“Surely he has borne our griefs and carried our sorrows; yet we esteemed him stricken, smitten by God, and afflicted. But he was pierced for our transgressions; he was crushed for our iniquities; upon him was the chastisement that brought us peace, and with his wounds we are healed. All we like sheep have gone astray; we have turned—every one—to his own way; and the Lord has laid on him the iniquity of us all.” (Isaiah 53:4–6, ESV)
The Old Testament is full of Gospel hope and this passage from Isaiah is one of the most explicit examples.
In this prophecy written hundreds of years before Jesus’ crucifixion, Isaiah exposes and corrects misunderstanding about the Suffering Servant. When people gazed on this real man who was literally beaten and cut open and then nailed to a cross they assumed that he was afflicted by God for crimes he had done.
Isaiah writes to correct the misunderstanding. Jesus willingly took this burden on himself because of our rebellion and perversions (iniquities: the crookedness or “bentness” of human beings). He was pierced because of our transgressions. This is what theologians call the “penal substitution” of Christ. He stood in our place and received the punishment and wrath that we had earned. In place of that wrath we receive peace. Our peace with God was lost with our rebellion and not to be gained by our effort. He brings us back to God. He heals us and restores us to wholeness.
Alec Motyer points out the stark change of subject in verse 6. After having stressed the work of the Servant in verses 4 and 5, Isaiah turns to stress our action. All we like sheep have gone astray. None is exempt from desperate need because every single one has gone astray. The end result is to be like sheep without a shepherd. Pointing out this change has the effect of saying, “Can you believe what he has done for people like us?”
Is my condition really that bad? Yes, you are included. And yes, the condition is bad, because you have willfully turned aside from God’s way to go your own way. But the good news resounds again in the last phrase of verse 6. Isaiah corrects the misunderstanding once more: the Lord has laid on Jesus the iniquity of his people. There is a redeemer! He is the one and only solution to the need of sinners. We all have gone astray. He has made provision for us all.
Come behold the wondrous mystery
Christ the Lord upon the tree
In the stead of ruined sinners
Hangs the Lamb in victory
See the price of our redemption
See the Father’s plan unfold
Bringing many sons to glory
Grace unmeasured, love untold