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The Seven New Testament Quotations of Isaiah 53

Robert F. Wall

Extended notes based on an address given at Catford on 4 January 2014

Matthew 8:14-17; John 12:37-41; Luke 22:35-38; 1 Peter 2:19-25; Acts 8:26-35; Romans 10:11-21.

Before looking at the six passages of Scripture referred to, which contain the seven quotations from Isaiah 53 1 in the New Testament, some general remarks are appropriate regarding the Book of Isaiah. It divides into seven sections 2 , the fifth section being chapters 40 to 48 and the sixth section chapters 49 to 57. Although these two sections both end with the same words: ‘There is no peace... to the wicked,' the wickedness referred to has a different form in the two cases—idolatry in the fifth section and Israel's faithless rejection of Messiah in the sixth section.

In chapters 40 to 48 Israel is several times referred to as Jehovah's servant, but was a failing one, having fallen into idolatry and become blind to the glory of Jehovah and deaf to His word 3 . Cyrus, the King of the Persians, is brought before us as Jehovah's shepherd and anointed, and His instrument for the destruction of Babylon, the great source of idolatry 4 However, in chapter 42:1-4 the Lord Jesus is brought before us as Jehovah's perfect Servant. He is the one who in the time to come will make a full end of idolatry, which Cyrus did not, and in whose Name the Gentiles will trust. These verses are quoted in Matthew 12:18-21 where they present the meekness and gentleness of Christ. He did not force Himself upon unwilling Israel but, as the verses in Matthew 11 show us, accepted this from and gave thanks to the Father who hid these things from the wise and prudent, but revealed them unto babes (Matt. 11:25-26).

While chapters 40 to 48 of Isaiah make no explicit reference to the rejection of Messiah by Israel this is very clearly the primary subject in chapters 49 to 57. The Lord Jesus is the Servant who laboured in vain, and whom the nation abhorred (49:4-5). His ear was opened and He was an obedient and faithful servant who suffered at men's hands as a consequence (50:4-9). This ill-treatment was extreme—‘His face was so marred more than any man, and His form more than the sons of men' (52:14). Isaiah 53 shows this and even deeper suffering. Of the nine chapters in the sixth section, this is the central one. A well-known author wrote of it as etched on every Christian's heart and perhaps that is still true today. Most Christians could quote at least a part of it and know that it speaks of the sorrow and suffering of the Lord Jesus, Israel's Messiah.

At His baptism the Lord Jesus was anointed with the Holy Spirit and with power and Matthew chapters 8 and 9 show Him exercising that power. In chapter 8 He cleanses the leper, heals the centurion's servant and rebukes the fever under which Peter's mother-in-law was suffering. Then, ‘When the even was come, they brought unto him many that were possessed with devils: and he cast out the spirits with his word, and healed all that were sick' (Matt. 8:16). Matthew makes it clear that this was the fulfilment of Isaiah 53:4 ‘Himself took our infirmities, and bare our sicknesses.' This is remarkable because it shows that these actions involved more than the bare exercise of power. The Lord Jesus in His human spirit first entered fully under the burden of every condition that He then went on to relieve. And what He experienced then has fitted Him for the priestly service that He exercises towards His people now. The Lord Jesus was never personally ill (illness is a fruit of sin) but these verses show that He knows perfectly how the burden of weakness and illness affects us. Therefore ‘we have not an high priest which cannot be touched with the feeling of our infirmities; but was in all points tempted like as we are, yet without sin' (Heb. 4:15).

In John 12:37-41 the writer quotes Isaiah 53 verse 1: ‘But though he had done so many miracles (signs) before them, yet they believed not on him: That the saying of Esaias the prophet might be fulfilled, which he spake, Lord, who hath believed our report? and to whom hath the arm of the Lord been revealed?' There are eight signs in John's Gospel 5 , and each of these draw attention to the Person of Christ. The first was when the Lord Jesus turned water into wine. It says that ‘This beginning of signs did Jesus in Cana of Galilee, and manifested his glory...' (John 2:11, JND trans.). John tells us that ‘many other signs truly did Jesus in the presence of his disciples, which are not written in this book: But these are written, that ye might believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God; and that, believing, ye might have life through his name' (John 20:30-31). Here in John 12 He is referred to as ‘the arm of the Lord' (Jehovah). The Father, Son and Holy Spirit are each and all Jehovah but the Lord Jesus, the incarnate Son of God, showed by these signs that He was Jehovah personally present there in Israel. In the face of this overwhelming evidence however, the leaders of the nation were nevertheless unbelieving. As a consequence they were hardened judicially. Isaiah 6 verse 10 is quoted to show this: ‘He hath blinded their eyes, and hardened their heart; that they should not see with their eyes, nor understand with their heart, and be converted, and I should heal them.' It is added by John that 'These things said Esaias, when he saw his (Jehovah's) glory, and spake of him.'

The rejection of the Lord Jesus by the leaders in Israel would culminate in His crucifiction. The Lord referred to this on a number of occasions in order to prepare the disciples for what was coming (Luke 9:22; 17:25; 22:15). They were slow in understanding His plain words, and continued to cling to their Jewish hopes. In Luke 22:35-38 the Lord quoted Isaiah 53:12 ‘this that is written must yet be accomplished in me, And he was reckoned among the transgressors: for the things concerning me have an end.' Instead of introducing the kingdom in power and glory He would suffer humiliation and shame and be put to death. He had been kept safe by God, but this preservation was going to be withdrawn and men would do to Him whatever they wanted (Psalm 16:1; Luke 4:28-31; John 8:58-59; 10:34-40; Matt. 17:12). This would be the case for the disciples too. They had lacked nothing because they had been with Him and He had sent them forth. Now they would be identified with a rejected and crucified Messiah and would have to look to God for themselves in a way that they had not done before.

There are different aspects of the sufferings of Christ but the verses in 1 Peter 2:19-25 show us the two that are perhaps most frequently before us—His suffering from men for righteousness sake and in the three hours of darkness upon the cross His suffering from God for sins. In relation to these, two separate verses from Isaiah 53 are referred to. As to the former, Isaiah 53 verse 9 is quoted: ‘Who did no sin, neither was guile found in his mouth.' Peter is exhorting Christians to live consistently, showing that it is better to live lives that are pleasing to God and to suffer as a consequence, than to suffer because of inconsistency. When the Lord Jesus was reviled he ‘reviled not again; when he suffered, he threatened not; but committed himself to him that judgeth righteously.' In the face of all and every provocation the Lord Jesus remained calm and looked to God. There was not an action or a word that did not flow from his communion with God. And in this dependant and faithful manner of behaviour He has left us an example that we should follow in His steps.

In connection with His suffering for sins Peter quotes part of Isaiah 53 verse 5: ‘by whose stripes ye were healed.' It is important to understand that this does not refer to what men did to the Lord. They ploughed long furrows on his back, scourging him with a bone or metal tipped whip (Psalm 129:3; Matt. 27:26). That was terrible but what Isaiah 53 verse 5 refers to was far more terrible because it describes the judgement that God laid on him because of the sins He was bearing: ‘he was wounded for our transgressions, he was bruised for our iniquities: the chastisement of our peace was upon him; and with his stripes we are healed.' It should be borne in mind that where the emphasis is upon what Christ suffered from men the issue is always judgement upon men (e.g. Psalm 69). But when the emphasis is upon what He suffered from God for sin and sins the issue is in blessing to men (e.g. Psalm 22). Peter turns the fact that Christ suffered for sins to practical account too. God does not want his children to suffer governmentally because of their sins but ‘that we, being dead to sins, should live unto righteousness.'

In Acts chapter 8 we have read about the Ethiopian eunuch who had gone up to Jerusalem to worship. He was returning and took back with him a precious scroll of Scripture. The evangelist Philip was directed to where the Ethiopian was and to join himself to his chariot. We have the record of the wonderful conversation that followed. The Eunuch was reading Isaiah 53 verses 7 and 8: ‘He was led as a sheep to the slaughter; and like a lamb dumb before his shearer, so opened he not his mouth: In his humiliation his judgement was taken away: and who shall declare his generation? For his life is taken from the earth.' These verses emphasise the unrighteous and perverted judgement passed on the Lord Jesus and the way in which he received everything from God—not protesting His innocence or arguing against the sentence but quietly submitting to the injustice knowing that there was a deeper purpose in view. Beginning at the same scripture Philip preached Jesus to the Ethiopian. This was effective and he received Christ. He was baptised and in that way brought formally onto the ground of Christian profession. With what joy he must have returned to Ethiopia—having Christ in his heart and Scripture in his hand!

The parenthetical chapters 9, 10 and 11 in the Epistle to the Romans are occupied with Israel as a people. They show that their unbelief has opened the door to the blessing of the Gentiles. God is no longer requiring righteousness from men under the law but is sending out the gospel. The gospel is the revelation of His righteousness in blessing repentant sinners that come to Him through faith in Christ. In the verses referred to in chapter 10 seven quotations from the Old Testament are brought forward in relation to it 6 . It has, writes Paul, gone out indiscriminately to all the world, just as the testimony of creation has done. What is the result so far as Israel is concerned? Have all Israel been saved? The answer is given from Isaiah 53 verse 1: ‘But they have not all obeyed the gospel. For Esaias saith, Lord, who hath believed our report?' Paul quotes from Isaiah to emphasise again that blessing is reaching the nations as a consequence: ‘I was found of them that sought me not; I was made manifest unto them that asked not after me' (Isa. 65:1). Of Israel, however, He has to say: ‘All day long I have stretched forth my hands unto a disobedient and gainsaying people' (Isa. 65:2).

It should be noticed that, just as Isaiah 53 is concerned with Israel's treatment of their Messiah through unbelief, so it is the sins of the believing remnant of Israel that are particularly in view in verse 5: ‘he was wounded for our transgressions, he was bruised for our iniquities: the chastisement of our peace was upon him; and with his stripes we are healed.' Peter applies this statement to the Jewish Christian converts in his first epistle, as we have seen. They formed a part of the Jewish remnant according to the election of grace at the present time (Rom. 11:5). And the words of Isaiah 53 will be taken up by the believing remnant of Israel in the time to come. They will take with them words (including the words of Isaiah 53) when they turn to God in the realisation of what they did to their own Messiah, and what He did for them in suffering for their sins so as to make their blessing possible.

R Wall

[1] In the King James translation in Mark 15:28 there is also a quotation of Isaiah 53:12: ‘And the scripture was fulfilled, which saith, And he was numbered with the transgressors.' Mr Darby included the verse in brackets with a footnote. In his ‘Lectures introductory to the New Testament' Mr Kelly states: ‘And here let me remark in passing, that we have hardly any quotation of Scripture by the evangelist (Mark) himself. I am not aware that any positive case can be adduced, except in the prefatory verses of the Gospel; for chapter 15:28 rests on too precarious authority to be fairly regarded as an exception...' (page 162).

[2] The seven sections are chapters 1 to 12 (Israel), 13 to 27 (the nations), 28 to 35 (events concerning Israel at the end of the age), 36 to 39 (historical details), 40 to 48 (idolatry), 49 to 57 (Messiah) and 58 to 66 (conclusion)—WK.

[3] See chapters 40:18-25 etc., 41:8; 43:10 etc., 42:19, 43:8.

[4] See chapters 44:28; 45:1; 41:1-2; 46:1-2; Zech. 5:5-11. Note too the statement in
Zechariah 5:8 ‘This is Wickedness'

[5] (1) John 2:1-11. (2) 4:46-54. (3) 5:1-9. (4) 6:1-14. (5) 6:16-21. (6) 9:1-7. (7) 11:1-44. (8) 21:1-14.

[6] Isaiah 28:16; Joel 2:32; Isaiah 52:7; Isaiah 53:1; Psalm 19:4; Deuteronomy 32:21; Isaiah 65:1-2.