They Knew Him Not |

Hunt, Dave

Any person of ordinary intelligence, anywhere and at any time, can know that God exists as the Creator of the universe (Ps:19:1-6; Rom:1:18-20, etc.). Such a person also has a conscience in which God has written His moral law (Rom:2:14-16), knows that he or she has broken this law many times, and realizes that there must be judgment from God as a result. When the gospel is preached, the sinner knows by the convicting power of the Holy Spirit that this is the truth and is the only means of escape from the wrath to come.

There are, however, many persons who resist the witness of creation and of conscience. We should be prepared to reason with them. God offers to all: “Come now and let us reason together…though your sins be as scarlet, they shall be as white as snow…” (Isa:1:18). We must be “ready always to give an answer to every man that asketh...a reason of the hope that is in [us] with meekness and fear [of the Lord]…” (1 Pt 3:15).

We give skeptics valid reasons why we accept the Bible as God’s Word by faith—but it is not a blind faith. As Peter indicates, there are reasons for our faith. There are many proofs for the Bible without which we could not demonstrate to unbelievers that it is infallible. Not that we can understand everything Scripture says. That God is the I AM (Ex 3:14), for example, without beginning or end (Ps:90:2; 103:17; 106:48) who created the universe out of nothing (Heb:11:3) is more than our finite minds can understand, but we know it must be.

Everything in the Bible that we are able to verify (historically, scientifically, prophetically, etc.) has proved to be true. It is therefore reasonable to believe whatever else the Bible says that we cannot verify. Statements that are beyond our comprehension and thus unverifiable include that God is a Spirit (Jn:4:24), that man is made in His moral and spiritual image (Gen:1:26,27) and is body, soul, and spirit (1 Thes:5:23), that Christ will rapture us from earth to heaven as promised (Jn:14:3; 1 Thes:4:13-18), and that there is a final judgment and a lake of fire—where the damned will be eternally.

As we have often pointed out, prophecy is the great proof that God exists, that the Bible is His Word, and that Christ is His Son and man’s only Savior. Prophecies were given to indisputably identify the Messiah. Proof does not, however, guarantee faith. There must be a willing heart. In spite of hundreds of prophecies proving that Jesus was the Messiah, the Jews rejected Him and remain largely in unbelief today.

We’ve often given many proofs that the Bible is true. We have not emphasized, however, that, with few exceptions, Scripture honestly reveals the flaws and sins of the best saints—even when such facts could have been avoided. Such honesty gives the ring of truth to Scripture. One of the strangest accounts concerns the disciples’ unbelief in the face of Christ’s resurrection. In fact, their skepticism and apparent unwillingness to believe, even when Christ met them face to face, seems so unlikely that no fiction writer would have dared to portray it.

Christ indicts His disciples with “hardness of heart” (Mk 16:14). They did not believe, even when Christ appeared to them (Lk 24:36-38). Yet one of the thieves crucified with Christ believed in His resurrection, or he would not have asked, “Lord, remember me when thou comest into thy kingdom” (Lk 23:42).

The disciples’ doubts were without excuse in view of the many Messianic prophecies. That they could be so blind to the Scripture, even after being taught personally by Christ over several years, should cause us to re-examine ourselves lest we be guilty of the same.

There is a similar rejection of truth today, even among those who claim to be Christians. Many who say they are “born again” (including seminary professors and pastors) are not even saved. A December 2003 Barna poll revealed that 35 percent of those who claimed to be “born again” didn’t believe Christ rose from the dead; 26 percent said all religions are equal; and 50 percent said good works would get a person to heaven.

All of the disciples as well as the rabbis—and even John the Baptist (“Art thou he that should come? or look we for another?” - Lk 7:19-20), who was “filled with the Holy Ghost even from his mother’s womb” (Lk 1:15)—expected the Messiah to set up His kingdom when He first came to Israel. Christ’s crucifixion shattered their faith. How could He have been the promised Messiah?

Yet numerous prophecies made it clear that the Messiah’s first coming would be as the Lamb of God to be crucified: “they pierced my hands and my feet” (Ps:22:16); “they shall look upon me, whom they have pierced” (Zec:12:10). The prophets declared that He would be “despised and rejected…wounded for our transgressions…taken from prison and from judgment…cut off out of the land of the living…his grave [would be] with the wicked” (Isa:53:3,5,8,9) and that He would rise again the third day (Ps:16:10; Jn:2:19; Mat:12:39,40).

Moreover, they also had to ignore the many times Christ himself had told them plainly that He was going to be crucified and rise from the dead the third day.

After Christ’s resurrection, the angels at the tomb reminded the women: “Remember how he spake unto you when he was yet in Galilee, saying, The Son of man must be delivered into the hands of sinful men, and be crucified, and the third day rise again. And they remembered his words” (Lk 24:6-8). We do not have the record of every time the Lord declared this to His disciples, but it must have been more often than the recorded instances.

At least seven different occasions on which He made His death and resurrection plain to His disciples are recorded in the Gospels: (Mat:16:21; 17:22,23; 20:17-19; Mk 8:31,32; 9:31,32; Lk 13:32,33; Jn:12:32-34). Here are some examples: “For he taught his disciples, and said...the Son of man is delivered into the hands of men, and they shall kill him; and...he shall rise the third day. But they understood not that saying, and were afraid to ask him” (Mk 9:31,32); “Behold...all things that are written by the prophets concerning the Son of man shall be accomplished. For he shall be delivered unto the Gentiles, and shall be mocked, and spitefully entreated, and spitted on: And they shall scourge him, and put him to death: and the third day he shall rise again” (Lk 18:31-33); “And he began to teach them, that the Son of man must suffer many things, and be rejected of the elders, and of the chief priests, and scribes, and be killed, and after three days rise again. And he spake that saying openly” (Mk 8:31,32; Lk 9:22).

Sometimes Christ veiled His speech: “There came certain of the Pharisees, saying unto him, Get thee out, and depart hence: for Herod will kill thee. And he said unto them, Go ye, and tell that fox, Behold, I cast out devils, and I do cures to day and to morrow, and the third day I shall be perfected…for it cannot be that a prophet perish out of Jerusalem.” (Lk 13:31-33). Obviously, He was referring to His death and resurrection.

Another time, the Pharisees asked, “What sign shewest thou unto us...? Jesus answered...Destroy this temple, and in three days I will raise it up. Then said the Jews, Forty and six years was this temple in building, and wilt thou rear it up in three days? But he spake of the temple of his body. When therefore he was risen from the dead, his disciples remembered that he had said this unto them; and they believed the scripture, and the word which Jesus had said” (Jn:2:18-22).

The rabbis knew what Christ meant. Yet they sought false witnesses to twist His words at His trial before Caiaphas and the Sanhedrin: “At the last...two false witnesses...said, This fellow said, I am able to destroy the temple of God, and to build it in three days” (Mat:26:60,61). They knew, however, that He referred to His resurrection: “Now the next day…the chief priests and Pharisees came together unto Pilate, saying, Sir, we remember that that deceiver said, while he was yet alive, After three days I will rise again. Command therefore that the sepulchre be made sure until the third day, lest his disciples come by night, and steal him away, and say unto the people, He is risen from the dead: so the last error shall be worse than the first” (Mat:27:62-64).

The disciples’ unbelief is itself unbelievable. Jesus spoke at length with two followers on the road to Emmaus, yet they knew Him not. Yes, it says that Christ appeared “in another form” to them. That phrase, however, does not mean that He disguised Himself. It refers rather to the disciples’ unbelief that blinded them. Luke explains: “But their eyes were holden that they should not know him” (Lk 24:16).

That they knew Him not didn’t mean that He was unrecognizable but that He was the last person they expected to see. Had they known the Scriptures, they would have been certain that He had resurrected. For that ignorance, Christ rebuked them sharply, “O fools, and slow of heart to believe all that the prophets have spoken: Ought not Christ to have suffered these things, and to enter into his glory? And beginning at Moses and all the prophets, he expounded unto them in all the scriptures the things concerning himself” (Lk 24:25-27). Would He reprimand us as well for our ignorance of “all that the prophets have spoken”?

What a Bible study these two experienced as they walked with this amazing stranger! Yet having learned the prophecies concerning the Messiah from the Lord himself, they still knew Him not! Faith is a matter of the heart, and they were “slow of heart to believe....” We need to ask the Lord to search our own hearts to be certain that we, too, are not blinded in certain areas by unbelief.

At supper, “their eyes were [at last] opened, and they knew him; and he vanished out of their sight. And they said one to another, Did not our heart burn within us, while he talked with us by the way, and while he opened to us the scriptures?” (Lk 24:31,32). Faith, though inexcusably slow, came at last through the scriptures Christ had revealed.

Not to know the Lord Jesus Christ carries serious consequences. It means a false view of the Savior and thus a false hope of salvation. We must believe in the true Christ of God if we are to have eternal life and be in the Father’s house of many mansions for eternity. As Christ declared in His high-priestly prayer to His Father, “And this is life eternal, that they might know thee the only true God, and Jesus Christ, whom thou hast sent” (Jn:17:3).

He said to the rabbis, “Search the scriptures; for in them ye think ye have eternal life: and they are they which testify of me. And ye will not come to me, that ye might have life” (Jn:5:39,40). He still extends the offer to all, “Come unto me…and I will give you rest” (Mat:11:28).

Though so grateful to Christ for casting out of her “seven devils” (Mk 16:9), Mary Magdalene remained ignorant of prophecy and blind to Christ’s many assurances that He would rise from the dead. In spite of Christ appearing and speaking to her beside His empty tomb, she didn’t recognize Him because she was blinded by a needless grief caused by unbelief: “She turned herself back, and saw Jesus standing, and knew not that it was Jesus. Jesus saith unto her, Woman, why weepest thou? whom seekest thou? She, supposing him to be the gardener, saith unto him, Sir, if thou have borne him hence, tell me where thou hast laid him, and I will take him away. Jesus saith unto her [with mild reproof], Mary. She turned herself, and saith unto him, Rabboni; which is to say, Master. Jesus saith…go to my brethren, and say unto them, I ascend unto my Father…” (Jn:20:14-17).

Mary Magdalene “went and told them that had been with him, as they mourned and wept. And they, when they had heard that he was alive, and had been seen of her, believed not” (Mk 16:9-11). The two disciples with whom he walked to Emmaus rushed back to Jerusalem “and told it unto the residue: neither believed they them. Afterward he appeared unto the eleven as they sat at meat, and upbraided them with their unbelief and hardness of heart...” (Mk 16:9-14).

The key to our lives as Christians today is how clearly we “see” by faith the resurrected Christ. Those who saw Him physically during His time on earth did not necessarily have an advantage over us. Remember Christ’s words: “Thomas, because thou hast seen me, thou hast believed: blessed are they that have not seen, and yet have believed” (Jn:20:29).

Yes, “Now we see through a glass, darkly; but then face to face” (1 Cor:13:12). Then at last, “when he shall appear, we shall be like him; for we shall see him as he is” (1 Jn:3:2). Nevertheless, our desire even now should be to see Him ever more clearly with the eyes of faith. As we behold Him, we become more and more like Him.

David, who only had a fraction of the scriptures we have, nevertheless “foresaw the Lord always before [his] face” (Ps:16:8; Acts:2:25), “behold[ing] the beauty of the Lord” (Ps:27:4). Surely we can do the same: “But we all, with open face beholding as in a glass the glory of the Lord, are changed into the same image from glory to glory, even as by the Spirit of the Lord” (2 Cor:3:18).

Like David, Paul’s passion was to “know him, and the power of his resurrection, and the fellowship of his sufferings, being made conformable unto his death…[to] press toward the mark for the prize of the high calling of God in Christ Jesus” (Philippians:3:10-14). What better passion could we embrace for the year 2005, or for whatever portion thereof the Lord will grant us? TBC