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The Gospel in the Old Testament- Isaiah 53

I am a Christian pastor who wishes to bring glory to God in all that I do, and to help people through my writing to know Him better.


Introduction: The Suffering Servant

Robert Coleman, in his book entitled 'Written in Blood', told this story about a little boy whose sister needed a blood transfusion. He wrote this:

The doctor explained that she, (his sister), had the same disease the boy had recovered from two years earlier. Her only chance for recovery was a transfusion from someone who had previously conquered the disease. Since the two children had the same rare blood type, the boy was the ideal donor.

"Would you give your blood to Mary?" the doctor asked. Johnny hesitated. His lower lip started to tremble. Then he smiled and said, "Sure, for my sister." Soon the two children were wheeled into the hospital room--Mary, pale and thin; Johnny, robust and healthy. Neither spoke, but when their eyes met, Johnny grinned. As the nurse inserted the needle into his arm, Johnny's smile faded. He watched the blood flow through the tube. With the ordeal almost over, his voice, slightly shaky, broke the silence. "Doctor, when do I die?'

Only then did the doctor realize why Johnny had hesitated, why his lip had trembled when he'd agreed to donate his blood. He thought giving his blood to his sister meant giving up his life. In that brief moment, he'd made his great decision.

Johnny, fortunately, didn't have to die to save his sister. Each of us, however, has a condition more serious than Mary's, and it required Jesus to give not just His blood but His life.

The Old Testament is filled with prophecies about what Jesus did when He came to this earth to die for our sins. It is difficult to know exactly how many prophecies our Lord actually fulfilled. This depends on what is counted. For example, do we count repeated prophecies twice? And what about allusions and indirect references to our Lord's ministry? There are also types or prophetic symbols that foreshadow Christ.

For these reasons different people have come up with various numbers of prophecies that Jesus' fulfilled. However, the conservative estimate is around 300 prophecies that Jesus became the fulfillment to in His life, death and resurrection.

Nowhere is that fulfillment seen more clearly than in the familiar passage, Isaiah 53. This section of Scripture is one of 4 'Servant Songs' penned by this prophet around 700 years before Jesus was even born on the earth.

These songs describe the coming Messiah in HIs service, suffering and exaltation.

Here is what the website '' has to say about this subject:

"All four songs show the Messiah to be God’s meek and gentle Servant. He is a royal figure, representing Israel in its ideal form; He is the high priest, atoning for the sins of the world. Isaiah predicts that this Servant of the Lord would deliver the world from the prison of sin. In the royal terminology of the ancient Near East, a servant was a “trusted envoy,” a “confidential representative,” or “one who is chosen.”

The particular song found in chapter 53 actually begins with the last verses of chapter 52 (52:13-53:12). The other 3 Servant passages leading up to this glorious section of Scripture are the following:

  1. Isaiah 42:1-9
  2. Isaiah 49:1-13
  3. Isaiah 50:4-11

To be totally fair to the Old Testament text, the Servant of the Lord is originally identified as the nation of Israel who was to serve as God's witness and act as a light for the Gentiles. However, Israel failed again and again (42:19; 44:21-22). By contrast, the Messiah is said to faithfully complete all the work that the Lord has sent Him to do. An example in the New Testament where Jesus is accurately called God's Servant is found in Acts 3:13 in which Peter says:

"The God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob, the God of our fathers, glorified his servant. Jesus, whom you delivered over and denied in the presence of Pilate, when he had decided to release him."

Isaiah 53 focuses on the Suffering Servant. It relates that, in His suffering, the Messiah would bear the sin of many and make intercession for the transgressors. Let us look at it in a little more depth to see how Jesus brought to actuality these ancient prophecies of Isaiah and how that matters to all of us here today.

Isaiah 52:13-15 gives us a summary and preview of what is coming up in the next chapter. Isaiah 53 then gives us a look the Suffering Servant's:

  1. Person (1-3)
  2. Sufferings and Humiliation (4-10a)
  3. Exaltation and Blessings to Mankind (10b-12)
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Let's begin by looking at the last 3 verses of chapter 52.

I. Summary and Preview (52:13-15)

In these 3 verses, as we've said, we see an overview of what follows. God's Servant will ultimately rule over His kingdom. He will receive international recognition due to the effectiveness of His reign over all.

However, before all of this He must undergo suffering and humiliation. Here is what Isaiah tells us:

"Behold, My servant will prosper, He will be high and lifted up and greatly exalted. Just as many were astonished at you, My people, So His appearance was marred more than any man. And His form more than the sons of men. Thus He will sprinkle many nations, Kings will shut their mouths on account of Him; For what had not been told them they will see, And what they had not heard they will understand."

The idea of the Servant being marred goes perfectly well with the treatment that Jesus received. The cruel beating that He got at the hands of the Romans marred Him beyond recognition. His appearance was so horrible that people looked at Him in astonishment.

However, not only was Jesus to be the offering for sin, but also the one who offers it as well. In His disfigured state the servant performed the priestly act of cleansing, not only Israel but many outside of the nation as well. For the Scripture says that He "sprinkled many nations.

Further, once Jesus was despised. But there will come a time when kings will shut their mouths on account of Him. These monarch's will see, when Jesus is enthroned, true power and glory such as they have never seen before in their lives.

And they will worship Him, whom they had crucified.

As we come to the end of chapter 52, we now will see a description of the humble Servant whom the nations will one day worship. Only, at the first sight of Him, before His exaltation, they won't be impressed.

II. The Servant's Appearance (53:1-3)

The first 3 verses of chapter 53 show us that Christ would not come the first time with the pomp and circumstance that should be due the Creator and Sustainer of the universe. The question: "Who has believed our message?" implies that only a very few would recognize Him for who He was.

The arm, or strength of the Lord would not be readily seen by most. Rather He will seem to be like a tender shoot or a root growing out of a dry ground. With lots of dust and very little water to sustain growth, a shoot coming out of such an environment will look delicate and unable to survive. In the same way, He won't look like the special person that He is. Few will know that they will one day bow before His might and power.

The Servant will arise with none of the trappings of royalty. And we see from the description in verse 2 that the Lord didn't choose to come as the super good-looking blue-eyed man with long flowing brown hair that we often see on the movie screens. He was rather very common in appearance. He resembled most everyday Jewish men of His time.

Not only that but the Suffering Servant would be despised and rejected by men according to verse 3. This verse foresees the hatred and rejection by mankind toward the Messiah when He first arrives. The greatest sadness He would have is the internal sorrow that comes from the rejection by the people He came to save.

Indeed He was a man of sorrows and acquainted with grief. His own people wouldn't esteem Him. They would rather despise Him. However, that didn't make Him give up His mission and go back to Heaven. He chose to stay and suffer for all of us.

This leads us to the next section of the text which talks of our Lord's suffering and humiliation.

III. The Servant's Suffering and Humiliation (4-10a)

As we enter this section the one thing that sticks out is the substitutionary language that is involved in the Servant's suffering. He wasn't going through all of this for His own sins, since our Lord is sinless. And yet the people watching His death thought that He was undergoing a just punishment from God. Listen to the Words of Isaiah:

"Surely our griefs He Himself bore, and our sorrows He carried. Yet we ourselves esteemed Him stricken, smitten of God and afflicted. But He was pierced through for our transgressions. He was crushed for our iniquities; The chastening for our well-being fell upon Him, and by His scourging we are healed." (4-5).

In contrast to the Lord's sinless character, we are like sheep who have gone astray. We turn to our own way. However, the Lord caused the punishment that should have befallen us to be laid on Him, His humble Servant. (6).

John Macarthur has said this about this section of God's Word:

"God treated Him as if He had committed every sin ever committed by every person who would ever believe, though He was perfectly innocent of any sin. God could then give to the account of sinners who believe, the righteousness of Christ, treating them as if they had done only the righteous acts of Christ."

And how did the Servant respond to this? By humble obedience. Though He was oppressed and afflicted, He didn't open His mouth. Jesus didn't utter any words in protest and was completely submissive to His oppressors. He performed the role of the sacrificial lamb, lead to slaughter.

Verses 7 and 8 are the section of this song that the Ethiopian eunuch was reading when Philip came and told him that it was referring to Jesus. We see this in Acts 8:32,33). So here we have New Testament verification that Isaiah 53 is indeed about our Lord.

Verse 8 talks about His death. He was "cut off out of the land of the living" for the transgression of Isaiah's people who were the one's who really deserved it and not He. But of course, not only them, but the whole world deserves death.

Verse 9 tells us about Jesus' burial. The wicked men who crucified Him wanted the Lord to have a disgraceful burial similar to His disgraceful death. However, thanks to the good will and obedience of a rich man, Joseph of Arimathea, he was buried in a donated tomb and received an honorable resting place.

We see that Isaiah emphasizes the fact that the Christ was innocent by adding the words at the end of the sentence:

"Because He had done no violence, nor was there any deceit found in His mouth."

However, though Jesus didn't deserve to die, it was the Lord's will to crush Him in order for Him to be the perfect sacrifice for our sins. And thank God that He did. Otherwise we would still be in our sins and heading for an eternity in Hell.

And we can be totally thankful as well that He didn't stay in the grave. God accepted His sacrifice for sin and raised Him from the dead.

We now turn to the final section. That is, the Servant's Exaltation and Blessings to mankind.

IV. That Servant's Exaltation and Blessings to Mankind (10b-13)

The Servant's reward for being the guilt offering is the fact that He gets to see His offspring and have His days prolonged. This is a spiritual offspring. They are the large number of souls that are born again as the fruit of the Messiah's sufferings and death. We must also note that the only way for Jesus to see this is by His resurrection from the dead. He will rise, never to die again. And He will reign forever.

God's pleasure then will cause the Messiah to prosper. And the one sacrifice of the Servant will provide complete and utter satisfaction to the Father for sin, settling the issue for eternity.

Knowing all of this, we see in verse 11 that Jesus had the ability to justify the many by bearing their iniquities on the cross. And, because of His grace, He did what He had to do to bring to us salvation.


Finally, as we see the conclusion of Isaiah's Song about the Suffering Servant, I am overwhelmed by two things. The first is that my sin put Him on that cross and caused His pain, suffering and death. The second is that His love and grace kept Him there dying in my place. And not only that, but He chose to do this long before I was ever born. And He came to this earth for that very purpose.

It reminds me of an old hymn of the faith written by John Wesley in 1738 entitled 'Amazing Love.' Wesley writes:

And can it be that I should gain
An interest in the Savior’s blood?
Died He for me, who caused His pain?
For me, who Him to death pursued?

Amazing love! how can it be
That Thou, my God, should die for me?

‘Tis mystery all! The Immortal dies!
Who can explore His strange design?
In vain the firstborn seraph tries
To sound the depths of love divine!

‘Tis mercy all! let earth adore,
Let angel minds inquire no more.

He left His Father’s throne above,
So free, so infinite His grace;

Emptied Himself of all but love,
And bled for Adam’s helpless race;
‘Tis mercy all, immense and free;
For, O my God, it found out me.

Long my imprisoned spirit lay
Fast bound in sin and nature’s night;
Thine eye diffused a quickening ray,
I woke, the dungeon flamed with light;

My chains fell off, my heart was free;
I rose, went forth and followed Thee.

No condemnation now I dread;
Jesus, and all in Him is mine!

Alive in Him, my living Head,
And clothed in righteousness divine,
Bold I approach the eternal throne,
And claim the crown, through Christ my own.

Amazing love! how can it be
That Thou, my God, should die for me!

That, my friends is the Suffering Servant of Isaiah 53. That is my Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ! Let us praise Him for all that He has done for us!!

© 2021 Jeff Shirley


Jeff Shirley (author) from Hesperia, Michigan on January 24, 2021:

Thanks for the insights KC. I too believe in the distinctions that you speak of between Israel and the Church and the message that Paul preached to the Body of Christ. Paul talks about 'my gospel' in his writings. However, the general message of the death, burial, resurrection, ascension and glorification of a the messiah who would die on behalf of His people and on behalf of the nations is found throughout the Old Testament. And without this good news there would be no distinctions to be discussed. I don't know if you read the message on Isaiah 53 but the suffering servant is clearly prophesied 700 years before it happened. The good news of Jesus Christ's coming into this world to save sinners was there because it was a plan in the mind of God since before the foundation of the world. Only now are we understanding the fullness of that good news for the world. Thanks again.

KC McGee from Where I belong on January 24, 2021:

The only two subjects of the Gospel only mentioned in the entire bible is the Gospel of the Kingdom that is mentioned a number of time by Jesus in Matthew and Mark. And the Gospel of Grace spelled out in Act and other Books. There is other mention of the word Gospel when talking about Jesus message or Ministry. However His ministry was focus mostly on the Kingdom message which IS THE GOSPEL.

The word Gospel is often times misused to mean just about anything in the bible now days. I'm tired of seeing it misused.

Also The New Testament/Covenant went into effect at Jesus death on the Cross, therefore the Old Testament does have the word Gospel in it which is in Matthew and Mark when Jesus spoke of the Gospel of the Kingdom because He had not died yet when He preached on the subject of the Gospel of the Kingdom and the Old Testament/Covenant at those moments was still in effect before His death.


Jeff Shirley (author) from Hesperia, Michigan on January 24, 2021:

Thanks for the question KC. The term 'gospel' is actually an Old English word and therefore would not be in the original text. It simply means "good news." The Greek term found in the New Testament is euangelion which means 'good tidings' or 'good news' and eventually became the term for the good news of Jesus Christ.

The prophesies concerning a coming Messiah who would die on behalf of the sins of His people are throughout the Old Testament, beginning with what is sometimes called the protoevagelium in Genesis 3:15 which speaks of the seed of the woman crushing the head of the serpent.

The concept of good news is seen in many passages, including such verses as Isaiah 52:7 which states:

"How beautiful on the mountains are the feet of those who bring good news, who proclaim peace, who bring good tidings, who proclaim salvation, who say to Zion, "Your God reigns!"

Paul later used this verse in Romans 10:15 to talk about those who preach the Gospel of peace or the Gospel of Jesus Christ.

These are just a few thoughts on the subject. A whole book could be written. And I suppose some books have been written. Thanks again for the question.

KC McGee from Where I belong on January 24, 2021:

Can you please give me the verse anywhere in the Old Testament where the word Gospel is mentioned?

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