaiah 53:4 to remark on Messiah carrying our diseases; Mark 15:28 points to Isaiah 53:12 to describe Jesus’ death on the cross. Paul (Romans 10:16) and John (John 12:38) point to the doubts of the Jews prophesied in Isaiah 53:1. The Ethiopian Eunuch (Acts 8:32) questioned the meaning of Isaiah 53:7. Finally, Peter points to Jesus as committing no sin (Isaiah 53:9) and how we are healed by His stripes (Isaiah 53:5) in I Peter 2:22-24. Therefore, we can confidently say that this chapter is of vital interest to knowing our Prophetic Savior.
Isaiah 53:10-12 brings us to the results of the work of Messiah: “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.” (NKJV). This is the expectant result of the work of Messiah in His purpose in His coming to earth (verse 2), His rejection (verse. 3), His purpose in suffering (verses 4-6), and ultimately dying (verses 7-9).
How might we summarize these passages? Quite simply, we might say that after experiencing some ultimate suffering for the Father’s purpose, this Servant would then be exalted by having accomplished the ultimate purpose of the Father. We might break down our thoughts into three categories: the dual nature of Messiah; the purpose of the death of Messiah; the nature of Messiah’s reward.
The Dual Nature of Messiah
The prophecy of Isaiah 53 (in particular verses 10-12) is not new. God had made a similar (but more veiled) promise to Eve that her Seed would crush the head of the Serpent having His heel bruised in the process (Genesis 3:15). God told Eli that “I will raise up for Myself a faithful priest who will do according to what is in My heart and in My soul; and I will build him an enduring house, and he will walk before My anointed always” (1 Samuel 2:35). Later God told David that one day He would raise up a descendant from David, and that this descendant “shall build a house for My name, and I will establish the throne of his kingdom forever” (2 Samuel 7:13). In these instances we see this generic pattern of promise: the Servant would accomplish some difficult purpose or event (receiving a bruised heel, building a house for God) and in that very effort be rewarded.
What was it that these prophets wanted the Israelites and later the Jews (to whom had been trusted these oracles, Romans 3:2) to perceive in the great work of God? Perhaps we can begin with the identity of Messiah. The identity of the Christ was something of great interest to all of the Jews. When John the Baptist arrived we are told that the Jewish leaders sent inquisitors to his location to determine if he might be the Christ (John 1:19). When Jesus met the Samaritan woman at the well, she indicated that she and her people (who were not Jews) believed that “Messiah” (we shall continue to reference Messiah as she did) was coming (John 4:25 The woman said to Him, "I know that Messiah is coming" (who is called Christ). "When He comes, He will tell us all things.") and that some level of understanding or knowledge would come with His arrival. There is even evidence that the pagan Gentiles possibly looked for this savior too; the Roman historian Suetonius wrote around 120 AD that “an ancient superstition was current in the east, that out of Judaea at this time would come the rulers of the world”1 in the time of Vespasian, circa AD 70. We might then make the case that the whole of the world may have been desiring this Savior in some fashion even before He had arrived.
Isaiah joins the other prophets in describing Messiah with two characteristics that seem to be at odds with each other. First, Isaiah tells us that Messiah would suffer as one who is in submission to others. He was one we would not esteem or desire (53:2), He would be despised and rejected (53:3); He would be chastened and crushed (53:5); and He would be oppressed (53:7). Perhaps it is summed up by saying that we would decide that He was stricken by God Himself (53:4). Rather than a master, He is called a servant (53:11, 42:1).
Then, in contrast to this imagery, Isaiah continues to describe Messiah as receiving the greatest portion of God (53:12), the very glory of God (42:8). He would rule a kingdom that crushes all others (Daniel 2:44), such that those who did not submit would be destroyed (60:12). He will be the King of Kings, and the entire earth will be His inheritance (Psalm 2:8).
To summarize it, this Servant Messiah’s sorrow is so great that “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” (Isaiah 53:8), yet the same King Messiah’s rule would “break (His enemies) with a rod of iron, (He) shall shatter them like earthenware.”(Psalm 2:9). How can this be the same Person?
We can understand then that one of the great difficulties of those to whom the prophetic utterances had been given was to reconcile a Suffering Messiah with a Triumphant Messiah. Even in the world this distinction is noted to have caused some debate among the ancients. Professor Raphael Patai (a cultural Jewish historian) states "When the death of Messiah became an established tenet in Talmudic times, this was felt to be irreconcilable with the belief in Messiah as Redeemer who would usher in the blissful… Messianic Age. The dilemma was solved by splitting the person of Messiah in two: one of them, called Messiah ben Joseph, was to raise the armies of Israel against their enemies, and, after many victories and miracles, would fall victim Gog and Magog. The other, Messiah ben David, will come after him ... and will lead Israel to the ultimate victory, the triumph, and the Messianic era of bliss."2 This “Talmudic Time” refers to the era of those scholars whose conversations became the Babylonian Talmud (specifically Sanhedrin 98), and may well reflect the thinking of the scholars in the time of Jesus of Nazareth.
Another secular evidence of this possible dualism in perception may be found in the Qumran community (known for the Dead Sea Scrolls) who appear to have believed in a dual Messiah, one royal and triumphant, one priestly and suffering3. These non-Biblical sources do not provide us proof, but merely suggest to us that the nature of Messiah was in debate. That debate may account for the question that the Ethiopian Eunuch had for the subject of Isaiah 53 ("I ask you, of whom does the prophet say this, of himself or of some other man?"); it may be that, at least in the eyes of the Eunuch, a Suffering Messiah could not be easily reconciled to be the same as a Triumphant Messiah.
The significance of this debate also is evident in that even in our day it continues. We might say that Premillennialism (that false doctrine of the last few centuries which claims Jesus has yet to reign in His kingdom) seeks to a Suffering Messiah as being the first advent of the Christ, and then creating a second advent for Jesus to return to the earth to reign as a Triumphant Messiah. Is not much of the premillennial case made from their misunderstanding of the Kingdom of Christ? They deny that the success of Christ was total, and that the kingdom has yet to be revealed. It would be accurate to say that in dividing the work of Christ between His being despised, rejected and dying, and the work of Christ in overcoming the world and reigning, the premillennialist effectively denies that a Suffering Messiah and a Triumphant Messiah are one in the same.
Considering these points, we can see that, at least in part, the importance of Isaiah 53:10-12 is that it directly ties together the Suffering Messiah and the Triumphant Messiah. It tells us that by this one act both sides of Messiah are brought together. His suffering IS His triumph. Thus to separate these aspects is to divide Messiah Himself and cause His great work to be nullified.
The unity of the nature of Messiah is the great point found in the last part of Isaiah 53. The Servant would submit (as we now know, to the point of death), and then be glorified by His work. His work is the key action summarizing the entire chapter. This action is identified as His “knowledge”. While knowledge might have multiple meanings, the Hebrew writer would clarify this by telling us that “He learned obedience from the things which He suffered” (Hebrews 5:8). The prophetic “knowledge” is the experience of suffering. This suffering refers to the sacrificial nature of the work of Jesus at Calvary, identified in places such as I Corinthians 5:7 (For indeed Christ, our Passover, was sacrificed for us). These passages reveal to us that the Jews could have looked (from the prophetic perspective) and could have deduced that the Christ would Himself be a sacrifice for sin.
Isaiah 53 speaks to the great paradox of Messiah; it is a paradox that that mankind would only understand with coming of the fully revealed Gospel (I Corinthians 15:1-4).
The Purpose of the Death of Messiah
Why would Messiah need to be an offering for sin? Why would He be numbered with the transgressors or bear the sins of many? Perhaps we might ask more simply, why did Jesus have to die? From Scripture we know that His death accomplished a number of things. In Romans 5:1-10, Paul tells us that Jesus death was to bring peace between God and man. Such a work is quite significant; in that, God would be man’s greatest enemy (Romans 5:10), requiring a supreme act of appeasement. We might consider Ephesians 2:14-16, which focuses on the resolution and termination of the only divinely created denomination, that is, the separation of the Jew and the Gentile. In the same passage as well as the parallel passage (Colossians 2:14), we are told that His death also achieved the dismissal of the Law of Moses. His death brought us eternal life; His death revealed God’s love for us; His death opened a new path to God; and His death paid the debt created by our sin.
But what precisely would His death accomplish? What we need to understand is that this plan was not a “best case” scenario, but that it was the only means by which God could redeem mankind to Himself. Jesus did not die because there were multiple choices by which God could accomplish His purpose. Jesus died because the only way that a New Covenant could be instituted was that God, in the Flesh, would die. He was THE offering for atonement that was exclusively effective.
Let us consider this idea in light of the understanding of a covenant. This is a word often used in Scripture to describe the relationships of God with various men and peoples, and ultimately used of the exclusive means of Salvation that we call Christianity today (Matthew 26:28) and the revelation thereof. In simplest terms, a covenant is a law and a promise. We say this because covenants in Scripture are sometimes called laws (Psalm 78:10, Deuteronomy 29:21), and sometimes called promises (Ephesians 2:12, Hebrews 8:6). Further, a law is a command or rule with a penalty for breaking or violation; the definition of the relationship this has with a covenant can be found in Hebrews 10:16 ("This is the covenant that I will make with them after those days, says the LORD: I will put My laws into their hearts, and in their minds I will write them” NKVJ). In like manner, a promise is a contract or reward for the prescribed completion; this definition can be found in Hebrews 8:6. In modern legal parlance, a promise is the fundamental basis of a contract. Finally, Paul tells us that a covenant is an unbreakable, unchangeable oath (Galatians 3:15).
Thus a covenant is that unique merger of a law and a contract that is unbreakable and unalterable. A covenant has a reward for keeping it and a penalty for breaking it.
God’s covenant with mankind began with Adam (Hosea 6:7). The promise was eternal life; the law was the tree. All subsequent covenants (Noah, Abraham, Moses, Phinehas, David) were subject to this first covenant; none of them annulled the terms of the first covenant. Paul makes this clear in Galatians 3:15-17 by telling us that regarding “a man's covenant, yet when it has been ratified, no one sets it aside or adds conditions to it”, and then he makes the case in verse 17 that Abraham’s covenant, being the pre-existing covenant, was not nullified by the Mosaic. Thus we can see that the implication here is that even if broken, a covenant stands until the death of the creator or the fulfillment of its purpose, as stated in Hebrews 9:16.
This characteristic of a covenant (permanency) is seen in the covenant of marriage (Malachi 2:14, Proverbs 2:17). Jesus taught that the marriage covenant could not be set aside in Matthew 19 (except for fornication), and that those who attempted to enter into another covenant of marriage while the first existed would be guilty of adultery. Why? Because covenants are not annulled by subsequent covenants, they are ended by death (again, noting Jesus’ exception in Matthew 19).
Understanding what Jesus said about marriage and divorce in Matthew 19 is key to understanding the necessity of Jesus’ death on the cross. Paul makes this the key in Romans 7:1-3: Or do you not know, brethren (for I am speaking to those who know the law), that the law has jurisdiction over a person as long as he lives? For the married woman is bound by law to her husband while he is living; but if her husband dies, she is released from the law concerning the husband. So then, if while her husband is living she is joined to another man, she shall be called an adulteress; but if her husband dies, she is free from the law, so that she is not an adulteress though she is joined to another man.
Paul draws the nature of the covenant of marriage and reveals something of great importance for us to consider: if God sought to replace the covenant of Adam (and the subsequent covenants) with a new covenant, it would require the death of the party who had not broken the covenant, the innocent party. In other words, Jesus, who is God in the Flesh, would have to die in order that a New Covenant could be established that would replace all previous covenants.
That God sought to replace the previous covenants is clearly established in Scripture. His promise in Jeremiah 31:31 ("Behold, days are coming," declares the LORD, "when I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel and with the house of Judah”) is repeated twice in Hebrews (8:8 and 10:16) as well as in Romans (11:27). The New Covenant is promised in Ezekiel 37:26 and Isaiah 55:3. Is God clear that a new covenant would cost the death of God in the Flesh on the cross? Think about Jesus’ words in Matthew 26:28, Mark 14:24, Luke 22:20 and I Corinthians 11:25 that speak of the relationship of the covenant with divine blood. Paul told the Ephesians that the church (the manifested covenant) was “purchased with His own blood” in Acts 20:28. The only way a truly new covenant could be created was by the death of Messiah.
The Nature of Messiah’s Reward
With this great work accomplished, there are a series of promises made to Messiah. For His suffering He would (1) justify many, (2) see His seed, (3) prolong His days, (4) prosper the Lord’s pleasure and find satisfaction, and (5) receive the divided spoil of the strong. In some ways these promises are different descriptions of the same result. However, in the prophetic revelation of the New Testament, they are also specific attributes to the great work of Christ.
Isaiah said that the Servant shall justify many. Justification is a mysterious word that ranges in its meaning from simple innocence to a full trial and ordeal (Deuteronomy 25:1, 2 Chronicles 6:23) to determine that one would not commit error if given ample opportunity and reason. Such justification is not possible to the sinful man; yet in Jesus Christ one might be “justified as a gift by His grace through the redemption which is in Christ Jesus” (Romans 3:24), the very prediction of Isaiah.
Consider another paradox of Messiah is that while He would be cut off from the land before seeing His generation (53:8), He would see His seed (53:10). Those who know the identity of this Messiah know that His being cut off opened the way for an adoption by Grace (discussed in Ephesians 1:5-6) that fulfills the seed promise, so that we have “been born again not of seed which is perishable but imperishable, that is, through the living and abiding word of God” (1 Peter 1:23). His untimely death brought life to those who live through Him; therefore, He has indeed seen His seed.
Now the question arises as to how Messiah would prolong His days. The nature of the Messianic kingdom as spoken of by the prophets was one that would be “forever” (Daniel 2:44, 2 Samuel 7:16). The reward of God to Messiah would be a kingdom without end, as Mary was told in Luke 1:33. Even when Jesus ultimately returns with the purpose of turning His kingdom over to the Father (I Corinthians 15:24), it abides still in its eternal condition. Messiah would prolong His days by achieving the purpose that established a kingdom without end.
This purpose is that which both pleased the LORD as well as Messiah, as related in Isaiah 53:10-11. Note that the affliction of Messiah was to accomplish the desire of the Father, as related by Jesus: "And He who sent Me is with Me; He has not left Me alone, for I always do the things that are pleasing to Him" (John 8:29). At the same time, this terrible work satisfied the desire of Jesus Himself, as He was the author of this purpose (Hebrews 2:10, 12:2). Thus by this act of being crushed, Christ prospered both the Father’s pleasure and ultimately achieved His own satisfaction.
Finally, there is the promise of the division of the spoils of the strong. It seems likely that Jesus had this promise in mind when He spoke of His purpose in Matthew 12:29: "Or how can anyone enter the strong man's house and carry off his property, unless he first binds the strong man? And then he will plunder his house.” Who was the strong man, but the very same one bound in Revelation 20:2, that is, Satan? What was the power of this strong man? We are told clearly that it is death itself in Hebrews 2:14: “Therefore, since the children share in flesh and blood, He Himself likewise also partook of the same, that through death He might render powerless him who had the power of death, that is, the devil.” Finally, what are those possessions of Satan that Jesus took from him when He bound him and looted his house? Us! Paul made it clear in Romans 6:17 that we were the very possessions of Satan by our sins: “But thanks be to God that though you were slaves of sin, you became obedient from the heart to that form of teaching to which you were committed.”
When Jesus came to this earth, He knew His mission in full (John 7:28, 8:14). He knew that to be Messiah, He would need to suffer as the Servant in order to be triumphant as the King. Since one was the means to the other, there could be no other way for Him to accomplish this purpose.
Scriptures reveal to us that the revelation of Jesus’ Messianic identity occurred to John the Baptist at the time Jesus was baptized. John was baptizing, in part, for the purpose of identifying Messiah (John 1:32-33), and it was confirmed by the Spirit’s descent as well as the Father’s words from Heaven. We are told that immediately afterwards Jesus spent forty days fasting in the wilderness. This forty day fast was a pattern set first by Moses (Exodus 34:28) and then by Elijah (1 Kings 19:8), the two men who subsequently appeared with Jesus on the Mount of Transfiguration.
It was at the end of this fast that the Devil came to tempt Jesus. In one of those temptations, Satan took Him up on an exceedingly high mountain, and showed Him all the kingdoms of the world and their glory. Satan said to Him, "All these things I will give You if You will fall down and worship me." In a moment Satan offered to undo the prophetic Savior of Isaiah 53 with the simple yet profound offer: you may have the world without suffering to achieve it. Looking to Isaiah 53:10-12, the purpose of such an offer becomes clear: achieving a pseudo-glory without being crushed. Fundamentally, it would have separated the dual nature of Messiah, and destroyed the prophetic authority. Perhaps we now see how great this temptation was for our Lord, who suffered so much, and was rewarded with all authority at the right hand of the Father.
(All Scripture quotes are from the NASB, unless otherwise stated)
1 Suetonius. (1979). The Twelve Caesars. London: Penguin Classics.
2 Patai, R. (1979). The Messiah Texts. Avon Books.
3 Wylen, S. M. (1995). The Jews in the Time of Christ. Mahwah, NJ: Paulist Press.
By Brian Haines
From Expository Files 22.11; November 2015