“… a spirit of wisdom and revelation… the eyes of your understanding being opened.” (Ephesians 1:17b-18a)
OK! OK! This is a big one! And it is something we need to understand thoroughly in order to understand ourselves as Christians and how a spirit of wisdom and revelation functions.
In the same way that the human body has two eyes to see things physical, so the human spirit has eyes with which to perceive things spiritual. The eyes in the head, of course are part of the five senses of the human experience; touching, tasting, feeling, hearing and seeing. There are parallel spiritual senses that assist us in our experience of, as well as our engagement with God who is a Spirit. This writer is convinced that this is not just metaphorical concepts and language to help us understand a few “abstract” spiritual concepts, but the literal language of the spiritual world that helps us to see invisible realities. “Taste and see that the Lord is good” (Psalm 34:8). “We are the aroma of Christ” (2 Corinthians 2:15) “The hand of the Lord was upon me” (Ezekiel 37:1). “Unless a man is born from above He cannot see the kingdom of heaven” (John 3:3). “Having ears, they hear not” (Psalm 135:17). In the account of Dives (the rich man) and Lazarus that Jesus shared in Luke 16, even though both the characters were dead and had left their respective physical bodies, they could see each other, hear and speak dialogue. We know also, for certain, that the concept of touch and taste is explicit in the rich man’s request for Lazarus to touch Dives’ lips with cold water. All that is missing in the account is anything to do with smell. All this helps us to make sense of Paul’s phrase; “the eyes of your understanding being opened.”
When things physical, like the five physical empirical senses were created, they were modelled on already pre-existent spiritual senses such as are intrinsic to the angelic nature and the realm of the spirit in general. These senses, even though to angels they are also empirical, yet not physically tangible to us, are not things that we could do a test tube analysis with in order to prove or disprove them. Beings in the spirit realm may well be able to prove or disprove spiritual realities. The cosmos of the realm of the spirit was there before anything physical was created. The physical came out of the spiritual. For that reason I hypothesize that the five physical senses are modelled on life and existence in the realm of the spirit.
The self-evident presupposition that Paul makes in Ephesians 1:18 is that there are spiritual truths and realities that the recipients of his letter, no matter how advanced they may be as Christians, do not understand. There are things that they cannot see, hear, taste, touch or feel in the kingdom of God, in the realm of the spirit, and they need to have their spiritual eyes opened in order to grasp them. The ability to hear with the physical ears and yet be utterly deaf with the spiritual senses is a phenomena I fully acknowledge in myself continually, and plainly see in many other Christians. I take great comfort in the fact that I see this involuntary closure of the eyes of the understanding in the original twelve apostles. Even when they were “under-graduate ministers” under the tutelage of the Master Himself, the eyes of their understanding were horrifically closed and oblivious to the most important revelation that Christ shared with them. It was only via Christ’s resurrection, His breathing on them, and then the mighty baptism in the Holy Spirit that they were catapulted forward with a visionary understanding that facilitated a whole new world of revelation becoming plainly visible to them.
I am not referring to their interpretation of the cryptic apocalyptic visions of certain parts of the Old Testament. Neither am I referring to their insight or lack of it in interpreting Christ’s parables. I am referring to the numerous times that Jesus explained that He was going to die and rise again on the third day. There were a few cryptic moments when a little thought was needed in order to grasp the Master’s prophetic predictions, but on the whole, Jesus told them plainly in simple language. In fact it was so simply stated that even a child would need assistance to know how to misunderstand it or fail to see it. The disciples heard of His passion and resurrection both in parabolic form when the scribes and Pharisees were about, and in plain language when they were alone with Jesus. Two or three of them heard it in strange situations where it was confirmed from outside sources. For instance Peter James and John heard Elijah and Moses discussing His departure from this life in the moment of Christ’s transfiguration.
We all need to increase our vision of God and the salvation He has given us. No matter what you have seen yesterday, you need to have your eyes open even wider today – and you will still need those same eyes open the next day if you are walking in new places. Even the places visited many times have different people and obstacles to engage with and we always need to see as Christ sees. Constant vision of the spiritual eyes works with the same dynamics as the physical.
To have walked through life over many years, and then to see something so clearly that would have changed one’s life for the better if one had seen it in one’s youth or many years before can be seriously traumatic. To realise one’s blindness to something that is later seen to be so simple and straightforward can be shocking.
When I suggest that the death of Christ and the effecting of the atonement for the sin of mankind is conceivably one of, if not the most important event that has ever taken place on planet earth, I am sure all readers would agree. The revelation of the naked Christ nailed to the cross was more revelatory of the full character of God Almighty than the earthquakes, the fire and the trumpets at Sinai, as well as the deafening voice that shook the ground when He spoke to Moses. The death and resurrection of Jesus Christ was even more important than His own world transforming teachings. Yes! Indeed! What He taught has left the world spellbound for two thousand years and has influenced people of all cultures and religions, yet, what He achieved when He shed His blood in His Passion changed the face of the divine dealings with humanity throughout all eternity. My biblical understanding of who Christ was and what He accomplished in Gethsemane, Pilate’s hall, Calvary and the open tomb leads me to declare that the passion of Christ was the peak of all history and future, and the highest mountain of influence that impact on every human being that has ever lived or ever will. When Jesus Christ cried, “It is finished,” – one word in the original; “Tetelestai”- it eclipsed not only the physical world but changed the layout of the spiritual landscape too. The entire universe was forever changed.
Faith in Christ’s atonement for sin saves people, whether they fully understand it or not. It is not the highbrow philosophical and academic teaching of the atonement (wonderful though that may be), but the physical fact in this time-space world that Jesus Christ died, was buried, and then rose again and ascended to heaven sending its tidal wave of cleansing and renewing right around the globe transforming those who believe in Messiah Jesus. Understanding the depth of atonement or not, when a person of any intellectual status or none asks Christ to save them, the fullest extent and impact of the atoning work of the Saviour begins to work to its fullest extent within their lives and without. The atonement, as well as being organic to the entire Christian lifestyle and outlook, is profoundly organic throughout the whole of the scripture. It is in the warp and woof of both Testaments whether it be in type, in allegory, parable, or straightforward declarations of New Testament teaching. It is in the DNA of all that God’s Word teaches. Atonement is everywhere in the book and not just highlighted in the best “proof texts” for preachers. The atoning work of Christ, as per His absolute deity, smothers the entire New Testament series of biblical presuppositions. The truth of Christ’s substitutionary sacrifice seeps inveterately from the law, the prophets and the psalms – and then is made plain, and flows freely in the gospels and the epistles. It is even sung about in heaven throughout all eternity in the book of revelation.
See it this way: We have anecdotal legends of how Peter and Paul died. Nobody has bothered to tell us a single word as to how Paul’s protégé Timothy died. We do have legends about the death of the apostle John and other biblical martyrs. We have treasured historical documents telling us how a thousand and one heroes in the world died. However, with Jesus Christ it is more than a little different. What He did in his death and resurrection, and how He died, as well as the reasons why He wilfully entered into His passion are even more important than what He taught by precept. And that is saying something huge! Jesus Christ was not a martyr. He wilfully gave His life to save people.
Why am I prefacing today’s thoughts with these various declarations? Simply because from Christ’s own lips came the defining statements with unmistakable clarity of what He had come to do, and how He was to achieve it. He explained it so simply, and yet, when it finally occurred, how is it that the disciples did not seem to have the slightest clue? And this, even though they had heard it and must have discussed the issue many times over previously.
We are pursueing this on the grounds that we are talking about receiving revelation from heaven and practically, how we get it – as well as, what to do with it when we receive it. I am about to explain to you how the greatest revelation ever given to man was uttered to twelve or so men, who heard it clearly enough to repeat it and write about it at a later date. However, in those early days as they walked with Christ, they heard this truth with profoundly deaf spiritual ears. I apologise if that sounds bizarre, but you will see as I explain how they heard the truth, and how they sometimes responded to what they heard in a way that proved that they truly heard it – yet it is also concurrently provable that they did not understand a single syllable of Christ’s plain language. It is a phenomena that continues to this day in the likes of you and I.
To start gently we have those two disciples who stood with John the Baptist when he pointed at the Master and declared, “Behold the lamb of God that takes away the sin of the whole world” (John 1:29). Any Jewish mind knew that when “lambs” were mentioned in connection with the removal of “sin,” nothing but sacrifice and death could have been meant. Nothing but physical torture and death are in the offing for a lamb that is taking away sin. Yet John was pointing at a human being. A sudden statement “out of the blue” like that may have stunned the two disciples of John, who immediately left the Baptist to follow the man at whom John was pointing. We may forgive them at this point for not letting those significant words penetrate their hearts and minds. Perhaps the sacrificial aspect of John’s declaration was superceded by the thought that the man the Baptist prophet pointed at was “Messiah” Himself. For that reason we will not be too hard on the first couple of disciples for not making a mental note of “The lamb … that takes away the sin,” as uttered by Elizabeth’s only son. It was, after all, the first time that any such remark had been spoken so directly. However, there was more to follow.
A little later, in John 2:19-21, we hear Jesus uttering those gloriously cryptic words, “Destroy this temple and in three days I will raise it up again.” Once more, we gladly forgive the disciples for not grasping the nettle of Christ’s words in the grip of their thought processes. The twelve later remembered it and understood it after the resurrection and their receiving of the baptism in the Holy Spirit. For that reason, I think they heard Jesus’ words clearly and just wrestled with what they heard for three years or so as to what He meant in His angry cry. For the disciples in those arly days of being tutored, it was like struggling with the hardest of cryptic clues that accompany the Times crossword. Destruction of self by the hands of the Jews was inherent within Christ’s words. However, whilst people were trying to perceive of the vast temple being destroyed and raised again in three days, nobody’s mind could see what the Master truly meant. Something dead and buried is what He states, referring to Himself, but all that heard Him were staring at the mammoth stone structure and trying to image its fall. “Razed to the ground” as it were, is intrinsic to the interpretation that the understanding of the audience was striving to take hold of in their translation of His declaration. Resurrection was startlingly explicit in His thrust. “Get rid of me if you will, but I shall rise again.” To you and me, reading the story in the twenty first century, it is a no brainer. We need help not to see the true meaning of His words. However, His words were not understood by those who were present with Him, no, not even his trainee students – the disciples. They remembered Christ’s words for over 36 months without knowing what He meant.
Later, we have to assume that the disciple John, must have been nearby, or perhaps he had discussions with Nicodemus that we are not told of, as it is clearly recorded what Jesus said while He was alone with the Pharisee from the Sanhedrin. ”As the serpent was lifted in the wilderness, so shall the son of man be lifted up.” (John 3:14) It may have been getting clearer and clearer with every reference that Christ made to His passion, but this one was even more cryptic that the one in John 2. The serpent He was referring to was the brass serpent attached to a pole that Moses quite literally hoisted up on a pole. I have noticed through the years, that most artists who draw the scene of the brazen serpent for books and art galleries present the serpent as hanging on a cross and not just an upright pole. People who were dying of snakebites at that point of time in the wilderness were instructed only to see the brass snake and they were immediately healed of their poisonous bites (Numbers 21:9). Just a look at a brass serpent held up on a pole seems so fantastically unreligious, especially to Jews of the days of Moses. The statement of this account referred to by Christ gives us an almost bottomless depth of understanding for us in the days of a 66 volume bible. It is a Christ authorised phenomenal piece of typology. Sin came via the serpent in Genesis 3. Christ became sin for us says Paul (2 Corinthians 5:21). Christ only became sin for us when He was nailed to a cross for all to see. The look of faith to the crucified Christ saves sinners and justifies them as righteous before God. There it is! A perfect picture of atonement accomplished! Atonement from the mouth of Christ, implicit in His teaching as early as John’s third chapter. There really is no other way to understand the Lord’s language. (Although, I am aware that there are some academics who propound Christ’s lifting up in order to draw all men to Him is referring to His resurrection and ascension. This writer considers that perspective to be a violent travesty of this biblical historical analogy. The typology of the serpent points to the crucified Christ as opposed to the resurrected Christ).
We have then, in the first three chapters of John’s gospel, one statement by John the Baptist, and two made by Jesus Himself, that clearly point to Christ knowing why He had come to tabernacle amongst men, and how He would affect the saving of many through His death and resurrection. When we try to read these accounts in “real time,” as it were, it developes into an astonishing display of spiritual deafness and blindness on the part of the disciples. Oh! How we need the Holy Spirit to show us this stuff. Our issue, and the important observation to make, is that the disciples who were present heard the words but were completely lost as to the meaning of Christ’s prophetic explanation. The “eyes of their understanding” were tightly closed. Having ears, the heard not. Jesus talks of His death and resurrection, yet have not the slightest clue as to what He is talking about.
In John 6:51-56 there is an amazing public address that Jesus gave in the synagogue where He says quite clearly, “I am the Bread of life.” In His address He states “The bread I shall give for the life of the world is my flesh.” Paradoxically, this being the clearest of his comments so far is also the one that was so much more hidden from their eyes that many disciples and followers left Him because of it. The sermon about drinking His blood and eating His flesh so shocked them that they just refused to get to grips with any other interpretation but the horror of cannibalism. How blind they were!
It seems that thus far in the life of Christ, His use of analogy, parable or prophetic crypticisms is the real reason that His statements concerning His passion, abuse, death, burial and resurrection were not so much misunderstood as plainly not listened to. Nobody seemed to have the slightest clue as to the weight of what Jesus was predicting. To put it plainly, the eyes of their understanding were closed tight. They seemed to have a spirit of foolishness and blindness as opposed to the Spirit of wisdom and revelation that Paul was praying the recipients of his epistle to Ephesus would receive.
But then, as I try to check the chronology of my several copies of various scholar’s “harmony of the Gospels,” it gets ever more astonishing as Jesus talks ever more clearly as the days passed by.
In Matthew 16:16-21 revelation flows so rich and free, so thick and full that the thoughtful Bible reader cannot be but somewhat shocked at what the disciples heard with their ears, thought with their minds, but were blind to in their spirits. To cut it short, Jesus had pushed the disciples to meditate on the question of who He was. Peter cries out,” You are the Christ, the Son of the Living God.” The Master confirms that Peter’s words were an absolute bona fide revelation directly received from heaven. Revelation does not come any deeper than this one. He even tells Peter that the future church itself would be built on that rock i.e. the power structure of Holy Spirit revelation. Yes! It was the rock of the revelation of the deity of Christ! However, it was also the rock of revelation itself; revelation from God that nourishes the faith and understanding of the believer’s spirit. We all need revelation concerning the character and nature of Christ. We all need revelation. Full stop! His church is built on revelation.
Some revelation somehow begets more revelation, and this was one of those occasions. On the basis of Peter’s momentous opening of the eyes of his understanding, the scripture tells us more. From the rock of this revelation of the essential deity of Christ, Jesus announces that the “keys” of the kingdom would be given into the hands of man. That is, keys of revelation and understanding. Immediately after having been traumatised with such a promise, Peter is told by the man who is God, that with the heavy metal armoured jacket of relationship with Christ, that there will be given him revelatory keys that will open the doors and prisons allowing people into the kingdom of God. He was also told, in the context of the whole twelve, that authority in the realm of the spirit would be given so that whatever they, together, bound on the earth would already have been bound in heaven, and whatsoever was released in the earth would already have been released in heaven. The jaws of the twelve must have dropped, and the quizzical scratching of the head with twisted faces must have made the scene quite humourous. This momentous moment that the twelve would each remember for the rest of their lives was not the end of this revelatory feast.
Incredibly, having just told the twelve, truths they would have wanted to shout aloud to everybody they met, Jesus then “strictly charged the disciples to tell no one that he was the Christ” (Matthew 16:20). The day would come when they would be sent into the world to tell the nations and the entire planet; but for now they were to remain quiet about the factual truth of Christ’s character and nature.
Now we get to the main thrust of our subject in these pages. By that I mean that we are discussing “the eyes of our understanding being opened,” and how desperately illogical it seems when the eyes of the understanding just do not see. “From that time on Jesus began to show his disciples that he must go to Jerusalem and suffer many things from the elders and chief priests and scribes, and be killed, and on the third day be raised.” No parable! No cryptic play on words! No prophetic analogy or mystic saying! At last the word comes straight, true and to the point. “Jerusalem … suffer many things … be killed … on the third day be raised.” Language could not have been plainer. One would have thought that the trauma of such news would have made its mark on the memory of the twelve forever. Would it be at all possible that this information could be forgotten? Could it even have been put on their mental backburner?
What makes their blindness even more chronic is that the text does not say that Jesus explained it all once, and then left it. It says in Matthew 16:21 that from that time Jesus began to show them how he must…” Why is this important? For several reasons.
- “He began” tells us that His explanation was repeated and explained His death multiple times. From that moment, now that they believed He was the Christ, they were ready for the “full monty” of the gospel message. Christ came to die for the world in a most excruciating manner. He knew it and He told them.
- “He began to show them.” He began to demonstrate and illustrate to them the rationale behind His death. What can this mean apart from the sharing of the scriptures. I cannot even begin to believe that He showed them by drama or story. He would have done, over a prolonged period of time, exactly what He did on the Emmaus road in Luke 24. He began to show them from the scriptures everything that was going to happen to Him, just as in Luke 24 He interpreted for them what had already happened to Him.
- One cannot but conclude that over a none-specific period of time, possibly a day or two, or equally possible until the night before He died, Jesus repeated and repeated, over and over again, exactly what was going to happen to Himself.
The point of this entire thought is that they seemed clueless immediately after the death of Christ as to what to expect. Why was that?
I am aware that no academic has ever put together an authoritative and incontrovertible chronology of the gospel accounts. I have several on my shelf. Each of them differ. The one I am using, arrived at by a Catholic Priest (Monsigneur Enrico Galbiati of MIMEP), helps me to perceive how bizarre is the ignorance and fear of the disciples as they hid between Calvary and the morning of the open tomb.
Piecing all the scriptures together where some or all of the disciples were present to hear the prophetic explanation of the path Christ was to walk down just read through the following:
“And behold, two men talked with Him, who were Moses and Elijah, who appeared in glory and spoke of His decease which He was about to accomplish at Jerusalem. But Peter and those with him were heavy with sleep; and when they were fully awake, they saw His glory and the two men who stood with Him.” (italics and underlining mine)
“As they were coming down from the mountain, He gave them orders not to relate to anyone what they had seen, until the Son of Man rose from the dead. They seized upon that statement, discussing with one another what rising from the dead meant.…”
“While they were going about in Galilee, Jesus said to them, “The Son of man is going to be turned over to the hands of men, and they will kill Him – and He will be raised again on the third day. And they were deeply grieved and distressed.”
JOHN 10:11, 15, 17, 18
“The Good Shepherd lays down His life for the sheep.” John 10:11
“Even as the Father knows me and I know the Father and I am giving my life and laying it down on behalf of the sheep.” John 10:15
“The Father loves me …because I lay my life down for the sheep.” John 10:17
“No one takes it from me, on the contrary I lay it down voluntarily. I have authority to lay it down and have authority to take it back again.” John 10:18
On His route to Jerusalem He takes them aside again.
“As Jesus was about to go up to Jerusalem, He took the twelve disciples aside by themselves, and on the way He said to them, “Behold, we are going up to Jerusalem; and the Son of Man will be delivered to the chief priests and scribes, and they will condemn Him to death, and will hand Him over to the Gentiles to mock and scourge and crucify Him, and on the third day He will be raised up.”
“Then He took the twelve aside and said to them, “Behold, we are going up to Jerusalem, and all things which are written through the prophets about the Son of Man will be accomplished. “For He will be handed over to the Gentiles, and will be mocked and mistreated and spit upon, and after they have scourged Him, they will kill Him; and the third day He will rise again.” But the disciples understood none of these things, and the meaning of this statement was hidden from them, and they did not comprehend the things that were said.
Here at last we have a profound, yet mysterious explanation as to their incomprehension at the death and burial of their Lord and Mentor. The various versions have it as:
“The disciples did not understand any of this. Its meaning was hidden from them, and they did not know what he was talking about.” (NIV)
“But they didn’t understand any of this. The significance of his words was hidden from them, and they failed to grasp what he was talking about.” (NLT)
“But the disciples understood none of these things, and the meaning of this statement was hidden from them, and they did not comprehend the things that were said.” (NASB)
Should we conclude that the disciples’ prejudices were so strong, that they could not – or would not understand the things that Jesus said as literal? Were they were so intent upon the prophecies which spoke of Christ’s glory, that they overlooked those which spoke of his sufferings? We all have presuppositions and biases that prevent clarity of understanding and perception – and not only to do with things spiritual and biblical.
Or was it that they listened all dazed and confused and could not absorb what the Master had said?
I believe it was Pascal who said, “We must learn to love Divine truths before we can understand them.” Another writer states: “Toward everything which is contrary to normal human desire, there is produced in the heart a Blindness, which nothing but a miracle can heal.” Was this the issue that caused the eyes of the understanding of the disciples to be closed?
The Syrian and Persian translations say that, “Not one of them” understood what was said. It is a phenomenon. Catastrophically it is a phenomenon that, if one was subject to ithe syndrome, one would not be at all conscious of the frailty that submitted to the principle. If every aspect of his passion was unintelligible to them, it suggests that they did not understand Him in any one point of His many repeated explanations.
It tests our own understanding and powers of perception. We are told that they neither knew the things which were spoken, nor the very meaning of them.
It seems that Luke was unable to say strongly enough how entirely hidden from them at that time was the sense of these straightforward and plain statements.
I used to have a problem with the thought that God could by the power that is His, cause truth to be hidden from anybody at all. But there are clearly spiritual things that are hidden from millions of people no matter how diligently. In this I do not only mean that truth is hidden from those who wilfully choose not to have faith in Christ, but even in zealous and prayerful Christians. Revelation is a spiritual issue, not a mental or academic one. I think it more likely that satanic power hid the meaning of Christ’s words from them. However we see the phrase that the “meaning was hidden from them, and they did not know what He was talking about,” we need to forcefully appreciate that spiritual blindness is a phenomenon in the realm of the spirit, and nothing to do with any academic learning difficulty.
My conclusion is that they heard the statements with their physical ears, and retained Christ’s statements in their memory, yet ignored and unconsciously rejected what they heard as unnecessary and superfluous because of the life, the power, and the vibrant aggressive grace that overshadowed the life and ministry of the Lord Jesus. How could a man that changes the weather by His order, raises the dead by His call, and expels leprosy by his touch ever have to face death? It must surely be some parable, or cryptic heavenly symbol that we do not have to know! How could He who has power over death be subject to the very same medium of death? His words referring to Him dying and rising again must be something secret and mystical known only to Him. For that reason, we disciples will carry on and follow Him as if we had not heard anything. Those statements do not seem to have any meaning to what we are seeing and experiencing with Him while we live in His presence and follow Him. See how He rises in popularity and significance! What has death and burial to do with all this life and attraction of the people?
And so, the words of the most important revelation given to man was buried, ignored and consciously forgotten as it sunk deep into their subconscious. The words drifted away into forgotten insignificance until He rose from the dead and thereafter sent the Holy Spirit in Person to nudge and whisper and provoke all the words of Christ into their full grandeur and prophetic significance.
Luke 18:31-34 was not the final count of His explanation to the twelve. We also have:
“”You know that after two days the Passover is coming, and the Son of Man is to be handed over for crucifixion.” Is it possible that Jesus could have spoken any plainer. I think not!
“She has done what she could; she has anointed my body beforehand for the burial.” This verse from Mark gives us insight to the strong probability that the crucifixion occupied Christ’s mind continually. The thought of it incessantly overshadowed Him. He lived constantly under the darkness of His oncoming Passion.
What is strange that the cynical unbelievers knew and remembered exactly what He said about resurrection. Matthew 27:62-66 shows us this:
“The next day, that is, after the day of Preparation, the chief priests and the Pharisees gathered before Pilate and said, “Sir, we remember how that impostor said, while he was still alive, ‘After three days I will rise.’ Therefore order the tomb to be made secure until the third day, lest his disciples go and steal him away and tell the people, ‘He has risen from the dead,’ and the last fraud will be worse than the first.” Pilate said to them, “You have a guard of soldiers, go, make it as secure as you can.” So they went and made the tomb secure by sealing the stone and setting a guard.”
Unbelievers were hard at work attempting to prevent Christ’s statements from coming to pass, while His devoted followers, at that moment of time seemed to have utterly blank recall concerning His predictive prophecy.
We need to earnestly pray the spirit of Paul’s prayer that God would grant us all a spirit of wisdom and revelation in the knowledge of Christ, the eyes of our understanding being opened. God save us from spiritual eye blindness.