“The Old Testament follows God’s one great plan for human history and redemption, and the plan is not only from him, but centers on him: his presence in his incarnate Son…The witness of the Scriptures to Christ is the reason they were written…” —Edmund Clowney, author of Preaching Christ in All of Scripture.
If God’s plan for redemption centers on Christ, then we can expect to find Him in more than just the 27% of the Bible we call the New Testament—and we do! In fact, practically every book of the Bible points us to Jesus. Studying Christ in the Old Testament is a great joy and benefits the believer in significant ways, especially in hermeneutics, evangelism and appreciation of Jesus.
A proper interpretation of the Bible is always consistent with what the writer was intending to communicate to the original audience. Just as the Bible cannot be properly understood outside of historical and cultural context, the Old Testament cannot be fully understood without noting the Messianic references. Any hermeneutical method that does not keep this as a focal point misses the heart of the Old Testament writers.The Apostle Peter informed believers that the prophets were aware their message was about Christ and that their writings would be a confirmation of His arrival:
“Of this salvation the prophets have inquired and searched carefully, who prophesied of the grace that would come to you, searching what, or what manner of time, the Spirit of Christ who was in them was indicating when He testified beforehand the sufferings of Christ and the glories that would follow. To them it was revealed that, not to themselves, but to us they were ministering the things which now have been reported to you…” (1 Peter 1:10-12).
To study the Old Testament and miss Christ is to miss the consciously intended meaning. Jesus even rebuked those that did not see Him as the promised Messiah prophesied in the Old Testament:
“You search the Scriptures, for in them you think you have eternal life; and these are they which testify of Me. But you are not willing to come to Me that you may have life” (John 5:39).
“Then He said to them, ‘O foolish ones, and slow of heart to believe in all that the prophets have spoken! Ought not the Christ to have suffered these things and to enter into His glory?’ And beginning at Moses and all the Prophets, He expounded to them in all the Scriptures the things concerning Himself” (Luke 24:25-37).
After Jesus exposed this interpretation, writers of the New Testament began to teach about Christ from the Old Testament. We see this in Paul’s life:
“…Therefore, having obtained help from God, to this day I stand, witnessing both to small and great, saying no other things than those which the prophets and Moses said would come—that the Christ would suffer, that He would be the first to rise from the dead, and would proclaim light to the Jewish people and to the Gentiles” (Acts 26:22-23).
“Then Paul, as his custom was, went in to them, and for three Sabbaths reasoned with them from the Scriptures, explaining and demonstrating that the Christ had to suffer and rise again from the dead, and saying, ‘This Jesus whom I preach to you is the Christ’” (Acts 17:2-3).
Seeing Christ in the Old Testament allows us to interpret the Bible with an accurate hermeneutic method.
The second value of seeing Christ in the Old Testament is its effectiveness when sharing the truth of the gospel. Messianic prophecy was given so that Israel would know Christ when He came. While much of Israel missed their Messiah, some, like Philip, were convinced when they saw Jesus fulfill the Old Testament prophecies:
“Philip found Nathanael and said to him, ‘We have found Him of whom Moses in the law, and also the prophets, wrote—Jesus of Nazareth, the son of Joseph’” (John 1:45).
People today resolve to believe in Jesus after seeing how He fulfilled the prophecies. I would encourage you to highlight the top 40 messianic prophecies that the Jews for Jesus ministry has curated as a means for effective ministry to nonbelievers.
The New Testament is full of reasons for us to be grateful for our Savior. When we look for the scarlet thread of redemption in the Old Testament, we find Jesus intervening throughout the timeline of the Bible. He is actively involved in moving the plan of redemption toward the cross. When you read the Old Testament in light of Jesus, you’ll find that there is even more to appreciate about Christ than you previously thought! For example, appreciation grows after discovering how He chooses to work with us despite our weaknesses, like He did with Gideon when He temporarily showed up as the Angel of the Lord:
“Then the Lord turned to him and said, ‘Go in this might of yours, and you shall save Israel from the hand of the Midianites. Have I not sent you?’ So he said to Him, ‘O my Lord, how can I save Israel? Indeed my clan is the weakest in Manasseh, and I am the least in my father’s house.’ And the Lord said to him, ‘Surely I will be with you, and you shall defeat the Midianites as one man’” (Judges 6:14-16).
Jesus is even more captivating when witnessing how fair and merciful He is in judgment as He visits Abraham to discuss His overthrowing Sodom and Gomorrah. At first, Abraham asked, “Shall not the Judge of all the earth do right?” And by the end of the conversation the Lord patiently convinced him of His fairness:
“Then he said, ‘Let not the Lord be angry, and I will speak but once more: Suppose ten should be found there? ’And He said, ‘I will not destroy it for the sake of ten’” (Genesis 18:32).
Take some time and mediate on the character of Christ in the Old Testament, and you’ll find yourself edified in similar ways as reading the gospels!