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One of the top portions in the Tanach concerning the Messiah is Isaiah 53. It presents a concise and penetrating vision of the four stages of the all-inclusive work of the Messiah: His incarnation and human living, His crucifixion, His resurrection, and His ascension.
The Messiah’s Incarnation and Human Living
The prophet opens the chapter crying out, “Who has believed our report?” The report here includes everything that the prophet has spoken in the book of Isaiah, which is all a vision of God’s plan and of the Messiah, who carries it out. In particular, the report includes Isaiah 7:14, concerning the One who would be born of a virgin, whose name would be Immanuel, meaning God with us. And also the report includes Isaiah 9:6, concerning the human child born to us, who would be called the mighty God. Both verses reveal a wonderful Person who would be both human and divine, both God and man—a God-man. This brings us to the prophet’s next question, which is the heart of the report: “And to whom has the arm of Jehovah been revealed?” The revelation of the Messiah as “the arm of Jehovah” is the content of this chapter.
On one hand, “arm” here indicates strength and points to one who carries out the will or plan of Jehovah. At the same time, in a deeper sense, according to the central revelation of Scripture, the arm of Jehovah is none other than Jehovah Himself as the strength and as the One who carries out God’s eternal will. As Jehovah He is the very God, but as the arm of Jehovah, He is also a man. Therefore, the arm of Jehovah here equals the same God-man Messiah revealed in Isaiah 7:14 and 9:6. The prophet asks, “Who has believed our report?” So, this whole chapter is a continuation of the report concerning the God-man Messiah, but it goes to the very heart of His mysterious work in four stages. May our eyes be opened to see and our minds be opened to apprehend. May we see the great vision contained here.
The next two verses give us the deep characteristics of the human living of the Messiah when He was on the earth two thousand years ago: “For He grew up like a tender plant before Him, and like a root out of dry ground. He has no attracting form nor majesty that we should look upon Him, nor beautiful appearance that we should desire Him. He was despised and forsaken of men, a man of sorrows and acquainted with grief; and like one from whom men hide their faces, He was despised; and we did not esteem Him.”
The word “For” at the beginning of the two verses is a key word indicating that these verses answer the prophet’s opening questions. They give the reasons why the prophet’s report was not being believed and why the arm of Jehovah was not being revealed. The Messiah comes in a way that is unanticipated, not according to the expectation of the people of Israel, to whom He comes. This is His first coming, when He appears to His people in a lowly way, with no outward power, and comes to die for our sins. He will also come again a second time in power and majesty to be the King sitting on the throne of David to restore Israel, establish righteousness, and bring peace and order to the whole earth. His first coming is what happened two thousand years ago, and it is this coming that is revealed in such concentrated form in chapter 53.
Verses 2 and 3 speak for themselves. There is no outward beauty or majesty here. He grew up as a tender plant. He was outwardly delicate and small, not a person to whom people are drawn outwardly, but rather one from whom most would turn away. And He grew up as a root out of dry ground. “Dry ground” indicates that there was nothing in His daily environment from which to draw satisfaction. As a man He was drawing all His satisfaction from God indwelling Him as His mysterious inner life. Thus, He was never discouraged or disappointed. All His satisfaction was coming from God within. Jesus, speaking as a man, indicated that God the Father was always with Him (John 8:16, 29; 16:32). Moment by moment He was experiencing the greatest satisfaction. This is the promise to all those who receive Him. They will learn to live in the same blessed way. He was a man of sorrows, acquainted with grief, but inwardly He was feasting on God. He knew the secret. He was like one from whom men hide their faces; He was despised, and we did not esteem Him. Yet inwardly He was always at peace and full of satisfaction. As a man, He was enjoying God within as the top satisfaction, always available. The promise is that our experience can be the same. In this, He set up the pattern of the God-man living.
Outwardly, there was much suffering, but it was all for our sake, as we will see in the next section. Inwardly, He had the peace and the joy that all of us are seeking. Our searching is like chasing the wind, but He had joy every moment and never lost it. It can be the same for us, but only in Him: He said that He is the way and that no one comes to the Father except through Him (John 14:6). This is part of the true report. God has already given the sure and guaranteed way. The only question is, as the prophet asked, “Who will believe the report?”
The two verses we have examined capture the essence of the human living of Jesus when He was on the earth. The record in the New Testament is full of detail that is absolutely consistent with the powerful and penetrating words spoken by Isaiah. There is a total match. May He become so attractive to us in this way. Yes, there was suffering outwardly, but inwardly there was the beauty and the love and the sacrifice for our sake. Some have been able to see the beauty. May we all be blessed to join that number.
The Messiah’s Crucifixion
Now, we turn to the next stage of the Messiah’s work—His crucifixion. The verses on the crucifixion are so strong and so graphic. They are the clearest, most detailed presentation of that event. You could say that Isaiah 53, and this part in particular, are the center of the whole Bible. All of time is heading to this place, and a whole new creation comes out from this place. It is the crossroads of human history. This single event changed everything. But only the blessed can see it and love it and respond to it. On one hand, there is a death here. However, because it is not the death of a mere man, but of the God-man, this death has implications for the entire creation. There is a universal termination here of the entire old creation, and it sets the stage for the bringing in of the new creation, which is brought in by the resurrection. We cannot see this with our physical eyes, yet it is true, and it was accomplished in the divine and mystical realm, which is eternal.
Let us turn to the verses on the crucifixion of the Messiah, fulfilled more than seven hundred years later by the crucifixion of Jesus (Isaiah 53:4-10a, 11b, 12b): “Surely He has borne our sicknesses, and carried our sorrows; yet we ourselves esteemed Him stricken, smitten of God and afflicted. But He was wounded because of our transgressions; He was crushed because of our iniquities; the chastening for our peace was upon Him, and by His stripes we have been healed. We all like sheep have gone astray, each of us has turned to his own way, and Jehovah has caused the iniquity of us all to fall on Him. He was oppressed, and it was He who was afflicted, yet he did not open His mouth, like a lamb that is led to the slaughter and like a sheep that is dumb before its shearers, so He did not open His mouth. By oppression and by judgment He was taken away; and as for His generation, who among them had the thought that He was cut off out of the land of the living for the transgression of my people to whom the stroke was due? And they assigned His grave with the wicked, but with a rich man in His death, although He had done no violence, nor was there any deceit in His mouth. But Jehovah was pleased to crush Him, to afflict Him with grief. When He makes Himself an offering for sin…By the knowledge of Him, the righteous One, My Servant, will make the many righteous, and He will bear their iniquities… Because He poured out His life unto death and was numbered with the transgressors, yet He alone bore the sin of many and interceded for the transgressors.” The verses are all so graphic and powerful. May the reader be open to let them in. This is the Messiah we love. He died for our sins. All our transgressions were laid upon Him.
Consider the Day of Atonement. Surely on that day, if on no other, in the quiet of that day, we sense something of sin and remorse, and are hoping to be forgiven. But Jesus said in the Gospels that unless we believe that He is the God-man Messiah, who died for our sins, we will die in our sins and face the wrath of God. O, that we could all be awakened and take the sacrifice that God Himself in Jesus Christ has become for us! He shed His own spotless, precious blood. He did it. He fulfilled all the types of the sacrifices. The temple and the sacrifices were taken away under God’s sovereignty, because there is no forgiveness there anymore. Because God has made Himself the sacrifice, He has taken upon Himself the sins of all men for all time . Can we see it, can we hear it, can we compute it? O, that the veil would come away! Read the verses slowly, out loud, let the prophet’s cry come in: “Who has believed our report?” The report is that the God-man Savior has died for our sins; there is forgiveness in none other; and if we take what God has done, we enter into the new creation in resurrection.
May the readers get to the center of the crucifixion so that we can go on from there. O, Lord Jesus, remove the veil from our heart and eyes, so we can see You in all Your beauty. Thank You for dying for me. I want to see You and know You. Let me see, and help me to believe and to let You in.
This was the God of Israel there, the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, the one true and living God. He had become a man as prophesied so that He could have human blood to become the unique, once-for-all eternal sacrifice. Through the sacrifice of Himself, He would fulfill all the types of all the God-ordained animal sacrifices from before, which only pointed toward the day when He Himself would become a man to be the real sacrifice. He died an unspeakably painful death, a death characterized by the sensation of dying the most painful death over and over and over again. Think about it. He did it for each one of us, because we could never pay the price for our sin. But He could, and He did, out of His supreme love for each one of us. How can we continue to turn our faces away from Him? Turn and look upon the bleeding sacrifice. When the heart turns to the Lord, the veil is taken away. We need to turn our heart toward Him, and look His way, see Him there. He said that when He is lifted up on the cross, He would draw all men to Himself (John 12:32). But we need to turn and look and let our heart see. We can do this, and He will take care of everything else. Just call His name, “O Lord Jesus!”, and He will take care of the rest. His name means Jehovah the Savior. This is who Jesus is: He is the God-promised Messiah. Call on Him and the veil will be taken away. O Lord Jesus! If you call on His name, you will be saved (Joel 2:32; Romans 10:12-13). This is the most highly exalted name, the God-designated name, the only name given under heaven whereby men must be saved—Jesus, Jehovah the Savior (Acts 4:12).
There is one more major point regarding the Messiah’s crucifixion. He made Himself an offering for sin in two respects: (1) for the forgiveness of all the sinful deeds committed, and (2) for the healing of the “disease” or “sickness” of the indwelling sin within us. The crucifixion of the Messiah accomplished both aspects. On one hand, forgiveness was obtained through that death for all the sins committed, or that ever will be committed, by all the ones destined to become believers in the God-man Messiah. On the other hand, that death also dealt with the power of indwelling sin, destroying its source and providing the real and absolute healing from its bondage. All men are held in this bondage—there are no exceptions. It is just a matter of whether we see it or not. May we all see. If we see, we are set free. This is what verse 5 is talking about when the prophet reports, “And by His stripes we have been healed.” That is what happened two thousand years ago. That was the greatest “going forth” of the eternal One, who was to be born in Bethlehem and whose goings forth had been from the days of eternity (Micah 5:2). The crucifixion of the Messiah was the key event planned in eternity (Acts 2:23; 1 Peter 1:20; Revelation 13:8). To be freed from the power of indwelling sin, to be healed from this otherwise incurable and terminal disease, changes everything. We have believed the prophet’s report. We are enjoying its reality. We are being freed from the power of indwelling sin.
The Messiah’s Resurrection
Now, let us turn to the resurrection. The portion on resurrection in this chapter is brief but full of the central vision regarding resurrection, and is something wondrous to behold (53:10b-11a): “When He makes Himself an offering for sin, He will see a seed, He will extend His days, and the pleasure of Jehovah will prosper in His hand. He will see the fruit of the travail of His soul, and He will be satisfied.” The key word and concept here is “seed.” He will see a seed. Abraham, too, was promised a seed, someone to be begotten by him through God’s operation. Isaac was Abraham’s promised seed, his heir, his continuation. But the seed seen by the Messiah in Isaiah 53 is a corporate seed. This is a very big part of the mysterious work of the Messiah. Resurrection was a universal delivery of all those destined to be believers in Him. They are part of the corporate seed that the Messiah saw. And it is through this same seed that His days would be extended. The God-man Messiah would continue to live on the earth in and through all those who would receive Him. As the life-giving Spirit, He would be one with their spirit, and by their learning the secret of how to live according to their spirit, His days would be extended in and through them. This is the new creation. This is what is happening invisibly inside the believers who properly understand the prophet’s good report. They are learning to let the crucified and resurrected Messiah as the Spirit, who is one with their spirit, live in and through them. This is the central matter that is happening in this age. When a sufficient number of the believers mature in this corporate God-man living, Jesus the Messiah will return and set up His kingdom, together with those matured ones as co-kings. This is the only way to have peace on the earth. This is God’s way. He has already won the victory, and now it is being worked out in the inner being of the believers. You can join us and participate in hastening the day of the Lord’s return. This is the only thing that makes a difference. All else is chasing the wind.
The concept of the corporate seed is central to the New Testament record and revelation (Romans 1:3-4; Galatians 3:16). In a sense, the one word “seed” says it all. Consider it. When we get into it, here is where we can be fully satisfied. Full satisfaction, for both the God-man Messiah and us, is in the corporate seed.
The Messiah’s Ascension
The fourth stage of the all-inclusive work of the Messiah is His ascension. That He was resurrected means that He was raised from the dead, but ascension is something more. He ascended to the heavens. Let us look at the reference to ascension in this chapter, which, though brief, contains the kernel, the intrinsic core, of the whole matter of ascension (verse12a): “Therefore I will divide to Him a portion with the Great, and He will divide the spoil with the Strong.” The key word here is “spoil,” a word indicating that there was warfare and that the victor carried away as captive what belonged to the defeated enemy. The Victor here is the God-man Messiah, Jesus. The defeated enemy is the devil, and the spoil are all those destined to be believers in the God-man Messiah. There was intense spiritual warfare at the cross, warfare affecting the entire universe. Everyone is under the control of the devil, locked up in his prison. Most do not realize it, because he blinds the minds. At the cross, when the devil realized that the Messiah was about to destroy him, undo all his works, and plunder his possessions, the evil one put up a tremendous fight. He and the evil angelic forces swarmed the Messiah, but He stripped them off and put them to an open shame. Then, in resurrection Jesus ascended to the third heavens. As a man He shared the spoil (those who believe in Him) with God, who is referred to in this verse as both the Great and the Strong. The spoil was then given back to the Messiah, who in turn gave them back to the corporate seed, so that they would function in mutuality for the corporate growth and maturing of the seed. Jesus and His enlightened believers are functioning together in this way. Jesus is the God-man Messiah in the heavens, and the spoil is the corporate seed on the earth. Both are functioning together for the development of the seed unto maturity. And the maturity of a remnant of the seed will bring the Lord back physically for His second coming, to establish a kingdom on the earth in which righteousness dwells, resulting in peace. Would you not want to be part of this endeavor? All else is chasing the wind. But this one endeavor, and only this one, brings in the peace without end and the restoration of all things.
All these points about the warfare at the cross, the victory of the Messiah, the ascension of the Messiah, and the giving of gifts in the heavens for the development of the corporate seed, all these matters are what the New Testament reveals concerning Jesus as the Messiah (e.g., Hebrews 2:14; Colossians 2:15; Ephesians 2:8-12). But all these are also to be found in prophetic testimonies scattered through the Tanach (e.g., Genesis 3:15; 49:8-10; Psalms 2:7; 8:4-6; 68:18). When all the pieces are put together, the picture is very clear. But what appears in Isaiah 53 gets to the heart of the matter, and this is what has been described here in brief.
So, from Isaiah 53 in its entirety may we see the arm of Jehovah, the root out of dry ground, the man of sorrows, the One who made Himself an offering for sin so that by His stripes we could be healed. And may we see the corporate seed for the extension of His days, in which and by which seed both He and we are satisfied. And may we see the spoil, the warfare, the corporate endeavor for the maturation of the seed, resulting in the kingdom of peace and harmony without end. May we be blessed to see and respond and become a part, to hasten the day of the coming of the Lord.
The All-Inclusive Work of the Messiah as Revealed in the Great Prophecy of Isaiah 53