The Servant Passages of Isaiah

There are four passages in the Book of Isaiah that are usually referred to as the “Servant Passages or ‘Servant Songs” .These are 42:1-7,49:1-12, 50:4-11, and 52:13-53:12. Though David and Israel are called servants in Isaiah these passages cannot refer to them, instead they find fulfilment in the Lord Jesus Christ. The “Servant” must be divine and be a human being at the same time; He must suffer for sin and die for man’s sin, yet be Israel’s true King; He must deliver the people of God from darkness.

Matthew 21:17-21 confirms that Jesus Christ fulfils the description of the Servant in Isaiah 42:14. The apostle Paul said in 1 Corinthians 15:14 that “Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures”, he must have received this from studying Isaiah 53.

The Mission of the Servant (42:1-7, 49:6)

He would be sent to bring the light of salvation to the Gentiles. The Lord Jesus did precisely that according to John 1:9, “That was the true Light, which lighteth every man that cometh into the world” and John 8:12, “I am the Light of the world: he that followeth me shall not walk in darkness, but shall have the light of life”.

The Gentiles did not have the knowledge of God or the Scriptures, therefore they were considered to be blind, bound, and in darkness. Jesus came to set these people free, “The Spirit of the Lord GOD is upon me; because He hath anointed me to preach good tidings unto the meek; He hath sent me to bind up the broken hearted, to proclaim liberty to the captives, and the opening of the prison to them that are bound” (Isaiah 61:1). This was the very passage that Jesus used to introduce His ministry (Luke 4:18). As Israel’s Messiah He came to them first, but they rejected Him, therefore John writes, “He came unto His own, and His own received Him not. But as many as received Him, to them gave He power to become the sons of God, even to them that believe on His name” (John 1:11 – 12).

God intended for all men to know the good news of salvation that His Servant would bring. Isaiah 42:1-3 are quoted in Matthew 12:17-21, “That it might be fulfilled which was spoken by Isaiah the prophet, saying, Behold, my Servant, whom I have chosen; my beloved, in whom my soul is well pleased: I will put my Spirit upon Him, and He shall shew judgements to the Gentiles. He shall not strive or cry; neither shall any man hear His voice in the streets. A bruised reed shall He not break, a smoking flax shall He not quench, till He send forth judgement unto victory. And in His name shall the Gentiles trust.” It is also of interest that verse 7 of Isaiah 42 informs us that He would open the blind eyes, free the prisoners, and bring those in darkness into the light. If we compare this with the event that took place after the text in Matthew 12:17-21 we shall see a fulfilment, “Then was brought unto Him one possessed with a devil, blind, and dumb…” (:22).

No matter how weak the person might be God’s Servant would be able to save, deliver, bring them comfort and hope. “The Lord GOD hath given me the tongue of the learned, that I should know how to speak a word in season to him that is weary.” (Isaiah 50:4). The Gospel writers tell us that no one would speak the way Jesus did, “The people were astonished at His doctrine: for He taught them as one having authority, and not as the scribes . they were astonished, and said, Whence hath this man this wisdom, and these mighty works? … And all that heard Him were astonished at His understanding and answers . Never a man spake like this man” (Matthew 7:28-29, 13:54; Luke 2:47; John 7:46).

The Servants Character (53:1-3, 7-9)

The Servant would be loved by God and yet despised by men, “I am a worm and no man; a reproach of men, and despised of the people” (Psalm 22:6). Instead of being accepted by the Jewish people the Lord Jesus Christ was rejected, and hated by them. Isaiah informs us that He would deal prudently (52:13), and that there would be no outward beauty that one would be attracted by (53:2). Everything that He does or says will come from the fact that He is righteous (53:11).

His mission would involve great personal suffering, pain, and grief since He would take the sins of the entire human race upon Him. He would not retaliate against those who sought to destroy Him, nor would He seek to avoid the cross that was planned for Him. Instead, like a lamb to the slaughter He would suffer patiently and voluntarily. The Lord Jesus became the willing sacrifice for our sin’ “Father, if Thou be willing, remove this cup from me: nevertheless, not my will but Thine, be done” (Luke 22:42). Only Jesus is known as the Lamb of God in Scripture, “Behold, the Lamb of God, which taketh away the sin of the world… a Lamb as it had been slain” (John 1:29; Revelation 5:6).

The Servant was sent to die instead of the sinner, but not for His own sin for He would be sinless. Hebrews 4:15 tells us that He “was in all points tempted like as we are, yet without sin” .Though sinless He would die with the wicked (Isaiah 53:9 with Mark 15:27); Jesus was crucified between two thieves, and He would be buried with the rich; Jesus was buried in the tomb of Joseph of Arimathea, a rich man.

The Servant’s Humiliation (50:4-11; 52:13; 53:10-12)

The Messiah would endure severe suffering and humiliation at the hands of those He had come to save. He had every opportunity to stop this humiliation by calling on legions of angels (Matthew 26:53-54) but He chose to remain obedient to His calling, and “set His face like a flint” as He went towards the Cross, “His face was as though He would go to Jerusalem” (Luke 9:53).

He would allow Himself to be scourged by men (50:6 with Matthew 26:67). He would be beaten so much that He would not even look human (52:13). God allowed His Son to be totally humiliated before He died on the Cross for those who did this. It was preordained that He should suffer in this fashion before He was exalted as Messiah (53:10-12). The Servant would be obedient no matter what came against Him. It is the Lord Jesus Christ who received the title “Man of Sorrows”.

The Redemptive work of the Servant (42:6; 53:4-6)

Jesus came with a new covenant in His blood, not only for the Jews but for the entire world. He gave His life vicariously for others, and in doing so became an “offering for sin” (53:10 with Leviticus 5:15, 17:11). With the saving power of His blood He “sprinkled many nations” (50:15 with Leviticus 16:19). Isaiah 53:4-6 is at the very heart of Christ’s substitutionary death on the Cross as atonement for sin, “But we see Jesus, who was made a little lower than the angels for the suffering of death, crowned with glory and honour; that He by the grace of God should taste death for every man” (Hebrews 2:9).

Isaiah 53:5 informs us that He would be wounded, scourged, bruised, and chastised for our spiritual healing. Matthew 8:17 uses this text to reveal Jesus’ power to take away physical illness, while I Peter 2:24 refers to it as meaning spiritual healing. Both passages express different aspects of Christ’s ministry on earth. The Hebrew word for “wounded” can mean “pierced” – Jesus was nailed to the Cross for our sin. He was bruised for our disobedience, chastised so that we could receive peace with God (He is known as “The Prince of Peace” (Isaiah 9:6)), and scourged that we might go free and take up eternal life. On Christ was laid the sin of the world, both of the Gentiles (53:6) and of the Jews (53:8). Through His work on the Cross Jesus reconciled all who believe unto God.

One day those who rejected Him will realise that He was their true Messiah, the one they crucified upon the Cross, “They shall look upon me whom they have pierced” (Zechariah 12:10).

The exaltation of the Servant (52:13; 53:10-12)

Jesus Christ is now the exalted Lord and Saviour. There is now no greater name than His (Philippians 2:9-11); He is exalted at the right hand of God (Acts 2:33; Colossians 3:1); He reigns in majesty (Hebrews 1:3, 8:1); and there is no other name given amongst men whereby a person can be saved (Acts 4:12). It is this Jesus that ever lives to make intercession for us (Hebrews 37:25).

As exalted Lord and Saviour He delights in those who have accepted Him and are washed in His blood (Isaiah 53:10). To them He gives the great inheritance of Heaven (53:12). His “seed” refer to those who have been justified by faith in Christ. The future millennial Kingdom of Christ will complete the prophecies concerning His exaltation. As God’s suffering Servant He gave to earth from Heaven to bring salvation to the world. God has appointed a time when He will return to this earth to establish salvation in Israel and set up His millennial reign in Jerusalem on the throne of David (Isaiah 9:7). At that time He will be known by a number of titles:

[1] The Branch (4:2)

[2] The Lord of Hosts (24:23)

[3] The King (33:17)

[4] Judge and Lawgiver (33:22)

[5] Shepherd (40:10-11)

[6] God (52:7)

[7] Redeemer (59:20)

Conclusion

In Acts 8:26-38 we read of the Ethiopian eunuch reading the hook of Isaiah, but getting stuck at chapter fifty-three. He asks Philip, “Of whom is the prophet speaking, of himself, or someone else?” Immediately Philip taught him that the verses were speaking of the Lord Jesus Christ, and that His death upon the cross brought salvation to the world. Other New Testament writers understood the “Servant Passages” to be referring to Jesus of Nazareth -the Son of God, “That the saying of Isaiah the prophet might be fulfilled, which he spake, Lord, who hath believed our report? and to whom hath the arm of the Lord been revealed?” (John 12:38) “For Isaiah saith, Lord, who hath believed our report?” (Romans 10:16). Therefore we can know without the slightest doubt that these same passages are speaking directly of our Lord Jesus Christ.

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