Wednesday, June 22, 2011

The Glory of the Messiah

Messianic prophecy delights my soul. They not only reveal my Savior but also the intricate needlework that unites all Scripture through the revelation of a single Person. And the delights seem endless. Just last week, I was reading,

• See, my servant will act wisely; he will be raised and lifted up and highly exalted. Just as there were many who were appalled at him--his appearance was so disfigured beyond that of any man and his form marred beyond human likeness--so will he sprinkle many nations, and kings will shut their mouths because of him. (Isaiah 52:13-15)

The Hebrew word for “sprinkle” is a word that is only used in conjunction with the Temple ritual of sprinkling for cleansing of sin with either water or blood. Here, it is used in conjunction with the “servant[’s]…disfigured…marred” appearance, seemingly caused by being “pierced for our transgressions…crushed for our iniquities” (Isaiah 53:5).

This event would be so awesome that “kings will shut their mouths because of him.” They will be left speechless in the face of His glory. (It’s usually the commoners who are left speechless by the glory of the king!) But was it really His surpassing glory that they would now behold?

• He will be raised and lifted up and highly exalted (52:13).

What is the significance of this passage? And how could this “servant” be “highly exalted” and “disfigured... [and] marred” at the same time?

In Isaiah 6, Isaiah had a life-changing encounter with his God:

• In the year that King Uzziah died, I saw the Lord seated on a throne, high and exalted, and the train of his robe filled the temple. Above him were seraphs, each with six wings: With two wings they covered their faces, with two they covered their feet, and with two they were flying. (Isaiah 6:1-2)

The appearance of “the Lord seated on a throne, high and exalted” was so glorious that the holy seraphs had to cover their faces lest they might see Him. Likewise, Isaiah declared that “I am undone,” because He beheld the glory of the Lord “high and exalted.” (John tells us that
“Isaiah said this because he saw Jesus' glory and spoke about him” (John 12:41)). Interestingly, these two latter terms are the same Hebrew terms used in Isaiah 52:13 for “raised and lifted up!”

Apparently, the same glory that attended Isaiah’s overwhelming encounter also pertained to the “servant,” who would be “disfigured” – hardly a thing of glory. However, Scripture seems to tell us that the glory of the “disfigured” Servant surpassed the glory of the “the Lord sitting on the throne.”

In Isaiah 52:13, the “servant” is not merely “raised and lifted up,” He is also “highly exalted,” as if to indicate that the glory that the kings would see (Isaiah 52) would surpass the glory Isaiah had beheld (Isaiah 6)!

But isn’t God equally glorious wherever we might behold Him? Yes, but certain events tend to highlight His glory as when the Apostles beheld the glory of Christ on the Mt. of Transfiguration (Matthew 17). Also, Jesus talked about the coming time of His glory:

• "Now my heart is troubled, and what shall I say? 'Father, save me from this hour'? No, it was for this very reason I came to this hour. Father, glorify your name!" John 12:27-28

• "Now is the Son of Man glorified and God is glorified in him. If God is glorified in him, God will glorify the Son in himself, and will glorify him at once.” (John 13:31-32)

The time of His ultimate glory was the time of His utter humiliation, the time when He would die for your sins and mine, the time of the desertion of those closest to Him, the time of the bloody and disfiguring Cross. How can His disfigurement and rejection by the Father be the time of His glory?

What better testimony of love could there have been? While all His disciples abandoned Him, He did not abandon them. While they sought to save their own lives, He abandoned His own and saved theirs. And the world had to behold this:

• But the world must learn that I love the Father and that I do exactly what my Father has commanded me. (John 14:31)

Out of love, He endured the judgment of the Cross for those who deserved judgment. This was His glory, the time that He would be “raised and lifted up and highly exalted,” the demonstration that would shut the mouths of kings and put the entire world to shame. It would also prove to them that there was salvation available through the One who had paid the highest of prices for rebellious humankind.

Does “raised and lifted up and highly exalted” really mean this, or are we illegitimately reading into this passage our New Testament perspective? Although today’s rabbis make strenuous denunciations that Isaiah 52 and 53 are Messianic, this wasn’t always the case. Perhaps the most famous interpreter of the Hebrew Scriptures, Moses Maimonides (“Ramban”) understood this entire passage as Messianic:

• “…The text continues, referring still to the Messiah, ‘As many were astonished at three’ [52:14]. Their astonishment was shown by mocking him when he first arrived, and by asking how one ‘despised’ ‘meek’ and riding upon an ass’ (Zech. 9:9), could conquer all the kings of the world who had laid hold upon Israel, and rescue him from their hand: so acted Pharaoh towards Moses, when he mocked him, as he says ‘How will Pharaoh listen to me’ (Exo 6:12)…’The kings will close their mouths’ [52:15}, and even in the chamber of their heart will be afraid to speak of him…(What the Rabbonim Say about Moshiach, Douglas Pyle, 47)

More to the point at hand, Rabbi Naphtali Ben Asher Altschuler (16th C.) had expressed his disapproval of several rabbinic exegetes who had wrongly abandoned the Messianic interpretation of the passage:

• “I am surprised that Rashi and Rabbi David Kimchi have not, with the Targum, applied them to the Messiah likewise…The prophet [Isaiah] say he shall be ‘high and exalted and lofty’ [52:13], expressing the idea under various forms, in order to indicate that his exaltation will be something extraordinary. It is proof that the Parashah refers to our Messiah, that alluding to the future Deliverance, the prophet said before, ‘Break forth into joy, you waste places of Jerusalem’ (52:9), and ‘How beautiful on the mountains,’ etc. (52:7), and immediately afterwards continues, ‘Behold my servant shall prosper’ [52:13; “Act wisely” NIV] etc.” (61)

The Lord knows that we are weak in faith and has abundantly provided for those who will seek Him out through His Word.

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