The knowledge which the Jews could have had of a suffering Messiah, one who should die for the sins of the world, could have been drawn from three sources only: first, from patriarchal traditions, resting on earlier Divine revelations; second, from the rites and teachings of the law; third, from the words of inspired men, — prophets and psalmists. But as the conception of a suffering Messiah cannot be separated from the consciousness of sin, and to develop this consciousness was a chief end in the spiritual education of men, thus to prepare them to receive the promised Redeemer; of this development we must first speak. And we may mark three stages: that before the law, that under the law, and that since Pentecost under the Spirit. It is with the first two of these stages that we are here concerned; the last will be considered later.
But, before these points are historically considered, we may note the distinction between the consciousness of personal sin and the knowledge of the corruption of human nature as a form of being originally good, but become evil, and so rejected of God. In all times and among all peoples there have been the consciousness of personal sin, the sense of guilt and fear of Divine punishment; and these have entered as essential elements into all religions. But knowledge of the evil condition into which our humanity was brought by the sin of Adam, making it incapable of answering the end of its creation, and that there must be a second Adam to restore what had been lost, could not be given, at least in its full measure, till the Incarnate Son came in "the likeness of sinful flesh," and died and rose again. Then was it revealed, that only through "the law of the Spirit of life in Him " could men be set free from the law of sin and of death.
1. We may now inquire as to the degree of consciousness of sin before the time of the law, and what knowledge was then given of a Redeemer, and of His expiatory work. The general character of the antediluvian, or patriarchal, period has already been spoken of. It was the period of infancy; the capacities of humanity had not yet been proved, nor its dormant propensities to evil been quickened into full activity. It was not possible that men in the earliest times should have known the full power of sin, what depths of evil were in it, its many forms of hostility to God, and its destructive energies: these could be revealed only in the experience of the race. But we may believe that from the first there was in fallen man the consciousness that he was fallen, and morally unclean, and deserving of punishment. He knew that he was separated from God, banished from His Presence, and brought under the law of death; the ground had been cursed because of his disobedience, and his earthly life made one of toil and weariness. And we may believe that the consciousness of sin was deeper and more active in the earliest fathers than in the later antediluvian generations, as the memory of their intercourse with God in Eden was yet fresh, and their conceptions of Him, as there revealed, more distinct and vivid. That there was early in patriarchal history a loss of the sense of sin is clearly implied in the biblical narrative. That this primitive and deeper consciousness of separation from God involved in it, as a necessary element, a belief in a Mediator, — one to stand between the sinful and God, and through whom alone Divine forgiveness could be obtained, — we do not say. But it served as a basis for the revelation of such a Mediator to come, " the Seed of the woman that should bruise the serpent's head;" and also as a basis for the institution of the rite of animal sacrifice.
In the promise of the Seed of the woman, the first victory of good over evil was assured. But by whom was it to be won? Was it then understood as the promise of a personal Deliverer? We can scarce doubt this, and that it continued during the antediluvian period to be the hope of the faithful. But the victory was not to be won without a struggle; the heel of the victor should be bruised: and it may be that under the figure of "the bruising of the heel," the first patriarchs saw some form of personal suffering predicted; possibly His death. But, as with many words of God respecting the future, the truth wrapped up in them was of slow growth; for promises that embrace ages can be but partially understood by those to whom they are spoken.
What knowledge of the mode of redemption, or of the person of the Redeemer, was gained through the rite of animal sacrifice, it is not easy to say; but of its meaning Adam and his children must have had some apprehension. They saw the special calling of the priest as a mediator, and that without an offering for sin — the shedding of blood — there was no acceptable approach to God; and the idea of mediation must have become familiar to them, and in some degree that of substitution. Every father was in a measure a priestly mediator. (Job i. 5.) More light may have been given them, both as regards sacrifices and the purpose of God in the Deliverer, than is recorded in the very brief biblical narrative; but, even if so, it is not probable that there was at so early a period such consciousness of sin, and such knowledge of the corruption of human nature, that the full meaning of sacrifice as to be realized in the Lamb of God was seen, or that need was felt of One who should die and rise again — the Just for the unjust — to bring men to God.
2. The consciousness of sin under the law, and the knowledge then given of the Redeemer and His work. Leaving it, as we must, undefined what knowledge respecting a suffering Redeemer was handed down from the early patriarchs to Abraham and his children, new light was given them through the Mosaic appointments. As they were the elect people, and as the promised Seed of the woman was to be of the seed of Abraham, the discernment of His work among them as one of redemption from sin depended on their consciousness of sin; and this, therefore, must be enlarged and deepened. In a twofold way was this done under the Theocracy: on the one side God manifested Himself to His people as the Holy One, and on the other the law He gave brought to light the evil in their hearts. By admitting His people into immediate intercourse with Himself, Divine Holiness was brought into direct contrast to human sinfulness. To all other peoples He was a God afar off; but He dwelt among them, and the place of His habitation was holy. "I am the Lord your God; ye shall therefore sanctify yourselves; and ye shall be holy, for I am holy." And, on the other side, by the law was given the knowledge of sin. (Rom. iii. 20.) "I had not known sin but by the law," says the apostle. Now was disclosed, as never before, the power of the rebellious will, how strong the lusts of the flesh, and the tendencies to idol-worship, and how great the enmity of the carnal mind to God's holy rule. Thus through the law there was brought into clearer consciousness man's alienation from God, and his obstinate opposition to His will. Testing themselves by His righteous commands, the faithful among His people learned to know themselves as sinful, and this more and more in each successive generation. And that there was more than the consciousness of personal sins, that there was, at least in some, the knowledge of the corruption of human nature, appears from the Psalms, (li. 5, lviii. 3.)
As God dwelling among the people was manifested to them as the Holy One, and His righteousness revealed through the law, and their sinfulness was thus brought into clearer light, the necessity of redemption was more deeply felt. But by whom should this redemption be effected? Who could stand between them and God? Must there not be a High Priest to come, holier than those of Aaron's line? Through the sacrifices of the law, so sharply discriminated and carefully set in order, each with its own special purpose and typical meaning, and especially through the greater sin-offering, were their eyes directed forward to One who should make an atonement for them, that would need no repetition. It may be that a few in all generations, made through the law deeply conscious of personal transgressions, and of the evil in their hearts, and specially illumined by the Spirit, saw that the blood of animal sacrifices could not take away sin, and that these must be typical of a sacrifice to be offered more truly redemptive. And to such the primal promise of the Seed of the woman would have new and higher meaning. But was this Seed of the woman to be identified with their Messiah? Was the Son of David to bruise the serpent's head, and His heel to be bruised? Was He typified in the sacrifices of the law, and His blood to be shed for the sin of His people? If a definite belief of a vicarious sacrifice to be offered by the Messiah, and of atonement through His blood, was in fact attained to by any through the types of the law, it was by very few only. It was through the prophets, therefore, that the Messiah must be set forth as one to suffer and die. And we must ask what were the conditions that determined these prophetic revelations.
In general, it is to be kept in mind that the words of the prophets were determined, first of all, by the covenant relations of the people to whom they spake; and, second, by the circumstances of the times. As there was progress to a definite end in the history of this people, so there was progress in the revelations to them of God's truth. His purpose in the Messiah embraced all men in its results. He was to be the Redeemer of all, — "the Lamb of God to take away the sin of the world." (John i. 29.) As made to the first parents of the race, the promise of the Seed of the woman was made to all their children; but the higher truths respecting Him, His person and His work, could be spoken only to that one people which God had chosen, and prepared to hear by His previous training. As the nations at large knew nothing of the Son of David, who under Jehovah should rule over all the earth, so they knew nothing of Him as one who should save them from sin by His sacrifice upon the cross. God's revelations by His prophets of the Messianic salvation were not made to them, for they could not have understood them.
Hence it was, as will be seen, that in the presentation of a suffering Messiah, the prophets speak of Him primarily in His relations to the elect people. He suffers to restore them to God's favor. Of the bearings of His sacrifice on other nations who stand in no covenant relations to Him, they do not speak. In due time it would be made known to them that His redemptive work embraced all the children of Adam, both the living and the dead: but the words of the prophets were to the children of Abraham; and the revelation to the nations of His purpose in His Son must be through them when fully instructed in His ways and made ready for His kingdom.
Of the threefold work of the Messiah to be fulfilled in redemption according to the Divine purpose, as the Sacrifice on the cross, as the High Priest in heaven, and as the theocratic King and Judge, the last was first set forth by the earlier prophets. It could not, in the nature of the case, have been otherwise, each new revelation of the Divine purpose in Him resting upon the preceding; and it was God's promise to David of the Son to sit on his throne, that gave definite form to the Messianic expectation. This is not to deny that the great lessons of the law were Sacrifice and Atonement; no promise of a King could supersede them, for they lie at the basis of redemption. But the prophetic presentation of the Redeemer is primarily as the Ruler under Jehovah of the elect people. To the Jews abiding faithful to their covenant, the only intelligible presentation that could be made of their Messiah of the royal house of David, was that of a King who should reign in righteousness, and whose coming is an object of hope. As He comes to administer the kingdom under Jehovah, if the people were walking at His coming in obedience to Jehovah, they would welcome Him and His holy rule. A voluntary rejection of Him would not be possible. It was not, therefore, consistent with their position as His faithful elect, that the prophet should announce a Messiah whom they would reject and crucify, and so bring on themselves Jehovah's terrible judgments. And yet His sacrifice on the cross for all men must precede His work as their King. How, then, could a knowledge of a suffering Messiah be brought to His people in a manner consistent with their moral trial? It is plain that only in view of a change in their original relations to Jehovah, could such an announcement be made. And this change took place at the time of the Babylonian exile.
In the Messianic conception springing from the covenant with David, the Messiah is one who succeeds to the throne in virtue of His royal descent. He is the rightful heir. And coming as a King, there must be an independent nation over which He can reign. He is not one who must be the Redeemer of His people before He can reign over them, for this presupposes some condition of national bondage out of which they are to be redeemed. Jehovah had redeemed them when he brought them up out of Egypt. (Deut. vii. 8.) And this position of national independence they should have preserved; but coming again into bondage, they must be again delivered. The Son of David, therefore, must restore them to freedom before He can reign over them.
We now see why the Messiah could not have been presented by the prophets as the Redeemer of Israel, till the Babylonian captivity was near in the prophetic vision. A change was approaching in the relation of the nation to Jehovah. Because of its persistent violations of the covenant, He was about to forsake His holy city, and scatter the people among the nations. Nor would He spare the royal family. The Messiah, therefore, could not succeed to the throne in regular succession as all the kings before Him had done; He must first restore the nation and rebuild the throne. Thus, as they saw the captivity approaching, they were able to understand that the Messianic Kingdom must be preceded by a work of national deliverance.
We may now inquire as to the nature of this deliverance. And we must first note the nature of the new captivity. It was not like that in Egypt. From Egypt Jehovah had brought them forth that He might make them His people, and constitute them a nation. Their special covenant relation to Him was not formed till He had brought them to Sinai. (Exod. xix. 5.) But their captivity in Babylon, and in all its subsequent stages, was a punishment inflicted by their covenant God because of its violations. Although His own people, He brought them under the bondage of the heathen as the expression of His righteous anger against them. As the greatness of their sin, so the severity of their chastisement.
This evil condition into which they had fallen necessarily presented a new aspect of the Messiah's work. He could not now come as a King to a people obedient, and waiting in joyful hope for His appearing, but to a people rebellious and apostate, and suffering under sore judgments. How could He deliver them? What were the elements of the deliverance to be wrought? We may speak of them as threefold: first, the turning away of God's anger, and the remission of their sins; second, their repentance and confession; third, their liberation from the hand of their enemies, and their restoration to their own land and to their place. All these must be done before the Messianic Kingdom could be set up.
The first and great step in this work of deliverance was to turn away the just anger of Jehovah, and to restore His people to His favor. Even if there were seen on their part genuine repentance and true confession, yet a sense of sin and its confession were not sufficient in themselves to obtain its remission. Through the law they had been taught that "without shedding of blood there is no remission" of sin. The guilty cannot make atonement for themselves; there is need of a Mediator, and forgiveness must rest upon the ground of a special sacrifice. Even in the case of individual transgressors, a sacrifice must be offered, a victim slain, and its blood sprinkled by the priest. (Lev. iv.) So must it be for the sins of the nation; there must be a like work of priestly mediation, an atonement must be made for the people, that they might be cleansed from their sins before the Lord. (Lev. xvi.) After this had been done, they could be restored to their original standing as Jehovah's people, and receive the fulfillment of His promises.
To sum up what has been said: By His prophets God made known to His people that because of their sins a day of judgment was approaching; they must be cast out of their land, and be scattered abroad till "they accept the punishment of their iniquity;" then should their sins be forgiven, and they be restored. But this forgiveness must rest on the basis of a sacrifice offered for them, like that offered for the expiation of national sins on the Day of Atonement. And who should offer this sacrifice? It must be the Son of David, who should not only be a King, but also a Priest. (Ps. ex.)
In all this there was nothing that a spiritually-minded Jew might not have apprehended. Kingship and priesthood were familiar in their practical exercise, and both might have their highest representation in the Messiah. But was this all? Was the sacrifice by which their sins were to obtain remission, only a repetition of the sacrifices offered at Sinai? Was it the blood of bullocks and of goats that was again to be sprinkled upon the people? (Exod. xxiv. 8.) This involved no suffering on the part of the Messiah, it was simply the fulfillment of His priestly functions.
How, then, was the fact to be made known, that the Messiah must offer Himself as an expiatory sacrifice? He must be the Victim as well as the Priest. But how could this fact be made known? Could the mystery of His Person be then revealed, and the people be taught that the Son of God should become man, and so become the propitiation for the sins of the whole world? This was not then possible; for the knowledge of this mystery presupposed the knowledge of many truths respecting the nature of the Godhead, and of the Divine purpose in man, which they could not in this stage of spiritual culture understand. That God would "send His own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh, and for sin, to condemn sin in the flesh," was not apprehended till He came and died and rose again. Yet, on the other hand, if they saw in Him only a man, a partaker like other men of a corrupt nature, how could He offer Himself as a sacrifice for sin? Or was His suffering for His own people only, and in kind like that of any just man who gives up himself for the good of his country?
Thus it is obvious, that to make known the true nature of the Messiah's sacrifice as the Incarnate Son before He came, was intrinsically impossible; yet, if He were believed to be a mere man, false notions of that sacrifice were inevitable. But a partial revelation was possible, — one preparatory to a higher to follow. He could be presented to the people in terms that indicated at least a superhuman character, — one more than man; and those who meditated earnestly and reverently on the prophetic words must have had some anticipations, if vague, of His exceeding dignity and greatness. To their eye, He appeared as a dim but majestic form filling the future. As in the vision of the prophet, they saw "the likeness of a throne, and upon the likeness of the throne was the likeness as the appearance of a man above upon it." In this was shown to them that the fulfillment of the Divine promises respecting the universal kingdom could be only through One far higher than any of the sons of men. And such an One, not only a King, but "a Priest for ever after the order of Melchizedek," might offer a sacrifice for the remission of their sins, and in some way, not clearly understood, bear their iniquities. What the apostle says of us all even in this present higher stage of revelation, that we "see through a glass darkly," was far more applicable to them. As the resurrection life and the new heaven and earth are still mysteries to us, so to them were the sufferings of the Messiah and the glory that should follow.
We may now inquire what God was pleased to reveal by His prophets respecting the sacrifice of the Messiah.
It was by the prophet Isaiah that He made the fullest and clearest revelation. And why by this prophet and in his time? Such questions can be at best but partially answered. We see, however, a fitness that Isaiah, to whom it was given, as we have already seen, to reveal the purpose of God in some new and most important particulars, and who was permitted to behold in vision the Messiah on His throne, and was thus capable of speaking in the most exalted terms of His glory, should also speak most distinctly of His humiliation and sufferings. And the time during which he prophesied was one of great moment to the world, and especially to the elect nation. The king of Assyria — the founder of the Second Empire — had already made his power felt by both Judah and Israel, and every year beheld him a more threatening and dangerous enemy. And still obscure but visible to the prophet's anointed eye was the rising Empire of Babylon, the instrument of God to punish with overthrow and exile His disobedient people. (Isa. xxxviii. 6.) The dark shadows of coming judgments fell athwart the land. By timely repentance, they might be averted; but the prophet knew that they would not hearken to his words. He had heard the seraphim cry, "Holy, holy, holy;" and he was filled with a sense of his own un cleanness, and that of his people. So far had they fallen from their covenant standing, that God must address their rulers as "the rulers of Sodom," and the people as "the people of Gomorrah." (i. 10.)
Thus the time of this prophet was one of great national peril, whether viewed from without or within. Upon all who had any true apprehension of the love of Jehovah to them as shown in their election, of His continued goodness, and of their unthankfulness and persistent transgressions, and who believed the prophetic announcements of the punishment about to come on them, the present evils must have rested as a heavy burden. They saw that the anger of God was kindled against His people; and how should His anger be turned away? It was, therefore, a fitting time to declare to such that their Messiah would stand up for them; that He would offer Himself as a sacrifice, "the Just for the unjust, to bring them to God." It is true that the real nature of that sacrifice to be offered for them could not then have been understood, even by the more spiritual; but they could understand that only through this sacrifice could God's anger be turned away, and their sins be forgiven them. And they could understand, also, that the sufferings of the Messiah must precede His glory.
No prophet has given so high a presentation of the Messiah's person as Isaiah. He is "Wonderful, Counsellor, The mighty God, The everlasting Father, The Prince of Peace. Of the increase of His government and peace there shall be no end, upon the throne of David, and upon His kingdom." This presentation of Him as King precedes the mention of Him as the suffering servant, for the greatness of His person makes more conceivable the thought of Him as the sacrifice for the sin of His people. (Isa. ix. 6, 7.)
It is in his later prophecies that Isaiah presents the figure of the suffering Messiah. Upon the peculiar character of these, we have already had occasion to remark. He speaks as one standing at the end of the long captivity, — that period of rejection and desolation of which he himself had spoken (vi. 11-13), and of which the Babylonian exile was only the first stage, — when the discipline of God had done its intended work, and that remnant, long sought for, had been found to whom He could speak comfort, because conscious of their sins and truly penitent. ." Blessed are they that mourn: for they shall be comforted." As the poor in spirit, the meek, the broken-hearted, they are prepared to say: "O Lord, I will praise thee: though thou wast angry with me, thine anger is turned away, and thou comfortedst me." (xii. 1.) And then can He give command to His prophets: "Comfort ye, comfort ye my people. Speak ye comfortably to Jerusalem, and cry unto her, that her warfare is accomplished, and her punishment is accepted." (xl. 1, etc., Rev. Ver.) Being now truly penitent, He can fulfill, to them all His promises. "The glory of the Lord shall be revealed, and all flesh shall see it together." "Then will the Lord be unto thee an everlasting light, and the days of thy mourning shall be ended." Thus " the remnant shall return unto the mighty God." "A little one shall become a thousand, and the small one a strong nation."
Thus, at the end of the days, through God's dealings with them, are wrought in a remnant a deep consciousness of sin, and true sorrow and penitence; and they will rejoice in the fulfillment of the promise of the suffering Messiah. And to such, of the prophet's own day, and of all the years down to the end, in whom a like spirit was found, the knowledge that on Him the Lord would lay the iniquities of the people, gave the assurance of their future redemption, and filled their hearts with hope. (Luke ii. 38.)
It is this prophet who gives special emphasis also to the fact that the people must be holy, to have communion with God in His kingdom. He often calls Him by the name of "the Holy One of Israel."
This name is almost peculiar to Isaiah, being found rarely elsewhere, and only in writings of a late date. Its use by this prophet is in harmony with his place as the one who discerned most clearly the sinfulness of the people, and the spiritual demands of Jehovah upon them. As separated unto Him, they were holy: "I the Lord am holy, and have severed you from other peoples, that ye should be mine." (Lev. xx. 26.) But now because of their unholiness they will soon cease to be severed, they will be scattered among the nations. It is necessary, therefore, that they be often reminded, in the prophecies which look forward to the restoration, that Jehovah is "the Holy One of Israel, whom they have provoked unto anger." (i. 4.) They cannot remain in their unholiness; if restored, it must be as "the holy seed,"—• "the remnant that shall stay upon the Lord, the Holy One of Israel, in truth." (x. 20.) And then Zion shall be called "the Zion of the Holy One of Israel." This designation thus becomes most emphatic, as pointing to the future and showing what is demanded of the people before they can be restored. We may note, also, the use of the term "Redeemer" — Goel — in this prophet. This term, in the family relations of the Hebrews, denoted one who, as nearest of kin, was "the avenger of blood," and the redeemer of the enslaved poor, and of the lost inheritance. (Num. xxxvi. 12; Lev. xxv. 25.) God had redeemed the people from their bondage in Egypt, and been their avenger upon their oppressors. "I will redeem you with a stretched out arm, and with great judgments." (Exod. vi. 6.) "Thou hast led forth thy people which thou hast redeemed." (xv. 13.) Thus Jehovah was their Goel. But this term could not be used of Him again except with reference to a new captivity and a new redemption. Having forfeited their land, to Him it belongs to redeem it, — to restore the old landmarks that had been removed. (Ps. lxxiv. 2; Prov. xxiii. 10, 11.) And as this redemption, embracing both the land and its enslaved possessors, is especially the burden of Isaiah's later prophecies, it is in these prophecies that Jehovah is presented as the Redeemer, — Goel,—and the people as "the redeemed." In most cases the Redeemer is also designated as the "Holy One of Israel:" "Thy Redeemer is the Holy One of Israel." (xli. 14.) "Thus saith the Lord, your Redeemer, the Holy One of Israel." (xliii. 14.) "Thus saith the Lord, the King of Israel and his Redeemer;" "Thus saith the Lord, the Redeemer of Israel, and his Holy One." It is the King of Israel, the Holy One of Israel, who must be the Redeemer of Israel. Thus these elements, all having Messianic significance, are united in the presentation of the Deliverer to come. How far, through these terms, the people may have understood that the promised King of David's line was the Holy One of Israel, and their Redeemer, — Goel, — it is not possible to say. Isaiah at least, to whom the vision of the Messiah was given, may probably have known that one and the same Person was meant, and have seen in "the Redeemer that should come to Zion," "the Virgin's Son," "the Branch out of the roots of Jesse," of whom the Spirit had spoken by him. But the law as to the redemption wrought by a kinsman, would naturally direct the thoughts of all to Him as one of their own kin, to whom such an office would properly belong, and yet One able to avenge and redeem.
It is true that the office of the Goel does not necessarily involve any personal suffering on his part; but the name, whether used of Jehovah or the Messiah, brings out clearly the condition of those to be redeemed, and so taught the Jews into what bondage their sins had brought them, and the need of a Redeemer. (Isa. lxiii. 1-6.)
But the name that points most distinctly to the suffering Messiah is that of "The Servant of Jehovah," which is found in the latter part of Isaiah, (xl.-lxvi.) To understand the application of this term to Him, we must consider its general usage in this prophet. The people as such had been chosen by God to serve and honor Him. "This people have I found for myself: they shall show forth my praise." "Remember these, O Jacob and Israel, for thou art my servant. I have formed thee; thou art my servant." (xliv. 21.) But the service He sought they had not rendered. "Thou hast made me to serve with thy sins; thou hast wearied me with thine iniquities." But although His people as such had failed to serve Him, the obedient servant, if but a remnant, must be found among them; and, from the nature of the case, this obedience would demand the highest degree of self-sacrifice and of devotion to Jehovah. At the head of this remnant should He stand who is the Servant, and who is obedient even unto death.
It is not easy, indeed, to determine in all cases the exact application of the term, "servant of Jehovah," as used in Isaiah, — whether to the whole elect people as such; or to the faithful few among them in the prophet's day; or to the last remnant, — the Holy Seed; or to Him who is such in an especial manner,—the obedient One, the Messiah. But there are some passages which cannot well be referred to any but Him, since there is such contrast between the people and this Servant that by the latter an individual is clearly meant. (Isa. xlii. 1-5, xlix. 5-7.) As to the nature of this service, in all the Messiah does He is acting for Jehovah, — One raised up to declare His will and to fulfill His purpose; and the term "Servant" is therefore applicable to Him in all the offices He fills, even the highest. But there is one work in which the term finds its fullest application, as showing the highest measure of self-renunciation and obedience: it is in the offering up of Himself for the sins of His people. He must take their iniquities upon Him, He must humble Himself, and suffer in their stead, and be obedient even unto death, that He may thus reconcile them to God. To do this, it is necessary that He put aside the royal honor that belongs to Him as David's Son and Heir, and take the lowest place, — a place of suffering and shame. And this work is one in which none can aid Him; it is purely personal.
The first intimation of this lowest form of service is found in Isaiah: "Thus saith the Lord, ... to Him whom man despiseth, to Him whom the nation abhorreth, to a Servant of rulers." (xlix. 7.) But the fullest declaration is to be found in chapters lii. and liii. It is unnecessary to cite words so familiar, or to say more than that One is here to us presented who is despised and rejected of men, and stricken, smitten of God, and afflicted. But His sufferings were not for Himself; upon Him the Lord laid the iniquity of all. "He was wounded for our transgressions, bruised for our iniquities: the chastisement of our peace was upon Him, and with His stripes we are healed." Because of the transgression of His people was He cut off out of the land of the living, but He was to rise again from the dead. "He shall see His seed, He shall prolong His days, and the pleasure of the Lord shall prosper in His hand. ... I will divide Him a portion with the great, and He shall divide the spoil with the strong."
We have here One presented who is rejected by His people under circumstances of special ignominy and reproach. "He pours out His soul unto death, and is numbered with the transgressors." But He suffers and dies for others; He is stricken for the transgressions of His people; on Him the Lord laid the iniquity of all. But He does not continue in the realms of the dead. He rises again, He is exalted, and made very high. He becomes an Intercessor. He shall sprinkle many nations, He shall see His seed, and shall justify many. Who can be meant here but the Messiah? To whom beside was it possible for the Jews to apply them? Why, then, it may be asked, did not the Jews in general so understand them? Two reasons may be given: 1. The lack of such apprehension of their sins against their covenant, and of God's anger with them, that the need of such a sacrifice could be felt. They could not see that the first work of the Messiah must be to make an atonement for them and cleanse them. In their subjection to their heathen masters, and feeling keenly their servitude, their natural thought was of One who by a strong arm should set them free, and bring back the glory of the Davidic reign. Thus the national bondage, which should have been a continual reminder of the transgressions which had brought it upon them, and have awakened in them a profound sense of sin and earnest desire for the coming of the suffering One, who should stand in their stead, and by whose stripes they should be healed, was looked upon rather as a wrong done by the heathen to Jehovah in their person, and which it belonged to Him to avenge. 2. The high place given after the exile to the law, and the great value set upon its literal observance as making righteous. The tendency of this was to make the thought of any sacrifice to be offered by the Messiah for their sins incredible because unnecessary. This point will be more fully spoken of in another place.
It may be said that the Messiah is here presented as suffering, not for the sin of the world, but for the sins of the Jewish people; and for their sins as a people, rather than for the sins of individuals. Upon the first point some remarks have already been made. It is in His special relation to the covenant people that Isaiah here presents the Messiah. "For the transgression of my people was He stricken." The bearing of that sacrifice upon other nations and upon all men, as the "propitiation for the sins of the whole world," could not be made clearly known to them till it had been accomplished.
As to the second point, that the sacrifice of the Messiah is presented as offered rather for the sin of the nation as such than for the sins of individuals, much light is cast upon it by the rites of the Day of Atonement. The appointment of this day as a yearly fast was to the end that an atonement might be made, first for the priesthood, and then for all the people, having especial reference to their worship as defiled by their sins. Upon this day every individual was called upon to afflict his soul: "For whatsoever soul it be that shall not be afflicted in that same day, he shall be cut off from among his people." (Lev. xxiii. 29.) After atonement had been made for the priests, the high priest kills "the goat of the sin offering that is for the people," and sprinkles its blood, "because of the uncleanness of the children of Israel, and because of their transgressions, even of all their sins." "This shall be an everlasting statute unto you, to make an atonement for the children of Israel because of all their sins, once in the year." (Lev. xvi. 15-24.)
Thus the sacrifices of this day had both an individual and a national application. No Jew thought of himself as separated from his people, and obtaining a blessedness which was purely personal; he must share in the common good or evil. The spheres of individual and of national life were so closely united in the Jewish mind that they could not be separated. The sense of national sin, bringing with it the loss of God's favor and the hiding of His face, could not but deepen in each heart the sense of its own sin and loss; and, on the other hand, the consciousness of personal sin must deepen the sense of God's anger against national sin. He who felt the guilt of his own transgression, would feel most strongly the guilt of the national transgressions. As the sacrifice to be offered by the Messiah was for the whole people, so was it for every individual member, but under the condition that each one "afflict his soul." To one not thus afflicted it had no cleansing efficacy, but he should be cut off from among his people. He would have no part in the Messianic salvation.
Clear as the meaning of the prophet's words is to us, the Jews at no period seemed to have had any clear apprehension of it. That one should die for all, and that He should become the Source of a new and higher life through resurrection, were truths that could be rightly known only as the time of their fulfillment came.
In the prophet Zechariah, after the exile, we find additional particulars respecting a suffering Messiah. (Chaps, xi.-xiii.) A commission is given to one to feed the flock, because their own shepherds failed to do this, But this Divinely appointed Shepherd is rejected and despised by the unthankful flock. And when He says to them, "If ye think good, give me my hire," they weighed for His hire thirty pieces of silver, — the price of a slave. This ingratitude of His people, shown in their treatment of Jehovah's Shepherd, found its highest expression in the reward given to Judas for the betrayal of the Lord, — a pitiful sum, but enough in the eyes of the rulers for the life of " the Prophet of Galilee," and, although they knew it not, "the Good Shepherd who giveth His life for the sheep." (xi. 4, etc.)
Again, mention is made of one whom His people have pierced, or slain, and for whom they shall repent and mourn. "They shall look upon me whom they have pierced, and they shall mourn for Him." (xii. 10.) In these words, as applied by the apostle, reference is made by the prophetic spirit to Jesus as the Incarnate Son, — very God and very Man. (John xix. 34, Rev. i. 7.) *• They shall look upon me — they shall mourn for Him." In Isaiah mention is made of His death, but not by whom He is slain; here it is ascribed to His own people. Even if the words refer, as claimed by some, to a true prophet of that day, slain by the people as a false prophet, they would still have their highest fulfillment in Him who was sent of God, and rejected and slain.
"Awake, O sword, against my shepherd, and against the man that is my fellow, saith the Lord of hosts." (xiii. 7.) Who is this shepherd and fellow of Jehovah? It might perhaps be any one who helps Him in the care of His flock. But the Lord's words applying it to Himself show that, as in the earlier passages just cited, it has its especial fulfillment in Him. (Matt. xxvi. 31.) He is the rejected Shepherd, He is the Man, the Fellow of God.
Let us now turn to the Psalms, to see what indications we may find in them of a suffering Messiah. We have already seen that a king is presented in several Psalms, in terms that could not have been realized in any king that sat on David's throne. So in others we find a sufferer, whose sufferings are not only extraordinary, but stand in a special relation to the setting up of the Messianic Kingdom. The most noticeable of these Psalms is the twenty-second, which we must briefly consider. The whole tenor of this Psalm shows that it is a personal one, the record of personal experiences. There is much in it that might have happened to a faithful servant of Jehovah in an evil time, as for example to Jeremiah, to whom some ascribe it. The Psalmist is "forsaken of God,"' "a reproach of men, and despised of the people;" he is in great bodily affliction; "all my bones are out of joint, . . . my tongue cleaveth to my jaws, and Thou hast brought me into the dust of death." "The assembly of the wicked have enclosed me, they pierced my hands and my feet." If the piercing of his hands and feet refers to crucifixion, it can scarcely be historical, for such punishment was not then inflicted; but according to many it should be rendered "they bound," rather than "they pierced." (Rev. Ver., margin.) It is most probable that the Lord's hands and feet were both bound and pierced.
But granting that much said in this Psalm of persecution and personal outrage might have been realized in the experience of the writer, yet there are clear indications that the Spirit of God looked beyond the present to a greater Sufferer. The person so afflicted is evidently one of great eminence, whose deliverance is a matter of national interest, and a proof to all the people that Jehovah hears the cry of the afflicted. (Verse 23.) This might indeed have been true of David or of Jeremiah; but it could not be said of them, as is said here, that their personal sufferings stood in any direct relations to the setting up of the Messianic Kingdom. "The meek shall eat and be satisfied: ... all the ends of the world shall remember and turn unto the Lord: and all the kindreds of the nations shall worship before Thee. For the kingdom is the Lord's." Only of some very extraordinary one could it be said that his deliverance was of such moment that all the nations should be brought thereby to the worship of God. In the Messiah only could it be said that this Psalm has its complete fulfillment, both as to the sufferings and the glory that should follow. (Isa. liii. 12.)
There is also in this Psalm a clear prophetic reference to the remnant. "A seed shall serve Him, it shall be counted unto the Lord for His generation." (Rev. Ver., margin.) Or, as rendered by some, "He shall be accounted as Lord to that generation." (Verse 30.) A people is to be born, and this people is identical with the "seed," or "generation of the future," — the remnant spoken of by the prophets. As was said by Isaiah, "He shall see His seed." (Ps. cii. 18; Isa. liii. 10.)
A like Psalm is the sixty-ninth. Here, as before, the writer is in deep distress. "I sink in deep mire, where there is no standing: I am come into deep waters, where the floods overflow me." . . . "They that hate me without a cause are more than the hairs of mine head." And they hate and persecute him because of his faithfulness to Jehovah. "The zeal of thine house hath eaten me up, and the reproaches of them that reproached Thee are fallen upon me." But this Psalm differs from the earlier one in the confession of personal sin (verse 5), and in imprecations upon his enemies. (Verse 22, etc.) There is nothing in this Psalm that may not have been in some measure in the experience of any faithful servant of God in a time of apostasy. Here also there is, though not so distinctly expressed, a connection between the writer's sufferings and the salvation of Zion. (xxxiv.-xxxvi.) Both of these Psalms were quoted and applied by the Lord to Himself.
In many other Psalms there is confession of sin, sometimes national, sometimes personal; and there is in some a remarkable blending of the two. In Psalm li. the Psalmist, whether David or another, makes confession of his sin, and asks forgiveness, and then by a sudden transition passes from himself to the people and its distress. "Do good in Thy good pleasure unto Zion, build Thou the walls of Jerusalem."
Thus we find in the Prophets and the Psalms an ideal — not imaginary — Sufferer; One in whom the idea of suffering is fulfilled. He stands as Mediator between the sinful people and their offended God, and bears the punishment of their iniquity. To His sufferings, which had been foreshadowed in the law, and foretold by the prophets, the Psalmists give personal expression. It was not consistent with the moral trial of the people and their free action that the Sufferer should be distinctly mentioned; nor could the true nature of His Sacrifice, or its bearing upon all men, be known till the Incarnate Son died and rose again. Yet so much light was given to the chosen people that the Lord could say to them: "O fools, and slow of heart to believe all that the prophets have spoken: ought not Christ to have suffered these things, and to enter into His glory?" (Luke xxiv. 25, 26; 44-46.)