The Spirit of the Lord is upon Me, because He has anointed me to preach the gospel to the poor; he has sent me to heal the brokenhearted, to proclaim liberty to the captives and recovery of sight to the blind, to set at liberty those who are oppressed; to proclaim the acceptable year of the Lord.
And he says to the people:
Today, this Scripture is fulfilled in your hearing.
The phrase, “the Scripture is fulfilled,” is such a commonplace in Christian hearing that we fail to consider its meaning. Our tendency is to think of such references to Old Testament statements as references to prophecies, understood as predictions. Thus, we hear Christ saying, “What Isaiah predicted has now happened.” But this is a serious mistake. Prophecy is rarely a prediction, and even when it may be taken as such, it usually isn’t. Prophecy is something that can be fulfilled – mere events cannot fulfill.
There is a great deal of difference between something happening, and something happening because it was waiting to happen. There are many images that come to mind. The famous “Sword of Damocles” is one. Here, a sword is dangling by a single hair. That the hair will break and the sword fall is more than a possibility: it is an inevitability. The falling of the sword “fulfills” the sword’s hanging. Indeed the sword isn’t hanging, it is simply waiting to fall.
In prophetic speech, there is a sense that the very words of the prophecy establish (in some manner) the potential and inevitability of the event that will fulfill the words. The event is not simply predicted – it is somehow set in motion. It’s inevitability draws closer at all times. It must happen.
This is a different perspective on the nature of prophecy (and the nature of time, cause and effect). We cannot say that the prophecy causes the event, but its relationship is closer to cause than to prediction. In the same timeless manner, the event causes (there must be a better word) the prophecy, or that which we later deem to be prophetic. And so we are told that the “lamb was slain from the foundation of the world.” The fulfillment is later than the timeless sacrifice. We can even say in a manner that the event is before the prophecy – but only because in the mystery of Christ, the End of things somehow precedes them.
The Christian witness is of Christ’s Pascha (His death and resurrection). And the witness that we bear is that His Pascha is the meaning of all things – their fulfillment – their completion – and their redemption. In Christ’s Pascha we see the end of all things. The beginning of all things is equally revealed.
It is this foundational belief that drives the Christian reading of the Old Testament, and the Christian reading of the whole world – its history and its future. The understanding which Christ gave to His disciples after the resurrection was to see His Pascha in the Scriptures:
“These are the words which I spoke to you while I was still with you, that all things must be fulfilled which were written in the Law of Moses and the Prophets and the Psalms concerning Me.” And He opened their understanding, that they might comprehend the Scriptures. Then He said to them, “Thus it is written, and thus it was necessary for the Christ to suffer and to rise from the dead the third day…”
It is useless to ask, “Why was it necessary?” It was necessary because it was written and it was written because it was necessary. God told Moses that Passover (Pascha) is an eternal festival (Ex. 12:14). Thus Adam’s Sleep was Christ’s Pascha. Noah in the Ark was Christ’s Pascha. Crossing the Red Sea was Christ’s Pascha. The victory over Amalek was Christ’s Pascha. The Young Men in the fiery furnace and Daniel in the Lion’s Den was Christ’s Pascha. Jonah in the Belly of the Whale was Christ’s Pascha. The same, with understanding, can be said repeatedly as the words that are written are made clear.
The heavens and the earth and all that they contain were created for Christ’s Pascha. Understanding this is the beginning of understanding the heavens and the earth and all that they contain, and without this understanding creation remains opaque.
The words, “Let there be light,” are also the words, “Lazarus, come forth!” and the sound of the trumpet as Christ descends. And so the Tradition that writes the gospels and abides within the Church hears the eternal Pascha of God sounding in the words of the Prophets, and even in obscure and random statements. For it is Christ’s Pascha that rescues everything from randomness and sets it in its right order and relationship.
C.S.Lewis’ friend, Charles Williams, wrote mystical fiction, works that Lewis enjoyed immensely. In one of them, The Place of the Lion, Platonic archetypes begin to appear in England, drawing their antitypes to themselves (and revealing the character – both good and bad – of people). It is a very rich image. In the same manner, the Pascha of Christ has entered our world as the true Archetype of Creation and its redemption. All things are drawn towards it and find their fulfillment within it (both things before it in time and subsequent – for Pascha is both the beginning and the end). The words of prophets, even their casual utterances, every “jot and tittle” will find its fulfillment in Christ’s Pascha. For it is necessary that it should be so.