Part 7: The Sin-Bearing Servant

Yet he himself bore our sicknesses, and he carried our pains; but we in turn regarded him stricken, struck down by God, and afflicted. But he was pierced because of our rebellion, crushed because of our iniquities; punishment for our peace was on him, and we are healed by his wounds. We all went astray like sheep; we all have turned to our own way; and the Lord has punished him for the iniquity of us all.

Isaiah 53:4-6

In verses 4-6, Isaiah shows how the suffering servant bears the sins of many. He continues the theme of the servant’s rejection by men, introduces the idea that the servant suffered as a result of the sins of others, demonstrates how his wounds brought healing, and shows the wayward nature of people. In poetic fashion, these themes are jumbled and repeated throughout these three verses.

This section highlights the relationship between the servant and the readers. The sickness of people, mentioned in the previous section, was born by the servant. The pain people carried was transferred to him. The judgement for rebellion was inflicted on him: he was pierced and crushed for it. The peace he should have known was offered to the people. His wounds brought healing to the people. The people had strayed and deserved discipline, but the servant was punished instead. Tiemeyer observes, “Isa 52:13-53:12 contains a first person plural voice. This voice acknowledges that they did not care for the Servant at first (vv. 2-3, 4b), but that they gradually realized that he suffered instead of them (vv. 4a, 5) because of their sins (v. 6).”[1]

Isaiah prophesied about a future event but chose to write in the past tense. His certainty of a suffering servant was so sure that he spoke as though it had already happened. For readers today, it has happened. Jesus is the one who perfectly fulfilled this prophecy. Scripture does not record Jesus ever being sick, but Matthew 8:17 reveals that when he healed people who were sick and demon possessed, he “took our weaknesses and carried our diseases.” Jesus was later literally pierced through his hands, feet, and side, not because of his own rebellion or iniquity (he had none) but for that of the people. His death opened a way for all people to enjoy peace with God (Romans 5:1) and experience healing (1 Peter 2:24). Finally, God’s straying sheep deserved punishment, but the servant (also called the “Good Shepherd”) stood between God and the people and allowed himself to be punished instead. In order for readers today to enjoy the benefits of the substitutionary suffering of the servant, they must first identify with the sins that caused his suffering. For a person to be saved, they must understand their own sickness, pain, rebellion, iniquity, and desire for independence. A proper understanding of sin allows a person to see their need for the one who suffered in their place. In this passage as well as others in scripture, the reader is invited to see the servant as their substitute, to understand their need for a savior, and to put their faith in him. Paul told the Philippian Jailer, ““Believe in the Lord Jesus, and you will be saved” (Acts 16:31). The result of his belief was salvation and he “rejoiced because he had come to believe in God with his entire household” (16:34). A proper understanding of God’s forgiveness leads to worship. One comes to understand that as a wandering sheep they had no way of earning favor with God and can see the love and generosity God gives when he pursues the lost sheep and brings him into the fold.

[1] Tiemeyer, For the Comfort of Zion, accessed online

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