The suffering servant in the book of Isaiah chapter 53 refers to the prophet’s song about the future Messiah. Many Jews and other scholars, who mostly refer to the suffering servant as the nation of Israel, misinterpret this controversial chapter.
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On the contrary, other scholars argue and interpret the suffering servant as Jesus Christ in the New Testament. The interpretation and application of the chapter have been a debatable issue over a long time, yet the different sides have not agreed on one rendition of the chapter.
The prophetic song describes the sufferings and punishment of the suffering servant in his mission. The chapter is a continuation of the messianic prophecy, which portrays the actual situations and activities of the suffering servant, while executing his sole purpose.
This paper will highlight the actual symbolism of the suffering servant by Isaiah, his missions, and the relationship with the individual servant in the New Testament. Moreover, the paper will describe the relationship between the Messiah and the suffering servant in the prophetic poetic song of Isaiah chapter 53.
The corporate suffering servant
The chapter describes the suffering servant as rejected and despised by the people that he came to save. Moreover, the prophecy describes the servant as the one who undergoes suffering by growing in an unfavorable community of impunity.
Isaiah portrays the suffering servant as neglected and unnoticeable in the society during his growth (Zuck and Campbell 2002, 78-85).
The suffering servant is expressed to be filled with sorrows in his mission. In verse 4 of chapter 53, the suffering servant bears the burden of carrying the iniquities and sins of a people gone astray.
The prophecy by Isaiah reveals the messianic symbolisms of the suffering Messiah; for instance, he was pierced for the sins and transgressions of many. Moreover, the prophetic song illustrates how the servant would suffer in the quest to bring peace and deliver the oppressed.
The suffering servant experiences punishments and sufferings that are meant to pay the price of the people’s sins. For instance, in verse 5, prophet Isaiah says that by his wounds people would be healed. The servant carries the sins of everyone’s wickedness through his innocent suffering.
Furthermore, the suffering servant would not utter a word of objection when the enemies take him to the cross (Zuck and Campbell 2002, 89). The prophet describes the suffering servant as a sacrificial lamb in silent suffering. The messianic prophecy portrays the afflictions of Christ, who would rescue the world.
The world needed an intermediary to connect the wicked sinners to the Almighty God after the fall of man. The chapter on the suffering servant shows how the suffering servant would conquer death to gain glory and honor after suffering.
The suffering servant interpretation
The controversial suffering servant mainly describes the Messiah who is Jesus Christ. The song shows how the suffering Messiah would suffer in his mission to bring salvation to the world. The prophecy foretells the sufferings that the suffering servant, Jesus Christ, would go through in his life.
Many Christians believe that the suffering servant is the prophecy of the ministry of Jesus Christ that comes to fulfillment in the New Testament. Furthermore, the suffering servant, Jesus Christ, is the only person in the Bible who died on behalf of others.
The Bible clearly outlines that the sinless lamb would die and prolong his time, which was fulfilled by Christ after he died and resurrected after defeating the power of darkness. In the prophecy, Isaiah describes the suffering Messiah as the one who would be despised and rejected.
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In the New Testament, this prophecy was fulfilled when Jesus’ teachings pointed out that a true prophet is not accepted in his own land. Jesus himself was rejected and his people did not believe in his miracles nor did they believe that he was the chosen Messiah.
In the book of Mathew 8:17, the prophecy comes into fulfillment by acknowledging the prophetic messianic message by Isaiah on relieving the world with iniquities (Zuck and Campbell 2002, 95). The prophecy was delivered in Isaiah 53:4 whereby the suffering servant would bear the pain of the people’s iniquities.
In addition, the suffering servant is portrayed in Isaiah’s prophecy as the one who would carry people’s pains and diseases. The Messiah fulfills the prophecy by dying a sinless death coupled with being wounded for peoples’ sins.
In the New Testament, Jesus Christ was wounded by being pierced in his ribs. The Bible confirms that via the blood of Jesus, people were healed. This statement is a confirmation of the prophecy by prophet Isaiah that he would be pierced for people’s transgressions.
In addition, Jesus was crucified with other two thieves who were prophesied by the messianic prophecy in Isaiah 53:9 (Zuck and Campbell 2002, 106). The prophecy by Isaiah concludes that the suffering servant would be glorified to justify many people. Jesus Christ was the Gods’ son, who was on a mission to rescue the sinners.
Moreover, the Bible in the prophetic message says that the suffering servant would see his offspring and prolong his days. This assertion is evident after Jesus’s resurrection. The offspring of Jesus Christ includes the individuals who surrender and accept the unmerited Gods’ salvation.
The New Testament affirms that Jesus Christ is God’s son, and thus in a bid to gain salvation sinners simply need to accept him (Zuck and Campbell 2002, 125). This aspect fulfills Isaiah’s prophecy on Messiah that the suffering servant’s days would be prolonged.
Apparently, no other person in the Bible that bore other people’s transgressions except Jesus. Moreover, the Bible refers to Jesus as the blameless lamb in the New Testament, which is quoted by Prophet Isaiah on the suffering servant (Zuck and Campbell 2002, 130).
Therefore, Jesus Christ represents the suffering servant who suffers greatly for other people’s sins. Furthermore, the suffering servant’s traits are portrayed in Jesus; for instance, he was born in a humble background, died for the people’s sins, suffered in silence, and prolonged his days through resurrection.
Ultimately, in the history of the Bible, no one had these characteristics of Isaiah’s prophecy except the Messiah.
The relationship between the suffering servant and the New Testament
The New Testament fulfills the prophecies about the Messiah in the Old Testament. The suffering servant in the New Testament is regarded as Jesus Christ, who died for the transgressions and iniquities of the people.
The New Testament confirms the prophecies of the Messiah mainly through the great suffering that the Messiah would go through. In Isaiah 53:12, the suffering servant is allegedly rejected and despised because he is in an unaccomplished mission to save ignorant people through divine punishment.
His unique humiliation was beyond human power for the acceptance of the severe suffering and the painful crucifixion. Evidently, sin and the cross are inseparable.
Moreover, Christ’s work in atoning for the sin lies on the cross. Christ absorbed God’s wrath, which was brought about by sin from humanity. Prophet Isaiah prophesies this issue where the suffering servant would bear the inequities of the sinners.
Christ took charge to become an intermediary between people and God. He absorbed the consuming fire of Gods’ wrath in his own flesh and represented every sinner therein (Zuck and Campbell 2002, 136).
The best understanding of the suffering servant comes from the point of view that the Father would send his own son to take all the accusations of sin from his people. He would make a flesh sacrifice for every sinner. In fact, in Mathew 20:17-19, Jesus Christ knew what was going to happen, and thus he told his disciples about his crucifixion.
The Bible further clarifies that Jesus was like a sheep without resistance, which comes out clearly when he was arrested without a warrant, but he never resisted. The death was unfair and unjust. Salvation is the work design of the Father and son. In Isaiah 53:11, the suffering servant knows what he would be doing.
He knew his mission and what his Father needed.
The controversy lies in the definition of the Messiah. Some individuals believe that Jesus was not the promised messiah. Therefore, even though his life’s occurrences and sufferings fit the descriptions given by Isaiah, he does not qualify because he is allegedly not the messiah.
However, to the group of individuals that believe that Jesus was the promised messiah, they believe that he is the suffering servant according to the prophecy by Isaiah.
The controversial debate on Isaiah’s poetic song by Jews and other scholars that the prophecy is not about the Messiah, Jesus Christ, lies in the view that they do not acknowledge him as the Messiah. The messianic prophecy in Isaiah is fulfilled in the New Testament through Jesus Christ and his mission.
However, many modern scholars argue that the prophecy is about the nation of Israel. On the contrary, the New Testament shows the fulfillment of the messianic prophecy through Jesus Christ. Through his sufferings and punishments, sins were forgiven and God’s greatness was portrayed through resurrection as prophesied by Isaiah.
Zuck, Roy, and Campbell Donald. 2002. Basic Bible Interpretation: A Practical Guide to Discovering Biblical Truth. New York, NY: David C Cook.