Perhaps the best known passage from Isaiah is chapter 53. It, along with chapter 8, are the most cited chapters from Isaiah in the New Testament.
In Isaiah, a number of subjects are called the Lord’s “servant.” Isaiah is a servant, as is Eliakim (son of Hilkiah, the High Priest). When we move to the last half of Isaiah, Israel is most often referred to as the Lord’s servant. But when we get to chapter 53, none of the previous candidates are good choices for the servant mentioned there, primarily because this servant suffers to provide forgiveness for others – something Israel never did.
The early readers of Isaiah are likewise suffering, but it is for their own sin – but the point is made in this chapter that God’s people are not and will not be immune to suffering and sometimes, God Himself sends it. Additionally, sometimes suffering is helpful, not only to the sufferer, but also to others who benefit from his trials. We may not always be able to understand how this is going to take place, but God assures us that it does.
That the early readers of Isaiah may have been a bit bewildered by who Isaiah 53 referred to is seen in the question of the Ethiopian to Phillip in Acts 8: “who is the prophet talking about, himself or someone else?” Phillip and New Testament writers identify the suffering servant as Jesus.
The servant hymn of Isaiah 53 actually begins with 52:13 and is the longest of five hymns devoted to a study of the “servant of the Lord” found in Isaiah (see also 42:1-4; 49:1-6; 50:4-11; and perhaps also 61:1-3).