Royal Servant

The theme of fulfillment is prominent in Matthew’s gospel. In Jesus, the promises of God find their intended fulfillment. He is the Son of God sent to redeem Israel and rule the nations. Peter, for example, confirmed that he was the “Messiah.” Nevertheless, he failed to understand that he would undertake that role as the suffering “Servant of Yahweh” who came to “bear the sins of many.” His true identity was revealed in his self-sacrificial act.

In its opening passage, Matthew calls him the “son of David, the son of Abraham.” Jesus was the royal descendant of David destined to rule the nations, and he was the heir of Abraham who would fulfill the covenant promises.

Cross under clouds - Photo by Luke Mollet on Unsplash
[Photo by Luke Mollet on Unsplash]

Abraham was wealthy. David was a victorious warrior king who reigned in Jerusalem, but how could a poor man from an insignificant village in Galilee accomplish all that God had promised in the Hebrew Scriptures?

An angel informed Joseph that Mary was pregnant and commanded him to name the child Jesus, “for he will save his people from their sins,” a name that means “Yahweh saves,” and an indication of what God was about to do for His people.

The declaration that he would “save his people from their sin” echoed the description of the “Servant of the LORD” in the Book of Isaiah, providing insight into what kind of Messiah Jesus would be:

  • Behold, MY SERVANT shall deal wisely, he shall be exalted and lifted up, and shall be very high… And Yahweh has LAID ON HIM THE INIQUITY OF US ALL… Who among them considered that he was cut off out of the land of the living FOR THE TRANSGRESSION OF MY PEOPLE TO WHOM THE STROKE WAS DUE?... He shall see of the travail of his soul, and shall be satisfied: by the knowledge of himself SHALL MY RIGHTEOUS SERVANT JUSTIFY MANY; AND HE SHALL BEAR THEIR INIQUITIES… Because he poured out his soul unto death and was numbered with the transgressors: YET HE BARE THE SIN OF MANY, and made intercession for the transgressors.”

After he was baptized, the Spirit descended on him “like a dove,” and the “voice from Heaven” called him “my Son.” Thus, God confirmed his status as the Messiah of Israel, and He also defined HOW he would fulfill that role, namely, as His “Servant” - (Psalm 2:7):

  • (Isaiah 42:1, 6-7) - “Behold, MY SERVANT whom I uphold; my chosen one IN WHOM MY SOUL DELIGHTS. I HAVE PUT MY SPIRIT UPON HIM; he will bring forth justice to the nations… I, Yahweh, have called you in righteousness and will hold your hand, and will keep you, and give you for a covenant of the people, for a light of the nation.”


Jesus of Nazareth was the “Son” anointed by God’s Spirit to rule the nations, but he began his reign as the “Servant of Yahweh.” His sovereignty over the Earth commenced from the Cross. In Matthew, the same passage from Isaiah is cited again to describe his ministry, only more fully:

  • (Matthew 12:18-22) - “And perceiving it, Jesus withdrew from thence: and many followed him; and he healed them all and charged them that they should not make him known: that it might be fulfilled which was spoken through Isaiah the prophet, saying: Behold, MY SERVANT WHOM I HAVE CHOSEN; MY BELOVED IN WHOM MY SOUL IS WELL PLEASED. I WILL PUT MY SPIRIT UPON HIM, AND HE SHALL DECLARE JUDGMENT TO THE NATIONS. He shall not strive, nor cry aloud; Neither shall anyone hear his voice in the streets. A bruised reed shall he not break, And smoking flax shall he not quench, till he sends forth judgment unto victory. AND IN HIS NAME SHALL THE NATIONS HOPE.

At his Transfiguration, the same voice echoed Isaiah again, “While Peter was yet speaking, behold, a bright cloud overshadowed them: and behold, a voice out of the cloud, saying: THIS IS MY BELOVED SON, IN WHOM I AM WELL PLEASED; HEAR HIM” - (Matthew 17:1-5).

The Transfiguration was preceded by three incidents that prepared the disciples. First, Jesus asked what others were saying about “who the Son of man is?” They responded, “Some say John the Baptist, others Elijah, or one of the prophets.” Then he asked who they believed he was. Peter answered, “You are the Messiah, the Son of the living God” - (Matthew 16:13-20).

Second, he warned them about his suffering and death at the hands of the “elders and chief priests and scribes.” Peter found the idea intolerable and "began to rebuke him.” His momentary revelation evaporated immediately - (Matthew 16:21-23).

Third, Jesus explained that if anyone desired to follow him, he must deny himself, take up his Cross, and follow him. “Whoever will lose his life for my sake will find it.”

He told the disciples that some of them would “see the Son of man coming in his kingdom” before they died. In the narrative, these words are followed by the transfiguration - (Matthew 16:24-28).

Afterward, they asked him why the Scribes claimed that “Elijah must come first.” He responded: “Elijah” had indeed come, alluding to John the Baptist. To him, the Scribes, and the priestly leaders, “did whatever they would. Even so, shall the Son of man also suffer” - (Matthew 17:9-13).


Two themes become prominent in the narrative. First, his coming suffering and death. Second, his disciples were summoned to follow him by engaging in sacrificial service for others and his Kingdom.

Later, two disciples requested high positions “when you come into your kingdom.” This displeased the others. However, Jesus used the opportunity to explain how “greatness” would be measured in his Kingdom:

  • (Matthew 20:25-28) – “But Jesus called them unto him and said: You know that the rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their great ones exercise authority over them. Not so shall it be among you: but whosoever would become great among you shall be your servant, and whosoever would be first among you shall be your slave, EVEN AS THE SON OF MAN CAME NOT TO BE SERVED, BUT TO SERVE, AND TO GIVE HIS LIFE A RANSOM FOR MANY.”

The royal Messiah of Israel pointed to his sufferings and death as the true example of what it meant “not to be served, but to serve.” In doing so, he echoed the description of the “Servant of Yahweh” - “Because he poured out his soul to death and was numbered with the transgressors. Yet HE BORE THE SIN OF MANY AND MADE INTERCESSION FOR THE TRANSGRESSORS.

His death was the “ransom price” for the redemption of the “many.” Paul employed this same image when demonstrating how believers attain and manifest the “same mind, which was in Christ Jesus.”

Unlike Adam, Jesus did not attempt to seize the “likeness with God.” Instead, he “poured himself out and took the form of a servant… becoming obedient unto death, even, the death of the cross” – (Philippians 2:6-8).

Cross at Dawn - Photo by Jim Bonewald on Unsplash
[Photo by Jim Bonewald on Unsplash]

Shortly before his death, he broke bread and told the disciples to eat it, “
for this is my body,” then he passed the cup and told them to drink its contents, “for THIS IS MY BLOOD OF THE COVENANT.” Once more, he used language from the Book of Isaiah describing the “Servant of Yahweh”:

  • I, Yahweh, have called you in righteousness and will hold your hand, and will keep you and GIVE YOU FOR A COVENANT OF THE PEOPLE, for a light of the Gentiles” – (Isaiah 42:6, Matthew 26:26-28).

After his resurrection, Jesus received “All authority in heaven and on earth.” He had become the Messianic King, and therefore, he began to send his disciples to proclaim the Good News to “all the nations,” and has been doing so ever since.

His enthronement came only after paying a great price - his unjust death on the Roman cross. It is the suffering “Servant of Yahweh” who now sits on the Davidic Throne reigning over the nations of the Earth.

Jesus of Nazareth is the Servant of Yahweh who “gave his life as a ransom for many.” Neither his identity, mission nor his reign can be understood apart from his sacrificial death. His life is now the model and imperative for how his disciples must live in this sin-dominated world.

  • The Anointed Servant - (The Spirit of God and the voice from heaven confirmed the calling and identity of Jesus – Son, Messiah, and Servant of Yahweh)
  • Son and Spirit - (Jesus is the Messiah, the anointed Son of God. From the start, his life was characterized by the empowering presence of the Spirit)
  • Into the Wilderness - (After his baptism, the Spirit drove Jesus into the Wilderness to be tested by the Devil. But he overcame and succeeded where Israel failed)

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