The paradigm of the servant begins in Isaiah 42, where Isaiah introduces the chosen servant of the Lord. The mission of this servant, is established and reinforced three times in the first four verses of chapter 42, which is bring forth justice to the land. In chapter 49, he calls the servant Israel, which indicates to an extent that this servant embodies God’s expectations for His people. The overall purpose and mission is established, as well as the reality that this servant is to be the paradigm of all Israel, it is at this point where the role of servant becomes much more difficult with the call to obedience and the call to suffer. Isaiah 50 depicts a servant who remains obedient, in the midst of Israel’s sin and Isaiah 53 describes the servant suffering for the sake of others.
This brief survey of Isaiah’s prophecy regarding the servant defines four characteristics within the paradigm of the servant, the mission, relation to the people, obedience, and suffering. With these categories in mind, the question that is most natural to ask, is who is Isaiah referring to in his prophecy of the servant? The answer that first comes to mind, is Jesus,
Jesus certainly fulfills each of these characteristics through the example of his life, but the answer does not end with Jesus. In looking at the teachings of Paul and Peter in the New Testament it is evident that they understood the reality that the paradigm of the servant as introduced in Isaiah continued past the life of Jesus into the context of their own lives.
In the book of Acts, in Luke’s description of Paul’s conversion he writes:
He is a chosen instrument of mine to carry my name before the Gentiles and kings and the children of Israel. For I will show him how much he must suffer for the sake of my name. -Acts 9:15–16
Further, in his letter to the Ephesians, Paul recognizes his servant-hood in his letter to the church in Ephesus:
I therefore, a prisoner for the Lord, urge you to walk in a manner worthy of the calling to which you have been called, with all humility and gentleness, with patience, bearing with one another in love, eager to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace. -Ephesians 4:1-3 ESV
Within these two texts alone, it is evident that Paul is being called and calling the church to embody these same characteristics of the servant as depicted in the prophecy of Isaiah. The call of justice, obedience, and suffering, all which embody the calling of God’s people. Jesus is certainly the perfect fulfillment of the servant, but because of his life, death, and resurrection we are called to continue in living out the paradigm of the servant. Who was the servant that Isaiah was referring to? He was writing of himself, Jesus, Paul, Peter, Polycarp, yourself, and myself. As followers of Christ we are to bring forth justice, be obedient to the calling when others are not, and to suffer for the sake of the Gospel.