“He was despised and forsaken of men, a man of sorrows and acquainted with grief; and like one from whom men hide their face He was despised, and we did not esteem Him.” ~ Isaiah 53:3
Prophecy: The Suffering Servant would be despised and rejected, crucified with transgressors and buried with the rich.
Imagine the headline in Jerusalem in about 700 BC: “‘Messiah to be Canceled by Israel,’ Says Prophet!” The Prophet Isaiah declared that when Messiah would come, He would face rejection, suffering, public shaming, and even death! Truth be told, this hostility from the people was what the prophet himself experienced. Why would the people despise their own Messiah? But there should be no surprise, for their fathers also despised Moses, centuries earlier. Following the Exodus from Egypt and the many miracles in the wilderness, the Lord had spoken to Moses and said, “How long will this people spurn Me? And how long will they not believe in Me, despite all the signs which I have performed in their midst?” (Numbers 14:11).
Not only did the majority of the people reject God, but they threatened to stone Moses on two occasions (Exodus 17:4; Numbers 14:10–11). Isaiah understood that even as Moses had led Israel out of bondage to Egypt, a new Moses would be needed to lead Israel out of sin and rebellion. Just such a Deliverer had been prophesied in Deuteronomy 18:15–19, a Prophet like Moses, later to be called the Messiah.
Centuries later, when the Messiah came, what God had said of Israel in Moses’ day was repeated by John: “But though [Jesus] had performed so many signs before them, yet they were not believing in Him” (John 12:37). John goes on to explain that they could not believe (v. 39) because they had been spiritually blinded (John 12:40; see Isaiah 6:9–10).
Had this been unforeseen? No, for this had been God’s plan all along. Had the majority of the Jewish people not rejected Him, Jesus would have been disqualified to be Messiah, for this verse prophecies that He would be rejected by the people. Even to this day, a part of the Jewish people are blinded to the gospel, nevertheless, God is saving a remnant, and God wants the Jewish people to be a priority in our evangelism and in our prayers (Romans 1:16; 9:1–5; 10:1).
Why was Messiah despised? They despised Him because they did not believe in Him (Isaiah 53:1) and because their deeds were evil (Isaiah 53:6, 8; John 3:20). In His rejection, He was like Moses and the prophets, who had also been rejected. Moses was opposed because he said what God told him to say and followed God’s directions. Likewise, Jesus only said what the Father told Him (John 12:49). God’s truth always stirs up hostility. As God gave more information about the coming Deliverer who would face opposition, the promised Prophet like Moses became known as the Suffering Servant of Isaiah. These portraits of a rejected and suffering Messiah only pointed forward to the sufferings and death of Jesus the Messiah, 1,400 years after Moses and 700 years after Isaiah.
Our verse says that the Messiah would be “like one from whom men hide their face.” Isaiah tells us that “His appearance was marred more than any man, and His form more than the sons of men” (52:14). In Deuteronomy, God said that He would hide His face from Israel because their sin was just as repulsive to Him as bloody physical injuries would be to us (Deuteronomy 31:17, 18; 32:20).
The wounds, suffering, and death of Jesus may have made men turn their faces away, but as the Messiah would bear the sin of the world (Isaiah 53:6; John 3:16), God would also turn His face away. Jesus would cry out, “My God, My God, why have You forsaken Me?” (Matthew 27:46).
Isaiah tells us that this Servant’s suffering was not related to any defilement in Him. In fact, He would suffer innocently, for “no deceit was found in His mouth” (Isaiah 53:9). The Hebrew word, mirmah, means “deceit” or “guile.” It was associated with Jacob and his deceit (Genesis 27:35; 34:13), and we all have a little “Jacob” in us, don’t we? But not the Servant. He suffered and died as an innocent and pure sacrifice.
The Servant’s innocent suffering meant that God had not given up on Israel, and neither has He given up on people today. More than a century after Isaiah, God spoke through the prophet Ezekiel, “I will not hide My face from them any longer, for I will have poured out My Spirit on the house of Israel, declares the Lord God” (Ezekiel 39:29). Because our sin is repugnant to God, He turns His face from us. But the innocent sufferings of Messiah allow God to turn His face back to Israel and to us in redeeming compassion for all who will put their trust in Messiah, Jesus.
Questions for Thought
- Considering the price Jesus paid for our salvation, how should we then live?
- If Moses, the Old Testament prophets, and Jesus all suffered persecution and rejection, how should we respond when confronted with rejection and ostracism as we stand for the Lord?
As we think of the enormous weight of our sin and the eternal consequences of our transgressions, we should stand amazed at God’s love in giving His only Son to bear the weight of our sin. Ask the Lord to help you never take lightly what Jesus has done for us—not only stricken and afflicted by men, but bearing God’s wrath, out of His love for us.
Dr. Jim Sibley
Dr. Jim Sibley and his wife, Kathy, grew up in First Baptist Dallas and served Messianic Jewish believers in Israel for almost 14 years, helping to plant congregations in Jerusalem and Tel Aviv. Jim then served as Coordinator of Jewish Ministry for Southern Baptists in the US and Canada, where he had the opportunity to teach courses on Israel for Southern Baptist seminaries and colleges across North America. For eight years he was on the faculty of Criswell College in Dallas, where he directed an institute of Jewish Studies. He then served on the faculty of Israel College of the Bible, an initiative of Israeli believers in Jesus. As a published author, he has produced academic papers, articles for theological journals, and chapters for books. Retired since January 2019, he is now engaged in writing projects as a research professor for Israel College of the Bible. He is also the North America Coordinator of the Lausanne Consultation on Jewish Evangelism, a network of Jewish organizations involved in Jewish evangelism. Jim and Kathy have two married daughters and six grandchildren.