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Don Fortner | Danville, Kentucky
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Isaiah’s Description of Christ’s Death in Three Tenses
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Isaiah 52:13-53:12

A very vivid description of the death of the Lord and Savior Jesus Christ is recorded in Isaiah 52:13-53:12. Isaiah describes Christ’s death in all three tenses – past, present, and future – and repeatedly switches between them in his narrative. Observe:

Future: 52:13 Behold, My Servant shall deal prudently; He shall be exalted and extolled and be very high.

Past: 52:14 Just as many were astonished at you, so His visage was marred more than any man, and His form more than the sons of men;

Future: 52:15 So shall He sprinkle many nations. Kings shall shut their mouths at Him; for what had not been told them they shall see, and what they had not heard they shall consider. ... 53:2 For He shall grow up before Him as a tender plant, and as a root out of dry ground.

Present: He has no form or comeliness;

Future: and when we see Him, there is no beauty that we should desire Him.

Present: 53:3 He is despised and rejected by men, a Man of sorrows and acquainted with grief.

Past: And we hid, as it were, our faces from Him; He was despised, and we did not esteem Him. 53:4 Surely He has borne our griefs and carried our sorrows; yet we esteemed Him stricken, smitten by God, and afflicted. 53:5 But He was wounded for our transgressions, He was bruised for our iniquities; the chastisement for our peace was upon Him, and by His stripes we are healed. 53:6 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. 53:7 He was oppressed and He was afflicted, yet He opened not His mouth; He was led as a lamb to the slaughter, and as a sheep before its shearers is silent, so He opened not His mouth. 53:8 He was taken from prison and from judgment, and who will declare His generation? For He was cut off from the land of the living; for the transgressions of My people He was stricken. 53:9 And they made His grave with the wicked – but with the rich at His death, because He had done no violence, nor was any deceit in His mouth. 53:10 Yet it pleased the LORD to bruise Him; He has put Him to grief.

Future: When You make His soul an offering for sin, He shall see His seed, He shall prolong His days, and the pleasure of the LORD shall prosper in His hand. 53:11 He shall see the travail of His soul, and be satisfied. By His knowledge My righteous Servant shall justify many, for He shall bear their iniquities. 53:12 Therefore I will divide Him a portion with the great, and He shall divide the spoil with the strong,

Past: because 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.

Isaiah wrote this passage about 700 BC. It therefore does not surprise us that he wrote as a prophet, describing Christ’s death as a future event. However, it is of great interest that he wrote also as a contemporary, describing Christ’s death as a present event. Furthermore, he wrote as a historian, describing Christ’s death as a past event.

How can Jesus Christ’s death be described by Isaiah as an event occurring in all three tenses – in the past and present and future? How can Christ be said to have died for the salvation of His people more than 700 years before He was born? How could Old Testament saints speak of Christ having already in His death been their sin-bearer (53:4a, 6b, 12b) and penal substitute (53:4b-5a), and conclude “by His stripes we are healed” (53:5b)?

How can all this be? We here cite some reasons.

I. Christ’s death is not confined to the physical and visible manifestation of it on Mount Calvary. If His death was indeed confined to that physical and visible event on Mount Calvary, none of the saving benefits of that death would have been available for those who died prior to His death. Old Testament believers would have died unjustified, unredeemed, unforgiven, and unsaved. But such clearly is not the case.

1. Old Testament saints knew Christ as their sin-bearer: “Surely He has borne our griefs and carried our sorrows” (53:5); “the LORD has laid on Him the iniquity of us all” (53:6); “He bore the sin of many” (53:12).
2. Old Testament saints knew Christ as their penal substitute: “He was numbered with the transgressors” (53:12); “for the transgressions of [Jehovah’s] people He was stricken” (53:8); “He was wounded for our transgressions, He was bruised for our iniquities; the chastisement for our peace was upon Him” (53:4f).
3. Old Testament saints knew Christ as their saving interceder: “He poured out His soul unto death ... and made intercession for the transgressors” (53:12). And God heard (Psalm 22:24).
4. Old Testament saints were healed by Christ’s blood prior to His physical death: “by His stripes [from scourges He endured as a substitute] we are healed” (53:5) from all spiritual infirmity.
5. Old Testament saints were justified by Christ’s blood prior to His physical death. Jehovah prophesied to Old Testament saints, “My righteous Servant shall justify many” (53:11). Christ would do so through the shedding of His blood (Romans 5:9). Nevertheless, Old Testament saints were justified before that blood was physically shed. Abraham was justified in the same manner as New Testament saints (Romans ch.4). Job also was justified, for God declared him to be “blameless and upright” (Job 1:1, 8; 2:3). “Noah found grace in the eyes of the LORD” and therefore “was a just man and perfect in his generations” (Genesis 6:8f). God never imputed sin to His Old Testament saints (Psalm 32:1f / Romans 4:4-8). Furthermore, “He has not observed iniquity in Jacob, nor has He seen wickedness in Israel” (Numbers 23:21).
6. Old Testament saints were redeemed by Christ’s blood prior to His physical death. Even in Old Testament days, God’s messenger spoke of Christ when saying of men under conviction of sin, “Deliver him from going down to the Pit; I have found a ransom” (Job 33:24). Christ assured Old Testament saints: “Fear not, for I have redeemed you; I have called you by your name; you are Mine” (Isaiah 43:1); “I have blotted out, like a thick cloud, your transgressions, and like a cloud, your sins. Return to Me, for I have redeemed you” (Isaiah 44:22). They prayed to Him, “Remember Your congregation, which You have purchased of old [i.e., from eternity]” (Psalm 74:2). Job confessed his redemption in saying “I know that my Redeemer lives” (Job 19:25) – even before his Redeemer was born! All God’s elect of every age were “in Him [Christ] before the foundation of the world”, and assured that “In Him we have redemption through His blood, the forgiveness of sins” (Ephesians 1:4-7).
7. Old Testament saints were saved prior to Christ’s physical death (Psalm 85:2-4): “You have forgiven the iniquity of Your people; You have covered all their sin. You have taken away all Your wrath; You have turned from the fierceness of Your anger. Restore us, O God of our salvation.”

II. Christ’s death occurred from eternity. In men’s eyes, Christ’s death occurred when He was physically crucified on Mount Calvary. But in God’s eyes, that physical event was but a visible manifestation to and for men of what God “foreordained before the foundation of the world” (1 Peter 1:20). What God foreordained from eternity was by Him considered already done: “Known to God from eternity are all His works” (Acts 15:18); even from eternity “God ... calls those things which do not exist as though they did” (Romans 4:17). When God foreordained before the foundation of the world that His people be redeemed “with the precious blood of Christ, as of a lamb without blemish and without spot” (1 Peter 1:19), Jesus Christ was “the Lamb slain from the foundation of the world” (Revelation 13:8) – from eternity!

III. “Jesus Christ is the same yesterday, today, and forever” (Hebrews 13:8). This New Testament declaration of Christ’s eternal immutability was also made by Himself in Old Testament times (Malachi 3:6): “I am the LORD, I do not change; therefore you are not consumed, O sons of Jacob.”

What Jesus Christ is to His people today is what He was to them in the past and what He will be to them in the future. He is “the author of eternal salvation to all who obey Him” (Hebrews 5:9), and therefore their eternal Savior and Salvation, eternal Justifier and Righteousness, eternal Redeemer and Redemption. He was as much the Savior and Justifier and Redeemer and Ransom and Forgiver of Old Testament believers as He is of New Testament believers.

Very appropriate is Isaiah’s question in the midst of this passage: “Who has believed our report?” (53:1a). And very satisfactory is Isaiah’s answer: “to whom has the arm of the LORD been revealed?” (53:1b). Do you believe Christ’s gospel? – Daniel E. Parks (December 18, 2011)

Daniel Parks Daniel Parks

Daniel E. Parks has ministered as an evangelist in the Caribbean for twenty-five years. He currently ministers to Sovereign Grace Baptist Church of Saint...

Category:  Daniel Parks

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