During the eight days of Hanukkah a nine-branched candelabra, called a hanukkiah, is lit from right to left (when facing the candelabra). The candles are lit using the middle candle—known by its special designation as the “servant” candle. This servant candle holds spiritual and theological significance for followers of Jesus the Messiah. Just as the lights of Hanukkah point us to the “Light of the World” – Jesus the Messiah, so the servant candle alludes to His servant-like attitude. Perhaps the most famous and compelling prophecy of the Messiah being a servant is found in Isaiah 52:13-53:12.
Messiah the Suffering Servant
The prophet Isaiah predicted that the Messiah who was to bring the Light of God to the nations and dwell with his people Israel was to suffer and be a servant to the world before he would be exalted as King Messiah. Some ancient Jewish texts agree.
The Babylonian Talmud says: “The Messiah, what is his name? The Rabbis say, The Leper Scholar, as it is said, ‘surely he has borne our griefs and carried our sorrows: yet we did esteem him a leper, smitten of God and afflicted…’”(Sanhedrin 98b).
Midrash Ruth Rabbah says: “Another explanation (of Ruth 2:14): He is speaking of King Messiah; ‘Come hither,’ draw near to the throne; ‘and eat of the bread,’ that is, the bread of the kingdom; ‘and dip thy morsel in the vinegar,’ this refers to his chastisements, as it is said, ‘but he was wounded for our transgressions, bruised for our iniquities.’”
Yalkut Shimoni (a thirteenth compilation of earlier Midrashic writings) applies Isaiah 52:13 to the Messiah, stating that the Messiah, called the “great mountain” according to the Yalkut’s interpretation of Zechariah 4:7, is “greater than the patriarchs…higher than Abraham…lifted up above Moses…and loftier than the ministering angels” (2:571; see also 2:621). Isaiah 53:5 is applied to the sufferings of “King Messiah” (2:620).
Michael Brown, a Messianic scholar writes: “It behooves us to show our Jewish people how much Jesus is like them, the circle within the circle of Isaiah 53.”1 He then points to another ancient Jewish book called the Zohar:
“[t]he Messiah enters [the Hall of the Sons of Illness] and summons all the diseases and all the pains and all the sufferings of Israel that they should come upon him, and all of them come upon him. And would he not thus bring ease to Israel and take their sufferings upon himself, no man could endure the sufferings Israel has to undergo because they neglected the Torah.”
How true it is that, “had not the Messiah taken our place, suffering on our behalf, we would have perished long ago.”2
Messiah’s Career as a Servant
Jesus’ life was marked by servanthood. John Gill, a theologian and pastor (1667-1771), wrote this about Jesus’ servant stature: “In the fullness of time he was sent and came not to be ministered to, as a monarch, but to minister as a servant under the law. His infancy in Egypt, where the Israelites were enslaved, was an emblem of that servile state he was come into, and very early he declared that he must be about his Father’s business.”3
Our Messiah also called us to be servants, stating: “Not so with you. Instead, whoever wants to become great among you must be your servant, and whoever wants to be first must be your slave— just as the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.” (Matt. 20:26-28). Hanukkah is a great time (just like Christmas!) to remember what our Messiah did for us – the ultimate sacrifice, giving His life for our eternal communion with the Father.
1. Brown, Michael, “Jewish Interpretations of Isaiah 53” in Bock, D. L., & Glaser, M. (2012). The Gospel according to Isaiah 53: encountering the suffering servant in Jewish and Christian theology (p. 80-81). Grand Rapids, MI: Kregel Academic & Professional
2. Raphael Patai, (1979) The Messiah Texts (p 116) Detroit: Wayne State University Press as quoted in Brown, Michael, “Jewish Interpretations of Isaiah 53”
3. Adapted by www.jesus.org from A Body of Doctrinal Divinity, Book 5, Chapter 3, by John Gill.