The theological weight of Isaiah 53
I was reading one book this week on Isaiah 53 in which the writer said, “Words collapse under the weight of this chapter.” And I understand that, that there just aren’t words to hold it up; it’s too vast, too massive to be carried by vocabulary.
This is a chapter that, in a sense, you get to the point where you feel the weight of it without being able to articulate it.
This is a weighty portion of Scripture. There may be nothing like it, at least in my mind, in all of Holy Scripture–so full and so dense and such a clear detailed presentation of the Lord Jesus Christ in His life, in His death, in His burial, in His resurrection, in His exaltation and in His intercession that it transcends any passage in the Old Testament
And in between, it takes us down into the humiliation of our Sin-bearer, through the events of His life, through the events of Holy Week, the cross, the resurrection, out the empty tomb, up to the glories of heaven and into His ongoing intercessory work.
There are four Servant chapters about Him as Yahweh, the Slave of God: chapter 42, chapter 49, chapter 50, and now this section here. They look at the Messiah as the Servant of the Lord.
But in the future, the Lord will have a Servant who is faithful, none other than the Messiah. And in the opening verse, His nature, or His person, is identified. He will be high and lifted up and greatly exalted. Three verbs, three verbs that speak of Him: high, lifted up, and greatly exalted.
That introduces us to His eternal relationship with God the Father because those three verbs appear only one other place in the book of Isaiah, and that is in the sixth chapter of Isaiah and those same three verbs appear there to describe God high and lifted up who is holy, holy, holy, in the vision of Isaiah. So in chapter 6 those verbs are used to describe God the Father.
The salvation of the Jews
The point of this chapter is God will save His people. And in particular His people Israel. This is a prophecy of the future salvation of Israel. That’s what the whole section of Isaiah is about, salvation for Israel in the future.
Zechariah says it’s the time when they look on Him whom they’ve pierced and mourn for Him as an only Son.
When they look back in history, which they haven’t done yet, but they one day will, and they look at the One they pierced and realize that He was the Son of God and they completely will understand what they have not as yet understood except for a remnant of Jews who have come to faith in Christ.
Israel will be saved. The promise of Ezekiel 36, the New Covenant promise that God will save them, that God will forgive them, that God will write His law in their hearts. That God will take out a stony heart and give them a heart of flesh and plant His Spirit within them. Repeated in Jeremiah 31, repeated in Zechariah 12 and 13, the Spirit of grace and supplication comes on them. That will happen in the future, the salvation of the nation Israel. Or Romans 11, “All Israel will be saved.”
Very few Jews saved after Christ’s 3 year reign
But one day in the future, the nation Israel will realize this and look back and confess the very words, the very confession of Isaiah, chapter 53. Now from the beginning it says in verse 1, they didn’t believe: “Who has believed the message given to us?” is what the Hebrew indicates. “Who among us believed that Jesus was the arm of the Lord revealed?” That’s simply an expression to refer to the presence of God in power. “Who believed that He was the real power of God?
Who believed that He was the Messiah, the Savior?” Very, very, very few–very few–500 in Galilee, 120 in the Upper Room in Jerusalem after a three-year ministry across the nation of Israel, very few.
Why? He didn’t fit our model. The Jews have always had a theology of glory but not a theology of suffering. They’ve always understood the glory of Messiah but not the suffering of Messiah. In fact, as far as I can tell, no indication is found anywhere in historic Jewish literature that they believed the Messiah would die for their sins.
You cannot find it. They had no theology of a suffering, dying Messiah, only of a glorious Messiah.
Hebrews 10, “The blood of bulls and goats cannot take away sin.” But the same chapter says, “By one offering that He gave Himself, He sanctified forever those that belong to Him.”
You cannot redeem anyone
There’s an interesting statement tucked in to Psalm 49 where God says, “No man can by any means redeem his brother. No man can by any means redeem his brother or give to God a ransom for him for the redemption of his soul is costly and he should cease trying forever.” Great statement.
Where were Christ’s disciples at his trial
Here we find in the prophecy 700 years before it ever happened, the pronouncement that no one will defend Him, no one will defend Him. Where were His disciples? Well, they were living out Zechariah 13:7’s “strike the shepherd and the sheep will be”…What?…“scattered.” They were long gone. They had fled. Matthew says that they fled and Mark says the same thing that the Shepherd was struck and the sheep were scattered. Who was there to speak in His behalf?
A lie contained within the Jewish Talmud
They got the trial over with in the middle of the night so there was nobody there to interrupt them. Then that very day as the dawn broke, they sent Him in the process that brought Him to death by that very afternoon. Where were the 40 days? Where were the 40 days? Early in Christian history that began to be asked, Why did the Jews violate that?
There appears in answer to that a statement by the Sanhedrin. The Sanhedrin put together a statement. It is now in the Jewish Talmud, folio 43 in the Jewish Talmud, from the Sanhedrin. It says this, “There is a tradition”…this is the Sanhedrin’s words…“there is a tradition on the eve of the Sabbath and the Passover they hung Jesus. And the herald went forth before Him for 40 days crying, ‘Jesus goes to be executed because He has practiced sorcery and seduced Israel and estranged them from God. Let anyone who can bring forth any justifying plea for Him come and give information concerning it but no justifying plea was found for Him and so He was hung on the eve of the Sabbath and the Passover.’”
That’s in the Talmud of the Jews, a lie that they sentenced Jesus and waited 40 days before they executed Him for somebody to show up, and nobody showed up. That’s in the Jewish Talmud authored by the Sanhedrin to cover their tracks.
Our attitude toward Jewish people has to be one of unrestrained love and compassion and evangelistic zeal. They despised everything about Him.
The promise of the gentile salvation | Sheep of another fold
In chapter 55 and verse 5 of Isaiah, “You will call a nation you do not know and a nation which knows you not will run to you because the Lord your God, even the Holy One of Israel, for He has glorified You.”
This is the promise of Gentile salvation. And then the promise is extended to everyone, “Seek the Lord while He may be found. Call on Him while He’s near. Let the wicked forsake his way, the unrighteous man his thoughts,” and so it goes.
There’s an invitation to come from any nation of people who know not God, a no-nation. Like Jesus said, “Sheep of another fold.” The Jews know the man Jesus was struck dead. They know He was struck dead. They believe He was struck dead by God, but for His own blasphemies. Such a blasphemer that He wasn’t worthy for anyone to step up to His defense.
The truth is, He was struck by God for the transgressions of His people, including Jews and Gentiles and one day the nation of Israel.
….fire to consume the filth and the cadavers that are thrown there. So He was executed with criminals. He would end up like criminals.
Christ ended up in a tomb owned by a rich man
…But God wasn’t going to let that happen. Psalm 16 says that He would not allow His Holy One to see corruption. God would never let that happen. So verse 9 says there’s an amazing turn. His grave was assigned with wicked men, yet He was with a rich man in His death. How did that happen?
He was with a rich man in His death because all along there was a man by the name of Joseph from a place called Arimathea. This man Joseph had become a disciple of Jesus Christ quietly, and he was very rich.
Matthew 27:57, “In the evening there came a rich man from Arimathea named Joseph who himself had also become a disciple of Jesus. This man went to Pilate, asked for the body of Jesus. Pilate ordered it to be given to him.
Joseph took the body, wrapped it in a clean linen cloth and laid it in his own new tomb which he had hewn out in the rock and he rolled a large stone against the entrance to the tomb and went away.”
He should have been road kill; He should have been in the dump and He ends up in a brand new tomb owned by a rich man. Just exactly what the Holy Spirit reveals to Isaiah was going to happen.
God honours Jesus in burial
Even before His resurrection the Father is saying, “I will not allow any further humiliation.” There can be no more humiliation. It’s as low as He can go, to give Himself to death, even the death of the cross, and that’s where the humiliation ends. And this is the first small step up.
God honors Jesus in His burial because there was no sin inside, no sin outside. And in a few hours on the third day, He comes out of the grave, and eventually in His ascension all the way out. A sweet testimony of the fact that the humiliation was over.
Knowing Jesus in the flesh vs. in the spirit
You know, Paul was one of these unbelieving Jews. Paul had such hatred for Jesus Christ that he killed Christians, right? Breathing threatenings and slaughter against the church, it tells us in Acts 8.
He went everywhere he could with letters from the authorities who wanted all the Christians they could find thrown in jail or executed. And Paul was the executioner, he was the man. He went everywhere doing that until he ended up on the Damascus Road with orders to persecute Christians there. And you remember what happened. The Lord stopped him, made him blind, and introduced himself, and that was the transformation of the apostle Paul.
And Paul makes a testimony that is really a sort of microcosm; it’s a preview of the kind of testimony that the Jews are going to make in the future, and it’s also your testimony and mine.
Paul says this to the Corinthians. Second Corinthians 5:16, “We have known Christ according to the flesh.” “We have known Christ according to the flesh.” I knew about Jesus. I knew Him as a man. I had the typical, standard, rabid, zealous, passionate, anti-Jesus Christ attitude of the Jews. That’s what he’s referring to. “I knew Him according to the flesh. Yet now we know Him in this way no longer.”