Is the servant of Isaiah 49 Paul or Jesus?

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Question / Comment -  Is it possible that the servant of Isaiah 49 is Paul and not Jesus?


I really enjoyed the writeup by I Gordon on the suffering servant.

Do you  there is any merit to the idea that the ‘servant’ in Isaiah 49:1-6 is speaking on the Apostle Paul? Acts 13:47 quotes this section and seems to be speaking of the apostles as the fulfillment of the Isaiah passage. 

In 1:1 Paul uses the term ‘servant’ and ties it to the fulfillment of Scripture. These seam to be a lot of academic papers that suggest this as well.

Thanks for any response


JPN Reply:

Hi Wayne,

thanks for the email. It is a good, valid question. If you have read what I have written on the servant of Isaiah then you will know that I believe the 'servant' prophecies are about the Messiah, Jesus, and some about the nation of Israel as a whole.  Isaiah 49:1-7 is about Jesus. Vs 7 speaks of Him as the abhorred one by the nation (of Israel) yet kings will bow down to Him. This can only be Jesus, not Paul. And obviously when you take the whole of the servant prophecies, especially as it goes into Isaiah 52:13-53:12, it can only be Jesus. Isaiah 49:5 tells us that He will bring Jacob (Israel) back to Him. While Paul desired this, only Jesus will actually do it. He is the glory of Israel and the light to the Gentiles as Simeon said when He saw the baby Jesus:

"And he came in the Spirit into the temple; and when the parents brought in the child Jesus, to carry out for Him the custom of the Law, then he took Him into his arms, and blessed God, and said, "Now Lord, You are releasing Your bond-servant to depart in peace, According to Your word; For my eyes have seen Your salvation, Which You have prepared in the presence of all peoples, A LIGHT OF REVELATION TO THE GENTILES, And the glory of Your people Israel." And His father and mother were amazed at the things which were being said about Him." (Luk 2:27-33)

But... there is a but  : )

A Jewish method of interpreting scripture is called 'Midrash'. Using 'Midrash' the Jews would see repeated patterns of fulfillment of scriptures instead of just a single fulfillment. So for example, Mathew, in 2:15, quotes Hosea 11:1 as a fulfillment of God calling His Son out of Egypt. This is Midrashic interpretation. It is seeing a repeated fulfillment of the same prophetic thought. Hosea 11 in context is about the nation of Israel coming out of Egypt but that one verse has a fulfillment with the greater 'Israel', the Messiah. I've written about this 'Out of Egypt I have called my son' midrash example elsewhere which I'll quote - it shows various fulfillments:

"Abraham left Egypt and went to the Promised Land. In like manner, his descendants, the nation of Israel did the same. Joseph, according to his command, had his bones taken from Egypt to Israel (just as Jesus' bones didn't remain in Egypt (the World) but went to the Promised Land (Heaven). We see the same thing play out with Jesus as a child, who came out of Egypt (with Mathew quoting Hosea stating 'Out of Egypt I called my Son'). And yet the pattern still repeats, for the Apostle Paul tells us that our salvation is, spiritually speaking, coming out Egypt (the world) and into the Promised Land of God’s family and inheritance. And the cycle will play out again when Jesus returns for His bride for we shall then be physically taken out of this world and taken to our true home that Jesus said He would prepare for us. So it is a Midrash, a repeated pattern that plays out throughout scripture and history."

So... what am I saying? The servant in Isaiah 49, 50, 53 is the Messiah Jesus. He is the primary fulfillment but that doesn't mean that the Holy Spirit can't see and use some of those passages as 'a' fulfillment. They are not 'the' fulfillment - that is Jesus. But clearly Acts 13:47 has 'a' 'repeated' fulfillment in the person of Paul whom Jesus had chosen and personally commissioned to carry on His work to bring salvation to both the Jews and the Gentiles. (Acts 9:15).

William MacDonald in the Believers Bible Commentary says something similar:

"13:46, 47   Paul and Barnabas were not easily intimidated. They explained that they were under obligation to declare the message first of all to the Jewish people. However, since they had rejected the message, and had thus condemned themselves as unworthy of everlasting life, the preachers announced they were turning to the Gentiles with the gospel. If any authorization were needed for such a break with Jewish tradition, then the words of Isa_49:6 would do. Actually, in this verse God is speaking to the Messiah when He says, “I have set you as a light to the Gentiles, that you should be for salvation to the ends of the earth.” But the Spirit of God permits the servants of the Messiah to apply these words to themselves, since they were His instruments in bringing light and salvation to the Gentile nations."

So, in short, Isa 49:1-7 is primarily speaking of the Messiah Jesus. Yet Paul can be seen as a repeated fulfillment of part of it because he was chosen by Jesus to carry on that same work to both Jews and Gentiles.

Hope this helps. All the best.

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