Isaiah 53 cannot refer to Jesus because it says the servant of the Lord would not lift up his voice or cry out, yet Jesus cried out several times on the cross, once in near blasphemy (Psalm 22:1).
One of the most striking aspects of the suffering and death of Jesus was that he went as a lamb to the slaughter, not resisting those who arrested him, not defending himself before his accusers, and even forgiving those who crucified him. In this, he has become the worldwide symbol of a man who truly “turned the other cheek.” As for his quoting Psalm 22:1 on the cross—a beloved passage of Scripture—how is this “near blasphemy”?
Isaiah 53:7 says of the servant of the Lord: “He was oppressed and afflicted, yet he did not open his mouth; he was led like a lamb to the slaughter, and as a sheep before her shearers is silent, so he did not open his mouth.” This quite accurately describes the actions and attitudes of Yeshua the Messiah when he “was oppressed and afflicted.” In fact, his followers pointed to this very text to indicate that he, quite clearly, was the one of whom the prophet Isaiah spoke (see Acts 8:26–39). That’s why Peter, an eyewitness of the Messiah’s suffering and death, could write of him, “When they hurled their insults at him, he did not retaliate; when he suffered, he made no threats. Instead, he entrusted himself to him who judges justly” (1 Peter 2:23).
Let’s look for a moment at the specific details of Jesus’ arrest, trials, beatings, mockings, flogging, and crucifixion:
- When Jesus was arrested in the Garden of Gethsemane, he did not allow his disciples to fight on his behalf, saying to Peter, “Put your sword back in its place, for all who draw the sword will die by the sword” (see Matt. 26:52). Thus, he went as a lamb to the slaughter.
- When all kinds of false charges were brought against him at his bogus trial before the high priest, the Scriptures record, “The high priest stood up and said to Jesus, ‘Are you not going to answer? What is this testimony that these men are bringing against you?’ But Jesus remained silent” (Matt. 26:62–63a). Here is a man being falsely accused, with the death penalty hanging over his head, and he refuses to defend himself! It is only when the high priest orders him to state whether he is the Messiah, the Son of God, that he says, “Yes, it is as you say.… But I say to all of you: In the future you will see the Son of Man sitting at the right hand of the Mighty One and coming on the clouds of heaven” (Matt. 26:64, pointing his accusers to the prophetic picture of the Son of man in Daniel 7:13–14). When some of those at the trial then began to spit on him and punch him, he did not say a word (Matt. 26:67). His trial before Pontius Pilate, the Roman governor, was conducted along similar lines:
Early in the morning, all the chief priests and the elders of the people came to the decision to put Jesus to death. They bound him, led him away and handed him over to Pilate, the governor.
Meanwhile Jesus stood before the governor, and the governor asked him, “Are you the king of the Jews?”
“Yes, it is as you say,” Jesus replied.
When he was accused by the chief priests and the elders, he gave no answer. Then Pilate asked him, “Don’t you hear the testimony they are bringing against you?” But Jesus made no reply, not even to a single charge—to the great amazement of the governor.
Once again, we see Yeshua going as a lamb to the slaughter—without resistance of any kind—and his refusal to defend himself amazes the governor.156
- After Pilate sentenced him to be crucified, Jesus was flogged and then abused by the Roman soldiers. The Gospels record the picture quite graphically. But note carefully: At no point does Jesus resist; at no point does he respond to his captors; at no point does he raise his voice and revile those attacking him. He suffers silently like a lamb.
Then the governor’s soldiers took Jesus into the Praetorium and gathered the whole company of soldiers around him. They stripped him and put a scarlet robe on him, and then twisted together a crown of thorns and set it on his head. They put a staff in his right hand and knelt in front of him and mocked him. “Hail, king of the Jews!” they said. They spit on him, and took the staff and struck him on the head again and again. After they had mocked him, they took off the robe and put his own clothes on him. Then they led him away to crucify him.
- Comparing the verses just cited with some of the other related accounts penned by Yeshua’s followers, we see that in each stage of his suffering, it is stated that he was led away, just as a lamb being led to slaughter: First, he was seized and led away to his trial at the home of the high priest (Luke 22:54); second, he was bound and led away to his trial before Pilate (Matt. 27:2; Mark 15:1); third, he was led away to be crucified after being flogged and abused (Matt. 27:31; Luke 23:26). This is exactly what Isaiah prophesied: “He was oppressed and afflicted, yet he did not open his mouth; he was led like a lamb to the slaughter, and as a sheep before her shearers is silent, so he did not open his mouth” (Isa. 53:7).
And what does our blessed Messiah say when he is being crucified? He prays that his Father would forgive those nailing him to the cross! (See Luke 23:34.) And when the soldiers and religious leaders mock him as he hangs there naked and humiliated, challenging him to demonstrate that he is the Messiah, the Son of God, he says nothing in defense. He doesn’t utter a word! Nor does he reply to the two criminals crucified on either side of him, both of whom initially mock him as well (see Matt. 27:38, 44). It is only when one of these men comes to his senses and recognizes that there is something different about Jesus, that he is in fact God’s chosen one, that Jesus says, “I tell you the truth, today you will be with me in paradise” (Luke 23:43). So, he only speaks to show mercy, not to retaliate. This goes beyond the noncombative qualities of a lamb!
His only other utterances on the cross are (1) his recitation of Psalm 22:1, pointing those listening to the words of the righteous sufferer who would be delivered from death by God (Matt. 27:46; see also below, 4.24); (2) his committing his mother’s care into the hands of his disciple John (John 19:26–27); (3) the words, “I am thirsty” (John 19:28);157 and (4) his last words, namely, “It is finished” and “Father, into your hands I commit my spirit” (John 19:30; Luke 23:46; see also Matt. 27:50). None of these utterances, in spirit or in letter, violate the words of Isaiah 53. Rather, like a lamb, he did not resist his oppressors nor did he seek to defend himself. Like a sheep silent before his shearers, he did not raise his voice when mocked, ridiculed, beaten, flogged, and crucified. And when he did speak, it was to commune with his Father, to pronounce mercy and forgiveness for the guilty, and to commit his mother to the care of one of his trusted followers. Truly, this was the Lamb of God! (See John 1:29.)
156 The account of Jesus’ trial before Pilate is most fully related in John 18:28–40, and at no time in that account does Jesus seek to defend himself, protest, or resist the sentence of death. Rather, he accepts it as his destiny.
157 As explained in John 19:28a, Jesus uttered these words “… knowing that all was now completed, and so that the Scripture would be fulfilled,” with apparent reference to verses such as Psalm 22:15, “My strength is dried up like a potsherd, and my tongue sticks to the roof of my mouth; you lay me in the dust of death.”