Isaiah 53 really starts at Isaiah 52:13, unfortunate chapter division.
Some background if you are unfamiliar with the structure of Isaiah. The book is generally seen as having two major parts: Chapters 1-39; Chapters 40-66.
Chapters 40-66 are commonly known as the Book of Comfort. There are three divisions in this last section: Chapters 40-48; Chapters 49-57; Chapters 58-66. Each of these sections consist of 9 sections that I won’t delineate here, except to say that Isaiah 52:13-53:12 is the middle section, not only of section 2 but of the whole of the Book of Comfort. It really is a fascinating study in and of itself to examine the structure of the book of Isaiah. Chapter 40 begins with the prophecy concerning John the Baptist; chapter 66 is focused on the new heavens and earth, the middle/central part of the passage has to do with the cross. Quite a parallel to the whole of the New Testament: Gospels start with the messenger, John the Baptist, end with Revelation 21-22 and the picture of a new heavens and earth, and the cross is the central message. Crazy cool.
Isaiah 53 is also been classically titled the Suffering Servant. But if we retreat to its true beginning point (52:13), a more appropriate title may be the Exalted Servant. The usage of the term Servant (Hebrew word obed, in the singular) is unique in the book of Isaiah to the first and second sections of the book of Comfort. it is used 20 times between Isaiah 41 and 53. In all instances it refers to either Israel or the Messiah. Check out the references: 41:8, 9: 42:1, 19; 43:10; 44:1, 2, 26; 45:4; 48:20; 49:3, 5, 6, 7; 50:10; 52:13; 53:11. The book of comfort tells us that the God of comfort will bring comfort and salvation through His servant.
Isaiah 52:13 Behold, My servant will prosper, He will be high and lifted up and greatly exalted.
The promise that the servant will prosper, he will achieve success opens this central section of the book of Isaiah. Chronologically, this appears out of place. Wouldn’t it be more logical to begin this section with the suffering and proceed to the exaltation? By placing this section first, Isaiah proclaims to us the certainty of the work of the Servant. In fact as we know from the Scripture, the plan of God was predetermined and as such guaranteed. There is no possibility of failure. Also, the Servant left glory in the incarnation and took on suffering, so the exaltation has a mirror in the past, echoed by the prayer of Jesus in John 17:5: “Now, Father, glorify Me together with Yourself, with the glory which I had with You before the world was. This is the glory that Jesus did not “grasp” but emptied himself and took on the form of a servant. Paul in Philippians uses this passage as a backdrop to his wonderful description of Jesus humility and exaltation. Isaiah may have been Paul’s favorite Old Testament author. The phrase “high and lifted up and greatly exalted” refers to the place of Christ from the ascension onward: Daniel 7:13-14; Ephesians 1:20-23; Hebrews 1:3; Revelation 5:6-13.
Isaiah 52:14-15 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. 15 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 addition of the phrase “my people” in the NAS is an attempt to explain a difficult transition from “you” to “his.” Other translations find this addition unnecessary. This movement from the suffering of Israel to the suffering of Christ is an important jump from the “servant” references to the nation to the Messiah. There is a connection between them; in purpose, call and mission. Israel was to be the light to the nations, the messenger of God. They failed in their mission, Jesus fulfills the mission and call and accomplishes God’s will and work.
The references here begin the description of the crucifixion and beating of Christ. His face and body are disfigured, it is a description of a horrific beating. Here in summary (Chapter 53 will fill out the details) we are told of the death and ascension of Christ. By his death “he will sprinkle many nations” speaks of the cleansing of the nations, the blood of Christ that takes away the sins of the world.
Sprinkling is used in redemption imagery from the beginning of the Bible to the end: Numbers 8:7; Ezekiel 36:25; Matthew 28:19; Acts 2:33; Titus 3:5,6; Heb 9:13,14; 10:22; 11:28; 12:24; 1Peter 1:2.
The dominance of this new king will subdue and overcome all other kingdoms. He will supersede all and reign over all. His word will dominate. His justice and peace will win out. “The kingdom of the world has become the kingdom of our Lord and of His Christ; and He will reign forever and ever.” This kingdom has already begun and is growing and its growth will never end.
The gospel will go to the ends of the earth and people who had formerly been far off will now be brought near, through the proclamation of the gospel. This is one of the threads that runs through the book of Romans as Paul proclaims the supremacy of the gospel, the word of Christ. He in fact quotes this verse in 15:21 to explain his passion to preach the gospel to the ends of the known world, his desire to go to Spain:
For I will not presume to speak of anything except what Christ has accomplished through me, resulting in the obedience of the Gentiles by word and deed, 19 in the power of signs and wonders, in the power of the Spirit; so that from Jerusalem and round about as far as Illyricum I have fully preached the gospel of Christ. 20 And thus I aspired to preach the gospel, not where Christ was already named, so that I would not build on another man’s foundation; 21 but as it is written, “THEY WHO HAD NO NEWS OF HIM SHALL SEE, AND THEY WHO HAVE NOT HEARD SHALL UNDERSTAND.” Romans 15:18-21
The glory of Christ is His victory and exaltation, the dominance of the logos. So we too share in the victory which is the proclamation of the word of God, the message and story of the suffering and exalted Servant, Jesus Christ the righteous one.
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