During the days of Isaiah’s ministry, God’s people felt abandoned like a wife who had been released by her husband (Isa 54:6). While the Lord was legitimately angry with His bride and sent her into captivity in Babylon and Persia, the prophet announced that the Lord would come to redeem Israel with great compassion (Isa 54:7). Isaiah 49-55 is a poetic, hopeful expression of God’s jealousy for His people, wavering not at all from the logic of Isaiah 1-39.
Many passages from Isaiah 49-55 resurface in the New Testament. The writers of the Gospels and Epistles understood Isaiah’s message to have an initial significance for Judah but also serve as a schematic for the storyline of Scripture and the days of the Messiah. Broadly speaking, Isaiah 49-55 describes:
(1) The salvation offered by the Messiah. Concerning the salvation the Lord would bring to Judah, Isaiah proclaimed, “Look up to the heavens, and look at the earth beneath; for the heavens will vanish like smoke, the earth will wear out like a garment, and its inhabitants will die in like manner. But My salvation will last forever, and My righteousness will never be shattered” (Isa 51:6). The author of Hebrews understood this salvation to be offered uniquely in the enduring constancy of Jesus Christ (Heb 1:10-12). Isaiah called Israel to hope in God for salvation. Though in the prophet’s day Israel was like a barren, forsaken mother, she would one day have more children than a married woman (Isa 54:1). Paul employed Isaiah’s prophesy to help the churches of Galatia understand the supernatural nature of salvation (Gal 4:27). Isaiah noted that when the Lord judged His people and allowed other nations to rule them, those nations blasphemed God’s name (Isa 52:5). In Rom 2:24, Paul portrayed Isa 52:5 as a description of how God’s name was blasphemed because of Jewish hypocrisy. Because Jews could not keep the law, they needed to believe upon Christ just like the Gentiles.
(2) The suffering of the Messiah and the suffering of His followers. Isaiah may have been writing autobiographically when he said, “I gave My back to those who beat Me, and My cheeks to those who tore out My beard. I did not hide My face from scorn and spitting,” (Isa 50:6), but these expressions ultimately predict Jesus in the day of His crucifixion (Matt 26:67//Mark 14:65//Luke 22:63//John 19:1-5). Isaiah described the Servant of the Lord as one who had been rejected (Isa 53:3), a sentiment Jesus expressed concerning His own suffering and death at the hands of the Gentiles (Matt 20:18-19//Mark 10:33-34//Luke 18:31-32). Peter’s admonition for his audience to submit to those in authority over them (1 Pet 2:22-25)—even if they suffered as a righteous person—was grounded in the suffering of the Messiah, according to Isa 53:5-9. When Philip encountered the Ethiopian eunuch reading Isa 53:7-8, Philip told him the good news about Jesus from that Scripture (Acts 8:35). Isaiah described the Lord’s servant as one who would submit Himself to death and be counted among the rebels (Isa 53:12), which Jesus said was fulfilled in His own death (Luke 22:37). Isaiah’s prediction of a slaughtered lamb in Isa 53:5, 7 is also echoed in John’s vision of the One like a slaughtered lamb who approached the throne to take the scroll (Rev 5:6).
(3) The missional status of the Messiah and His followers. Isaiah understood that the Servant of the Lord would come with blessings not only for Israel but also for the nations (Isa 49:6). When the righteous and devout man Simeon held Jesus at the time of Jesus’ dedication in the temple, Simeon cited Isaiah’s prophecy of blessing to the Gentiles (Luke 2:32). The scope of Isaiah’s prophecy went beyond the mission of the Messiah, having import also for those who proclaim Jesus. When Paul and Barnabas were rejected by the Jewish leadership in Pisidian Antioch, Paul applied Isa 49:6 to his ministry of preaching to the Gentiles (Acts 13:46-47). Isaiah set forth the Lord’s message to His servant: “I will answer you in a time of favor, and I will help you in the day of salvation” (Isa 49:8). Paul understood the Lord’s promise to be relevant for his apostleship when the Lord helped him to speak boldly to the Corinthians (2 Cor 6:2). Isaiah spoke of the glorious status of the Servant of the Lord as He proclaimed peace and the Lord’s reign (Isa 52:7), the message many Jews in Paul’s day failed to see in the gospel of Christ (Rom 10:15). Just as few believed in Isaiah’s day (Isa 53:1), few Jews believed the gospel during the ministry of Jesus or Paul (John 12:38, Rom 10:16). While Isaiah spoke about the benevolence of the Lord’s servant carrying the weaknesses and disease of Israel (Isa 53:4), Matthew saw in Jesus’ healings the clear fulfillment of the prophet’s speech (Matt 8:17). Isaiah prophesied that the Lord would make an everlasting covenant with His people in accord with the promises made to David (Isa 55:3). Paul understood Isaiah’s prophecy to be fulfilled in David’s descendant Jesus, whom God raised from the dead (Acts 13:34).