Messianic Prophecies: The Suffering Servant

What constitutes a Messianic prophecy? At times it can be difficult to understand how an Old Testament passage, read within its context, is a Messianic prophecy; the New Testament reader only knows that it is, because the New Testament writers refer to that Old Testament passage as applying to Jesus. The disciples apparently had the same problem, and it was not until the resurrection of Jesus Christ when they were fully informed how the Old Testament spoke of Him, which they passed on when they penned the gospels.

Then he said to them, "These are my words that I spoke to you while I was still with you, that everything written about me in the Law of Moses and the Prophets and the Psalms must be fulfilled." Then he opened their minds to understand the Scriptures, and said to them, "Thus it is written, that the Christ should suffer and on the third day rise from the dead, and that repentance for the forgiveness of sins should be proclaimed in his name to all nations, beginning from Jerusalem. You are witnesses of these things. And behold, I am sending the promise of my Father upon you. But stay in the city until you are clothed with power from on high." (Luke 24:44-49, ESV)

1. Some Messianic prophecies are easy to identify because they are recounted almost verbatim. Notice how the following chart helps you compare and observe similar passages. When you read Matthew's account, what does he tell you about Jesus?

Behold my servant, whom I uphold,
my chosen, in whom my soul delights;
I have put my Spirit upon him;
he will bring forth justice to the nations.
He will not cry aloud or lift up his voice,
or make it heard in the street;
a bruised reed he will not break,
and a faintly burning wick he will not quench;
he will faithfully bring forth justice.
He will not grow faint or be discouraged
till he has established justice in the earth;
and the coastlands wait for his law. (Isa 42:1-4, ESV)

This was to fulfill what was spoken by the prophet Isaiah:
"Behold, my servant whom I have chosen,
my beloved with whom my soul is well pleased.
I will put my Spirit upon him,
and he will proclaim justice to the Gentiles.
He will not quarrel or cry aloud,
nor will anyone hear his voice in the streets;
a bruised reed he will not break,
and a smoldering wick he will not quench,
until he brings justice to victory;
and in his name the Gentiles will hope." (Matt 12:17-21, ESV)

Isaiah 52:13 – 53:12 is largely recognized as the prophecy of the suffering Servant. Isaiah speaks of servanthood, an individual who was rejected, and voluntarily gave up his life suffering an innocent atoning death for "the many" who will benefit.

Today, in contrast, Judaism argues that Isaiah 52:13-53:12 is about the nation of Israel. In suffering for the sins of Gentile nations, the nation of Israel fulfilled Isaiah 53. This view was popularized by Rabbi Rashi (1050 A.D.) and others in response to the persecution of Jews for not believing in Jesus Christ during the Middle Ages.

2. Underline the messianic prophecy identified by Matthew. When you observe Isaiah's prophecy, what do you learn from Matthew's account?

Surely he has borne our griefs
and carried our sorrows;
yet we esteemed him stricken,
smitten by God, and afflicted. (Isa 53:4, ESV)

And when Jesus entered Peter's house, he saw his mother-in-law lying sick with a fever. He touched her hand, and the fever left her, and she rose and began to serve him. That evening they brought to him many who were oppressed by demons, and he cast out the spirits with a word and healed all who were sick. This was to fulfill what was spoken by the prophet Isaiah: "He took our illnesses and bore our diseases." (Matt 8:14-17, ESV)

3. After the gospel accounts, within the same theme of the suffering Servant, the apostles use Messianic prophecies that portray Jesus as the unblemished sacrificial lamb. What are some reasons for Messianic prophecies placing an emphasis on Jesus as the suffering Servant?

He was oppressed, and he was afflicted,
yet he opened not his mouth;
like a lamb that is led to the slaughter,
and like a sheep that before its shearers is silent,
so he opened not his mouth.
By oppression and judgment he was taken away;
and as for his generation, who considered
that he was cut off out of the land of the living,
stricken for the transgression of my people? (Isa 53:7-8, ESV)

Now the passage of the Scripture that he was reading was this:
"Like a sheep he was led to the slaughter
and like a lamb before its shearer is silent,
so he opens not his mouth.
In his humiliation justice was denied him.
Who can describe his generation?
For his life is taken away from the earth."
And the eunuch said to Philip, "About whom, I ask you, does the prophet say this, about himself or about someone else?" Then Philip opened his mouth, and beginning with this Scripture he told him the good news about Jesus. (Acts 8:32-35, ESV)


1. The suffering Servant

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