Isaiah 52:13 See, my servant will act wisely; he will be raised and lifted up and highly exalted.
This begins a passage that describes the suffering, death, burial and resurrection of Jesus Christ, and what it means for his people. It is so vivid that it’s often referred to as the fifth gospel. It was so important to the writers of the New Testament that they refer to it over thirty times. And it’s so precise that it is hard to believe it was written over seven hundred years before the events it describes. But this simply proves what God said elsewhere. I make known the end from the beginning, from ancient times, what is still to come (Isaiah 46:10).
Isaiah 52:14 [H]is appearance was so disfigured beyond that of any human being and his form marred beyond human likeness.
This is a description of Jesus Christ after he was flogged. Jewish floggings were limited to forty lashes (Deuteronomy 25:3), but the Romans could lash without limit. The whips were made of leather, with metal and bone attached, for the purpose of tearing flesh. Floggings were so severe that many did not survive.
The gospel writers show remarkable restraint when describing the suffering and death of Jesus Christ. They simply say he was flogged and crucified (Matthew 27:26, Mark 15:15). No more description was needed since the original readers were familiar with flogging and crucifixion.
But Isaiah wrote before the practice of Roman flogging and crucifixion, so he included what the gospel writers left out. Jesus was so marred and disfigured that he barely seemed human. This is how he appeared as he hung on the cross. Most depictions of the crucifixion miss this fact almost entirely.
Isaiah 52:15 [H]e will sprinkle many nations, and kings will shut their mouths because of him.
The covenant between God and Israel was ratified when Moses sprinkled animal blood on the people and said, This is the blood of the covenant that the Lord has made with you (Exodus 24:8). In a similar way, the new covenant was ratified by the blood of Jesus Christ.
But this blood was not just shed for Israel, but for many nations. [W]ith your blood you purchased for God persons from every tribe and language and people and nation (Revelation 5:9), wrote John.
Furthermore, kings will shut their mouths because of him. Kings have great authority, and speak with great authority, until they meet a greater king. Then they shut their mouths out of respect. Countless kings and political leaders have acknowledged Jesus Christ as King of kings (Revelation 17:14), and shut their mouths before him.
Isaiah 53:1 Who has believed our message . . . ?
The gospel has spread around the world, but most people still reject it. How can this be? If Jesus Christ is the Savior of the world (1 John 4:14) shouldn’t we expect most people to believe? The apostles (John and Paul) referred to this verse to explain the world’s lack of faith.
Even after Jesus had performed so many signs in their presence, they still would not believe in him. This was to fulfill the word of Isaiah the prophet: Lord, who has believed our message . . . ? (John 12:37-38), wrote John.
Likewise . . . not all the Israelites accepted the good news. For Isaiah says, Lord, who has believed our message? (Romans 10:16), wrote Paul.
Since Jesus died for the sins of the whole world (1 John 2:2), we might expect the whole world to believe in Jesus Christ. But this has never been the case, and God is not surprised. Christianity is a global religion, but compared to the population of the whole world, only a few truly believe (Matthew 7:14). Isaiah anticipated this centuries in advance.
Isaiah 53:2 He had no beauty or majesty to attract us to him, nothing in his appearance that we should desire him.
Whenever the Bible speaks of a person’s appearance, it is usually positive. Sarai was a very beautiful woman (Genesis 12:14). Rachel had a lovely figure and was beautiful (Genesis 29:17). Joseph was well-built and handsome (Genesis 39:6); David had a fine appearance and handsome features (1 Samuel 16:12). And, there was not a man so highly praised for his handsome appearance as Absalom (2 Samuel 14:25).
But the Bible tells us nothing of Jesus’ appearance, except that he had no beauty or majesty to attract us to him, nothing in his appearance that we should desire him. This may be the politest way to say that Jesus was homely. He had no beauty. There was nothing in his appearance that we should desire him. This contradicts most depictions of Christ in art and film.
Since Jesus was homely, he would not be singled out as a natural leader, or receive the attention given to those with a fine appearance. In fact, whenever he opened his mouth he would have to overcome a bias against him. This made him less inclined to seek the approval of anyone other than his heavenly Father.
Reflection and Review
What was Christ’s condition as he hung on the cross?
Why don’t more people believe in Jesus Christ?
Why is Jesus Christ often portrayed as handsome?