Servant and King

The theme of fulfillment is prominent in Matthew’s gospel. In Jesus of Nazareth, the promises of God find their fulfillment and correct understanding. He is the Son of God sent to redeem Israel. Peter, for example, confirmed that he is the “Messiah,” but he failed to understand that he came to fulfill that role as the suffering “Servant of Yahweh” who dies for the sins of his people.

In its opening passage, Matthew calls Jesus the “son of David, the son of Abraham.” He is the royal descendant of David called to rule the nations, and the heir of Abraham who will bring the covenant promises to fruition.

Abraham was wealthy, and David was a victorious warrior-king, but how is a humble man from an insignificant village to accomplish all that God has promised? What kind of Messiah will he be?


An angel informed Joseph that Mary was pregnant, and he was commanded to “call his name Jesus, for he will save his people from their sins.” The angel attributed the child’s conception to the “Holy Spirit.” From the start, it is the presence of the Spirit that sets Jesus apart for his messianic mission – (Matthew 1:21).

The name ‘Jesus’ or ‘Joshua’ means “Yahweh saves” or “salvation of Yahweh,” a name that anticipates what God will accomplish in his Son. And as the Messiah, he “saves his people from their sins.”

This last clause echoes the description of the “Servant of Yahweh” in the book of Isaiah, a passage employed several times in Matthew:

  • Behold, my servant shall deal wisely, he shall be exalted and lifted up, and shall be very highAnd 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.

When he was baptized by John, the Spirit descended on him “like a dove,” and the “voice from heaven” declared him to be “my Son.” The language and imagery allude to two messianic passages from the Hebrew Bible. In this way, God confirmed his status as the Messiah of Israel, but He also revealed HOW he would fulfill that calling:

  • (Psalm 2:7) - “I will surely tell of the decree of Yahweh: he said to me: You are my Son, today, I have begotten you.”
  • (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 Gentiles


Jesus is the royal “Son” and Messiah anointed by the Spirit, and he will indeed reign over the nations. However, he will do so as the suffering “Servant of Yahweh.” Later in Matthew, the same passage is cited again to describe his ministry, only more fully. Noteworthy is the stress on the Messiah bringing hope “to the nations”:

  • (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 speaks once more, and again, it echoes the passage in Isaiah - 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).

But now the voice adds the instruction – the disciples must “HEAR” Jesus. Not coincidentally, the transfiguration is preceded by three incidents that prepare the disciples for this revelation.

First, Jesus asked the disciples what others said about “who the Son of man is?” They responded, “Some say John the Baptist, others Elijah, or one of the prophets.”

Next, he asked who they believed he was. Peter answered, “You are the Messiah, the Son of the living God. He then called Peter “blessed” since the Father has revealed the correct answer. But Jesus forbade them from revealing his identity to others - (Matthew 16:13-20).

Second, “from that time,” Jesus started to warn them about his imminent suffering and death at the hands of the “elders and chief priests and scribes.” But Peter found the very idea intolerable and began to rebuke him.” Jesus recognized Satan’s attempt to thwart him from his path and rebuked the Devil - (Matthew 16:21-23).

Third, Jesus explained that if anyone desired to follow him, he must deny himself, take up his cross, and follow his cruciform path. “Whoever will lose his life for my sake will find it.” His disciples are summoned to the same walk of self-sacrificial service as he did.

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

After his transfiguration, Jesus commanded the disciples to tell no one what they had seen until after his resurrection. They then asked why the scribes claim that “Elijah must come first.” He responded that “Elijah” had come already, alluding to John the Baptist, and to him, the scribes “did whatsoever they would. Even so, shall the Son of man also suffer” - (Matthew 17:9-13).


Two themes are prominent in the preceding stories. First, his coming suffering at the hands of the Jerusalem authorities. By revealing this, Jesus demonstrated exactly what it means to be the Messiah. Second, he summoned his disciples to emulate him by living lives of self-sacrificial service for others and for his kingdom. Despite the foretaste of his coming glory that they witnessed in the transfiguration, he is still called to suffer and die.

Later, two disciples asked him to place them at his side “when you come into your kingdom.” This displeased the other disciples. But Jesus used the opportunity to explain what it meant to follow him, and how “greatness” would be measured in God’s 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.

Thus, the Messiah of Israel and the “son of David” pointed to his own imminent sufferings as the ultimate example of what it meant for his disciple “not to be served, but to serve.” And 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 is the “ransom price” for the redemption of others. Many years later, Paul employed this very image to demonstrate how Christians are to have the “same mind, which was in Christ Jesus.” Unlike Adam, Jesus did not attempt to seize “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).

Shortly before his death, Jesus broke bread and told the disciples to eat it, “for this is my body.” Next, he passed the cup, telling them to drink its contents, “for this is my blood of the covenant.” In these words, once more, he was reflecting the image of 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).

At the end of Matthew, Jesus declares that he received “all authority in heaven and on earth.” He is the messianic king who now reigns over the nations, and therefore, he dispatches his disciples to proclaim the good news of his kingdom reign to “all the nations.”

However, despite this final glorious picture, his exaltation and enthronement at the right hand of God came only after his death and resurrection. It is the suffering “Servant of Yahweh” who now reigns supreme over the Cosmos.

Thus, Jesus fulfills the role of the Servant of Yahweh, the one who “gave his life as a ransom for many,” and neither his identity nor his mission can be understood apart from his self-sacrificial act. Moreover, his life is the model and imperative for how his disciples must live in this fallen world, and how they reign with him over the nations as the heralds and envoys of his kingdom.


Suffering Servant

Revolt Against the Son