George Ophoff was Professor of Old Testament Studies in the Protestant Reformed Seminary in its early days. Reprinted here, in edited form, are articles which Ophoff wrote at that time for the Standard Bearer.
The matter which engaged our attention in the foregoing article was whether the believer of the old covenant perceived in the shadows any reference to future realities of the gospel. We confined ourselves to the right of expiatory sacrifice. The question was faced whether the believer of the old covenant regarded the sacrificial victim as an image of the Christ who by His suffering and death would atone for the sins of His people. We pointed out that the shadows were accompanied by the word of prophecy. The following Scriptures were singled out: “And I will put enmity between thee and the woman, and between thy seed and her seed; it shall bruise thy head, and thou shalt bruise his heel” (Gen. 3:15). “The scepter shall not depart from Judah, nor a lawgiver from between his feet, until Shiloh come; and unto him shall the gathering of the people be” (Gen. 49:10). “And I will make of thee (Abraham) a great nation, and I will bless thee, and make thy name great; and thou shalt be ablessing: And I will bless them that bless thee, and curse him that curseth thee: and in thee shall all families of the earth be blessed” (Gen. 12:2, 3). “But 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” (Isaiah 53:5).
Examining these Scriptures we concluded that only the last one quoted ascribes to the sufferings of Christ atoning value. It appears that Isaiah was the first prophet empowered by the Holy Spirit to associate the shedding of blood with Him whose sufferings were predicted even at the dawn of history. For in the written record of the utterances of this prophet are found passages which assert that the Servant of Jehovah was bruised for our iniquities. Hence, the conclusion is warranted that this seer associated the shedding of blood of the sacrificial victim with Him to whose sufferings he attached meritorial value.
This much cannot be said of the seers (Eve, Noah, Moses, David, etc.) of the periods preceding the appearance of Isaiah. The written record of their utterances do not indicate that they perceived that He in whose triumphs they were wont to glory would cover their sins with His blood. Now, the prophets were the inspired teachers of the church. They were leaders in thought. It cannot very well be supposed, therefore, that the believers surpassed them in their capacity to penetrate into the mysteries of God. Hence, whether the church in the epoch preceding the prophetic activities of Isaiah was told by Jehovah that the suffering Messiah would atone for the sin of men, and whether, consequently, the sacrificial animal was regarded as a figure of the suffering Servant of Jehovah, will remain a matter of conjecture. Let it be repeated that the sacred record throws no light upon the matter.
Perception of the shadows after the prophecy of Isaiah
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?
Whether the believers generally did so is again a matter of uncertainty. The blunders of the disciples of Christ do not favor the view that the church, from the days of Isaiah on, associated the sacrificial victim with the Christ. This must be admitted. Peter, it will be recalled, takes Christ aside and administers to Him a stern rebuke for intending to go to Jerusalem, and to suffer many things of the elders and the chief priests and scribes, and be killed, and be raised again the third day, thus complying with divine necessity. Further, the crucifixion of Christ greatly perplexes certain disciples on their way to the village of Emmaus. They were oblivious to the fact that Christ ought to have suffered all these things. The fact that Jesus expounded to them all the Scriptures concerning Himself goes to show that they were very much in the dark.
In preceding articles, 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 necessarily associated in their minds the sacrificial animal with Him of whose sufferings and triumphs the prophets often spoke 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. For the Shiloh was to be a man of or with Jehovah. Word and symbol plainly declared to the contrite of heart that Jehovah will redeem and be merciful unto His people. And the believer would say with the poet: “Unto thee, O Lord, do I lift up my soul. O my God, I trust in thee: let me not be ashamed, let not mine enemies triumph over me. Yea, let none that wait on thee be ashamed: let them be ashamed which transgress without cause…. Remember, O Lord, thy tender mercies and thy lovingkindnesses; for they have been ever of old. Remember not the sins of my youth, nor my transgressions: according to thy mercy remember thou me for thy goodness’ sake, O Lord. Good and upright is the Lord: therefore will he teach sinners in the way. The meek will he guide in judgment: and the meek will he teach his way. All the paths of the Lord are mercy and truth unto such as keep his covenant and his testimonies. For thy name’s sake, O Lord, pardon mine iniquity; for it is great” (Ps. 25:1-11).
Both symbol and word, applied by the Holy Spirit, induced the saints of the old covenant to commit themselves to the tender mercies of Jehovah, who in His own good and just way will redeem His people and take them to His heart. It was upon Jehovah that the expectations of the church were focused. And Jesus Christ is none other than Jehovah, who in the fullness of time came to redeem those whom He loved unto death. Only in this sense did the shadows, in conjunction with the prophetic word, lead the believer of the old covenant to Christ. On the basis of the testimony of Scripture, we conclude that only in the above sense did the shadows, in conjunction with the spoken word, declare unto the believers the Messiah.
Thus we have set forth our view relative to the capabilities of the believers of old to descry the meaning of the shadows. This view, we admit, is at variance with the view of those who hold that faith in the blood of a beast was all that Jehovah required. On the basis of the testimony of Scripture, we maintain that God trained His people of old to look away from the blood of the sacrificial animal and to cast themselves upon His mercy.
But we also refuse to subscribe to the view which insists that the saints of the old covenant clearly perceived and understood the realities of which the shadows were pictures. On the basis of the testimony of Scripture we can say no more than that the symbols, with the aid of the spoken word, had the effect of inducing the (true) church to embrace Jehovah as the God of their salvation, who provides for His people a just pardon and sanctification in His own good way, and who through the instrumentality of His Servant, the Man of Jehovah, will vanquish the forces of unrighteousness and deliver His people and bring them into the promised rest.
The saints of the Old Testament, then, were not blessed because they were covered by the blood of the beast. And Jehovah could not permit His people to entertain the view that it was the blood of a beast that procured for them the favor of God.
But, someone may interject, is it not a fact that he who attended to the prescriptions of the law was permitted to retain his place in the commonwealth of Israel and attained to much good?
There was, to be sure, a causal relation between the observance of the precepts of the law and the favor of God. It may be expressed thus: In the way of obedience the believer of the old covenant attained to peace and happiness. However, not the practice of the law was the meritorial cause of the blessings of Jehovah, but Christ. “And did all drink the same spiritual drink: for they drank of that spiritual Rock that followed them: and that Rock was Christ”—this Scripture applies to the church of both dispensations.
In fine, the high purpose of the transactions prescribed by the ceremonial law, as well as of the types in general, was to demonstrate to the believer of the old covenant the rudiments of the Jehovah-religion and to picture to the church the realities of thecovenant of grace, viz., the kingdom of God and its righteousness.
There is one more matter to which we must attend before leaving this phase of our subject. Hebrews 9:9 reads: “Which was a figure for the time then present, in which were offered both gifts and sacrifices, that could not make him that did the service perfect, as pertaining to the conscience; which stood only in meats and drinks, and divers washings, and carnal ordinances, imposed on them until the time of reformation.” Here it is clearly stated that the shadows were figures for the time then present. Does not this assertion militate against the view that the believers in general did not succeed in associating the shadows of the old covenant with the realities which they prefigured?
To this we reply that, according to the view presented by us, the believers of the old dispensation were sensible of the fact that the symbols were but shadows, figures, and not realities. The Scripture quoted above asserts this very thing, but no more. It is not maintained by the author of the above Scripture that the believer clearly perceived the realities of which the shadows were but the picture or the image. We are, therefore, not at variance with the author of this particular epistle.
The shadows and New Testament believers
Now, then, if the believers of the old dispensation did not clearly perceive the realities and events of which the shadows were images, and if the shadows were nevertheless pictures of corresponding realities and were also meant to be, according to the purpose of God, can it be maintained that the symbolical institutions of the old covenant were actually a success?
Needless to say, God is successful in all His undertakings. He realized His purposes also with the shadows of the old covenant. The symbolical events and transactions of the old dispensation were made to appear not only for the benefit of the saints of the old dispensation, but, according to the purpose of God, they also speak to the church of the new covenant. We repeat, the symbols and types are vehicles of much valuable instruction to the believers of the new covenant as well. The realities to which the shadows refer are clearly perceived by them. The shadows greatly aid the believers of the new covenant in grasping and appreciating the different elements constituting the economy of redemption. The shadows set forth in unmistakable language the glories of God. In the believers of the new dispensation God realizes in full His high purpose with the symbols of the old covenant.
To prove this we need but point to the writings of the apostles. The epistles are interspersed with allusions to the symbols of the Old Testament day.
“Elect … unto obedience and sprinkling of the blood of Jesus Christ” (I Pet. 1:2).
“But ye are a chosen generation, a royal priesthood, an holy nation, a peculiar people; that ye should show forth the praises of him who hath called you out of darkness into his marvelous light” (I Pet. 2:9).
“For Christ also hath once suffered for sins, the just for the unjust, that he might bring us to God” (I Pet. 3:18).
“For the law maketh men high priests which have infirmity; but the word of the oath, which was since the law, maketh the Son, who is consecrated for evermore. Now of the things which we have spoken this is the sum: We have such an high priest, who is set on the right hand of the throne of the Majesty in the heavens; a minister of the sanctuary, and of the true tabernacle, which the Lord pitched, and not man. For every high priest is ordained to offer gifts and sacrifices: wherefore it is of necessity that this man have somewhat also to offer. For if he were on earth, he should not be a priest, seeing that there are priests that offer gifts according to the law: who serve unto the example and shadow of heavenly things, as Moses was admonished of God when he was about to make the tabernacle: for, See, saith he, that thou make all things according to the pattern shewed to thee in the mount. But now hath he obtained a more excellent ministry, by how much also he is the mediator of a better covenant, which was established upon better promises” (Heb. 7:28-8:6).
“Moreover he sprinkled with blood both the tabernacle and all the vessels of the ministry. And almost all things are by the law purged with blood; and without shedding of blood is no remission. It was therefore necessary that the patterns of things in the heavens should be purified with these; but the heavenly things themselves with better sacrifices than these. For Christ is not entered into the holy places made by hands, which are the figures of the true; but into heaven itself, now to appear in the presence of God for us: Nor yet that he should offer himself often, as the high priest entereth into the holy place every year with blood of others; for then must he often have suffered since the foundation of the world: but now once in the end of the world hath he appeared to put away sin by the sacrifice of himself” (Heb. 9:21-26).
It appears, therefore, from the above Scriptures, that the New Testament church was indeed prepared by the shadows for the realities of the gospel.