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Jesus: The Suffering Servant and the New Joseph

by Brant Pitre July 24, 2020 0 Comments

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A third aspect of Jesus' passion narrative here is the fact that he is the suffering servant, and this one’s important. In the Old Testament there are prophecies of the suffering servant like Isaiah chapter 50:4-7, which is actually the first reading for Palm Sunday, where it describes this mysterious servant of God who gives his back to the smiters, and he doesn't hide his face from shame and from spitting. And what happens after the agony in the garden is Jesus is taken to trial before the Jewish leaders, before Caiaphas and the Sanhedrin, and they begin to subject him to mockery and to abuse, to spitting and that kind of thing. And Jesus does something really strange. He doesn't fight back. He doesn't even speak. He bears those sufferings silently. Why is he doing that? Well look at the description here. I’m going to read from Matthew 26 here. This is very very important. Verse 47 and following, it says:

While he was still speaking, Judas came, one of the twelve, and with him a great crowd with swords and clubs, from the chief priests and the elders of the people. Now the betrayer had given them a sign, saying, "The one I shall kiss is the man; seize him." And he came up to Jesus at once and said, "Hail, Master!" And he kissed him. Jesus said to him, "Friend, why are you here?"

Then they came up and laid hands on Jesus and seized him. And behold, one of those who were with Jesus stretched out his hand and drew his sword, and struck the slave of the high priest, and cut off his ear. Then Jesus said to him, "Put your sword back into its place; for all who take the sword will perish by the sword. Do you think that I cannot appeal to my Father, and he will at once send me more than twelve legions of angels?”

Just a quick note there: A Legion was an ancient Roman garrison of 6000 soldiers. So when Jesus tells Peter to put back his sword and that God could send him more than 12 legions of angels, what he is saying is God could send 72,000 angels to my side in a moment if I wanted to fight back, if I wanted to defend myself. But look at what he says in verse 54:

“But how then should the scriptures be fulfilled, that it must be so?"

So notice this clue here. Jesus’ whole passion narrative is really a fulfillment of the Scriptures. He's fulfilling multiple prophecies of the Old Testament. He’s fulfilling multiple events from the Old Testament. He’s fulfilling the Passover of Egypt.
He's fulfilling the fall of Adam and Eve. He's inaugurating a new Eden and a new creation by going through his passion. So everything he does here is a fulfillment of the Scriptures. And that’s what he says:

At that hour Jesus said to the crowds, "Have you come out as against a robber, with swords and clubs to capture me? Day after day I sat in the temple teaching, and you did not seize me. But all this has taken place, that the scriptures of the prophets might be fulfilled." Then all the disciples forsook him and fled. Then those who had seized Jesus led him to Ca'iaphas the high priest, where the scribes and the elders had gathered.

At this point the disciples flee. They take off. He's brought before Caiaphas for the trial. Caiaphas demands that he say whether he is the Christ, the son of God, and he does affirm that. And when he affirms it they react to his declaration by saying:

"He has uttered blasphemy. Why do we still need witnesses? You have now heard his blasphemy. What is your judgment?" They answered, "He deserves death."

Then Matthew says in verse 67:

Then they spat in his face, and struck him; and some slapped him, saying, "Prophesy to us, you Christ! Who is it that struck you?”

Here we see Jesus going to the cross silent like a lamb led to the slaughter, and bearing the spitting and the abuse of the soldiers and of the leaders in Jerusalem, just like the prophecies of the suffering servant had foretold. So he is inaugurating a new Passover. He's inaugurating a new creation as the new Adam, and he’s also fulfilling the prophecies of the suffering servant.

There's a fourth element here that’s taking place, a fourth fulfillment. If you keep walking through Matthew’s passion narrative, one of the unique things about the passion in Matthew is that it’s going to tell us about the death of Judas. This is something that only Matthew's account relays to us. So I’m going to read it and then unpack it from a Jewish perspective. This is what Matthew tells us:

When morning came, all the chief priests and the elders of the people took counsel against Jesus to put him to death; and they bound him and led him away and delivered him to Pilate the governor. When Judas, his betrayer, saw that he was condemned, he repented and brought back the thirty pieces of silver to the chief priests and the elders, saying, "I have sinned in betraying innocent blood." They said, "What is that to us? See to it yourself." And throwing down the pieces of silver in the temple, he departed; and he went and hanged himself.

Pause there for second. Why does Matthew tell us about the suicide of Judas at this point? What’s the significance of it? None of the other Synoptics give us this aspect here of Jesus being betrayed by Judas, of him throwing 30 pieces of silver back, and then going off and hanging himself. Well one suggestion that I would make to you is this: that this is another fulfillment of Scripture. Because Matthew would have known, especially as a Jewish writer, that in the Old Testament this isn't the first time a righteous innocent man has been betrayed for silver. In the book of Genesis 38, Joseph, the son of Jacob, the righteous and innocent son of Jacob, is betrayed by his brother Judah and sold to the Gentile slave traders for 20 pieces of silver. And we know what happens after that, Joseph is put into a pit. He is left for dead and then miraculously--watch this—he, in a sense, comes back to life. He's risen from the dead because he's rescued from the pit and he rises to the ranks of second-in-command to Pharaoh in the kingdom of Egypt. So notice the parallel here in the Old Testament. Innocent Joseph is betrayed by one of the twelve sons of Jacob named Judah for 20 pieces of silver. Now Jesus the righteous son of God the father the innocent one is betrayed by one of the 12 apostles named

Judas for 30 pieces of silver. That's not a coincidence, especially when you remember that Judas's name in Hebrew is Judah. It's the same name as the brother who betrayed innocent Joseph to the Gentile slave traders. So what Matthew is highlighting here I think is that Jesus isn't just a new Moses inaugurating a new Passover. He’s not just the new Adam setting in motion the redemption of the world. He's also the new Joseph. He is the innocent son whose righteous blood is going to be poured out, who’s going to be betrayed unto death, so that all of his brothers — in this case the disciples — so that they and the whole world might be saved. Not from famine and starvation like at the time of Joseph in Egypt, but from sin and death itself.

Brant Pitre
Brant Pitre


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