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Bible: What Does Isaiah 51-53 Teach Us About Redemption, and the Death and Resurrection of the "Suffering Servant"?

Updated on May 11, 2016

Jerusalem: The Old City

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Isaiah 51-53: Redemption Through the Death and Resurrection of the Suffering Servant

Isaiah 51

Jerusalem Shall Prosper in the Future Kingdom

The Servant addresses God-fearers in His audience, exhorting them to "look to" certain objects and ancestors for instruction and example.

"Remember," He tells them, "whence (morally and spiritually) they came” (namely, a pit), and seek to imitate the faith of their father Abraham whom God blessed (vv. 1-2).

He promises prosperity for Jerusalem's future in fulfillment of the covenants (v. 3); God's law will also bring the knowledge of justice to the peoples (the Gentiles) [v. 4].

Yahweh's salvation will outlast both the universe and the men who make their “home” in this world (vv. 5-6).

"Listen to Me"

For the third time the Servant commands this group of righteous people to listen to Him (v. 7; see vv. 1, 4).

Here He instructs them not to fear the words of men against them, for these men will wear out like an old garment (vv. 7-8).

Then Isaiah calls upon Yahweh a first time to awaken to judgment, reminding Him of the day He exercised His power at the Sea of Reeds (vv. 9-10).

Reiterating Israel's fervent hope for a peaceful Zion, he anticipates another display of omnipotence to bring in the kingdom (v. 11; cf. Is. 35:10).

Especially because they know that His strengthening presence is with them, Yahweh rebukes those who fear mortal man (v. 12).

When believers forget who God is and focus on the "fury of the oppressor," they will fear (v. 13).

They will worry about survival, and forget God's protection and plans for His people (vv. 14-16).

"Wake Up, Jerusalem"

His second "Awake, awake" the prophet directs toward judged Jerusalem (v. 17).

The city has no leader (v. 18); the young are without strength after bitter afflictions, and no one remains to comfort the people (vv. 19-20).

Isaiah announces God's plan to remove His fury from them and place it on those who used them as human doormats (vv. 21-23).

Important Words


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Isaiah 52

Exhorting Jerusalem to "put on" a new life of freedom from physical and spiritual captivity, the man of God cries out a third "Awake, awake" (vv. 1-2).

Why? God will redeem her (v. 3).

[Notice the future aspect of the promise, and that the redemption will not involve any monetary transaction, unlike the usual, human procedure].

Yahweh reviews how Israel first suffered under Egypt and then under Assyria (v. 4).

God’s enemies brutalized His people and blasphemed His Name (v. 5), yet His salvation will prove that He is truly the LORD (v. 6).

Isaiah rejoices in the man who proclaims salvation to Zion (v. 7; cf. Rom.10:15).

Indeed, God will save Jerusalem, and cause the watchmen to sing for joy (v. 8).

Enjoining everyone to sing praise for His salvation and judgment (vv. 9-10), the prophet then commands them to leave their captivity in holiness, knowing that the LORD encompasses them round about (vv. 11-12; cf. 2 Cor. 6:17).

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The Suffering Servant

The LORD next provides an extensive description of His Servant's suffering for the sins of mankind (52:13-53:12).

Initially, however, He remarks about the early popularity of this wise Servant (v. 13).

In verse fourteen, the picture changes quickly, astonishing the onlooker, as this "Star" takes on disfiguring features (v. 14).

[Verse 15 presents a textual issue. One can translate the first verb either "startle" or "sprinkle."

Choosing "sprinkle" and the adverb "so," the interpreter understands that the blood sprinkled from his marred form affected many nations.

On the other hand, if he opts for "startle," he can see how the Servant's life would affect people in a different way.

They would witness or hear revelation ("they shall see," "they shall consider") that they could not explain or successfully contradict ("shut their mouths at Him")].

Isaiah 53

Isaiah asks two rhetorical questions and expects the negative answer: "None" (v. 1). That is, no one has believed our report.

[Does our report suggest that both Isaiah and God cooperated in the enterprise, or does the pronoun merely express the prophet’s authorial style?]

A close look at the parallel structure helps one interpret the meaning of "report"; the arm of the LORD is key (cf. 51:5, 9-11).

[The report involves a message regarding God's salvation and judgment].

The prophet foresees a future Individual Who is somehow connected to this message. He compares His maturation to that of a tender plant for which the LORD cares (v. 2a).

The Figure's hometown holds little prominence, and His background is not at all privileged.

Appearing as a nobody from nowhere special, and having no great physical beauty of form or face, unlike other notable figures (v. 2b; cf. David, 1 Sam. 16:12; Saul, 1 Sam. 9:2), this Personage becomes unpopular in the public eye, perhaps because of His message/report (v. 3; see v. 1).

His sorrow arises from Israel’s rejection of God’s mercy, not from any maudlin self-image problem (v. 3b).

Substitutionary Atonement: Do you believe in it?

Do you believe the Suffering Servant (Jesus) died in your place to take away your sins?

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The Servant Provided a Substitutionary Atonement for Sinners

Isaiah demonstrates the contrast between the spiritually attuned perspective of His life and the spiritually blind viewpoint (v. 4).

He also indicates the substitutionary character of His suffering.

Not only does the Man bear the sorrow of rejected mercy, but He also shares in and empathizes with the pains of the wretched humanity He serves.

Yahweh places the entire weight of the world's suffering on Him, yet sinful humanity misconstrues this action as divine punishment for His own sins (v. 4b).

From the divine perspective, however, the Sufferer's wounds atone for humanity's sins.

He undergoes torture on their behalf, so that the latter may have peace and healing: peace with God and healing from spiritual ills (v. 5; cf. 1 Peter 2:24).

Isaiah reveals both the all-inclusive character of the Sacrifice's bearing of this sin and Yahweh's involvement in this imputation (v. 6).

Joseph of Arimathea

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The Suffering Servant Buried in a Rich Man's Tomb

Throughout the ordeal the Lamb of God remains submissive, yielded to the will of the Father, and silent amid suffering (v. 7; cf. Lam.3:28).

His persecutors take Him from judgment and prison to the place of execution; the entire context declares His death in the place of sinners (v. 8).

While His executioners prepare to discard His body onto a refuse pile, a rich man claims it and gives it a dignified burial, because he deems its one-time Inhabitant to have been a Man of peace and truth (v. 9).

At first glance, that the Father took pleasure in causing the Servant's death might truly shock the reader (v. 10a).

However, once he realizes that the Servant's soul-suffering satisfied the justice of the holy God, he understands the Father's joy.

Now the LORD can declare righteous those for whom the Servant died, those whose iniquities He bore (v. 11).

Now He shall "see His seed (v. 10b)."

[This enigmatic expression may refer to those who would become children of God through the death of their Substitute].

The Servant's Resurrection

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The Servant's Resurrection

Now He shall "prolong His days" through His resurrection.

Granted, the Servant's sacrificial, substitutionary death for sinners earns Him great spiritual rewards.

However, what does it mean to “be numbered” with the transgressors? (v. 12)

[Interesting nuances appear in Isaiah's use of person. He employs "You" in verse 10, as if addressing the LORD, but then reverts to the first person—My righteous Servant—in verse 11, indicating that God speaks here.

Verse 12 confirms that it is the LORD speaking, as the first and only "I" appears.

Another interesting feature is this subject of rewards.

The passage sounds "too human" in some respect; the Servant's reward is altogether too comparable with what other spiritual heroes might receive for wholehearted service.

Perhaps we must consider this issue in light of Christ's subordinate role in his state of humiliation as a human being, and not as His being equal with God].

© 2012 glynch1

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