Previous article in this series: October 15, 2013, p. 39.
Rev. Ophoff—so we noted last time—took vigorous exception to Fairbairn’s view that the expiatory sacrifice “had a meaning of its own” (that is, apart from its significance as a type), which meaning the ancient worshiper could comprehend and therefore, through it, offer acceptable service to God “whether he might perceive or not the further respect it had to a dying Savior.” Ophoff insisted that, in order for a sacrifice to be pleasing to God, it had to be offered out of faith in Christ.
Ophoff went on, however, to acknowledge that there is no evidence that believers of the old covenant did in fact “associate in their minds” the sacrificial animals with a dying Savior.
A seeming contradiction: On the one hand, an expiatory sacrifice could not be pleasing to God if it were not offered out of faith in Christ; and on the other, we have no reason to think that believers in those days actually saw Christ in the slaughtered animal.
Both propositions have truth written all over them. Regarding the first, recall Calvin’s assertion that the impress of the cross was on all the ceremonies of the old dispensation. “The whole law, in short,” he said, “was nothing but a manifold variety of exercises in which the worshipers were led by the hand to Christ” (Calvin’s Commentaries). And then there’s this, from elsewhere in his Commentaries: “In short, no benefit will be found in the ancient ceremonies until they are related to Christ.” And: “Let us therefore bear in mind that the Law is said to be of no use when it is Christless.”
But then there are the “blunders” of the disciples of Jesus—the blunders that led Ophoff to conclude that believers in the old dispensation in fact did not associate in their minds the sacrificial victim with the promised Messiah. To what other conclusion could he come, in light of such evidence as is seen in Matthew 16? “From that time forth began Jesus to show unto his disciples, how that he must go to Jerusalem, and suffer many things of the elders and chief priests and scribes, and be killed, and be raised again the third day” (v. 21). And the disciples’ response? “Be it far from thee, Lord: this shall not be unto thee” (v. 22).
Standing before them was the great Antitype, the One to whom the slain lambs of 4,000 years of Old Testament history had pointed—and the disciples reject out of hand any thought that He might actually be…killed.
Hardly could Jesus have been more blunt in telling His disciples what lay ahead for Him in Jerusalem. Think, for example, of: “Let these sayings sink down into your ears,” He said, “for the Son of man shall be delivered into the hands of men.” In the parallel passage in Mark, the instruction was more specific: “The Son of man is delivered into the hands of men, and they shall kill him: and after that he is killed, he shall rise the third day” ( ).
Crystal clear, but…but…surely Jesus means this figuratively, does He not? Surely any thought that the long-awaited promised Messiah, whom we believe to be the Son of God, can be killed is…unthinkable, is it not?
Thus did the disciples dismiss a literal interpretation of Jesus’ words. It remained for them only to ask what it was that He did mean. But they didn’t. Both passages (and ) explain why not: they were “afraid to ask him.”
Jesus’ response is telling. It was…silence. Jesus knew full well that His disciples did not understand what He had just told them. And He was content to let them remain in their ignorance.
Evidently, therefore, something more is involved here. Something more, that is, than the obtuseness of the disciples. That’s borne out by what we read inabout the inability of the disciples to grasp the plain teaching of their Master. First: “They understood not this saying.” That can be simply a matter of their obtuseness. But then this: “…and it was hid from them, that they perceived it not.” That’s something else. Something that suggests also a divine purpose.
Calvin alludes to this very thing in his comments on. “There was difference between the Law and the Gospel,” he wrote, “as if there were a veil between them, so that they might not see more closely the things that are now revealed to our eyes” (emphasis added). Then there is this insightful observation: “Indeed, it was not proper that while Christ, the Sun of righteousness, was not yet there the full light should shine as at mid-day.” That, from Calvin, gets at what is really the heart of this short series. We will return to it next time. For now, suffice it to say that the shadows on the other side of the veil accomplished their purpose of leading the believers in the old dispensation to “sigh with the desire to have a closer view,” which is the point of , but “of necessity they had to confine themselves within the prescribed limits” (Calvin’s N.T. Commentaries).
“Prescribed limits”—that is indeed what we are dealing with here. God’s prescription.
How then are we to understand Jesus’ admonition to the travelers to Emmaus: “O fools, and slow of heart to believe all that the prophets have spoken: ought not Christ to have suffered these things, and to enter into his glory?” Was it even fair to admonish them for not understanding something that was hid from them, as by a veil impenetrable?
Truth is, carnality cannot be excluded from any consideration of the disciples’ failure to understand, even rejection of, the plain teaching of Jesus regarding what lay before Him in Jerusalem. “The one great, misleading prejudice of the disciples,” wrote Rev. Ophoff, “had been their belief that the path of the promised Messiah was only to be one of triumph and glory.” Glory—that is, earthly glory—for Him…and for them. And what is that but carnality? And they were slow to let that go—even after they received the initial testimony to His resurrection. When Jesus appeared to the eleven on Resurrection Sunday, He therefore “upbraided them with their unbelief and hardness of heart, because they believed not them which had seen him after he was risen” ().
There you have it: foolishness, unbelief, hardness of heart—used by God to maintain “prescribed limits.” What is this but a remarkable manifestation of God’s good providence overruling human error?
So much for the why, that is, the divine purpose, of the veil between the old and the new dispensations. Perhaps it would be profitable to look briefly at the how. Jesus’ appearance to His disciples in the upper room on Resurrection Sunday has something to tell us about that too. Mark tells us only that Jesus upbraided His disciples for their unbelief and hardness of heart. Luke tells us more. The disciples, we read, were “terrified and affrighted” when Jesus appeared suddenly in their midst. After Jesus set their fears to rest, He said, “These are the words which I spake unto you, while I was yet with you, that all things must be fulfilled, which were written in the law of Moses, and in the prophets, and in the psalms, concerning me” (). Jesus had here their attention. Rapt attention, no doubt. But something more was needed. Earlier, as we said, Jesus had been content to let them remain in their ignorance. There were, after all, the “prescribed limits.” But now it is time for Him to begin to lift the veil. We read, therefore, that “then opened he their understanding, that they might understand the scriptures” ( ). Jesus began then actually to expound those Scriptures to which He had just referred (the law, the prophets, and the psalms). “Thus it is written,” Jesus said, “and thus it behooved Christ to suffer, and to rise from the dead the third day: and that repentance and remission of sins should be preached in his name among all nations, beginning at Jerusalem” ( ). Ah, yes, all the Scriptures—law, prophets, psalms—spoke of Christ. “This was all so clear to the mind of Jesus,” writes Lenski, “that He could dip into these writings at a thousand points and show how they spoke of Him.” What the disciples heard was the gospel of salvation through the blood of the Lamb.
Can you imagine that? The thrill of it? Luke doesn’t tell us of the reaction of the disciples in the upper room on this occasion, but it must have been much like that of the two travelers to Emmaus when Jesus talked with them earlier that day. They heard the same thing from the lips of the risen Lord. “Beginning at Moses and all the prophets he expounded unto them in all the scriptures the things concerning himself” (). Reflecting on that instruction after Jesus left them, the two asked each other, “Did not our hearts burn within us, while he talked with us by the way, and while he opened to us the scriptures?” ( ). Again: can you imagine the thrill of that? Their hearts “burned”—that is, “with the new hope and joy which the Scriptures which He opened to them and was applying to their heart, kindled in their heart” (Rev. Ophoff).
“Kindled in their heart.” How? John adds another detail to Jesus’ appearance to the eleven on the day of His resurrection. “He breathed on them,” John records, “and saith unto them, Receive ye the Holy Ghost”). A symbolic act. The breathing was not necessary for the bestowal of the Spirit. Christ could have accomplished the same thing, says Calvin, “by a secret inspiration.” Jesus chose, rather to make use of this sign in order to demonstrate that the Spirit is His; that He, the Spirit, proceeds from Jesus; and that it is through the work of the Spirit in their hearts, His Spirit, that Jesus accomplishes the opening of their understanding.
The power of it was unmistakable. For what had always before seemed so dark to the disciples was suddenly intelligible. They must have sensed immediately that spiritual discernment had been granted to them by Him who not only spoke the word but also “reached into their minds by hidden power” (Calvin).
At long last, light!
But not yet without some lingering shadows.
As is evident from the last of the disciples’ ‘blunders.’ Fifty days later. On the Mount of Olives. “Lord, wilt thou at this time restore the kingdom to Israel?” (). For our purposes in this series, very instructive.
More on that, next time.