The Suffering Servant: Part One - Atonement and Imputation

This is the first of several articles over the text of Isaiah 52:13-53:12. With every article I will focus on a different theme found in the text until I’ve exhausted the text. Today we will be zooming in on chapter 53:5-6,10. I encourage you to read this article with your bible open so you are able to see what I am saying, and also it’s best to read the whole section of 52:13-53:12 so you have some context for what I will be writing about for the next few weeks. So let’s get into the Atonement and Imputation. 

I chose to deal with both the Atonement and Imputation for the reason that they are so closely linked. By studying them both I was better able to understand each individually, so I’m hoping that works for you too. Why does sin have to be dealt with in such a way? Hebrews 9:22 says, “Indeed, under the law almost everything is purified with blood, and without the shedding of blood there is no forgiveness of sins.” The wages of sin is death, and blood has the life in it, so the shedding of life was required. God’s Law is holy and perfect, and we need to understand that the LORD Is Holy and can not condone the breaking of His law. We also have to understand that even though we justly deserve hell, every single one of us, God is also merciful, compassionate, and upholds justice, while remaining compassionate to His chosen people. 

So let’s first look at today’s first verse, 53:5. It reads, “But he was pierced for our transgressions; he was crushed for our iniquities; upon him was the chastisement that brought us peace, and with his wounds we are healed.” So let’s focus on two things here. The first being this Servant wasn’t suffering for what he had done, but for “OUR transgressions and OUR iniquities.” Also, it was “his chastisement that brought US peace.” This beautiful passage was written roughly 700 years before Christ was born, yet it perfectly paints a picture of what Christ’s work on the Cross was for. We are healed by the sufferings of Christ. Through Christ’s death on the Cross, the wages of sin, which is death, has been cancelled. Christ can reverse the effects of sin, make us new creations, and in the end, destroy death. We just come to realize that Christ suffered for us. The Atonement and Imputation happened objectively outside of ourselves. We tend to lean on subjective salvation, which means we subjectively search out a feeling, our own works, etc. as a means by which we can see that we are saved. What we fail to see is that our salvation is anchored in space and time. Jesus did not lie when He said that “it is finished” on the Cross, it truly was finished. Our debt was cancelled, our sins were atoned for. Since this sacrifice was perfect, its effect can be seen through time. We are not saved subjectively through revival, or some other example of emotional response, we are saved by the objective work of Christ FOR US. 

Charles Spurgeon, in a sermon over Isaiah 53:5 said this, “Through the suffering of our Lord, sin is pardoned, and we are delivered from the power of evil. This is regarded as the healing of a deadly malady. Sin is abnormal, a sort of cancerous growth which ought not be within the soul. Sin is disturbing to humanness; sin dehumanizes a person. Here God declares the remedy for this deadly disease: healing comes through Christ’s wounds. The whole of Christ was made a sacrifice for us; His whole manhood suffered. As to His body, it shared with His mind in a grief that can never be described. In His passion, when He suffered instead of us, He was in agony.” So Christ was that Lamb, in perfection, that perfectly atoned for the sins of His people. Just like the Passover Lamb in Exodus that covered God’s chosen people with its blood, we are covered in the blood of the Lamb of God, Jesus Christ. We all need a savior, because we all fall short of the law. The next verse shows us this. 

“So we see that while we were all guilty sinners and all deserve death, Christ came and died in our place, taking the horrid punishment we deserve.

In Isaiah 53:6 we read, “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.” If that doesn’t define grace, I don’t know what does. Even as we were actively turning our back on God and turn toward our own sinful desires, Christ died for us, His chosen people. The guilt of our sin was transferred to Christ and He offered Himself as the perfect sacrifice in our place. We see in 2 Corinthians 5:21 that, “God made Him to be sin who knew no sin.” So we see that while we were all guilty sinners and all deserve death, Christ came and died in our place, taking the horrid punishment we deserve. This is the first part of the Imputation. On the flip side of the Imputation, verse 11 says, “... the righteous one, my servant, make many to be accounted righteous and he shall bear their iniquities.” We not only have our guilt removed that would damn us to hell, we receive, from Christ himself, His righteousness that will grant us heaven. All this is done without anything that we can offer. After all, Isaiah says in 64:6, “... all our righteous deeds are like a polluted garment.” Pure grace. Turn in your bible back to Leviticus 16. You might be thinking, “What does this have to do with Christ?” Here God lays down the way in which His chosen nation would come to be atoned for. It’s twofold. A goat was sacrificed and its blood was sprinkled on everything, including the people and the ark of the covenant. The priest would confess the sins of the whole nation over another goat, and release it away from the camp. The blood atoned and the sins were imputed, a type and shadow of Christ’s work on the Cross. 

John Calvin writes in his commentary on Isaiah 53:6, “Here we have a beautiful contrast. In ourselves we are scattered; in Christ we are gathered together. By nature we go astray, and are driven headlong to destruction; in Christ we find the course by which we are conducted to the harbor of our salvation. Our sins are a heavy load; but they are laid on Christ, by whom we are freed from the load. Thus, when we were ruined, and, being estranged from God, we’re hastening to hell, Christ took upon him the filthiness of our iniquities, in order to rescue us from everlasting destruction. This must refer exclusively to guilt and punishment; for he was free from sin (Hebrews 4:15; 1 Peter 2:22). Let everyone, therefore, diligently consider his own iniquities, that he may have a true relish of that grace, and may obtain the benefit of the death of Christ.” I love that, “true relish of that grace.” Let’s look at our last verse to see a little better what that grace is all about. 

Isaiah 53:10 reads, “Yet it was will of the LORD to crush him; he has put him to grief; when his soul makes an offering for guilt, he shall prolong his days; the will of the LORD shall prosper in his hand.” Although at first glance this seems strange, we can look at Acts 2:23 and read, God delivered Christ up “according to the definite plan and foreknowledge of God.” God, from the very beginning, knew that Christ would die for His people, God was willing from the very beginning to have His Son hung naked on a filthy Cross, and bear the punishment of His chosen people because of their sin. Our sinful minds cannot fully grasp this, but if we come to faith in Christ, we come to a much better understanding of such compassion, mercy, love, and grace. 

John Calvin wrote in his commentary on Isaiah 53:10, “This illustrates more fully what I formerly stated in a few words, that the Prophet in asserting Christ’s innocence, aims at something more to defend him from all reproach. The object therefore is, that we should consider the cause, in order to have experience of the effect; for God appoints nothing at random and hence it follows that the cause of his death is lawful. We must also keep in view the contrast. In Christ there was no fault; why, then, was the LORD pleased that he should suffer? Because he stood in our room, and in no other way than by his death could the justice of God be satisfied.” As I said in the beginning of this article, God is just, and He must punish sin. God is also gracious. So He sent His suffering servant, His Son, Jesus Christ, to come and fulfill the law we couldn’t, then impute that righteousness to all of us who would come to faith in Him, and take from us all the guilt that demands holy justice, and nails it to the Cross to atone for our sin. 


“Oh give thanks to the LORD, for He is good, for His steadfast love endures forever.” -Psalm 107:1

Lee Jones