Why does Isaiah 53:3 refer to the Messiah as a man of sorrows?
Depending on which translation of the Bible you read, in Isaiah 53:3 you will see the Messiah, Jesus, referred to as a man of "sorrows," "suffering," or sometimes, "pain." Isaiah 53:3 falls within a much larger passage, the fourth of the Servant Songs, which is frequently called the "Song of the Suffering Servant." It repeatedly mentions the many sufferings the Messiah had to endure. This song is found in Isaiah 52:13—53:12 [emphasis added]:
"Behold, my servant shall act wisely;
he shall be high and lifted up,
and shall be exalted.
As many were astonished at you—
his appearance was so marred, beyond human semblance,
and his form beyond that of the children of mankind—
so shall he sprinkle many nations.
Kings shall shut their mouths because of him,
for that which has not been told them they see,
and that which they have not heard they understand.
"Who has believed what he has heard from us?
And to whom has the arm of the LORD been revealed?
For he grew up before him like a young plant,
and like a root out of dry ground;
he had no form or majesty that we should look at him,
and no beauty that we should desire him.
He was despised and rejected by men, a man of sorrows and acquainted with grief;
and as one from whom men hide their faces
he was despised, and we esteemed him not.
"Surely he has borne our griefs
and carried our sorrows;
yet we esteemed him stricken, smitten by God, and afflicted.
But he was pierced for our transgressions;
he was crushed for our iniquities;
upon him was the chastisement that brought us peace,
and with his wounds we are healed.
All we like sheep have gone astray;
we have turned—every one—to his own way;
and the LORD has laid on him
the iniquity of us all.
"He was oppressed, and he was afflicted,
yet he opened not his mouth;
like a lamb that is led to the slaughter,
and like a sheep that before its shearers is silent,
so he opened not his mouth.
By oppression and judgment he was taken away;
and as for his generation, who considered
that he was cut off out of the land of the living, stricken for the transgression of my people?
And they made his grave with the wicked
and with a rich man in his death,
although he had done no violence,
and there was no deceit in his mouth.
"Yet it was the will of the LORD to crush him;
he has put him to grief;
when his soul makes an offering for guilt,
he shall see his offspring; he shall prolong his days;
the will of the LORD shall prosper in his hand.
Out of the anguish of his soul he shall see and be satisfied;
by his knowledge shall the righteous one, my servant,
make many to be accounted righteous,
and he shall bear their iniquities.
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."
As is evident from this extended passage, the reason Jesus is referred to as "a man of sorrows" is because of all the sorrows He experienced during His time on earth. He made the initial sacrifice to leave heaven and come to earth as a human man. Throughout His life, Jesus endured all of the sorrows and struggles that accompany human life. Imagine just how deep the sorrows of a sin-stained world would have been for one who is perfect in His nature. Knowing the magnitude of God's love and care for humanity, imagine how profoundly sin and its effects hurts His heart. Jesus would have experienced this sorrow both in His divinity and His humanity. Indeed, He was a man of sorrows. But His worst suffering was when He was crucified and paid the price for the sins of all mankind, bearing the weight of God's wrath and experiencing the full sorrow of the way sin damages our relationship with God.
Yet, in spite of all the sorrows Jesus endured, He was still ultimately able to persist with the hope of joy. Hebrews 12:2 describes Jesus as "the founder and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God" (Hebrews 12:2). Jesus had the hope of making a way for people to be redeemed and brought into God's family (John 3:16–18).
Similar to Jesus, we are to count the sorrows that we endure as joy, because we have the hope of ultimate redemption through Jesus Christ: "Count it all joy, my brothers, when you meet trials of various kinds, for you know that the testing of your faith produces steadfastness. And let steadfastness have its full effect, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing" (James 1:2–4). Ultimately, we will all endure sorrows in this world, and Jesus is our example of how to have hope and persevere through them. We know that, in the end, for those who have placed their faith in Jesus Christ, there will no longer be any sorrow: "He will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain anymore, for the former things have passed away" (Revelation 21:4).
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