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The Apostles’ Confession: The Exalted Servant Part 6

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This is the sixth and final part of a six-part study on the deity of Yeshua, specifically through the lens of the Apostles’ reading of the book of Isaiah. In this study so far we have examined two themes from Second Isaiah: In part 4 we looked at Biblical monotheism by comparing Second Isaiah with passages from Deuteronomy. In part 5 we saw the unique language used of the Servant in Isaiah 52:13. The Servant in this passage is depicted in language elsewhere used of only God Himself. We compared this with the Apostolic understanding of Psalm 110:1 as depicting the exaltation and sovereignty of Messiah. In this post, which will conclude our series, we will unpack the Apostles’ use of Second Isaiah and the way they incorporate these two themes. Space does not permit a thorough treatment of the Apostolic usage of Second Isaiah, so we will limit our survey to two examples.

Descent and Ascent: Philippians 2

The first passage we will look at is the well-known hymn from Philippians chapter 2.

Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus, who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied himself, by taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross. Therefore God has highly exalted him and bestowed on him the name that is above every name, so that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father. (Philippians 2:5-11)

While this text may not include a direct quotation, the parallels and allusions to the Song of the Suffering Servant are obvious. The theme of descent and ascent, and the contrast between humiliation and exaltation echo that passage. There are also some verbal parallels with Isaiah 52:13-53:12. [1]E.g. “servant,” “form/appearance/likeness,” “humbled/afflicted,” “death,” “highly exalted.”

This passage also offers a direct quote from Isaiah 45:23. The text incorporates the theme of God’s eschatological sovereignty and applies it to Yeshua. Silva notes,

Whether or not Paul composed the Christ Hymn, it patently expresses his own conviction that the worship of Jesus Christ does not compromise Israel’s monotheistic faith. On the contrary, Jesus Christ the righteous Savior bears the name of the one Lord, Yahweh, “to the glory of God the Father.”[2]Moisés Silva, “Philippians” in G. K. Beale and D. A. Carson, eds., Commentary on the New Testament Use of the Old Testament (Grand Rapids, MI: ...continue

Bauckham concurs,

The New Testament writers did not see their Jewish monotheistic heritage as in any way an obstacle to the inclusion of Jesus in the divine identity; and they saw in this inclusion of Jesus in the divine identity the fulfillment of the eschatological expectation of Jewish monotheism that the one God will be universally acknowledged as such in his universal rule over all things.[3]Bauckham, Jesus and the God of Israel, p. 19.

In this text, Yeshua is bestowed with “the name that is above every name.” Keep in mind that, by definition, there can be only one name that is above every name. That is none other than God’s holy Name, the Tetragrammaton. By including Yeshua within the unique identity of the God of Israel, God’s glory is displayed and acknowledged by all creation.

This passage from Paul’s epistle beautifully weaves together these two themes from Second Isaiah that we have studied: Biblical monotheism and the suffering/exalted Servant. Both of these themes are applied to Yeshua. Yeshua is seen as the fulfillment not only of the suffering and exaltation of the Servant, but also as the fulfillment of the monotheistic hope: that God will be acknowledged for who He is not only by Israel but by all of humanity.

The First and the Last: Book of Revelation

The second example we will look at is the use of a phrase from Second Isaiah, “I am the First and I am the Last” (Isa 44:6; 48:12). This phrase is incorporated into the book of Revelation four times, although with some variations. Sometimes the quote is paraphrased as “I am the Alpha and the Omega,” and sometimes as “I am the Beginning and the End.” These three versions are all equivalent in meaning. The four instances of this formula in Revelation are attributed in the text alternately to God and Yeshua, as indicated in the following:

Rev 1:8 [God says] I am the Alpha and the Omega

Rev 1:17 [Messiah says] I am the First and the Last

Rev 21:6 [God says] I am the Alpha and the Omega, the Beginning and the End

Rev 22:13 [Messiah says] I am the Alpha and the Omega, the First and the Last, the Beginning and the End

Note that the final phrase, attributed to Yeshua, combines all three versions in one. The message could not be clearer. The book of Revelation clearly understands Yeshua to be included within the unique identity of the God of Israel as portrayed through Second Isaiah. It is through Yeshua that Isaiah’s eschatological monotheism becomes realized.

God’s Unique Identity

It is significant that seldom do the Apostolic Scriptures say bluntly “Yeshua is God.” That is because the Apostles are not so concerned with making an ontological statement about Messiah’s nature. Rather, in keeping with their Hebraic mentality, they consistently ascribe to Yeshua a position that belongs only to the God of Israel in terms of His identity.

You may recall from part 4 of this study that the Biblical writers tend to define the unique identity of God not in terms of ontology or nature, but in terms of three main characteristics. It is these three attributes that distinguish God from all other reality:

(1) God is the sole Creator

(2) God is the ultimate sole Sovereign, and

(3) God is the Redeemer, specifically defined in His redeeming acts towards Israel.

These three aspects of God’s unique identity are deliberately ascribed to Yeshua by the Apostles. Yeshua is portrayed as participating in the work of Creator, He is portrayed as participating in God’s ultimate sovereignty over all things, and He is the source of redemption. It is in the person of Yeshua that these three attributes become visible and obvious to all mankind.[4]Yeshua as Creator: John 1:3; 1 Cor 8:6; Col 1:15-17; Heb 1:3. Yeshua as Sovereign: Matt 28:18; Acts 10:36; Eph 1:22; Heb 1:2; Rev 19:15. Yeshua as ...continue As Bauckham states,

If we attend carefully and accurately, on the one hand, to the ways in which Second Temple Judaism characterized the unique identity of the one and only God and, on the other hand, to what New Testament writers say about Jesus, it becomes abundantly clear that New Testament writers include Jesus in the unique identity of the one God. They do so carefully, deliberately, consistently and comprehensively, by including Jesus in precisely those divine characteristics which for Second Temple Judaism distinguished the one God as unique… Jesus, the New Testament writers are saying, belongs inherently to who God is.[5]Bauckham, Jesus and the God of Israel, p.32.

The climax of the issue of Yeshua’s deity is the fact that the Apostles ascribe worship to him. Matthew 28:16-18[6]Note how Matthew 28:16-18 parallels Daniel 7:13-14, in which the Son of Man receives both worship and sovereignty that belongs only to God. and Revelation 5:11-14 are prime examples. This worship is an acknowledgement of who He is, His unique status. It is the appropriate response to His status as the One “exalted above the heavens,”[7]Eph 4:8-10; Heb 7:26. the One who participates in the divine functions of Creator, Sovereign, and Redeemer.

Conclusion

The Apostolic usage of Second Isaiah clearly demonstrates that the Apostles understood Yeshua to be included in the unique identity of the God of Israel. The doctrine of Yeshua’s deity was not a gradual historical development; the Apostles’ Christology was, from its outset, the highest possible Christology, and this Christology was firmly grounded in their reading of the Tanakh. Second Isaiah offers us a good example of how they used the Tanakh to define their understanding of who Yeshua is.

In their usage of Second Isaiah, the Apostles don’t just focus on the Servant Songs, or the passages that appear overtly Messianic. They take the message of Isaiah as a whole. The eschatological salvation described by the prophet was seen as being initiated in their day. The end-time sovereignty of God over all things was to be realised through Yeshua. Yeshua humiliated Himself in obedience to the point of death, and as a result was exalted to the very throne of God Himself.

This study barely scratches the surface of a topic that could fill volumes and take up a lifetime of study. But it should be enough to give us confidence in our convictions. Our response should be to glorify Yeshua. That should be our primary motive in life. Scripture is clear that one day every knee will bow to Yeshua. He will receive universal acknowledgment for who He is. The moment He is revealed in His glory will shatter the arguments of every entity that seeks to avert the glory due to Yeshua. But we are those who choose to bow now. He is worthy, and we will declare Him so.

Photo by Ravi Pinisetti on Unsplash

References   [ + ]

1. E.g. “servant,” “form/appearance/likeness,” “humbled/afflicted,” “death,” “highly exalted.”
2. Moisés Silva, “Philippians” in G. K. Beale and D. A. Carson, eds., Commentary on the New Testament Use of the Old Testament (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, 2007), p. 838.
3. Bauckham, Jesus and the God of Israel, p. 19.
4. Yeshua as Creator: John 1:3; 1 Cor 8:6; Col 1:15-17; Heb 1:3. Yeshua as Sovereign: Matt 28:18; Acts 10:36; Eph 1:22; Heb 1:2; Rev 19:15. Yeshua as Redeemer: Gal 3:13; 4:5; Titus 2:14.
5. Bauckham, Jesus and the God of Israel, p.32.
6. Note how Matthew 28:16-18 parallels Daniel 7:13-14, in which the Son of Man receives both worship and sovereignty that belongs only to God.
7. Eph 4:8-10; Heb 7:26.


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