Hey, Father! Can you please explain the suffering servant from the book of Isaiah

Can you please explain the suffering servant from the book of Isaiah.

– Pat in Ramsey

“The suffering servant” is a famous passage from Isaiah 53, which theologians claim is a messianic prophecy about Jesus. It talks about the suffering this “servant” will endure, however, to get the full picture, you need to look at four Songs of the Servant of the Lord. 

The four “Songs of the Servant of the Lord” (Is 42:1-9; Is 49:1-7; Is 50:4-11; Is 52:13-53:12) describe the mysterious figure of the “Servant of God” who in some respects resembles Israel – the Servant of the Lord from many other texts (Is 41:8), but in His other features, He is someone completely different, a very distinguished and distinctive personality, having no equal (Is 49:5). 

The “Servant of the Lord” is chosen by God for His mission while still in the womb, fashioned by Him, filled with His spirit (Songs I and II). He is a docile, attentive, and a faithful disciple of the Lord, diligently listening to His teachings to be able to teach people in turn (Song II). The task and role of this Servant is to announce a new religious law for all nations, not only for Israel. It is to be a light for the nations and a covenant for Israel, to bring people messianic good and salvation (Song I, II, III).

Although persecuted and despised by people, the Servant will not be afraid and will carry out His mission bravely, trusting in the power of God, who will constantly support Him and surround Him with His care, and finally, reward and glorify Him (Songs III and IV). The fourth song presents and ponders the sufferings of the Lord’s Servant. Though innocent, He suffers severe physical torments and spiritual humiliation inflicted upon Him by people, up to and including a shameful death, as if He were the worst villain. He, however, suffers these torments voluntarily as an expiation for the sins of others, namely all sinful people, because He took them upon Himself. The Lord acknowledged and accepted His Passion as universal satisfaction. Therefore, the Servant of the Lord will receive as a reward eternal glory and immense descendants forever, that is, of the people He redeemed, both from Israel and from other nations. 

In various texts, the New Testament recognizes and sees in Isaiah’s “Servant of the Lord” a prophetic announcement – a type of Jesus Christ Himself, the Messiah and Savior (Mt 3:17; Mt 8:17; Mt 12:17-21; Lk 2:31; Lk 4:17-21; Acts 3:13). More often, the words of the fourth Song of the Servant of the Lord are used or quoted (Is 53) in Mk 9:12; Jn 12:38; Acts 8:32-35; Rom 4:25; Rom 10:16; Rom 15:21; 1 Cor 15:3; 2 Cor 5:21; 1 Pt 2:22-25. 

Christ combines in His person both the features of the glorious Messianic King of the Davidic family (2 Sm 7:12-17; Is 7:14; Is 9:5; Is 11:1-5) and the suffering Servant of the Lord (Is 52:13-53:12; Ps 22). Christ Himself identified Himself as the Servant of the Lord (Lk 22:37).

Father Michal Rose is pastor of Sacred Heart parish in Effingham