Chapter 3: ‘He bore the sin of many’
(Isaiah 53:12, NKJ)
Isaiah chapter 53 contains prophetic statements about Christ’s crucifixion and atonement. In verse 12 we read: ‘He poured out His soul unto death, and He was numbered with the transgressors, and He bore the sin of many, and made intercession for the transgressors’ (NKJ). From the cross itself He made intercession, saying: ‘Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do’ (Luke 23:34, KJV). Even though many had called for his death and had treated Him with derision as He hung on the cross, Jesus had the compassion to pray for them. He realized that they were acting without the knowledge of who He was. The people had acted ‘in ignorance’, as Peter stated (Acts 3:17, NKJ). Jesus bore their sins and the sins of all mankind—but how He bore these sins is what we must study, allowing the Bible to provide the explanations.
Without doubt, the Scriptures clearly affirm that Jesus shed His blood for the remission of sins that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have everlasting life (Matt.26:28; John 3:16). By His suffering, there comes healing and salvation. In making the perfect sacrifice of His life to God for our sakes, it was necessary for Him to suffer and die. Surprising as it may seem, the Hebrew word translated ‘bore’ in Isaiah 53:12—the primitive root ‘nasa’, meaning literally ‘to lift’ or ‘lift away’ can mean ‘bear’, but it is also one of several scriptural metaphors that can convey the concept of forgiveness. Notice:
‘The Lord, the Lord God, merciful and gracious, longsuffering, and abounding in goodness and truth, keeping mercy for thousands, forgiving iniquity and transgression and sin, …’ (Ex.34:6-7, NKJ).
‘.. Look on my affliction and my pain, and forgive all my sins’ (Ps.25:16-18, NKJ; ‘take away all my sins’, NIV).
‘You have forgiven the iniquity of Your people; You have covered all their sin’ (Ps.85:2, NKJ).
Also, notice from Psalm 32:1-5:
‘Blessed is he whose transgressions are forgiven, whose sins are covered. Blessed is the man whose sin the Lord does not count against him and in whose spirit is no deceit. .. I said, “I will confess my transgressions to the Lord” – and you forgave the guilt of my sin’ (NIV).
In all the above examples, the word conveying forgiveness is the same Hebrew word ‘nasa’. Consequently, Isaiah 53:12 can be understood as meaning that ‘He,’ the Lord Jesus, ‘forgave the sin of many, and made intercession for the transgressors.’
Note: There is a relationship between God’s forgiveness and the ‘sin-bearing’ that our Lord undertook on our behalf. He not only suffered in consequence of man’s sins, but also provided the perfect example of how one should forgive. Remember, it was from the cross itself that Jesus unconditionally sought forgiveness for all who had sinned against Him in ignorance of the truth of what they were doing (Lk.23:34). Peter’s commentary on the suffering of Christ (1 Peter) draws upon this passage concerning the suffering servant of Isaiah (1 Pet. 2:19-24). The apostle used the Saviour’s fulfillment of the prophecy as the supreme example of how the Lord’s true followers should endure all persecution and injustice for the sake of serving God. This includes bearing the sins of others and having the grace to forgive as He forgave. He had to endure the stripes of scourging and the cruelty of the cross that we might be spiritually restored (1 Pet 2:24) – and we also, like Stephen, may need to endure suffering for the sake of others. Emulating Jesus, Stephen forgave his persecutors (Acts 7:60). In Christ, we need to follow that same example of love and faith.
‘Surely he took up our infirmities and carried our sorrows’
(Isaiah 53:4, NIV)
In Isaiah 53:4, we find this same Hebrew word ‘nasa’ translated as ‘took up’ (NIV) or ‘has borne’ (NKJ): ‘Surely he took up our infirmities’ (literally: ‘sicknesses’) ‘and carried our sorrows’ (NIV). Jesus, in fulfilment of this verse, healed sicknesses and cast out demons, Mat.8:16-17 (NIV):
‘When evening came, many who were demon-possessed were brought to him, and he drove out the spirits with a word, and healed all who were sick. This was to fulfil what was spoken through the prophet Isaiah:
“He took up our infirmities and carried our diseases” ’.
Notice, here, the prophetic application of Isaiah’s prophecy was not to the time of Christ’s agonies on the cross, but to the prior time of His healing ministry for the sick. Jesus cared for the ones who came to Him—His heart went out to them. He empathised with their suffering. He was burdened by their griefs and pains, and acted to bring them release. He lifted their loads—He set them free from their troubles. Jesus shared in the joy of their salvation, but He also shared in the sorrow of their distress. This is why the Bible describes Him as ‘a Man of sorrows, acquainted with grief’ (Isaiah 53:3, NKJ). He was always conscious of the suffering going on all around Him, caused by sin and sickness. In this sense, therefore, Jesus also bore in His heart the burden of knowing the pain and hurt caused through mankind’s sinfulness and departure from God.
We need to realize that the Almighty God is burdened by our transgressions: ‘… you have burdened me with your sins and wearied me with your offences. I, even I, am he who blots out your transgressions, for my own sake, and remembers your sins no more.’ (Isaiah 43:24, NIV). – ‘A people laden [weighed down] with iniquity’ (Isaiah 1:4, NKJ), was how God described Israel through the prophet Isaiah. They were warned: ‘Your New Moons and your appointed feasts My soul hates. They have become a burden [Hb. 'torach', a 'burden' ] to me; I am weary of bearing them. When you spread out your hands, I will hide My eyes from you; even though you make many prayers, I will not hear. Your hands are full of blood’ (Isaiah 1:13-15, NKJ).
God is not aloof to the consequences of our sins. It is written of ancient Israel: ‘In all their affliction He was afflicted, and the Angel of His Presence saved them; in His love and in His pity He redeemed them; and He bore them and carried them all the days of old. But they rebelled and grieved His Holy Spirit …’ (Isaiah 63:9-10, NKJ). God is not impassive. He is moved to pity and is grieved by all the hurt caused through man’s rebellion. In a time of oppression and war against the Ammonites, when the Israelites repented of having turned to foreign gods, it is written of the Almighty: ‘His soul could no longer endure the misery of Israel’ (Judges 10:16, NKJ).The Lord ‘… could bear Israel’s misery no longer’ (NIV). It is clear, therefore, God suffers and is deeply grieved in His Spirit as a result of man’s sin and its consequence.
Through Jesus, God has revealed that He truly understands the sufferings caused by sin: ‘For in that He Himself has suffered, being tempted, He is able to aid those who are tempted’ (Heb.2:18, NKJ). ‘For we do not have a High Priest who cannot sympathize with our weaknesses, but was in all points tempted as we are, yet without sin’ (Heb.4:15, NKJ). God has borne man’s sins, is bearing man’s sins, and will bear man’s sins until the Day of Judgement. Not in a cold legal sense, but in the compassion of His heart—because He feels for us and wants to save us from sin and its effects.
In another sense, God also bears a full awareness of all the sins of the unrepentant—sins which cause condemnation. It is written: ‘Nothing in all creation is hidden from God’s sight. Everything is uncovered and laid bare before the eyes of him to whom we must give account’ (Heb.4:13, NIV). Jesus warned: ‘Men will have to give account on the Day of Judgement,’ (Matt.12:36, NIV). God yearns to relieve the unrepentant of their guilt and sinfulness. Through the Gospel of Christ, He calls them to repent and be saved. When sinners repent, God chooses to remember their sins no more (Isaiah 43:25). ‘Though your sins are like scarlet, they shall be as white as snow’ (Is.1v18, NKJ). On the Day of Judgement, the fate of the unrepentant will be sealed (Matt.10:28). After this, God will create ‘a new heaven and a new earth in which dwells righteousness’ (2 Pet.3:13; Rev.21:4-5). A time is coming, therefore, when the burden of sin for God and man will be no more.
In the Church, we must follow Christ’s example and bear one another’s burdens, encouraging, praying for and helping to restore those who have fallen into sin, just as the apostle Paul urged the Christians of Galatia: ‘Brethren, if a man is overtaken in any trespass, you who are spiritual restore such a one in a spirit of gentleness, considering yourself lest you also be tempted. Bear one another’s burdens, and so fulfil the law of Christ’ (Gal.6:1-2, NKJ). As the context shows, the burdens Paul referred to were not those of physical hardship, but those due to sin. Jesus set the example. He said: ‘A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another as I have loved you’ (John 13:34;15:12, NKJ). As followers of Christ, therefore, we are commanded to bear the burdens of others as He loved us.
Paul set this example of caring for the spiritual welfare of others throughout his ministry. The burden that he felt for the spiritual needs of those around him acted like a driving force, spurring him on to greater effort and sacrifice as he worked to preach the Gospel and build up the Church. To the Corinthians, he spoke of what came upon him daily—his ‘deep concern for all the churches’ (2 Cor.11:28, NKJ). All the writers of the epistles of the New Testament expressed this same sense of shepherding. Paul said of his own nation, ‘My heart’s desire and prayer for Israel is that they may be saved’ (Rom.10:1, NKJ). He would have exchanged his own salvation for the sake of saving his kinsmen, if it were possible (Rom.9:1). In this, he expressed the love of God, in the likeness of Christ.
In Jesus, therefore, we see the fullness of God’s compassion, mercy and grace. He bears our sins in His heart, yet gracefully bears away those sins as we turn to Him in true faith and repentance. Past sins are forgiven and His righteous life, accepted for us, covers our own and blots out all transgressions. In Christ, there is no more condemnation (Rom.8:1).
As Christians, we can try to emulate the love and deep concern of Jesus through bearing one another’s burdens, but it is only the Saviour who can ‘bear away’ the burden of sin and set us free.
‘The Lord has laid on Him the iniquity of us all’
The cross that He carried can be said to symbolize the weight of mankind’s transgressions. Through the cross, He bore away our sins and so provided the perfect atonement for all who believe.
Jesus forgives and declares righteous all who are covered by His blood—the blood of the Lamb. Jesus felt the full weight of man’s sin as He hung upon the cross, knowing the depths of depravity into which mankind, alienated from God, had fallen. He was ‘delivered up for our sins’, because of our sins—to deliver us from our sins, through His perfect sacrifice. The pure and precious blood of Christ, representing His life, spiritually covers those who believe. In figurative terms, the risen Jesus is the One who serves as High Priest to sprinkle with His own blood those whom He has called and chosen. As the risen Lord, He justifies those who truly repent and place their faith in Him: ‘He was raised to life for our justification’ (Rom.4:25, NKJ; cf. Rom.5:9).
Through the death of Jesus, God made possible the reconciliation of man to God. He gave as an offering that which we could not, because of sin—a life of perfect righteousness. He bore both in His flesh and in His heart the sins of mankind unto death—to completely accomplish and so perfect the love gift of Himself for the glory of God and God’s ultimate purpose: to create man in His own image (Gen.1:26). The love of God in all its fullness had to be revealed to mankind in order that we might comprehend ‘how wide and long and high and deep is the love of Christ, and to know this love that surpasses knowledge’ (Eph.3:18, NIV), that God’s chosen people might be filled ‘to the measure of all the fullness of God’ (Eph.3:19, NIV). You see, in reaching out to save mankind, God holds nothing back; but does all in His power to bring about man’s spiritual rebirth, that we should be a ‘new creation’ in the likeness of His Son, our Saviour Jesus Christ (2 Cor.5:17).
Satan questioned the love of Job for God (Job chapters 1 and 2). God already knew how much Job loved Him, but allowed Job to demonstrate that love in the way that is written of Job in the Scriptures. In the same way, we might ask how much God loves us. Would He be prepared to suffer loss for our sakes? Would He continue to love us if He had to endure suffering because of us? If it were possible, would God be prepared to die for us, to save us from the ultimate consequence of sin? The answers to all these questions are met in Christ: Yes. Yes. Yes!
He, ‘being in very nature God … made himself nothing’ (Philip.2:6-7, NIV), but became a servant, coming in the likeness of men (Phil.2:7). He ‘humbled Himself and became obedient to death—even death on a cross!’ (Phil.2:8, NIV). How can we resist such great love? As with Job, He was restored by God. Now,Jesus is exalted to the position of glory that He had with the Father ‘before the world was’ (John 17:5, NKJ). He has received a name that is ‘above every name’. He is Jesus Christ, the Lord of all, ‘to the glory of God the Father’ (Phil.2:9-11).
Jesus transforms lives. If we truly believe and repent, He will forgive all that is past, adorn us with His righteousness and renew our hearts through the gift of the Holy Spirit. As children of God of the Spirit, the righteousness of Christ—’The Lord Our Righteousness’ (Jer. 23:6)—is attributed to us.
At one with Christ in the Spirit, our sins no longer condemn us (Rom.8:1),for we are led to reflect upon, repent of and overcome our sins. We ‘.. are being transformed into His likeness with ever-increasing glory, which comes from the Lord, who is the Spirit’ (2 Cor.3:18, NKJ). As we abide in Christ, we have the promise that He will complete the work that He has begun in us: ‘Jesus, the author and finisher of our faith’ (Heb.12:2, NKJ). ‘We know that when he appears, we shall be like him, for we shall see him as he is’ (1 John 3:2, NIV). When Jesus came, it was that He should be the One who would take away our sins once and forever, through the one offering of His life: He was ‘sacrificed once to take away the sins of many’ (Heb.9v28, NIV).
The sacrifice of Jesus provided the answer for man’s fallen condition. This was something the Old Covenant sacrifices under Moses could not do. Past sins were forgiven under the law given to Moses, but the unrighteousness of man remained unchanged. Each year, the rites of the Day of Atonement were a reminder to the people of their sins (Heb.10:3). The sinful condition of man could not be dealt with through the mere forgiveness of past sins. It required the atonement of Christ and the cleansing of His blood (Heb.9:14).
His blood, symbolic of His own righteous life, covers over the lives of all who believe. This is the covering grace of God by which all with faith in Christ are freely justified: ‘This righteousness from God comes through faith in Jesus Christ to all who believe. There is no difference, for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, and are justified freely by his grace through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus’ (Rom.3:22-24, NIV).
Jesus came to do the will of God ‘and by that will, we have been made holy through the sacrifice of the body of Jesus Christ once for all’ (Heb10v10) …’because by one sacrifice he has made perfect forever those who are being made holy’ (Heb.10:14, NIV).
Justification takes away sin—not the actual committing of sin, but the full record and account of sins that would otherwise condemn us. If we are covered by His life, then our sins will not be held against us on the day of judgement—the sins of all who are covered by Christ’s righteousness will not be remembered (Heb.10:17).
‘By His knowledge My righteous Servant shall justify many’
(Isaiah 53:11, NKJ)
One of the twelve disciples, Philip, said to Jesus, ‘Lord, show us the Father, and it is sufficient for us’ (John 14:8, NKJ). Jesus replied, ‘Have I been with you so long, and yet you have not known Me, Philip? He who has seen Me has seen the Father; so how can you say, “Show us the Father”?’ (John 14:9). Jesus had just explained, ‘I am the way, the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through Me. If you had known Me, you would have known My Father also; and from now on you know Him and have seen Him’ (John 14:6-7). For almost three years, by most estimates, the disciples had been given private tuition and revelation of God, as His chosen followers. They had witnessed His compassion for those who were suffering, His power over the elements and His power to heal the blind, the deaf, the lame and the sick. They had seen His power over demonic spirits and they had been present when He had raised the dead back to life. They had heard Him teach the Word of God and knew that He had lived that Word without sin, in complete righteousness. What the disciples had received was a personal knowledge of God in the very Person of Jesus—’Immanuel’—which means, “God with us”‘ (Mat.1:23).
In knowing Christ, the disciples had also come to know the Person of the Holy Spirit who had anointed His life and ministry. In Christ, the Holy Spirit had also dwelt with them. Jesus told His disciples: ‘You know Him [the Holy Spirit] for He dwells with you and will be in you’ (John 14:17, NKJ). This was a promise that they would be brought into a union with God through the gift of the Holy Spirit. Jesus prayed for His followers, ‘… that they may be one, as You, Father, are in Me, and I in You; that they also may be one in Us, that the world may believe that You sent Me’ (John 17:21, NKJ). The indwelling of the Holy Spirit, received through faith, brings us into a close family relationship with God the Father.
Paul wrote: ‘You received the Spirit of adoption by whom we cry out, “Abba, Father.” The Spirit Himself bears witness with our spirit that we are children of God’ (Rom.8:15-16, NKJ). Now, all who truly believe in Christ and repent are promised the gift of the Holy Spirit (Acts 2:38).
If we can truly say that we know God, then we have eternal life: ‘And this is eternal life, that they may know You, the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom You have sent’ (John 17:3, NKJ). This is not a cold, factual knowledge; but that which comes through the communion of the Holy Spirit—received through true faith in Christ. It is the knowledge that comes by the grace of God and results in justification.
In this passage of Isaiah that speaks of the event of our Lord’s suffering on the cross, Jesus is called “My Righteous Servant.” This is how God judged Him, in spite of all that men say and have said. Through all the insults He endured, ‘He entrusted Himself to Him who judges justly’ (1 Pet.2:23, NIV), and now lives to justify many.
‘He was wounded for our transgressions, He was bruised for our iniquities’
(Isaiah 53:5, NKJ)
The reason Jesus suffered was not because He was being punished by God—this was the impression that His persecutors wanted to portray. They had called Him a blasphemer and had desired to put Him to public shame as one accursed of God, hanging from a wooden cross. Many who knew of His death, ‘esteemed Him stricken, smitten by God, and afflicted’ (Isaiah 53:4). But this was only how He was judged by those without true knowledge—this was the worldly point of view, according to the flesh.
Though Paul and many of his fellow Christians had once known of Christ in this way, they did so no longer (2 Cor.5:16). Yes, the apostle had recalled with a heavy heart how he had once viewed Christ and had persecuted His followers (Acts 22:3-5). This was the view that he had held before his conversion. Afterwards, instead of seeing Jesus as one upon whom was poured out God’s wrath, he had come to know that the One crucified had given Himself up for us ‘as a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God’ (Eph.5:1-2). To His Father, far from being judged as an accursed, unholy thing—Jesus was received as a sweet-smelling aroma. This much needs to be understood in order to correctly interpret the passage under study.
Jesus allowed Himself to be taken and put to death because He knew that He would be making the perfect offering of His life, as Saviour and Lord, for our sakes. He suffered and died for our sins, because of our sins, to take away our sins, to heal us of our sins and give us life—not by assuming responsibility and guilt for our sins, but by offering to God His perfect life as a covering, sufficient for all.
We should realize that sinners are spiritually dead and in need of the healing that can only come from the risen Lord. God is prepared to accept us, not because of ourselves, but because of the One we look to and follow after, in whom we have our faith. We are received of the Father if Christ is truly our Lord. He laid down His life – was bruised and wounded – to set us free from our transgressions.
Jesus looked beyond the suffering He endured because of man’s iniquities to the salvation that His witness and offering would bring to all who truly believe.
The punishment that brought us peace was upon him,
and by his wounds we are healed’
(Isaiah 53:5, NIV)
As recorded of Jesus in Acts, ‘He was led as a sheep to the slaughter; and like a lamb silent before its shearer, so He opened not His mouth. In His humiliation His justice was taken away’ (Acts 8:32-33, NKJ). The Bible states that His justice was taken away—the Lamb of God was deprived of justice. Jesus did not submit Himself to the justice of man, but ‘committed Himself to Him who judges righteously,’ as stated by Peter (1 Pet.2:23, NKJ). Although God foreknew and prophesied by the Holy Spirit how mankind would treat His Son, the punishment upon Christ was not the result of God’s justice. The apostle likened it to ‘murder’ (Acts 5:30, NKJ). Likewise, the punishment of death by stoning inflicted upon the disciple Stephen (Acts 7:57-60) was not the result of God’s justice. Nor were the beatings of Peter and John (Acts 5:40), the martyrdom of James (Acts 12:2), and the many punishments inflicted upon Paul (2 Cor.11:24-25) the result of God’s justice, but the sufferings were allowed for the good that would ensue, in powerful demonstration of faith and love. The martyrdom of Stephen, for example, had a lasting impact upon the memory of Saul, who participated in Stephen’s death and who later became the Apostle Paul—the most effective missionary to the Gentiles.
The apostle John exhorts that we ‘lay down our lives for the brethren’ as we have example in Christ, who ‘laid down His life for us’ (1 John 3:16). This was the sacrifice of Christ as John described it. In suffering unjust punishment, Jesus ‘laid down His life’.
In Scripture, it is clear that the terminology of self-sacrifice that can be used of us is the same as that used of the Lord. Paul was prepared to die for his brethren, if that would save them (Rom.9:2). Stephen, as we read in Acts, did die in his witness for Christ (as have many others). He did not recant of his faith before the Jewish council, but knowingly gave up his life in the service of God.
However, just as it would be wrong to say that God punished Stephen and ‘caused’ his death, so it is also wrong to say that God punished His Son. Stephen was certainly ‘sent’ by God – but he was sent ‘to witness to the gospel’ and his death, though necessary, was caused by man, acting in opposition. The disciple laid down his life for the sake of all who would receive his testimony.
This was also the manner of the sacrifice of Christ, as written of Him in the Scriptures. Yet, of course, there is a difference between the sacrifice of God’s Son and that demanded of us. He lived without sin. He rebuked the devil and all temptations. He was God’s righteousness revealed. In all respects, he succeeded where Adam had failed. He was ‘God with us’, in the flesh. But, He was also the Lamb of God, sent to be a sacrifice and to die for us. His life and sacrifice of Himself, therefore, was pleasing to God. He held nothing back, but permitted Himself to be taken and His body killed. – In so doing, He revealed that in Him we should have no fear of death. Though suffering wrongfully, He ‘committed Himself to Him who judges righteously’ (1 Pet.1:23, NKJ), and received from Him the justice of the resurrection. Now, for all who look to Him, His offering of Himself avails. We are accepted with Christ.
The killing of Jesus was permitted by God to enable His Son’s own offering and sacrifice to be perfected for our sakes. Nothing was withheld from the fullness of God’s love to achieve the greatest possible good on our behalf. Jesus looked beyond the cross to the justice of the resurrection and to the salvation that His sacrifice would provide for all who put their trust in Him. By His stripes we are healed.
More important to the Christ than the saving of His own body was the need to allow His ‘life’—symbolized by His own sacrificial blood—to be a covering for the sins of all who turn to Him in faith. His offering before God conveyed the selfless love of God in purity and perfection, without spot or blemish. This was the sacrifice that He made on our behalf. Far from being the embodiment of sin, as one upon whom God’s wrath was poured—as the Jewish leaders, under Satanic influence, wanted to portray—Jesus ‘through the eternal Spirit offered Himself unblemished to God’ (Heb.9:14, NIV). Far from being an unrighteous judge condemning the innocent, along with Christ’s accusers, the Father accepted His Son’s life as a fragrant gift (Eph.5:2). The lie of Satan is that the life of Jesus in the flesh ended in unrighteousness and sin. Nothing could be farther from the truth. The people had killed the ‘Holy and Righteous One,’ Peter declared (Acts 3:14). Christ was punished, but unjustly. The punishment was allowed, to bring us His peace.
‘Yet it pleased the Lord to bruise Him;
He has put Him to grief’
(Isaiah 53:10, NKJ)
‘Father, if it is Your will, remove this cup from Me; nevertheless not My will, but Yours be done,’ Jesus prayed, on the night of His arrest (Lk.22:42). It was the Father’s will that He followed—in perfect obedience and unity of purpose, knowing exactly what was to come.
He said, ‘When you lift up the Son of Man, then you will know that I am He, and that I do nothing of Myself; but as My Father taught Me, I speak these things. And He who sent Me is with Me. The Father has not left Me alone, for I always do those things that please Him’ (Jn.8:28-29). Therefore, as Jesus never failed to please His Father, He was never left alone by Him; but, ‘Though He was a Son,’ as it is written, ‘yet learned He obedience by the things which He suffered. And having been perfected, He became the author of eternal salvation to all who obey Him’ (Heb.5:8-9, NKJ).
What Jesus was called to do required that He should not seek to save Himself but others, in the full knowledge of all that He would have to endure. Through this, the sacrificial offering of His life was perfected and thus pleasing to God—a sacrifice to be accepted for all with faith in the Son. It is said that Jesus ‘through the eternal Spirit offered Himself without spot to God’ (Heb.9:14, NKJ). Jesus was, therefore, delivered up in the flesh for the purpose of death, but not in Spirit. Although Christ’s body suffered the results of man’s sins, His Spirit remained undefiled.
As we can read in the Psalms (Ps.22:24), God the Father did not hide His face from Him; nor close His ears to the prayers of His dying Son, but suffered with Him, in the unity of the Spirit. ‘God is love,’ John wrote (1 John 4:8), and the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit willingly suffered out of their great love and desire to save mankind.
‘When You make His soul an offering for sin ..’
(Isaiah 53:10, NKJ)
The Hebrew word ‘asham’ (meaning ‘guilt’, ‘sin’ or ‘trespass’) is most often translated by either the phrase ‘trespass offering’, ‘guilt offering’ or ‘sin offering’ depending on the Bible version and passage of Scripture. The NIV translates Isaiah 53:10 as: ‘… and though the Lord makes his life a guilt offering, he will see his offspring and prolong his days…’ Now, along with the guilt offering, a restitution and a sum of money had to be given to compensate for the offence (Lev.5:15-19; 6:1-7). The NIV, in Leviticus 5:15, interprets the guilt offering as a ‘penalty’ but please note: the word ‘penalty’ does not occur in the Hebrew. This is an addition to the text. The offering was not intended as a penal fine, but as a requirement of the law for those who, after committing such sins as those prescribed, desired forgiveness and restitution, with the attitude to offer up to God a life of spiritual purity (as symbolized by the offering of the ram without blemish).For without true repentance, the offerings were futile and unacceptable (Isa.1:13-18).
The Lord, on the cross, fulfilled all the spiritual benefits of all the Old Covenant offerings for sins of all kinds—whether known or unknown. But more, His one sacrifice avails for all who truly believe—to atone for all sin. The principle of making a true restitution and compensation for sins (when this is possible) is supported by the guilt offering. True repentance for sins will be demonstrated by a willingness to make amends in some way for the hurt caused by past actions. The story of Zacchaeus the tax collector (Luke 19:5-9), illustrates the fruit borne of godly sorrow. He gave half his goods to the poor and restored fourfold to those he had cheated. This needs to be the attitude of all who truly admit their guilt and repent, turning to Christ. For all who do, Christ’s sacrifice avails. As John the Baptist said to the multitudes, ‘Bear fruits worthy of repentance’ (Luke 3:8). We, also, must bear the good fruit of repentance to be accepted of God.
The one who commits the sins is guilty and must bear his iniquity (Lev.5:17). That is biblical. To be free of condemnation for sins today, one only has to repent with faith in Christ and so abide in His grace. He is ‘The Lord Our Righteousness’. As a lamb without blemish or defect (1 Pet.1:19), He gave His life as a covering for all who will live in Him. Now, just as the Father accepted the sweet smelling offering of His Son upon the cross, so He will accept all who accompany His Son, as His chosen followers.
We can take a negative or a positive view of the cross. One can believe that God ascribed all sin and guilt to His innocent Son and punished Him with the penalty of death in our place. One might somehow believe that God did this in order to uphold the legal justice of His Law. Jesus on the cross might be viewed as the Holy One made guilty for all the crimes of mankind—from whom the Father turned away and withdrew His Spirit. The Truth (‘I am The Truth’) may be viewed as The Lies—as the person made guilty in our place for all our lies. But this is the negative view of the cross that presents the image that God is unjust—inflexibly demanding His pound of flesh and unwilling to exercise mercy. What matters to God is not that someone should be punished, but that the guilty should repent. Moreover, justice cannot be upheld by the transfer of guilt and punishment to the innocent.
To be forgiven, one does not have to suffer a punishment. If one is truly repentant, God is ready to forgive. Condemnation is taken away. God’s law applies punishment for sin only if there is no repentance. Jesus told the Pharisees who had wrongly judged His disciples: ‘If you had known what these words mean, “I desire mercy, not sacrifice, you would not have condemned the innocent’ (Mat.12:7, NIV). The Lord desires to exercise mercy, not condemnation. He is the God of love and true justice.
According to God’s Word: ‘The soul who sins is the one who will die. The son will not share the guilt of the father, nor will the father share the guilt of the son. The righteousness of the righteous man will be credited to him, and the wickedness of the wicked will be charged against him’ (Ezekiel 18:20, NIV). People will be judged according to how they live. Having well-behaved parents or children is no defence. We stand or fall on our own. Neither our sins nor our righteousness can be credited to someone else. This ought to be clear. However, God is able to declare righteous anyone who exercises the faith of Abraham and turns to His Son. In Christ, we stand in the righteousness of the Almighty, born again of the Spirit. We are accounted to have died to sin, as we live in Christ. It is not ours, but Christ’s righteousness—the righteousness of God—that saves us, by His grace and mercy.
The positive view of the cross recognizes the triumph of righteousness over evil, injustice and death – and that goodness will prevail.
Note on Jewish and English translations of Isaiah 53
Jewish translations of Isaiah 53 are influenced not only by the belief that the suffering servant of the prophecy is either the personification of the nation Israel or a reference to the prophet Moses, but also by the Jewish belief that human vicarious atonement is completely alien to the teachings of God. Most Christian English translations, on the other hand, are influenced by the idea that Jesus, as the Messiah, suffered and died in the place of sinners as a substitute. He is thought to have paid the penalty for sin through His death on the cross. Those who consider the servant to be Israel, the nation, attribute ‘the sins’ of the prophecy to the Gentile nations committed against the Jews, based upon the mention of ‘the nations’ in Isaiah 52:15. The ‘we’ in the voice of the prophecy is thought to be the Gentiles realizing their sins against God’s chosen. This idea of one person representing a nation has precedent in Scripture, but is regrettably misapplied in Isaiah 53; and the view that the suffering servant is Moses has obvious associations but cannot be maintained throughout the passage. In Isaiah 53, the likeness to the sufferings of Jesus is just too strong to be ignored (and we have clear biblical association in the N.T.). However, the objection that the idea of human vicarious atonement is foreign to Scripture clearly has merit. In Exodus 32:32-33, we read: ‘”Yet now, if You will forgive their sin – but if not, I pray, blot me out of your book which You have written.” And the Lord said to Moses, “Whoever has sinned against Me, I will blot him out of My book.”’ What Moses requested was contrary to God’s justice. He asked to die, if God could not forgive. You see, forgiveness does not require punishment. Moreover, to punish others in the place of the guilty is something God forbids. God’s answer was not to say that Moses was too impure to qualify as a substitute, but to state the rule of justice: those bearing their sins and guilt must be punished. Where there is no forgiveness, there is condemnation.
This is also the message of the Law as written in Deut. 24:16 and the Prophets (see: Jer.31:30 and Ezek. 18:4 & 20): ‘a person shall be put to death for his own sin.’ Transference of guilt is not allowed, nor the punishment of the innocent for crimes committed by others.