Summary: Hundreds of years before Christ came, Isaiah recorded the event of Jesus' sacrificial suffering, death, and resurrection.
Isaiah Predicts Christ’s Suffering for Us
When Jesus walked with two of His disciples on the road to Emmaus in Luke 24, He asked them why they did not believe what the prophets had spoken about Jesus, that Jesus would suffer and then enter into His glory. He followed up his question with an exposition of the Scriptures starting with Moses and all of the prophets all of the things concerning Him. They did not yet know Jesus was the one who was speaking to them, but their hearts burned at His words.
In the course of at most a couple of hours, Jesus could not have expounded to them every Scripture about Himself from what we call the Old Testament. It makes us curios which ones he would have chosen. It seems to me that this passage from Isaiah 53 would be near the top of the list. Let us hear what the prophet says about Jesus.
Exposition of the Text
Isaiah wrote some 700 years before the time of Christ. Many liberal scholars dispute that the second half of Isaiah was written by Isaiah, but even the most liberal of them have to concede that this passage existed in writing hundreds of years before Christ. So they cannot simply dismiss what this passage says. They try to make it apply to the nation of Israel rather than about Jesus. They would claim that Isaiah or the “second Isaiah” considered Israel to be the suffering servant who suffered in behalf of others. But if we were to seriously examine this, we can see from Scripture many occasions where Israel suffered punishment for its own sins from the hand of God. But one would be hard pressed to find evidence of Israel suffering as an atonement for the sins of others.
This passage is so descriptive of the suffering of Jesus that it is hard to imagine that Isaiah had anyone in mind than the Jesus who is to come. Even if the prophet was not fully aware of the person of the Messiah, we must understand that the Holy Spirit, who is the true author of all Scripture certainly knew that Christ would come and suffer for His people.
Isaiah 53 is one of the four servant songs in the book, so this is not the only passage which talks about Christ’s sufferings. But it is the clearest of them. It begins with a lament that so few will see what God was doing in the person of Jesus. They would reject the idea that the Messiah should suffer out of hand. They were looking for a Messiah who would come in power and glory and restore the national fortunes of Israel. They did not believe that Jesus should suffer first and then enter His glory. The Emmaus disciples did not see this either, until Jesus revealed it. They would by God’s grace, along with others, come to understand what this passage taught.
The passage basically says that there would be nothing extraordinary about the physical appearance of Jesus when He came. He would not stand out in a crowd. This is one reason why the Sanhedrin needed the help of Judas to identify Him. He wasn’t like King Saul who stood head and shoulders above the people. He would be more like the diminutive stature of His ancestor, King David, who was the smallest of all his many brothers. We have no pictures of Jesus to confirm that his appearance was ordinary, but the evidence of Scripture confirms that Isaiah was correct in his prediction of the appearance of Jesus.
Isaiah also predicts that Israel would take Jesus lightly. This idea of “lightly” is the exact opposite of “glory”, a word in Hebrew means “to be heavy”, or “to carry weight”. Isaiah predicted Israel would reject Jesus, and that Jesus would weep over their rejection. Luke records Jesus’ weeping over the city of Jerusalem on Palm Sunday. Perhaps this rejection hurt Jesus more than the nails which pierced His hands and feet, and the stripes on His back.
Isaiah mentions in an earlier passage that Jesus’ appearance would be so disfigured as to almost make Him unrecognizable as a human being (52:14). This idea is repeated in verse 3 in which He was so badly beaten that one would have to turn their face from Him. How could such suffering and ugliness be from God?
But it was from God. Verse 4 tells us that this stricken Jesus who was so rejected by His own people was smitten by God for the very people who had put Him on the cross. All of the trauma His body suffered was for our rebellion against God. The stripes which lacerated his body were for our healing. This was more than the healing of the physical body. It was for the healing of the soul as well.