Acts 3: 17-24; 10: 42-43; 26: 22-23
There are a number of other scriptures in mind to refer to, but these will suffice to begin with. The brethren will perhaps pardon me for having written down a list of the other passages, because they are rather many to remember; but I think these three or four references to the prophets warrant us in inquiring, in detail, what it is that Peter and Paul here tell us is to be found in those prophets. Acts 3:18 says that “God ... had announced beforehand by the mouth of all the prophets, that his Christ should suffer”. There is the reference to “the restoring of all things, of which God has spoken by the mouth of his holy prophets since time began” in verse 21. Then it says in verse 24, “All the prophets from Samuel and those in succession after him, as many as have spoken, have announced also these days”. In chapter 10 verse 43 we have, “To him all the prophets bear witness”. Paul, in the verses we have read in chapter 26, confirms that.
So this leaves something for the saints to search out in all the prophets: particularly the sufferings of Christ, and then “these days”, the days of the Messiah, and then, as Peter brings out in chapter 10 in the verses we read there, “remission of sins” - it says that all the prophets bear witness to Christ in relation to that. Paul again confirms that in Romans where he says that the righteousness of God now made known is “borne witness to by the law and the prophets”, Rom 3: 21. Well, all that of course, is far too vast a subject to take up at once, and it needs a great deal of searching; but I should like to draw attention to certain things in the prophets, relating to the statement in the first of the passages that we have read: “God has thus fulfilled what he had announced beforehand by the mouth of all the prophets, that his Christ should suffer.”
Now we are familiar, I am sure, with many passages in the prophetic scriptures that relate to Christ as suffering, but I must confess that I have not yet been able to find it in all of them. Having done a little searching - and I would encourage us all to do it - I have found references in many, with the help of the written ministry that we have, but there are still some in which it would take more searching to find it. But I believe the Lord would encourage us to do that, to find out the depth of the riches that are in the Scriptures. As the Lord Himself said, “Ye search the scriptures, for ye think that in them ye have life eternal, and they it is which bear witness concerning me”, John 5: 39. We are expected to find that in all the Scriptures, something about Christ in every passage, I believe, or something that brings us to think of Him, to think of what He has effected, and to see how He is related to everything that is brought out in every passage of the Scripture. But this verse in Acts is more specific than that: it tells us that all the prophets have announced beforehand, or God has announced by them, that His Christ should suffer.
We might begin with some direct references to that. There are prophetic scriptures, such as Psalm 22, which directly refer to the sufferings of Christ in so many words. Isaiah 53 is another well-known one. Think of what it says there: “Who hath believed our report? and to whom hath the arm of Jehovah been revealed?” It goes on to speak of Him bearing our griefs, carrying our sorrows, being regarded as “stricken, smitten of God, and afflicted. But he was wounded for our transgressions, he was bruised for our iniquities; the chastisement of our peace was upon him, and with his stripes we are healed”. These words are familiar; how thankful we are that they are familiar to us! We can never be too familiar with them, we can thankfully go over them again and again, and find in them that not only was it the divine mind beforehand that Christ should suffer, it was in the word of God too, so as to prepare those who would believe on Him to receive the truth of it, and to give them assurance, as looking back, that all was provided for in the divine mind and in the prophetic word - “since time began”, Peter says.
Then we have a reference in Jeremiah, which Matthew brings forward in his gospel. There was an attack aimed at Christ by Herod, and he destroyed all the boys in Bethlehem from two years and under. The Lord was preserved, in the ways of God, through being taken with Joseph and Mary to Egypt, but the grief of it! The Lord, we might say, reverently, was not spared the grief of it; although He was not put to death by Herod at that time, He, and the many mothers in Israel, felt the grief of it. So Jeremiah speaks of “Rachel weeping for her children, refusing to be comforted for her children, because they are not”, Jer 31: 15; Matt 2: 17-18. And the Lord entered into those feelings. I am not speaking of what He may have felt as a babe, that is not recorded for us; but we know that the Lord, in His sympathy with the feelings of all those who suffered in a godly way, must in due time have entered in spirit into that, as into many other things. So we can regard that as a direct prediction of the sufferings of Christ.
Then we get, in the book of Daniel, that the Messiah was to be cut off, and have nothing, Dan 9: 26. That again is a well-known scripture, but have we thought of the significance of it? After all those seventy years of captivity that Daniel and others had gone through, and then after the even longer time that was prophesied - almost the whole of the seventy weeks or 490 years - even then, instead of things coming immediately to a glorious conclusion, the Messiah was to be cut off, and have nothing, and there was to be desolation and destruction and war to the end. That includes the sufferings of Israel, but Christ entered into those. There is also a gap of undetermined length in that prophecy, as we know, in which God’s great thoughts in relation to the assembly are now revealed; but that does not come into the Old Testament prophets - room is made for it but it is not brought out. So our thoughts, in considering a scripture like that, are to be concentrated on the sorrow of what it meant or was going to mean to the Messiah, what it was going to mean to the people of God, what it will even yet mean to the godly remnant of Israel who will have to go through many sufferings which the Lord has already gone through before them, before they reach the glorious conclusion that is indicated in verse 24 and spoken of elsewhere in the prophets.
Then we get a verse in Amos - I am mentioning only the outstanding references that have come to mind recently - where God speaks of turning their feasts into mourning and where they will mourn as for an only son (chap 8: 10): that is surely prophetic of what Israel will come to as they realise what they have done in putting the Lord to death. But for us, who already have the light, that brings to mind what the Lord Himself has already suffered, and how those sufferings were in the prophets. Israel has yet to come to it, but we have come to it if we have been brought to repentance, that the cutting-off of Christ, the putting to death of Christ, was on account of our sins; we are to have some impression of what the judgment would have been against us, and what it was to the Lord to have that to face - though we are not capable of entering very much into either of those things.
We get the reference in that remarkable verse in Micah to smiting “the judge of Israel with a rod upon the cheek”, Mic 5: 1. We get in Zechariah 13: 7 that Jehovah was going to smite the shepherd, and the sheep would be scattered. These are all mentions, in an unmistakable and direct way, in the prophets, of what Christ was going to suffer.
Besides these, there are scriptures in the prophets where the prophet himself was to be a sign. It is perhaps not so obvious at first sight that those things refer to the sufferings of Christ; but to those who are instructed, who have the light that the Spirit brings, and the light that we have in the New Testament, such chapters as Isaiah 8, where Isaiah speaks of being a sign - “Behold, I and the children that Jehovah hath given me are for signs and for wonders” - would refer, among other things, to the suffering path that the Lord went through. Another chapter in Isaiah, chapter 20, is on that line too. Isaiah had to suffer reproach, great reproach, as a sign and a warning to Israel, and in that he is a type of Christ.
Ezekiel had instruction in chapter 4 to lie on his left side for three hundred and ninety days, and then on his right side for forty days, again as a sign to the people. That is a reference to the sufferings of Christ as entering in spirit into the state and experience of the people under God’s government. Ezekiel was to portray it, he was to be a living parable, so to speak, of what God had against the people, and how it was to be borne. It could only be fulfilled in Christ. Ezekiel no doubt did suffer, but his suffering literally was not on a level with the suffering of Christ; none of the sufferings of the prophets were, but they were used as signs by God Himself, to instruct the people, to cause them to consider their ways as another prophet puts it (Hag 1: 5, 7), to weigh up before God what it was they were doing, what it was they were involved in, what it was that they were guilty of, that needed God to act in judgment in such a way.
We have Hosea: we know about the experiences of Hosea in chapters 1 to 3, how he had to go through experiences that reflected the unfaithfulness of God’s people, how he had to feel with God in relation to it, and that is another aspect of the sufferings of Christ. Hosea again was a sign. They were to take account of him, and his wife, and all that he did under instructions from God; they were to take account of it as instructing them in God’s faithfulness in spite of their unfaithfulness.
We have Jonah. The Lord speaks of his three days and three nights in the belly of the great fish as a sign that the Son of man was to be three days and three nights in the heart of the earth, Matt 12: 39-40. The application of that is only too evident. So besides direct predictions, we have the occasions where the prophet himself passes through certain things as a sign to others. It is all part of the sufferings of Christ made known in the prophets.
Another form of suffering which comes out in the prophets is that their word was rejected. We get that in Isaiah chapter 7, where Ahaz the king is not prepared to receive the word that Isaiah brings. The prophet no doubt felt that on God’s behalf, and none felt it like Christ. We get it more clearly perhaps, in Jeremiah, how his word was rejected - in chapters 20 and 26, for example. There was opposition from false prophets, and there were accusations from false prophets. In chapter 36, he had a roll written when he was in the prison, and the king burnt it. In chapter 42 he had instructions given to him by God, and the leaders came to ask him for the word of God, and when he told it to them they refused it. The rejection of his word was something that the prophet rightly felt on God’s behalf. We get that fulfilled in the Lord’s own ministry in an outstanding way. “He came to his own, and his own received him not” (John 1: 11), and we get constant opposition to the word that He brought, the ministry that He brought; only a few, in whom God worked, received it, and the Lord felt that. He says, according to the words of another prophet, “I have laboured in vain, I have spent my strength for nought”, Isa 49: 4. That was a kind of suffering which the prophets of the Old Testament had known, but which none knew to the extent that the Lord knew it.
Then we have another kind of suffering which came out in the Lord supremely, that He felt with God about the state of the people. That too comes out prophetically in the Old Testament. We can think of Moses on the mountain, and coming down to find that they had made the golden calf: think how he felt with God about that, Exod 32: 19-20. But think how much more so the Lord felt when He observed - when He not only knew in divine knowledge but came down and observed, so to speak, and experienced as being among men - the distance and darkness in which men were, the distance from God, the estrangement from God, the opposition to God, and that especially among God’s chosen people! The Lord felt that, and the prophets before Him had felt it, the Spirit of God had brought it out, and makes it available to us in the record of the Scriptures to contemplate.
The suffering is more acute when combined with personal enmity or treachery against Christ, as in Psalm 55: 12-14, where David says: “For it is not an enemy that hath reproached me - then could I have borne it; neither is it he that hateth me that hath magnified himself against me - then would I have hidden myself from him; but it was thou, a man mine equal, mine intimate, my familiar friend. . . . We who held sweet intercourse together. To the house of God we walked amid the throng.” David felt what it was to have opposition against him and betrayal from those who were close to him. He was prophetic of the Lord in that. A scripture very like it (Ps 41: 9) is brought forward in John 13: 18, in relation to Judas. We find something similar also in Psalm 69. It says there, “The zeal of thy house hath devoured me”, and the disciples remembered that when the Lord cast out the money-changers and sellers of doves and so on from the temple (John 2: 17). The Lord felt how God’s house was being made a house of merchandise instead of a house of prayer for all the nations: the zeal of God’s house devoured Him, so to speak. That is quoted from verse 9 of the Psalm, but the very same verse goes on to say, “and the reproaches of them that reproach thee have fallen upon me”. The significance of that was not brought out until later, when Paul brings it out in Romans 15: 3. Certain things the disciples could observe, could take account of during the Lord’s lifetime; “The zeal of thy house hath devoured me” was one of them, but “The reproaches of them that reproach thee have fallen upon me” could really only be understood after the Spirit came, and so we do not find that brought out until Paul’s ministry.
But all these things are there in the Old Testament, to be brought out. Some of them may be hidden; the disciples needed the Lord’s instruction and they needed the Spirit’s help to understand these things, and so do we; they are not exactly on the surface, most of them, but they are there in the word of God and are suitable subjects for searching out. As Solomon says, “It is the glory of God to conceal a thing; but the glory of kings is to search out a thing” (Prov 25: 2). We have that opportunity in the Scriptures.
So feeling with God about the state of things, especially among God’s people, is part of the sufferings of Christ brought out in these passages we have just alluded to. The book of Lamentations is another outstanding example of the same thing - how deeply Jeremiah felt about the city and how it had been destroyed - but that led him to feel too the state of things in it that had made the judgment necessary in God’s ways. He felt it deeply. He felt it in his book of prophecy too. We could find many places in those books where he speaks of weeping, and his eyes running down with streams of water for the ruin of the daughter of his people (Jer 9: 1, 13: 17; Lam 2: 11, 3: 48; compare Ps 119: 136). Those were the feelings brought about in him by the Spirit of Christ. The Spirit of Christ which was in the prophets pointed out these things (1 Pet 1: 10-11), and the searching of their writings will bring to light many of the features of the Spirit of Christ for our instruction.
Then in Ezekiel chapters 8 to 11, we see Ezekiel brought in spirit to Jerusalem, to see what was going on there, and how God was obliged to execute judgment. He felt with God about it, he was sharing divine feelings about the state of things.
We get in the book of Hosea again, chapter 11, God’s feelings about Ephraim. How should He give Ephraim over, or deliver up Israel? How could He? God had to pass them through severe discipline, but He felt it; I believe it would be right to say He felt it more than they did. The prophet enters into those feelings of God. He is again representative of Christ in doing so. Christ, not only as a divine Person but as in manhood being a Servant of God, enters into the feelings of God about the state of things amongst His people, and about how much it costs divine Persons to have to exercise judgment or discipline upon them. Divine feelings in their depth are involved in that.
We have referred to the verse in the Psalm, “The zeal of thy house hath devoured me”, and there may be a suggestion of the same thing in the book of Haggai, where he speaks about the fact that the people paid so much attention to their own houses that they neglected God’s house, Hag 1: 3-6. God felt that; God felt it not only because of what He was missing, to speak reverently, but because of what the people were missing. It comes out again in Malachi 3: 10-12. God was only too ready to bless them, desirous of blessing them, but in order to make that blessing available He has to urge them to “bring the whole tithe into the treasure-house”, and then He says, “Prove me . . . if I open not to you the windows of the heavens, and pour you out a blessing, till there be no place for it”. God is ready to do that, and if there are things that hinder it, in the state of the people as it was then or in our state now today, God feels that. God desires to give blessing and spiritual prosperity, and He feels anything that will be a hindrance to it. He desires that we too should feel it, and so He appeals to us through the prophetic word, as He did to His people of old.
We get in Zechariah 2: 8, “He that toucheth you toucheth the apple of his eye”, recalling similar expressions in Deuteronomy 32: 9-10 and Lamentations 2: 18. This speaks of God’s feelings about the way His people are treated by the enemy - or might be treated - and the prophet enters into those feelings of God, expresses the Spirit of Christ in doing so. That relates to Israel there, but it would apply also to believers today. It is on the same line as what the Lord says to Saul in Acts 9, “I am Jesus, whom thou persecutest”. Saul was persecuting the saints, he was touching the Lord Himself: to use the language of Zechariah, he was touching the apple of God’s eye - a very sensitive point. Divine Persons felt it, and Saul himself was brought to feel it too. He had to pass through much discipline, but he accepted it as from God; and he arrived at not only the greatest appreciation of Christ’s assembly that any apostle or any other believer ever had, but the greatest service too in relation to it in his ministry.
We might inquire, Where can we find the sufferings of Christ in some of these other prophets? That is something that will need further searching out, I believe; but there may be a suggestion of something on the same line as we have just mentioned - God feeling it when His people are ill-treated - in the book of Obadiah. As we know, Obadiah is occupied with the judgment upon Edom, and one of the things that he brings forward is that Edom was totally unsympathetic with Jerusalem when Jerusalem was under attack from another enemy, verses 11-14. In fact, Edom actually rejoiced over the downfall of Jerusalem, and however guilty Jerusalem was, God is not pleased with that. God feels it, and no doubt the prophet felt it too. God did not use unfeeling men as instruments to speak His word, or to write it, He used those who were in accord with Him in spirit. So that when God speaks of that through Obadiah, I believe we can trace the Spirit of Christ in Obadiah in it, that he was sharing God’s feelings about the way God’s people were treated.
So whether it is Israel, or whether it is the assembly, or whether it is the patriarchs, God feels the way in which His people are treated, and it is the Spirit of Christ that would cause us to feel it. “Touch not mine anointed ones, and do my prophets no harm”, He said, in relation to those going back to Abraham’s time, 1 Chron 16: 15-22. The Spirit of Christ is not limited in time either to the present or the past or the future, it is the same Spirit of Christ all the way through, and will be, as we know from instruction we have had in the ministry that has come to us, in the godly remnant that will be there after the church has gone.
Opposition from God’s own people may go further than the rejection of the word, which we have already considered. We see this form of suffering outstandingly in Jeremiah: how persistently he was opposed by the Jews of Jerusalem, the false prophets and those that they influenced, and at times by the king himself. He had to minister in spite of that, he had to bear it all, he had to go on in spite of it; and it cost him a great deal, as we see in reading his book, and observing how words from his book are taken up in the New Testament.
We have not mentioned all the prophets, there are others that could be mentioned, and others again where it still, for me at least, would need further searching to find exactly where, in what chapters and verses, the truth that we have been considering is brought out. As was said before, I would encourage all the brethren to follow that up. We should keep in mind that the prophetic word is not limited to what is written in the books of the prophets. Peter, in the passage we first read, mentions “the prophets . . . as many as have spoken”. No writings by Elisha and others have come down to us, and very little by Elijah (2 Chron 21: 12-15); but what is recorded about them is very instructive; and who knows what the Spirit may have brought out in their unrecorded oral ministry?
I should like to conclude with a further word about following things up. We are encouraged to do that. Paul commends Timothy for doing it, for fully following up what had been brought to him through Paul, 1 Tim 4: 6. Now we follow things up in various ways. Searching the Scriptures is one of them, but we need to go further than that: we need to follow up the truth not just in the terms of it but in prayerfulness about it, to see and receive its bearing upon us, because every feature of the truth has a bearing upon us in some way or another. Even if the prophetic scriptures, for example, are not about the saints of the assembly, yet they are spoken to them, they are communicated to them by the Spirit; and the assembly being the nearest, as we are often reminded, to the heart of Christ, is the family most able, most qualified - most enabled, should I say - to share His interests. It would be very selfish if we were to take the view that because the prophetic scriptures (or any other part of the Scripture) are not about the saints of the assembly, therefore they do not concern us. They do concern us, because everything that concerns Christ and His sufferings, and His glory, is of interest to those who are nearest to Him. So the assembly is the family that is most capable, most enabled by the privileges it has and the power of the Spirit, to enter in to the Lord’s feelings and the Lord’s thoughts about all the families. We should therefore follow things up in that way.
Then of course the truth has its practical effect. We are called on, in the course of the testimony, to face various forms of suffering, to enter with the people of God into what they are passing through. We have not spoken of that because the time is short, but that also is a line of things that is brought out in the prophets. Think of how Jeremiah, for example, was forced to go with a rebellious group of those who had escaped the captivity of Babylon, forced to go with them into Egypt, although he knew it was against the word of God, it was against what he himself had communicated to them, but nevertheless he had to pass through it, chaps 42 and 43. In the same way Joshua and Caleb, though they were not themselves disobedient to the report that was brought back by them from the land, yet they had to go with the people in those years of wandering before they could enter into the land that they so desired to get into. Well, we may have to pass through things, in company with the people of God, that we know the Lord does not approve of, and yet He would have us suffer along with the people of God in what He brings upon them because of it. That will require suffering, and it will require endurance to go through it.
It will require endurance to go through in sharing the Lord’s feelings about the state of things among His people, as we have referred to earlier. It will require devotion to Him to go on in perseverance with the word of God if others reject it, and it will require endurance to go through in faithfulness to Him if we are called on to suffer for the sake of righteousness. All these things are the ways in which the Spirit of Christ in suffering can be brought out in the saints now. We have to be prepared for what it will cost, so we need to follow these things up in reading and prayer, and in practical perseverance through the difficulties that we pass through in the ways of God, including, maybe, opposition from some of those who are part of the people of God. It will require that we should endure in sharing divine feelings about all that surrounds us, and endurance in every way to go through in faithfulness, to bring out these features of Christ that God is looking for among His saints at the present time.
Well, I am conscious of many shortcomings in the way this has been put, but I trust that the Lord may use it to awaken interest further in a more extensive and detailed way, to search in the Scriptures the riches of what there is to be found there in relation to Christ - His sufferings, His greatness, and His glories, 1 Pet 1: 11. May it be so, in His Name.
3rd April 1999