SERVANT OF THE LORD

In a sense all God’s people are servants of the Lord (Num 12:7; Ps 105:6; 1 Cor 4:1; Rev 22:3), but the Bible speaks of one particular figure who in a special sense is the servant of the Lord (Isa 42:1; 52:13). This particular ‘servant of the Lord’ is the subject of the present article. Concerning the more general usage of the expression see SERVANT. Details about the servant of the Lord are found mainly in what are known as the four Servant Songs of Isaiah (Isa 42:1-4; 49:1-6; 50:4-9; 52:13-53:12). There is a threefold meaning to these songs. Firstly, the nation Israel was chosen to be God’s servant (Isa 41:8), but the nation as a whole was a failure (Isa 42:19). This leads to the second meaning, which is to the faithful minority within Israel.

While the rest of the people rebelled against God, the believing remnant kept serving him loyally (Isa 49:4-6; see REMNANT). Even they, however, did not experience the full blessings that God intended for his people. The third and highest meaning of the servant applies to the Messiah, Jesus (Isa 53:12; Luke 22:37; Acts 3:13; 4:30; Phil 2:7). Israel as a nation was Abraham’s natural offspring (John 8:37; Rom 4:1; 11:1), the faithful remnant were his spiritual offspring (Rom 9:6-7; Gal 3:28-29), but the Messiah Jesus was the perfect offspring. In him the purposes of God for Israel reached their fulfilment (Gal 3:16).

Four Servant Songs

The first Servant Song outlines the ideal character of God’s servant. Those ideals never became a reality for the nation Israel, and only to a limited extent did they characterize the faithful remnant. But they found their perfect expression in Jesus Christ (Isa 42:1-4; Matt 12:15-21). God had a particular task for his servant, and the second Servant Song describes that task. God’s servant was to take the light of his salvation to the Gentile nations. Again Israel as a whole failed, though some of the people were faithful (Isa 49:1-7; Acts 13:46-47). Jesus, by contrast, fulfilled the task perfectly, bringing salvation to Israel and to the Gentiles (Matt 1:21; Luke 2:32; Acts 26:23; Rom 15:8- 12). In the third Servant Song the emphasis is on the servant’s patient endurance. This had some meaning in relation to Israel’s experiences among hostile nations, and considerably more meaning in relation to the godly believers’ experiences among their ungodly fellow Israelites. The full meaning is found only in the experiences of Jesus (Isa 50:4-9; Matt 26:67; 1 Peter 2:22-24). The fourth Servant Song speaks of the servant’s suffering and glory. God punished Israel for its sins by sending the nation into captivity in Babylon, but after the removal of sin he restored the nation to its land. Israel’s sufferings at the hands of Babylon and its glory in the rebuilt Jerusalem were a picture of the sufferings of the Messiah and the glory that followed (Isa 52:13-15; Acts 2:23-24,36; Phil 2:8-11; 1 Peter 1:18-21).

Israel, God’s unfaithful servant, suffered the judgment that its sin deserved; Jesus, the faithful servant, bore a judgment that he did not deserve. The godly remnant within Israel suffered because of the sins of others, and so did Jesus; but, more than that, Jesus suffered to take away the sins of others (Isa 53:4-6; Matt 8:17; 20:28; 1 Peter 2:22-25). He bore shame and injustice at the hands of wicked men (Isa 53:3,7-8; Matt 27:26-31; Acts 8:32-35), though he did at least receive a decent burial (Isa 53:9; Matt 27:57-60). Yet through all Jesus’ experiences, God was bringing his purposes to fulfilment. Jesus’ glorious resurrection showed God’s complete satisfaction with his Son’s atoning work. It also marked the beginning of a new age in which God’s salvation goes to people throughout the world (Isa 53:10-12; Mark 10:45; Luke 24:46-47; Acts 2:23-24; 28:28; Rom 8:32-34; Rev 5:9-10).

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