Dedicated to the devotional, exegetical and philosophical study of theological paradox in Conservative, Thoroughly Biblical, Historically Orthodox, Essentially Reformed theology . . . to the glory of God alone!

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

Isaiah 53:5 - Wrath and Discipline

Editor's Note: With chagrin, I must remark that our slowly progressing study of Isaiah 53 might be the longest running series in blogging history. This particular post has been 15 months in the making! I hope it was worth the wait. The challenges contained in this verse led to the recent series of posts on the extent of the atonement, which had to be sorted through before this post could be finished. May you be blessed by the encouragements given through Isaiah in his astoundingly deep words about the work of Christ in our behalf.

But He was pierced through for our transgressions, 
He was crushed for our iniquities
The chastening for our well-being fell upon Him, 
And by His scourging we are healed.

This verse is a response to the preceding phrase: "we esteemed him stricken, smitten by God, and afflicted" (Isaiah 53:4b). It answers the questions, "Why was He so afflicted, grieved and sorrowful?" and, "Why would God treat Him this way?" The reasons are clear: because we sinned, and in order to restore us.

Here Isaiah brings the substitutionary and representative aspects of Christ's work into focus. As substitute, Christ stands in the place of the condemned sinner and receives the full outpouring of God's wrath. Yet He stands also in the place of the redeemed sinner and represents that sinner in the corrective judgments that will bring full restoration. As the believer's substitute, Christ closes the door on wrath. As his representative, He opens the blessed way into God's discipline - the way of sonship.

First he endures wrath so that we can escape from it, then He experiences divine discipline so we can embrace it. There is the wrath which we deserve but haven't yet received, and then there is the discipline we need but can't receive without first being accepted as sons. Christ suffers the one substitutionally so that we can't suffer it, and the other representatively so that we may join Him in it

The Substitutionary Suffering of Christ

The verse divides neatly into two halves, indicating substitutionary atonement first, and then representative suffering. As our substitute, Christ suffered in our stead - so that the sting of sin and death is now removed. Thus, as believers, we can never experience what He experienced there. We could have, and should have, but by God's grace we never will. This is the message of the first half of the verse:

But He was pierced through for our transgressions, 
He was crushed for our iniquities

Pierced Through - Heb. HHALAL, חָלַל = to wound (fatally), bore through, pierce, bore. The word can also have the meaning: to profane, defile, pollute, desecrate

In the literal sense, Christ was "pierced" 5 times; in each hand, in each foot, and then in His side. In the figurative sense, God allowed him to be defiled by our sin. Sin defiles the soul, piercing and killing it.

Crushed - Heb. DAKA, דָּכָא = to crush, be crushed, be contrite, be broken

Though our Lord experienced the most intense physical pain, He was not crushed physically. In fact, He was preserved from the breaking of bones (Exodus 12:46; Numbers 9:12; Psalm 34:20). He was spiritually broken, crushed and made contrite by the bearing of our sins. The weight and pressure of them was hideously oppressive to His soul.

Here He is treated as an enemy, and not as a son. "Piercing" and "crushing" describe the furious destruction that would be meted out upon one's adversary. One pierces and crushes his foe, not his child. Thus, Christ represented the enemies of God and experienced the kind of destruction they are due: the terror of having to bear their own iniquity and its destructive results.

The Representative Suffering of Christ

As our representative - our brother - Christ suffered with us. In the first half of the verse, he accomplished what was needed to justify us. But in the second half he brings about our much needed sanctification. In this sense He not only suffers for us, but also with us, and in order that we may suffer with Him. He thus provides the ground by which we can be accepted, not merely as sinners justified through a gifted righteousness, but also as sons sanctified through experiential identification with THE SON. This is the message of the second half of the verse:

The chastening for our well-being fell upon Him, 
And by His scourging we are healed.

Chastening - Heb. MUSAR מוּסָר = discipline, chastening, correction. "Essentially, it is a bond, a checking, restraint, i.e., correction which results in education." (Zodhiates)

Well-being - Heb. SHALOM שָׁלוֹם = completeness, soundness, welfare, peace. ". . . Shalom is a harmonious state of soul and mind, both externally and internally. . . . Though shalom can mean the absence of strife, it usually is much more. It expresses completeness, harmony, and fulfillment." (Zodhiates)

Scourging - Heb. HHABURAH חַבּוּרָה = bruise, stripe, wound, blow

Proverbs 20:30 Blows that wound cleanse away evil; strokes make clean the innermost parts.

Healed - Heb. RAPHA רָפָא = to heal, make healthful

In the second half of the verse, He suffers the corrective discipline which would be administered to a beloved but disobedient son. "Chastening" and "scourging" describe the discipline a Father administers to his erring child. Christ was standing in our place, no longer as rebellious sinners deserving wrath, but as justified sons needing the Father's discipline. He suffers this discipline not so that we can avoid it, but so that we can enter into it with Him.

In the first part of the verse, He suffered for the sin of the whole world. In the second, He suffered for the benefit of those who are redeemed and brought to sonship through His suffering. As He suffered the fullness of divine wrath for the sin of the world, so He suffered the fullness of divine discipline for the sins of the believer.

Thus we find God, in the process of making atonement, already responding to the anticipated effects of the atonement.

We now share in Christ's sufferings. We take up our crosses and follow Him. Christian suffering and sanctification in the New Testament are framed as a participation in the sufferings of Christ, and a sharing in the cross.
Matthew 16:24 Then Jesus said to His disciples, "If anyone wishes to come after Me, he must deny himself, and take up his cross and follow Me."
Luke 9:23 And He was saying to them all, "If anyone wishes to come after Me, he must deny himself, and take up his cross daily and follow Me."
Luke 14:27 "Whoever does not carry his own cross and come after Me cannot be My disciple.
I Peter 2:24 and He Himself bore our sins in His body on the cross, so that we might die to sin and live to righteousness; for by His wounds you were healed.
I Peter 4:1-2 Therefore, since Christ has suffered in the flesh, arm yourselves also with the same purpose, because he who has suffered in the flesh has ceased from sin, so as to live the rest of the time in the flesh no longer for the lusts of men, but for the will of God.
Romans 6:10-11 For the death that He died, He died to sin once for all; but the life that He lives, He lives to God. Even so consider yourselves to be dead to sin, but alive to God in Christ Jesus.
Colossians 1:24 Now I rejoice in my sufferings for your sake, and in my flesh I do my share on behalf of His body, which is the church, in filling up what is lacking in Christ's afflictions.
The first half of Isaiah 53:5 showed us our culpability as sinners under God's wrath. The second half speaks of our well being as God's redeemed children. Contained in every line, and forming the link between these two concepts, is the suffering of Christ in behalf of sinners. His suffering accomplishes our justification and empowers our sanctification.

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