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Isaiah 52:13- 53 Suffering Servant

This post includes the closing verse of chapter 52 and all of 53 as this is the passage describing the Suffering Servant of Jesus Christ.

This is a key Old Testament passage tying together the hope of the Messiah as a suffering servant.

In the introduction to this passage, the Ryrie footnotes make several important points.

  • Just as early Christianity believed, the traditional Jewish interpretation of this passage was of the Messiah. Not until the 12th century did Judaism begin to interpret this passage as Israel- despite the Servant being called innocent.
  • The passage is divided into 5 segments, three verses each. (one paragraph each, since the verses were added much later)
  • This passage is so precious to the Christian faith because it shows the Servant suffering for the sins of man.

Verses 52:13-15

Verse 13 starts with the Lord praising the Servant. Prosper, high and lifted up, exalted!

However, verse 14 already predicts the great suffering, having Him marred more than any man; just as people were astonished at how His people were marred. They knew how much they had suffered, they should have predicted a Messiah that would also suffer- based on this prophesy.

And in verse 15, of course, that suffering would allow Him to become the blood offering that would sprinkle many nations, as the priest did to purify. It also seems to predict how the Word would go out to those nations and kings and they would hear and see and understand what they had not previously (due to the fulfillment of the great commission, I assume.)

I like how the MacArthur Bible Commentary sums up this passage: "...summary and preview of the humiliation and exaltation of the Servant..." (Reminds me of the focus on humiliation versus exaltation in Philippians.)


Verses 53: 1-3

Verse 1 asks who has believed our message and to whom has the arm of the Lord been revealed.

This one verse show what makes Judaism and Christianity different from every other religion. The God and Creator of this world wants us to believe and acknowledge what He wrote on our hearts. What He has displayed before us by the arm of the Lord.


That's it.

Faith in what He's shown and said and wrote on our hearts.

Before the Suffering Servant came, it was faith that He was coming and could wipe away out sins. After He came, it was faith that His work and suffering was enough to restore us to the Lord.

So who is this Suffering Servant? We're given several prophesies in verses 2 and 3.

For He grew up before Him like a tender [a]shoot,
And like a root out of parched ground;
He has no stately form or majesty
That we should look upon Him,
Nor appearance that we should [b]be attracted to Him.
He was despised and forsaken of men,
A man of [c]sorrows and acquainted with [d]grief;
And like one from whom men hide their face
He was despised, and we did not esteem Him.

Isaiah 53: 2-3, NASB1995,


Verse 2a:

For He grew up before Him like a tender [a]shoot,
And like a root out of parched ground

For "shoot" the NASB footnote gives another word, suckling. And the NKJV uses the phrase "tender plant." Taken with the next line about a root from parched ground, it seems that the Servant was coming as a child. Not some mythological being beamed down in full form. Reincarnate Jesus seems to have appeared in times and places as a fully-formed adult, but only for an episode; not as the Savior of the world. The prophesied Suffering Servant had to come as a child. Had to be truly one of us. If He showed up miraculously fully grown, how could He know what it was to be tempted? To face what we face and remain sinless? It had to be a child.

I'll admit, I uncomfortable with stories about "baby Jesus". It always seems disrespectful somehow. But the mistake in that thinking is similar to the mistake the Jews made. They wanted a certain image of a savior, even if that's not what was promised. It much harder to face the fact that we need a spiritual Savior when we'd really rather fantasize about a hero wiping out our external enemies.

A footnote in the Ryrie Study Bible also notes that the "parched ground" indicated His "lowly background".

That leads us to the second half of verse 2:

He has no stately form or majesty
That we should look upon Him,
Nor appearance that we should [b]be attracted to Him.


Again, human logic would dictate that our savior be very stately. Almost by definition. And shouldn't our hero be handsome and cut a remarkable figure. Another word for the phrase, "be attracted" is "desire". Shouldn't our hero make the ladies swoon with his chiseled feature and Hollywood handsome profile? God didn't agree. Human logic isn't the same as godly wisdom.

If the hero rode in on a stallion with charisma, charm, good looks, and a stately bearing, of course people would sit up, pay attention, and be inclined to listen to all He had to say. But they would have been responding to a man, based on what attracts us to some leaders. But some leaders start cults and some followers will drink the Kool-aid because of their draw to the man. Our God wanted us to respond to the Message. The Word. Loyal to a charming man is not the same thing as faith in a living God. We learn this lesson over and over in Judges. God sent a man and gave the man what he needed to lead the people for a season; but this time the One leading them out of bondage will do from their heart, bringing faith and salvation for eternity. Good looks and charm aren't the right canvas for that kind of transformation.

Uh-oh...I seem to be covering only a single verse in one day's quiet time...this might take awhile.


Verse 3

He was despised and forsaken of men,
A man of [c]sorrows and acquainted with [d]grief;
And like one from whom men hide their face
He was despised, and we did not esteem Him.

I'd like to skim right passed this one. "Nothing to see here."


That would just prove the point. Not only did the Suffering Servant choose to make Himself underwhelming to look at, He made choices that would make the sinful heart of men despise, forsake, and turn their faces from Him. He was a man of sorrows and grief. He gave everything for us and our instinct was to hide our faces. Sin makes us full of shame and selfishness, unable to see the precious gift He was giving us.

And God had been doing that for thousands of years. Offering grace, mercy, and salvation; but man couldn't abide in it for long. Always hiding their faces and returning to the desires of their own heart.

But this time, it was a man who was also fully God, who would die and leave behind a helper that could open our hearts for a permanent change, back to being face-to-face with God, in relationship. At the unimaginable cost of His living as a human and dying unesteemed.

Verses 53: 4-6

Verse 4

Surely our [e]griefs He Himself bore,
And our [f]sorrows He carried;
Yet we ourselves esteemed Him stricken,
[g]Smitten of God, and afflicted. NASB1995,

Two words stand out to me here, grief and esteemed. Both words used above. He had to bear His own grief and sorrow and He bore ours. We assumed He was stricken for His own sins; but being sinless, He was actually afflicted for ours. And this is the King of kings and the Lord of lords. He will win at Armageddon with a sword in His mouth and fire in His eyes. But in this moment, he is afflicted for us. Upside down kingdom indeed.

Verse 5

But He was [h]pierced through for our transgressions,
He was crushed for our iniquities;
The chastening for our [i]well-being fell upon Him,
And by His scourging we are healed. NASB1995,

One of the single most blessed and cherished as well as one of the most convicting and cringe-inducing verses in the Bible.

They sliced His flesh with the metal woven into the scourge. Drove thorns into His head with a "crown". Hammered nails into His hands and feet. And stabbed Him with a sword.

Pierced for our transgressions.

Forgiveness at the great cost of His flesh.

Crushed for our iniquities.

Death to give us a life we don't deserve.

Our chastening counted against Him so that we could have well-being.

And by His scourging we are healed.

Isaiah 53:5d

Ever taken an aspirin for pain? Ever heard of an artificial heart replacing a real one? Ever watched as your own body sewed itself back together after a wound? Ever read about the woman who touched the tassel of Jesus' robe? It's all healing. Miracles, modern medicine, and basic biology. They are all healing and they all come from the broken and scourged body of Jesus. He is life and He is the healing when a life needs it.

And while most of us will face a natural death once, ultimately, His chosen will be given eternal healing.


How can I let this amazing gift of God slip from my memory and I groan about getting older and facing the aches and pains of life.

If we have gratitude for nothing else, you'd think we'd all be so grateful for healing. Praise the Lord.

Verse 6

All of us like sheep have gone astray,
Each of us has turned to his own way;
But the Lord has caused the iniquity of us all
To [j]fall on Him. NASB1995,

And there it is. In a nutshell. The bad news, the terrible news, and the good news.

The Bible in a one verse. If we only got one...let it be this one.

We all get lost like sheep. But worse than that, we get lost because we want our own way--apart from the Shepard. But our gracious and faithful God will take the full cup of wrath earned by his people and pour it out on His Suffering Servant. So that we have a way back to our loving, but righteous Shepard.

So humbling. So convicting. So grateful.

Verses 53: 7-9

And with such a generous gift, how did He present it to us? Yelling? Threatening? Nagging? Reminding us of how much we owe Him? Guilting us?


He was oppressed and He was afflicted,
Yet He did not open His mouth;
Like a lamb that is led to slaughter,
And like a sheep that is silent before its shearers,
So He did not open His mouth. Verse 7, NASB1995,



He gave all and He did it obediently unto His Father who sent Him.

Verse 8 and 9 continue the story as we see it unfold in the books of the gospels:

  • oppression and judgement
  • taken away
  • killed for the transgressions of His people
  • assigned with wicked men
  • given a tomb of a rich man
  • Having never done violence or spoken deceit

Prophesy after prophesy after prophesy.

I still can't see how they only expected a conquering king. Why hadn't they made some provision in their mind for the Suffering Servant?

Verses 53: 10-12

But the Lord was pleased
To crush Him, [l]putting Him to grief;
If [m]He would render Himself as a guilt offering,
He will see His [n]offspring,
He will prolong His days,
And the [o]good pleasure of the Lord will prosper in His hand. Verse 10, NASB1995,

Again, how could His people not account for God crushing His Servant? A guilt offering?

I know I have the luxurious benefit of hindsight and millennia of theology, so it's easy to see it from my perspective; but there are some key concepts here that one has to content with. If modern Jews see this as Israel, how can they be their own guilt offering?

And in those last two lines, we have the key difference between Christianity and all other belief systems: He will prolong His days, and the good pleasure of the Lord will prosper in His hand.

He overcame death for all of us.

11 As a result of the [p]anguish of His soul,
He will see [q]it and be satisfied;
By His knowledge the Righteous One,
My Servant, will justify the many,
As He will bear their iniquities.
12 Therefore, I will allot Him a portion with the great,
And He will divide the booty with the strong;
Because He poured out [r]Himself to death,
And was numbered with the transgressors;
Yet He Himself bore the sin of many,
And interceded for the transgressors.

Isaiah 53: 11-12, NASB1995,

Another transformative summary of the theological basis for Christianity. A fulfillment of the prophesy.

  • The Father saw that the Son's soul was in anguish and the Father's wrath was satisfied.
  • The offering of the One was accepted to justify the iniquities of the many
  • And He did it knowingly. He had the knowledge of what needed to be done; and even though He did ask if the cup could be taken from Him; He obeyed for the many.
  • The Son has earned his portion, His people BECAUSE He poured out Himself to death
  • Bearing the sins as a transgressor, without ever sinning Himself, He could now intercede for the transgressors.

Christianity was a new religion. It didn't take a new turn or introduce a new prophet or character.

Christ-ianity, followers of the Messiah, is a continued revelation of God's promises. And never more clearly than Isaiah, Chapter 53.


The MacArthur Bible Commentary labels this full section, Isaiah 52:13-53:12, to be the fourth Servant Song. They others being: 42:1-9, 49: 1-13, 50: 4-11.

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