Isaiah 53:1-12: Israel or Messiah?


This is a verse-by-verse study of Isaiah 52:13-53:1-12. This is not only a beautiful revelation of Christ’s saving death in the place of sinners, but also a stunning confirmation of its truth. When you read the story of your salvation in detail 700 years before it happened, you have not only revelation, but validation.

Isaiah 53 is known to be the fourth in the series of “Servant Songs” in the book of Isaiah. The first three servant songs are found in Isaiah 42:1–9; 49:1–6; 50:4–11. Let’s start from Isaiah 52, verse 13:

Behold, My Servant will prosper, He will be high and lifted up and greatly exalted (Isaiah 52:13 NASB)

Behold, My Servant will prosper. Sometimes in the book of Isaiah “the servant” of the Lord is the people of Israel (Isaiah 41:8, 10). Sometimes the servant is the prophet Isaiah himself (Isaiah 49:5). But in Isaiah 53, the servant can’t be the prophet or the people because the servant is pictured as substituting himself for both the prophet and the people. Who then was this servant of the Lord? The New Testament answer is that he was Jesus the Messiah. In all the history of Israel, no one comes close to fulfilling this prophecy besides Jesus. Jesus himself said, “The Son of man did not come to be served, but to serve [that is, to be the suffering servant] and to give his life a ransom [a substitute!] for many” (Mark 10:45). Isaiah goes on to say that the Messiah will prosper and triumph.  

He will be high and lifted up and greatly exalted. The Messiah is greatly exalted because He is the “King of Kings” (1 Timothy 6:15). Similar expressions “high and lifted up” are used of the Almighty God in Isaiah 6:1 and Isaiah 57:15. 

Just as many were appalled at you my people, so His appearance was marred beyond that of a man, And His form beyond the sons of mankind (Isaiah 52:14)

Just as many were appalled at you.  Many were horrified by the sight of the servant Messiah. Why were the people shocked at the Messiah? [Note: The phrase “my people”, is probably not the best translation as it tends to suggest that this statement is directed at Israel (“My people”) and not the Messiah. It is not appropriate given the context of Chapter 53, and preceding verses. Also, the word “my people” is not in the Hebrew, hence it is italicized].

So His appearance was marred beyond that of a man. And His form beyond the sons of mankind. His form or appearance was so disfigured and deformed.This may be speaking of the cruel and vicious beating the Messiah endures at the hands of the people, that disfigured him and made him hardly look like a man. The result was so shocking that many were astonished when they saw the Messiah.Luke records this fulfillment. “Now the men who held Jesus mocked Him and beat Him. And having blindfolded Him, they struck Him on the face and asked Him, saying, “Prophesy! Who is the one who struck You?” (Luke 22:63-64).

So He will sprinkle many nations, Kings will shut their mouths on account of Him; For what they had not been told, they will see, And what they had not heard, they will understand (Isaiah 53:15)

So He will sprinkle many nations. Sprinkling is often associated with cleansing from sin in the Old Testament (Exodus 24:8, Leviticus 3:8). Here, the promise is that the work of the Messiah will bring cleansing to many nations.

Kings will shut their mouths on account of Him. Though all will be astonished at His appearance, ultimately they will have nothing to say against Him. To shut the mouths here indicates veneration and admiration. “So that at the name of Jesus EVERY KNEE WILL BOW, of those who are in heaven and on earth and under the earth” (Philippians 2:10)

For what they had not been told, they will see, and what they had not heard, they will understand. Kings will come to recognize and understand this wonderful exaltation of the messenger of God and who He really is, which had not before been made known to them or which they had not heard before. 

Who has believed our report? And to whom has the arm of the Lord been revealed? (Isaiah 53:1 NASB)

Who has believed our report. The answer to this rhetorical question is scarcely anyone. When the Messiah is revealed to the Jews and the world, will people believe Isaiah’s words in this chapter about the Messiah?

And to whom has the arm of the Lord been revealed? To whom was the Messiah revealed? Arm is an emblem of power, and power of God was revealed through the Messiah to the Jews. Now Isaiah goes on to explain more about the Messiah in the following verses hoping that people will recognize the Messiah.

For He grew up before Him like a tender shoot, And like a root out of dry ground; He has no stately form or majesty That we would look at Him, Nor an appearance that we would take pleasure in Him (Isaiah 53:2)

For He grew up before Him like a tender shoot, and like a root out of dry ground. Though theMessiah’s origin is from “eternity” (Micah 5:2), and He eternally “existed in the form of God” (Philippians 2:6), but when He took upon Himself the “form of a servant” (Philippians 2:7), and came to earth as a man, He did grow up, and increased in wisdom and stature, and in favor with God the Father and men (Luke 2:52). But all the while, He was as a tender plant, of seeming weakness and insignificance, not like a mighty tree.

He has no stately form or majesty that we would look at Him, Nor an appearance that we would take pleasure in Him.  Jesus was not a man of remarkable beauty or physical attractiveness. This doesn’t mean that Jesus was ugly, but it does mean that He did not have the “advantage” of good looks to attract people to Him.


He was despised and abandoned by men, A man of great pain and familiar with sickness; And like one from whom people hide their faces, He was despised, and we had no regard for Him (Isaiah 53:3)

He was despised and abandoned by men.  He was rejected by the Jews; by the rich; the great and the learned; by the mass of people of every grade, and age, and rank. He is also despised today by many. 

A man of great pain and familiar with sickness. His life was so full of sufferings. Jesus is not mentioned as having ever suffered under sickness but He was familiar with sickness so he can identify with our sufferings. “For we do not have a high priest [Jesus] who cannot sympathize with our weaknesses, but One who has been tempted in all things as we are, yet without sin” (Hebrews 4:15)

And like one from whom people hide their faces, He was despised, and we had no regard for Him. Because there was nothing outwardly beautiful about the Messiah, mankind’s reaction was to withdraw from Him, to despise Him, and hold Him in low esteem.

However, it was our sicknesses that He Himself bore, And our pains that He carried; Yet we ourselves assumed that He had been afflicted, Struck down by God, and humiliated. (Isaiah 53:4)

However, it was our sicknesses that He Himself bore. And our pains that He carried. He made our griefs His own, and our sorrows as if they were His.

Yet we ourselves assumed that He had been afflicted, struck down by God, and humiliated. People thought He was subjected to great and severe punishment by God for his sins or regarded him as an object of divine punishment.


But He was pierced for our offenses, He was crushed for our wrongdoings; The punishment for our well-being was laid upon Him, And by His wounds we are healed (Isaiah 53:5)

But He was pierced for our offenses. Yes, the Messiah was struck by God. But now, the prophet explains why. It was for us – for our offenses or transgressions…for our sins or wrongdoings. It was in our place that the Messiah suffered death by nails piercing his hands. The Messiah took our punishment. 

He was crushed for our wrongdoings. Bruised or crushed for our sins. The Hebrew words “crushed”, “pierced” are the strongest ones in that language for violent and excruciating death. 

The punishment for our well-being was laid upon Him. This shows again that Messiah’s sufferings were not just with His people but for them. The Messiah endured the punishment, whatever they were, which were needed to secure our peace, well-being, reconciliation with God. “For God made Christ, who never sinned, to be the offering for our sin, so that we could be made right with God through Christ” (2 Corinthians 5:21)

And by His wounds we are healed.  The proper idea is the wounds made by bruising Him,it has brought healing to us, primarily spiritual healing,  pardon from sin, and restoration to the favor of God.

All of us, like sheep, have gone astray, Each of us has turned to his own way; But the Lord has caused the wrongdoing of us all To fall on Him (Isaiah 53:6)

All of us, like sheep, have gone astray. Each of us has turned to his own way.  Sheep are stupid, headstrong animals, and we, like they, have gone astray. We have turned – against God’s way, everyone, to his own way. “For everyone has sinned; we all fall short of God’s glorious [perfect] standard” (Romans 3:23).

But the Lord has caused the wrongdoing of us all to fall on Him. Here we see the partnership between the Father and the Son in the work on the cross. If the Messiah was wounded for our sins or wrongdoings, then it was also the LORD who laid on Him the iniquity or wrongdoing of us all. The Father judged our sin as it was laid on the Son. Jesus is the “the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world!” (John 1:29).

He was oppressed and 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 (Isaiah 53:7)

Despite the pain and the suffering of the Messiah, He never opened His mouth to defend Himself. He was silent before His accusers (Mark 15:2-5), never speaking to defend Himself, only to glorify God. As a sheep submits quietly to the operation of shearing, he voluntarily took upon himself the punishment.

By oppression and judgment He was taken away; And as for His generation, who considered That He was cut off from the land of the living For the wrongdoing of my people, to whom the blow was due? (Isaiah 53:8)

By oppression and judgment He was taken away. He was taken out of this life by oppression, violence, and a pretence of justice by the people.

And as for His generation who considered That He was cut off from the land of the living for the wrongdoing of my people, to whom the blow was due?  Who considered in that generation when the Messiah came that the Messiah was put to death on account of the sin of the people, to whom the punishment was actually due?

And His grave was assigned with wicked 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 (Isaiah 53:9)

And His grave was assigned with wicked men. Messiah died in the company of the wicked. Luke 23:32-33 records that Jesus fulfilled this. Jesus’ grave was intended to be assigned with the wicked by crucifying him with two thieves.

Yet He was with a rich man in His death. Despite the intention of others to make His grave with the wicked, God allowed the Messiah to be with the rich at His death, buried in the tomb of the wealthy Joseph of Arimathea (Luke 23:50-56, Matthew 27:57-60).

Because He had done no violence, Nor was there any deceit in His mouth. Even in His taking the sins of God’s people, the Messiah never sinned. He remained the Holy One, despite all the pain and suffering.

But the Lord desired To crush Him, causing Him grief; If He renders Himself 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 (Isaiah 53:10)

But the Lord desired To crush Him, causing Him grief. The prophet Isaiah emphatically states that the suffering of the Messiah was ordained by the LORD, and the Lord desired to do it for our sake. Messiah was no victim of circumstance or at the mercy of political or military power. It was the planned, ordained work of the LORD God.

If He renders Himself as a guilt offering. The word employed for ‘guilt offering’ means a trespass offering, and carries us at once back to the sacrificial system in the Old Testament. The trespass offering was distinguished from other offerings. The central idea of it was to represent sin or guilt as debt, and the sacrifice as making payment for it. 

He will see His offspring. If Messiah offers Himself as a guilt offering,His death shall be glorious to himself and his spiritual descendants, for he shall have a numerous offspring of believers, reconciled to God, and saved by his death.

He will prolong His days. If Messiah offers Himself as a guilt offering, then He will also live long. Messiah’s death is made the condition of this long life. It was the  resurrection of Christ, and his entrance again to immortal life (Romans 6:9), after offering himself as a sacrifice upon the cross, that fulfills these words.

And the good pleasure of the Lord will prosper in His hand. Christ’s Sacrifice carried out the divine pleasure, and by His Sacrifice the divine pleasure is further carried out and prospered.

Why can’t God simply forgive us? God’s love desires a relationship with us. But God’s holiness can have nothing to do with sin.  Hence, sin must be atoned for.  God’s justice demands punishment for rebellion.  His love desires another.  God’s solution was to send his Son to take the penalty for our sins.  Is that logical? Not to human minds. But that’s what God did.  God sent his eternal Son as a sacrifice so as to be just (holy) and at the same time to justify (declare innocent) those who have faith in Jesus Christ. The death of Jesus was not about love.  It was about justice, but the reason it happened was because of God’s love.


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, For He will bear their wrongdoings (Isaiah 53:11)

As a result of the anguish of His soul, He will see it and be satisfied. The Messiah will look upon His work, with full view of the anguish caused on His soul – and in the end, He shall be satisfied. “He will see it and be satisfied” appears to be a reference to a resurrection. “Because of the joy awaiting him, he [Jesus] endured the cross, disregarding its shame…” (Hebrews12:2)

By His knowledge, the Righteous One, My Servant, will justify the many. By His knowledge, meaning by the knowledge of Him. It is in knowing the Messiah, in both who He is and what He has done, that makes us justified (declared righteous) before God.

For He will bear their wrongdoings. For the Messiah shall satisfy the justice and law of God for us, by bearing the punishment due to our sins and wrongdoings.


Therefore, I will allot Him a portion with the great, And He will divide the plunder with the strong, Because He poured out His life unto death, And was counted with wrongdoers; Yet He Himself bore the sin of many, And interceded for the wrongdoers (Isaiah 53:12)

Therefore, I will allot Him a portion with the great, And He will divide the plunder with the strong. This verse is designed to predict the triumphs of the Messiah. It is language used from the custom of distributing spoils of victory after a king has battled his enemies. The Father will exalt His Son Jesus and give Him ‘a portion’ that is great. How much is that portion? “All things have been created through Him [the Son] and for Him [the Son] (Col 1:16). Then Jesus will divide the ‘plunder’ or ‘spoils’ with the strong, meaning those strong in faith, believers (Rom 8:15-18).

Because He poured out His life unto death, And was counted with wrongdoers. This speaks of the totality of Jesus’ sacrifice on the cross. Poured out means that it was all gone. Jesus could never become a sinner; He could never be a transgressor Himself. Yet willingly, loving, He was numbered with the transgressors for our benefit. What is that benefit? 

Yet He Himself bore the sin of many. Over and over again, the prophet emphasizes the point. The Messiah suffers on behalf of and in the place of guilty sinners, as our substitute. “For even the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many” (Mark 10:45). The greatest exchange of all time is when God, in His grace and His mercy, made His eternal Son became the Propitiation (payment); He became the one who paid the debt for our redemption.  He became the sacrifice for sin, so that only on the basis of what Jesus has done, He offers to exchange our filthy dirty offensive robe of sin for a robe of Christ’s eternal righteousness. 

And interceded for the wrongdoers. This passage may be referring to Jesus’ prayers on the cross itself for His people or Jesus’ ministry of intercession (Hebrews 7:25) in heaven right now. This means the work of the Messiah is made available to transgressors even now. We are saved by His death, resurrection and life. It is when we see ourselves as sinners falling short of God’s perfection that we can reach out and receive His salvation.

So who will believe this report? To this day, Jews and even many Christians do not want to accept the idea of a dying Messiah who would die as our substitute and pay our sin debt. The fact is these people have no need of a savior.  They have no need of a sacrifice for sin.  Nobody in a works system of religion needs a savior. They want a king who would reward them for what they deserve and how good their performance is. If you don’t understand the doctrine of depravity (how sinful you are), and you don’t understand that you are unable to save yourself by anything you do, then you don’t need a savior to save you, right? You think you can achieve salvation by your work and efforts.  And any system that has any achievement that saves belief, has no place for a vicarious, substitutionary atoning death of the Messiah. 

Did Judaism believe that Isaiah 53 was referring to Messiah?

While the modern view in Judaism views Israel as the servant, which was popularized by the famous commentator Rashi in the 11th Century. There are influential Jewish scholars, like Maimonides (Rambam) considered Isaiah 53 to be about the Messiah.

See (external link): Is the Servant in Isaiah 53 the Messiah?

2 thoughts on “Isaiah 53:1-12: Israel or Messiah?

  1. Pingback: Isaiah 7:14: Is it really about Jesus or someone else? | Gospel Reflections

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