The Suffering Servant

Jesus of Nazareth 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.” Instead, he humbled himself and submitted to a shameful death on the Roman cross. For this reason, God highly exalted him and made him “Lord” over all things. His exaltation did not precede his death – his enthronement followed it.

His example of self-denial is the pattern HIS disciples must emulate. In the relevant passage in Paul’s Letter to the Philippians, the concern is not with metaphysical speculations about the nature of Jesus or his “eternal relationship” to his Father, but about how he “poured himself out” in death for others, including his “enemies.”

Death on Cross - Photo by Dimitri Kolpakov on Unsplash
[Photo by Dimitri Kolpakov on Unsplash]

Rather than explaining his Christology, Paul
 presents Jesus as the supreme example of how HIS disciple must conduct himself. ILOWLINESS OF MIND,” he must count others “better than himselfnot looking to his own things, but to the things of others,” thus deferring his needs and desires to those of others:

  • (Philippians 2:5-11) - “Be thinking this among you, that even in Christ JesusWho, commencing in 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.

In the passage, Paul contrasts Jesus with Adam by using language from the latter’s fall 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,” choosing instead to humble himself and submit to an unjust and shameful death. Adam was created in the image of God but grasped at the divine “likeness” through his transgression. However, Jesus submitted to the will of God and suffered the consequences, in the process becoming forevermore the Crucified One.

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

The first Adam chose disobedience. The Greek noun rendered “seize” in Philippians means “plunder, booty” - something that is taken by force. In contrast, the “second Adam,” Jesus, chose NOT to attempt to seize God’s “likeness” for himself. Instead, he fulfilled the role of 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 so-called “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.”

Hence, Jesus fulfilled this messianic role by “pouring out his soul” to death on behalf of others, and HIS disciple is called to adopt this same mindset - to seek nothing from self-interest or for “empty glory.”

Storm Panorama - Photo by Matt Palmer on Unsplash
[Photo by Matt Palmer on Unsplash]


HIS disciple imitates him by not seeking to promote himself, and by submitting in humble obedience to the Father’s will. The true believer must conduct himself in “humility” by serving others, just as God’s messianic “servant” did. To be the Messiah or one of his disciples is to serve others, not to lord it over them.

Self-denial does not mean losing one’s individual identity. Jesus did not lose his individuality and personality, but he certainly did choose to forego his “civil rights” and privileges for the sake of others.

Like him, HIS disciple is called to defer to the needs of others rather than insist on fulfilling and honoring his own needs, expectations, and privileges, whether real or imagined. To “become greatest in the Kingdom of God” HIS followers must first become the servants and “slaves of others,” just as Jesus did when he “gave his life a ransom for many.”




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