Old Testament Prophets: Suffering & Glory
E. J. Strange, Bridgwater
In the Epistle to the Hebrews the writer tells us that God spoke to the fathers in the prophets. (Note ' in,' and not ' by '— Thomas Aquinas wrote, "... because the prophets did not themselves speak from themselves, but God has spoken in them." The distinction is also made by Bengel, when he says, “God Himself was in the prophets. A mortal king speaks by his envoy, but he is not in the envoy.") Hebrews also tells us that God spoke in many portions and in diver’s manners. “The prophecies were various in nature and in form: fragments of the whole truth, presented in manifold forms, in shifting hues of separated colour. Christ is the full revelation of God, Himself the pure light, uniting in His One Person the whole spectrum." (Alford).
When we study the Old Testament prophets we may almost regard them in the analogy of a jig-saw puzzle which we put together to find that, with all the calls to repentance, the promises, the warnings, and the threatenings, the completed picture has emblazoned across it the glorious words: 'HE IS COMING.' Flashes of the coming Light are seen. Micah tells us where the Coming One is to be born; Isaiah tells us He is to be born of a virgin, and in chapter 61 tells us the glorious character of His work in the power of God's anointing Spirit. Daniel sees in a vision one like, unto the Son of Man, to whom is given an everlasting kingdom.
Amidst, however, the multitude of allusions to the Coming One, two facts emerge like great mountain-peaks. These facts are that the Coming One would suffer, and yet know unparalleled glory. Peter tells us in his first letter that Christ's Spirit testified beforehand the sufferings regarding Christ and the glories after these (sufferings). The Lord Himself said to the two on the road to Emmaus, “Ought not Christ to have suffered these things, and to enter into His glory?" Never had there been such an unfolding of prophecy as was made to those two, so that then" heart burned within them while He was speaking and while He opened to them the Scriptures.
1. The Sufferings. The Jews in the days of the Lord were looking forward to a triumphant Messiah, but they saw in Jesus of Nazareth a lowly man who made lofty claims and yet, in the end ' could not save Himself.' Blindness, indeed, had happened to Israel, for had not the prophets spoken of suffering? The mind of the Christian turns almost instinctively to the matchless, yet plaintive song of Isaiah, and there he learns two great truths about the nature of the sufferings of Christ. Ho learns that Christ was to suffer
(a) At the- hands of men. Despised and rejected, He was at last to be led as a lamb to the slaughter. He who had done no violence was to be violently done to death, and the One in whom was no guile was to lie numbered with the transgressors.
(b) At the hands of God. It was the Lord who made to meet upon Him the iniquity of us all, and it pleased the Lord to bruise Him; He hath put Him to grief.
The prophets told before of the sufferings of Christ. They looked forward: we look back and ' weep beneath the Cross.'
“But drops of grief can ne'er repay the debt of love I owe. Here would 1 give myself away; 'Tis all that I can do."
2. The glories that should follow. Christ has entered into His glory. There is
(a) The Glory of Resurrection. David, being a prophet, spoke of this. A real man has been raised from the dead, never to die again, and in that tremendous fact death has received her mortal blow. It is the foundation of our Christian hope. If Christ be not raised, preaching is vain, faith is vain, hope is vain; in fact, everything is one horrible delusion, and life itself would be a meaningless mockery. “But now is Christ risen from the dead!" He has entered into the glory of Resurrection Life.
(b) The Glory of Exaltation. ' He shall be exalted and extolled and be very high." The world no longer sees Christ, but faith's vision penetrates the veil of eternity and sees Jesus crowned with glory and honour. “God also hath highly exalted Him."
(c) The Glory of Manifestation. " The kings shall shut their mouths at Him," for that which had not been told them shall they see." His manifested glory is such that the highest and mightiest are struck dumb with astonishment, an astonishment in relation to that with which they viewed the intensity of His sufferings. It may be argued that already, in this respect, Christ has entered into His glory, for has He not manifested Himself to the hearts of those who love Him, and have they not fallen in their millions in adoring and silent wonder and worship before His surpassing majesty? This is true, but the idea in Isaiah's writing is one of open display. This has not been fulfilled. Amidst the prophetic utterances of coming glories, numbers have never been fulfilled, and yet it is over 1,900 years ago that Christ came.
Let us suppose a traveller is slowly making his way along a plain. In the distance he sees high mountains. In the foreground there is a dark, rugged peak, but immediately behind (or so it seems to him) there lies another peak, aflame with the glory of the rising sun. He draws near, climbs the rugged mountain, and sees the second mountain, not near at band as he supposed, but a good way off. A valley lies between. You and 1 are in that valley. The traveller was the prophet who by the Spirit of God saw the ' rugged hill of Calvary ' and the glorious peak of exaltation. We, in the valley, look back and see with deepest gratitude the sufferings of our Saviour. We look up and see Jesus made both Lord and Christ; but ahead we see, glowing with promise, the second great mountain-peak. The prophets cried, ' He is coming!' The evangelists cried, ' He has come!' We cry, ' HE IS COMING AGAIN!