“Then opened He their understanding,
that they might understand the Scriptures.”
Our Savior’s official name is the title of His three-fold office, that of our Divine Prophet, our Divine Priest, and our Divine King: “[The] Christ” (from the Greek); “[the] Messiah” (from the Hebrew); translated as“the Anointed One.” As our Prophet, the incarnate Son of God revealed Himself by word, i.e., through His preaching, and by deed in all the actions performed during His entire life here in this world, especially those which confirmed the Word of God (His miracles, wonders and signs). Through Moses God foretold of His Son’s work as our Prophet: “The Lord thy God will raise up unto thee a Prophet from the midst of thee, of thy brethren, like unto me; unto Him ye shall hearken” (Deuteronomy 18:15). The Father also testified regarding Him on the Mount of Transfiguration, when Moses and Elijah also appeared as witnesses: “While he [Peter] yet spake, behold, a bright cloud overshadowed them; and behold, a voice out of the cloud which said, ‘This is My beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased; hear ye Him’” (Matthew 17:5).
The Apostle John notes exactly what we need to understand to distinguish Christ the Prophet from all other prophets, especially Moses, in these words: “For the Law was given by Moses, but grace and truth came by Jesus Christ. No man hath seen God at any time; the only begotten Son, which is in the bosom of the Father, He hath declared Him” (John 1:17-18). Mark well the two key points! First, Christ brings God’s saving grace, His undeserved love, and His saving truth, the Gospel of righteousness imputed and remission granted! Secondly, unlike even the greatest Old Testament prophet (Moses), who spoke with God (Exodus 34), Christ is the eternal God Himself, one in essence with the Father and Holy Ghost, in continual communion with them in the sublime Holy Trinity, declaring God’s Word as the source thereof, with infinite divine knowledge (omniscience)! Other prophets bring God’s Word to us from God (Luke 10:16), but Jesus Christ is God, bringing us His own Word as the living incarnate “Word” and Oracle of God (John 1:1ff.)!
Even before He was manifested in the flesh, He revealed Himself through the prophetic Word of the Old Testament: “Of which salvation the prophets have enquired and searched diligently, who prophesied of the grace that should come unto you, searching what or what manner of time the Spirit of Christ which was in them did signify, when it testified beforehand the sufferings of Christ and the glory that should follow” (I Peter 1:10-11). Christ gave God’s Word to the apostles and caused them to remember all He taught so they could, and did, teach all of us in the New Testament. This is brought out by Christ Himself in His high-priestly prayer (John 17): “I have manifested Thy name unto the men which Thou gavest Me out of the world. Thine they were, and Thou gavest them Me; and they have kept Thy word” (v. 6; cf. vv. 14 and 24). He also assures us: “But the Comforter, which is the Holy Ghost, whom the Father will send in My name, He shall teach you all things and bring all things to your remembrance, whatsoever I have said unto you” (John 14:26). “Howbeit when He, the Spirit of Truth, is come, He will guide you into all truth; for He shall not speak of Himself, but whatsoever He shall hear, that shall He speak; and He will show you things to come. He shall glorify Me, for He shall receive of Mine and shall show it unto you. All things that the Father hath are Mine; therefore said I that He shall take of Mine and shall show it unto you” (John 16:13-15). “Heaven and earth shall pass away, but My words shall not pass away” (Matthew 24:35).
The prophetic work of Christ was highlighted by what He did immediately after His resurrection and over the forty days before His ascension. He gave His apostles the definitive “refresher” course in God’s Word: “To whom also He showed Himself alive after His passion by many infallible proofs, being seen of them forty days and speaking of the things pertaining to the kingdom of God” (Acts 1:3). A prime example of His work at this time is found in Luke 24. Here is the context: “And as they thus spake, Jesus Himself stood in the midst of them and saith unto them, ‘Peace be unto you.’ But they were terrified and affrighted and supposed that they had seen a spirit. And He said unto them, ‘Why are ye troubled? And why do thoughts arise in your hearts? Behold My hands and My feet, that it is I myself. Handle Me and see, for a spirit hath not flesh and bones as ye see Me have.’ And when He had thus spoken, He showed them His hands and His feet. And while they yet believed not for joy and wondered, He said unto them, ‘Have ye here any meat?’ And they gave Him a piece of a broiled fish and of an honeycomb. And He took it and did eat before them” (vv. 36-43). In Jerusalem “the eleven” were gathered together and were hearing the reports of His resurrection appearances (Luke 24:33-35). Suddenly the risen Lord manifested Himself, standing visibly in their midst and offering proof He was real and not a ghostly apparition (Luke 24:36-43). At once He reminded them that everything had happened exactly as He had foretold it, exactly as the Old Testament writers had prophesied: “He said unto them, ‘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’” (Luke 24:44).
Designating the entire Old Testament with the common threefold title “The Law, the Prophets and the Psalms,” He laid it all out! “Then opened He their understanding, that they might understand the Scriptures, and said unto them, ‘Thus it is written, 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. And ye are witnesses of these things’” (Luke 24:45-48). What Christ told them was what the Old Testament had already revealed, what “the Spirit of Christ” had already testified to through the prophets (I Peter 1:10-11). But now, from hindsight, the disciples were able to look back on the most recent events in particular (Christ’s suffering, death and resurrection) and behold the prophetic Scriptures in living, realtime fulfillment! They themselves had witnessed how Christ fulfilled each and every statement uttered by Himself through the prophets over 4,000-plus years of the Old Testament and during His own public ministry! Now “the determinate counsel and foreknowledge of God” (Acts 2:23) was played out before their very eyes. Isaiah 53, for example, was a script that was followed and fulfilled to the letter!
And as Christ spoke, He “opened their understanding” of the Scriptures. Finally, the light shined in their hearts and minds as to what exactly God’s Word revealed! Note: The Scriptures are clear! The problem of not understanding or of misunderstanding always lies in man! Christ did not rewrite the Old Testament for them, as if it needed explanation, as if it were not accurate. He opened their understanding so that they, finally, might understand what Scripture had said all along! The Bible was not a closed book — it was their minds that were closed! What had impeded their understanding prior to that time? Scripture records many examples of their “closed-mindedness” as they used human reason and their preconceived worldly notions of the Messiah and the nature of His Kingdom to becloud and thwart the clear Word of God! Remember when Peter had the unmitigated gall to take the Lord aside and to “rebuke” Him? “From that time forth began Jesus to show unto His disciples how that He must go unto Jerusalem and suffer many things of the elders and chief priests and scribes and be killed and be raised again the third day. Then Peter took Him, and began to rebuke Him, saying, ‘Be it far from Thee, Lord! This shall not be unto Thee!’ But He turned and said unto Peter, ‘Get thee behind Me, Satan! Thou art an offence unto Me! For thou savorest not the things that be of God, but those that be of men’” (Matthew 16:21-23). In His rebuke of Peter’s audacity, the Lord showed the root cause of Peter’s lack of understanding to be “savoring the things of men.” Rather than bringing all his thoughts into obedience to Christ (II Corinthians 10:5b), rather than casting down all the arrogant ideas of his carnal mind and bringing everything into the captivity of God’s sole rule by His Word (II Corinthians 10:5a), Peter chose to think contrary to what God expressly said. Therefore, the clear teachings of God hit a closed, “carnal mind” (Romans 8:7) — a mind which rejected outright anything it did not savor! The rest of disciples too were blind because they refused to see and believe what both Jesus and the prophets had spoken concerning His passion and resurrection (Luke 24:25-26)! But now the Scriptures had been fulfilled before their eyes and in their ears! Now they could understand and confidently declare what Peter would later write by inspiration of God: “We have also a more sure Word of Prophecy, whereunto ye do well that ye take heed, as unto a light that shineth in a dark place, until the day dawn, and the Day Star arise in your hearts, knowing this first, that no prophecy of the Scripture is of any private interpretation. For the prophecy came not in old time by the will of man, but holy men of God spake as they were moved by the Holy Ghost” (II Peter 1:19-21). Putting away their private misinterpretations of God’s Word, they, by God’s grace and power alone, were enlightened to see what was always there in plain sight! For Scripture is the clear and fully sufficient revelation of God which He has revealed even to “babes” (Matthew 11:25) and the understanding of which makes even “the simple” wise (Psalm 19:7). St. Paul wrote to Timothy “that from a child thou hast known the Holy Scriptures, which are able to make thee wise unto salvation through faith which is in Christ Jesus. All Scripture is given by inspiration of God and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness, that the man of God may be perfect, thoroughly furnished unto all good works” (II Timothy 3:15-17). Finally the disciples had “ears to hear” (Matthew 11:15; 13:9; etc.)! What a change! Only days before we read that they all contended against the Lord’s clear Word. For example, consider this: “Jesus saith unto them, ‘All ye shall be offended because of Me this night; for it is written, ‘I will smite the Shepherd, and the sheep shall be scattered.’ But after that I am risen, I will go before you into Galilee.’ But Peter said unto Him, ‘Although all shall be offended, yet will not I.’ And Jesus saith unto him, ‘Verily I say unto thee, that this day, even in this night, before the cock crow twice, thou shalt deny Me thrice.’ But he spake the more vehemently, ‘If I should die with Thee, I will not deny thee in any wise.’ Likewise also said they all” (Mark 14:27-31). What arrogance! But now they had been changed by and through God’s unchanging Word!
How extensive this revelation was, as they were all taught of God, is also clear as we hear of the Lord’s procedure with the two disciples on the road to Emmaus: “Then He said unto them, ‘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?’ And, beginning at Moses and all the prophets, He expounded unto them in all the Scriptures the things concerning Himself” (Luke 24:25-27). Their response is also very telling: “They said one to another, ‘Did not our heart burn within us while He talked with us by the way, and while He opened to us the Scriptures?’” (Luke 24:32). In addition, everything that has been delivered to us (cf. I Corinthians 11:2, 23, etc.) in the New Testament stands as proof that their understanding was complete. Consider, for example, the initial sermons delivered in the Pentecost time period and recorded in the Book of Acts! These “unlearned and ignorant men” (Acts 4:13) were, like also Apollos, “mighty in the Scriptures” (Acts 18:24)!
As our Prophet, now in His state of exaltation, Christ still reveals Himself as our Savior and Lord through the Prophetic and Apostolic Scriptures, the Holy Bible (Ephesians 2:20). And His purpose in doing so is the same as it ever was: “That repentance and remission of sins” be proclaimed “in His name” (Luke 24:27), that is, for His sake, “among all nations” (Acts 24:47). In this the Law serves the Gospel. How so? By the Law, God convicts us, working in our hearts the sorrow of true repentance (Psalm 51:17) so that we admit our guilt, knowing the true wages of our sin (“[eternal] death,” Romans 6:23a). With this God-wrought conviction of sin, our heart is prepared for God’s only solution: The saving grace of blood-bought remission of sins, the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ! It is written: “For it pleased the Father that in Him [Christ] should all fulness dwell; and, having made peace through the blood of His cross, by Him to reconcile all things unto Himself; by Him, I say, whether they be things in earth or things in heaven. And you that were sometime alienated and enemies in your mind by wicked works yet now hath He reconciled in the body of His flesh through death, to present you holy and unblameable and unreproveable in His sight if ye continue in the faith grounded and settled, and be not moved away from the hope of the Gospel, which ye have heard, and which was preached to every creature which is under heaven, whereof I, Paul, am made a minister” (Colossians 1:19-23). By the way, the Apostle Paul was also “taught of God” (John 6:45; cf. I Thessalonians 4:9) as the Christ directly revealed Himself to him and gave him all the enlightened understanding required for the apostleship (Acts 9:3-6, 15-16). The apostle mentions this fact: “But I certify you, brethren, that the Gospel which was preached of me is not after man. For I neither received it of man, neither was I taught it, but by the revelation of Jesus Christ. …But when it pleased God, who separated me from my mother’s womb and called me by His grace, to reveal His Son in me that I might preach Him among the heathen, immediately I conferred not with flesh and blood, neither went I up to Jerusalem to them which were apostles before me; but I went into Arabia and returned again unto Damascus” (Galatians 1:11-12, 15-17).
Christians often imagine how wonderful it would be to have been in Galilee or Judea when our Lord walked visibly among men, preaching and doing His work. But we have all we need to be “taught of God” in Holy Writ! “Many other signs truly did Jesus in the presence of His disciples which are not written in this book. But these are written that ye might believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God; and that believing ye might have life through His name” (John 20:30-31). “There are also many other things which Jesus did, the which, if they should be written every one, I suppose that even the world itself could not contain the books that should be written” (John 21:25).
May God grant each of us open ears and enlighten our understanding of the Scriptures as we hear the Savior in His prophetic office teach us His precious, saving Word, indeed, as we hear His very own voice (Luke 10:16) in the preaching and teaching of His Word by the “pastors and teachers” He has given to His Church on earth to perfect His saints, to serve them as overseers of His flocks (Acts 20:28), and to edify His mystical body (Ephesians 4:11-12; cf. Catechism Q/A 155A) in the true faith unto life everlasting (I Peter 1:5).
—- E. J. W.