The Consummate Victory Of Christ
From a distance in time the Old Testament prophets foretold the coming of the Saviour and from things they observed in their time they foreshadowed his great work of deliverance. The God who inspired them gave them clues through his acts in history and the ordinances he gave to Israel. The Spirit illuminated the meaning of these acts and ordinances which pointed to Christ. From a distance the prophets described what they saw without fullness of detail. From a nearer vantage point the apostolic authors completed the picture. The Old Testament is forward looking and the New Testament is the witness of fulfilment. From a distance not everything foretold is visible in its entirety. The scene ahead is sketched in simple lines. Close up the friends and observers of the Messiah himself can complete his portrait to perfection. The Bible is developmental in character. By a series of steps or stages it advances our understanding of the divine purpose and it reveals the truth of the Lord in instalments. Paradigms of saving realities are established and patterns of divine behaviour are revealed and these are enlarged as the history of God's dealings progresses until at last with the advent of the Lord Jesus we are able to appreciate the scope of God's saving work through his Son. What he did in and for Israel as his chosen people, as recorded in the Old Testament, becomes a preview of what he will do for and in the people he has chosen from out of the whole world – the completed and true Israel comprising all believers Jewish and Gentile. The former acts in and for Israel are repeated and enlarged on a universal scale and in a spiritual way. The exodus foreshadows our deliverance through the cross, return from exile our conversion, resettlement in the promised land our grace-given entitlement to heaven. The Old Testament in a multiplicity of senses through sign and symbol is promissory. The New Testament assures us that things formerly pledged are now within our possession by faith in Christ.
Nothing is more thrilling than to find the intimations of Christ and his accomplishments throughout the pages of the Old Testament. We are given a taste of the excitement that must have been experienced by the ancient people of God who lived in anticipation of future events that would answer to their hopes and prayers for total redemption from sin and restoration to God in soul and circumstance. For those of us who now know the outcome of God's plan of salvation for the world the clues given about the Messiah in prophecy are confirmatory. We see what he was meant to be and do, and to our delight the Lord Jesus matches the expectations exactly. The Old Testament outlines his assignment and the New Testament reports his achievement and both Testaments complete our comprehension of him. A "New Testament" Jesus alone, as some would have it, is impossible. The former writings indicate his identity and the apostolic writings are proof that he fits the description. To separate Jesus from prophecy and the preceding history of Israel is to virtually leave him in anonymity as a figure who has popped up suddenly with neither background nor destiny nor the rich theological significance that is predicated of him by the prophetic oracles that prepare us for his reception and appreciation. The sects and Christian societies that close the Old Testament or see it as merely a collection of interesting tales and character sketches from antiquity scarcely have an ample understanding of Jesus. The dimensions of his importance are constructed from all the pieces of information gained about him from the insights of Israel's saints and spokesmen who the Lord guided to testify of him.
However much Israel as a nation proved faithless to God the believing remnant within it upheld the divine commission effectively by giving us adequate witness to the Saviour and sufficient evidence to recognize him. Their intense and earnest longing increases our love him, for we see his desirability and indispensability to yearning souls and we cannot regard him casually. He is the culmination of human history that puts things to right in a sad world, and he is the portal to a new future where everything will be right. Christ is not just the darling of the chosen nation but the desire of all nations and the Old Testament heralds his appearing. Without it our knowledge of him would be impoverished. Purely "New Testament" churches that discount the Old lack the keys to the treasury of the gospel. They can only wonder at the assertions that New Testament writers make as if they are overhearing a conversation halfway through.
It is the long-range vision of the Old Testament, now verified, that establishes its validity and worth as a senior "second voice" sounding the name of Jesus for our attention, instruction, and joy. Any true witness to him is welcome and the prophets of old are authentic tellers of his story as they commence the narrative of our salvation in him, relating our need and relaying the news of his approach. The instances of these predictive announcements are abundant and the amplifications of their message occur with frequency in the gospels and epistles, and it is infinitely enriching to pair them together and see how the whole Bible hangs together as the convincing word of God replete in the internal evidence of its divinity.
The psalmist, for example, sees in a victory procession of exultant ascent to the temple the ultimate victory of the awaited Messiah. The facts before him are portents for a far more glorious future. A military success for Israel is but a forerunner for a mighty and miraculous conquest for the coming liberator of the captive people of God in the end times. "When you ascended on high, you led captives in your train; you received gifts from (for) men, even from (for) the rebellious – that you, O Lord God, might dwell there" (Psalm 68:18).
Whatever the precise meaning of the passage, it is clear that God is triumphant in battle, receives plunder (homage) from the defeated, submission from the rebellious, and glad acceptance of the fact he dwells among them. The victor is seen as distributing favour to his enemies and reinstatement to rebels and they are thankful for his restored rule. Captivity has turned to liberty and prosperity. The conqueror is kind to the vanquished. Those who fought him find freedom through him, and survive on gifts from him. The rebels who resisted him are renewed in their hearts and happy with his reign. His weapons that achieved their submission were mercy and love. Grace is overpowering. Here we have a succinct summary of salvation from the moral rebellion and captivity of human sin and all the benefits of Christ's victory in our hearts. The church is the company of rebels released from their spirit of revolt and resistance to the gospel, who have been taken captive by the Saviour's love, and under his gentle rule receive all the blessings of salvation, the necessary gifts for service, and the benefits of all forms of ministry that he confers upon his people.
This interpretation of an ancient ascription of honour is confirmed by the apostle Paul, for he says: "But to each one of us grace has been given as Christ apportioned it. That is why it says: 'When he ascended on high, he led captives in his train and gave gifts to men'"
(Ephesians 4:7,8). Christ having completed his work of atonement in his death and resurrection ascends to heavenly glory, and there in his sovereign majesty lavishes his gifts and graces upon the ones he has won to himself through the defeat of Satan and the ransoming of the elect. Slaves of sin and disobedience have been set free to follow him, subscribe to his Lordship, dwell in his presence, and do his bidding. Together, psalmist and apostle celebrate the well-deserved exaltation of the Saviour to heavenly majesty and our undeserved elevation to glory with him. It is only to be expected that King Jesus would be good to his subjects. It is even more wonderful that he would be gracious to rebels.