Thursday, August 4, 2011

The Meaning of Jesus' Sufferings

In Isaiah 53:4-9, we have a full account of the meaning of Christ's sufferings. It was a very great mystery that so excellent a person should suffer such hard things; and it is natural to ask with amazement, “How came it about? What evil had he done?” His enemies indeed looked upon him as suffering justly for his crimes; and, though they could lay nothing to his charge, they esteemed him stricken, smitten of God, and afflicted, Isaiah 53:4. Because they hated him, and persecuted him, they thought that God did, that he was his enemy and fought against him; and therefore they were the more enraged against him, saying, God has forsaken him; persecute and take him, Psalms 71:11. Those that are justly smitten are smitten of God, for by him princes decree justice; and so they looked upon him to be smitten, justly put to death as a blasphemer, a deceiver, and an enemy to Caesar. Those that saw him hanging on the cross enquired not into the merits of his cause, but took it for granted that he was guilty of every thing laid to his charge and that therefore vengeance suffered him not to live. It was for our good, and in our stead, that Jesus Christ suffered. This is asserted here plainly and fully, and in a very great variety of emphatical expressions.

1. It is certain that we are all guilty before God. We have all sinned, and have come short of the glory of God (Isaiah 53:6): All we like sheep have gone astray, one as well as another. The whole race of mankind lies under the stain of original corruption, and every particular person stands charged with many actual transgressions. We have all gone astray from God our rightful owner, alienated ourselves from him, from the ends he designed us to move towards and the way he appointed us to move in. We have gone astray like sheep, which are apt to wander, and are unapt, when they have gone astray, to find the way home again. That is our true character; we are bent to backslide from God, but altogether unable of ourselves to return to him. This is mentioned not only as our infelicity (that we go astray from the green pastures and expose ourselves to the beasts of prey), but as our iniquity. We affront God in going astray from him, for we turn aside every one to his own way, and thereby set up ourselves, and our own will, in competition with God and his will, which is the malignity of sin. Instead of walking obediently in God's way, we have turned wilfully and stubbornly to our own way, the way of our own heart, the way that our own corrupt appetites and passions lead us to. We have set up for ourselves, to be our own masters, our own carvers, to do what we will and have what we will. Some think it intimates our own evil way, in distinction from the evil way of others. Sinners have their own iniquity, their beloved sin, which does most easily beset them, their own evil way, that they are particularly fond of and bless themselves in.

2. Our sins are our sorrows and our griefs (Isaiah 53:4), or, as it may be read, our sicknesses and our wounds: the Septuagint reads it, our sins; and so the apostle, 1 Peter 2:24. Our original corruptions are the sickness and disease of the soul, an habitual indisposition; our actual transgressions are the wounds of the soul, which put conscience to pain, if it be not seared and senseless. Or our sins are called our griefs and sorrows because all our griefs and sorrows are owing to our sins and our sins deserve all our griefs and sorrows, even those that are most extreme and everlasting.

3. Our Lord Jesus was appointed and did undertake to make satisfaction for our sins and so to save us from the penal consequences of them. [1.] He was appointed to do it, by the will of his Father; for the Lord has laid on him the iniquity of us all. God chose him to be the Saviour of poor sinners and would have him to save them in this way, by bearing their sins and the punishment of them; not the idem - the same that we should have suffered, but the tantundem - that which was more than equivalent for the maintaining of the honour of the holiness and justice of God in the government of the world. Observe here, First, In what way we are saved from the ruin to which by sin we had become liable - by laying our sins on Christ, as the sins of the offerer were laid upon the sacrifice and those of all Israel upon the head of the scape-goat. Our sins were made to meet upon him (so the margin reads it); the sins of all that he was to save, from every place and every age, met upon him, and he was met with for them. They were made to fall upon him (so some read it) as those rushed upon him that came with swords and staves to take him. The laying of our sins upon Christ implies the taking of them off from us; we shall not fall under the curse of the law if we submit to the grace of the gospel. They were laid upon Christ when he was made sin (that is, a sin-offering) for us, and redeemed us from the curse of the law by being made a curse for us; thus he put himself into a capacity to make those easy that come to him heavily laden under the burden of sin. See Psalms 40:6-12. Secondly, By whom this was appointed. It was the Lord that laid our iniquities on Christ; he contrived this way of reconciliation and salvation, and he accepted of the vicarious satisfaction Christ was to make. Christ was delivered to death by the determinate counsel and foreknowledge of God. None but God had power to lay our sins upon Christ, both because the sin was committed against him and to him the satisfaction was to be made, and because Christ, on whom the iniquity was to be laid, was his own Son, the Son of his love, and his holy child Jesus, who himself knew no sin. Thirdly, For whom this atonement was to be made. It was the iniquity of us all that was laid on Christ; for in Christ there is a sufficiency of merit for the salvation of all, and a serious offer made of that salvation to all, which excludes none that do not exclude themselves. It intimates that this is the one only way of salvation. All that are justified are justified by having their sins laid on Jesus Christ, and, though they were ever so many, he is able to bear the weight of them all. [2.] He undertook to do it. God laid upon him our iniquity; but did he consent to it? Yes, he did; for some think that the true reading of the next words (Isaiah 53:7) is, It was exacted, and he answered; divine justice demanded satisfaction for our sins, and he engaged to make the satisfaction. He became our surety, not as originally bound with us, but as bail to the action: “Upon me be the curse, my Father.” And therefore, when he was seized, he stipulated with those into whose hands he surrendered himself that that should be his disciples' discharge: If you seek me, let these go their way, John 18:8. By his own voluntary undertaking he made himself responsible for our debt, and it is well for us that he was responsible. Thus he restored that which he took not away.

4. Having undertaken our debt, he underwent the penalty. Solomon says: He that is surety for a stranger shall smart for it. Christ, being surety for us, did smart for it. [1.] He bore our griefs and carried our sorrows, Isaiah 53:4. He not only submitted to the common infirmities of human nature, and the common calamities of human life, which sin had introduced, but he underwent the extremities of grief, when he said, My soul is exceedingly sorrowful. He made the sorrows of this present time heavy to himself, that he might make them light and easy for us. Sin is the wormwood and the fall in the affliction and the misery. Christ bore our sins, and so bore our griefs, bore them off us, that we should never be pressed above measure. This is quoted (Matthew 8:17) with application to the compassion Christ had for the sick that came to him to be cured and the power he put forth to cure them. [2.] He did this by suffering for our sins (Isaiah 53:5): He was wounded for our transgressions, to make atonement for them and to purchase for us the pardon of them. Our sins were the thorns in his head, the nails in his hands and feet, the spear in his side. Wounds and bruises were the consequences of sin, what we deserved and what we had brought upon ourselves, Isaiah 1:6. That these wounds and bruises, though they are painful, may not be mortal, Christ was wounded for our transgressions, was tormented or pained (the word is used for the pains of a woman in travail) for our revolts and rebellions. He was bruised, or crushed, for our iniquities; they were the procuring cause of his death. To the same purport is Isaiah 53:8, for the transgression of my people was he smitten, the stroke was upon him that should have been upon us; and so some read it, He was cut off for the iniquity of my people, unto whom the stroke belonged, or was due. He was delivered to death for our offences, Romans 4:25. Hence it is said to be according to the scriptures, according to this scripture, that Christ died for our sins, 1 Corinthians 15:3. Some read this, by the transgressions of my people; that is, by the wicked hands of the Jews, who were, in profession, God's people, he was stricken, was crucified and slain, Acts 2:23. But, doubtless, we are to take it in the former sense, which is abundantly confirmed by the angel's prediction of the Messiah's undertaking, solemnly delivered to Daniel, that he shall finish transgression, make an end of sin, and make reconciliation for iniquity, Daniel 9:24.

5. The consequence of this to us is our peace and healing, Isaiah 53:5. [1.] Hereby we have peace: The chastisement of our peace was upon him; he, by submitting to these chastisements, slew the enmity, and settled an amity, between God and man; he made peace by the blood of his cross. Whereas by sin we had become odious to God's holiness and obnoxious to his justice, through Christ God is reconciled to us, and not only forgives our sins and saves us from ruin, but takes us into friendship and fellowship with himself, and thereby peace (that is, all good) comes unto us, Colossians 1:20. He is our peace, Ephesians 2:14. Christ was in pain that we might be at ease; he gave satisfaction to the justice of God that we might have satisfaction in our own minds, might be of good cheer, knowing that through him our sins are forgiven us. [2.] Hereby we have healing; for by his stripes we are healed. Sin is not only a crime, for which we were condemned to die and which Christ purchased for us the pardon of, but it is a disease, which tends directly to the death of our souls and which Christ provided for the cure of. By his stripes (that is, the sufferings he underwent) he purchased for us the Spirit and grace of God to mortify our corruptions, which are the distempers of our souls, and to put our souls in a good state of health, that they may be fit to serve God and prepared to enjoy him. And by the doctrine of Christ's cross, and the powerful arguments it furnishes us with against sin, the dominion of sin is broken in us and we are fortified against that which feeds the disease.

6. The consequence of this to Christ was his resurrection and advancement to perpetual honour. This makes the offence of the cross perfectly to cease; he yielded himself to die as a sacrifice, as a lamb, and, to make it evident that the sacrifice he offered of himself was accepted, we are told here, Isaiah 53:8, [1.] That he was discharged: He was taken from prison and from judgment; whereas he was imprisoned in the grave under a judicial process, lay there under an arrest for our debt, and judgment seemed to be given against him, he was by an express order from heaven taken out of the prison of the grave, an angel was sent on purpose to roll away the stone and set him at liberty, by which the judgment given against him was reversed and taken off; this redounds not only to his honour, but to our comfort; for, being delivered for our offences, he was raised again for our justification. That discharge of the bail amounted to a release of the debt. [2.] That he was preferred: Who shall declare his generation? his age, or continuance (so the word signifies), the time of his life? He rose to die no more; death had no more dominion over him. He that was dead is alive, and lives for evermore; and who can describe that immortality to which he rose, or number the years and ages of it? And he is advanced to this eternal life because for the transgression of his people he became obedient to death. We may take it as denoting the time of his usefulness, as David is said to serve his generation, and so to answer the end of living. Who can declare how great a blessing Christ by his death and resurrection will be to the world? Some by his generation understand his spiritual seed: Who can count the vast numbers of converts that shall by the gospel be begotten to him, like the dew of the morning?

When thus exalted he shall live to see

A numberless believing progeny

Of his adopted sons; the godlike race

Exceed the stars that heav'n's high arches grace.

- Sir R. Blackmore

Of this generation of his let us pray, as Moses did for Israel, The Lord God of our fathers make them a thousand times so many more as they are, and bless them as he has promised them, Deuteronomy 1:11


Taken from Matthew Henry's Commentary on the Whole Bible. The Reverend Matthew Henry lived from 1662-1714 and was a notable preacher and Bible commentator up until his death. His work still lives on into popularity, up until the present day. These short excerpts from his works are put up in order to learn from someone who came before us, and who lived under different circumstances, and who gives us a fresh perspective on what it means to love and serve Christ. Lord willing, Matthew Henry blogs will be posted once a week. Thanks for reading. -SEAN


  1. I never cease to be amazed by the Love of YHWH for Israel. After all, they just sacrificed bulls and goats, but it took a perfect human being to serve as a sin covering for the gentiles.

  2. ‎@Suzan: But, Jesus totally died for Jews too, right? I don't think He was crucified for Gentiles only.

  3. Ah but he had to be god to cover the gentiles. Must be. I can't think of why he had to be god to cover the Jews.

  4. @Suzan: Okay, old friend - chapter and verse, please.

  5. Well, no...I am extrapolating that from your post. I don't have a chapter and verse that says "Jesus had to be divine to cover the sins of mankind". Do you? There are plenty of verses that call for the sacrifice of goats and bulls and cows to cover the sins of the Jews.

  6. The Letter to the Hebrews helps us here (it especially helps you and I, since we're both actually Hebrews):

    " For since the law has but a shadow of the good things to come instead of the true form of these realities, IT CAN NEVER, BY THE SAME SACRIFICES THAT ARE CONTINUALLY OFFERED EVERY YEAR, MAKE PERFECT THOSE WHO DRAW NEAR. Otherwise, would they not have ceased to be offered, since the worshipers, having once been cleansed, would no longer have any consciousness of sins? But in these sacrifices there is a reminder of sins every year. FOR IT IS IMPOSSIBLE FOR THE BLOOD OF BULLS AND GOATS TO TAKE AWAY SINS." (Hebrews 10.1-4)

    And then,

    "We [Jews and Gentiles] have been sanctified through the offering of the body of Jesus Christ once for all. And every priest stands daily at his service, offering repeatedly the same sacrifices, WHICH CAN NEVER TAKE AWAY SINS. But... Christ had OFFERED FOR ALL TIME A SINGLE SACRIFICE FOR SINS." (Hebrews 10.11-12)

    So then, the Jewish sacrificial system is 'but a shadow' of Christ's sacrifice, which 'can never... make perfect those who draw near', but points to the sacrifice of Christ who 'offered for all time a single sacrifice for sins.' Jesus' sacrifice is effective because His blood is superior to the blood of bulls and goats, just like in the rest of Hebrews we are told that Jesus is the new and better Moses, the new and better Aaron, the new and better Priest, the new and better sacrifice, etc. What makes Him better is both His sinlessness and His divine nature (which is established when Hebrews points out that Jesus is superior to Angels).

    And, Matthew Henry didn't believe what you took from his comments.


    Phew. OK, so that's my case here. Thanks for the opportunity to think about these issues and work through them from the Bible, sister. I am enjoying this conversation as well as the reminder of how much better of a covenant we have in Christ.

  7. But where does that say that Messiah, the anointed one, has to be God for that to be effective?

  8. As far as I know, it doesn't. But something makes Jesus a more worthy sacrifice than the blood of bulls and goats, and many have thought that Jesus' divinity is what makes Him more worthy.

  9. Just righteous without spot or blemish according to Jewish law. Like King David. Chosen and set apart.

  10. Hey, good conversation.

    Here's my angle: that's not enough. The resurrection is as much a part of our salvation as His crucifixion was ('He rose for our justification' - Romans), and Jesus' divinity made Him uniquely suited for that task: as Paul writes in Ephesians, 'death could not hold Him'. In addition to being a sinless sacrifice, He also needed to have Divinity to beat Death.

    Peter makes a special effort to point out that we were not redeemed with PERISHABLE things, but with the IMPERISHABLE precious blood of Christ... imperishable because He 'was before the foundation of the world but was made manifest' (1 Peter 1.18-20). The nature of who Jesus is, combined with His sinlessness, make Him uniquely suited to have been sacrificed and resurrected for our salvation.

    Even if another person had managed to live a sinless life, they could not have done for us what Jesus did - 'Truly NO MAN CAN RANSOM ANOTHER, or give to God the price of his life, for THE RANSOM OF THEIR LIFE IS COSTLY AND CAN NEVER SUFFICE'. (That's a quote from Psalms 49.7-8, and a favorite quote of Orthodox Jews.) No man, even in theory, can do what Jesus did, because they would be (a) perishable humans (b) who could not beat death (c) and their sacrifice could not suffice for the cost of even one man, never mind the whole world.

    Jesus' nature as God is what makes Him the worthy sacrifice. In addition to casting light on questions about how one sinless man could atone for billions of sinful ones, that line of thought also helps when it comes to dealing with that trip-up verse that Orthodox anti-missionaries like to throw us from Psalms 49.

    What are your thoughts?



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