The Agora
Behold My Servant (Isa 52:13-53:12)

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"The Pleasure of the Lord" (Isaiah 53:10-12)

The final section of this prophecy shows the death of Christ to have been the will of God, because it was essential to the producing of a righteous seed. The reward of Christ is pictured; it is twofold: the inheritance of a "spoil", and the everlasting joy of fellowship with those whose salvation he made possible.

Verse 10

"Yet it pleased the LORD to "bruise him; he hath put him to grief: when thou shalt 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."
"Yet it pleased the Lord to bruise him" -- "It was the will of the Lord" (RSV). The death of Christ was essential to our salvation, and was foreordained by God (Acts 2:23; 4:27,28; John 3:14,15). The word "bruise" is the same word as in v 5; "He was bruised for our iniquities".

"He hath put him to grief" -- A grief which he bore on our behalf (v 4). The word signifies a malady or a weakness:

"He was crucified through weakness" (2Co 13:4)...

"...put to death in the flesh" (1Pe 3:18).
"When thou shalt make his soul an offering for sin" -- The stress should be put on "thou". It is only when one accepts Christ in faith that he can become a part of Christ's seed. We are the ones who must reach out and grasp the hope offered us in the completed sacrifice of Jesus. As he was "led" like a lamb to the slaughter (v 7), so we must be "led" by his "spirit", or his teachings, to become through him sons of God (Rom 8:14)! We have an example of how Isaiah's appeal to the reader fell upon the eyes, and the heart, of one listener, when the Ethiopian eunuch asked, in effect, "Am I allowed to make this man's life an offering for my sin?" And the response came from Philip, "Only one thing is necessary. If you believe with all your heart, you may be baptized" (Acts 8:26-40).

Each time there is this positive response when Jesus is preached, the prophecy of Isaiah finds a further fulfillment; and Jesus sees yet another one who is the fruit of the travail of his soul.

"An offering for sin" -- "Asham" is the guilt, or trespass, offering. Everywhere else the word is used for an offering it is rendered "trespass offering" (Lev 6; 6; 7:1; Num 6:12; etc). The sins covered by the trespass offering were violence and deceit, sins practiced against Jesus (Acts 3:13-15). The One who committed no trespass became the trespass offering for those who did!

"He shall see his seed" -- The one who was first of all the "Seed" of God was "planted" in the earth. Joseph of Arimathea and his helpers carried his body from the cross. Weeping as they went, they bore the precious "seed" (Psa 126:5,6) and laid it in a new tomb. The "seed" was planted and watered with their tears, and they returned in sorrow to their homes. Daylight came, and night, and day again, and finally there was a stirring! The annual miracle of sowing and reaping found its counterpart in a "harvest" of the highest order. Christ was raised from the dead to become the "firstfruits" of them that sleep (1Co 15:20), the guarantee of a more numerous harvest to come.

"Except a grain of wheat fall into the ground and die, it abideth alone: but if it die, it bringeth forth much fruit" (John 12:24).
"He shall prolong his days" -- Moses spoke to the people of Israel of the kind of king that should rule over them. He should not multiply horses or wealth or wives, and he should write out a copy of the law, that he might read therein and keep it. Such a king would "prolong his days in his kingdom, he, and his children, in the midst of Israel" (Deu 17:20). Such a king would, in fact, receive "length of days for ever and ever" (Psa 21:4), and his throne would be an everlasting throne (45:6). All this would be possible for the one who could say:

"I am he that liveth, and was dead; and, behold, I am alive for evermore, Amen; and have the keys of hell and of death" (Rev 1:18)... the one who has "the power of an endless life" (Heb 7:16).
"And the pleasure of the Lord shall prosper in his hand" -- The word for pleasure" is "chephets", similar to the word "pleased" earlier in the verse. It is translated "will" by the RSV. It is elsewhere translated "purpose" (Ecc 3:1,17; 8:6). Those things which "please" God are those things which fulfill His purpose. He has no "pleasure" in the death of the wicked (Eze 18:32); but, marvelously, He finds "pleasure" in the death of a perfectly righteous Son, because that death brings salvation to others!

Verse 11

"He shall see of the travail of his soul, and shall be satisfied; by his knowledge shall my righteous servant justify many; for he shall bear their iniquities."
"He shall see of the travail of his soul" -- "The fruit of the travail of his soul" (RSV). It was decreed of man by the Adamic curse that only by the sweat of his brow, only by sore travail, would he wrest bread from the soil. By the travail of his soul, and the sweat of Gethsemane, Jesus persevered under the curse and finally produced the "fruit", the "bread" of eternal life. We are that "one bread", that "one body", the fruit of his travail.

"By his knowledge shall my righteous servant justify many" -- "By the knowledge of him" is probably the best way to read this phrase. Those who would make this man's life an offering for their own sins must know of him; this knowledge must lead them to repentance, confession, and baptism. Knowledge of Christ is essential to salvation:

"This is life eternal, that they might know Thee the only true God, and Jesus Christ, whom Thou hast sent" (John 17:3).
So Paul endeavored to "know him" (Phi 3:10), "in whom are hid all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge" (Col 2:3). The people of Israel were destroyed for lack of the knowledge of God (Hos 4:1,6).

This is the last of 20 references in Isa 40-53 to the "Servant" (singular). This marks the transition; the work of God's singular Servant has now climaxed in the justification of "many". Isa 54-66 has no more references to the "Servant" but eleven references to "servants" plural!

Verse 12

"Therefore will I divide him a portion with the great, and he shall divide the spoil with the strong; because he hath poured out his soul unto death: and he was numbered with the transgressors; and he bare the sin of many, and made intercession for the transgressors."
"Therefore will I divide him a portion with the great" -- "Great" is "rab", identical to the "many" of v 11 and that of the latter part of this verse. Jesus will divide his portion, or inheritance, with the same ones, the "many" who have been justified by their knowledge of him (v 11), the "many" whose sins he bore (v 12). The "portion" is the inheritance of life and glory and joy in the Kingdom. The companion-prophecy of Psa 22 speaks of this portion:

"The meek shall eat and be satisfied; they shall praise the Lord" (v 25).
The portion is the "feast of fat things", enjoyed on Mount Zion when death is swallowed up in victory, and the Lord God will wipe away tears from off all faces (Isa 24:23; 25:6-8; 1Co 15:54; Rev 21:4). This great carriage Supper of the Lamb is typified by the miracles of the loaves and fishes, and also by the memorial feast -- in which Christ has divided portions with us, the "many" who are ransomed by his blood.

"And he shall divide the spoil with the strong" -- This phrase is echoed by Jesus' brief parable:

"How can one enter into a strong man's house, and spoil his goods, except he first bind the strong man? And then he will spoil his house" (Mat 12:29).
This parable was given in the context of Jesus' miraculous healings. The "strong man" is the personification of sin and death (Heb 2:14). Only one is stronger than he, and that is the One who has conquered death. The healing of demoniacs by Jesus was a bringing near to man of the Kingdom, a foretaste of the powers of the age to come, when he will wrest his redeemed ones (the "spoil"!) from the hand of the "strong one" Death.

"And he was numbered with the transgressors" -- One of the greatest ironies is that the only perfect man was consistently accused of sin, and finally came to a criminal's death. During his ministry Jesus was labeled a "blasphemer, a sabbath-breaker, a winebibber, and a colleague of "Beelzebub". His friendship with social outcasts was pointed to as a sign of his depravity. All who believed on him were to be put out of the synagogue (John 9:22). He was hunted and threatened constantly. The climax, of course, came with his crucifixion between two thieves, as if he were the worst of the three. His countrymen asked for the release of a murderer and rebel instead of him.

Why was this so? If we will ask ourselves this, as we stand at the foot of the cross, the answer will come. We are the criminals! We are the ones deserving of torturous, violent death! All that the perfect man endured was for our sakes, because of our sins.

For the man who blasphemed God's Holy Raise, Christ spent sleepless nights in prayer. For the man who coveted, and even took, his neighbor's wife, Christ denied himself all fleshly indulgences. For the man who in hot anger or cold hatred slew his brother, Christ bore the Roman scourge that tore his flesh and exposed his bones and nerves. And for us, "righteous" as we might be in the ordinary "middle-of-the-road" sense, but sinners at heart if we would but admit it, consumed with petty jealousies and grumblings, unthankful, lazy, and often indifferent -- yes, for people like us -- Christ, the holiest of all men, groaned and bled and died.

But even while we are cast down and humiliated by this recognition, let us be lifted up and encouraged because through this man who was numbered with the transgressors, God has reconciled us to Himself. Thanks be to God for His unutterable gift!

"And made intercession for the transgressors" -- The one who died for us has been raised from the dead for our justification (Rom 4:25). As a high priest at the right hand of God in heaven, he intercedes for us. The one who, while in the flesh, experienced every weakness and sorrow, yet without sinning (Heb 4:15,16), is able now to save "to the uttermost" those who come to God through him, since he lives always (7:25,26). All his life fitted him expressly for this task, to be merciful and sympathetic of us his brethren.

New Testament Quotations

  1. Verse 11 -- Rom 5:19: "So by the obedience of one shall many be made righteous" is probably a citation of "My righteous Servant shall justify (or, make righteous) many".
  2. Verse 12 -- Mark 15:28; Luke 22:37: Jesus crucified between two thieves.
  3. Verse 12 -- Mat 26:28: "For this is my blood of the new covenant, which is shed for many for the remission of sins." Jesus was the righteous "Servant" who gave his life a ransom for "many". We should never read that word "many" as it occurs in the gospel records without thinking of Isaiah 53.
  4. Verse 12 -- Heb 9:28: "So Christ was once offered to bear the sins of many."
* * *

It would be a great pity if our understanding of the cross of Christ were confined to the controversial issues that have so plagued Christadelphians from their very beginning. It is true that error regarding the nature and sacrifice of Christ must be resisted. But there is a danger that we may exhaust our efforts in argumentation alone, and fail to grasp the other aspects of this great subject, aspects that should touch our hearts!

* * *

To this end Isaiah 53 is invaluable. We must not read this prophecy in a cold intellectual fashion. Rather, we should be lifted to spiritual heights; our emotions must be touched; our lives must be changed, as we strive in some small way to reciprocate the unearthly love shown toward us. All we like sheep have gone astray, and the Lord hath laid on one man the iniquity of us all. Let us examine ourselves, let us purge out all evil desires, and let us return to the Great Shepherd. His hand is stretched out still.

* * *

The picture we see of Christ is different now. It is the same face -- as portrayed by Isaiah, the same strong character, the same compassion, the same tenderness. But the lines of sorrow and grief are gone. The visage that was so marred has now taken on a beauty surpassing all the sons of Adam, a radiant joy unknown to mortals. He is the firstborn of the family of God; and we have been called to be his brothers and sisters.
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