‘Then opened he their understanding, that they might understand the scriptures’, Luke 24. 45.
When considering the opening of the scriptures to the two travellers, v. 32, the word meaning ‘to open fully’ or ‘thoroughly’ occurs only occasionally in the new Testament. The four of these relating to the scriptures themselves, the opened eyes, opened ears and opened heart, have already been touched on in the earlier articles and we now come to the final occurrence.
The occasion concerned an unknown number of disciples, the eleven and them that were with them, plus the two who had returned so hastily from Emmaus. The opening of their understanding was very specifically focussed on their being enabled to ‘understand the scriptures’. This ‘understanding’ is, in the sense of the word used in the original, associated with intellect, and is often translated as ‘mind’ in the KJV. As we are thinking here of our understanding, our mind, being opened by the Lord Jesus, we will concentrate on its use in the sense of ‘the renewing of your mind’ as in Romans 12. 2. That, as Paul makes plain, is in no way limited to our intellect. On one occasion when Paul felt it necessary to warn against the misuse of the gift of speaking in tongues he says it was because of its unhelpful effect on ‘those that are unlearned or unbelievers’, who on hearing what to them is unintelligible will declare ‘that ye are mad’, 1 Cor. 14. 23.
The linking of intellect, or wisdom, to a spiritual level of understanding is spoken of by John too. He encourages such understanding when saying, ‘Here is wisdom. Let him that hath understanding count the number of the beast: for it is the number of a man; and his number is six hundred threescore and six’, Rev. 13. 18. That men, with their natural intellect and human understanding, have attempted often enough to decipher the meaning of these words to no avail should not deter believers from such scriptures which often are ‘hard to be understood’, 2 Pet. 3. 16. Although ‘the natural man receiveth not the things of the Spirit of God: for they are foolishness to him … he that is spiritual judgeth (discerneth) all things’, 1 Cor. 2. 14, 15.
When talking here of our understanding we are not thinking of a process but of a faculty. The Lord Jesus was opening up, renewing, and enhancing that faculty so that the disciples ‘might understand the scriptures’. That goes way beyond just hearing or even of knowing the letter of the word. It has the sense of comprehension, of being able to follow through to the full impact of what is being said. When Moses first attempted to establish relations with the Israelite slaves, by defending one of them from an Egyptian and killing the offender, scripture says, ‘he supposed that his brethren would have understood how that God by his hand would deliver them: but they understood not’, Acts 7. 25. Those people could hear what he said and see what he did, but they didn’t understand.
That was the essential difference between the various recipients of ‘the seed which is the word of God’, as described in the parable of the sower. Some just ‘hear’ the word, and in all the cases it is the same word or seed that is received, ‘and understood it not’. Others heard the word and ‘understood it’ and it is only the latter ‘which also beareth fruit’, Matt. 13. 18-23; Luke 8. 11. That is why the Lord Jesus when explaining the difference between ‘the commandment of God’ and ‘the commandments of men’, advised us both to ‘hear and understand’, Matt. 15. 1-20.
How though, can we today progress from just hearing to actually understanding? Think again of those eleven plus disciples. They had heard the Lord Jesus often before but still couldn’t understand, couldn’t fathom out what was happening. But ‘then opened he their understanding’, and the scriptures He then used, when properly understood, clarified matters completely. Oh yes, I hear you say, but they were fortunate enough to have the Lord Jesus Himself dealing with their need. Who is there to do that for believers here and now? Well, for the Ephesians, Paul was looking on their behalf to ‘the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of glory, that he may give unto you the spirit of wisdom and revelation in the knowledge of him: the eyes of your understanding being enlightened’, Eph. 1 17-18. John says, ‘We know that the Son of God is come, and hath given us an understanding, that we may know him that is true’, 1 John 5. 20. So we have both the Father and the Son involved for us in this undertaking.
Then the Lord Jesus said of the Spirit of truth, when speaking of the coming of the Holy Spirit to indwell all believers, ‘he will guide you into all truth … he shall glorify me: for he shall receive of mine, and shall show it unto you’, John 16.13-14. In other words He will be acting on My behalf. But remember that such activity, by all three members of the Godhead, will still only be accomplished through the revelation given in the scriptures.
Our spiritual understanding then is opened, enlightened and developed by the application of the scriptures, either by God Himself directly in our own private readings and meditations, or, as we see illustrated in the experience of the Ethiopian eunuch, by someone equipped by God to be His mouthpiece, His channel, Acts 8. 26-40. Such people come in a variety of roles, including, ‘evangelists, pastors and teachers’, Eph. 4. 12, or even just, ‘helps’, 1 Cor. 12. 28. But whichever method God uses, either direct or through another believer, He looks for and deserves a response from us individually. We might all hope that, in the context of these considerations, it will come by the echoing from our hearts of the words of those two disciples on that road to Emmaus so long ago now, ‘Did not our heart burn within us, while he talked with us by the way, and while he opened to us the scriptures?’ May we be as quick and concerned as they were to share with our fellow-believers what we ourselves have learned and understood, Luke 24. 32, 33.
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