For several reasons I’m glad for the letter from Dr. Kennedy printed above. I appreciate, first of all, the “query” itself, as it demonstrates interest in and careful attention to subject matter that has come to be dear to my heart. But, in addition, it gives me opportunity to address a related question. After the printing of the article to which Dr. Kennedy refers, I was asked twice by a couple of discerning readers if what I had meant to say in that article was that Simeon may well have been predicting the death of Jesus, bot was not foreseeing the manner of it, that is, the cross. When I reflected on the words I had used in that article, I understood why the question arose. “Was Simeon, do you suppose, anticipating that too? The cross? Here, I think, the answer must be an emphatic no.” I assured both questioners that by “cross” I did in fact mean “death.” Simeon, as it seems to me, was not anticipating the death of Jesus in any form. As I explained in the next sentence: “The ‘mystery’ of which Paul spoke in, the mystery kept secret since the world began, the mystery, that is, of the incarnation, and of the death, of the Son of God, remained as mysterious as ever.”
Which brings me to the thoughtful challenge of Dr. Kennedy., he says, makes clear that “the Spirit of Christ in the prophets testified of the sufferings of Christ (including His death) and the glory that should follow (resurrection, etc.). Are we really to believe that few, if any of them, right up to Simeon, knew their Savior would have to die and be raised?” As I understand Dr. Kennedy’s question, he’s asking, “Does Don really believe that to be the case?” To which the simple answer is: “Yes.” Even, as I put it in the article in question, emphatically so.
But is the answer really so simple? That is, can it really be answered affirmatively—without qualification? What about those words of Simeon: “A sword shall pierce through thy own soul also”? Do they not anticipate the death of the cross? Indeed, they do. Just as the words of David in Psalm 16:10 (“For thou wilt not leave my soul in hell; neither wilt thou suffer thine Holy One to see corruption”) unmistakably anticipate the resurrection of Christ. And as David’s words in(“They gave me also gall for my meat; and in my thirst they gave me vinegar to drink”) anticipate a particular aspect of Jesus’ suffering. And, as far as types are concerned, does not I Corinthians 10:4 tell us that the Israelites “drank of the spiritual Rock that followed them: and that Rock was Christ”? And does not Jesus say concerning the brazen serpent, in John 3:14, that “as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, even so must the Son of man be lifted up”? For that matter, does not Peter say (concerning David’s words in Psalm 16:10) that “he [David] seeing this before spake of the resurrection of Christ, that his soul was not left in hell, neither his flesh did see corruption”(Acts 2:31)?
All of which, maybe particularly the latter, would seem to indicate that Dr. Kennedy is…right. David spoke of the resurrection of Christ.
But then, if the Old Testament prophecies do indeed have the kind of transparency that Dr. Kennedy understands them to have, how do we account for Peter’s vehement resistance to Jesus’ forthright assertion that the time had come for Him to go to Jerusalem, where He would suffer many things of the elders and chief priests and scribes, and be killed, and be raised the third day? “Be it far from thee, Lord: this shall not be unto thee!” Surely Peter, like Simeon, must have known Isaiah 53 and Psalms 22 and 16. Besides, Peter had had the added advantage of living for three years in the very presence of the One who, by His Spirit, had inspired every word of the Old Testament Scriptures. Is it conceivable that John the Baptist understood that “his Messiah was to die for his sins and the sins of the whole world,” and that Peter, whose brother Andrew was at one time himself a disciple of John the Baptist, would be oblivious to that? Along with all the rest of the followers of Jesus, who, when the time came, were convinced that with His death, His cause was forever lost?
And then with regard to the Incarnation. If it is in fact true that “every Old Testament saint believed in an incarnate Messiah,” how can we account for the disciples’ response to Jesus’ calming of winds and waves: “What manner of man is this?” (). True enough, Peter, speaking for all the disciples, could affirm, “Thou art the Christ, the Son of the living God” ( ). But how good a hold did the disciples have, at this stage, on the concept of the deity of the man Jesus?
And, finally, there is Dr. Kennedy’s assertion that, “surely the mystery of the incarnation and death of the Son of God was known to [Simeon] from the Old Testament Scriptures.” What, then, are we to think of Paul’s reference to the “revelation of the mystery [that is, in the new dispensation], which was kept secret since the world began [that is, for the whole of the old dispensation]” ()? Which agrees with what he writes concerning the gospel in Colossians 1:26: “Even the mystery which hath been hid from ages and from generations, but now is made manifest to his saints.” Calvin’s comments on this verse are very much to the point here. I therefore quote at some length:
Here [in 1:26] we have a commendation of the Gospel; that it is the wonderful secret of God. It is not without good reason that Paul so frequently extols the Gospel with the highest praises in his power; for he saw that it was a stumbling-block to the Jews and foolishness to the Greeks ()…. Here he calls it a sublime secret which was hid from ages and generations, that is, from the beginning of the world, through so many revolving ages. …[W]hereas God had, before the advent of Christ, governed His Church under dark coverings, both of words [prophecies] and of ceremonies , He has suddenly shone forth in full brightness by the teaching of the Gospel. …[W]hereas nothing was previously seen but external figures, Christ has been exhibited, bringing with Him the full truth, which had been concealed…. Lest anyone should misinterpret the word ‘mystery,’ as though he [Paul] were speaking of something still secret and unknown, he adds that it has now at length been published, that it might be made known to men. What, therefore, as in its own nature secret, has been revealed by the Will of God (emphasis added).
No less helpful are Calvin’s comments on the Romans 16 passage:
Paul’s remaining statements [that is, in verses 25-27] are made for the purpose of commending the power and dignity of the Gospel. He calls the Gospel the preaching of Jesus Christ, since the whole sum of it is contained in our knowledge of Christ. He refers to the doctrine of the Gospel as the revelation of the mystery. This ought not only to make us more attentive to listen to it, but also to impress on our minds the highest respect for it. Paul denotes how sublime a secret this is by adding that it was hidden for many ages from the beginning of the world….
If it is objected that Paul contradicts himself in saying that the mystery, to which God bore testimony by His prophets, had been concealed through all ages, Peter gives an easy solution to this difficulty. In their careful inquiries into the salvation which was offered to us [that is, the salvation preached in the gospel age], he says, the prophets ministered not to themselves but to us (). God, therefore, was silent at that time [namely, throughout the old dispensation], because He held in suspense the revelation of those things concerning which He desired His servants to prophesy.
…Although the prophets had formerly taught all that Christ and the apostles have explained, yet they taught with so much obscurity, when compared with the shining clarity of the light of the Gospel, that we need not be surprised if those things which are now revealed are said to have been hidden…. We may, however, more properly conclude from the subject itself that only when God appeared to His ancient people face to face through His only begotten Son, were the shadows dispersed and the treasures of heavenly wisdom finally opened [emphasis original].
“…sublime secret…hid from ages and generations… nothing seen but external figures…under dark coverings, both of words and of ceremonies…in its own nature secret.” And now? “revealed”! And all “by the Will of God.”
I like that. “…in its own nature secret.” Paul is speaking here, of course, of the day of shadows. And what is a shadow but an indistinct representation of the body by which it is cast. The best a shadow can do is outline. And for 4,000 years, the shadows were as close as the saints of old could come to perceiving the reality. “Hid from ages and generations”—from the heathen world entirely, but from the children of Abraham as well, made mysterious by being wrapped up in dark types and dis distant prophecies, so that “nothing was previously seen but external figures.” And then suddenly, as it were, shining forth “in full brightness by the teaching of the gospel.” Yes, it was by the teaching of the gospel, in the power of the Spirit of the risen Lord, that the types were at long last unveiled, the prophecies interpreted, the mysteries made plain. And, though more can perhaps be said about the purpose of God in it all, Calvin does well to attribute it all to “the Will of God.” God chose to teach the saints of old only what Rev. Ophoff once called the “rudiments of the Jehovah-religion,” the basic principles of the covenant of grace. Progressive revelation.
Why? Ponder this, from the pen of Rev. H. Hoeksema:
Why these scriptures of the prophets, predicting the coming manifestation of the mystery, and the preaching of the gospel, the message that now the mystery is manifested? Why this bringing of the Church unto the knowledge of this mystery and unto the obedience of faith?
There is but one answer: glory to the alone wise God!
O yes, it is the answer!
That we might behold His marvelous wisdom and be brought under the spell of it forever!
And then there are, yet, Calvin’s comments on Romans 16, which, interestingly, speaks more to the prophets’ anticipation of the gospel age. But that will have to wait till next time.
Which brings me to the third reason I’m glad for Dr. Kennedy’s letter. His questions related to an article on Simeon. A response could conceivably have been given in a paragraph or two. Why, instead, two articles? It’s because the article on Simeon did not come as it were out of nowhere. After laying down what might be called the principles involved, I’m applying them to actual history—of events and people. To the disciples of Jesus, first of all, but then to David and the psalms, to Simeon, and, in the last article, to John the Baptist. There’s more to come. Dr. Kennedy’s letter, as it seems to me, highlights the disadvantage of treating material like this in a series of sometimes widely spaced SB articles. The first article in “Robbing Christ of His Honor” appeared in the January 15, 2013 issue! Who remembers, now, articles written three and four years ago? A mid-course review/summary might, therefore, be helpful for all our readers. Hence, two articles.