The Suffering Servant

Jesus fulfilled the role of the ‘Suffering Servant’ described in the Book of Isaiah. Unlike Adam, he did not attempt to grasp the “likeness of God,” but he humbled himself and submitted to a shameful death on the Roman cross. For this reason, God exalted him and made him “Lord” over all things. His exaltation did not precede his death; his enthronement followed it, and he died utterly alone.

His example of self-denial becomes the pattern for his disciples to emulate. In the relevant passage in Philippians, the Apostle’s concern is not with metaphysical speculation about the nature of Jesus, but with how he “poured himself out” in death for others, including his “enemies.”

Cross in grove - Photo by Michael Bourgault on Unsplash
[Photo by Michael Bourgault on Unsplash]

Rather than explaining his Christology, Paul
 presents Jesus as the supreme example of how we must conduct ourselves. Ilowliness of mind,” he counted others “better than himselfnot looking to his own things, but to the things of others,” thus deferring his needs, “rights,” and desires to those of others:

  • (Philippians 2:5-11) - “Be thinking this among you, that even in Christ JesusWho, commencing in the form of God, considered being like God something not to be seized, but he poured himself out, taking the form of a slave, having come to be in the likeness of men; and having been found in fashion as man, he humbled himself, becoming obedient unto death, even death on the cross. Therefore also, God highly exalted him and granted him the name that is above every name, that at the name of Jesus, every knee should bow, of beings heavenly and earthly and under the earth, and every tongue should confess, that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of the Father, even God.

Paul contrasted Jesus with Adam by using language from the latter’s disobedience described in the Book of Genesis and from the “Servant of Yahweh” portrayed in Isaiah.

Unlike Adam, Jesus did not attempt to seize God’s “likeness.” Instead, he humbled himself and submitted to an unjust and shameful death. Adam was created in the image of God but grasped at the Divine “likeness” through his transgression. In contrast, Jesus embraced the will of God and suffered the consequences. In the process, he became the one known ever since as the Crucified One.

The Nazarene “did not consider being like God something to be seized.” This alludes to the story of the “Serpent” that beguiled Eve and overcame Adam - “For God knows that in the day you eat of it, your eyes will be opened and you will become LIKE GOD, knowing good and evil” - (Genesis 3:5).

The first Adam chose disobedience and self-will. The Greek noun translated as “seize” means “plunder, booty,” something that is taken by force. In contrast, Jesus chose NOT to seize God’s “likeness.”

OBEDIENT UNTO DEATH


Instead of exalting and pleasing himself, Jesus became Yahweh’s “Servant” by “pouring himself out and taking the form of a slave… he humbled himself, becoming obedient unto death, even death on a cross.” The passage includes several allusions to the ‘Servant Song’ recorded in Isaiah. For example:

  • (Isaiah 53:7) - “Hard-pressed, yet HE HUMBLED HIMSELF, nor opened his mouth, as a lamb to the slaughter is led.”
  • (Isaiah 53:12) - “Therefore will I give him a portion in the great, and the strong shall he apportion as plunder BECAUSE HE POURED OUT TO DEATH HIS OWN SOUL, and with transgressors let himself be numbered, Yea, he the sin of many bare, and for transgressors interposed.”
  • (Isaiah 52:13) - “Behold, my Servant prospers, he rises and is lifted up and BECOMES VERY HIGH.”

Jesus fulfilled his Messianic role by “pouring out his soul” to death for others, and we are called to adopt this same mindset - To seek nothing from self-interest or for “empty glory.”

Mountain Twilight - Photo by Daniel Gregoire on Unsplash
[Photo by Daniel Gregoire on Unsplash]

We imitate him by not promoting ourselves, and by submitting to the will of God. We must conduct ourselves in “
humility” by serving others, just as the Servant of the LORD did. To be the Messiah or one of his disciples means serving others, not lording it over them.

Self-denial does not mean losing one’s individual identity. Jesus did not lose his personality, but he certainly did choose to forego his rights and privileges to meet the needs of others.

Like him, we are called to defer to the needs of others rather than insist on satisfying our own wants and privileges. To “become great in the Kingdom of God” we must first become the servants and “slaves of others,” just as Jesus did when he “gave his life as a ransom for many” and died on the Cross to reconcile men and women to their Creator.



RELATED POSTS:
  • Servant and King - (Following his baptism in the Jordan, the voice from heaven identified Jesus as the Son of God and the Servant of the LORD)
  • Servant or Caesar? - (Satan offered Jesus unlimited political power to achieve his messianic mission if only he acknowledged the Devil as his overlord)
  • Revealed on Calvary - (The Son of Man is revealed and comprehended in his sufferings and self-sacrificial death for others, including his enemies)


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