Abraham said to him, ‘They have Moses and the prophets; let them hear them.’ And he said, ‘No, father Abraham; but if one goes to them from the dead, they will repent.’ But he said to him, ‘If they do not hear Moses and the prophets, neither will they be persuaded though one rise from the dead.’ ”
Here’s an interesting conundrum. If “Moses and the prophets” were enough, so that we didn’t need the witness of another one who rose from the dead, then why do we get the following verses in the New Testament:
“For to this day, when they read the old covenant, that same veil remains unlifted, because only through Christ is it taken away. Yes, to this day whenever Moses is read a veil lies over their hearts. But when one turns to the Lord, the veil is removed.”
“Then he said to them, ‘These are my words that I spoke to you while I was still with you, that everything written about me in the Law of Moses and the Prophets and the Psalms must be fulfilled.’ Then he opened their minds to understand the Scriptures.”
“And behold, two men were talking with him, Moses and Elijah….And a voice came out of the cloud, saying, ‘This is my Son, my Chosen One; listen to him!’ “
“For the law was given through Moses; grace and truth came through Jesus Christ.”
“You have heard that it was said to those of old,…But I say to you…”
There are more such verses, but these suffice to demonstrate the conundrum. If Moses and the prophets are enough for the rich man, so that they don’t need the witness of a resurrected one, why do all those verses teach that only in Christ is the veil taken away, that Jesus teaches a “new wineskins” teaching relative to Moses, that He is the one we should listen to? Clearly, these verses teach Moses and the prophets are not enough.
It doesn’t help simply to say, “Well, the rich man lived in the Old Testament. Moses and the prophets were all he had, and at that time, in God’s wisdom, they were sufficient for what was needed.” No, Abraham’s words to the rich man almost have the force of a doctrinal statement: “Moses and the prophets are enough; the witness of a risen man will not help things.”
Yet, the witness of a risen man is exactly what Jesus gives, and every indication is this was necessary for a proper understanding of truth.
Perhaps what Abraham was getting at, was that Moses and the prophets were sufficient for repentance, which is certainly true. By this interpretation, Jesus – the risen witness – would add nothing to the teaching of the Law that everyone didn’t already know. He would certainly add the Gospel, without which there can be no true understanding of the Word of God. But at that time, in the holding grounds that is Sheol, where Abraham’s bosom and Gehenna (and Hyperidon?) hold people until Jesus comes, Moses and the prophets were everything needed to get them properly prepared for the risen witness.
Or perhaps we’re looking at this all wrong, on two fronts. Perhaps Jesus is simply making a point about the nature of sin. When someone is in a state of rebellion, they get to a point of deliberate, intentional, willful embracing of their rejection. Nothing does a greater job than the Law and prophets teaching what right looks like. If they reject that, they have no hope. I recently heard the case of a person who declared that, even if they saw a confirmed miracle, they’d still not believe in a God.
On the second front, perhaps Jesus is making a point about the nature of sin, but not at this individual level, but at the level of the Jewish people. Perhaps that’s His point. If these people won’t hear their own testament regarding what right looks like, it certainly won’t matter if a risen witness comes in their midst. As we contemplated a few days ago, this could be referring to Jesus, or it could be referring to the other Lazarus, who indeed was a risen witness.
Perhaps the bottom line is, we are not in the rich man or Lazarus’ shoes. We are in the New Testament age. We are not left with only Moses and the prophets. Sure, they can lead us to repentance, but only the risen witness can get us over the finish line. Moses and the prophets can keep us from the torments in Hades and get us to Abraham’s bosom. But only the risen witness can get us from Abraham’s bosom into the life of the world to come.