Jesus - The Servant of the Lord
Fr. Thomas Hopko · August 31, 2009
Listen to a fascinating and instructive word study on the word "servant" and how it is applied to Jesus in both the Old and New Testaments.
In the Holy Scripture, Jesus is called, several times, the Servant of the Lord. There are two words for the term “servant.” One is “doulos,” which means a bonded slave, a kind of servant in the sense of a slave that is owned by someone, and that is both feminine and masculine, doulos, doulē, so you have the use of the term “doulos.” For example, in Philippians (Philippians 2:7), it says that although he was in the form of God, he was found of the likeness of humanity, of men, and he emptied himself and took on the form of a slave, found in en morphē tou doulou, and that word really means a bonded servant or a slave.
But there’s another word for “servant.” Actually, it may be two others. One is a servant, like someone who serves at tables, and that would be “diakonos.” And Jesus is also applying that term to himself. For example, in Matthew, when he says, the Son of Man has come, not to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many, the verb that’s used there [is] from “diakonia.” He comes not to be served, not to be as a deacon, but to deacon to others. And that’s translated as “serve” in the RSV, and as “minister” in the King James Bible.
So you have that “diakonos,” you have “doulos,” but then there’s the one we want to speak about now, “pais,” which can mean a servant, a kind of a boy-slave; it could even mean a girl-slave or a girl-servant, but it can also mean a child. It can also mean, simply, a boy or a girl. So when this term is used, the context is very important, and sometimes this term is used even interchangeably with the term for “son.”
Now, Jesus, of course, is the Son of God, “huios tou theou,” “ho huios tou theou,” and that is a very strong title of Jesus in the New Testament. That’s a confession about him: “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God, the only-begotten Son, the firstborn Son.” And that term, “huios,” son, [is used] very clearly; it cannot mean anything other than a biological son or an adopted son, like in Galatians, the term “huios”: it says that “by faith, through grace, when we were baptized into Christ, we receive the status of sons, or the adoption as sons” (Galatians 3:26), and that in Greek would be “huiothesia,” the status or the order, condition, position, of being a son. But that means a son, like a son in a family, like a biological son, like a son who can inherit the property, the heir, and so on.
But the term “pais” can also mean “son”; it can also mean “child,” but not “child” in that sense. It can mean like a child, like a boy, who would be sort of like an attendant to a master. I think sometimes even in the old movies of the middle ages, you have these kings and they would have their boy who comes with them, and the boy would serve them, and the boy would take care of the horse and the boy would bring the clothes, kind of like a butler, or in monastic terms you might call it a cell attendant. The old man, the geronda, has with him his young disciple; that’s his boy, or his child, the one who serves him.
But it has a softer connotation than the term “doulos,” which means a bonded slave, someone who’s bought and sold and so on, whereas “pais” is kind of a more endearing term. It’s a kind of a loving term. It’s a term of the one who is “my child, my servant, my boy, my girl,” and that is [how] “pais” is found in the Holy Scripture in the New Testament, where it’s especially in the Book of Acts, as we’ll see. Jesus is called the Servant of God.
When we hear that term, “servant, pais,” it reminds us immediately, it has to remind us immediately, especially if you know the Scripture, and if we know the Greek translation of the Old Testament, the Septuagint, that is the term that’s used in the songs in Isaiah, for the servant of the Lord. There are the hymns in Isaiah, beginning around 40, 41; there’s several of the so-called servant songs or servant hymns, about Jacob and Israel being God’s chosen, God’s beloved, and God’s servant.
In Hebrew that would be the ebed Yahweh, the servant of the Lord, the child of the Lord, and in Greek that would be “pais”: paidos, paidia. It’s where you get [terms] like pedagogy and paideia: education, formation, child-nurture. That’s the same root of this particular term. And we should mention in relationship to words that there’s another word that can cause confusion, because there is a term in Greek for “child” or for “children,” and that would be “tekna.”
So, for example, in the prologue of St. John’s Gospel, where it speaks about Jesus as the “only-begotten huios, the only-begotten Son of God,” in that same prologue of St. John’s Gospel, it says that
to as many who received Jesus as the Son of God, and who believed in him, he gave them the authority (or the right, the power) to become tekna theou (children of God) to those who believe on his name, who are born not of blood nor of the will of flesh, nor of the will of man, but of God. And so they become tekna (as children).
And sometimes in the newer Bibles, like the RSV and the New RSV, they don’t want to use the term “son” because they consider it sexist, but it actually destroys the meaning of the Holy Scripture not to use it, because that term is used to mean that the one who is the Son of God, by faith or by grace or by nature—Christ by nature, we by faith and grace—literally have the status of sons, including women, including Gentiles, including slaves, actual bonded slaves, they become sons of God in Christ. That’s different from “children”; that’s different from being children, or being a child. Because a child is not necessarily an heir, but the son, the firstborn son, and the only son, is certainly the heir, the one who inherits everything.
So sometimes when it says in English “child,” you don’t know in Greek whether it’s “huios,” which means a boy-child, a son; or whether it’s “[teknon],” which just means a child, a child of parents; or whether it’s “pais,” which means a child or a boy or a girl as a kind of a servant-child: my child, my one who serves me. And then, of course, you have “doulos” and then you have “diakonos.” And in the New Testament, even women are called “diakonos.”
Phoebe, for example, is called the “diakonos” in Cenchreae. And it’s very interesting with Phoebe: the word “diakonos” is left masculine, but the article in front of the word is feminine: “hē diakonos,” which is ungrammatical, because you have to be “ho diakonos,” but it shows that there can be women deacons and men deacons who are servants. Certainly in the Christian Church, if you read Timothy, you have that teaching.
I know this is a little bit confusing, but we need to be confused sometimes to be illumined. In order to understand things clearly, we have to be confused. I think I’ve mentioned before on the radio how I had a student at St. Vladimir’s when I was teaching who used to say to me, “Fr. Thomas, I’m more confused now than ever.” And I would say to him, “Peter”—his name was Peter—I would say, “Better real confusion than false clarity.” Get confused a little bit.
But the confusion is there if we read the Bible in English, because we could read a text that says “son,” we could read a text that says “child,” we could read a text that says “servant,” and we don’t know what the word is! We don’t know what the original word is. If we read a text that says “son” or “child” or “servant,” it could be “huios,” it could be “teknon,” and it could be “pais.” If we read a text that says “servant,” it could be “doulos,” it could be “diakonos,” or it could be “pais.” So we don’t know.
But the term, “pais”... And it’s probably a good idea to give you an example of this. For example, in St. John’s Gospel, the second Messianic sign that Jesus does is when he heals this… Well, is it a child, is it a son, what is it? ...of the official in Capernaum, the nobleman, the official in Capernaum. And why I mention that is because, if you read it in Greek, it says, “Jesus came to Cana of Galilee, where he had changed the water into wine. There was a certain nobleman (or official) there at Capernaum, whose son was sick” (John 4:46) And the first time it says it, it says, “ho [huios],” the son of him was sick. So that’s very clear that it’s a biological son. “His son was sick.”
So he calls Jesus, as it continues. “He heard Jesus was coming out of Judea into Galilee. He went to him and begged him that he would come down and heal his son who was at the point of death.” Again it’s “huios.” Again he said, “The son is about to die.” And it’s “huios.”
But then Jesus says to him, “Except you see signs and wonders, will you not believe?” The man says, “Please come down, lest my child die.” And there it says “child,” and the term is not “teknon”; it’s “paidion,” or “pais”: the child of me. Before the child of me will die. So at first it’s “huios,” and then it’s “pais.”
Then the story continues: Jesus says to him, “Go your way. Your son is living.” And [there] it says, “ho huios sou zē.” Again Jesus switches to the term “huios.” The guy just called him a “paidion”; now he says, “huios.” You see? Then they go down. The servants come and see him. They meet the guy as he’s going down, and it’s interesting there that the term for “servants” is “douloi.” The servants came. So you have the bonded-slave–type word being used for “servant.”
So the servants come and say to him, “Your son is living,” and then it’s “pais”: “ho pais aftou zē.” Above, it said, “ho huios sou zē; and here it says “ho pais aftou zē.” There it says “son” as biological son; here it says “the boy” or “the child”: “Your son lives.”
In the King James Version, they translate it at that point as “son”: “Your son is living.” Then they inquire when it happened, and the father comes, and then he believes, and that’s the end of the story, but it’s interesting that you have the term “huios” being used and you have the word “pais” being used. When the man asks what time was it when the boy was healed, then it’s “huios” again; it’s “son” again. So it goes back and forth. If you read the same story in the Revised Standard Version, they translate “huios” every time as “son,” and they translate “pais” every time as “child.” So it’s hard to tell exactly what it is in the original.
When it comes to the hymns in Isaiah that the New Testament is picking up on and referring to Jesus, then it is certainly “pais.” It is certainly the “ebed Yahweh,” the “pais.” That could mean slave, could mean child, could mean [boy], could mean girl; it could mean son. But in Isaiah for certain, it is “pais.”
Let’s look first at how this term is used in the New Testament, and then we’ll go to the songs of Isaiah and to see what is said about this particular pais and try to understand it. It’s pretty difficult to understand, actually, this “ebed Yahweh,” because the New Testament and the Christians certainly apply it to Jesus in the singular: “He is the servant of God. He is the Lord’s servant. He is the Yahweh-servant.” But other interpreters of the Old Testament say, “Well, you can’t use those songs and apply them to Jesus.” Then you get into a discussion about interpretation.
But one thing’s for sure: the New Testament does it. And it’s done already from the very beginning in the Book of Acts. In fact, that’s where you find it. It’s in the sermons of Peter in the Book of Acts. So let’s see what they are there, and then we’ll try to understand the meaning.
On the day of Pentecost, you know, Peter gets up and gives this long sermon on the first day of Pentecost, about Jesus being crucified, raised, glorified, designated Lord and Christ, sitting at the right hand of God, “The Lord said to my Lord, ‘Sit at my right hand,’ ” so Jesus is confessed as the Lord. He’s confessed as David’s son. He’s confessed as the holy one who cannot see corruption. He’s certainly confessed as the Christ, this Jesus of Nazareth. He’s called the Man, attested to you by God. So you have this very rich sermon about Jesus as the Christ and as the Lord and as the holy one who cannot see corruption. Well, you have just that text: “Let all the house of Israel therefore know assuredly that God has made him both Lord and Christ, this Jesus whom you crucified.”
However, in the third chapter of Acts, you have Peter and John [going] into the Temple by the gate that’s called beautiful, and they’re asked to give alms to a man, and they say, “Silver and gold we don’t have, but what we have we’re going to give to you,” and they say, “In the name of Jesus of Christ of Nazareth, walk.” And then the man is healed; the crippled man is healed, he stands up, he leaps for joy, he’s walking, he’s praising God, all the people see him walking, praising God at the beautiful gate of the Temple, and he’s clinging to Peter and John and all the people run together in the portico called Solomon’s. They are astounded; they are astonished. And then Peter sees all this, of course, and he addresses the people, and this is what he says (Acts 3:12-15):
Men of Israel, why do you wonder at this? (Or why do you stare at us?) As though by our own power or piety we had made him walk. The God of Abraham and of Isaac and of Jacob, the God of our fathers…
And here’s where you have it:
...glorified his servant, Jesus…
And the term there is not “servant, doulos,” but it’s “pais.” And as we’ll see, it’s the one that’s used in Isaiah, that God has glorified his servant Jesus.
...whom you delivered up and denied in the presence of Pilate. When he had decided to release him, but you denied the holy and righteous one…
So this “pais” is called the holy one and the righteous one, who is called Lord, Christ, holy one, righteous one, this holy and righteous one.
...and asked for a murderer to be granted to you, and you killed the Author of life whom God raised from the dead.
So he’s called the holy one who can’t see corruption, and he is called also the Author of life, this Jesus who was crucified. And we are witnesses of this, he says, and it is through Jesus that this particular man has been healed. It’s through Jesus that he has been healed. So when this happens, and he says, “The God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, the God of our fathers, has glorified his Son, Jesus,” in the King James Version it says “son”; in the RSV it says “servant,” but in Greek it certainly says, “servant.” It says, “Edoxasen ton paida aftou Iēsoun.” It says “pais” again, and that’s the term that you find in Isaiah.
And then he calls him the righteous one, the dikaios, the holy one, the agios, and then he is called the archegon tēs zōēs, the author of life, this author of life that God has raised up from the dead. And then the sermon continues, and Peter continues to speak about him, that the Christ should suffer; that he should die; that he should be raised; that the time is a renewal comes from his presence; that God has sent the Christ appointed, and that Christ is Jesus.
Moses said, “The Lord God will raise up a prophet,” that last prophet that if you don’t listen to him you’ll perish. And the Prophet that he sends is Jesus. We contemplated this point when we thought about Jesus as the Prophet. And then it says you are the sons of the prophets and God gave to your fathers, saying to Abraham, “In your seed shall all the families of the earth be blessed,” so he’s the seed of Abraham.
And then you have the sentence again: “God, having raised up his servant, sent him to you first to bless you in turning every one of you from your wickedness.” So at the very end of the long homily, the very last line, Jesus is again called “the servant”: that he has sent his paida aftou, his servant, God’s raised up his Son, Jesus, his servant, “to turn you all away from your wickedness,” your iniquities. And again the King James Version translates it as “son,” but it’s not “huios.” In both cases it’s translated “son,” but it’s not “son”; it’s “pais.” And the RSV is more accurate here, because it uses the term “servant.” And then in the RSV, they even has a note which says, “or child”: servant or child. But it is that very particular term.
Now, the term is used again in the fourth chapter of the Book of Acts. In the fourth chapter of the Book of Acts, you have again Peter and John answering, once they’re arrested; they’re given up; they’re in prison; they get released; they come out, and again you have them preaching. You have them speaking to the people once they are released for having preached Jesus, and this is what it says. It says that
The Lord who made heaven and earth, the sea and everything in them, who by the mouth of our father David, thy servant...
And again, now David is called the pais; David is called the child. Again David is not called the doulos; he’s not called the king; he’s not called the prophet; he’s called the servant.
...he said by the Holy Spirit, “Why do the nations rage, and the people imagine vain things? The rulers of the earth are gathered against the Lord and against his Christ, his anointed.”
That, of course, is Psalm 2, a direct quotation of Psalm 2. But then it continues:
For truly in this city there were gathered together against thy holy servant Jesus...
And again the term is “pais” or “child.”
...whom thou didst anoint. Both Herod and Pontius Pilate, with the Gentiles and the people of Israel, [had gathered together] to do whatever thy hand and thy plan had predestined to take place.
And then they pray:
And now, Lord, look upon their threats, and grant to thy servants to speak the word with all boldness….
And here the term for “servant” is “slave.” It’s “douloi.” When they’re speaking about themselves, they say, “Grant to us your servants—douloi”: that means a bonded slave. So they’re calling themselves not by that same name, but it’s translated again “servants.” So you have “pais” translated as “servant”; you have “doulos” translated “servant.” See? And if you don’t read it in the original, you don’t catch the nuance. But the Lord is called the pais, and the Apostles call themselves servants.
...to grant to thy servants to speak the word with all boldness, while you stretch out your hand to heal with signs and wonders through the name of your holy...
And then you have “servant” again, and this time it’s
So they’re preaching through the servant of God, Jesus, who is called twice the pais of God in that particular prayer once the Apostles are released from the prison. And then they said they prayed; the place was filled with the Holy Spirit, and they spoke the word of God with boldness.
Three times, in Acts; four times, actually, you have Jesus being called by the title of the servant of Yahweh, and that comes from Isaiah. To do this, certainly you could say that in the Book of Acts, this is done because they’re speaking to Jews on the streets of Jerusalem, and they’re making the most central, surprising, shocking, startling point that you could possibly make at that time in that place, and that is that the Messiah that we’re all waiting for, the Son of God that we’re all waiting for, the Messianic King, the great last Prophet, the Priest—guess what? It’s the suffering servant of Isaiah. It’s the one about whom Isaiah spoke.
And that is probably the most smashing teaching of the Christian faith: that God the Father Almighty sends his only-begotten Son, who is Light from Light and true God of true God, into this world to be his servant, even to be his bonded slave, certainly his Son. And he comes as this servant and the word that is used for the servant of the Lord in Isaiah is applied to him.
And then the teaching is—we’ve heard this countless times—the mystery is that the Lord, the Christ, enters his glory through being crucified, through suffering, through affliction, through humiliation, through being beaten, wounded, spit upon, mocked, having nothing, being stripped, that that suffering servant described by Isaiah—is Jesus Christ!
Now, those songs in Isaiah are sometimes so startlingly clear that sometimes those chapters in Isaiah… I know when I was a young student years ago and I was studying in a university, I remember a class where the teacher called the songs of Isaiah the Protoevangelium. It was called the First Gospel, the preevangelium, the first announcement of the Gospel, that the crucified one is the Lord and Christ, and that the Lord and Christ enters his glory by being afflicted and degraded and humiliated and murdered like a lamb led to the slaughter—that’s Jesus, and that’s how he reigns over the world. He’s the king who becomes the slave in order to save the subjects and so on. It’s the same teaching now put in this particular scriptural way, a direct, clear connection to the Isaiah songs.
Let’s take a minute now and look at the songs in Isaiah and see what they say, because certainly everyone who would hear Peter calling Jesus by this word, if they knew the Holy Scripture, their mind would immediately go to the hymns in Isaiah. The first time in Isaiah that you have this expression with this particular word, it begins in the chapters where…
In chapter 40, for example, you have it beginning, “ ‘Comfort, comfort ye my people,’ says your Lord.” Everybody knows that from Handel’s Messiah. “Speak tenderly to Jerusalem and cry: her warfare is over; her iniquity is pardoned. She has received from the Lord’s hand double for all her sins.” And then you have “a voice crying in the wilderness, ‘Prepare the way of the Lord. Make straight in the desert a highway for our God. Every valley shall be lifted up, every mountain and hill made low.’ ” This is all, of course, in Handel’s Messiah as well, but we know that it is applied to John the Baptist. John the Baptist applies it to himself, and it says, “The glory of the Lord shall be revealed. All flesh shall see it. The mouth of the God has spoken.” So those songs are introduced with that particular teaching.
Then it goes on to say that “God will feed his people like a flock; like a shepherd feeds his flock, he will gather the lambs in his arms. He will carry them in his bosom. He will lead them gently who are with young.” So you have the reference to God acting like a shepherd, and the good shepherd. And then you have, again and again in these songs, Jesus saying, “I am he. I, the Lord, the first and the last.” That’s in the Book of Revelation, the alpha, the omega, the archē ho teleos.
But then you have the “I am,” the name that God gave to Moses, in all these hymns: “That you will know that I am, and that beside me there is no other, that I am God, I am the creator; you can’t compare me to anyone.” It’s written, for example, “To whom will you compare me? That I should be like him, says the holy one.” God is incomparable. It says, “The Lord is the everlasting God, the creator of the ends of the world, of the earth. He does not fade, he does not grow weary.”
But then it says, “But those who wait on the Lord will renew their strength. They will mount up with wings like eagles. Run, but not be weary. Walk, and not faint.” So this is how these songs all begin, these poetic songs.
But then you get, in the 41st chapter, where this term is used. It says
But you, Israel, my pais (my servant), Jacob, whom I have chosen, the seed of Abraham my friend…
So you have: It says Israel is called my pais, my servant, my child, my boy. Jacob is called the chosen one, and that, of course… Jesus is called my chosen, my beloved, my holy, my righteous, in the New Testament. And then the seed of Abraham is mentioned. And then it says,
You whom I took from the ends of the earth and called from its farthest corners, saying to you, “You are my servant...”
My pais, that word is used here.
“...I have chosen you, and not cast you off. Fear not, for I am with you. Be not dismayed, for I am your God.”
These bring to mind the lines of the canticle in the beginning of Isaiah, where it says, “God is with us. Understand, all nations. Submit yourself. Be ye not dismayed. I am going to act. Unto you the son is born; unto you the child is given.” And that word is used there, and it says, “I will strengthen you, I will help you, I will uphold you with my victorious right hand.”
And that God is upholding his servant with his right hand, that’s going to be a very important… We’re going to see in a minute that that text is used in another song and then it’s used in the Magnificat of Mary in the Gospel according to St. Luke. So it says,
Fear not. I am with you. I will help you. I, the Lord your God, will hold you up. Fear not, you worm, Jacob, you men of Israel. I will help you. Your redeemer is the holy one of Israel.
And then the poor and the needy are lowly, but God promises to be with them, and they are his servant. They are his servant.
Some people think, “Well, that just applies to Israel as a nation. It’s a plural. It applies all to the people.” But it’s interesting; it says, “Jacob, Abraham’s seed, Israel,” and it doesn’t say “servants.” Once or twice, it will say “servants” in plural: who are my servants, but those who do not see the evils… For example, in the Isaiah song in the 42nd chapter, it will say, “Who is blind, but my servant? Deaf is my messenger?” In the Septuagint, those are plural. In other words, they don’t see the evil; they just have the eyes on God, and so that’s what that means.
But in the 42nd chapter, this is what you have about the servant: “Behold my servant, whom I uphold.” So it’s that same term: “I will uphold you.” So it says (Isaiah 42:1-4),
Behold my servant (my pais), whom I uphold, my chosen, in whom my soul delights. I will put my spirit upon him. He will bring forth justice to the nations. He will not cry or lift up his voice or make it heard in the street. A bruised reed he will not break, and a dimly burning wick he will not quench. He will faithfully bring forth justice, righteousness. He will not fail; he will not be discouraged, until he has established tzedek (justice, righteousness) in all the earth.
And in St. Matthew’s Gospel, the 12th chapter, that is applied directly to Jesus (Matthew 12:18-21). So you have that text about the servant whom God upholds, upon whom he puts his Spirit, and this pouring out of the Spirit is also in Isaiah upon this particular servant. It says, “I have put my Spirit upon him,” and that is, of course, the anointment. That’s what makes him unctioned; that’s what makes him anointed; that’s what makes him the Christ. The servant becomes the anointed one, or the Christ, by the fact that the Holy Spirit is put upon him. St. Matthew’s Gospel, twelfth chapter, just quotes this absolutely directly, the Lord himself.
This business of pouring out the Spirit, you find again, early in Isaiah, in the eleventh chapter: “There shall come forth a shoot from the stump of Jesse”—that means the house of David. “A branch shall grow out of his roots.” And by the way, that term, “branch,” we’re going to see when we talk about Jesus as he will be called the Nazarene, and he’s raised in Nazareth, but probably it means that he will be called the Branch, because nazor, netser, in Hebrew means “the branch”: the rod or the root of Jesse, the branch, the vine. So this branch will grow out of his roots. And we’ll talk about that particularly later: Jesus as the Branch, or the Nazarene.
What we want to see now: it says,
The Spirit of the Lord shall be upon him, resting, remaining upon him. The spirit of wisdom and understanding, the spirit of might, the spirit of knowledge and the fear of God. And his delight shall be in the fear of the Lord. He shall not judge by what his eyes see…
Later it will say, “How blind is my servant.”
...or decide what his ears hear, but with righteousness he will judge the poor…
And we’re going to speak about Christ as the Judge in our very next meditation on the titles of Jesus. But he will judge the poor, this servant will, the one who has the spirit on him.
...he will decide with equity for the meek of the earth…
And he will be the meek one, as we will see.
...and he shall smite the earth with the rod of his mouth and by the breath of his lips he shall slay the wicked.
St. Paul speaks that way about Jesus in the Letter to the Thessalonians.
Righteousness shall be the girdle of his waist, and faithfulness the girdle of his loins. And the wolf shall dwell with the lamb, the leopard lie down with the sheep, the calf and the lion together.
And then you have this vision of the Messianic time, when the little child leads them. And the New Testament applies all of this to Jesus:
The root of Jesse (the netser of Jesse) shall stand as an ensign to the people. Him shall the nations (all the pagans) seek and his dwelling shall be glorious.
So this Spirit is upon this pais, according to Isaiah, Isaiah’s hymn in [chapter] 42. He doesn’t cry, he doesn’t lift up his voice; he’s very meek. He doesn’t crush people. He comes to save people. And then this song continues in 42:
The Lord who created heavens and earth and spread out the whole earth, who gives breath and life to the people, and spirit for those who walk in it, who is the righteous one.
I have given you as a covenant for the people…
And then it says—and this is quoted in St. Luke’s Gospel:
...as a light to the nations…
The lumen gentium, the phos ton ethnon, the light of the nations.
...to open the eyes that art blind, to bring out the prisoners from the dungeon, from the prisons, those who sit in darkness.
In St. Luke’s Gospel, these texts are read, and Jesus applies them to himself in St. Luke’s Gospel. In fact, the beginning of St. Luke’s Gospel is that Jesus goes into the synagogue, right at the beginning of his public ministry; he enters into the synagogue, the people are scribes and the rabbis are teaching and preaching, and then it says, “Jesus,” and it’s in Nazareth, the city of the root, the branch. He goes there on the Sabbath day and they give to him the Book of the Prophet Isaiah. He opens the book and finds the place where it was written. And it’s Isaiah 61:
The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to preach the Gospel to the poor (the good news, the glad tidings). He has sent me to proclaim liberty to the captives, recovering of sight to the blind, to set at liberty those who are oppressed, and to proclaim the acceptable year of the Lord.
Then in St. Luke’s Gospel, it says,
And Jesus closed the book, gave it back to the attendant, and sat down, and the eyes of all in the synagogue were fixed on him. And he began to say to them, “Today this Scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing.”
So Jesus applies to himself the Isaian hymns of the servant of God who’s light of the nations, who opens the eyes of the blind, who sets the prisoners free, who proclaims the acceptable year of the Lord, who preaches the Gospel, the glad tidings, the good news to the poor. All this is applied in the New Testament to Jesus himself.
One of the very interesting places where this line is applied in the New Testament is in the Magnificat of Mary, the song of Mary in St. Luke’s Gospel. It’s important to take a good close look at this, because when Mary is pregnant with Jesus and Elizabeth is pregnant with John the Baptist, and then Mary comes down, according to St. Luke, from Galilee into the hill country of Judea to visit her, who was probably her aunt, maybe even a great-aunt, an aunt of the other, [older] generation, because Elizabeth is old and Mary is young.
But in the Gospel according to St. Luke, the very first chapter, it says that Elizabeth and Mary meet, and then we all, I think, are familiar [with] how, when Mary kissed her, there was a greeting and Mary kissed her, embraced her, her child leapt in her womb for joy, and Elizabeth exclaims with a loud cry,
Blessed are you among women. Blessed is the fruit of your womb. Why is this granted to me, that the mother of my Lord should come to me?
So she calls Jesus in Mary’s womb her Lord. Then it says,
For behold, when the voice of your greeting came to my ears, the baby in my womb leaped for joy, and blest is she (Mary) who believed that there would be a fulfillment of what was spoken to her from the Lord.
Then Mary sings her song; Mary sings her canticle, called, usually, the Magnificat (Luke 1:46-55), and it begins like this:
My soul magnifies the Lord, and my spirit rejoices in God, my Savior.
And then it says:
For he has regarded the lowliness (or the low estate, or the humility) of his handmaiden.
And here the term in Greek for handmaiden is “doulē.” It’s a bonded slave, because Mary is the servant, and a human being, a mere human being. She is the slave of God, the doulē of God. So she said, “God has looked upon the lowliness…” and that word in Greek is “tapeinōsin.” And “tapeinōsis” is very important when we think of the servant, the pais, because the pais is always humble, lowly, poor, meek, and you have all these wonderful times that these words are used in the New Testament, where Jesus will say, “Come to me and learn from me, for I am meek (praÿs) and lowly of heart (tapeinos tē kardia)” (Matthew 11:29).
So you have this lowliness, and that term, “tapeinōsin,” is going to be used in the Magnificat a couple of times. At first she applies it to herself as a female slave, so we could translate it this way: “For he (the Lord God, the Savior) has looked upon the lowliness (the nothingness, the abject poverty) of his female slave (doulē).” In Latin it’s “ancilla.” In Russian it’s “rab,” and generally, by the way, in Russian, Slavonic, Church Slavonic, both “pais” and “doulos” are always translated “rab” or “rabynya” or “raba” or “raby” in plural, so you don’t catch the nuance in Church Slavonic, because the same word in Slavonic is used for both of these terms.
But then it continues; the song of Mary continues:
All generations will call me blessed. He who is mighty has done great things for me. His name is holy. His mercy is on those who fear him from generation to generation. He has shown strength with his arm. He has scattered the proud in the imagination of their hearts.
And then it says, “He has put down the mighty from their thrones and exalted again the tapeinous”—the lowly, the humble, the meek, the poor—“and filled the hungry with good things, and the rich he has sent away kenous.” It actually rhymes in Greek. He exalts the tapeinous, and he sends away the rich kenous, and this is a kind of a rhyming that you have in the poem.
But then it says, “He sends the rich away empty.” But now you get to the last line, and the last line of Mary’s song says this. In the RSV it’s translated:
He has helped his servant Israel in remembrance of his mercy, as he spoke to our fathers, to Abraham and to his posterity, forever.
If you read it in Greek, and think about the Hebrew behind it, it’s actually a direct quotation from the servant hymn in Isaiah 42. It’s exactly a quotation of the first verse of the song of the servant in Isaiah 42, where it says, “Behold my servant whom I uphold.” And literally it says here, “For he has upheld his servant Israel.” And then it says, “My servant, my chosen, that I have upheld. I put my spirit upon him.”
Now it’s interesting that in Greek, where it says, “He has upheld his servant Israel,” “pais” is used. It’s “pais.” In Slavonic they write “otrok”: my young man, my child, my boy, my youth; “male youth” is what the term would be. But certainly in Greek, it’s “pais.” And certainly in Hebrew, it’s the word found Isaiah; it’s the word that’s there: “He upheld his servant (his boy, his child), Israel.” It’s interesting, by the way: in Latin, the term there is “puer”; and “puer” is simply the Latin word for a boy. “Girl” is “puella,” and “boy” is “puer.”
It’s interesting that in the song, Mary does not call herself “puella”; she calls herself “ancilla, doulē.” But about Jesus, he’s “pais,” because it’s a quotation of Isaiah: “In remembrance of his mercy, as he spoke to our fathers, to Abraham and to his seed forever.” Because he is the seed. So what this is saying is that the Israel in the Magnificat, the servant, is, in fact, Jesus. When it says, “He upheld his servant Israel,” it means he upheld Jesus, and in that sense, Jesus is the whole of Israel. And that’s a very clear New Testament teaching: the whole of Israel, all of the people of God—the elect, the chosen, the beloved, the holy—they’re reduced, so to speak, or they’re brought to the conclusion of this one Person, Jesus, Jesus of Nazareth, who is this servant: “Behold my servant whom I uphold, my chosen in whom my soul delights.”
Catch that! I’m going to read it again in Isaiah: “Behold my servant whom I uphold, my chosen, in whom my soul delights.” So God speaks about his spirit and his soul. And the literary scholars say, “This is a poetic inclusion from the beginning of Mary’s song.” In the beginning, Mary says, “My soul magnifies the Lord, my spirit rejoices in God, my Savior,” and in the end of the song, God says, “My soul delights, and my spirit rejoices, the spirit that I put upon my servant, Israel,” who now is simply the person of Jesus.
He is the suffering servant of Isaiah 42, and as we already saw, it’s on him that the spirit is placed; it’s [he] who brings forth righteousness from the nations; he is the light to illumine the nations; he opens the eyes of the blind; he brings the prisoners out of the dungeons; he brings those in darkness into light; he is not failing; he is not discouraged; and he does not cry or lift up his voice. He does not break a bruised reed; he does not quench in the dimly burning wick, as it says about Jesus in Matthew’s Gospel. So this is the Lord, and this is the new thing. It says in that song, “Behold, the former things are over.” They’re done; they’ve happened. “New things I will declare. A new song we will sing.” And this new song will be about the servant of God, who is Jesus of Nazareth.
In the 43rd chapter of Isaiah, and the 44th and the 45th and the 49th, you have the same thing repeated again and again. For example, in the 43rd, it says,
“You are my witnesses, says the Lord, and my servant whom I have chosen, that you may know and believe me and understand that I am—Egō eimi—I am the Lord; there is no savior beside me.”
I am God. I am he. There is no one but me, and you are my servant, to show that to all the nations. Not just to Israel, but to all the nations, and that’s what will be said in the song of Simeon: “A light of revelation to Gentiles, and the glory of my people Israel.” It says that he is the light to the nations, and all the people will assemble. In the song it says that the nations will stand as children of Abraham when the Messiah comes and see that God is “I am he,” the only one who exists.
So you have it. 44th: “Now hear, O Jacob, my servant, Israel, my chosen. Fear not, my servant. I will pour my spirit upon your children and upon your descendants.” So the same thing is repeated again and again: I am the first, I am the last, beside me there is no God, and you are my servant. And that servant, in the New Testament, as we heard in Peter’s sermon, is Jesus himself. God has exalted, raised up, and glorified his servant, Jesus, who is, in fact, the branch, David’s son, Abraham’s seed. He is the righteous one; he is the holy one; he is the one who cannot see corruption; he is the beloved; he is the chosen.
This is all coming from the Old Testament and applied; what you have in Isaiah is applied to Jesus. The most repeated, however, of servant of Yahweh, the Lord… Because, don’t forget, whenever Hebrew wants to speak about God as the Lord, it uses the [Tetragrammaton], the [YHWH] that they couldn’t say, but now we do say “Yahweh.” But it’s always said, “The Lord,” and Jesus is “the Lord,” and God is the savior, and Jesus is the savior. God is the Lord; Jesus is the Lord. God anoints Jesus as his Son, and God is to him as a Father, and that unique relationship is given.
You have this in these particular songs. And it’s repeated very much and we will not take the time to repeat them. I would really ask you, I would beg you to read Isaiah 40-53, and even through the end of Isaiah, all the way to 61, and you’ll see what’s really going on here, that the Lord says… For example, I’m going to read a bit from 49 (Isaiah 49:5, 7):
Now the Lord says, who formed me from the womb to be his servant, to bring Jacob back to him, [that] Israel might be gathered, and [...] “to be a light to all the nations, that my salvation may reach the end of the world.” [Thus says the Lord,] the redeemer of Israel, the holy one.
The holy one of Israel, the faithful one. Jesus will be called the faithful one, also, the faithful witness in the Book of Revelation, for example. This is all this servant of Yahweh that Jesus himself is.
However, one last thing that we’ll just mention now and will give a special meditation on the radio about is the last of the songs, the last of the servant songs, where it says, beginning with Isaiah 52:12-53:
Behold, my servant shall prosper; he shall be exalted and lifted up, but nevertheless, he is the one who says, “I gave my back to the smiters, my cheeks to those who pulled out the beard. I hid not my face from shame and spitting.”
So the servant is humiliated. He is smitten. His beard is pulled out. He’s the object of shame and derision and spitting. But then, it says,
Behold, my servant shall prosper. He shall be exalted and lifted up very high. Many were astonished at this happening, because his appearance was so marred beyond human resemblance.
And then you have the last of the suffering servant hymns about Jesus being despised, rejected, a man of sorrows. People hid their face from him. He was stricken, afflicted. He was wounded because of our transgressions; he was bruised because of our iniquities and for them. Upon him was the chastening that made us whole; with his stripes, we are healed. And we already heard about how he was like “the lamb led to the slaughter; a sheep led to the shearers is dumb, oppressed, afflicted.” And so you have that very last song (Isaiah 53), where it ends with “he poured out his life to death, was numbered among the [transgressors], bore the sin of many, made intercession for [transgressors].”
And then it says, “Sing, barren one who did not bear; break into singing,” because he has been exalted; he has been raised up; he has been glorified.
So I will, in the next time, go through this last song of Isaiah, about Jesus as the pais, the servant of Yahweh. I’ll go through it line by line, because there’s a lot of controversy about it, and especially in the talks that I gave about redemption that were posted on Ancient Faith Radio, I insisted on the fact that Jesus, as the suffering servant who was crucified for our sins and transgressions and whose crucifixion makes everything right, puts us right with God—it’s an atonement; it’s [an] expiation; it’s a redemption; it’s a purchasing—that that has been interpreted in many different ways.
And the worst way that it’s been interpreted is that Jesus as the suffering servant suffers the punishment that we should [be punished with] and God, on the Cross, is punishing his servant so that we don’t have to get punished, but he absorbs all the punishment of God and that that makes everything right. And I’ve said, and I’ll say again, and I’ll say again, hopefully until I die, unless I’m corrected and become convinced otherwise, that there’s nothing to do with punishment here.
The servant of God is not being punished. He’s taking upon himself the sins of the others and burying them, and they are sinning against him. All the transgressions of the whole humanity are put upon him by us humans. But he forgives us. He’s merciful to us. He obeys God. He doesn’t do evil. And therefore we are redeemed by his righteousness. But that’s for another time.
But for today, all that we want to know is one thing: that the New Testament applies the servant songs of Isaiah to Jesus of Nazareth, our Lord and Christ, and that the Christ and Lord is the suffering servant, the servant of Yahweh, the servant of the Lord. And in the very first, well, actually, the second sermon given in Christian history, and in the prayer that John and Peter make when they’re delivered from prison, that is how he is addressed: as the servant of the Lord.
And everyone who heard it knew what they were talking about—this afflicted, crucified one, this one that we hear about in Isaiah—this is the Son of God. This is the Savior. This is the Redeemer. This is the Reconciler. This is the one who heals our diseases. This is the light to the nations. This is the anointed one upon whom the Spirit dwells. It’s this suffering servant of the Lord, especially the one that is depicted in the last song, Isaiah 52-53, which we will think about next time.
But for today, let’s remember: Jesus is the servant of the Lord. He is the Lord himself who becomes the servant, that through his servitude we could reign with him as kings and lords, in God’s kingdom, sons of God.