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from Isaiah 53:12

Therefore I will divide him a portion with the many, and he shall divide the spoil with the strong, because he poured out his soul to death and was numbered with the transgressors; yet he bore the sin of many, and makes intercession for the transgressors.

The last of Isaiah’s four “Servant Songs” ends with the Messiah as a victorious general sharing the fruit of his triumph with God’s people.[1] But HOW he gains the victory, that’s the shocker![2]

Denial of St.Peter

Rembrandt van Rijn, 1659

Zoom in on that one phrase, numbered with the transgressors. What are “transgressors” anyway? Most people think of transgressors as something like “trespassers”—like when my friends and I in elementary school would take a shortcut through someone’s yard, and if the owner saw us he’d yell out the window and we’d all run. We transgressed his boundaries, and I suppose that wasn’t a good thing. But Isaiah’s word choice means something much worse. How about “REBELS”? —godless, hardened, violent, mutinous rebels against the Living God. We live in his universe, we breathe his air, he created us to live for his honor, but we say, “NO! I rebel! I reject you. I will live for myself.” Jesus allowed himself to be numbered with the rebels—to be counted as one of them, considered to be like them.[3]

In contrast, think about the Old Testament character, Job—a righteous man in comparison to other sinners. He endured terrible trials and some less-than-helpful friends, and made six long speeches to defend his righteousness and prove that he was not to be numbered with the transgressors. Aren’t we all like that, quick to defend ourselves against unjust criticism, and spending far too much mental energy propping up our fragile egos? Jesus was not like that. He allowed himself to be numbered with the rebels.

All humanity numbers Jesus with the rebels. The Gospels give the details.[4] The Jewish leaders and the Old Covenant nation shout, “Crucify him!” Then Pilate, the Roman governor, releases the notorious murderer Barabbas and hands Christ over to be crucified by the Gentiles. What a grotesque picture, our Lord Jesus Christ lifted up on the cross between two thieves, literally numbered with rebels. And even they revile Jesus; the rebels number Jesus as a worse rebel!

The point is clear enough. The Scripture comes to fulfillment, Why do the nations rage and the peoples plot in vain? The kings of the earth set themselves, and the rulers take counsel together, against the LORD and against his Anointed…. All humanity rebels against God and rejects his Son.

But above all—and surely the hardest blow for Jesus, in his consciousness as the Holy, unique, eternal Son—God his Father numbered him with the rebels. Under a sin-blackened sky the one perfect man cried out “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” And the Father who loved him would not hear him. The Lord Jesus Christ, as a human like us, numbered with sinners, totally identified with us, goes to the deepest pit of Hell where he bore the sin of many.

He bore the sin of many. To drive the idea home, here’s a little Hebrew lesson I hope you’ll never forget. (I'm not a Hebrew scholar, so little memory tricks can help.) The word translated “bore” is nasa—like NASA, the space agency! Nasa can mean to lift up, to bear, to carry away. Think rockets! If you’re in Christ by faith, he bore your sins, lifted them up, shot them into deep space, and plunged them into a black hole never to return again. That’s an update of You will cast all our sins into the depths of the sea, in case you’re wondering.

Isn’t that the kind of clear relationship you want to have with the God who made you? Your guilt removed, your shame covered, your eternal future bright and filled with hope? And perfectly restored relationships with others who love the Savior. It’s the only alternative to being “numbered with rebels”—the frightening state of all humanity outside of Christ.

Dear friend, may the Lord stir you to trust in his astonishing mercy shown in Christ, and to serve him in freedom and joy. And Happy Easter to you, every day!

[1] The “many” are all those whom the Servant designed to save—all that the Father gives me (John 6:37). I believe the “strong” are the kings (who) shall shut their mouths because of him (52:15), and worship him. Nations shall come to your light, and kings to the brightness of your rising (60:3). Other Scriptures cited in this paper: Psalm 2:1-2, Mark 15:34, Micah 7:19

[2] His path to victory: 1. The Servant’s voluntary self-offering (He poured out his soul to death.). 2. His full identification with sinners in need of salvation (He was numbered with the transgressors). 3. His substitutionary death (He bore the sin of many), and 4. his work as mediator (He made intercession for the transgressors) which clearly assumes the resurrection. It’s all there in one verse!

[3] The ancient OT Greek translation (LXX) of "numbered" is the NT word, “counted,” that Paul would later use to describe the imputation of our sin to Christ and his righteousness to us, the ground of justification (Rom 4:1-8; cf. 53:11).

[4] All four Gospels, each with important details. Luke 23:40-43 shows that one of thieves repented and was saved, for instance.


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