Christ’s resurrection means peace to his disciples, but Christ’s bringing peace to his people by means of his own life, death, and resurrection was not a last minute audible. In fact, when the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit established a covenant of redemption in eternity past, vowing to do whatever would be necessary to redeem their people from the clutches of sin and death, they knew that this covenant would require the blood of the Son. This plan was never outside of the counsels of the Triune God, even if God did not reveal the plan in its fullness to humans until after Jesus’ resurrection.
But at the same time, God did offer glimpses into this glorious plan throughout human history. As Jesus speaks to his disciples, he pulls the curtain back to reveal that all the Scriptures of (what would come to be called) the Old Testament had, in fact, pointed to what he had just accomplished:
44Then he said to them, “These are my words that I spoke to you while I was still with you, that everything written about me in the Law of Moses and the Prophets and the Psalms must be fulfilled.” 45Then he opened their minds to understand the Scriptures, 46and said to them, “Thus it is written, that the Christ should suffer and on the third day rise from the dead…” (Luke 24:44-46)
The Prophecy of Christ’s Resurrection
In v. 44, Jesus informs his disciples that they had heard clearly the prophecy of his resurrection from two sources: from Jesus himself (“These are my words that I spoke to you while I was still with you”) and from the Scriptures (“that everything written about me in the Law of Moses and the Prophets and the Psalms must be fulfilled”). The eternal counsels of God the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit were leaked to the general public through the direct inspiration of the Holy Spirit, as well as from the mouth of the Incarnate Son.
The Illumination of the Prophecies
Even though the prophecies were public in the Scriptures and in Jesus’ own teaching ministry, we nevertheless read that even the disciples were completely unaware of the way in which the prophecies pointed to Jesus. Jesus had spoken plainly at his last supper with the disciples that his body would be broken, and that his blood would be shed, and barely a week before his crucifixion, we read that Jesus spoke explicitly about all of this to his disciples:
31And taking the twelve, he said to them, “See, we are going up to Jerusalem, and everything that is written about the Son of Man by the prophets will be accomplished. 32For he will be delivered over to the Gentiles and will be mocked and shamefully treated and spit upon. 33And after flogging him, they will kill him, and on the third day he will rise.” 34But they understood none of these things. This saying was hidden from them, and they did not grasp what was said. (Luke 18:31-34)
Even with explicit statements, the prophecy of Christ’s resurrection was hidden from the disciples so that they did not grasp what Jesus was saying.
But now, after the resurrection, Jesus “opened their minds to understand the Scripture.” Theologians call this “illumination,” when God gives us the ability to understand what is written in his Word. (The counterpart of illumination is “inspiration,” when God inspires the authors of Scripture what to say.) While the disciples received their illumination directly from Jesus himself, we now have received the gift of the Holy Spirit to illuminate the Scriptures. Apart from the Spirit, we can receive nothing from the Word.
John Calvin, though, offers a critical comment regarding the nature of Jesus’ summary, insisting that we cannot go to the other extreme of disregarding the Scriptures now that we have the Spirit. In fact, the Word and the Spirit always work together to minister the Gospel to us:
That they might understand the Scriptures. Let the reader next observe, that the disciples had not the eyes of their mind opened, so as to comprehend the mysteries of God without any assistance, but so far as they are contained in the Scriptures….For God does not bestow the Spirit on his people, in order to set aside the use of his word, but rather to render it fruitful….
But we see that, when the Spirit of Christ, who is the inward Teacher, performs his office, the labour of the minister who speaks is not thrown away; for Christ, after having bestowed on his followers the gift of understanding, instructs them out of the Scriptures with real advantage. (Web: Commentary on Matthew, Mark, and Luke, vol. 3; Published: Calvin’s Commentaries, vol. 157, p. 375-77)
The Summary of the Prophecy
Having received this illumination, Jesus begins to teach his disciples the meaning of his life as a fulfillment of what the Scriptures always taught, summarizing the matter elegantly: “Thus it is written, that the Christ should suffer and on the third day rise from the dead.” Paul expands a bit on this summary in 1 Corinthians 15:3-4, but only slightly:
3For I delivered to you as of first importance what I also received: that Christ died for our sins in accordance with the Scriptures, 4that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day in accordance with the Scriptures… (1 Corinthians 15:3-4)
Brothers and sisters, even as the resurrected, glorified Christ stood in front of his disciples, the one thing he focused on doing was to teach them the Scriptures. We should long for Christ’s actual presence, but he teaches us here that in his absence, we come to know him through the Scriptures, by the inspiration of the Spirit.
If this is the case, then by all means let us devote ourselves to studying the Word until Jesus returns! The Scriptures teach us everything of Christ, that he would suffer, that he would die, and that on the third day he would be resurrected–all this happened exactly “in accordance with the Scriptures”!
This Easter, as we worship and rejoice in the resurrected Christ, let us learn from Jesus himself about his mission and ministry: let us return again and again to the teaching and to the testimony, for there we will find a perfect, flawless, complete witness to Jesus himself.