Saturday Aug 26, 2023

Soteriology Lesson 15 - The Suffering Servant

     It is in the understanding of the suffering and death of Christ that the sinner appreciates God’s great love and the price that was paid for our salvation. Christ suffered in our place, bearing the penalty that rightfully belongs to us. Scripture tells us that “Christ also died for sins once for all, the just for the unjust, so that He might bring us to God” (1 Pet 3:18a). Perhaps no section of Scripture in the Old Testament bears greater testimony to this truth than Isaiah 52:13 through 53:12, in which the prophet reveals the Messiah as the Suffering Servant. Isaiah 53 is mentioned several times in the New Testament as specifically referring to Christ (Matt 8:17; John 12:38; Acts 8:30-35; Rom 10:16; 1 Pet 2:22-25), so that there is no mistake in the minds of the New Testament writers that the passage points to Jesus. According to John Stott, “The New Testament writers quote eight specific verses as having been fulfilled in Jesus…eight verses out of the chapter’s twelve are all quite specifically referred to Jesus.”[1] And Arnold Fruchtenbaum notes:

  • "It was Isaiah the Prophet who first provided the hope that the day would come when the burden will be lifted. In Isaiah 53, God declared that the Suffering Servant, the Messiah, would be the sacrifice for sin…The point of Isaiah 53 is basically this: The animal sacrifices under the Mosaic Law were intended to be of temporary duration, a temporary measure only. God’s intent was for there to be one final blood sacrifice, and that would be the sacrifice of the Messiah Himself."[2]

     In Isaiah 53:10 we observe the Father’s judgment on Christ for our sin, and Christ’s willingness to be judged in our place. Isaiah wrote, “But the LORD was pleased to crush Him, putting Him to grief; if He would render 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” (Isa 53:10). It was the Father’s will for the Son to go to the cross to die for sinners, but we must also realize that Christ willingly went to His death and bore the Father’s wrath in our place. It is simultaneously true that God sent and Christ went. Jesus was not forced upon the cross, but willingly, in love, surrendered His life and died in our place. Jesus said, “I lay down My life for the sheep” (John 10:15), and “no one has taken it away from Me, but I lay it down on My own initiative” (John 10:18). Paul wrote, “Christ also loved you and gave Himself up for us, an offering and a sacrifice to God as a fragrant aroma” (Eph 5:2), and “Christ also loved the church and gave Himself up for her” (Eph 5:25), and “the Son of God, who loved me and gave Himself up for me” (Gal 2:20). The writer to the Hebrews tells us that Christ “offered up Himself” (Heb 7:27), and “offered Himself without blemish to God” (Heb 9:14).

     As a result of Jesus bearing the sin of many, Isaiah wrote, “He will see His offspring, He will prolong His days, and the good pleasure of the LORD will prosper in His hand” (Isa 53:10b). When Isaiah said, “He will see His offspring”, it meant that Christ’s death would bear the fruit of spiritual offspring as people turn to Him as Savior and are born again (cf. John 3:3; 1 Pet 1:3, 23). Fruchtenbaum notes, “The Servant’s seed would be those who benefit from His death by spiritual rebirth. The moment they accept for themselves His substitutionary death for their sins, they are born again spiritually by the Holy Spirit. By this spiritual rebirth, they become the Servant’s seed.”[3] And the phrase, “He will prolong His days” refers to Jesus’ bodily resurrection, never to die again. And the phrase, “the good pleasure of the LORD” most likely speaks of heaven’s wealth that will be known to those whom Christ will justify and who will share in His riches and heavenly estate (John 14:1-3; 1 Pet 1:3-4).

     Though Jesus suffered greatly on the cross, His death was infinitely purposeful, as it satisfied the Father’s demands toward our sin, and also justified the many who would trust in Christ as Savior. Isaiah wrote, “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” (Isa 53:11). Here is a picture of substitutionary atonement, as the Suffering Servant will “justify the many, as He will bear their iniquities” (Isa 53:11b). Peter also reveals the doctrine of substitution when he states, “Christ also died for sins once for all, the just for the unjust, so that He might bring us to God” (1 Pet 3:18). It is important to grasp that Christ bore our sin, but this did not make Him a sinner in conduct. On the other hand, we are declared righteous in God’s sight because of the righteousness of Christ imputed to us at the moment of salvation, but this does not make us righteous in conduct. God gives us “the gift of righteousness” (Rom 5:17) at the moment we trust Christ as our Savior. This is what Paul meant when he stated, “He made Him who knew no sin to be sin on our behalf, so that we might become the righteousness of God in Him” (2 Cor 5:21). Paul understood the doctrine of substitution, that Christ died in the place of sinners and that sinners are declared righteous because of the work of Christ credited to their account. This explains Paul’s desire to “be found in Him, not having a righteousness of my own derived from the Law, but that which is through faith in Christ, the righteousness which comes from God on the basis of faith” (Phil 3:9). Concerning Isaiah 53:11, Edward Young states:

  • "When the servant bears the iniquities of the many and has been punished for the guilt of these iniquities, the act of bearing the iniquities in itself has not changed the character of those whose iniquities are borne. When the iniquities are borne, i.e. when the guilt those iniquities involved has been punished, the servant may declare that the many stand in right relationship with God. Their iniquities will no longer be able to rise up and accuse them, for the guilt of those iniquities has been punished. Thus, they are justified. They are declared to be righteous, for they have received the righteousness of the servant and they are received and accepted by God Himself. Of them God says that they no longer have iniquities, but they do have the righteousness of the servant. This can only be a forensic justification."[4]

     If we had stood at the trials of Jesus, seen His beatings, seen His crucifixion and sat at the foot of the cross, surely we would have wept at the injustice and brutal cruelty of it all. However, the Scripture reveals that it was the will of God that Christ go to the cross and die for sinners (Acts 2:23; 4:28), that His death would be an atoning sacrifice that satisfied every righteous demand of the Father (Rom 3:25; 1 John 2:2). In the willing death of Christ, we have the Father’s righteousness displayed toward our sin as well as His love toward us, the sinner, whom He seeks to save.

     There is a purpose to the suffering of Christ. He suffered that we might have forgiveness of sins and eternal life. His substitutionary death propitiated the Father’s righteous demand for justice concerning our sin and now we can come to God with the empty hands of faith and receive the free gift of eternal life and be clothed in perfect righteousness. This was accomplished while we were helpless, ungodly, sinners and enemies of God (Rom 5:6-10). God graciously acted toward us to reconcile us to Himself, and this was accomplished through the suffering of Christ.


[1] John R. W. Stott, The Cross of Christ (Downers Grove, Ill. Intervarsity Press, 1986), 145.

[2] Arnold G. Fruchtenbaum, Messianic Christology: A Study of Old Testament Prophecy Concerning the First Coming of the Messiah (Tustin, CA: Ariel Ministries, 1998), 130.

[3] Arnold Fruchtenbaum, The Book of Isaiah: Exposition from a Messianic Jewish Perspective (San Antonio, TX. Ariel Ministries, 2021), 577-578.

[4] Edward Young, The Book of Isaiah, Chapters 40–66, vol. 3 (Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1972), 358.

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