Suffering Servant?

The idea of a suffering servant may very well have come from Isa 53. But the idea that the Messiah had to suffer doesn’t come from there.

Well, it doesn’t come from there in Mark’s gospel, anyway.

For Mark, the invitation to discover that Jesus must suffer is tied to his self-designation as the son of man.

Now, I know that there are hundreds of theories and myriad details about what this term meant in Aramaic, how the historical Jesus is likely to have used the phrase, and the like. But that is, for the most part, irrelevant for interpreting Mark.

In Mark’s gospel, the phrase “son of Man” is clearly linked to the vision of Daniel 7 (Mark 13:26; 14:62). At least in these latter parts of Mark, the connotations of “the Human One” entail Jesus playing the role of Daniel’s enthroned Son of Man.

Earlier uses of the phrase also find explanation here: the Son of Man has unique authority–authority on earth to forgive sins; authority even over the sabbath.

The son of man in Daniel is enthroned and given an eternal kingdom. The power of that rule is at work, already, in Jesus’ earthly ministry, even though he has not yet come on the clouds to the right hand of God.

But can Daniel 7 also open up the door to understanding the third type of “son of man” saying, the passion predictions?

  • The human one must suffer many things and be rejected… (Mark 8:31)
  • Why was it written that the Human One must suffer many things and be rejected…(Mark 9:12)
  • The Human One goes to his death just as it is written about him…(Mark 14:21)

Perhaps it is not coincidental that the first time we hear a passion prediction, “The human one must suffer many things and be rejected” (Mark 8:31), the passage goes on to echo Daniel 7 in its promise that anyone ashamed of this suffering Human One will find that the Human One is ashamed of him when he comes in the glory of the father with the angels.

In other words, in the story of Mark’s gospel, Jesus as the enthroned and returning Human One is inseparable from Jesus as the suffering Human One.

So what does Daniel 7, the coming of the great and glorious Human One to be enthroned at God’s right hand, have to do with suffering?

In the final interpreting of Daniel’s dream, we discover that the last beast, and the last horn of the beast, that is finally put down and destroyed at the advent of the Son of Man, had oppressed the holy ones whom the Human One represents.

As I watched, this same horn waged war against the holy ones and defeated them, until the Ancient One came… The set time arrived, and the holy ones held the kingship securely. (Daniel 7:22, CEB)

25 He will say things against the Most High
and will exhaust the holy ones
of the Most High.
He will try to change times set by law.
And for a period of time,
periods of time,
and half a period of time,
they will be delivered into his power.
26 Then the court will sit in session.
His rule will be taken away—
ruined and wiped out for all time.
27 The kingship, authority, and power
of all kingdoms under heaven
will be given to the people,
the holy ones of the Most High. (Daniel 7:25-27, CEB)

The Son of Man who is enthroned is none other than the holy ones who suffered under the oppressive hand of the final king who would be destroyed. They were, first, delivered to suffering and death, and then afterward ushered into eternal kingship and power.

Interestingly, Daniel 12 contains the only widely recognized reference to resurrection in the OT. And that passage tells the same story as Daniel 7, only using different imagery. And there, with the defeat of the great enemy comes not only the exaltation of God’s people to rule, but even the resurrection of the righteous who have been put to death.

How is it written that the Human One must suffer at the hands of people and then rise again? It is written in the visions of the Human One beheld by the prophet Daniel. To be the Human One enthroned at the right hand of God means that one has, first, suffered and died at the hands of the unjust rulers who war against the people of God.

8 thoughts on “Suffering Servant?”

  1. Which makes perfect sense — just as Matthew’s community lived Isaiah, the Markan community must have been reading Daniel. It’s where the “let the reader understand” citation points already. And why not, in the wake of the destruction of the Temple? How better to speak of the divine retribution upon an imperial oppressor?

    Making Matthew a palimpsest of Isaiah written over Daniel…

    1. Mark was thinking about more than just Daniel, Matt. As Mk 1:2-3 demonstrates, Mark had his eye on Isaiah, Malachi, and Exodus as major contributors to his paradigm. See Rikki Watts’s Isaiah’s New Exodus in Mark.

  2. I think it’s interesting to think of this Petrine community (out of which Mark was written) to see how they think. They are quite apocalyptic. I’m thinking of 1Peter and they idea that Christians are exiles and sojourners. He uses the terminology of “Babylon” to describe either Jerusalem (if the theme is a pre-70 “exile”) or Rome (if the theme is post-70 destruction). Then look at 2Peter, how (especially chapter 2) he copies Jude almost verbatim. Obviously, Daniel is quite the apocalypse in the OT. There’s an interesting connection here… ;-)

  3. Good thoughts, Daniel. Craig Evans argues in his Mark commentary (and perhaps elsewhere) that the “suffering Son of Man” is actually a combination of Isaiah 53 and Daniel 7, with Jesus embodying the status and destiny of both figures.

    But I agree that suffering is already there in Daniel 7. I’m not a fan of the “saint of the Most High” = “Son of Man” exegesis in Daniel 7, as I think it is more nuanced than that–I think the Son of Man is both an individual representing Israel and standing over against Israel, as well as Israel itself (just like the Servant in Isaiah!)–but I think your point stands either way.

  4. Thanks, Mike. I don’t mean to cast aside the more evident pieces, especially in light of their importance to the Synoptic strand. But the oral and performance criticism of Mark already leans to a community in which casual Daniel references can be made without the degree of overt recollection used for the other pieces. It’s the shadow of Daniel, if you will, the parallelism in the audience’s working memory.

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