Many years ago, I was speaking at a church and afterwards a man came up to me and commented to me that the Messiah just happened to be born Jewish – he could have been of any nationality but it “just so happens” that he was Jewish. He said this is to me because he wanted to communicate that his nationality was somewhat irrelevant to his role as the Messiah and the enfleshment of God.
I recalled this conversation because I am teaching a course on the prophet Isaiah and we just completed the section in which we read about the “Servant of the Lord” in chapters 40-55. The issue of the identity of the Servant in Isaiah is important because of the claim that Yeshua is the Suffering Servant. This section can be confusing because sometimes the Servant is clearly Israel as a people (41:8, 42:19, 43:10, 44:1,2,21, 45:4) and at other times the Servant seems to be an individual (42:1, 49:5-6, 52:13, 53:11). The entire section is about Israel – the Jewish people – whom God will redeem because they have a unique calling as the “servant of the Lord” The servant is a witness to the nations of the reality of the God of Israel and are called to bring the nations to the God of Israel. The passages in which the servant seems to be an individual picture Israel as an ideal person – the perfect servant – the perfect Jew. In fact in ch. 42 we read that the Servant will open blind eyes (v.6) and then later on in the same chapter we read that the servant is blind (v.19)! The text is indicating that the servant (the Jewish people) does not measure up to fulfill her calling – but the ideal servant – the ideal Jew – does fulfill the calling of Israel. Yeshua is Israel, the perfect Jewish person. I do not mean that yeshua replaces the nation but rather as the greatest citizen and son of Israel Yeshua represents all of Israel in her calling. The Messiah had to be a Jewish person because it is the Jewish people who are called to bring salvation to the nations. Yeshua himself said “salvation is from the Jews” (John 10:22). Yeshua is the only Jewish person who ever lived who could qualify to fill such a role. He came to Israel first in order to prepare the Jewish people to fulfill her calling of bringing salvation to the nations. It is the saved remnant of Israel who brings the message to the Gentiles. This is how Paul understood his calling of bringing the Good News to the nations (Rom. 15:25-26). As the saved remnant of Israel we also have the responsibility of preparing our people for their calling of bringing salvation to the nations. we do this by introducing our people to Yeshua the Messiah. In addition we also have a responsibility of bringing Messiah to the nations.
Like Yeshua the Messiah, the nations is called to suffer for the sake of the nations. We read in Romans 11:11…because of their transgression salvation has come to the Gentiles. the same passage also indicates that when all of Israel follows the Messiah the consummation will come. “…for if their rejection be the reconciliation of the world, what will their acceptance be but life from the dead. (Rom. 11:15)”
We look forward to the day when the nations will come streaming to Jerusalem to hear the Torah from the Messiah. we look forward to the day when 10 gentiles will hang on to the coat of a Jew and say we have herd that God is with you. The concluding chapters of Isaiah – especially chs. 60, 61 and 66 picture the Jewish people bringing the nations to Jerusalem. It is only because of Yeshua, the greatest Jew who ever lived – that Israel can fulfill her calling of being a light to the nations and it is only because of Yeshua the greatest Jew who ever lived, died and rose again that the world can experience atonement from sin and intimacy with God.