Posted by: mattcolvin | April 1, 2012

The Servant Songs and Jesus’ Self-Understanding

Ecce Homo, Caravaggio.

The Monday next before Easter: Isaiah 42.

First a comment for my fellow Calvinists:

42 “Behold! My Servant whom I uphold,
My Elect One in whom My soul delights!

Jesus is the elect one. All election – all God’s choosing – is in Jesus. It is not a naked, arbitrary election.

N.T. Wright has called our attention to the faith of Jesus, His personal trust in his father and His loyal following of the vocation and job His father had given Him. Wright says that this faith was maintained by fasting, prayer and struggle and shaped by meditation on the Scriptures of Israel. Certainly, the present passage of Isaiah must have been very powerful in Jesus’s consciousness:

5 Thus says God the Lord,
Who created the heavens and stretched them out,
Who spread forth the earth and that which comes from it,
Who gives breath to the people on it,
And spirit to those who walk on it:
6 “I, the Lord, have called You in righteousness,
And will hold Your hand;
I will keep You and give You as a covenant to the people,
As a light to the Gentiles,

7 To open blind eyes,
To bring out prisoners from the prison,
Those who sit in darkness from the prison house.

We know from Luke chapter 4 that Jesus did personally apply verses from Isaiah to himself. Surely these verses are more of the scriptural basis of His messianic vocation. Surely He applied to Himself this promise that YHWH would hold His hand. Surely He acted on the verses about giving sight to the blind and rescuing the prisoners. He saw Himself as the servant of YHWH.

My daughter Talia is writing her high school senior thesis about docetism in movies about Jesus, and in criticism of movies about Jesus. She maintains that Scorsese’s Last Temptation of Christ has been badly misunderstood, and that much of what Christians condemn about that film is actually just its depiction of Jesus’ real temptations, without sin. I don’t know enough about the movie to say that my daughter is correct, but it seems certain that Satan’s temptation of Jesus in the wilderness, if Jesus was a real man, must have been a real struggle. To say it was not would be not only to deny Christ’s real humanity, but also to cheapen the victory He won.

We know from Scripture that Jesus resisted that temptation with Scripture. He defeated Satan, not because He had, as Wright says, “A knowledge that He was God the way you know you have a stomachache.” No, He defeated Satan because He knew the Scriptures and His vocation, and had real faith in His Father.



  1. IIRC, Jesus (Willem Dafoe) was a neurotic nutcase in that movie: He starts out as a sweaty carpenter in a dark room making a cross and tries it out in a sweaty daze/craze, has sex with Mary Magdelene, begs and begs his friend Judas to betray him, prays like he’s in a trance about to heed the snake and jump over the cliff, etc.

    • Yes, it also seems to me that LTOC went too far and actually made Jesus a sinner and substantiated the claim that He “had a demon.” the Judas stuff strikes me as especially problematic.

      Still, at least half of the Christian backlash to the movie was motivated by docetism: For instance, He does not have sex with Mary Magdalene, but only imagines doing so, struggling with that desire as part of His overcoming of temptation. Yet critics can’t let themselves think that Jesus was really tempted sexually.

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