The Suffering Servant: A 3 Part Bible Study

The Suffering Servant

The idea of the Suffering Servant is one of the greatest concepts in the Bible. It iswhat John MacArthur refers to as “vicarious substitutionary atonement.”[1] The suffering servant takes on all of mankind’s sin through the suffering of the Messiah and his death superseded our destruction contributed to our disobedience. Jesus Christ is the suffering servant, he serves us by suffering in the place of what is owed to us.

This type of revelation found in Isaiah is so complex and inane to early Jewish orthodoxy. Isaiah 52 was written over seven hundred years before the crucifixion of Jesus Christ. To suggest that the Messiah would come from humble beginnings and be ordered to suffer and die in humiliation at the hands of man would be in contrast to what rabbinic law and doctrine suggest.[2] They viewed the Messiah as a strong warrior of Royal lineage who would heroically save Israel from its enemies.

We see this in Isaiah 52 verse 12: “Behold my servant shall act wisely; he shall be high and lifted up and shall be exalted. Chapter 53 verse 2 echoes his humble beginnings with comparing the messiah to a weed, or plant. It goes on to say: “he had no form or majesty that we should look at him, and no beauty that we should desire him.” (53:2)[3] This further reiterates a stark contrast to the early Rabbinic doctrine that elevates the Messiah.

This is an unbelievable revelation, especially for its time. Later when Christ is reading from Isaiah in his hometown, in front of his friends and family, he states that this prophecy is fulfilled through him. This sends local Jewish leaders into a frenzy.  

Christ’s example of humility is laid out in Philippians chapter two. In verses three and four, “Paul realizes that everyone naturally looks out for his or her interest. The key is to take that same kind of level of concern and apply it also to the interests of others.”[4]  Paul writes in verse seven: “who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but he emptied himself, by taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men.” (Philippians 2:6-7)

This openly addresses sin as something paid for by our God. He paid the price for our inequity, not through the glorious battle of wrath and destruction, but humility, suffering, and sacrifice. God’s grace is our remedy for sin, not adherence to law or abstention. It is God realizing that mankind has trust issues. We constantly question that of leadership and authority, realizing this nonstop lack of trust, God makes a loophole of grace, a sacrificial covenant that saves man from his greatest enemy, himself.

We see this in the book of Genesis. The man tested God the tree of knowledge, falling into manipulation and wanting the knowledge of God. “You will not surely die. For God knows that when you eat your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil.” (Gen. 3:5) This is mankind’s legacy, not truly trusting the will of God. It follows us to this day. However, God’s grace abounds. He is still showing us mercy in dimes of deceit. He showed it to Adam and Eve. They earned the right to harsh punishment, they were given everything and were asked to not do just one thing. Even that was impossible. So, they disobeyed God, and what did he do? He clothed them, what a sign of grace. “And the Lord God made for Adam and for his wife garments of skins and clothed them.”

A famous theologian once said, “the Old Testament is a prediction of what’s going to happen, and the New Testament is the verification of it happening.”[5] The story of the Bible is not death, suffering, and betrayal, although those elements exist, it is the show and tell of God’s unbelievable grace toward mankind, in the face of sin. Man sins, God forgives, we saw it in the Garden and Jesus Christ paid the ultimate price for it on that cross two thousand years ago.

Sin is “evildoing seen in the religious perspective, not only against humanity, society, others, or oneself but against God. The concept of God, therefore, gives to the idea of sin its many-sided meaning[6]” This seems like a solid, on the spot translation. But in ancient Hebrew and the original Greek, is more closely related to missing the mark, or crudely speaking, missing what God intends for our best benefit.  We see this no better in the world today. Truth has been Trumped by convenience and self-interest. Greed and ignorance plague our industries, lies, and arrogance saturate politics and our Universities have been taken over by social justice warriors. I can not imagine a time that God’s grace is needed for humanity.

We see grace as given to us not only in the works of God and Jesus but the wonderful teaching of Paul. He extolled God’s grace throughout the entire book of Romans. He opens up with God’s promise of grace, “Through Jesus Christ our Lord, whom we have received Grace.” (Romans 1:5) It is in the book of Romans where Paul fulling lines out the atonement, through grace, given to us by the Holy Father, and it is from this gift of love that we are righteous, not by deed.[7] Explaining that the ultimate remedy to sin is Jesus Christ. Our sin has already been bought and paid for. God showed us in the Garden, Isaiah foretold this in prophecy, Christ performed his service to all humanity, and Paul writes about it extensively in his letters. “The wages of sin are death” (Romans 6:23), but what no one could see was that those wages were going to be paid for by the divine himself, God.

Isaiah

The Use of Isaiah in the New Testament

John MacArthur said: “to understand Isaiah is to the Old Testament as understanding Romans is to the New Testament. The book of Isaiah is integral to both Old and New Testament theology. It interlocks the Davidic Covenant with the Bridal covenant prophesizing God’s new covenant with man, through the sacrificial Lamb of God.[8] The use of the book of Isaiah is used several times in the New Testament by the apostles to show Jesus and his actions as those prophesied in Jewish heritage.

To begin we need to fully understand that Isaiah foretells a vast story of the Suffering Servant and previously mentioned.  In Old Testament language they use “Abd Yewhew” about the suffering servant, meaning the slave of God.[9] This marks the fourth time we are introduced to the coming Messiah in the book of Isaiah. We are introduced to the messianic servant three times before chapter 52. We see Christ as a servant in chapters forty-two, forty-nine, and fifty.[10]

The book of Isaiah doesn’t just tell speak to the crucifixion but also the restoration of the Jewish people and completes God’s promise to Israel. It is a story of the past, the present, and the future of the Jewish nation. This is why it is so important to New Testament theology and why Christ, himself, quoted from it so often. [Interestingly, on a tangential fact, from all the Dead Sea scrolls recovered early in the twentieth century, the book of Isaiah was the only one found in its entirety.]

One example of Christ quoting Isaiah is in the book of John. Chapter twelve. John explains to the people of Israel that their rejection of him as the Messiah is foretold in the book of Isaiah. He gives them a reason to believe in him, though their doubt. The denial of Jesus Christ, as the Rabbinic Messiah is the proof that was foretold in Isaiah 6:10 and 53:1.[11]

Paul goes on to use the book of Isaiah in Romans to explain how the Gospel will be spread to the corning of the world. He is referring to Isaiah fifty-two verse fifteen: “so shall he sprinkle many nations. Kings shall shut their mouths because of him, for that which has not been told them they see, and that which they have not heard they understand.

Paul is using this Old Testament scripture to teach that the work of Christ is not finished. The prophecy is not finished. Now the Gospel of faith, love, and hope is to be spread to all nations. The word will not take power and change the lives of all mankind, not just the Jews. It is the reason that Christ did not restore his kingdom immediately, all mankind needs to see and witness the hope that is within Christianity. If Jesus would have restored his kingdom immediately, so many lives would have needlessly perished. It was not the work of the Apostles and the church to bring civilization to all mankind. It was now time for man to live in the kingdom of God, here on earth.[12]

The subject here is restoration verse salvation. The cross gave us salvation, through that all mankind can be saved. The world required restoration. That is currently what we are in today. The Holy Spirit is restoring mankind to its maturity potential in order to bring upon his great restoration where Israel will be restored, and every knee will bend.  Christ could not restore his kingdom without the mass destruction of mankind. He had to set up his kingdom, here on earth, and through this new covenant, mankind can learn to walk in his love and share his Gospel for generations to come.

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Exegetical Study I Peter 2:11–25

Historical and Geographical Context:

Peter wrote this letter, he was an apostle renamed by Jesus as Cephas. This letter was written in the mid-first century 62-63 A.D. The letter was most likely written from Rome and it was addressed to believers in Pontus, Galatia, Cappadocia, Asia, and Bithynia.[13]

He wrote the epistle to the early member of the church that was “confused and discouraged by the persecution they were encountering because of their faith.[14]” Early Christianity found itself at a crossroad in society lived out by those, not of faith. The Christians were urged to abstain from sin and this brought much persecution from local “sinners” who found Christian communities as pretentious or morally elite.[15] 

Literary Context:

1 Peter is an Epistle; “Although he addresses a great variety of Christians, the author focuses on one central pastoral problem—helping these Christians endure in the face of their neighbors’ negative reactions to their obstinate perseverance in the Christian faith.[16]” Chapter two deals primarily with being a Holy people and keeping the foundation of the church rock solid. It is a call to steadfastness and obedience to God.

Detailed Analysis

Verses by verse:

11: Believers should live as exiles in a world that rejects them.

12: Do not stoop to the level of the Gentiles, stay honorable. Let your light shine.

13: Do not engage in civil disobedience. Submit to the autocratic ways of government and institutions.

14: Leadership as well. Obey those who edify or punish according to the law.

15: Good overcomes the foolish.

16: Live as free servants of God. Do not take your freedom for granted.

17: Be obedient to God, and the emperor. Love your neighbor as yourself.

18: Servants obey masters, even the unjust ones.

19: Life is not fair. Some will suffer unjustly, endure.

20: Suffering unjustly, and with faith in God is honorable and noble.

21: You have been called, as Christ has to suffer in the face of adversity.

22: Christ did not sin and died for the sins of others. We, who are sinners, can endure suffering.

23: Christ did not fight back when persecuted, but trusted God’s justice and sovereignty.

24: Christ died for us to live without the justification of sin. We are healed by his suffering.

25: Mankind was losing, wandering aimlessly. Now we are back in the fold of God’s protection and leadership.

a priest holding a bible while talking to the man in white tank top
Photo by cottonbro on Pexels.com

21st Century Application

This has enormous twenty-first-century application, especially in America. The prosperity Gospel and seed-faith movement have stripped believers of this concept of suffering from honor. I feel more of this theology should be taught in our churches. The church congregations in America (and abroad) tend to leave out this issue of suffering. They do so to fill the pews and give the parishioner good self-esteem.

I was a serious victim of this for years. It was suffering, and the lack of proper teaching on the subject, that drove me from the Church decades ago. This section is 1 Peter explains the role of the suffering servant. Honor God, be true to your beliefs, trust that doing the right thing, is the best thing. Stay grounded in love and obey the law. Peter gave strong emphasis on civil obedience. How appropriate is this topic in the world of Black lives matter hatred and Antifa violence? This country seems to be going backward. It is starting to become popular to disobey, especially the government.

Even though he never uses the word revenge, Peter touches on it a couple of times. Urging the believers to not allow themselves to be pulled into the petty conflict. This is so pervasive in society that if someone wrongs you, and you don’t attempt to even score, you are viewed as a weak person. In reality, it is a strong individual that can keep moving forward past retribution.

This is a wonderful passage that shows how Christianity brought civility to mankind. I often engage in discussion about how barbaric and wrathful the Old Testament is to laymen. They constantly point to the Old Testament massacre or the flood to make a case that God is angry. The opposite is where the Truth Lies. If you study ancient civilizations, you find some of the worst atrocities imaginable. Not that God was not just, justice is necessary for civil society. His forgiveness shows up all over the Old and New Testaments and this is just another example of Peter, and the apostle, conveying God’s message of peace in the face of persecution.

One controversial verse is eleven: “Beloved, I urge you as sojourners and exiles to abstain from the passions of the flesh, which wage war against your soul.” (1 Peter 2:11) One could draw a hermeneutical conclusion that Peter would condone. Wayne Grudem writes in a commentary on 1 Peter 2:11 – 4:11; “Living as strangers to bring glory to God in a hostile world. Believers should live as exiles in a world that rejects their message.”[17] This almost calls to arms a separatist point of view for Christianity that maybe Peter was eluding to. Maybe we, as Christians, try too hard to blend into our secular society. This could be the reason churches are more like rock concerts and motivational speeches than ceremonial services. 

Bibliography

Avraham, Yosef Ben. “The Davidic Covenant.” The Final Remnant – A People of Covenant. Lecture, n.d. Accessed March 3, 2018. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=PkudWhw1Hdo.

Calvin, Jean, and William Pringle. Commentary on a Harmony of the Evangelists, Matthew, Mark, and Luke. Grand Rapids: W.B. Erdmans Co., 1965.

DeSilva, David Arthur. An Introduction to the New Testament: Contexts, Methods, and Ministry Formation. Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 2004.

Elwell, Walter A. Baker Encyclopedia of the Bible. Grand Rapids, MI: Baker, 1989.

Gleason, Michael. “Session Two: Part One.” MIN7012. Reading, March 25, 2018.

Grudem, Wayne A. ESV Student Study Bible: English Standard Version. Wheaton, IL: Crossway, 2017.

Hinn, Costi W., and Anthony G. Wood. Defining Deception. El Cajon, CA: SCS Press, 2018.

Hitchcock, Mark. The End: a Complete Overview of Bible Prophecy and the End of Days. Carol Stream, IL: Tyndale House Publishers, 2012.

HUDSON, CHRISTOPHER D. KJV CROSS-REFERENCE STUDY BIBLE. S.l.: BARBOUR PUB INC, 2016.

MacArthur, John F. “Isaiah 53 The Suffering Servant.” I Chronicles 29:11. Lecture, n.d. Accessed March 28, 2018. https://www.youtube.com/results?search_query=the+suffering+servant+isaiah+53.

MacArthur, John. Slave: The Hidden Truth About Your Identity in Christ. Waterville, Main: Christian Large Print, a part of Gale, Cengage Learning, 2012.

Who’s Who in the Bible: An Illustrated Biographical Dictionary. Pleasantville, NY: Reader’s Digest, 2000.

Willard, Dallas. The Divine Conspiracy: Rediscovering Our Hidden Life in God. London: William Collins, 2014.

Zacharias, Ravi K., and Vince Vitale. Why Suffering?: Finding Meaning and Comfort When Life Doesn’t Make Sense. New York: FaithWords, 2015.

Footnotes:

[1] John F. MacArthur, “Isaiah 53 The Suffering Servant” (lecture), June 3, 2016, accessed March 28, 2018, https://www.youtube.com/results?search_query=the+suffering+servant+isaiah+53.

[2] Ibid.

[3] Wayne A. Grudem, ESV Student Study Bible: English Standard Version (Wheaton, IL: Crossway, 2017).

[4] Wayne Grudem, ESV commentary 1581.

[5] John F. MacArthur, “Isaiah 53 The Suffering Servant” (lecture), June 3, 2016, accessed March 28, 2018, https://www.youtube.com/results?search_query=the+suffering+servant+isaiah+53.

[6] Walter A. Elwell, Baker Encyclopedia of the Bible (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker, 1989), 1967.

[7] Gleason, Michael. “Session Two: Part One.” MIN7012. Reading, March 25, 2018.

[8] Yosef Ben Avraham, “The Davidic Covenant” (lecture), July 2, 2016, accessed March 3, 2018, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=PkudWhw1Hdo.

[9] John MacArthur, Slave: The Hidden Truth about Your Identity in Christ (Waterville, Main: Christian Large Print, a Part of Gale, Cengage Learning, 2012).

[10] John F. MacArthur, “Isaiah 53 The Suffering Servant” (lecture), June 3, 2016, accessed March 28, 2018, https://www.youtube.com/results?search_query=the+suffering+servant+isaiah+53.

[11] CHRISTOPHER D. HUDSON, KJV Cross Reference Study Bible. (S.l.: BARBOUR PUB, 2016), 1183.

[12] Dallas Willard, The Divine Conspiracy: Rediscovering Our Hidden Life in God (William Collins, 2014).

[13] Wayne Grudem, ESV 1670.

[14] Ibid, 1673

[15] Ibid, 1671

[16] David Arthur. DeSilva, An Introduction to the New Testament: Contexts, Methods, and Ministry Formation (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 2004), 843.

[17]Wayne A. Grudem, ESV Student Study Bible: English Standard Version (Wheaton, IL: Crossway, 2017), 1673.

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