Isaiah and the Servant

Persecuted Jews plead for mercy from Ferdinand and Isabella (credit: Universal Images Group / Getty Images)

Persecuted Jews plead for mercy from         Ferdinand and Isabella   (credit:
Universal Images Group / Getty Images)

I have been privileged over the years to have some Jewish friends, particularly of the Orthodox variety. I am still learning quite a bit about Hebrew ideas and culture. I try not to say Old Testament around my Jewish friends, as this might put up some barrier, so I talk of the Tanakh instead. I share about the current season of Lent, but I also inquire about the coming Passover.

It was news to me when I learned that the reason why Jews reject Christianity is not so much because of fears of anti-semitism. Instead, Jews reject Jesus as the Messiah because they believe that Christians have the Bible wrong.I recently heard that many Jews look at Christians pretty much the same way many evangelical Christians look at Mormons: theologically suspicious and half-baked.Okay. I get that.

The passage that N.T. Wright is highlighting today in Matthew 12:1-12 is a case in point. Jesus is quoting from Isaiah 42 about the Servant who will announce God’s justice to the whole wide world. Jews traditionally interpret this “Servant” to be the people of Israel themselves. The Jewish people are God’s chosen one in whom God delights. Isaiah 53 speaks of this Servant as the one who also Suffers.

In the same year that Christopher Columbus made his famous voyage towards the Americas, 1492, Isabella and Ferdinand of Spain expelled nearly the entire Jewish community of some 200,000 people out of the country in order to establish a “Christian” hegemony across Spain. Lives were shattered. Most Americans celebrate 1492. Our Jewish neighbors dread it. If you think about this “Israel as Isaiah’s Suffering Servant” idea, my Jewish friends may have a point.

We as Christians, on the other hand, view this prophecy of Isaiah’s Servant as being fulfilled in the one person, Jesus of Nazareth. As crazy as it sounds to the modern Jew, the one who suffered on the cross on Easter week is the same one who comes to proclaim that “God has become King”, as N.T. Wright puts it, through Christ’s Resurrection.

However, it is not like Jesus was walking around with a clipboard, checking off various prophecies as they were being fulfilled: “Let’s see. Have I done this one yet? Oh, yeah. I did.
Instead, it was a continual unfolding of the Truth as Jesus went through his life and ministry. Jesus’ disciples would watch Him in action, look back and then say, “Oh, now we get it! This is what the prophet of Isaiah was really talking about!” The shocking claim of the New Testament is that Jesus fulfills the role of Isaiah’s Servant in ways that Israel never, ever could. How much do we really understand what the Bible says about Jesus as the Messiah? My conversations with my Jewish friends drive me to dig deeper into the Bible. Let us pray that they and others like them might recognize Jesus as their Messiah.


One comment

  1. Reblogged this on Veracity and commented:
    As a young believer in Christ, I basically thought that the New Testament message that Jesus is the Suffering Servant Messiah was a no-brainer. So, I was always rather frustrated as to why modern day Jews will not simply accept Jesus as their Messiah and become Christians. I mean, is it not obvious?

    Well, if you ever get to know an Orthodox Jew, you might learn that the New Testament claim about Jesus is not so obvious. The New Testament does teach this Truth, but you really have to work with the Old and New Testament texts to get at it. It is very subtle.

    However, the most subtle things in life often become the most important and life changing. The following post on our church’s Lenten series blog lays out the challenge….

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