This article sets out to explore Y’shua as the ideal, one and only, God-chosen representative of Israel.
Throughout the Tanakh (Old Testament), the nation of Israel is represented as the firstborn of YHWH, and also as his unique servant:
Exodus 4:22 And thou shalt say unto Pharaoh, Thus saith the LORD, Israel [is] my son, [even] my firstborn:
Hosea 11:1 When Israel [was] a child, then I loved him, and called my son out of Egypt.
This idea of Israel as YHWH’s firstborn was the whole impetus behind the Passover event, in which YHWH made a distinction between the Hebrews and the Egyptians:
Exodus 11:4-7 And Moses said, Thus saith the LORD, About midnight will I go out into the midst of Egypt: 5 And all the firstborn in the land of Egypt shall die, from the firstborn of Pharaoh that sitteth upon his throne, even unto the firstborn of the maidservant that [is] behind the mill; and all the firstborn of beasts. 6 And there shall be a great cry throughout all the land of Egypt, such as there was none like it, nor shall be like it any more. 7 But against any of the children of Israel shall not a dog move his tongue, against man or beast: that ye may know how that the LORD doth put a difference between the Egyptians and Israel.
The imagery of the Passover and Exodus play heavily in the types and shadows of the overall narrative of the Bible, so understanding these foundational concepts helps us learn more about how the eternal plan of YHWH is worked out over time.
Later in the prophetic narrative, YHWH refers to Israel as his unique servant.
Isaiah 44:1-2, 21 Yet now hear, O Jacob my servant; and Israel, whom I have chosen: 2 Thus saith the LORD that made thee, and formed thee from the womb, [which] will help thee; Fear not, O Jacob, my servant; and thou, Jesurun, whom I have chosen. … 21 Remember these, O Jacob and Israel; for thou [art] my servant: I have formed thee; thou [art] my servant: O Israel, thou shalt not be forgotten of me.
Isaiah 49:3, 6 And said unto me, Thou [art] my servant, O Israel, in whom I will be glorified. … 6 And he said, It is a light thing that thou shouldest be my servant to raise up the tribes of Jacob, and to restore the preserved of Israel: I will also give thee for a light to the Gentiles, that thou mayest be my salvation unto the end of the earth.
While not an exhaustive list, these passages demonstrate how YHWH had labeled the nation of Israel as his servant. This has led to an alternate reading of that famous passage in Isaiah 53. While believers in Messiah would in the future look at Isaiah 53 as being prophetically descriptive of Y’shua’s crucifixion, most Jews, even to this day, view that passage as being prophetically about the nation of Israel, and not without good reason.
As you may know, the chapter divisions in the Bible are arbitrary and not part of the original manuscript. If we are to follow the context of the narrative, the one who is being described in chapter 53 is actually mentioned a few verses earlier in chapter 52.
Isaiah 52:13 Behold, my servant shall deal prudently, he shall be exalted and extolled, and be very high.
Here, the servant of YHWH is named as the subject of the passage that continues into chapter 53. Since all of the prior references to the servant in Isaiah clearly identify the servant as Jacob/Israel, Jews have naturally looked to this passage as being descriptive of their collective and ongoing travail as a scorned people having redemptive value for the rest of humanity.
It is true, the Jews have been scorned, marginalized and persecuted throughout the ages, and at a first glance, this appears to have some merit. Without the writings of the Messiah believers (New Testament) this could indeed be a legitimate interpretation of this prophecy. But is that the full meaning of the passage?
As we begin to survey the Believers’ Writings, we find that some of these same firstborn and servant passages are analogously attributed to Messiah Y’shua.
To begin with, Messiah was the firstborn of Mary and Joseph:
Matthew 1:25 And knew her not till she had brought forth her firstborn son: and he called his name JESUS.
Luke 2:7 And she brought forth her firstborn son, and wrapped him in swaddling clothes, and laid him in a manger; because there was no room for them in the inn.
Matthew even goes so far as to equate a parallel in the life of Y’shua with that of the prophecy of Hosea 11:1 mentioned earlier:
Matthew 2:15 And was there until the death of Herod: that it might be fulfilled which was spoken of the Lord by the prophet, saying, Out of Egypt have I called my son.
As this concept is developed throughout the revelatory writings of the believers, specifically Paul, the idea of Y’shua as the firstborn begins to become more abstract and spiritual:
Romans 8:29 For whom he did foreknow, he also did predestinate [to be] conformed to the image of his Son, that he might be the firstborn among many brethren.
Colossians 1:15, 18 Who is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of every creature: … 18 And he is the head of the body, the church: who is the beginning, the firstborn from the dead; that in all [things] he might have the preeminence.
John 1:14, 18 And the Word was made flesh, and dwelt among us, (and we beheld his glory, the glory as of the only begotten of the Father,) full of grace and truth. … 18 No man hath seen God at any time; the only begotten Son, which is in the bosom of the Father, he hath declared [him].
John 3:16, 18 For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life. … 18 He that believeth on him is not condemned: but he that believeth not is condemned already, because he hath not believed in the name of the only begotten Son of God.
1 John 4:9 In this was manifested the love of God toward us, because that God sent his only begotten Son into the world, that we might live through him.
Now some may argue that only begotten (Gr. monogenes) is not the same as firstborn (Heb. bekowr). While there are many scholarly debates surrounding this idea, a simple example for me is looking at Hebrews 11:17 where Isaac is described as the only begotten of Abraham, when clearly he was his firstborn son born miraculously through Sarah.
Hebrews 11:17 By faith Abraham, when he was tried, offered up Isaac: and he that had received the promises offered up his only begotten [son],
The idea is certainly that the firstborn was a place of prominence, and as the eldest son, he took precedence over the other siblings. Hence, the rivalry between Isaac and Ishmael, as Ishmael felt his status was wrongly subjugated by Isaac.
Back to our New Testament writings, even the imagery of the Passover is revisited through the redemptive work of Messiah:
1 Corinthians 5:7 Purge out therefore the old leaven, that ye may be a new lump, as ye are unleavened. For even Christ our passover is sacrificed for us:
Remember, the idea of the Passover sacrifice was to redeem the firstborn (Israel) from the destroying angel, making a distinction between Israel and Egypt.
Matthew goes so far as to actually attribute the servant passages of Isaiah 11 and 42:1-4 directly to Y’shua:
Matthew 12:14-21 Then the Pharisees went out, and held a council against him, how they might destroy him. 15 But when Jesus knew [it], he withdrew himself from thence: and great multitudes followed him, and he healed them all; 16 And charged them that they should not make him known: 17 That it might be fulfilled which was spoken by Esaias the prophet, saying, 18 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 shew judgment to the Gentiles. 19 He shall not strive, nor cry; neither shall any man hear his voice in the streets. 20 A bruised reed shall he not break, and smoking flax shall he not quench, till he send forth judgment unto victory. 21 And in his name shall the Gentiles trust.
This application of this passage by Matthew shows that the early Messiah believers held Y’shua to be the spiritual fulfillment of the prophecy previously attributed to natural Israel. And if that servanthood described in Isaiah could be attributed to Y’shua, then the famous passage of Isaiah 52:13-53:12 would apply, as well.
Mark also includes a reference to Isaiah 53:
Makr 15:28 And the scripture was fulfilled, which saith, And he was numbered with the transgressors.
Y’shua is also shown as a representative of Israel in his kingship. Who more appropriate to represent a nation than its king? Even from his birth, it was recognized that a ruler would come out of Bethlehem:
Matthew 2:1-6 Now when Jesus was born in Bethlehem of Judaea in the days of Herod the king, behold, there came wise men from the east to Jerusalem, 2 Saying, Where is he that is born King of the Jews? for we have seen his star in the east, and are come to worship him. 3 When Herod the king had heard [these things], he was troubled, and all Jerusalem with him. 4 And when he had gathered all the chief priests and scribes of the people together, he demanded of them where Christ should be born. 5 And they said unto him, In Bethlehem of Judaea: for thus it is written by the prophet, 6 And thou Bethlehem, [in] the land of Juda, art not the least among the princes of Juda: for out of thee shall come a Governor, that shall rule my people Israel.
Micah 5:2 But thou, Bethlehem Ephratah, [though] thou be little among the thousands of Judah, [yet] out of thee shall he come forth unto me [that is] to be ruler in Israel; whose goings forth [have been] from of old, from everlasting.
John 1:49 Nathanael answered and saith unto him, Rabbi, thou art the Son of God; thou art the King of Israel.
John 12:13, 15 Took branches of palm trees, and went forth to meet him, and cried, Hosanna: Blessed [is] the King of Israel that cometh in the name of the Lord. … 15 Fear not, daughter of Sion: behold, thy King cometh, sitting on an ass’s colt.
John 18:33, 37 Then Pilate entered into the judgment hall again, and called Jesus, and said unto him, Art thou the King of the Jews? … 37 Pilate therefore said unto him, Art thou a king then? Jesus answered, Thou sayest that I am a king. To this end was I born, and for this cause came I into the world, that I should bear witness unto the truth. Every one that is of the truth heareth my voice.
John 19:14, 19 And it was the preparation of the passover, and about the sixth hour: and he saith unto the Jews, Behold your King! … 19 And Pilate wrote a title, and put [it] on the cross. And the writing was, JESUS OF NAZARETH THE KING OF THE JEWS.
One of the final passages that I find extremely intriguing as to the role and entitlement of Y’shua as the king of Israel is found in 1 Samuel.
1 Samuel 8:19-20 Nevertheless the people refused to obey the voice of Samuel; and they said, Nay; but we will have a king over us; 20 That we also may be like all the nations; and that our king may judge us, and go out before us, and fight our battles.
In fulfillment of Israel’s own definition of their king in v. 20 above, the following can be said of Y’shua:
- “That our king may judge us”
- John 5:22-23, 26-27 For the Father judgeth no man, but hath committed all judgment unto the Son: 23 That all [men] should honour the Son, even as they honour the Father. He that honoureth not the Son honoureth not the Father which hath sent him. … 26 For as the Father hath life in himself; so hath he given to the Son to have life in himself; 27 And hath given him authority to execute judgment also, because he is the Son of man.
- That our king…go out before us”
- 1 Corinthians 15:20 But now is Christ risen from the dead, [and] become the firstfruits of them that slept.
- Hebrews 6:19-20 Which [hope] we have as an anchor of the soul, both sure and stedfast, and which entereth into that within the veil; 20 Whither the forerunner [one who comes in advance to a place where the rest are to follow] is for us entered, [even] Jesus, made an high priest for ever after the order of Melchisedec.
- That our king…fight our battles”
- 1 Corinthians 15:57 But thanks [be] to God, which giveth us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ.
To my way of thinking, all of these passages relating to Y’shua’s firstborn status, his role as the servant of YHWH, and his entitlement to kingship come together in a way that points to Y’shua being the ultimate representative of national Israel. As such, his redemptive actions bought them back from their exile of disobedience. In the process of redeeming his own people he began a new creation, a spiritual kingdom, one that draws all men to worship YHWH as they review YHWH’s trustworthiness in caring for and rescuing his own people through their faithful representative, Messiah Y’shua.