In chapter 52, Isaiah's description of the Servant seems at first to fulfill Jewish expectations for the one who will inaugurate God's reign:  "See, my servant will prosper; he will be highly exalted" (verse 13).  But then the prophet's picture of the Servant takes a staggering turn.  Many are "astonished" at his features because his appearance was "marred…beyond human semblance" (verse 14, NRSV).  Not only does he lack any sign of glory, but he is so battered and disfigured that people hide their eyes.12  The Servant's shocking suffering is not in vain, however, because he agonizes for the sake of others:

Surely he has borne our infirmities
       and carried our diseases;
yet we accounted him stricken,
       struck down by God, and afflicted.
but he was wounded for our transgressions,
       crushed for our iniquities;
upon him was the punishment that made us whole,
       and by his bruises we are healed.  (Isaiah 53: 4-5, NRSV,
       emphasis added)

God's Servant even "poured out himself to death," giving up his life as "an offering for sin" (Isaiah 53:10-12, NRSV). 

Jesus appropriated these images when speaking of himself as the Son of Man who "came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life a ransom for many" (Mark 10:45, NRSV).  As the Servant "poured out himself to death" for the sake of others, Jesus would soon "pour out" his blood for many for the forgiveness of sins" (Matthew 26:28, NRSV).13

Jesus interwove the unsettling picture of the Servant of God in Isaiah with Daniel's mysterious vision of the Son of Man.  In this extraordinary tapestry, he combined Jewish hopes for God's glorious salvation with divine promises of the Servant's vicarious suffering.  The Son of Man will be glorified, Jesus said, but not as you have expected, at least not at first.  He will be lifted up, as you have hoped, but not initially into the heavens.  Rather, the Son of Man as Servant of God will be lifted up on the cross, and, paradoxically, from there he will draw the whole world to himself.14  He will be glorified through a most inglorious death.  Yet his sacrifice will be the source of life for others, the ultimate act of servanthood, the ransom for many.

From Jesus Revealed.  Copyright © 2002 by Mark D. Roberts.  Used by permission of WaterBrook Press, Colorado Springs, CO.  All rights reserved.

Mark D. Roberts is senior pastor of Irvine Presbyterian Church in Irvine, California, and an adjunct professor of New Testament at Fuller Seminary.  He earned degrees in philosophy and religion at Harvard University, where he also received a Ph.D. in New Testament.  He is a contributor to The NIV Worship Bible and the author of After "I Believe."  Mark and his wife, Linda, live in Southern California with their two children.

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