Center for Biblical Theology and Eschatology

Jesus Our Representative

Author Unknown

The ancient world had a much deeper sense of the unity of the social unit (e.g. the tribe or nation) than the modern ‘Western’ world. They considered each member to be part of the whole, inextricably linked together, so that the whole could be represented by some individual, or a small group, in such a way that the activity of the one affected the whole.

We can consider the example of David and Goliath (1 Samuel 17). When Goliath came out to challenge the camp of Israel, it was not just a matter of having a preliminary bout before the main contest. Both sides believed that the result of such a challenge could affect the outcome of the whole affair. The actions of the one would powerfully affect the destiny of the group. This is why the matter was so important. Israel considered that if they rejected the challenge they would be ensuring their own downfall.

When David stepped in and defeated Goliath, the Philistines saw in it their own defeat. This was why they were so easily beaten. Their defeat was a foregone conclusion, for it had already happened in their representative!

This idea of a representative acting on behalf of the whole comes out in the Servant of Isaiah.

In Isaiah 42.1-4 we read of the Servant of God, His chosen one, who will have God’s Spirit on him and will take God’s justice to the Gentiles. While powerful, he will be gentle and considerate. He will tend the bruised reed, restoring it to strength. He will not dowse the smoking flax, but will bring it to flame. Nothing will discourage him from the fulfilment of his task.

Who then is this Servant? Isaiah 44.1 tells us. “Listen, O Jacob, My Servant, and Israel whom I have chosen”. It is Israel who have been chosen for this glorious task in the power of the Spirit. He repeats the idea in 43.10, “You are My witnesses, and My Servant whom I have chosen”, he says, making the position quite clear (compare also 41.8-9; 44.1).

This is re-emphasised in Isaiah 49.1-6, yet with a difference. Here the Servant is “called from the womb”. His mouth is like a sharp sword, and he is like a polished shaft (an effective arrow), under the protection of God. He is Israel, the one through whom God will be glorified (v3). He will appear to labour in vain, but God is watching over his progress. He will not therefore fail. And what is his task? To raise up the tribes of Jacob, and to restore the preserved of Israel, and to be a light to the Gentiles, so that God’s deliverance might be known to the ends of the world.

Here it is clear that the Servant has a task to perform on behalf of Israel. He cannot therefore be the whole of Israel. Rather he is now the faithful remnant (see Isaiah 6.13; 37.32), “the remnant of the house of Israel, born from the belly--- carried from the womb” (Isaiah 46.3). He must strive on behalf of Israel, as well as on behalf of the world. So Israel the Servant is now represented by the holy remnant, on whom all hopes must rest.

It is generally recognised that Isaiah 50.4-11 is also spoken with reference to the Servant (see v.10). Here the Servant is seen as given wisdom by God. he expresses himself in powerful and effective speech, faithful to the task he has been given. But what will be his reward? He will be beaten, and have the hair plucked from his cheeks. He will be spat on, and with spit running down his face he will be shamefully treated. But he will set his face like a flint, knowing that God will vindicate him, and in the end, some will obey his voice, and will trust in the Lord. The remnant has now been reduced to the idea of a single person, their representative, facing revilement and rejection.

The idea carries on into Isaiah 52.13-53.12. Here the Servant is despised and rejected by man, a man of sorrows, humiliated by grief. He bears Israel’s sins and carries it sorrows. He is wounded for their transgressions and bruised for their iniquities. Israel has turned astray and the Lord has laid on the Servant all their iniquity. He is oppressed and afflicted, taken to court and accused, but all the while remains silent. He is taken from prison and from the judgment laid on him, and cut off from the land of the living, stricken for Israel’s transgression.

Nor is this a mistake. It pleased the Lord to bruise him. In the end it was He Who put him to grief, for he is making his soul an offering for sin, accomplishing God’s good pleasure. From the midst of the travail of his soul he will see light and be satisfied. Through his action many will be put right with God, for he has borne their iniquities. Here we have the true representative, suffering on behalf of his people, in such a way that he can offer them a way back to God.

The final result will be that he will be exalted and extolled, and be lifted up very high (52.13). As he had been made an object of astonishment and pity, now he will act as a priest to the nations (52.14-15). The world will be struck dumb at what has happened to him and what he has done.

There can be little doubt that the remnant has now become one outstanding man, through whose trials and sufferings comes deliverance for the many. Here we have the perfect representative of the nation, who is able to suffer on behalf of his people, and through whose travail will come blessing to all nations. Because of their sin it was necessary for Israel to suffer, and he has borne their sufferings.

The next passage we can consider is Daniel 7. Here the nations are portrayed as behaving like wild beasts (vv.1-8; 23-25), devouring, stamping and subduing, with the inevitable consequence of the suffering and persecution of the people of God (v.25). But at last God will sit in judgment (vv.9-12; 26-27). Then will come “one like a son of man, coming on the clouds of Heaven” before the Ancient of Days, and to him is given dominion and glory and a kingship so that all peoples, nations and languages shall serve him. To him will be given everlasting dominion.

In the first place the ‘son of man’ clearly represents Israel in some way. While the nations behave like brute beasts (although the first beast at last stands up like a man and has the heart of a man, a reference to the conversion to God of Nebuchadnezzar (Daniel 4.34), showing what ‘manhood signifies), the true people of God behave like a man, walking in obedience to God. Thus it is the son of man, the persecuted ‘saints of the most High’ (the remnant) who are to receive the kingdom. Suffering is followed by glory. Yet we cannot avoid the suggestion that the one who comes before the Ancient of Days comes as their representative. The beasts were ‘kings’ which ‘shall arise out of the earth’, and as kings represented their people. Thus by corollary the son of man should also be a king, Israel’s king, coming on behalf of his people, as their true representative. He will rule on their behalf, and they will reign with him.

Thus in both Isaiah and Daniel we have the idea of the pure remnant of the people of God, having a God given task, which can only be brought to finalisation by an outstanding figure, the suffering Servant of Isaiah 53 and the Son of Man of Daniel 7.

In the New Testament these ideas are applied to Jesus. When Jesus is born He is proclaimed as ‘the light to lighten the Gentiles’ by a Spirit-filled Jew, quoting Isaiah 49.6 (Luke 2.32), and when He is baptised the voice from Heaven applies to Him the words from Isaiah 42.1 “the one in whom I am well pleased”. In Luke 9.35 the text which has the most powerful support is, “This is My son, My chosen one ---” reflecting Isaiah 42.1 (even His detractors at the cross cite Him as being looked on as ‘the chosen one’ - Luke 23.35), while Luke 9.53 describes Him as having ‘His face set’ reflecting Isaiah 50.7.

In Luke 22.37 Jesus applies Isaiah 53.12 to Himself and what He is about to face, and Luke constantly stresses that Jesus is the great prophet who was to come (Luke 4.18-27; 24.19, 32). So it is quite clear that Jesus Himself, the word from Heaven twice, and Luke the Gospel writer, all look on Jesus as being the true Servant of God, the one who suffers on behalf of Israel and the world, and brings a message and justice to the nations.

Jesus, however, makes His preferred claim to be that of being the ‘Son of Man’. He is the Son of Man who has authority to forgive sins on earth (Mark 2.10 and parallels) , the Son of Man who is Lord of the Sabbath (Mark 2.28 and parallels), the Son of Man who must suffer at the hands of men (Mark 8.31 and parallels; 9.12; 9.31; 10.33-34), the Son of Man who will give His life a ransom for many (Mark 10.45 - thus identifying the Son of Man with the Servant), the Son of Man who will come on the clouds of Heaven with great power and glory (Mark 13.26; Matthew 24.30; Luke 21.27), the Son of Man who will be seen sitting on the right hand of power and coming on the clouds of Heaven (Mark 14.62; Matthew 24.30; compare Luke 22.69). As Son of Man he will come in His glory, with the holy angels, and sit on the throne of His glory for judgment (Matthew 25.31).

So Jesus clearly shows Himself to as fulfilling the prophecies concerning the Son of Man of Daniel 7 and the Servant of Isaiah 53.

Yet Paul can also apply the words of Isaiah 49.47 to the witness of the early church (Acts.13.47). The concept of the Servant, having crystallised in one man, is now extended to His followers. The church has now become the Spirit-filled Servant of God. As one with Him, through His sufferings, they share His task of reaching out as a light to the nations. They too have become the Servant of God to take His word to the ends of the earth.

This oneness of Jesus with His people is constantly stressed in the epistles. Because he died, we have died, we have been crucified with Christ (Galatians 2.20). Thus it is not we who live but Christ who lives in us (2.20). And because of this we will share His resurrection (Romans 6.5; Philippians 3.10). Because he lives, we shall live also (John 14.19). We died in our representative, and in Him we will live again.

This is brought out strongly in 1 Corinthians 15. In Adam all die (v.22). He was our representative, summing up all mankind, and he sinned, bringing sin into the human race, and, as a result of his sin, all are tainted and will die. But in Christ all are made alive (v.22). Because He rose, if we are in Him we also will rise. By man came death. By man also came the resurrection of the dead (v.21). It is because Jesus became man that He was able to act on our behalf, as our representative dying on our behalf, that he might rise on our behalf. Now we know that we also shall rise because we are in Him, the resurrected one.

Then will come the end when God’s purposes are finally completed. Jesus the risen and glorified man will subdue all things to Himself, and then as man will subject all things to the Father. Thus will man have fulfilled the God given task, and have brought the world into submission to the Father (Psalm 8.5-6). And thus will God now be all in all (v.28). Jesus, having as man fulfilled His destiny, will now, as God, share in the full glory of the Godhead.

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