Forum Class for July 30, 2006
Late in the late afternoon when the darkness lifted from Golgotha and the sun was full upon him, Jesus cried out in triumph and breathed his last. But those gathered around the cross did not recognize his victory. As Christ hung motionless, the warm sun spread over his spilled blood. As those who had hoped in Jesus slowly trudged away from the scene, the icy fingers of death tightened about their hearts in chilling, numbing grief. Despairing hands prepared his cold body for burial and laid it in the tomb. So deep was their despair that no one possessed even the slightest thought of resurrection. When at dawn on the third day the women found the tomb empty, still no one suspected resurrection. It appears that they did not believe even after the angels announced he had risen. And when Peter inspected the empty tomb, instead of believing, he went away wondering.
CONFUSION (vv. 13-24) Indeed, all those who had followed Christ were still in despair that afternoon, though they had heard bits and pieces about the empty tomb. As we pick up the story, two of them were on the road to a village named Emmaus. located a short distance from Jerusalem. One of them is identified as Cleopas (v. 18; cf. John 19:25 -- I believe the "Clopas" mentioned there is the "Cleopas" in Luke 24), a blood relative -- Jesus' uncle. the brother of his father Joseph. The best guess as to who the other traveler was is that it was his wife Mary, as she is identified in John 19:25. Uncle Cleopas and Aunt Mary, overcome with grief. were making the sad journey back to their lodging in Emmaus.
They were devastated. Their hope had been elevated by this nephew of theirs. They "had hoped that he was the one who was going to redeem Israel" (v. 21), But a "Messiah" who managed to get himself imprisoned and handed over to the Romans who then crucified him was a disappointing delusion. They had supported Jesus -- and because of that their life had not been easy. Now they ached with grief and confusion. The Scriptures promised a Messiah, and they thought Jesus was the one, but Jesus did not deliver. They needed a word from God.
Did God care? Indeed he did! And our resurrected Lord understood perfectly the confusion in their hearts. Cleopas and Mary moved ever so slowly along the road to Emmaus. Others rushed past them, but they did not even notice. But the resurrected Christ knew not only their geographical location but the terrain of their souls. The omniscient Savior understood!
The word omniscient sounds so cosmic and cold. but Jesus' knowledge of his followers is tender and personal. As the Psalmist wrote, "You know when I sit and when I rise; you perceive my thoughts from afar. You discern my going out and my lying down; you are familiar with all my ways" (Psalm 139:2,3). We may feel insignificant and alone, but when we see Jesus fresh from the cosmic trauma of death and resurrection monitoring the footsteps and heartbeats of a despairing couple, we know that we too are known and loved.
We do not know how Jesus positioned himself to intercept the couple, but he did manage to walk with them. They were apparently prevented from recognizing him. "He asked them, 'What are you discussing together as you walk along?' They stood still, their faces downcast. One of them, named Cleopas, asked him, 'Are you the only one living in Jerusalem who doesn't know the things that have happened there in these days?' 'What things?' he asked" (vv. 17-19a). Cleopas responded to Jesus' initial question with depressed, biting sarcasm. The irony was that he accused Jesus of not knowing what was going on, but they did not know who was talking with them and that the Resurrection had in fact taken place.
Graciously seeking to enlighten them, our Lord would not be put off. His second question, "What things?" got them to express their confusion. Note that in verse 19 both of them spoke, and that they were definitely not possibility thinkers:
Luke 24:19 And He said to them, “What things?” So they said to Him, “The things concerning Jesus of Nazareth, who was a Prophet mighty in deed and word before God and all the people, 20 “and how the chief priests and our rulers delivered Him to be condemned to death, and crucified Him. 21 “But we were hoping that it was He who was going to redeem Israel. Indeed, besides all this, today is the third day since these things happened. 22 “Yes, and certain women of our company, who arrived at the tomb early, astonished us. 23 “When they did not find His body, they came saying that they had also seen a vision of angels who said He was alive. 24 “And certain of those who were with us went to the tomb and found it just as the women had said; but Him they did not see.”
They were so depressed and so negative in their confusion that it was beyond their capacity to make the obvious connection. If you have ever been depressed or tried to help someone who is depressed, you know that such people are amazingly resourceful in finding reasons not to take comfort in anything you say to them. They are determined to hear every. thing as bad news. And that is exactly what these two did with the news of the empty tomb. To them, the empty tomb compounded the tragedy, for they thought someone had stolen the body, adding insult to injury. So the good news was bad news! Ironically, Cleopas mentioned that it had been three days since Jesus' death, not recalling that Jesus had said over and over before his Passion that he would be put to death and rise again on the third day (cf. 9:22; Mark 9:3 I; John 2:19).
Cleopas had let it all out -- his confusion, his depression, his disillusionment, his shrinking faith, his anger. And did Jesus reject him? Of course not. Jesus coaxed the couple to reveal their true thoughts, which were by and large their doubts. And when they did so, he answered. Our Lord honors spiritual honesty. For example, in the opening four verses of Habakkuk, the prophet used powerful, emotive language to honestly express his complaints and questions. And God answered his depressed prophet so wonderfully that Habakkuk experienced prophetic ecstasy:
Though the fig tree does not bud and there are no grapes on the vine, though the olive crop fails and the fields produce no food, though there are no sheep in the pen and no cattle in the stalls, yet I will rejoice in the LORD, I will be joyful in God my Savior. The Sovereign LORD is my strength; he makes my feet like the feet of a deer, he enables me to go on the heights. (Habakkuk 3:17-19)
Our Lord invites honesty from his people. This is not to suggest that we are called to trumpet our doubts to those around us, especially to the young and uninformed, but he wants us to tell him the truth. He knows anyway.
NEW LIGHT (vv, 25-27)
Earlier that day when the women had been rebuked -- "Why do you look for the living among the dead?" (v. 5) -- they knew they had been rebuked by supernatural beings. But now, when Christ rebuked Cleopas and Mary, they had no idea that it was Christ who was saying to them, "How foolish you are, and how slow of heart to believe all that the prophets have spoken! Did not the Christ have to suffer these things and then enter his glory?" (vv. 25, 26). Certainly they believed the prophets, but just as certainly they did not believe all that the prophets had said. They had read and believed the prophets selectively as they embraced the Messiah-ruler passages, ignoring the passages that prophesied his sufferings. Foolish people! Slow of heart to believe! That was the rebuke from the King incognito.
"And beginning with Moses and all the Prophets, he explained to them what was said in all the Scriptures concerning himself" (v. 27).
If there is anything that would make a preacher swell with envy, this is it! This was exegetical Heaven! The root idea of "explained" is the word from which we derive the word hermeneutics, (diermeneuo = dia + hermeneuo, "to interpret fully") the science of Bible interpretation. The Word of God incarnate explained the written Word of God.
Moreover, "He explained. . . all the Scriptures concerning himself." We know from the Savior himself that the entire Old Testament points to him. He would say this again later that day (and even more explicitly) to the assembled apostles in Jerusalem:
He said to them, "This is what I told you while I was still with you: Everything must be fulfilled that is written about me in the Law of Moses. the Prophets and the Psalms." Then he opened their minds so they could understand the Scriptures. He told them. "This is what is written: The Christ will suffer and rise from the dead on the third day." (vv. 44-46)
John's Gospel states that from the very onset of Jesus' ministry, he taught that he was central to the Old Testament. "You diligently study the Scriptures," he told the Pharisees, "because you think that by them you possess eternal life. These are the Scriptures that testify about me, yet you refuse to come to me to have life" (5:39, 40). This understanding and conviction that the Old Testament corpus is about Christ informed and energized the Apostle Paul's preaching, as he explained before King Agrippa: "But I have had God's help to this very day, and so I stand here and testify to small and great alike. I am saying nothing beyond what the prophets and Moses said would happen -- that the Christ would suffer and, as the first to rise from the dead, would proclaim light to his own people and to the Gentiles" (Acts 26:22, 23).
When Philip encountered the Ethiopian eunuch on the road, reading Isaiah 53:7, 8, and the eunuch asked who that passage was talking about, "Then Philip began with that very passage of Scripture and told him the good news about Jesus" (Acts 8:35). The prophet Isaiah preached Jesus!
And when Peter was preaching in the house of the Gentile Cornelius, his recorded sermon concluded with these words: "He [Jesus] commanded us to preach to the people and to testify that he is the one whom God appointed as judge of the living and the dead. All the prophets testify about him that everyone who believes in him receives forgiveness of sins through his name" (Acts 10:42,43).
The apostles knew that the Old Testament preached Christ! Indeed, the Old Testament prophets themselves understood this and tried "to find out the time and circumstances to which the Spirit of Christ in them was pointing when he predicted the sufferings of Christ and the glories that would follow" (I Peter 1:11; cf. vv. 10-12). The apostles' Christocentric/bibliocentric belief that the Old Testament is full of Christ was stated by the Apostle Paul in the epigram, "For no matter how many promises God has made, they are 'Yes' in Christ" (2 Corinthians 1:20). As the venerable Charles Hodge put it, "All that God had promised relative to the salvation of man met its full accomplishment in him. . . . Christ as regards the promises of God, was the yea, i.e. their affirmation and accomplishment.'" Here in Luke, on Resurrection Day, Jesus taught that he is the divine "yes" to the Old Testament!
Certainly as "He explained. . . all the Scriptures concerning himself; he did not touch upon every text that alluded to him (they would never have gotten to Emmaus!), but he did interpretively include the whole of Scripture. What a gripping revelation to hear Christ interpret the sacrifice of Isaac in Genesis 22 as emblematic of his substitutionary atonement and even a prophetic hint of his resurrection (cf. Hebrews 2:17-19), or to hear Jesus, "the Lamb of God" (John 1:29), discourse on the messianic significance of the Passover lamb as it related to his suffering and death, his body and his blood (cf. Luke 22:14-20).
Under Jesus' Emmaus tutelage, the various Old Testament sacrifices coursed with fresh insights on salvation. Possibly Jesus taught them on how the tabernacle and temple pointed to him -- that indeed he is the temple (cf. Luke 19:45 - 20: 19; John 2: 18.22; cf. also the eschatological reference to the Lamb as the temple in Revelation 21 :22). Perhaps Jesus discoursed on some of the grand images that spoke of him, such as the manna and the bronze serpent. He must have taken them through Isaiah 53, showing as he did in the Upper Room that he was "numbered with the transgressors" (v. 12; cf. Luke 22:37), and that the shape of chapter 53 prophesied how the Suffering Servant would die for our sins (vv. 1-9), then appear alive, triumphant, and reigning (vv. 10-12). Surely he unpacked Psalm 22, beginning with the words "My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?" -- and then applied it to the cross.
The more Jesus opened the Word, the faster their pulses raced. The stranger had established that suffering and death were not obstacles to Jesus' being Messiah, and in fact made Jesus' claim to be Messiah more credible and compelling. The real Messiah had to suffer! Their confusion and depression melted like frost before the sun. The Scriptures were alive to the couple as never before.
What grief they would have been spared if they had only known and believed God's Word to begin with. If we find ourselves hurting and despairing and do not find that Scripture speaks to our condition, it is not because the Bible has failed us, but because we do not know it well enough. We cannot be profoundly comforted by that which we do not know. We need to study our Bible with an eye to our Savior, because everything to do with our salvation and shalom is "yes" in Christ.
As the incognito Christ was expounding the Scriptures, the two had come to see the plausibility, and indeed the necessity, of the Passion and Resurrection. Now they began to understand why the tomb was empty. I think they were divinely kept from recognizing Christ so they would base their understanding of the Resurrection squarely on the Scripture and not on experience. A privileged experience such as this, if not grounded in the Word, runs the danger of becoming a privatized, eccentric interpretation. The couple on the road, however, were in no such danger. Their belief in the Resurrection rested on the Scriptures before they saw Christ!
Arriving at their lodging, the couple strongly urged him to come in. The word carries the idea of force. They insisted -- and we can understand why.
As busy Mary finished preparing the evening meal, she called them to the table, and "When he was at the table with them, he took bread, gave thanks, broke it and began to give it to them. Then their eyes were opened and they recognized him, and he disappeared from their sight" (vv. 30, 31). Many believe that the moment of recognition came when, as he broke the bread, they saw his nail-pierced hands. That may well have been. The breaking of bread in Jesus' life, for example in the feeding of the 5,000 and at the Passover table, was "an inimitable gesture of self-revelation."
How they were jolted! Surprise, Cleopas! Surprise. Mary! Surprise, citizens of Emmaus! Surprise, world! Christ is risen! He is risen indeed!
That explosive moment was burned into their minds for eternity. And then he was gone. But their hearts were left with Easter fire: "They asked each other, 'Were not our hearts burning within us while he talked with us on the road and opened the Scriptures to us?'" (v. 32). Their winter of soul was gone forever. So it is when the Scriptures come alive in your soul with the centrality and reality of Jesus Christ. The great Frenchman Blaise Pascal must have been somewhere in the Emmaus latitudes on the memorable night of November 23, 1654, when he wrote in his journal the word "Fire" to describe the most memorable spiritual experience of his life. This glowing word was followed with the hurried scribble: "Joy, joy, joy, tears of joy;" and then several inscriptions of the name "Jesus Christ" like signatures on a letter.
WITNESSES (vv. 33-35)
Two souls were left flaming in the dark at Emmaus. Jesus was gone, but they sensed his presence. Otherwise they would not have rushed from their table back to Jerusalem with their dynamic news. Sensible Palestinians did not travel lonely roads at night, for fear of thieves and muggers, but the two disciples could not keep their news to themselves.
"They got up and returned at once to Jerusalem. There they found the Eleven and those with them, assembled together and saying, 'It is true! The Lord has risen and has appeared to Simon: Then the two told what had happened on the way, and how Jesus was recognized by them when he broke the bread" (vv. 33-35).
They would see Jesus again later that evening along with the rest of the apostolic band. But for now they were thrilled that Peter had seen Christ, and all were beginning to grasp the wonderful truth. This was the beginning of what would become the fellowship of burning hearts, a band that would bear potent witness of Christ to the entire known world.
This very moment Christ knows where we are. He knows the geography of our lives inside and out. He knows the temperature of our souls. He knows whether there is ice or fire. Whatever our state, his method is the same -- to meet us where we are with his own person framed in the beautiful context of his Word.
The life-giving, energizing truth is that Christ suffered and died for our sins "according to the Scriptures." And then. on the third day, He rose from the dead "according to the Scriptures" (I Corinthians 15:3,4).
He is the Savior prophesied on Mt. Moriah, the atoning Lamb of the Passover, our tabernacle and temple (for he is our sacrifice and our priest), our manna/bread of heaven, the Suffering Servant who was "numbered with the transgressors" the Son who suffered separation from the Father for us when he bore our sins. He delights to bring fire to cold hearts. We do not need more light -- we need heat!
Easter Gospel and Mission
A three-paneled printing is called a triptych. If you have seen one, it was probably in a museum or an ancient church, where they often resided on the altar and depicted three parallel scenes.
Luke 24 provides us with a Resurrection triptych -- three parallel scenes from Easter day. If the scenes were painted, the first panel would be a painting of the women in conversation with the angels at the empty tomb. The second scene would be of the two disciples on the Emmaus road, their hearts burning as they listened to Christ, unrecognized, explain the Old Testament Scriptures to them. And the third panel would be a painting of Jesus suddenly standing in the midst of his startled disciples on Easter evening. It is very likely that such a Resurrection triptych can be found in numerous old cathedrals, because the three parallel scenes are so obvious in Luke 24.
From a literary point of view, Luke's Resurrection triptych is particularly stunning because, as we have noted, all three scenes follow the same outline: first confusion, next rebuke, then instruction, and lastly witness.
As we take up the third and final scene we see confusion bordering on pandemonium. The Eleven had gathered behind closed doors in Jerusalem (cf. John 20:19), where the Apostle Peter had amazed them by relating that he had personally seen the risen Lord. This was followed by the entrance of the couple from the Emmaus road with the report of their astounding encounter with Christ incognito, their burning hearts, and the grand moment of recognition when he broke the bread.
CONFUSION (vv. 36, 37)
"While they were still talking about this, Jesus himself stood among them and said to them, 'Peace be with you.' They were startled and frightened, thinking they saw a ghost" (vv. 36, 37).
They had nodded in seeming acceptance of Peter's report, they continued nodding as they listened to the Emmaus report, but with the sudden appearance of Jesus they gasped, their eyes bulged, and their skin crawled as they saw what they took to be a ghostly apparition of Jesus. It was indeed Jesus' voice that greeted them "Peace be with you." Peace on earth had been announced at the coming of Jesus (2: 14), but they did not have much peace in their hearts -- only scandalous disbelief. These handpicked apostles were as "foolish. . . and slow of heart" (v. 25) and confused as the Emmaus disciples had been!
REBUKE (vv, 38-43)
Jesus' lordly rebuke took the form of a disappointed question, followed by an invitation for tactile examination: "He said to them, 'Why are you troubled, and why do doubts rise in your minds? Look at my hands and my feet. It is I myself! Touch me and see; a ghost does not have flesh and bones, as you see I have.' When he had said this, he showed them his hands and feet" (vv. 38-40). After this, none could argue that they had seen a specter. They felt for themselves solid flesh over hard bones. Some even touched the open wounds. Jesus was physically there. It was his earthly body, but raised to a higher position. The materiality of his resurrection was a fact.
In moments the apostles' condition had become one of positive (rather than negative) disbelief: "And while they still did not believe it because of joy and amazement. . ." (v. 41a). They were in the wacky state of giddy disbelief -- like football fans whose team just scored as time ran out to win the game. The literal Greek here reads, "they being unbelieving from joy and amazement." Jesus then delivered the final blow to their doubts: "He asked them, 'Do you have anything here to eat?' They gave him a piece of broiled fish, and he took it and ate it in their presence" (vv. 41b-43). This was not the only time Jesus did this. After the Resurrection he appeared to them over a period of forty days and occasionally ate with them (cf. Acts 1:4). Peter told Cornelius, "He was not seen by all the people, but by witnesses whom God had already chosen -- by us who ate and drank with him after he rose from the dead" (Acts 10:41).
After this, none of the Eleven ever again doubted the reality of the Resurrection. In the following moments Jesus had their attention as perhaps he had never had it before. This was so appropriate because he proceeded to impart the eternal essentials of gospel and mission.
INSTRUCTION (vv. 44-47)
As Jesus proceeded to instruct them. we must note that the Resurrection triptych, the three successive events of Easter day, all focused on God's Word for instruction. First, the angels at the tomb referred the women back to Christ's words: "'Remember how he told you, while he was still with you in Galilee: "The Son of Man must be delivered into the hands of sinful men, be crucified and on the third day be raised again." Then they remembered his words" (vv. 6b-8).
Next, Christ incognito chided the despondent couple on the Emmaus road: "'How foolish you are, and how slow of heart to believe all that the prophets have spoken! Did not the Christ have to suffer these things and then enter his glory? And beginning with Moses and all the Prophets, he explained to them what was said in all the Scriptures concerning himself" (w. 25-27).
And now, in the third event of the triptych in Jerusalem, he explained his Passion and resurrection in the dynamic context of Old Testament Scripture: "This is what I told you while I was still with you: Everything must be fulfilled that is written about me in the Law of Moses, the Prophets and the Psalms" (v. 44). As Leon Morris has said, "The solemn division of Scripture into the law of Moses and the prophets and the psalms (the three divisions of the Hebrew Bible) indicates that there is no part of Scripture that does not bear its witness to Jesus.'"
And again we must understand that one of the reasons Jesus taught them from Scripture was that he did not want them to rest their belief in his resurrection on their personal experience alone. He was not interested in their becoming an esoteric coterie, an elite group with a special knowledge of Christ. Resting their faith on a miracle was not sufficient. He wanted them to ground their experience of his resurrection on the massive testimony and perspective of Scripture. Tragically, one can actually believe in the Resurrection and not believe in Christ -- as Jesus had warned earlier in the Parable of the Rich Man and Lazarus: "'If they do not listen to Moses and the Prophets, they will not be convinced even if someone rises from the dead'" (Luke 16:31). Jesus' passion and resurrection only make saving sense in the beautiful context of the Law, the Prophets, and the Psalms.
This encounter was undoubtedly the ultimate teachable moment in all history. Jesus would have seated himself, taking the traditional posture of a teacher, and as he gestured in the candlelit room his nail-pierced hands or wrists emphasized his points. No wandering minds here. No Eutychus nodding and falling off his perch!
His teaching was enhanced by divine illumination: "Then he opened their minds so they could understand (he Scriptures" (v. 45). Though they had been his devoted followers, a spiritual veil had covered their understanding, so that on two occasions when he had foretold his death we read, "It was hidden from them, so that they did not grasp it, and they were afraid to ask him about it" (Luke 9:45), and again, "The disciples did not understand any of this. Its meaning was hidden from them, and they did not know what he was talking about" (Luke 18:34; cf. 2 Corinthians 3:13-16). But on Easter night the blinders were removed as the Holy Spirit opened their minds! What a dynamic combination -- the Holy Scriptures illumined by the Holy Spirit. What they learned that night and in succeeding conversations during the forty days before Christ's ascension became the Biblical substance for the apostolic preaching of the gospel and their apostolic mission.
First we read that Jesus instructed them about the gospel (i.e., Jesus' passion and resurrection) from the Old Testament: "He told them, 'This is what is written; The Christ will suffer and rise from the dead on the third day'" (v. 46). From this we understand that the apostolic preaching of the gospel was always framed by the rich background of Old Testament exposition. Paul says exactly this in I Corinthians 15: 1-4;
Now, brothers, 1 want to remind you of the gospel I preached to you, which you received and on which you have taken your stand. By this gospel you are saved, if you hold firmly to the word I preached to you. Otherwise, you have believed in vain. For what I received I passed on to you as of first importance: that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures.
From this, we must also understand that the gospel is only fully preached when set in the context of the Law, the Prophets, and the Psalms.
The Law? Where do we find the gospel of Christ in the Law? Most clearly, we see his sufferings in the great institutions and events of the Law. According to Exodus 24, the Old Covenant was launched on a sea of blood from sacrificial animals with which Moses doused the altar, the Book, and the people. In the following centuries oceans of blood flowed upon Jewish altars from suffering animals, effecting an external ceremonial cleansing of the offerers. These sacrifices pointed to and were fulfilled by the shed blood of Christ, as the writer of Hebrews so well explained:
The blood of goats and bulls and the ashes of a heifer sprinkled on those who were ceremonially unclean sanctify them so that they are outwardly clean. How much more, then, will the blood of Christ, who through the eternal Spirit offered himself unblemished to God, cleanse our consciences from acts that lead to death, that we may "serve the living God! (Hebrews 9:13,14)
The daily sacrifices pointed to and begged for the ultimate atoning sacrifice of Christ.
In a similar way the Passover lamb of Exodus 12 prophesied of Christ's sufferings. Just before his death, while with his disciples in the Upper Room, Jesus made it very clear that he was the Passover lamb as he prepared to eat the Passover meal, saying, "I have eagerly desired to eat this Passover with you before I suffer. For I tell you, I will not eat it again until it finds fulfillment in the kingdom of God" (Luke 22:15,16). Jesus then fulfilled the Passover to the letter as a male in his prime without defect (cf. Exodus 12:5), who in the sacrificial process did not have any of his bones broken (cf. Exodus 12:46: John 19:36). And now, just as faith in the blood of the Passover lamb delivered the Israelites from death, so faith in Jesus' blood brings life. Christ is our Passover (cf. I Corinthians 5:7).
In this connection the entire tabernacle spoke of Christ, and the epicenter of the tabernacle (the mercy seat atop the Ark of the Covenant where the blood was sprinkled) pictured Christ's atoning/propitiating work. It is a fact that the New Testament word "propitiation" (hilaskomai) comes from the root word for mercy seat (hilasterion), so that the Apostle John would explain of Christ, "and He Himself is the propitiation for our sins; and not for ours only, but also for those of the whole world" (1 John 2:2). Paul similarly comments of Christ, "whom God displayed publicly as a propitiation in His blood" (Romans 3:25). Jesus is both the atoning place and the atoning blood for our sins.
Christ's sufferings are written huge in the Law. There is even a hint of the Resurrection in the Law. Luke records in chapter 20 that Christ embarrassed the resurrection-denying Sadducees by showing them that Exodus 3:6, where God says, "I am the God of your father, the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac and the God of Jacob," proves the idea of resurrection because God would not say "I am" (present tense) the God of those deceased patriarchs unless they were still living. Peter remembered this and alluded to it in his sermon in Acts 3:13, then went on to proclaim the Resurrection: "You killed the author of life, but God raised him from the dead" (v. 15). Peter saw that the same resurrection power that raised the patriarchs to life after death raised Jesus, who was after all the author of life!
The Prophets? Where is the gospel found in the Prophets? The most explicit foretelling of Christ's sufferings in the prophetic Scriptures is in Isaiah 53, the text to which Christ directed his disciples in the Upper Room by referring to its final verse indicating that he himself "was numbered with the transgressors," thus directing their attention to the fact that every line of the chapter refers to him as the ultimate Suffering Servant. Isaiah 53 drips with Christ's Passion!
Not only do the prophets detail Christ's sufferings -- they also speak of his resurrection occurring on the third day. In verse 46 Luke was apparently alluding to Hosea 6:2: "After two days he will revive us; on the third day he will restore us, that we may live in his presence." That prophecy was given to sinful Israel, but there was nothing in their history to correspond to it -- except that when Christ rose from the dead on the third day, he raised with himself believing Israel. The prophecy plainly points to Christ. Christ's body lay in the tomb for two days, and on the third day he rose again. Christ "was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures" (1 Corinthians 15:4).
The Psalms? Indeed, the gospel was in the Law and the Prophets, and in the Psalms as well. Psalm 22 is the locus classicus as it gives a technical description of one dying of crucifixion before the cross was ever invented. But even more, it perfectly describes Jesus' experience. even to the detail of the soldiers gambling over his clothing (v. 18).
The Psalms also teach the Resurrection, as Peter explained in his sermon at Pentecost when he quoted Psalm 16:8-11:
25 “For David says concerning Him, I foresaw the LORD always before my face, For He is at my right hand, that I may not be shaken. 26 Therefore my heart rejoiced, and my tongue was glad; Moreover my flesh also will rest in hope. 27 For You will not leave my soul in Hades, Nor will You allow Your Holy One to see corruption. 28 You have made known to me the ways of life; You will make me full of joy in Your presence.’" (Acts 2:25-28)
Then Peter explained that David did not fulfill the prophecy because he rotted in the grave. But Christ, the ultimate Son, did fulfill it because he rose before decomposition began:
29 “Men and brethren, let me speak freely to you of the patriarch David, that he is both dead and buried, and his tomb is with us to this day. 30 “Therefore, being a prophet, and knowing that God had sworn with an oath to him that of the fruit of his body, according to the flesh, He would raise up the Christ to sit on his throne, 31 “he, foreseeing this, spoke concerning the resurrection of the Christ, that His soul was not left in Hades, nor did His flesh see corruption. 32 “This Jesus God has raised up, of which we are all witnesses. (Acts 2:29-32)
Thus along these lines Jesus is the theme of the entire body of Scripture. As the law was opened, their hearts burned. As the Prophets came alive, the flames rose higher. And with the Psalms, their hearts became passionate, roaring furnaces. They became men of the gospel!
But it didn't stop there. Jesus also showed them that world mission was taught throughout the Scriptures.
The Law? The Law, the Torah, foretold this right at the origin of the Jewish nation when God said to Abram, "1 will make you into a great nation and I will bless you; I will make your name great, and you will be a blessing. I will bless those who bless you, and whoever curses you I will curse; and all peoples on earth will be blessed through you" (Genesis 12:2, 3; cf. 17:3-7). This was accomplished through his ultimate seed, Jesus Christ, as Paul explained: 'The promises were spoken to Abraham and to his seed. The Scripture does not say 'and to seeds', meaning many people, but 'and to your seed,' meaning one person, who is Christ" (Galatians 3:16). So Christ is the heir and mediator of the promise made to Abraham. And the blessing goes out to the Gentiles as they come to Christ and are incorporated into his body: "If you belong to Christ, then you are Abraham's seed, and heirs according to the promise" (v. 29). The nations of the earth are blessed with the spiritual riches of Abraham when believers preach Christ.
The Prophets? Mission is also found in the Prophets. In Acts 13 Paul and Barnabas explain why they are turning to the Gentiles, and they quote from Isaiah 49:6 (a passage citing the task first given to the servant Messiah but that is now the responsibility of his followers): '''For this is what the Lord has commanded us: "1 have made you a light for the Gentiles, that you may bring salvation to the ends of the earth:" When the Gentiles heard this, they were glad and honored the word of the Lord; and all who were appointed for eternal life believed" (Acts 13:47, 48). All Christ's followers are charged to aid in bringing light to the Gentiles and salvation to the ends of the earth.
The Psalms? This is also the ancient message of the Psalms. Psalm 22, which so graphically describes Christ's sufferings, ends with a statement of mission: "All the ends of the earth will remember and turn to the LORD, and all the families of the nations will bow down before him, for dominion belongs to the LORD and he rules over the nations" (vv. 27, 28; cf. the marvelous string of five Psalms that declare God's salvation to the Gentiles: Psalm 96, esp. vv. 1-3,7, 10; 97, esp. vv. 1,6; 98, esp. vv. 1-3; 99, esp. vv. 1-3; 100).
That Easter night, privately locked up with the Eleven, Jesus grounded gospel and mission in the Old Testament Scriptures. He showed that the Law, the Prophets, and the Psalms all taught his suffering, all taught his death, all taught his resurrection, all taught mission to the world beginning with Jerusalem, the very heartland of the Jewish faith, the place where the incarnate Son suffered, died, and rose again. The gospel was and is for the world! We are to be gospel men and women who proclaim that "Christ died for our sins according to the Scripture." that he was buried, that he was raised the third day according to the Scriptures" (l Corinthians 15:3, 4). Our message is not a philosophy. It is not even a way of life. It is the eternal good news based on historical events prophesied in the Old Testament and fulfilled by Jesus the Messiah. We are to preach Christ and him crucified.
And gospel people are to be mission people. The gospel demands that we share Christ everywhere, and that we use our time and resources to go to the nations. It is a matter of life and death. It is about the glory of God.
WITNESS (vv, 48, 49)
All three panels of the Resurrection triptych conclude with witness. The women hurried from the empty tomb to share the good news with the Eleven (vv. 9, 10). The couple on the road marched back to Jerusalem to share what had happened along the way. And here Jesus made it formal: "You are witnesses of these things. I am going to send you what my Father has promised; but stay in the city until you have been clothed with power from on high" (vv. 48, 49). He was promising the Holy Spirit, a promise reiterated at his ascension: "But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth" (Acts 1:8).
And when the Spirit came, what power there was! The preaching of the gospel was not advanced by the mere recitation of what the Law, the Prophets, and the Psalms said about Jesus. Neither was it advanced by the declaration of the Scriptures' fulfillment in the death and resurrection of Jesus. The gospel was advanced when the messengers were empowered by the Holy Spirit, and the Holy Spirit was pleased to do his work of regeneration. As Paul testified to the Thessalonians, "Our gospel came to you not simply with words, but also with power, with the Holy Spirit and with deep conviction" (I Thessalonians 1:5).
May we be gospel people, devoted to mission in the power and passionate conviction of the Holy Spirit!
In the previous chapter we noted that Luke 24 is a Resurrection triptych, a three-paneled verbal painting of Easter Day. The first panel is the picture of the empty tomb before which the troubled women conversed with angels. The second shows two of Jesus' followers on the road, their hearts aflame as Jesus, unrecognized, instructed them about himself from the Scriptures. The third is of Jesus' sudden appearance that night amidst his startled disciples. Now at the conclusion of Luke's Gospel, we see another marvelous picture -- Christ rising in the clouds to Heaven.
The glorious Ascension not only concludes the Gospel of Luke but provides a bridge to Luke's sequel, the Acts of the Apostles, which begins with the Ascension. In fact, just as Luke addressed his Gospel to Theophilus saying, "…it seemed good also to me to write an orderly account for you, most excellent Theophilus" (1:3), he later began the book of Acts by saying, "In my former book, Theophilus, I wrote about all that Jesus began to do and teach until the day he was taken up to heaven, after giving instructions through the Holy Spirit to the apostles he had chosen" (Acts 1:1, 2). And in Acts he then greatly expanded on the brief description of the Ascension with which he had concluded his Gospel.
We learn in Acts that the Ascension did not immediately take place on Easter evening, but forty days later: "After his suffering, he showed himself to these men and gave many convincing proofs that he was alive. He appeared to them over a period of forty days and spoke about the kingdom of God" (1:3). We know that Jesus appeared to specific individuals on Easter Day -- to Peter, to the two on the Emmaus road, and to Mary Magdalene (cf. Luke 24:13-35; John 20:10-18). We know that he made appearances at the apostles' gatherings during the forty days, first on Easter night (cf. Luke 24:36ff., John 20:19-23), a week later to the disciples and Thomas (cf. John 20:24-29), and the third time to some disciples when they were fishing in Galilee (John 21:I, 14).
There were evidently other appearances over the forty days, as is apparent from Paul's summary in I Corinthians 15: "…he appeared to Peter, and then to the Twelve. After that, he appeared to more than five hundred of the brothers at the same time, most of whom are still living, though some have fallen asleep. Then he appeared to James, then to all the apostles, and last of all he appeared to me also" (vv. 5-8).
Luke also tells us in Acts that sometime during those forty days Jesus enlarged on the promise of the Holy Spirit that he had given Easter evening (cf. Luke 24:49): "On one occasion, while he was eating with them, he gave them this command: 'Do not leave Jerusalem, but wait for the gift my Father promised, which you have heard me speak about. For John baptized with water, but in a few days you will be baptized with the Holy Spirit" (Acts 1:4, 5). What grand days they were multiple appearances, compounded learning, restoration, and simmering passions.
At the end of those forty days Jesus called the Eleven together on the Mount of Olives. There the apostolic band flamed with expectancy.
6 Therefore, when they had come together, they asked Him, saying, “Lord, will You at this time restore the kingdom to Israel?” 7 And He said to them, “It is not for you to know times or seasons which the Father has put in His own authority. 8 “But you shall receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you; and you shall be witnesses to Me in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the end of the earth.” (Acts 1:6-8)
Such immense spiritual drama! Just before Jesus left earth, he gave the Church its enduring mission - to be done until his feet again touch down on the Mount of Olives (cf. Zechariah 14:4). Verse 8 is the key verse to the book of Acts. "Jerusalem" - "Judea and Samaria" - "the ends of the earth" - this is the outline of Acts. It continues to be the mandate of the Church today.
THE ASCENSION (LUKE 24:50,51; ACTS 1:9-11) Luke 24:50, 51 together with Acts 1:9 tell us what the Eleven saw at the Ascension: "When he had led them out to the vicinity of Bethany, he lifted up his hands and blessed them. While he was blessing them, he left them and was taken up into heaven" (Luke 24:50, 51). "After he said this, he was taken up before their very eyes, and a cloud hid him from their sight" (Acts I :9). The Ascension began as Jesus lifted his hands like an Old Testament priest and began blessing the apostles (cf. Leviticus 9:22 and the non-canonical Sirach 50:20ff.). As he continued to bless them, he ascended so that he was calling down the Father's favor as he moved away. The use of the imperfect tense in both Luke and Acts for "was taken up" (Luke 24:51) and "he was taken up" (Acts 1:9) seems to indicate that he ascended slowly while raining down blessings.
The cloud that "hid" (Acts I :9; literally, "received") him was the Shekinah, a visible representation of the pleasure and presence of God. This was the same luminous presence that Moses had encountered on Sinai when God covered him and he saw its afterglow. It was the same cloud that traveled before Israel by day and appeared as a pillar of fire at night. [t was the cloud that layover the tabernacle and filled the temple. It was the glorious cloud that Ezekiel saw depart over the east gate. It was the same shimmering presence that surrounded Jesus on the Mount of Transfiguration when his face shone forth like the sun.
The disciples remained transfixed as the Shekinah moved farther away. As the distance increased, their dazzled countenances began to fade, their sparkling eyes dimmed, and they could hear Jesus no more.
They were looking intently up into the sky as he was going, when suddenly two men dressed in white stood beside them. "Men of Galilee. " they said. "why do you stand here looking into the sky? This same Jesus, who has been taken from you into heaven, will come back in the same way you have seen him go into heaven. " (Acts 1:10,11).
This was the exodus toward which the Gospel of Luke had so inexorably moved. In Luke 9 we read that during the Transfiguration, amidst the glorious splendor, Jesus had talked to Moses and Elijah about his "departure [Greek, exodon], which he was about to bring to fulfillment at Jerusalem" (Luke 9:31). Shortly after that discussion, "As the time approached for him to be taken up to heaven, Jesus resolutely set out for Jerusalem" (v. 51). Finally, before the Sanhedrin on the night of his crucifixion, he referred to the exaltation that would follow his Ascension: "But from now on, the Son of Man will be seated at the right hand of the [ mighty God" (22:69).
Jesus' great exodus was now complete. And with his Ascension. there also came an elevation of Jesus' ministry to new heights.
THE MEANING OF THE ASCENSION
What is the significance of the Ascension, and what does it mean to us? The answer begins in the Old Testament where the prophecies of Jesus' ascension are so instructively rooted (cf. Psalm 2:7-9; 8:6; 68:18; 110:1,5; Daniel 7:13, 14). Psalm 68:18 reads: "When you ascended on high, you led captives in your train; you received gifts from men" (italics added). In Ephesians 4:8 Paul quotes this as referring to Christ's ascension: "When he ascended on high, he led captives in his train and gave gifts to men" (italics added). Note that Paul, knowing this Psalm was about Jesus, freely changed the pronouns "you" to "he" (to make it clear that it prophetically referred to Christ) and pictured Christ as giving gifts to men instead of receiving gifts. How are we to understand this? To begin with, Psalm 68, apart from its prophetic significance, celebrated the ascent of a Davidic king to Jerusalem after a victory. It likely refers to King David's festive procession with the ark to Jerusalem (cf. 2 Samuel 6:12) or commemorates David's earlier capture of Jerusalem (2 Samuel 5:6, 7). As such, it is a Psalm of huge celebration. The Psalm sees the victorious ascent to Jerusalem as the culmination of the journey begun when Israel left Egypt. But since Jesus is both the son of David and the Lord of David, the Psalm is also a prophecy of a far greater ascension. Instead of merely being the record of an Old Testament ascension up Mount Zion to what would be the new temple of Jerusalem, Psalm 68 celebrates a messianic ascension from this world into God's heaven, where the great King distributes the spoils of victory. Thus Paul interprets it in this way:
(What does "he ascended" mean except that he also descended to the lower, earthly regions? He who descended is the very one who ascended higher than all the heavens. in order to fill the whole universe.) It was he who gave some to be apostles. some to be prophets, some to be evangelists, and some to be pastors and teachers, to prepare God's people for works of service. (Ephesians 4:9-12a)
So we see that the ascension of Christ, his earthly exodus, meant two things to the apostolic church: first, Jesus' incredible exaltation, and second, Jesus' massive ministry to and through his people.
Jesus was "taken up into heaven" (Luke 24:51). This is not a spatial description. His ascent cannot be described in terms of space and distance. The descent and ascent of the Son of God cannot be measured in miles or light-years. The created universe cannot hold God, as Solomon indicated when he prayed at the dedication of the temple, "The heavens, even the highest heaven, cannot contain you. How much less this temple I have built!" (1 Kings 8:27). Heaven is another sphere "where God is wholly experienced and known."
Wherever this awesome sphere may be, we do know that Jesus was exalted at his ascension to the right hand of the Father: "After the Lord Jesus had spoken to them, he was taken up into heaven and he sat at the right hand of God" (Mark 16:19). It is the place of ultimate power. Peter has described the resurrected, ascended Christ as the one "who has gone into heaven and is at God's right hand -- with angels, authorities and powers in submission to him" (1 Peter 3:22). "Right hand" is a metaphor for all power. To see Jesus ascended in this way is to understand that he has been exalted to the highest position possible.
The night before he died Jesus prayed, "And now, Father, glorify me in your presence with the glory I had with you before the world began" (John 17:5). That re-glorification appears to be more glorious than his original glory - an acquired glory -- a glory consequent on his earthly life and suffering. How can this be? How can one who is infinitely glorious become more glorious? The answer is suggested by the "new name" he received at his return to heaven: "Therefore God exalted him to the highest place and gave him the name that is above every name, that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father" (Philippians 2:9-11).
The new name was "Jesus" -- the name of his acquired humanity that he took in glorified bodily form to Heaven. Today our Lord has a greater glory as he reigns in his human body, beautified by those scars in the way an artist makes a figure more lovely than before by the marks of his tools. His infinite glory may not be improved, but it is "greater" in that angels and men have acquired a better understanding of it.
So we see that the Incarnation was not something casual and fleeting but has permanent consequences in taking Christ's humanity to Heaven. Christ's humanity is in Heaven, and at his coming he will take the humanity that he has redeemed to be there with him. Jesus has become "the firstfruits" of his people through his resurrection and ascension and therefore guarantees the final redemption of those in union with him (cf. 1 Corinthians 15:20, 23). As a result of their unity with Jesus, there is a sense in which believers have ascended into Heaven with him. Thus where the head is, there are the members (cf. Ephesians 1:20-22). Paul writes, "And God raised us up with Christ and seated us with him in the heavenly realms in Christ Jesus" (Ephesians 2:6). The present exaltation of believers is a fact that will be seen fully at Christ's return. We have ascended with him, and we are to glory in it now!
His Ministry: Intercession
There is more. Jesus ascended into Heaven to begin his heavenly ministry as High Priest. Paul rejoiced at this, asking, "Who is he that condemns? Christ Jesus, who died -- more than that, who was raised to life -- is at the right hand of God and is also interceding for us" (Romans 8:34). The writer of Hebrews likewise rejoiced:
Therefore, since we have a great high priest who has gone through the heavens, Jesus the Son of God, let us hold firmly to the faith we profess. For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but we have one who has been tempted in every way. just as we are -- yet was without sin. Let us then approach the throne of grace with confidence, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help us in our time of need. (Hebrews 4:14-16)
The fact that his glorified earthly body is in Heaven is at the core of our comfort. There is no chord in our human experience that does not resonate with his.
Our fellow-suff'rer yet retains
A fellow-feeling of our pains:
And still remembers in the skies
His tears. his agonies, and cries.
Again the writer of Hebrews rejoiced, "We have this hope as an anchor for the soul, firm and secure. It enters the inner sanctuary behind the curtain, where Jesus, who went before us, has entered on our behalf. He has become a high priest forever, in the order of Melchizedek" (Hebrews 6:19, 20). And again, "Therefore he is able to save completely those who come to God through him, because he always lives to intercede for them" (Hebrews 7:25). Oh, the comfort that comes to our souls because of the ascension of Christ!
His Ministry: The Spirit
Yet there is even more, because his ascension meant the sending of the Holy Spirit. In the Upper Room he said, "But I tell you the truth: It is for your good that I am going away. Unless I go away, the Counselor will not come to you; but if I go, I will send him to you" (John 16:7). Christ ascended to Heaven so he could be nearer to his own. Imagine if he had chosen Jerusalem as his seat. Localized, he would have deprived every other place of his presence. But with the Ascension all restrictions have been removed and he is our ever-present Christ.
His Ministry: Power
Jesus not only sends us the Holy Spirit, but he supplies power to his Church. At the Father's right hand all power is his. "I tell you the truth;' said Jesus as he was about to promise the Spirit, "anyone who has faith in me will do what I have been doing. He will do even greater things than these, because I am going to the Father" (John 14:12). Not many days later, the disciples saw the truth of this at Pentecost. Jesus had ascended to Heaven and had given gifts to his people by his Spirit, then empowered them by his Spirit. The greatest of all works is the salvation of a soul, and soul-winning is a "greater work" considering the poor vessels God uses to preach his saving Word. The ascension of our Lord to Heaven brought about:
Š His super-exaltation.
Š Our exaltation.
Š His intercession for us.
Š His presence with us.
Š His power through us.
This is why the apostolic church confessed the Ascension!
Beyond all question, the mystery of godliness is great: He appeared in a body, was vindicated by the Spirit, was seen by angels. was preached among the nations, was believed on in the world, was taken up in glory. (I Timothy 31/6)
CLOSING REFLECTIONS The Ascension is part of the Apostles' Creed ". . . the third day he rose again from the dead. He ascended into Heaven and sitteth. . . ." The immediate effect of Jesus' ascension upon his followers was twofold.
They worshiped. Luke concludes his Gospel, "Then they worshiped him and returned to Jerusalem with great joy. And they stayed continually at the temple, praising God" (vv. 52, 53). With the Ascension all his disciples at last understood - and they bowed in awed adoration. This is where the gospel ought to leave us too - worshiping the ascended King.
They witnessed. Acts, Luke's sequel, records that their worship flowered into witness to the world. This is where the gospel ought to take us too - witnessing to a lost world.
Soli Deo Gloria!
From Luke: That You May Know the Truth, by R. Kent Hughes, Senior Pastor, College Church, Wheaton, Illinois. Crossway Books 1998.