Act 3:13 – God’s Servant

Peter calls Jesus “God’s Servant.” The title “servant” was not usually an honor prior to the Christian use the word. Since the idea of serving God is so much a part of Christianity, we miss the impact of the word as a title for Jesus. The activity of a servant of God in Isaiah 49-53 is critical for understanding who Jesus was in Peter’s sermon. The servant suffered unjustly at the hands of sinners. Because he suffers Israel will be saved and he will be a “light to the Gentiles.

Suffering ServantMany Jewish readers of Isaiah would understand the servant of God as Israel as a while, suffering in exile until the time of the messiah. Christians quickly developed the idea Jesus was the fulfillment of the suffering servant primarily because of Jesus’ own mission as a servant. Mark 10:45 Jesus claims to have come to serve. Certainly the suffering of the Cross resonates with the suffering of the servant in Isaiah 53. The idea of the messiah as servant appears in other texts as well from the first century, 2 Baruch 70:9, for example as well as the Targum Jonathan on Isaiah 41:1 and 52:13.

The Jews gathered for worship, prayer and the study of scripture in the Temple courts would not have missed the allusion to Isaiah 53: the Servant of the Lord who suffers on behalf of Israel.  Peter’s words align closely with LXX Isaiah 52:13, the servant/child (παις) will be glorified (future passive of δοξάζομαι). Peter shifts the verb tense to aorist to refer to the now past crucifixion but otherwise the allusion seems clear. David Moessner pointed out several other words present in Acts 3 that indicate he has Isaiah’s servant songs in mind (cited by Keener, 2:1085).

In Acts 3:14 Peter calls Jesus the “holy and righteous one,” additional language drawn from Isaiah (41:14, 43:3, 47:4, 48:17, 49:7, 54:5). In fact, Isaiah calls God the “Holy One” frequently. Keener points out pagan kings would call themselves “righteous” (1:1091), but a Jewish audience would have heard an echo of scripture, Noah or Enoch were “righteous ones,” but most importantly the servant of God is “my righteous one” (Isa 53:11).

Finally, God glorified Jesus his servant by raising him from the dead.  A Jewish person in the crowd might have objected that Jesus could not be the messiah since he was dead – a valid point.  But the resurrection and ascension of Jesus and demonstrate that he is the messiah, since his glorification is to the ultimate place, the right hand of the father.

What is the significance of Peter’s allusion to the Suffering Servant of Isaiah? To what extent is he calling attention to the whole context of Isaiah 40-55? This was a popular text among Jews in the Second Temple since it looks forward to the end of the Exile, is Peter claiming the exile came to an end with the death of Jesus?

3 thoughts on “Act 3:13 – God’s Servant

  1. The Jews who thought their suffering would end when the messiah came, I think were incorrect. However, they failed to recognize that Jesus was their messiah. The first time when Jesus came, he came as the “suffering servant” (Isaiah 52: 13-15) to take the punishment for the sins of the world (John 1:29). The reason for not taking the Jews out of exile was so to unite Jews and Gentiles under one banner which would include being under a new convent and Jesus fulfilling the Mosaic Law. By doing all these deeds Jesus was able to make pave the way for salvation for man to being righteous in God’s eyes. The Gentiles are also in exile with the Jews until the second time Jesus comes. When he will come back, take back the world, and take all his siblings out of exile Jews and Gentiles alike. (Revelation 19:16)

  2. The idea of being a servant to Christ is a concept that we as Christians now, think of as normal. I have never really thought about the fact that being a servant was a negative term when it is first starting to be used by Jesus and others. I like that Peter alludes to the Isaiah 53 passage to give those who are listening something that they are already familiar with and can now build upon their understanding of what that means. This also makes me wonder, if they at least knew that the messiah would be a servant and have to suffer, and today’s Christians know that we are called to be servants and that life will not be easy; how challenging that idea of becoming a servant for Christ mentality must have been for people of that time. Paul often speaks of his suffering for Christ and being through in jail in His name, but that mental process of going from servant being a negative, lowly thing, to now seeking out and trying to be a servant of Christ had to have some challenges to it. Then again, God could have very well eased their minds so that they did not over think it as much as I am, but this is just one more area that I had never seen the cultural difference in. Having servants back then was a normal part of live, but just as Jesus humbled Himself and washed the disciple’s feet in John 13 to be an example, that had to have been a very unique time of mentally changing the ideas behind being a servant.

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