The Messiah would be despised and rejected

Bible passage: Isaiah 53:1-3
Prophet: Isaiah
Written: Between 701-681 BC

This article is contributed by Ray Konig, the author of Jesus the Messiah, Jesus the Prophet, Jesus the Miracle Worker, and 100 Fulfilled Bible Prophecies.

By Ray Konig
Published: Feb. 23, 2001
Updated: April 29, 2024

In Isaiah 52:13-53:12, the prophet Isaiah predicts many details about the life, ministry, death, resurrection and impact of the promised Messiah, all of which are fulfilled by Jesus, who lived about 700 years after the time of Isaiah.

This broad sweeping prophecy is sometimes referred to as Isaiah 53, and as the fourth of four Servant Songs prophecies in the Old Testament book of Isaiah. The others can be found in Isaiah 42:1-9, Isaiah 49:1-6 and Isaiah 50:4-10.

Among the key details that Isaiah predicts in Isaiah 53 is that the Messiah would be despised and rejected:

1 Who has believed our message? To whom has Yahweh’s arm been revealed?

2 For he grew up before him as a tender plant, and as a root out of dry ground. He has no good looks or majesty. When we see him, there is no beauty that we should desire him.

3 He was despised and rejected by men, a man of suffering and acquainted with disease. He was despised as one from whom men hide their face; and we didn’t respect him. (Isaiah 53:1-3, WEB)

The overall prophecy, in Isaiah 52:13-53:12, has 15 verses. The three verses quoted above appear near the beginning of the overall prophecy and foretell that the Messiah would be a tender plant who would not have the majesty that people desired, and that he would be despised and rejected.

These specific details find specific fulfillment in the rejection of Jesus as the Messiah, about 700 years after Isaiah recorded this prophecy.

Jesus did not project a sense of majesty as he traveled the land of Israel, for an estimated three-and-a-half years, teaching about the Kingdom of God and performing miracles of healing. He humbly accomplished his public ministry with the spoken word when he preached, and with his word and touch when he healed.

He was humble, like a tender plant, and projected no majesty, as he had no army or wealth. Jesus and his apostles relied on the generosity of others for food and housing.

Jesus was despised and rejected many times during his public ministry, which took place about 2,000 years ago. He was rejected by religious leaders, including the Pharisees, the teachers of the law, chief priests, elders, as well as commoners and Roman officials.

A key example of Jesus being rejected happened near the end of his public ministry, when Pontius Pilate, the Roman governor of Judea, offered a crowd of onlookers in Jerusalem a chance to free one of two prisoners who had been sentenced to be executed (Matthew 27:11-26; Mark 15:1-15; Luke 23:13-25; John 18:28-40).

The crowd chose Barabbas, who was an insurgent, a rebel military leader who had murdered others (Mark 15:7), and who had staged a revolt in Jerusalem (Luke 23:18-19).

Barabbas had the qualities of many false messiahs before, during and after the time of Jesus. Barabbas had an army to project a sense of majesty. And, with his use of violence, he would be seen by others as someone who might liberate the Jews from Roman oppression.

And so, the crowd chose Barabbas and rejected the true Messiah who would die for their sins. In fact, it is the many rejections of Jesus that led to his death-by-crucifixion by the Romans. And it is his death that atoned for the sins of others, becoming the cornerstone of the largest religious movement the world has ever experienced.

Today, hundreds of millions of Christians throughout the world are familiar with the prophecy of Isaiah 53, celebrating the Messiah who had been despised and rejected, as predicted by Isaiah in Isaiah 53:3.

It can be noted that there is a persistent non-Christian view that the chosen servant of God in Isaiah 53 is actually the people of Israel. But, in order to achieve this view, one must close their eyes as to how Isaiah uses the term servant of God and then blindly trip over several hurdles to reach their erroneous conclusion.

Isaiah speaks of many servants of God in his Old Testament book. Eliakim, a palace administrator, is referred to as God's servant in Isaiah 22:20. King David, who lived about 300 years before Isaiah, is referred to as God's servant in Isaiah 37:35. And, Isaiah himself is referred to as God's servant in Isaiah 20:3.

But none of these are the servant of Isaiah 53.

Isaiah also refers to the people of Israel as being servants of God, several times in his book. But in these cases, he specifically names that servant, and that servant is depicted by Isaiah as being in need of divine rescue, rather than being called upon for a divine mission.

As explained in the book, Jesus the Messiah, by Ray Konig:

“The people of Israel also are referenced as God’s servant, on several occasions, including in Isaiah 41:8-14, 42:19-24, 43:1-10, 44:1-23, 45:1-4, 48:1-22.

“But, on those occasions, that servant is not being called upon to perform a spiritual task, but rather is being called out for being spiritually blind (Isaiah 42:19-24), for refusing to acknowledge God (Isaiah 45:4), and for not committing to God (Isaiah 48:1), and is otherwise depicted as being in need of divine rescue (Isaiah 41:8-14, 43:1-10, 44:1-23, 45:1-4, 48:1-22).

“And, on those occasions, that servant is clearly identified and specifically named -- with both the terms Israel and Jacob -- making it doubly clear that that servant is the people of Israel, as in the descendants of Jacob.” - Ray Konig, Jesus the Messiah

Isaiah 53 does not mention the names Israel or Jacob, or Eliakim, or David or Isaiah, or any other name. The servant of Isaiah 53 is not named at all. Instead, he is described. This is a common pattern among the many Messianic prophecies of the Old Testament -- that the promised Messiah is identified by description, not by name.

The servant in Isaiah 53 fits this pattern -- he is described but is not named. And this servant is assigned tasks that are defined as being Messianic by other Old Testament prophecies.

For example, the servant of Isaiah 53 will be rejected and despised. God foresaw this also in Psalm 118, especially in verses 22 and 23, when he foretells of a rejected stone becoming the cornerstone of his plan to build something incredible.

Also, as explained throughout Isaiah 52:13-53:12, this servant would suffer at the hands of others, for the sins of others, and then be exalted and have a far-reaching spiritual impact. These are tasks that are assigned to the Messiah, in whole and in part, in several other Old Testament prophecies, including Genesis 3:15, 22:18, 26:1-5, 28:10-15, 49:10; Psalm 22, 72; Isaiah 42:1-9, 49:1-6, 50:4-10; Micah 5:1-4; Zechariah 9:9-11.

The servant in Isaiah 53 is unmistakably the Messiah, as explained by Isaiah, and as confirmed by other Messianic prophecies in the Old Testament.

© Ray Konig.

Ray Konig is the author of Jesus the Messiah, Jesus the Prophet, Jesus the Miracle Worker, and 100 Fulfilled Bible Prophecies.