Tag Archives: Suffering Servant

The Suffering of the Son

 

Hebrews 2:14-18

Continuing in Hebrews 2, we reach another transitional section following the author’s discussion of Christ’s humanity in verses 5-9 and the family of God in verses 10-13, to now the suffering of the Son, alluded to in verse 9 and expanded upon in the remaining verses of this glorious but challenging chapter. In connecting the humanity of Christ with His death, it then becomes apparent that the chief purpose of our Lord’s incarnation was His subsequent death. Our Lord lived in order to die.

What a staggering and profound truth that the King so splendidly described in chapter 1 as the Supreme Being in the universe, the high and exalted One, the Son of God, should come to earth, suffer, and die. It hardly seems believable, yet it’s true, and in verses 14-18 we begin to see several of the purposes behind His suffering unto death.

In setting forth these purposes, we find in verse 14 the familiar transitional formula that is so often utilized in the book of Hebrews, namely the conjunction “therefore.” This is an important marker for Bible readers to pay close attention to because it most often serves to 1.)Maintain the continuity of an idea established earlier by transitioning to an explanation of why an earlier statement was made or 2.)To summarize a previously lengthy section with a more succinct statement. In verse 14a we have the latter, “Since therefore the children share in flesh and blood, he himself likewise partook of the same things”. This part of the verse serves to restate the solidarity in the flesh that Christ shares with His “brothers”.

In the second part (b) of verse 14 we find the first purpose statement for Christ’s incarnation and subsequent death, i.e. “that through death he might destroy the one who has the power of death, that is, the devil”. Christ came to destroy the works of the devil, namely his power over death. In 1 John 3:8 we read, “The reason the Son of God appeared was to destroy the works of the devil.” A similar sentiment is conveyed in Colossians 2:15, “He disarmed the rulers and authorities and put them to open shame, by triumphing over them in him.” Finally, we read the words of Jesus heralding His imminent triumph over the devil, “Now is the judgment of this world; now will the ruler of this world be cast out. And I, when I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all people to myself.” John 12:31-32

The sentence begun in verse 14 continues into verse 15 and provides for us the second purpose statement for Christ’s incarnation and subsequent death, i.e. to “deliver all those who through fear of death were subject to lifelong slavery.”  Destroy and Deliver, the twin themes of our Lords earthy purpose.

Those who were subject to lifelong slavery because of the fear of death is author’s eighth way of defining the “everyone” from verse 2:9. He has employed the terms: sons (vs.10), those who Christ leads or Captains (vs.10), those who are sanctified (vs.11), brothers (vs.11), brothers (vs.12), children (vs. 13), children (vs.14) and now those who have been set free from fear of death by the death of Christ. Or as John Owen so clearly stated, “The Death of Death in the Death of Christ.”  Why should there have been slaves to a fear of death?  Our Lord tells us in 1 Corinthians 15:56 that “The sting of death is sin, and the power of sin is the law.”  It becomes apparent then that slavery to a fear of death is directly related to the law, specifically punishment that the law demands because it has been violated.  Those identified in this passage are no longer subject to the fear of death because Christ has perfectly fulfilled the requirements of the law on their behalf thereby setting them free.

Keeping those recipients of Christ’s death in mind, we arrive at verse 16 and find the contrast once again between angels and the children of God, this time referred to as the “seed of Abraham.” This verse has seemed a mystery to commentators and translators alike throughout history. The King James Version translates the verse as, “For verily he took not on him the nature of angels; but he took on him the seed of Abraham.” Here they have offered a bit of interpretation into their translation, to which John Owen agrees. He interprets verse 16 similarly and sees it not as a reference to helping or giving aid (the verb used here) to the seed of Abraham instead of angels, rather he sees the verb meaning “to take hold of” or “appropriating” and therefore associates it with Christ’s incarnation.  In other words, for Owen and the KJV translators, Christ took on the nature of Abraham’s seed, not the nature of angels.

Taken this way, this verse provides a further polemic against those who deny the humanity of the Son of God (established in verses 2:6-9) and likewise is a sufficient rebuke for those who say that Christ was a spirit being or angel prior to His incarnation (Jehovah’s Witnesses and Mormons for example). Surely this interpretation is biblically valid, for in the Gospel of Matthew we see that Christ’s lineage was traced back to Abraham. Additionally, this builds upon the context of the humanity of Christ, from Adam, that has been the subject since verse 6 of chapter 2, by making Him the physical seed of Abraham that was promised in the giving of the Abrahamic Covenant (see Genesis 12-22; Galatians 3:16).

A second option follows the ESV translation of this verse, “For surely it is not angels that he helps, but he helps the offspring of Abraham”. Since the verb, here  translated helps, is elsewhere translated to mean offering a hand to, i.e. Matthew 14:31 with reference to Peter sinking in the water, this translation has in view the helping or saving of the seed of Abraham instead of angels. We know this to be biblically true as well (see discussion below). This too would seem to fit the context and further define everyone in verse 9, i.e. children, brothers, sons, etc. thus making Christ the helper of Abraham’s spiritual seed.

Both of these interpretations are biblically valid and supported elsewhere in Scripture, leading one to wonder if the Divine Author of Hebrews doesn’t have both options in mind when He pens this verse.  This is the direction I’m inclined to take, concluding that both Owen and the modern commentators are correct.  Due to the dichotomous nature of the Abrahamic Covenant, i.e. promises to his physical seed and promises to his spiritual seed, Christ came from the physical seed of Abraham (Gal. 3:16) in order to save the spiritual seed of Abraham (Romans 4:9-12; Gal. 3:9,14,29) thereby becoming the Inheritor of the promises made to Abraham and the Distributor of those promises to all who have faith in Him.  Important to note here is that the humanity of Christ as the second Adam has already been established in chapter and this verse narrows the help that Christ gives from the universality of Adam’s children to specifically Abraham’s seed, literally the children of God, keeping with the familial motif established throughout several verses of this chapter.  One additional note, Schreiner points out that the author is possibly drawing from Isaiah 41:8-10:

8But you, Israel, my servant,
    Jacob, whom I have chosen,
    the offspring of Abraham, my friend;
you whom I took from the ends of the earth,
    and called from its farthest corners,
saying to you, “You are my servant,
    I have chosen you and not cast you off”;
10 fear not, for I am with you;
    be not dismayed, for I am your God;
I will strengthen you, I will help you,
    I will uphold you with my righteous right hand.

Much more is left to be said regarding the seed of Abraham, but for now we move on to verse 17 and find continuity (therefore) with our previous conclusion, Therefore he had to be made like his brothers in every respect, so that he might become a merciful and faithful high priest in the service of God, to make propitiation for the sins of the people.Explicitly tied to the humanity of Christ, in becoming like His brothers, is His qualification and appointment as “High Priest in the service of God”.  We may conclude that this is a third purpose for the humanity of Christ, namely to serve in the office of High Priest as intercessor between God (faithful) and man (merciful) and as we will see, to mediate the New Covenant established in His blood (this is the first of 17 references to Christ as High Priest and more will be developed in the coming chapters).  Christ not only serves as a merciful and faithful High Priest who makes a sacrifice, as typified under the Levitical system, but IS the sacrifice, truly “the Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world” (John 1:29).

Additionally, we find in this verse one of the specific functions of Christ as the High Priest is to “make propitiation”.  Typically, the word propitiation carries with it a dual concept of the removal of guilt or forgiveness of sins (expiation) and the appeasement or satisfaction of God’s wrath (propitiation).  The Old Testament type for this can be found in Leviticus 16 where we find the high priest commanded by God on the Day of Atonement (note some translations use the phrase “sacrifice of atonement” instead of propitiation, see NIV) to place their hands on the head of a live goat symbolizing the transference of the people’s sin and guilt (expiation).  Likewise, we see the command from God to the high priest to kill a second goat and sprinkle its blood on the mercy seat (the root of the word propitiation).  Therefore, we find biblical precedence from this passage that our concept of propitiation should include both ideas.  As previously stated, the high priestly function is fulfilled through our Lord Jesus Christ who is both the sacrifice AND the High Priest.

Finally, in verse 18 “For because he himself has suffered when tempted, he is able to help those who are being tempted” we find a fourth reason for the incarnation of our Lord, namely the Sympathetic Resonance of Christ with His brothers.  The term sympathetic resonance refers to a harmonic phenomenon wherein an instrument, such as a tuning fork, is struck and another instrument of like kind resonates with the sound that is made and offers a corresponding sound.  This expression is fitting for describing our Lord’s humanity in relating, literally resonating, with His brothers who are tempted, so that we may be reminded that He was tempted in every way as we are and is yet without sin (Hebrews 4:15).

Also, found in this verse is the second use of the word help, which would seem to be in line more with “giving aid” (assumption #2 from above) though we must remember He is able to do so because He shares the same flesh and blood (assumption #1 from above).

Jesus’ humanity qualifies Him to serve as our merciful and faithful High Priest.  This, along with several other purposes for His incarnation, were identified in this passage, namely His deliverance of the saints from fear of death, destruction of the works of the Devil, providing propitiation, and having sympathetic resonance with those for whom He mediates the better covenant.  What is man that our Lord would condescend Himself from the glory and exaltation that He shared with the Father, to the humiliation and suffering as a man among sinners. Truly He is an awesome God, worthy of all praise and honor.

Solus Christus!

 

*Image credit: http://cmda.org/resources/publication/the-suffering-and-death-of-christ

The Suffering Servant

[warning long post ahead!  For the sake of a continuous thought I cannot break it up into parts]

As we’ve seen, questions and objections have come up regarding the penal substitutionary atonement of Jesus Christ that we’ve been studying here recently.  A primary objection being made comes from Isaiah 53:4.  If you haven’t been following, please go back and read previous posts before reading this one, Survey of the Cross, Substitutionary Atonement: Response 1, Response 2.   We cannot adequately deal with verse 4 of Isaiah’s 53rd chapter, unless we maintain the context of what many have come to call the passage of the Suffering Servant, which actually begins at Isaiah 52:13.

Here is the passage:

“13 Behold, my servant shall act wisely; he shall be high and lifted up, and shall be exalted.  14 As many were astonished at you – his appearance was so marred, beyond human semblance, and his form beyond that of the children of mankind – 15 so shall he sprinkle many nations; kings shall shut their mouths because of him; for that which has not been told them they see, and that which they have not heard they understand.” Isaiah 52:13-15 

I want to break here briefly to point out that although Isaiah is the author of this passage, it is the Lord God who is speaking.  In the phrase “my servant”, we see the possessive pronoun “my” referring to God the Father, while servant here refers to God the Son.  He is calling Jesus His servant.  We see this exact same language in Isaiah 42:1 where the Lord again is speaking as He says, “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.”  There can be no question that the voice in either of these passages from Isaiah is the Lord God.  However, note how in the beginning of the next chapter, the voice changes back to Isaiah (and the ‘remnant’, .i.e. we/us). 

“Who has believed what he has learned from us? And to whom has the arm of the Lord been revealed?  2 For he grew up before him like a young plant, and like a root out of dry ground; he had no form or majesty that we should look at him, and no beauty that we should desire him.  3 He was despised and rejected by men; a man of sorrows, and acquainted with grief; and as one from whom men hide their faces he was despised, and we esteemed him not.  4 Surely he has borne our griefs and carried our sorrows; yet we esteemed him stricken, smitten by God, and afflicted.  Isaiah 53:1-4

Let’s pause here again and review what we’ve just read.  In the opening of this chapter, Isaiah is referring first to himself as a prophet commissioned by God who was given a message to deliver, which the people would (did) reject. (see Isaiah 6:8-13)  Additional context is provided by the Apostle Paul, as he quotes this same verse in Romans 10:16 in the context of preaching the Gospel of Jesus Christ.  So we see the connection between the prophets of Isaiah’s day and those who preached the Gospel in Paul’s day.  The importance of this really lies as a side note to our discussion, but maintaining biblical context is critical. 

In verses 2-3 we see a description or picture painted by Isaiah of the Lord Jesus Christ.  He was not born as an earthly king would be, in a castle with the best of amenities.  He was born in a lowly manager, to a poor family and there was nothing physically commanding or special about how He looked.  Then Isaiah prophesies (it’s interesting how this is hundreds of years before Christ’s death, but Isaiah speaks as though he is looking backwards, not forwards) that Jesus would be “despised and rejected by men”.  Just as I pointed out that the voice speaking changes from God at the end of chapter 52 to Isaiah now, we must also follow Isaiah’s description of who is doing and receiving the actions that he is prophesying of.   In verse  3, he tells us that it is men that (will) despised and rejected Christ.  He wasn’t respected and was largely ignored with respect to being God’s Son.

In the first part of verse 4, we see a passage quoted by Matthew in his gospel account, “This was to fulfill what was spoken by the prophet Isaiah: ‘He took our illnesses and bore our diseases.’” Matthew 8:17  The word “griefs” in Isaiah’s passage is better translated sicknesses, so as we read in Matthew’s context, Jesus has just healed many and in an even larger context all sickness and disease will be abolished in heaven, because of Jesus.  So the prophecy of Isaiah reached its first fulfillment in the earthly ministry of Jesus.

The second part of verse 4 is where the objection to penal substitutionary atonement has been made.  The objection follows like this, “Isaiah states that “we esteemed him stricken, smitten by God, and afflicted” and this language clearly indicates that the speculation of the Jews that Jesus was punished by God for the sins of the people was an error in the minds of the Jewish people.  So it follows that Jesus did die for sins, but was not punished by God, nor did He receive God’s wrath for those sins.  In summary, this verse tells us that it is a Jewish error to assume that Jesus took the punishment from God for our sins” 

One immediate problem with this objection is that Isaiah has not even made the connection yet between Jesus and sin, so it’s error to assume this.  It’s actually taking the remainder of the passage and reading it back into verse 4 and it leads to a faulty conclusion.

There are several additional problems with this objection, but first let’s summarize what we’ve been learning through Isaiah’s prophecy of Jesus’ suffering and death.  We started with God announcing that His Son Jesus was His servant, so it follows that He is going forth to do the will of God and serve Him in some capacity.  God Himself tells us of the physical beating and disfiguring that takes place on the cross, “his appearance was so marred, beyond human semblance, and his form beyond that of the children of mankind.”  Then He says the following, “so shall he sprinkle many nations.”  What is being sprinkled here by Jesus?  God Himself is saying that His Son will sprinkle His blood on many nations.  Remember back to our first post on the Day of Atonement  when the high priest sacrificed a goat and took the blood and sprinkled it on the mercy seat, thereby making propitiation.  Here God is alluding to the Old Testament atonement, but is linking it to His Son, who makes THE propitiation.  As we will see in a future post, Jesus not only fulfilled the office of High Priest with His atonement, but was Himself the sacrifice.  Continuing our summary of what we’ve read so far, we then looked at how Isaiah goes on to shed light on Jesus’ earthly ministry and as we’ve seen his prophecy was considered fulfilled by Matthew. 

Now back to the objection that has been raised, “Yet, we esteemed him stricken, smitten by God, and afflicted.”  The little phrase “yet, we esteemed” is actually 1 Hebrew word, chashab, which the ESV and KJV have translated into the phrase you just read.  This word, in the Hebrew, gives the idea of “to think” or “make judgment”.  So if I were to simply explain here what is being said by Isaiah, it would be this, “He [Jesus] healed our sicknesses and diseases, but we thought He was punished and beaten by God in order to be humbled by God.”  The objection stated here is correct in saying that the Jews had the wrong idea about why Jesus was being crucified, but the objection itself is wrong in dismissing God the Father from the equation.  Let’s look at first why the Jewish thought was wrong.

In Matthew 26 we read of Jesus’ trial before the high priest Caiaphas, 62 And the high priest stood up and said, “Have you no answer to make? What is it that these men testify against you?” 63 But Jesus remained silent. And the high priest said to him, “I adjure you by the living God, tell us if you are the Christ, the Son of God.” 64Jesus said to him, “You have said so. But I tell you, from now on you will see the Son of Man seated at the right hand of Power and coming on the clouds of heaven.” 65Then the high priest tore his robes and said, “He has uttered blasphemy. What further witnesses do we need? You have now heard his blasphemy. 66 What is your judgment?” They answered, “He deserves death.” 67 Then they spit in his face and struck him. And some slapped him, 68 saying, “Prophesy to us, you Christ! Who is it that struck you?”

In this passage we see Caiaphas accusing Jesus of blasphemy and the judgment of death being declared.  On what basis were they claiming that Jesus deserved death for alleged blasphemy?  The law, namely as defined in Leviticus 24:16, “Whoever blasphemes the name of the LORD shall surely be put to death.”  When Isaiah says that “we esteemed him stricken, smitten by God, and afflicted” he is saying that the people wrongly thought that Jesus was being punished for blasphemy.  This is where they got it wrong, because Jesus really is the Son of God; it was not blasphemous for Him to say so.  However, notice that the Jews rightly recognized that God upholds the holiness of His name and His law and it is He that executes judgment based on violations of His law.  The Jews recognized that a violation of God’s law resulted in punishment by God to the offender.  They understood that, but wrongly accounted Jesus as a blasphemer.

Remember earlier when I said it’s important for us to realize who is doing the action in these verses and who is receiving the action?  In this verse, Isaiah has established that God the Father is doing the action and God the Son is receiving the action and this is not broken, until he tells us.  In verse 5, he has not broken off of this idea yet, but simply corrects the faulty view that the Jews had of believing Jesus died for His sin of blasphemy.  He clearly states the actual reason for Jesus’ death, “But he was wounded for our transgressions; he was crushed for our iniquities; upon him was the chastisement that brought us peace, and with his stripes we are healed.”  We must ask here, given our context, who is administering the wounding, crushing, and chastisement?  Is it men or God?  Obviously men are carrying out the action, but is it ultimately at their hand that Jesus is suffering?  No!  If that were the case, then Isaiah would be saying that men punished Jesus for taking the sins of men.  Not only is that supported nowhere in Scripture, it doesn’t even makes good sense.  Isaiah is saying here that Jesus wasn’t punished by God for His own sin of blasphemy (which He was accused of), but instead he was wounded and crushed for our sins.  He was chastised (muwcar) meaning disciplined or corrected, which gives the idea of punishment in order to bring about corrective action, by God and this brought us (believers) peace. 

In Romans 5:1 we read of this peace made with God, “Therefore since we have been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ.”  Later in this same chapter, Paul states, “Since, therefore, we have now been justified by his blood, much more shall we be saved by him from the wrath of God.” Romans 5:9  Unbelievers are under the wrath of God (John 3:36), there is no peace between them and Holy God.  But believers, those who place their faith in Jesus Christ, have peace with God.  Where did the wrath that was once on them go?  Did it simply vanish?  No!  As we read in this passage from Isaiah, God poured it out on His Son by wounding, crushing, and punishing Jesus for the sins of all those who believe.  “It was the will of the LORD to crush him; he has put him to grief; when his soul makes an offering for guilt, he shall see his offspring; he shall prolong his days; the will of the LORD shall prosper in his hand.” Isaiah 53:10

If you don’t understand or can’t accept that Jesus took the punishment that was due to you, if you are a believer, then you need to ask yourself why.  Why don’t you like it?  Because it’s too unbelievable?  Because it’s too bloody, too gruesome?  That is the amazing love of Jesus Christ for His people.  That He was willing to lay His life down for His sheep and take the punishment, namely the wrath of God, that was due to them.  Unbeliever, you have but 2 choices, face the wrath of God for yourself for your sins.  Or place your faith in Jesus Christ, the one who absorbed the wrath of God for sinners just like you.  Ask God for mercy.  Then repent and believe.