Previous article in this series: January 15, 2017, p. 177.
The saints of old were able to ‘see’ the coming of Christ. Jesus Himself said as much when He testified to the Jews that “Abraham rejoiced to see my day, and he saw it and was glad” (). Nevertheless, in a very real sense they did not see. As Jesus said to His disciples, “For I tell you, that many prophets and kings have desired to see those things which ye see, and have not seen them; and to hear those things which ye hear, and have not heard them” ( ).
There are, as we saw last time, “degrees of seeing Christ”—which was Calvin’s explanation for what would otherwise appear to be conflict between those two assertions of our Lord.
That helps. That is, it helps, in our consideration of the patriarchs’ comprehension of the meaning of the shadows by which they were enshrouded in their day, to remember that we are not dealing with an all-or-nothing proposition. Did the saints of old understand the types? To be sure, they did. But how well? That is the only, and the intriguing, question.
Helpful, too, is what has been said about those degrees—that is, in explanation of the difference between the ‘seeing’ of the prophets and kings on the one hand, and of ours on the other. Calvin, for example, devotes the whole of Book 2 of his Institutes to “The Knowledge of God the Redeemer in Christ, First Disclosed to the Fathers under the Law, and Then to Us in the Gospel.” Seventeen chapters. No fewer than 289 pages. Fascinating stuff. Well worth your while to study. More than a little helpful.
But what I have found, for myself, to be even more so, is to examine how the differences play out in the lives of the people involved. To study what Ophoff wrote in those old SB articles on, for example, the life and work of Moses. And then to compare that with what we read of the ministry of the last of the prophets of the old dispensation, John the Baptist. Already, in this series of articles, we have seen some of the insights of the king/prophet David, and we considered the difficulty of Jesus’ disciples in comprehending the fulfilling of the types as it unfolded before their very eyes. Before leaving this series I would like still to look briefly at Moses. And at John the Baptist.
First, though, a couple of quotes (emphasis added) from Book 2 of the Institutes, for Calvin’s perspective of the concepts involved in the difference between the knowledge of Christ as first disclosed to the fathers in the types on the one hand, and then that to us in the gospel on the other.
It was fitting that, before the son of righteousness had arisen, there should be no great and shining revelation, no clear understanding. The Lord, therefore, so meted out the light of his Word to them that they saw it [the realities in Christ] afar off and darkly…. What did the Law [that is, the form of religion handed down by God through Moses] and the Prophets teach the men of their own time? They gave a foretaste of that wisdom which was one day to be clearly disclosed, and pointed to it twinkling afar off. But when Christ could be pointed out with the finger, the Kingdom of God was opened. [Think old Simeon, with the baby Jesus in his arms: “…for mine eyes have seen thy salvation.” And John the Baptist: “Behold the Lamb of God.”] In him have been revealed “all the treasures of wisdom and understanding” (), whereby we attain almost to the inmost sanctuary of heaven.
Not that the teaching of these things [the types and shadows] was useless to the ancient people or without value for the prophets themselves, but because they did not come to possess that treasure which God has transmitted to us by their hand! For today the grace of which they bore witness is put before our eyes. They had but a slight taste of it; we can more richly enjoy it…. But, by comparing their lot with ours, he [Peter, in] teaches that those mysteries which they but glimpsed in shadowed outline are manifest to us.
Calvin’s insights in this regard reappear whenever applicable in his commentaries. Take, for example, his comments on, where Paul identifies the gospel as the preaching concerning Jesus Christ, which, he says, is the revelation, at last, of the “mystery which was kept secret since the world began.” Writes Calvin:
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…. 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 revealed.
As we have seen before, that dispensing of the shadows was not all of a sudden. Hardly did John the Baptist accomplish it by pointing his hearers, with his finger, to “the Lamb of God.” John, in fact, as the last of the prophets of the old dispensation, remained himself very much enshrouded by those shadows.
But the Daystar, the bright and morning Star, had at last appeared. In fact, the “Sun of righteousness” () had peaked, as it were, over the horizon. And the darkness was being dispelled, by degrees. The types were beginning to touch the Antitype. John saw it. Which privilege made of him the ‘greatest’ of the prophets of the day of shadows (cf. ).
Not, however, was this ‘touching’ visible to the naked eye. John ‘saw’ it the only way it can ever be seen, namely, by revelation.
So it was with old Simeon. Simeon, you will remember, was one of the relatively few in Israel who longed still for the “consolation of Israel” (). O, yes, “the Messiah was spoken of on every lip” (Calvin). But not the “consolation of Israel” for which Simeon hoped. And it was “revealed unto him by the Holy Ghost, that he should not see death, before he had seen the Lord’s Christ” (v. 26). See Him how? With the physical eye, surely. That was the promise. And that was what Simeon must have had in mind when he exclaimed, “Lord, now lettest thou thy servant depart in peace, according to thy word: for mine eyes have seen…” (vv. 29-30). And he could have added: “…and my physical arms have held.” Abraham, too, had ‘seen’ Christ. But only in his mind’s eye. He had Him in his heart. By faith. Simeon now is privileged to see with his own eyes the reality, the fulfillment of 4,000 years of prophecy. That was the object of his hope. And that’s what the Lord gave him.
But there was more. As Calvin put it: “From this canticle [the ‘song’ of Simeon, as it begins in verses 29 and 30] it is plain that Simeon beheld the Son of God with eyes other than the eyes of flesh.” Though seeing “with the eyes of flesh” was in fact what had been promised, it was not with those eyes that he beheld…the Son of God. For that, Simeon, and then Anna also, had to be given ‘vision’ of another sort. Eyes of flesh would have seen nothing beyond the commonality of this scene in the temple court. Nothing there to distinguish this couple and this infant from any of the other young parents who may have likewise come to “present [their child] to the Lord” (v. 22) at the temple on the fortieth day of his young life. When the priest on duty that day received the required offering at the hand of Joseph and Mary, he was oblivious to the incredible reality that he was presiding, in this instance, over the ‘redemption’ (cf.)… of the Redeemer!
Simeon and Anna had other eyes. On seeing Jesus, probably still in Simeon’s arms, Anna “gave thanks likewise unto the Lord” and then “spake of him [this little baby] to all them that looked for redemption in Jerusalem” (v. 38). And Simeon: “…mine eyes,” he said, “have seen thy salvation” (v. 30).
Evidence that is, already, that Simeon saw with eyes “other than the eyes of flesh.” But Simeon did not stop there. The salvation he saw, he says, is that “which thou hast prepared before the face of all people; a light to lighten the Gentiles, and the glory of thy people Israel” (vv. 31-32). A salvation that would be “the glory of thy people Israel”—ah yes, that was to be expected; that was the Messiah that was “spoken of on every lip,” a restoration of the happy days under the reigns of David and Solomon. But “a light to lighten the Gentiles”? That was something different. Simeon knew the Scriptures. That is, he grasped prophecy that remained ‘dark’ in his day because it conflicted with the prevailing mentality. And Simeon did not stop there.
What Simeon had already said was enough to make Joseph and Mary “marvel” (v. 33). What he went on to say must have startled them.
“This child,” Simeon said, “is set for….” Is set for. That is, He is divinely ordained to…. To what? Old Simeon had already spoken to that. Salvation. For all people. A light. Glory. Very much in keeping with what Mary had heard from the angel Gabriel: “The Lord God shall give unto him the throne of his father David: and he shall reign over the house of Jacob for ever; and of his kingdom there shall be no end” (). And in keeping with what Joseph and Mary together must have heard from the shepherds: “Good tidings of great joy, which shall be to all people…a Savior…on earth peace, good will toward men” ( ). But now, from Simeon, in what must have seemed to be sharp contrast, there is this: “Behold, this child is set for the fall and the rising again of many in Israel; and for a sign which shall be spoken against;… that the thoughts of many hearts may be revealed” ( ). The long-awaited Messiah? Not welcomed—with open arms? By everyone? Who would ever have anticipated that?
Well, Isaiah, for one. Just as that prophet had foretold that the Messiah would be “a light to the Gentiles, that thou mayst be my salvation unto the ends of the earth” (), so also did he say concerning Him that “he shall be…for a stone of stumbling and for a rock of offense to both houses of Israel, for a gin and for a snare to the inhabitants of Jerusalem. And many among them shall stumble, and fall, and be broken, and be snared, and be taken” ( ); and, in chapter 53: “He is despised and rejected of men” (v. 3).
Clearly, by the enlightening power of “the Holy Ghost [who] was upon him” (), Simeon apprehended the spiritual promises of the Old Testament Scriptures ahead of his time, as it were. When Jesus would later show Himself to be exactly what Simeon foretold, His disciples were baffled by His total lack of concern for the growing animosity of the leaders of the Jews. Jesus seemed, in fact, to be deliberately provoking them—rather than trying tactfully to gain from them the support they were convinced He needed for the establishment of the kingdom of their still vain imagination. “Ye hypocrites,” Jesus said to the scribes and Pharisees, “well did Esaias prophesy of you, saying, This people draweth nigh unto me with their mouth, and honoreth me with their lips; but their heart is far from me” ( ). Indeed, Jesus was “set” for the “fall” of many in Israel, a sign that would be “spoken against,” the occasion for the “thoughts of many hearts [to] be revealed.” Thus, writes Calvin, Christ “strips hypocrisy bare. So it is right to assign Him this role of driving the secrets of the heart out into the open.” Exactly as Simeon had foretold. But the disciples? “Knowest thou,” they ask of Jesus in their bewilderment, “that the Pharisees were offended, after they heard this saying?” “Let them alone,” Jesus had to tell them, “they be blind leaders of the blind” ( ).
Then one more word, of Simeon, specifically for Mary. “Yea, a sword shall pierce through thy own soul also” ().
Words, those were, that Mary would undoubtedly recall when some 33 years later she stood devastated at the foot of her son’s cross.
Was Simeon, do you suppose, anticipating that too? The cross? Here, I think, the answer must be an emphatic no. 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.
And we still have not touched on Moses or John the Baptist. Next time, the latter.