During ‘Passion Week’ each year, Christians all over the world focus on the death and resurrection of Jesus. I don’t think there’s a more appropriate chapter on the sacrifice of Jesus than Isaiah 53, which prophesies God’s shocking plan to send His ‘Servant’ to die for the sins of His people.
Verses 6-7 will probably be very familiar to you:
‘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 fall on Him. He was oppressed and He was afflicted, yet He didn’t open His mouth; like a lamb that’s led to the slaughter, and like a sheep that’s silent before its shearers, so He didn’t open His mouth.’
This is graphic imagery of the Lamb of God who willingly suffers for the sins of the sheep who have gone astray. Just a few lines later in verses 11-12, Isaiah joyously predicts the Servant’s victory over death and the ultimate redemption of sinners:
‘As a result of the anguish of His soul, He will see it and be satisfied; (He couldn’t see the results of His sacrifice unless He was alive afterward, so this is a reference to His resurrection), by His knowledge the Righteous One, My Servant, will justify the many, as He will bear their iniquities. Therefore, I will allot Him a portion with the great, and He will divide the booty with the strong; because He poured out Himself to death. And was numbered with the transgressors; Yet He Himself bore the sin of many, and interceded for the transgressors.’
Isaiah 53 is very rich, and to many of us it is very familiar but what you might not realise is a discovery with implications that result from one widely overlooked line. It’s the first line of verse 12:
‘Therefore, I will allot Him a portion with the great and He will divide the booty with the strong’
In many English translations it can sound a little weak, almost as though God’s Servant, who has paid the ransom for sinful people with His own life, only deserves to be AMONG the great instead of the absolute hero outstanding from them all. Also, He gets a prize for His efforts but only along with others who are equally strong.
There are a number of scholars who consider that this English translation doesn’t accurately communicate what the original Hebrew says. This is the problem that can occur when we translate but with limited understanding of Hebrew speakers. *The JPS (Jewish Publication Society) translation of the Hebrew when transliterated reads like this:
‘Assuredly, I will give Him the many as His portion, He shall receive the multitude as His spoil.’
In Isaiah 53, God is the One speaking and the ‘Servant’ He is referring to is not just one “among the great” He is in fact given the multitudes. He’s not just dividing the spoil with others who are strong, He is actually given the people as His spoils. He receives the people as His reward because of His suffering on their behalf.
That’s a stunning thought? Is that something we could believe? Is that even a Biblical thought to have – that the Suffering Servant would in fact be given humanity as His possession as a result of the suffering He endured on their behalf? The Suffering Servant doesn’t just deserve mild praise in equal measure with other great men; He deserves to have the ultimate supremacy with multitudes of people given to Him. Does that sound right?
You may have never even considered such a thing, how could God consider giving ‘people’ as a possession to someone as a gift!
Listen to these words in Psalm 2:6-8, God is speaking…
‘But as for Me, I have installed My King upon Zion, My holy mountain. I will surely tell of the decree of the Lord: He said to Me, “You are My Son, today I have begotten You. Ask of Me and I will surely give the nations as Your inheritance, and the very ends of the earth as Your possession.”’
Psalm 2 is a messianic prophecy in which God announces that He has anointed His true King, the Messiah and as God’s King He is appointed to reign, He is “given” the nations as a gift – an inheritance. The people aren’t merely His subjects, they are His “possession.” He owns them!
I have wrongly heard this psalm taught to mean that the nations are given as an inheritance to Christians. That the ‘son’ mentioned in it, are Christians and that the nations of the world will belong to them. That’s not what Psalm 2 is teaching at all. This psalm is identifying the Messiah, His role, His identity and His rewards as they’re outlined and described in Isaiah 53.
A King Who Suffers for His Kingdom
The victorious Messiah of Psalm 2 seems to be the utter opposite of the Suffering Servant in Isaiah 53. Some Jewish traditions split them altogether, imagining that two different messiahs must come; “Messiah ben Joseph” who suffers, and “Messiah ben David” who reigns in power. Which one will come? Well, many Jews believe that they’re the ones who will determine which Messiah will come as they believe it all depends on their behaviour…if they’re earnestly seeking God and His expected Redemption then Messiah ben David, the warrior, will come and bring deliverance and the re-establishment of the Monarchy of David. But…if they are not earnestly seeking God, if they remain rebellious and secular and seeking to please themselves, then Messiah ben Joseph will come and will have to suffer on behalf of the people.
If you interpret Isaiah 53:12 to mean that God’s Servant will be “given the multitudes,” then both Isaiah 53 and Psalm 2 confirm each other, they’re perfectly aligned. First the Servant suffers to redeem His people, and then He’s proclaimed God’s true King. The multitudes that He is given are the people whose sins He’s atoned for. In effect, He’s “purchased” them. It’s actually because of Jesus’s suffering that He is given His kingdom! There is no place in Scripture that describes the Messiah of God as simply being accounted equal with other strong or great men; Messiah is always pre-eminent and given the highest place of honour and glory. He’s also the only man to die and rise from the dead afterward…just like Isaiah 53 said He would.
The concept of people being bought and owned by the Messiah is also in the New Covenant in places like Acts 20:27, where it says that Jesus “purchased” the church with His own blood. Paul put it this way in 1 Corinthians 6:19-20, ‘You are not your own; for you have been bought with a price.’ The Apostles often spoke of themselves as ‘doulos Christos’ – “slaves of Christ.”
While modern ears hate to be called “slaves,” it sounds like Jesus’s death on the cross did not just pay for our sins, it purchased our very lives. If we’ve come to faith in Him as our Messiah, our Redeemer and our Lord, we’ve actually been given to Him by the Father. We’re His and we no longer belong to ourselves. Actually, we’ve never belonged to ourselves because before coming to faith in Jesus, we were enslaved to sin and satan. Faith in Christ is a change in ownership.
But what does belonging to Jesus mean for how we live?
As western individualists we like to read the Bible as if it was written to each one of us all by ourselves. We sing praises to Jesus for dying for “me personally,” and “paying for my sins” and that is absolutely true! But the Biblical thought and intention is in terms of ‘we’ – the collective – much more than just ‘me’ or ‘I’. That’s why the Bible speaks of Jesus purchasing an entire kingdom through His sacrificial death.
Every time we celebrate Jesus’s death and resurrection be it during Passion week or every time you celebrate communion, remind yourself of this glorious scene in Revelation when the “Lamb” of Isaiah 53 finally takes His throne.
‘And I saw between the throne with the four living creatures and the elders, a Lamb standing as if slain, having seven horns and seven eyes, which are the seven Spirits of God, sent out into all the earth.’
‘And they sang a new song, saying, “Worthy are You to take the book and to break its seals; for You were slain, and purchased for God with Your blood, men from every tribe and tongue and people and nation. You have made them to be a kingdom and priests to our God; and they will reign upon the earth.
Then I looked and I heard the voice of many angels around the throne and the living creatures and the elders; and the number of them was myriads of myriads, and thousands of thousands.
And every created thing which is in heaven and on the earth and under the earth and on the sea, and all things in them, I heard saying, ‘To Him who sits on the throne, and to the Lamb, be blessing and honour and glory and dominion forever and ever.
And the four living creatures kept saying, “Amen” and the elders fell down and worshipped.’
This imagery isn’t the description of God’s Suffering Servant sharing honour or praise among others who are of equal strength, rather it’s an unbelievable picture of the supremacy of the Suffering Servant who redeemed mankind and purchased them for Himself with His own blood, and established His eternal Kingdom.
* Based on the writings of Lois Tverberg