Previous article in this series: September 1, 2013, p. 472.
Previous article in this short series was concluded with a question: “The saints of old did have prophetic types, and they were not without the prophetic word, but can it be demonstrated that they linked them?”
The prophetic type under consideration was the expiatory sacrifice, which taught the believer that sin, his sin, must somehow be atoned for. Burdened with the crushing weight of his sin, the believer turned to the sacrifice for relief—and found none…until he looked beyond the sacrifice to Jehovah. Jehovah and blood. “These two,” wrote Ophoff, “constituted the mystery of redemption upon which the believer of the old covenant pondered and [that he] attempted to penetrate.”
And he, the believer, had help. He was not left simply to “ponder.” He had, besides the picture prophecy, the prophetic word. Not just, as we said, gospel to the eye (), but also gospel to the ear ( ). “I will put enmity” and “It shall bruise thy head”—“heavenly music,” says Ophoff, “in the ears of every saint of the old covenant.”
But then there’s that question, the question that has, as it were, hung over every article in this series: did the saints of old actually link them? The very first of the revelations of the Messiah makes reference to His sufferings. “Thou shalt bruise his heel”—which prophecy was followed forthwith by the shedding of blood to provide covering for the nakedness (the sin and shame) of our first parents. Did they connect the two?
Ophoff himself raised the question. He considered it to be an important one. That’s evident from the fact that, to make certain that there could be no mistaking its meaning, he rephrased it repeatedly. “The question is,” he said, “whether the ancient believer regarded the sacrificial victim as prophetic symbol of the sufferings and death of the Messiah. In other words, was the believer of the old covenant taught to associate the shedding of blood with the promised Shiloh? Was he made to see that, according to the arrangement of God, the Man of Jehovah must bear the iniquities of His people?”
And, to remove any possible doubt yet remaining about his intention, he reiterated it:
Now, once more the question: Were the prophets of the old covenant wont to associate the blood of the sacrificial victim with the Messiah? Did the church of the old dispensation perceive that the sufferings of the servant of Jehovah, the bruising of His heel, had atoning value? Did they read in the rite of expiatory sacrifice any reference to the Man of Jehovah, whose griefs and triumphs they depicted? Were they able to link together prophecy and symbol? Did they recognize the sacrificial victim as an image or symbol of the suffering Messiah?
Ponder that for a moment. What, do you suppose, will be Ophoff’s answer to that important question?
Ponder it in light of what he has said heretofore: “It was not for nothing that blood played so prominent a part in the typical transactions of the old dispensation. The Spirit of God empowered the people of God to sense the meaning and message of the blood. It is plain that the shadows led men to Christ.”
Ponder it, too, in the light of what we have seen from the pen of John Calvin: “And certainly ceremonies had the power not only of alarming and humbling consciences, but of exciting them to faith in the coming Redeemer. In the whole solemnity of the ceremonial everything that was presented to the eye had impressed on it, as it were, the mark of Christ. The whole law, in short, was nothing but a manifold variety of exercises in which the worshipers were led by the hand to Christ.” And, elsewhere, this: “…the sacrifices of the law plainly and openly taught believers to seek salvation nowhere else than in the atonement that Christ alone carries out.”
In light, I say, of that, would you not expect the answer of both of those theologians to be an emphatic yes?
It wasn’t. For neither Ophoff nor Calvin.
Ophoff continues, appropriately, to ‘search the Scriptures.’
Fact is [he says] that the only book of the Old Testament which ascribes to the sufferings of the Messiah atoning value is the book of the prophet Isaiah. Isaiah was the only prophet who asserted that “he was wounded for our transgressions, he was bruised for our iniquities: the chastisement of our peace was upon him; and with his stripes we are healed…and the Lord hath laid on him the iniquity of us all.” In vain do we search the psalms for any such statements. This means that we have no objective proof for asserting that the church in the first periods of the old dispensation associated the shedding of the blood of the sacrificial animal with the suffering Messiah…. The church, then, for at least many centuries did not detect in the rite of expiatory sacrifice a reference to Christ (emphasis added).
So much for the first 3,300 years of the old dispensation. What about the last 700? Ophoff addressed that too.
The next question which asserts itself is whether these particular utterances of the prophet Isaiah were embraced and understood by the church so that, from that day on, the shadows of the old covenant spoke to the believers generally of the realities of the gospel. In other words, did the believers, with the aid of the illuminating words of the prophet Isaiah, discover in the rite of expiatory sacrifice any reference to the suffering Servant of Jehovah?
Here Ophoff looks to the New Testament Scriptures. And again he answers in the negative. “The blunders of the disciples of Christ,” he says, “do not favor the view that the church, from the days of Isaiah on, associated the sacrificial victim with the Christ.” Special reference, he makes, to the perplexity of the travelers to Emmaus on resurrection Sunday. The fact that Jesus had to expound Himself to them in all the Scriptures, including, no doubt, the 53rd chapter of Isaiah, “goes to show that they were very much in the dark.”
Evidently Ophoff understood that this conclusion would seem to conflict with what he had all along been striving to demonstrate. “At the outset,” he acknowledged,
we averred that the shadows, being accompanied by the word, spoke to the believers of the realities of the gospel. Our words must not be interpreted to mean that the believers of the old covenant associated in their minds the sacrificial animal with Him to whose sufferings and triumphs the prophets often applied themselves in their songs and in their prayers. The prophetic word—the promise of Him who should gain the ascendancy over the malice of the devil—together with the symbol, had the effect of focusing the mind of the believers upon Jehovah. …Word and symbol plainly declared unto the contrite of heart that Jehovah will redeem and be merciful unto His people. The believer would say with the poet: “Unto thee, O Lord, do I lift up my soul. O my God, I trust in thee….” (Emphasis added.)
Ophoff must have anticipated also the next question that would arise in the minds of his readers. For he writes, in close connection with the foregoing: “This does not mean, however, that faith in Christ was no requirement in the days of the old covenant.”
It was exactly on this point, you will recall, that Ophoff took exception to the view of Fairbairn that the expiatory sacrifice “had a meaning of its own, which it was possible for the ancient worshipper to understand, and, so understanding, to present through it acceptable service to God, whether he might perceive or not the further respect it bore to a dying Savior.” Ophoff said No! What Fairbairn claimed to be not “strictly required” for “acceptable service” Ophoff claimed to be in fact required. And now….
Now Ophoff might seem to be backing away from that assertion by admitting that believers of the old covenant did not associate in their minds the sacrificial animals with a dying Savior. Hence his reaffirmation: This does not mean that faith in Christ was not required in the day of the old covenant. His explanation? Next time.
(The reader will perhaps remember that this writer has, several times in the past, anticipated the end of this “short series.” The conclusion, however, is proving to be elusive. I hope, yet, to deal not only with Ophoff’s explanation of faith in Christ in the old dispensation, but also with why it could really have been no other way. One more article?
… to be continued.