The Gospel of Luke begins with a statement that the writer has written the Gospel with the intention “that you may know the certainty of the things you have been taught” (Luke 1:4). Throughout the Gospel there are many people who encounter Jesus and are taught by him, but they do not know or understand who Jesus is and what he came to do. These things are hidden from them. It is not until the end of the Gospel, when Jesus has risen from the dead that the disciples come to know the truth. Yet the reader is intended to understand as that is the purpose of the book. Here I will explore what is hidden and how it comes to be revealed.
Early in the Gospel Luke tells the story of Jesus being taken to the Temple so the sacrifice of dedication can be made for him as the firstborn son. “Now there was a man in Jerusalem called Simeon, who was righteous and devout. He was waiting for the consolation of Israel, and the Holy Spirit was upon him. It had been revealed to him by the Holy Spirit that he would not die before he had seen the Lord’s Christ” (Luke 2:25). Simeon was one of the first people to recognise who Jesus is, even though Jesus is at this time only an infant. This is made possible by the fact that “the Holy Spirit was upon” Simeon. From the start the reader is told that the Holy Spirit makes Jesus known.
Unexpected people are made aware of who Jesus is. “When a woman who had lived a sinful life in that town learned that Jesus was eating at the Pharisee’s house, she brought an alabaster jar of perfume, and as she stood behind him at his feet weeping, she began to wet his feet with her tears. Then she wiped them with her hair, kissed them and poured perfume on them. When the Pharisee who had invited him saw this, he said to himself, ‘If this man were a prophet, he would know who is touching him and what kind of woman she is– that she is a sinner’” (Luke 7:37-39). The Pharisees is surprised that Jesus does not know who the woman is, but this is not really the surprise of the story. The surprise is that this woman, whose life was immoral, knew who Jesus is. The people who should have understood who Jesus is, because they had spent their time in studying the scriptures, did not recognise him. The Father reveals Jesus to the desperate sinner and not to the one who believed himself righteous.
Jesus spoke in parables so that the message about the kingdom would be hidden from all but the disciples. “He said, “The knowledge of the secrets of the kingdom of God has been given to you, but to others I speak in parables, so that, “‘though seeing, they may not see; though hearing, they may not understand’” (Luke 8:10). The disciples had to ask Jesus what the parable meant because they did not understand it. Those who did not ask Jesus must have simply thought that Jesus was a man who liked to tell stories, but would not have understood that he spoke of the kingdom of God or what the story meant. There are some things which are kept hidden from those who are not disciples of Jesus.
But even the twelve who spent all their time with Jesus did not understand what Jesus had come to do. After the transfiguration, which only Peter, James and John witnessed, Jesus cast a demon out of a boy with epilepsy. “And they were all amazed at the greatness of God. While everyone was marvelling at all that Jesus did, he said to his disciples, “Listen carefully to what I am about to tell you: The Son of Man is going to be betrayed into the hands of men.” But they did not understand what this meant. It was hidden from them, so that they did not grasp it, and they were afraid to ask him about it” (Luke 9:43-45).
Up to this point it had been exciting being with Jesus and seeing him heal the sick and do miracles. Peter has confessed that Jesus is the Christ (9:20). But the idea that the Christ would suffer and die is not something which they can yet grasp. Jesus has begun to speak about his death. “And he said, “The Son of Man must suffer many things and be rejected by the elders, chief priests and teachers of the law, and he must be killed and on the third day be raised to life”” (Luke 9:22). But even with the second mention in verse 44 (above) the idea of Jesus not being powerful and in control of things is incomprehensible to the disciples. It was hidden from them. It seems that the reality of who Jesus is and what he came to do cannot be grasped all at once by the people, even by those closest to Jesus. Simeon had recognised that the infant Jesus was the promised Messiah. The sinful woman understood that Jesus offered forgiveness of sins. The parables offered some clues about the kingdom of God. The healings of Jesus demonstrated his power. But the idea that the Messiah must suffer and die was the most difficult of all to grasp.
When the seventy two disciples are sent out by Jesus to minister on their own through the towns of Israel, they experience some exciting things. When they report back to Jesus they are so happy that the demons submit to them in Jesus’ name (10:18). Yet the disciples have not yet gotten hold of what is most important, that is, their names are written in heaven (10:20). “At that time Jesus, full of joy through the Holy Spirit, said, “I praise you, Father, Lord of heaven and earth, because you have hidden these things from the wise and learned, and revealed them to little children. Yes, Father, for this was your good pleasure. 22 “All things have been committed to me by my Father. No one knows who the Son is except the Father, and no one knows who the Father is except the Son and those to whom the Son chooses to reveal him.” 23 Then he turned to his disciples and said privately, “Blessed are the eyes that see what you see. 24 For I tell you that many prophets and kings wanted to see what you see but did not see it, and to hear what you hear but did not hear it.”” (Luke 10:21-24).
Again there is something hidden. The Messiah had come to Israel and this is something which was anticipated and longed for by many people – prophets and kings. Yet the seventy two seem to have still not grasped the importance of what was happening in the person of Jesus. While the casting out of demons was something powerful and wonderful, it was not the central matter at all. What had been hidden was the Father, because only the Son knows the Father. Yet In Jesus Christ the Father is made known. In seeing the person of Christ the disciples were able to see what others had longed to see, that is, they could see the Father. In Christ a knowledge of God is revealed which was not able to be revealed to the OT saints. Yet this is only revealed to little children, presumably because the wise and learned are too concerned with their own cleverness to see that the man Jesus Christ is more than he appears.
As it came closer to the time for Jesus to die and be raised, “Jesus took the Twelve aside and told them, “We are going up to Jerusalem, and everything that is written by the prophets about the Son of Man will be fulfilled. He will be handed over to the Gentiles. They will mock him, insult him, spit on him, flog him and kill him. On the third day he will rise again.” The disciples did not understand any of this. Its meaning was hidden from them, and they did not know what he was talking about” (Luke 18:31-34). The words are plain enough but the disciples could not understand that this person who they had travelled with and heard teaching about the kingdom of God could die. They had no doubt heard the scripture read from infancy and yet its meaning had not been opened to them. Even though these are the plain words of Jesus, the disciples could not understand them. The time for understanding the death and resurrection of Jesus had not yet come for them. But the reader of Luke is intended to take note of what is going on here.
As Jesus entered Jerusalem he was welcomed as the coming king, riding on a donkey, and bringing peace. But, “As he approached Jerusalem and saw the city, he wept over it and said, “If you, even you, had only known on this day what would bring you peace– but now it is hidden from your eyes. The days will come upon you when your enemies will build an embankment against you and encircle you and hem you in on every side. They will dash you to the ground, you and the children within your walls. They will not leave one stone on another, because you did not recognize the time of God’s coming to you.”” (Luke 19:41-44). Jesus knew that the people did not understand who he is and what he had come to do. Therefore he wept over Jerusalem and its people, the same people who would call for his crucifixion a week later. Their refusal to see that the presence of Jesus was the presence of God in their midst would result in a great judgement on Jerusalem. Having failed to recognise Jesus the way to peace was hidden from them.
The actual mission of Jesus, to go to Jerusalem and to die, is something which the disciples still do not understand. It is hidden from them. It is not until after the resurrection that these things are revealed to them, and even then this revealing does not happen straight away. After the women had found the empty tomb, they told the others about it, but “it seemed to them like nonsense” (24:11). They still did not understand about Jesus. The first people to have the fullness of these matters revealed to them were those on the road to Emmaus.
Luke 24:13 Now that same day two of them were going to a village called Emmaus, about seven miles from Jerusalem. 14 They were talking with each other about everything that had happened. 15 As they talked and discussed these things with each other, Jesus himself came up and walked along with them; 16 but they were kept from recognizing him. 17 He asked them, “What are you discussing together as you walk along?” They stood still, their faces downcast. 18 One of them, named Cleopas, asked him, “Are you only a visitor to Jerusalem and do not know the things that have happened there in these days?” 19 “What things?” he asked. “About Jesus of Nazareth,” they replied. “He was a prophet, powerful in word and deed before God and all the people. 20 The chief priests and our rulers handed him over to be sentenced to death, and they crucified him; 21 but we had hoped that he was the one who was going to redeem Israel. And what is more, it is the third day since all this took place. 22 In addition, some of our women amazed us. They went to the tomb early this morning 23 but didn’t find his body. They came and told us that they had seen a vision of angels, who said he was alive. 24 Then some of our companions went to the tomb and found it just as the women had said, but him they did not see.” 25 He said to them, “How foolish you are, and how slow of heart to believe all that the prophets have spoken! 26 Did not the Christ have to suffer these things and then enter his glory?” 27 And beginning with Moses and all the Prophets, he explained to them what was said in all the Scriptures concerning himself. 28 As they approached the village to which they were going, Jesus acted as if he were going farther. 29 But they urged him strongly, “Stay with us, for it is nearly evening; the day is almost over.” So he went in to stay with them. 30 When he was at the table with them, he took bread, gave thanks, broke it and began to give it to them. 31 Then their eyes were opened and they recognized him, and he disappeared from their sight. 32 They asked each other, “Were not our hearts burning within us while he talked with us on the road and opened the Scriptures to us?” 33 They got up and returned at once to Jerusalem. There they found the Eleven and those with them, assembled together 34 and saying, “It is true! The Lord has risen and has appeared to Simon.” 35 Then the two told what had happened on the way, and how Jesus was recognized by them when he broke the bread.
Two of the disciples, who had heard the report from the women about the empty tomb, were walking to Emmaus. At this point, even though they had seen and heard Jesus, and been told about his resurrection by the women, they did not understand. The truth about Jesus was still hidden from them. Even when Jesus stood with them they were kept from recognising him. These two did not understand what the scripture said about the Messiah, despite the fact that the scripture had no doubt been read every Sabbath in their hearing. These things had to be opened up to them. It was Jesus who opened the Scripture to them. Even while Jesus was speaking to them about the scripture they still were unable to recognise him. It was not until their eyes were opened to see him when he broke bread that recognition came to them.
What is the point of all this?
Many times in Luke things are hidden from the disciples. Even Jesus himself is hidden from them, although he is with them. It takes some action of God, and in Luke this action is a Trinitarian one, for the people to understand who Jesus is and what he came to do. The Trinitarian action is evident as it is at various places different persons of the trinity who reveal Jesus to people. In 2:25 Jesus was revealed to Simeon by the Holy Spirit. In 10:21-24 it is the Father who conceals and reveals who Jesus is. In the Emmaus story it is Jesus who opens the scripture to the disciples. All three persons of the trinity are involved in hiding and revealing the person and the work of Jesus.
Lately I have been concerned about a tendency to rationalism in some sections of the church. If reason and the Bible were all that were necessary to know about Jesus and to live the Christian life then there would be no need for a divine revealing of these things. If the truth about Jesus could be hidden from those who were with Jesus, who lived and worked with him for three years, then the truth about Jesus can be hidden from those who read the scriptures. It will be hidden even more so from those who do not read the scriptures often. Reason and the Bible are not enough for us to understand who Jesus is and what he has done. There needs to be a divine revealing for people to know Jesus.
As many things seem to be hidden from the Australian church, we must pray that God – Father, Son and Holy Spirit – opens our eyes to the scriptures, that we might see Jesus for who he is, and that we might understand what he came to do. As the disciples on the road to Emmaus demonstrate, it is not enough to be on this side of the resurrection. It is not enough to have read the Bible often. It is not enough to have the capacity for reason. It is still possible that despite having all these things, the knowledge of Jesus may be hidden from us. Let us seek God for open eyes so that these things are revealed to us.