This is the final part of a 6-part series. Read Part 1, Part 2, Part 3, Part 4, and Part 5.

 

10 Yet it was the will of the Lord to crush him;
    he has put him to grief;
when his soul makes an offering for guilt,
    he shall see his offspring; he shall prolong his days;
the will of the Lord shall prosper in his hand.
11 Out of the anguish of his soul he shall see[the light of life] and be satisfied;
by his knowledge shall the righteous one, my servant,
    make many to be accounted righteous,
    and he shall bear their iniquities.
12 Therefore I will divide him a portion with the many,
    and he shall divide the spoil with the strong,
because he poured out his soul to death
    and was numbered with the transgressors;
yet he bore the sin of many,
    and makes intercession for the transgressors. (Isaiah 53:10-12)

Christmas, the day when Christians celebrate the incarnation of Jesus Christ, is joyful precisely because Jesus succeeded in His earthly mission, namely, securing salvation for all who trust in His saving work. Our study of Isaiah 53 concludes with verses 10-12, which direct our attention to the meaning and significance of the Servant’s suffering and death and help us understand the depth of God’s love for His children.

Verse 10 reveals a startling truth—God willed the terrible death of this innocent Servant. Verse 11 explains why—His death made it possible for many to be accounted righteous. Verse 12 returns to the theme of Isaiah 52:13 and glories in the Servant’s exaltation. Together, these verses marvel at the work accomplished by the Servant and foreshadow Christ’s work on the cross.

Verse 10 opens the stanza with the disjunctive “Yet,” signaling a clear contrast with the content of the previous verse. The focus shifts from man’s sensory experience to God’s perspective on what has unfolded so far. In light of the horrifying miscarriage of justice perpetrated against the Servant, Isaiah’s readers expect God to avenge and vindicate the Servant. Thus, when God’s sovereign purpose is at last revealed in verse 10a, the truth is startling— “it was the will of the Lord to crush him.”

The natural response to this statement is disbelief and perhaps even anger. Why would God want to crush this man? Why would God want an innocent person to suffer? On these questions, theologian John Oswalt’s reflections are illuminating:

The faithful God of the Bible would certainly not visit bad things on innocent people, would he? Yes, he would if some greater good would be served. Is it possible there is some greater good than all the terrible things the Servant has endured will procure?... [Yes,] what God wants to come out of the Servant’s suffering is of monumental proportions. He wants human beings to be able to offer this man up on the altar of their sins so that he can be a “full and sufficient sacrifice” for them, satisfying all the unpaid debts of their behavior.[1]

God’s sovereign purpose behind all the suffering of the Servant was to make Him a guilt offering, not for His own sins (He had none), but for the sins of others.

An important note must be made concerning English translations that render verse 10a: “But the Lord was pleased to crush him” (NASB) or “Though the Lord desired to crush him” (NET). Unfortunately, these translations contribute to the faulty understanding that somehow, God took delight in making the Servant suffer. Peter Gentry helpfully clarifies this point: “Here, ‘delighted’ is being used in the context of sacrifice. God is delighted or pleased with the sacrifice in the sense that he accepts it as sufficient to wipe away his indignation, his offense and his outrage at our sin.”[2] Thus, it was not God’s sadistic will to punish an innocent man. Rather, it was God’s redemptive will. This notion is further clarified in the second part of verse 10 with the mention of “guilt offering.” 

The guilt or “reparation” offering in 10b refers to the fifth offering described in Leviticus. Of all the Old Testament offerings, this one covered guilt that had been knowingly incurred by the individual and had to be offered by the individual responsible.[3] Three important benefits of this offering are highlighted in verse 10c: “he shall see his offspring,” “he shall prolong his days,” and “the will of the Lord shall prosper in his hand.” In view of fulfilling God’s glorious plan, the Servant will be successful; he will enjoy offspring and length of days. These should be interpreted figuratively to indicate that despite the bleak future forecasted in previous stanzas, the Servant’s life will be marked by blessing and fruitfulness. This thought is continued in verse 11a with the phrase, “Out of the anguish of his soul he shall see [the light of life] and be satisfied.” Despite not appearing in some English translations, the phrase “light of life” in verse 11 is supported by textual witnesses.[4] Taken together, verses 10c and 11a point to another significant reality—resurrection.

Although the Servant’s death is communicated in stanza four (verses 7-9), stanza five indicates that the Servant is alive. How is this possible? Verse 11a, with its contrast of “guilt offering” and “light,” strongly suggests resurrection, which is implied by the idea of seeing offspring and prolonging days.[5] Faithfully reconciling stanza four and five requires the Servant’s resurrection (taking place between the realities described by each). The reference to “light” in 11a is another clue to resurrection.

Verses 11b-12 conclude stanza five by describing the benefits of the Servant’s death given to the “many.” The use of “knowledge” in 11b should be understood as experiential knowledge of faith.[6] In context, this accurately captures Isaiah’s understanding of the Servant’s accomplishment. People do not benefit by what the Servant knows, but by knowing and believing in what the Servant did.  

Verse 12 explains that the benefits of the Servant’s success will be “divided… with the many.” This highlights the breadth of the Servant’s work. Because the Servant “poured out his soul to death” and “bore the sins of many,” he effectively has provided a way for men to have a right relationship with God. Gentry notes this “corporate solidarity” between the one and the many and explains it in terms of the Ancient Near East context of the relationship between a king and his people.[7] In this case, because the Servant represents the people, the rewards and benefits He secured through His suffering and death are transferred to the people. It is striking to discern that all the major words used for sin— “transgressions,” “iniquities,” and “sin”—are in the plural, indicating that the Servant’s sacrificial death is holistic, covering the guilt of the “many.” This is a magnificent picture of substitutionary atonement and points to what Christ did on the cross.

Conclusion

Isaiah 53 is one of the most magnificent messianic prophecies in the Old Testament. In a way that is striking and sobering, this passage blazes forth the glory of Christ and the hope of eternal salvation by teaching that God loved the world so much that He sent His Son as a humble Servant who willingly substituted Himself in our place and bore the full wrath of God for our sin that we might be forgiven.

Thus, at Christmas, it is fitting to read and study Isaiah 53, which clearly captures the meaning and significance of Christ’s work on the cross. Examining the intricacies of this text is not easy, but the reward is worth it. Seeing Christ’s person and work thus depicted—exalted (52:13-15), despised (1-3), rejected (4-6), killed (7-10), and resurrected (10-12)—prompts reverent worship and a profound sense of gratitude. Indeed, praise God for this Servant, this man of sorrows, “who for the joy set before Him endured the cross, despising its shame, and is now seated at the right hand of the throne of God” (Heb. 12:2).



[1]  John N. Oswalt, The Book of Isaiah, Chapters 40–66, (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 1998), 400.

[2]  Peter J. Gentry, “The Atonement in Isaiah’s Fourth Servant Song (Isaiah 52:13-53:12),” The Southern Baptist Journal of Theology (SBJT), June 12, 2007, http://www.sbts.edu/resources/journals/journal-of-theology/sbjt-112-summer-2007/the-atonement-in-isaiahs-fourth-servant-song-isaiah-5213-5312/, 35.

[3] Oswalt, The Book of Isaiah, Chapters 40–66, 402.

[4] Gentry, “The Atonement in Isaiah’s Fourth Servant Song (Isaiah 52:13-53:12),” 37.

[5]  Allen P. Ross et al., Proverbs–Isaiah, ed. Tremper Longman III and David E. Garland, Revised ed. edition (Grand Rapids, Mich: Zondervan, 2008), 802.

[6] Ibid.

[7] Gentry, “The Atonement in Isaiah’s Fourth Servant Song (Isaiah 52:13-53:12),” 41.