Jesus, the Suffering Servant (Part 1)

In Isaiah 52:13-53:12, the prophet Isaiah paints a picture of the Suffering Servant who would rescue God’s people from judgment and exile, and restore them to their Lord by bearing their sins and giving them a share in his ultimate victory. Over 700 years before Jesus Christ’s earthly ministry, Isaiah described what kind of savior God would send to his people.

So let us read this passage, Isaiah 52:13-53:12, and ask ourselves, “What kind of Savior did Isaiah promise that Jesus would be?”

1.) He was a promised / foretold Savior. We must not overlook the fact that Isaiah wrote this prophecy over 700 years before Jesus was actually born. Isaiah describes not only the general disposition and characteristics of the Servant (for instance, he would be humble, wise, innocent, and submissive) but also some specific details about his life, including the fact that he would be executed as a criminal and buried in a rich man’s tomb (53:9). And Isaiah was not the first to promise that such a Savior was coming. As early as Genesis 3:15, God promised to provide deliverance for his people through a human savior. Isaiah stands in a long line of prophets who stirred Israel’s hope for a divine rescue.

2.) He is the Lord’s servant. The phrase “servant of the Lord” in the Old Testament referred to a number of different men whom God had specifically chosen to accomplish his saving purposes among the nations, and through whom God revealed himself to the world. Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob are called God’s servants (Ex. 32:13), as are Moses (Ex. 14:31), Caleb (Num. 14:24), Joshua (Josh. 24:29), and others. Indeed, God says that all the people of Israel are his servants (Lev. 25:55). That is, God has chosen the Israelites for himself in order to accomplish his saving purposes and to reveal himself to the rest of the world. Isaiah himself frequently refers to Israel as God’s servant (Is. 41:8-9; 44:1-2, 21; 45:4; 48:20; 49:3). However, Isaiah also realizes that Israel has largely failed in her mission to draw the nations to the Lord, and instead of bringing deliverance to others now needs deliverance herself. And so Isaiah also says that the Suffering Servant will come to deliver Israel from her sin and restore her to God (49:5-6). What? How can this be? How can Isaiah say that the Servant is Israel in some passages, and that the Servant is Israel’s deliverer in another? The answer is this: In order to rescue Israel and bring her back to God, the Suffering Servant actually becomes Israel and stands in her place. He stands in her place as he is crushed for her sins and carries her sorrows (Is. 53:4-6), and he stands in her place as the righteous one who gives his righteousness to others (Is. 53:11). Jesus, as the ultimate Servant of the Lord and the true Israel of God, accomplishes his Father’s saving purposes and reveals his glory to the watching world.

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