A promise from the Prophets
Roger Ellsworth

B. Childress
Nov 12 2010 08:00 A.M.

Isaiah 53

The cross of Christ is promised in the books of Moses and in the Psalms.  It is also, of course, promised in the writings of
the prophets.  Any discussion of the latter must always begin with Isaiah 53.  If the promises of the cross to be found in
the prophets may be considered in terms of a mountain range, this chapter is Mt. Everest.  Eight of its twelve verses are
quoted in the New Testament in connection with the Lord Jesus Christ (verses 1,4,5,6,7,8,9,11).

As I have indicated in my book
A Promise is a Promise, Christ's fulfilment of these prophecies is easily demonstrated:

Consider the following details of Isaiah's prophecy.  He says the Messiah would:

    be wounded for our transgressions, bruised for our iniquities and receive 'stripes' for our healing (verse 5);
    be silent before his accusers (verse 7);
    be buried in a rich man's tomb (verse 9);
    be innocent of any wrong-doing (verse 9);
    be numbered with transgressors (verse 12);
    make intercession for transgressors (verse 12).

    All of these things would be in keeping with God's plan: God would smite him (verse 4), lay our iniquities upon him
    (verse 6) and bruise him (verse 10).

The writers of the New Testament vigorously assert and affirm that each one of these seven prophecies found its
fulfillment in Christ.

    Peter says the Lord Jesus 'bore our sins in his own body on the tree' and then specifically quotes Isaiah's phrase:
    'by whose stripes you were healed' (I Peter 2:24).

    Matthew specifically states that Jesus was silent before his accusers (Matthew 26:63).

    Matthew also points out that Jesus was buried in the tomb of a rich man (Matthew 27:57-60).

    Peter asserts that Jesus was innocent of any wrong-doing, and claims this to be a fulfillment of Isaiah's words (I
    Peter 2:22).

    Mark declares that Jesus' crucifixion between two thieves was a fulfillment of Isaiah's prophecy that Messiah
    would be numbered with the transgressors (Mark 15:28).

    Luke mentions that Jesus prayed for those who crucified him, an obvious fulfillment of Isaiah's claim that the
    Messiah would make intercession for transgressors (Luke 23:34).

    Jesus himself asserted on numerous occasions that all he did was in keeping with the plan of God (John 5:30; 8:
    42; 18:11).

This much-loved chapter lends itself to a threefold division: the life of Christ (verses 1-3), his death (verses 4-10a) and
the results of his death (verses 10b-12).  The major part of it, however, is devoted to his death on the cross.

In dealing with this matter, Isaiah's prophecy sounds many of the same notes as Psalm 22.  What Christ was to suffer
and why he was to suffer are common to both passages.  How Christ was to suffer - that is, with what spirit he suffered -
may also be found in both passages, but it is more explicitly stated in Isaiah 53.

What Christ suffered

In his description of the Messiah's death on the cross, Isaiah resorts to a whole catalogue of words that are so keen and
graphic they almost make us wince as we read them:

    'wounded' (verse 5) - pierced through, deeply and mortally hurt

    'bruised' (verse 5) - crushed or broken

    'chastisement' (verse 5) - punishment

    'stripes' (verse 5) - blows that opened the flesh

    'oppressed' (verse 7) - treated harshly and with great hostility

    'afflicted' (verse 7) - abused

    'taken from prison and judgement' (verse 8) - quickly torn away from due process of law and hastened to

    'cut off' (verse 8) - his life was rudely, violently and abruptly brought to an end

    'stricken' (verse 8) - struck violently

In addition the question is posed: 'And who will declare his generation?' (verse 8).  The upshot of this question is that no
one in his generation - that is, no one among his contemporaries - would speak up in his defence.

The city of Jerusalem suffered extreme hardship when she was invaded by Babylon and her citizens were either killed or
deported.  The prophet Jeremiah personified that suffering by imagining the city speaking for herself.  Here is what she

    Behold and see
    If there is any sorrow like my sorrow,
    Which has been brought on me,
    Which the LORD has inflicted on me
    In the day of his fierce anger

    (Lamentations 1:12).

Had we been there to see the suffering of Jerusalem at that time, we would certainly have found ourselves in agreement
with her.  There was no sorrow like her sorrow.  That may even have remained true until Jesus came and suffered on
the cross, but then it changed.  The sorrow and suffering of Jesus on the cross far outstripped that which the city of
Jerusalem had experienced.  No one has ever suffered what he suffered.

Why Christ suffered

Why did Christ have to suffer untold agony and anguish on the cross?  Isaiah 53 gives us the answer.  It tells us that the
Christ would not die as others do.  His death would have the significance no other death in all of human history would
have.  It was to be a death for others, a death in which he took the place of others and bore their penalty.

The repeated use of the pronoun 'our' and the preposition 'for' tell us that Jesus would not die for his own sins, but
rather for the sins of his people.  It was 'our griefs' and 'our sorrows' that he carried with him to the cross.  And it was 'for
our transgressions', 'for our iniquities' and 'for our peace' that he died (verses 4-5).

Why was it necessary for him to become the substitute for sinners and die in their stead?  It was so they might go free.  It
all comes down to one thing.  If Christ had not died for sinners, those sinners would have to die for themselves.  If he
had not experienced on the cross an eternity's worth of God's wrath, those for whom he died would have to experience it
themselves.  But, thank God, he did experience it, and now there is no wrath left for all those who know him.  

We must note that this act of substitution was not something the Son did in isolation from the Father.  The Father and
the Son were not divided over his redeeming work on the cross.  The Lord Jesus did not go there to wring forgiveness
out of an unwilling God.  It was God the Father who 'laid' on Jesus 'the iniquity of us all' (verse 6).  It was God the Father
who was 'pleased' to 'bruise' him (verse 10).  It was God the Father who 'put him to grief' (verse 10) and who would
'make his soul an offering for sin' (verse 10).

It is also crucial for us to realize that the only way Jesus could become the substitute for others was if he had no sins of
his own.  If Christ had been guilty of so much as a single sin, he would have had to pay for his own sin and could not,
therefore, have paid for the sins of others.  Even this dimension of Christ's atoning death is not excluded from Isaiah's
prophecy.  He says of Christ: 'He had done no violence, nor was any deceit in his mouth' (verse 9).

How Christ suffered

Isaiah's amazingly detailed description of the cross does not end with what and why the Christ would suffer.  It also
unfolds the spirit with which he would suffer.  Isaiah puts it in these words:

    He was oppressed and he was afflicted,
    Yet he opened not his mouth;
    He was fed as a lamb to the slaughter,
    And as a sheep before its shearers is silent,
    So he opened not his mouth

    (verse 7)

Christ went to the cross, not with a grudging obedience that could not find any way to escape it, but with a glad and
ready willingness.  During his public ministry he constantly emphasized that he had come to do the Father's will, and that
will carried him all the way to the cross.  Even when the cross was only a few hours away, he was able to say to the
Father: 'Your will be done' (Matthew 26:42).

The lamb before its shearers is indeed a most appropriate emblem for the willingness of Jesus to go to the cross.  The
lamb does not intimidate and frighten.  It does not roar like a lion, or strike rapidly like a snake.  It is not able to sink its
teeth deep into its enemies.  It is completely defenceless against those who would harm it.

When Jesus stood before those who wanted to take his life, he did so like a lamb.  A lamb has no choice about being a
lamb, but Jesus had a choice.  He, as the eternal Son of God, could have called for 'more than twelve legions of angels'
to utterly obliterate those who wanted to crucify him (Matthew 26:53), but he chose to be like a lamb and passively
submit to the sufferings of the cross.  How thankful we should be for that submission!  Without it there would have been
no way for us to escape the wrath of God.

It is noteworthy that all that Isaiah says by way of describing the cross is couched in the past tense.  In other words, he
speaks of it as though it had already taken place, even though he lived more than seven hundred years before Christ.  
There is only one way to explain this.  The Spirit of God had so drilled into Isaiah's spirit the certainty of that coming
cross that the prophet could speak of it as though it were already accomplished.

That cross was made certain by the covenant of the Father, the Son, and the Spirit, and Isaiah 53 marks another of their
steady, determined steps towards it.


JOURNEY TO THE CROSS, by Roger Ellsworth, Copyright 1997, EVANGELICAL PRESS.