This was originally published in March 2002 on desiringGod.org.
One of the great advantages of having the Old Testament and the New Testament in one Bible is that they give support to each other. Together they strengthen our faith that both are God’s word.
So if you are Jewish or come from a Jewish background your confidence in the Old Testament — the Jewish Scriptures — may be strong. Yes, and with good reason. And so when you see the amazing fulfillments of the Old Testament in the life and ministry of Jesus Christ, and his teachings, and the movement of Christianity that he unleashes, your confidence in the New Testament is made stronger.
Or if you have never read a syllable of the Old Testament and hear the story of Jesus Christ and his life and teaching and death and resurrection and the movement he unleashed you may be overpowered by the truth and relevance and credibility of Christ and believe that he really is who he says he is and become a Christian. And then you discover that this Jesus embraces and endorses the whole Old Testament as true and reliable Scripture (as in Matthew 5:17 when he said, “Do not think that I came to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I did not come to abolish but to fulfill.”). And so your confidence in the Old Testament grows because of the New Testament.
And so it works all through the Christian life. The better you know Jesus Christ, the better you know the roots of his life and ministry in the Old Testament where God was at work to prepare for the coming of his Son into history. And the better you know the Old Testament, the better you know the meaning of Jesus Christ and what he came to fulfill that God had been planning for so long.
So this morning I thought it would deepen our understanding and strengthen our faith if we fixed our gaze on the resurrection of Jesus as it was described by the prophet Isaiah 700 years before it happened. In Isaiah 53, we will see the content and the confirmation of the resurrection of Christ — content because the precious meaning of it for our lives is opened to us; and confirmation because it was predicted 700 years before it happened.
The View of Islam
Don’t miss the significance of this in a day when the question of Islam is much on people’s mind. I had my first serious conversation with a well-trained Muslim about 20 years ago. I discovered for the first time that if you share the good news of the death and resurrection of Christ with a Muslim you will find out that Muslims do not believe Jesus died on the cross for sinners and rose again but that there was a replacement on the cross, he escaped death and later was taken to heaven. The Quran, sura 4:156-157 says:
… and for their [the Jews’] saying: “We slew the Messiah, Jesus son of Mary, the Messenger of God” — yet they did not slay him, neither crucified him, only a likeness of that was shown to them. Those regarding him; they have no knowledge of him, except the following of surmise; and they slew him not of a certainty — no indeed; God raised him up to Him; God is all-mighty, All-wise.
Therefore Muslims in general believe that the central message of the New Testament and of Biblical Christianity is built on a mistake: Christ did not die, and Christ did not rise. Therefore the very heart of Christianity is false.
There are significant historical reasons why the Islamic reconstruction of the life of Jesus is not true. But here’s the point in taking our text from Isaiah 53 this morning. This chapter was not written by Christians after Christ’s coming, trying to distort or failing to understand what really happened on Good Friday and Easter. This chapter was written by a Jewish prophet 700 years before Christ came. And what he saw in the future was not a Messiah who escapes death and resurrection, but a Messiah who dies — and dies explicitly in the place of sinners — and then rises again to make intercession for his redeemed and forgiven and justified people for ever.
So let’s go to Isaiah 53:3-12 and see the prophecy that the Servant of the Lord (52:13; 53:11), the Messiah, would die and would rise again, and that this death and resurrection are planned by God and necessary. And as we look at this, keep in mind, it has to do with you here and now and for the rest of your life and eternity. What becomes clear from this chapter and from its fulfillment in the New Testament is that your sins can be forgiven, you can be declared righteous before God, and you can have eternal life with the risen Christ in everlasting joy.
The Promised Servant of the Lord Was to Die
First, let’s notice that the promised Servant of the Lord was to die and why.
The death is made explicit in verses 8, 9, and 12. First verse 8. After verse 7 says he was led “like a lamb to the slaughter,” verse 8 says that the slaughter actually was successful: “By oppression and judgment he was taken away; and as for his generation, who considered that he was cut off out of the land of the living, stricken for the transgression of my people?” He was “cut off out of the land of the living.” He was killed. It was execution, not accidental.
Then verse 9 makes the death clear by referring to his burial: “And they made his grave with the wicked and with a rich man in his death, although he had done no violence, and there was no deceit in his mouth.” He died and he was buried, and if we had time we could draw out the details of fulfillment in the life of Jesus here in relation to where and how he was buried. But I focus now simply on the fact that the death of God’s redeeming Servant is predicted clearly.
One more confirmation from verse 12: “Therefore I will divide him a portion with the many, and he shall divide the spoil with the strong, because he poured out his soul to death.”
10 Statements of Why God Planned for His Holy Servant to Die
Now, why did he die? Ten times we are told why. I will let the words of Scripture have their own multiplying effect by just saying them to you, without comment on each one. Ten times. Before I mention them, notice verse 10, “But the Lord was pleased To crush Him, putting Him to grief.” This death is not a historical accident. It is the purpose and plan of God. So as we hear these 10 statements of why he died, keep in mind: These are God’s purposes, not human accidents. And if you will receive it, they are God’s love to you. Here they are. Ten statements why God planned for his holy Servant to die:
1. Verse 4: “Surely our griefs He Himself bore.”
2. Verse 4: “… And our sorrows He carried.”
3. Verse 5: “But He was pierced through for our transgressions.”
4. Verse 5: “He was crushed for our iniquities.”
5. Verse 5: “The chastening for our well-being fell upon Him.”
6. Verse 5: “And by His scourging we are healed.”
7. Verse 6: “The Lord has laid on him the iniquity of us all.”
8. Verse 8: “[He was] stricken for the transgression of my people.”
9. Verse 11: “He will bear their iniquities.”
10. Verse 12: “He bore the sin of many.”
If you are here this morning and you have ever asked, What is the essence of Christianity? What’s at the heart and center of it all? Here is the answer. Let’s use the words of verse 6: All humans have gone astray. All of us have turned to our own way. This is called sin. Turning from God and making ourselves our own master and our own treasure.
But God was not willing to leave us in this guilty and condemned condition. He planned from ages past to send a Suffering Servant, not mainly to model love for us, but to bear our sins as a substitute for us. “The Lord has laid on him the iniquity of us all.” This is the heart of Christianity. Jesus Christ came into the world to fulfill this prophecy — yes, many others to be sure, but this one is central and basic. He came to die. He came to die in our place. He came to die for our sins. This is our only hope. And the New Testament is all about how this happened and how it affects our lives now and in the ages to come. I urge you to pursue the knowledge of these things with all your heart and all your mind.
The Redeeming Servant of the Lord Was to Rise
Now what about the resurrection? Let’s look at the resurrection of the redeeming Servant of the Lord in these words written 700 years before it happened. At least three times Isaiah tells us that the sacrifice that the servant made in dying results in a resurrection triumph. He does not use the word “resurrection,” but the reality is plain.
First, verse 10b: “If He would render Himself as a guilt offering [which he did] …” now three things will result: “(1) He will see His offspring, (2) He will prolong His days, (3) And the good pleasure of the Lord will prosper in His hand.” In other words, if he dies for others as a guilt offering — as a substitute — 1) he will live to see his offspring — those whom he has saved by dying for them — and 2) he will live for a long time (“prolong his days”), by implication, forever since when death is conquered it can’t defeat you again (Romans 6:9); and 3) God’s great purposes will triumph in his hands — he will take the scroll of history and unroll it as the Lord of heaven and earth (Revelation 5:5). This is a picture of the Messiah who was dead and is alive and victorious forever as the Lord of all those who receive his salvation.
Then verse 11. Again triumph comes from death. “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.” Again three results from his dying for sinners: 1) He sees the fruit of his death and is satisfied. He is not dead. He is living and satisfied. His work is complete, and he is glad. He is alive and satisfied. 2) He justifies many — all those who trust in him. If you trust him, you are declared just and righteous before God. That is what “justify” means. A dead Christ does not justify. A living Christ justifies. 3) “He will bear their iniquities.” Yes, he bore these iniquities when he died. But he goes on making intercession and bears them forever in the sense that as long as he lives it is plain that his death was utterly sufficient to pay for all your sins.
He is satisfied. We are justified. And all our sins are carried by another forever. We will never bear them again.
Finally, verse 12. God speaks. “Therefore, I will allot Him a portion with the great, And He will divide the booty with the strong; Because [there is the third statement that this resurrection existence is because of his obedient death for sinners] He poured out Himself to death.” In other words, after he pours out himself to death he lives and divides the booty with the strong — as though his death were a great triumph in war with much booty.
He Will See It and Be Satisfied, among His Offspring
Let’s end on this note. The resurrection of Jesus did not happen for his sake alone. It was for his sake! O yes! And we would not have it any other way. Let him be honored for his great work of salvation on the cross! Verse 11: “He will see it and be satisfied.” Christ was raised from the dead for HIS satisfaction.
But what is the Son satisfied with? Verse 11 says, literally “He will see [it and] be satisfied.” Verse 10 says, “He will see his offspring.” I conclude that part of Jesus’ satisfaction in the resurrection is looking out on a great assembly of people from every race and tribe and language and nation who have trusted him and been forgiven and justified. And with tremendous joy he walks among them now and in the ages to come — a people “great” and “strong” (verse 12). And he divides the spoil of his triumphs with them all. This is what he loves to do. This is his satisfaction. He delights to save. He loves to bring people from death to life so they can enjoy his majesty forever.
On this day we will sing two songs. One is “Crowns Him with Many Crowns” and the other is “Victory in Jesus.” One rivets our attention on the Majesty of Christ the risen Lamb upon the throne. The other catches us up into the victory and celebrates our salvation: “He sought and he bought me with his own precious blood.” That’s exactly the way it should be: Exult in your salvation and make much of Christ in his majesty.
But first: Are you his? You can be. You can belong to that great and strong people, even though you feel utterly unworthy. That is the whole point of the death of Christ. He died in our place. And all who trust him as the Savior and Lord and Treasure of your life will be forgiven and justified and live forever with him. I urge you to say “no” to all that pulls you away and say “yes” to Jesus Christ.
John Piper (@JohnPiper) is founder and teacher of desiringGod.org and chancellor of Bethlehem College & Seminary. For 33 years, he served as pastor of Bethlehem Baptist Church in Minneapolis. He is author of more than 50 books, including “Reading the Bible Supernaturally.”
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