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Recognizing Jesus (excerpt)

This excerpt is taken from Dr. Todd Miles’ article, Recognizing Jesus, published in the spring 2014 edition of Western Magazine (article begins on page 8).

We learn at an early age, that if you want to get the correct answer in Sunday School, just say “Jesus.”  It really doesn’t matter what the question is.  As we grow older we laugh at this axiom’s overstatement.  We roll our eyes at its simplicity. But at the same time, the more we read the Bible, the more we recognize that if the question is about the Bible, “Jesus” is a pretty good answer.  And we have it on good authority, for Jesus himself instructed us in the greatest Bible interpretation lesson ever taught, recorded for us in Luke 24.

THE BIBLE IS ALL ABOUT JESUS

Following His resurrection from the dead, Jesus, in incognito fashion, joined a couple of His disciples as they walked from Jerusalem to the nearby village of Emmaus.  The disciples, quite naturally, were trying to make sense of “the things that had happened” so recently (24:18). “What things?” Jesus coyly asked. The disciples then recounted the events of the past few days, including their hope that Jesus of Nazareth was the Redeemer of Israel, though His death (in their view) had dampened their expectations.  As for reports of His resurrection, well, they didn’t know what to make of that.

To their surprise, their new traveling companion called them “foolish” (24:25).  The word sounds harsh, but Jesus was not calling them moronic.  They were “slow of heart to believe all that the prophets had written.” They did not understand the redemptive purposes of God.  Jesus told them that all the events of recent days had been necessary.  The Christ had to suffer “these things.”  Notice verse 27: “And beginning with Moses and all the Prophets, He interpreted to them in all the Scriptures the things concerning Himself.”

Beginning with Moses.  All the Prophets.  All the Scriptures.  The Bible is all about Jesus.

Jesus proved that His death and resurrection were necessary and He did so by working through what we know as the Old Testament.  When the three arrived in Emmaus, the two disciples persuaded their guest to stay with them.  When they sat down to eat, Jesus said the blessing and broke the bread.  It was at that moment that the eyes of the disciples “were opened” and they recognized Jesus.

A short time later, Jesus was in Jerusalem with His disciples. He reminded His overjoyed and stunned followers that everything written about Him in “the Law of Moses and the Prophets and the Psalms” must be fulfilled (24:44).  In Jesus’ day, the people called their Scriptures, what we call the Old Testament, the Tanach, a shorthand way of referring to the Law, the Prophets, and the Writings. Jesus claimed that the entirety of the Hebrew Bible anticipated His mission.Pixelized picture of Jesus

The next verse is pivotal. “Then He opened their minds to understand the Scriptures” (24:45).  What does this mean?  First, let me tell you what it does not mean: it does not mean that the disciples present were sprinkled with a kind of angelic dust that granted them complete understanding of all the Scriptures, precluding any need for further study. Nor does it mean that Jesus granted them the keys for unlocking Gnostic and encoded information to which no one else had been or would ever again be privy. Jesus Himself explains what He meant in His next sentence: “Thus it is written, that the Christ should suffer and on the third day rise from the dead, and that repentance and forgiveness of sins should be proclaimed in His name to all nations, beginning from Jerusalem.”  Jesus has just provided a nice, tidy statement of the gospel message that He entrusted to His disciples. Whenever Jesus used the term, “It is written” (the Greek term is gegraptaí), that is code in the New Testament for “I am about to quote from the Word of God.”  Every time, without exception, the Greek word gegraptaí is used, we are to be prepared for an authoritative citation of some sort of divine writing.[i]

But you will search the Old Testament in vain if you want to find the verse that Jesus explicitly quoted.  We can only conclude that Jesus believed that His statement of the gospel was the implicit teaching of the entire Old Testament.

So we return to our question, “What does ‘He opened their minds to understand the Scriptures’ mean?”  It is surely not coincidental that Luke uses the verb “to open” (Greek: dianoigō) three times in the latter part of this chapter (24:31, 32, and 45).  In verse 31, the Emmaus disciples’ “eyes were opened.”  The result is that they recognized Jesus.  In verse 32, the Emmaus disciples had the Scriptures “opened” to them so that they understood all that Moses and the Prophets had to say about Jesus. In verse 45, the minds of the Jerusalem disciples were “opened.” I suspect that the ultimate meaning is the same in each case.  Just as the Emmaus disciples were able to recognize Jesus when their eyes were opened, so the Jerusalem disciples were able to recognize Jesus throughout the Scriptures when their minds were opened.  The Bible is all about Jesus.

Lest you think that Luke was on a strange hermeneutical mission and his account of Jesus’ interaction with His disciples was an isolated event, consider the following evidence from John.

In Jesus’ discussion with the Jewish leader Nicodemus (John 3:1-15), Jesus castigates His interlocutor, “Are you the teacher of Israel and yet you do not understand these things?”  The “things” to which Jesus referred were the promise of regeneration, entrance into the Kingdom, and the hope of eternal life, all centered around belief in Him.  For Jesus, these were the most fundamental teachings of the Old Testament, a sort of “Jewish Hope 101.”  And He was dumbfounded that Nicodemus did not understand them.

Following Jesus’ healing of the invalid at the pools of Bethesda, Jesus rebuked the Jewish leaders: “You search the Scriptures because you think that in them you have eternal life; and it is they that bear witness about Me” (John 5:39).  The problem with the Jewish investigation was not that they had the wrong goal or were looking in the wrong place.  They wanted eternal life and they looked to the Scriptures to find it. That is precisely the right goal and exactly the correct place to look.  The problem was that even as they searched the Scriptures they did not see the focal point of those Scriptures, Jesus.

We could multiply the evidence by recounting how Jesus thrust Himself into the center of the Jewish pilgrim feasts and was the inaugurator of a new and better covenant than that which Moses had mediated (e.g., John 7; Matt 26:26-29), how Jesus was greater than the Prophets (Matt 17:1-13) and the Lord of the Sabbath (Matt 12:8), or how the greatest Patriarch rejoiced to see Jesus’ day (John 8:56).  These people, events, and days are not trivial.  They make up the structure and substance of the Old Testament’s redemptive drama.  And Jesus saw Himself as fulfilling it all.  The Bible is all about Jesus.

How the Bible is All About Jesus

All this begs the question, “But how is the Bible all about Jesus?” Or to put it another way, “When Jesus opened the eyes of his disciples to allow them to recognize him in Scripture, what did they then do when they interpreted the Bible?” This question has bothered theologians and Bible interpreters for years. They usually phrase it in terms of the New Testament use of the Old Testament. But what they and we really want to know is if we can and are supposed to interpret the Bible the way that the New Testament authors did. This is a difficult issue because we do not have an explicit hermeneutics (Bible interpretation) lesson in the Gospels or the writings of the apostles. But we do have an implicit lesson. We have their writings and we see clearly that they did see Jesus all through the Old Testament. And I think they did so in a rather straightforward way.

This rest of this article can be read in the spring 2014 online edition of Western Magazine, picking up on page 10.

 



[i] See my investigation of the New Testament use of the Greek word gegraptai  in Todd L. Miles, A God of Many Understandings? The Gospel and a Theology of Religions (Nashville: Broadman & Holman, 2010), 263, n87.

About Todd Miles

Dr. Todd Miles is the Director of the Master of Theology Program and Associate Professor of Theology at Western Seminary in Portland, Oregon. Before his doctoral studies Todd was a Research Engineer at Pacific Northwest National Laboratory for ten years. Now Todd teaches Systematic Theology, Hermeneutics, and Ethics at Western Seminary. Todd serves as an elder at Hinson Memorial Baptist Church in Portland and is the author of "A God of Many Understandings? The Gospel and Theology of Religions" (Nashville: B&H, 2010).

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