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Note: This blog post is part of a series titled "Isaiah, Prophet of Salvation, Book 8." To view all parts, click the link below.
Isaiah 53:6 says,
6 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.
In biblical times, every shepherd was familiar with the behavior of sheep. It was likely that every one of the sheep would stray at some point in its life. So also, the Apostle Paul wrote, “all have sinned” (Romans 3:23). However, God had provided the solution through the principle of sacrifice, where innocent animals were slain to pay for the sins of men.
The Principle of Intercession
These animal sacrifices could never change men’s hearts, and so such sacrifices were only a temporary solution until the Lamb of God should take their place (John 1:29). Hence, the prophet said that the blame for our own iniquity was put upon the Messiah. This explains why He was to be “despised and forsaken of men” (Isaiah 53:3), why He would bear our griefs and carry our sorrows (Isaiah 53:4), and why He would be scourged.
To be blamed for the sin of others is a part of intercession. The law could not forgive sin without violating the rights of the victims. All sin is reckoned as a debt to the victim, and for justice to be done, someone must pay that debt to satisfy the law. If it were not so, the law itself would be despised, and the justice of God would be set aside.
But the law of Victim’s Rights also allowed any victim to forgive the debt owed to him. Such forgiveness meant that the victim himself would take responsibility for the debt. In essence, he had the right to pay the debt to himself (i.e., to cancel the debt). While the judge, representing the law, was never given the right to forgive, the victims always had the right to forgive and to show mercy to the one who sinned against him.
Over and beyond earthly victims of injustice, God is the ultimate Victim of all sin, because the law reflects His own nature and character. Isaiah 53 prophesies that the Messiah would take upon Himself the sin of all sinners and pay its price. There were two possible ways to do this. The first way was to forgive the debt by setting aside the law and overruling its demands. The second way was to forgive the debt by satisfying the law’s demands.
The plan of God was to follow the second path, and this is why the Messiah had to die for sin and iniquity, even as the sacrificial lambs had been killed prior to the Messiah’s death. By following this path, the law was upheld, not put away, honored, not despised, and thus it remained the standard that defined sin and righteousness (Romans 7:7; 1 John 3:4).
By allowing Himself to be blamed for other men’s sins, Jesus became the great Intercessor and the Mediator between God and men (1 Timothy 2:5). This was a priestly calling. While anyone may pray for others, intercession involves far more than just prayer. Jesus’ example shows us that it begins with the principle of Identification, where the intercessor is identified with those who are in need. Hence, Jesus came not in the form of an angel but as flesh and blood (Hebrews 2:14) to identify with the entire world.
The people then saw Him as the sinner and projected their own sin and iniquity upon Him, even as the priests in times past had laid their hands on the lambs and goats while confessing their sins upon those animals. Then they killed the Messiah, even as they had killed the animals previously to pay for their own sins. He became the ultimate Victim for the sin of the world, giving Him the right either to hold sin against them or to forgive it all. He chose to forgive (Luke 23:34).
Once the law was satisfied, God raised Jesus from the dead and raised Him to a position of authority over the very people who had crucified Him. This put Him in a position to overrule the will of man and to save the world, so that God could fulfill His New Covenant vows.
We too are often called as intercessors in order to share in the sufferings of Christ. There are times when God identifies us with sinners and causes them to blame us for their own sins. We are falsely accused and mistreated, even as Jesus was. Our lives are often destroyed. But God then raises us from the dead and seats us in heavenly places with Christ (Ephesians 2:6). Those who are privileged to experience these principles of intercession are then given spiritual authority to accomplish their callings as part of the body of Christ.
The Messiah’s Death
Isaiah 53:7 says,
7 He was oppressed and He was afflicted, yet He did not open His mouth; like a lamb that is led to slaughter, and like a sheep that is silent before its shearers, so He did not open His mouth.
When Jesus was falsely accused, He did not try to defend Himself. Matthew 26:63 says,
63 But Jesus kept silent. And the high priest said to Him, “I adjure You by the living God, that You tell us whether You are the Christ, the Son of God.”
Jesus said nothing until the high priest invoked the law of public adjuration (Leviticus 5:1). This compelled Jesus to speak the whole truth. If Jesus had remained silent at that point, He would have violated the law of God. So He testified that He was indeed the Son of God, seated at the right hand of God and coming on the clouds of heaven (Matthew 26:64).
The high priest, of course, did not believe His testimony and tore his robes, by which he declared Jesus’ testimony to be blasphemy. He had no proof that Jesus’ testimony was false, for there were no credible witnesses against Him. Thus, he should have appealed the case to the divine court and let God judge the case. But instead, the high priest condemned Jesus on the assumption that He was guilty.
So Jesus was “oppressed” and “afflicted,” as the prophet foretold. Jesus was treated “like a lamb that is led to slaughter,” that is, to be sacrificed for the sin of the people.
Isaiah 53:8 continues,
8 By oppression and judgment [in this case, an unjust ruling] He was taken away; and as for His generation [dore, “a revolution of time, age, dwelling”], who considered that He was cut off out of the land of the living for the transgression of my people, to whom the stroke [nega, “strokes, stripes”] was due?
The prophet asks a rhetorical question: Who in his day could even consider the fact that He was killed “for the transgression of my people” who were the very ones who deserved the beating? The fact is that no one understood what was really happening. No one understood Isaiah 53. No one understood the divine plan. No one understood that Jesus was as innocent as the lambs that had been sacrificed throughout history and was paying for the sins of others.
Jesus knew, of course, but it was important that He remained silent, so that He would not reveal the divine purpose for His crucifixion. So later, Peter was able to testify in Acts 3:17, 18,
17 “And now, brethren, I know that you acted in ignorance, just as your rulers did also. 18 But the things which God announced beforehand by the mouth of all the prophets, that His Christ would suffer, He has thus fulfilled.”
The priests and rulers knew that Jesus was innocent and that they were unjustly condemning Him. But they were ignorant of the divine purpose, for they did not understand the prophets who had predicted their treatment of the Messiah. If they had known that the Messiah would have to die for the sin of the people, they might have judged Him in another manner so as not to confirm that He was the Messiah.
The Messiah’s Burial
Isaiah 53:9 says,
9 His grave was assigned [nathan, “granted, gifted, assigned”] with wicked [rasha, “wicked or guilty”] men, yet He was with a rich man in His death, because He had done no violence, nor was there any deceit in His mouth.
His place of burial was assigned to a separate place, as it was customary for criminals to be buried separately from others. The word translated “assigned” is nathan, which is a “gift.” It appears that the Jews assumed that Jesus would be buried in a free plot of land that was assigned to criminals.
However, “He was with a rich man in His death.” Joseph of Arimathea buried Jesus in the tomb that he had prepared for his own burial. Matthew 27:57, 59, 60 says,
57 When it was evening, there came a rich man from Arimathea, named Joseph, who himself had also become a disciple of Jesus… 59 And Joseph took the body and wrapped it in a clean linen cloth, 60 and laid it in his own new tomb, which he had hewn out in the rock; and he rolled a large stone against the entrance of the tomb and went away.
Joseph “had also become a disciple of Jesus.” Thus, he knew that Jesus was innocent of the unjust charges against Him. So Isaiah prophesies that Jesus was buried in a rich man’s tomb, because the rich man knew that He had done no violence to any man, nor had He lied to the court when He claimed to be the Messiah.
The Result of the Messiah’s Intercession
Isaiah 53:10 says,
10 But the Lord was pleased [chaphets, “inclined”] to crush Him, putting Him to grief; if He would render Himself [nephesh, “soul”] as a guilt offering, He will see His offspring, He will prolong His days, and the good pleasure of the Lord will prosper in His hand.
It was part of the divine plan to “crush” (daka, “bruise”) the Messiah for our iniquities. Jesus’ soul had been offered as “a guilt offering.” The law said in Leviticus 17:11,
11 For the life [nephesh, “soul”] of the flesh is in the blood, and I have given it to you on the altar to make atonement for your souls [nephesh]; for it is the blood by reason of the life [nephesh] that makes atonement.
Men were prohibited from consuming blood, because the soul was in the blood and was to be used only to make atonement for the souls of the people. The word nephesh is “life” only in the sense that it is a “living soul” that traces back to Adam in Genesis 2:7 KJV. When Adam sinned, his soul became mortal and fleshly (carnal); and so the soul of the Messiah was to die that we might live. Hence, the blood was to be sprinkled on the altar to atone for the sinner (Leviticus 17:6).
The rest of the blood was to be poured out upon the ground under the altar (Leviticus 8:15), prophesying the redemption of the earth itself. In other words, not only was the blood used to atone for the individual sinner making the offering, it was used also to atone for the sin of all who were made of the dust of the ground.
Jesus’ soul (represented by His blood) was poured out “as a guilt offering” upon the ground for the salvation of the world. But individuals who failed to apply His blood as a personal guilt offering were to be “cut off from among his people” (Leviticus 17:3, 4).
The Levitical priests who offered Jesus as a sacrifice for sin secured the salvation of the world, but because they did not recognize Him as the Lamb of God, they failed to apply His blood to the altar of their hearts. Hence, they were “cut off” from their people (Judah) and were thereafter no longer considered to be “Jews” by God’s definition. (See Romans 2:28, 29.)
Yet for those who did see Christ as the Lamb of God and who applied His blood to their own hearts, these received the authority to become the sons of God. For this reason, the Messiah was to “see His offspring” (Isaiah 53:10), though He had no physical children. Likewise, “He will prolong His days,” which is a prophetic euphemism for receiving immortality.
Justifying the Many
Isaiah 53:11 says,
11 As a result of the anguish of His soul, He will see it and be satisfied; by His knowledge the Righteous One, My Servant, will justify the many, as He will bear their iniquities.
The Father was “satisfied” in that His Son had fulfilled all the demands of the law that had to be met in order to save the world. Because the Son knew what to do, “His knowledge” justified “the many.” So the Apostle Paul wrote in Romans 5:19,
19 For as through the one man’s disobedience the many were made sinners, even so through the obedience of the One the many will be made righteous.
The previous verse defines “the many” as “all men,” although Paul shows the contrast between one and many. Adam’s sin—that is, the sin of one man—brought death and sin to all men; so also Christ’s righteousness—that is, the righteous act of one Man—brought immortality and righteousness to all men. Romans 5:18 says,
18 So then as through one transgression there resulted condemnation to all men, even so through one act of righteousness there resulted justification of life to all men.
Paul probably had Isaiah 53:11 in mind, which says that Christ’s death “will justify the many.”
In conclusion, Isaiah 53:12 says,
12 Therefore, I will allot [chalaq] Him a portion with the great, and He will divide [chalaq] the booty with the strong; because He poured out Himself [nephesh, “His soul”] to death, and He was numbered [manah, “reckoned, counted, considered to be, credited, imputed”] with the transgressors; yet He Himself bore the sin of many, and interceded for the transgressors.
Isaiah uses terms of spiritual warfare, where the victors divide up the spoils of war with the warriors who were victorious. In this case the spoils of war is the whole world, for that is what He purchased by His blood.
Secondly, “He was numbered with the transgressors.” This does not mean that He was actually a transgressor but that He was reckoned to be a transgressor. Because He was reckoned to be a transgressor, we are able to reckon ourselves to be righteous. Paul discusses this idea in Romans 4, where he uses the Greek term logizomai fifteen times. It carries the same meaning as the Hebrew word manah.
Note: This blog post is part of a series titled "Isaiah, Prophet of Salvation, Book 8." To view all parts, click the link below.