In Isa. 53:12, we read that the Suffering Servant “bore the sin of many”. This part is quoted four times in the NT. It is rare to find such a connection between the OT, the Gospel of John (1:29), and three epistles (Heb. 9:28, 1 Peter 2:24, and 1 John 3:5.)
There is not much more that I can say to unpack this portion of the OT verse. Jesus took the punishment all of us deserved. Jew and Gentile, male and female, black and white. As was mentioned earlier, the idea that the servant voluntarily suffered and gave his life as an atonement for the sins of the people was already mentioned four other times in Isa. 53 (verses 5, 6, 10, and 11).
I do not have the time or space to go into nearly as much depth as I have in my previous articles on each of the four NT verses that contain this OT quote. I will provide a few highlights of each one.
Like 1 Peter 2:24-25, which we discussed a few days ago, John 1:29 alludes to, but does not directly quote Isa. 53:12. (You can know a passage in the NT is considered to be an OT quote by seeing that it has been indented. It does that consistently in the NIV. Many other versions use the same technique.)
In this verse, John the Gospel writer reports that John the Baptist made this bold assertion about Jesus being “the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world” when He came to John to be baptized. Identifying Jesus as the Lamb of God also seems to allude to Isa. 53:7:“he was led like a lamb to the slaughter”.
Next, Heb. 9:28 is also an allusion of Isa. 53:12, not a quote. Beale and Carson confirm this. The writer of this epistle, who quotes the OT extensively throughout, matter-of-factly states that when Jesus comes again, He will not come to “bear sin”, but to bring salvation to His true followers who are ready and expecting Him. The implication is that it was well-known among the first-century followers of Jesus that He bore our sin.
The entire book contrasts the OT worship under the Old Covenant with the New Covenant that came through Jesus Christ. He is greater than Moses (chapter 3). He is a better high priest (chapter 8). His blood is a better sacrifice (chapters 9 and 10). The writer clearly emphasizes in the first part of verse 28 that Jesus was sacrificed one time, and that it took away the sins of many people. This sacrifice took their sins away because He bore their punishment Himself, and God’s wrath was satisfied.
Beale and Carson suggest that the writer of Hebrews is tying together his detailed imagery of the OT “Day of Atonement” with the key passage from the prophets, Isa. 53, regarding a sacrifice for the sins of all. The commentators also mention that by using this phrase concerning the Savior bearing our sin here, it takes the reader back to the broader context of Isa 53:4-5, and 10-11, which speak of one who “carried our sins”, was “wounded for our transgressions”, who was “a guilt offering, and bore our “iniquities.”
We discussed 1 Peter 2:24 at some length on Day Two, which along with 2:25 provided a clear allusion to portions of Isa. 53:5-6. Here, in the first part of 2:24, the Apostle Peter states “He Himself bore our sins in his body”, echoing Isa. 53:12, which says “he bore the sin of many”. Notice the deliberate change that Peter made to the OT grammar here.
He substituted the first-person plural “our sins” for the original text, which is third-person plural: “the sin of many”. This is in contrast to the changes he made in the latter part of verses 24 and 25, where he uses the second-person plural, “you”. When Peter altered the grammar, he did not change the original meaning of the OT text. He just brought his readers a more personal application, which lined up with the original intent of Isaiah. Jesus did bear the sins of many, and many includes your sins and my sins; our sins.
Surprisingly, 1 John 3:5 is not discussed in Beale and Carson, even though it was listed in Gough’s The New Testament Quotations. I can only speculate that scholars may consider this an “echo” of the OT, which is less obvious allusion. It is definitely not a direct quote.
To be fair, though, John, as we will see shortly, uses this idea in a very different way than Isaiah. John, the same one we discussed earlier in his Gospel, focuses on Jesus, who “appeared so that he might take away our sins.” John understands well that Jesus, in His role as the sacrificial Lamb of God, removed our sins from us by taking our punishment, so that we might be reconciled to God.
Here, however, John seems to casually drop in the fact that Jesus took away our sins as an explanation as to why we as children of God should strive for sinlessness. His whole letter to the church is on the life changes that need to accompany a true follower of Jesus in order to demonstrate the validity of their faith. In the first two chapters, John teaches that we are to walk in the light as He is in the light. When we don’t, we are to confess our sins. We are to love our Christian brothers and sisters. We are not supposed to love the world. His use of the phrase “take away our sins” seems to imply something about sanctification, not merely justification.
I hope this weeklong discussion gave you a glimpse of how important this OT passage was to the NT writers, the early church, and is for us as well. It gave them (and gives us) confidence amidst persecution that their (and our) belief in Jesus as the Messiah was (and is) well-grounded in the Hebrew Scriptures.
Gough remarks that if these OT prophesies about the Messiah’s birth, life, death, and resurrection were all fulfilled in Jesus, it should give us hope that He will also fulfill the prophesies concerning His future reign as King.
I say Amen to that! Come, Lord Jesus!
Master Sergeant Russell E. Gehrlein (U.S. Army, Retired) is a Christian, husband of 38 years, father of three, grandfather of four, blogger, and author of “Immanuel Labor – God’s Presence in our Profession: A Biblical, Theological, and Practical Approach to the Doctrine of Work”, published by WestBow Press in February 2018. He received a B.S. in Mathematics from Colorado State University in 1980 and an M.A. in Biblical Studies from Grand Rapids Theological Seminary in 2015. He is also a former junior/senior high school math and science teacher and youth pastor. Russ currently works as a Department of the Army civilian at Fort Leonard Wood, Missouri.