The Nature of the Surprise

There is no doubt that the disciples were surprised to learn that Jesus’ death and resurrection was the point of the Old Testament. In Matthew 26:54-56, it was immediately after Jesus says THIS (His arrest and death) was to fulfill Scriptures that the disciples left Him. Let no one therefore think the interpretation of the Old Testament to be a matter of indifference.

It is commonly debated today, however, why the disciples were surprised. If one compares this passage in Matthew with Luke 24, for example, we come across a bit of a puzzle. How can Jesus reproach the two disciples for being slow to believe all that the prophets had spoken? And in 1 Peter, why did the Old Testament writers search so eagerly in their own writings? It must be because they knew that there was something more in what they wrote than what they themselves had thought. They understood that they had written the Word of God and that God had further things to say than they, the authors, had intended.

How then, can we account for these two clear things: 1. the disciples were surprised; and 2. Jesus says they shouldn’t have been surprised? It has been a commonplace in scholarship to deny that the Old Testament has anything intrinsic to say about Jesus Christ. It is only the rabbinic, Midrashic exegesis of the New Testament that reads into the Old Testament something that wasn’t originally there. One has to achieve this on a supposed second reading.

I propose a different solution to this problem. The surprise is due to sin and a corresponding veil over the eyes of readers, not to a supposed intrinsic absence of Jesus from the Old Testament. Paul talks about this veil in 2 Corinthians 3:14. The problem is in the reader, not the text. In John 5, Jesus very clearly claims Moses wrote about Him. This suggests that even in the intention of Moses, there is something there about the promised one. There is more in the text than the intention of the human author, contrary to what many scholars think today.

So why were the disciples surprised? They were surprised because they had a veil over their eyes that was suddenly and unpleasantly ripped away. Matthew 26 is not telling us that the Old Testament is inherently Christless. It is telling us that the disciples did not understand. They didn’t really understand until Pentecost. That is when God took away their veil entirely. We need to pray that God takes away our veils so that we can understand the Old Testament and God fulfills all His promises in the New Testament.

1 Comment

  1. Roy Kerns said,

    June 5, 2020 at 8:43 am

    Every time I ponder this passage, it confronts my unbelief. Jesus did not say to the two men, “The revelation in the scripture you have is complex. It does not surprise me that you did not figure it out. Let me ‘splain it to you.” He said, “How foolish you are, and slow of heart to believe….” Wow. That seems rather blunt.

    When I find scripture that I sorta think says something but I can’t figure it out, I remember that bluntness. EG: eschatology, reading the signs of the seasons (both rather directly connect to Lk 24!). Another eg: what should the church proclaim in this country’s (USA) current experience? We’ve no excuse for not knowing…and for not proclaiming.


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