We’ve been looking at the topic of Biblical interpretation for several articles now and I would encourage anyone to read the earlier ones before this one. With so much being said on the subject of how to interpret Scripture it seems to me that we need to go back to the gold standard on the topic and that is how Jesus interpreted Scripture.
In Matthew 17 we have the record of Jesus going up on the Mountain of Transfiguration and being transformed in the sight of the three apostles, Peter, James and John that he brought with him. They were astounded by what they saw. His whole appearance changed and he was so white that they were amazed. Then the most astounding thing happened when Moses and Elijah appeared with Jesus to talk with him about his coming death. Moses had been dead now for a long long time and Elijah had be transferred from earth to heaven in a firey chariot led by firey horses. Yet they came back from the other side to visit with Jesus to prepare him for what was ahead. They had been there and knew the things that would occur even though neither of them had experienced the kind of death Jesus did.
When Peter saw this sight along with James and John he was so overwhelmed with fear that he didn’t know what to say so he said something anyway, which is always a dangerous thing to do. He asked Jesus if he wanted him to build three tents, one for him, one more Moses and one for Elijah. At least two things were wrong with his question. He probably indicated a desire to stay upon the mountain where such marvelous things were occurring and that wasn’t in the Lord’s plan. Mountain top experiences will never be the norm for God’s people. They happen occasionally to build us up and prepare us for heaven that awaits. The second thing wrong was that he was putting Moses and Elijah on an equal plain with Jesus. They were great men, but nothing to compare with Jesus as the Son of God. God the Father didn’t wait this time for Jesus to answer him. Instead a dark cloud came over them and the voice of God spoke saying, “This is my Son, whom I love; with him I am well pleased. Listen to him!” The three disciples fell face down to the ground in fear. Jesus told them to get up and not be afraid. As they went down the mountain Jesus told them not to tell what had happened until after the resurreciton.
As they were walking down the mountain they asked the question that brought up the segment we wish to study today. They said, “Why then do the teachers of the law say that Elijah must come first?” Jesus replied, “To be sure, Elijah comes and will restore all things. But I tell you, Elijah has already come, and they did not recognize him, but have done to him everything they wished. In the same way the Son of Man is going to suffer at their hands. Then the disciples understood that he was taking to them about John the Baptist.”
Go back with me to Malachi 4:5-6 to see the prophesy to which the disciples and Jesus were referring. “See, I will send the Prophet Elijah to you before that great and dreadful day of the Lord comes. He will turn the hearts of the parents to their children, the hearts of the children to their parents; or else I will come and strike the land with total destruction.” Imagine now reading Malachi’s prophesy as a Jew living some four hundred years after Malachi first gave the prophesy. Would you have thought it would be someone like Elijah or would you have thought it was Elijah himself that was coming? I suspect that most of us would have thought it was Elijah himself that was to come and restore all things and turn the hearts of children to their fathers and the fathers to their children. In Luke 1:16-17 the angel of the Lord in speaking to Zechariah the father of John the Baptist first gave the correct interpretation of Malachi’s prophesy when he said, “He will bring back many of the people of Israel to the Lord their God. And he will go on before the Lord, in the spirit and power of Elijah, to turn the hearts of the parents to their children and the disobedient to the wisdom of the righteous – to make ready a people prepared for the Lord.”
When you look at Gabriel’s explanation and at Jesus explanation some things become obvious. In correctly interpreting Scripture somethings can’t be taken literally and ever reach a right conclusion. God never intended to send back Elijah himself to prepare the way of the Lord. He did intend to send back one that in many ways looked and acted like Elijah. His mission was to prepare the way for Jesus and his work on earth.
Notice the things God wanted him to do to make the way smooth for Jesus. He was to turn the hearts of the parents back to their children and the heart of children back to their parents and the disobedient to the wisdom of the just.
This should give us some insight into our work in preparing people to receive Jesus as Lord and Savior today. When parents don’t care about the future and destiny of their children we fight a losing battle in trying to turn them to the Lord. When the children don’t care about what their parents say or teach or even how they live it is extremely difficult to turn them to the Lord also. When people have no interest in living obediently to the Lord but want the Lord to adjust to their thinking to be disciples we will never win them to Jesus. It is only when a person is willing to say, “Not my will but yours be done” to the Lord that they are ready for salvation. The whole “just believe” or “just put your trust in Jesus” or “just let Jesus into your heart” mentality is turning far more people away from the Lord and salvation than we can imagine. So many while still living a godless life think that all is well with their soul.
Another thing that is obvious from Jesus interpretation is that we never really know for sure what an Old Testament Scripture was telling us, at least in it’s fullness until we see the divine interpretation of it. Nearly every Old Testament prophesy was misunderstood by the Jews until Jesus gave the divine meaning of the passage. Many times in the Bible we have a divine interpretation in that Jesus or the New Testament writers will say what it meant. But we need to be extremely careful in trying to give an authoritative interpretation of prophesies that have not been fulfilled or that God by inspiration hasn’t given a divine interpretation for. When Jesus gave his explanation the disciples immediately understood what was meant.
Do remember that there were many times when people referred to some Old Testament prophesy even to discredit Jesus and he didn’t see fit to give them a clearer explanation. Remember when the people were saying about Jesus that he couldn’t be the messiah since he wasn’t born in Bethlehem but was from Nazareth. He could have easily stepped in and explained, “Yes I was born in Bethlehem, but my physical parents were just there at the time obey the kings edict to register for the census in the town of your heritage. We then went back to Nazareth where they were from. But he didn’t choose to do that at all. Perhaps he realized that a clearer explanation would have made no difference to them in changing their beliefs about him, since he knew what was in the hearts of men before they ever said a thing. But if Jesus didn’t see fit to try to correct every error that people have in their life it certainly doesn’t become our mission to explain everything to them. Our job is to bring people to Jesus. Then to help them grow closer to him all the time and be obedient to his divine will.
Next we will look at Matthew 19 and Jesus teachings on the subject of divorce and remarriage as he interprets Old Testament Scripture.