Why Jesus' Humble Origin Is Not Proof For Being The Suffering Servant

Continued from Part 4


53:2:  “[H]e grew up … a tender plant, and as a root out of a dry land … no form nor comeliness … nor appearance that we should delight in him.”

The futile search for Jesus in Isaiah 53:2

The early years:

Was Jesus’ apparently humble and inauspicious origin proof that he was the servant?  His situation was no different than myriads of others living in Judea or Galilee.

Does the description of the downtrodden rejected servant of verse 2 fit the one of Jesus depicted in the Gospels?  Luke states:  “And Jesus kept increasing in wisdom and in physical growth [helikia, cf. Luke 12:25, 19:3], and in favor with God and men” (Luke 2:52).

As Jesus was growing up was he a frail, unsightly child?  Was he repulsive?  In the Gospel, it is asserted that Jesus was tall, wise, and enjoyed popularity even in the years prior to his active ministry.  It suggests that his reported handsome appearance, charismatic personality, and wisdom attracted a positive interest from others.

As the Gospels’ story unfolds, throughout Jesus’ entire lifetime, he is greatly desired by an ever growing multitude of people who come to hear his spiritual message.  Even if some only superficially admired Jesus and later found him disappointing it would still not match the intensity of the servant’s rejection from a tender age.  The Gospels’ description of Jesus simply does not fit the physical description of the servant or the reaction to his presence that is found in verse 2.

The ministry years:

The Gospels report that there are those who opposed Jesus, but compare this opposition to the alleged popularity he enjoined even while going to his death.  A number of Gospel stories tell of enthusiastic crowds following him from the very beginning of his preaching and even as he went to be executed.  These stories contradict the description of the servant found in verse 2.

Christian in search of answers

Some Christians suggest that “no form nor comeliness … nor appearance that we should delight in him refers not to physical being but to humility.   To the contrary, the Gospels describe a different Jesus who was neither a humble person nor was he a loving person.  It is easy to love those who agree with you; much more difficult is the ability to love those who disagree.

Jesus exhibited rabid intolerance of those who disagreed with him.  He was haughty and cruel in both word and deed (Matthew 15:1-20; Matthew 21:12, Mark 11:15-16, Luke 19:45, John 2:15; Matthew 21:18-21, Mark 11:13-14; Matthew 8:32, Mark 5:13, Luke 8:33; Matthew 10:34-35, Luke 12:49-53; Matthew 23:34-36, Luke 11:49-51; Luke 19:27).  Was it permissible for Jesus to act as he did because he was allegedly God and therefore could do as he pleased?  This is begging the question.  The specific issue here is not whether Jesus was a supernatural being but whether he literally fulfilled the passage in Isaiah.

Paul claims Jesus “humbled himself” (Philippians 2:8) but apparently this humility did not extend to relations with ordinary people who disagreed with him.  Did Jesus carry out faithfully the role of the servant as specifically enunciated by the prophet?  By what authority it is claimed he spoke acrimoniously is not at issue.  What is at issue is that once having spoken and acted in a haughty and cruel manner the Gospels’ Jesus disqualified himself from being a literal fulfillment of verse 2.  This is because in all instances where the New Testament uses Isaiah 53 it alleges literal fulfillment by Jesus not a metaphorical fulfillment (Matthew 8:17; Mark 15:28; Luke 22:37; John 12:38; Acts 8:32, 33; Romans 10:16, 15:21; 1 Peter 2:22, 24-25).

Another unjustified contention presented is that this verse refers to the Jewish rejection of Jesus’ message at the time of his death.  If the Gospel reports are accurate, we can assume that outside of Jerusalem his still loyal following was unaware of events in the capital and that even there, besides his secret followers (John 12:42) great multitudes were still loyal.  On the way to being executed Luke claims that “there were following him a great multitude of the people, and of women who were mourning and lamenting him” (Luke 23:27).  Overall, the great majority of Jesus’ Jewish contemporaries in the Land of Israel and the Diaspora never heard of him.  Therefore, the question of large-scale Jewish rejection of Jesus does not yet enter the picture.  Other Christians wrongly see this verse as a reaction to Jesus’ physical state at his crucifixion.  Luke’s narrative shows that those who followed Jesus to his execution were not turned away by his supposed haggard appearance (Luke 23:27).

The rejection of Jesus in the light of verse 2

Overall, those contemporaries who reject Jesus are vocal, but appear to be in the minority compared to the multitudes bewailing his fate.   The type of rejection the Gospels say Jesus experienced in his last hours of life is by no means that expressed in the wording of verse 2.  According to all the Synoptic Gospel accounts, those relatively few individuals who allegedly ridiculed Jesus, prior to his execution and at the crucifixion site itself, did not deride his physical condition but, rather, his messianic pretensions (Matthew 27:41-43; Mark 15:29-32; Luke 22:63-64, 23:35-37).  Considering the Gospels’ description of the physical attributes ascribed to Jesus, his lack of humility and the enthusiastic reaction to his message by individuals and crowds he could not be regarded as the fulfillment of Isaiah 53:2.

© Gerald Sigal