By Airika Takeguchi and Jonathan Tan, at the Fellowship Weekend 2016
“You search the Scriptures because you think that in them you have eternal life; and it is they that bear witness about me” (John 5:39; 1:45), said Jesus clearly when He spoke to the religious leaders of his day. After His resurrection, He spoke in the same way to the disciples on the road to Emmaus. Luke records Jesus’ conversation this way: “and beginning with Moses and all the Prophets, he interpreted to them in all the Scriptures the things concerning himself” (Luke 24:27; 44). What does Jesus mean when He says says repeatedly that all the Scriptures bear witness of him?
The key to reading: Jesus in all of Scripture
Jesus is the key to understanding all of Scripture. Really? In the Old Testament too? Christ does not wait until the first chapter of Matthew to make his first appearance. Rather, He makes his appearance from the very beginning of the Bible. He has been and is the dawning light that keeps increasing in brightness throughout Scripture as it moves towards his birth in Matthew. He doesn’t mean that all Scripture make direct mention of him, because most verses/accounts don’t make explicit reference to Him. We can understand what Jesus meant about all Scripture bearing witness to him as we remember the big picture of the Bible – a good creation spoiled by Adam’s fall, only to be redeemed by Christ’s provision and renewed in the consummation of Christ’s rule over all things. To say the Bible is about Christ is to say that the main theme of the Bible is the gospel.
Therefore, our goal in Bible reading is not to make Jesus appear magically in every text, but to show where every text stands on this redemptive stage, and Jesus is the most important figure on this stage, which is set for him. All that happens on the stage relates to him; and we do not fully understand anything on the stage until we have identified its relation to him. When we place every text in its redemptive context, it does not mean that every text mentions Jesus, as if Jesus is the Bible’s version of “Where’s Wally?”. Rather, every text relates to some aspect of God’s redeeming grace that finds its fullest expression in Christ. Ultimately, we understand who he is and what he does by how he speaks of himself as fulfilling the message of redemption that unfolds throughout the Bible.
This is not a new way of studying the Bible. This approach honors God’s own instruction to see the gospel in all of Scripture, so that His love empowers the transformation of our lives from the inside out. As mentioned earlier, Jesus himself explained Scriptures in this manner. So did the Apostles, and throughout church history, the great theologians – Augustine, Calvin, Luther, Spurgeon, Wesley, and Edwards – have always explained the Scriptures in a Christ-centered way.
The importance of Christ-centred reading: Salvation by faith and not by works
Why is it important to remember this when we read the OT and even the NT? Jesus eradicates salvation by works and paves the way for salvation by grace. Without Jesus, we offer inspirational pep talks at best. At its worst, we hand out legalism, moralism, and ultimately, despair to our listeners. For example, if we read the account of Abraham sacrificing Isaac, we can walk away with the lesson that like Abraham, we have to be willing to give up what we love for God. But is this just a story to teach us how to be good Christians? The account of Abraham and Isaac show us how Abraham was willing to sacrifice his beloved son that God had promised him, but also points to the future day when the Beloved Son of God was sacrificed as a substitute for the sins of the world. To read these accounts without Christ and merely as object lessons with morals are ultimately crushing because they essentially are read as being about us and what we must do, without showing us the reasons and the power that will enable us to obey.
In contrast, a Christ-centered reading of the Bible shows us this:
- What we must do -- e.g. in the narrative it says we should be clean
- Why we can’t do it just by trying very hard because it’s impossible
- How He did it perfectly and completely in our place
- How, through Him, you can do it and failure to do it is due to our rejection of what He did. Remembering Jesus frees our heart so we can change like this.
Edmund Clowney said that if we ever tell a particular Bible story without putting it into The Bible Story (about Christ), we change its meaning for us. It becomes a moralistic exhortation to “try harder” rather than a call to live by faith in Jesus’ work on the cross. Therefore, we need to show how each text points to Christ and gospel salvation, lest we fail to show how (a) we cannot save ourselves, and (b) only Jesus can.
The tools of reading: How texts reflect and show Christ
So how do we find Jesus in the text? There are a few ways. God’s Word both predicts and prepares for and reflects the person and/or work of Christ.
1. The OT predicts Christ through Prophecies and Messianic Psalms
These passages clearly predict who Christ is and what he will do. Isaiah wrote of the Messiah: “his name shall be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace. Of the increase of his government and of peace there will be no end” (Isa 9:6-7). This is a clear prediction of Jesus’ person and work, and there are many more such predictions in the prophetic portions of Scripture. Below are some examples:
|Prophecy||Old Testament||New Testament|
|Messiah will be born in Bethlehem
||Micah 5:2||Matt 2:1-6
|Messiah will be a prophet like Moses||Deut 18:15||John 7:40-42
|Messiah will be rejected by his own people||Isa 53:1,3||John 1:10-11
|Messiah will be betrayed by one of his followers||Ps 41:9||John 13:18, 21, 26|
|Soldiers will pierce Messiah’s side||Zec 12:10||John 19:34|
|Messiah will sit at God’s right hand||Ps 110:1||Mark 16:19
|Messiah will die as a sin offering||Isa 53:5-6, 8, 12||John 1:29
Remember that the OT was part of the Bible written before Jesus was born, and its writings were completed 450 BC. Jesus fulfilled over 300 of all these prophecies through his life, death and resurrection (only 1/100 quadrillion people can achieve that). He himself confirmed this in Matt 5:17 when he said, “Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them but to fulfill them.”
Not only is that amazing, it all points to how the Bible is not disjointed and incoherent. It shows us how clear and unified the Scriptures are in conveying the message of redemption! The God of the OT is the same as the God of the NT, and his plans did not suddenly change halfway after he realized that the Israelites were too sinful to save themselves.
2. The OT Prepares for and Reflects Christ through Recurring Patterns
The unfolding gospel perspective can be communicated in a variety of ways. Many texts specifically describe or prophesy the ministry of Jesus. To understand these texts, all we have to do is read and identify obvious gospel truths. There are many more texts, however, that prepare for or reflect upon Christ’s ministry by revealing snippets of the grace of God that find completed expression in Jesus. One way to look for these “snippets of grace” is to identify a literary motif or recurring pattern that typifies God’s redemptive work that carries through the OT and NT. This is otherwise known as typology.
To put it simply, we are looking for passages that set the stage for Christ’s work later on in the NT – texts that reveal a recurring pattern in which God delivers or saves Man from his sin and prepares us for Jesus’ ultimate work on the cross. Christ fulfilled 3 roles when he performed them in his earthly ministry – the Prophet who has come to deal with our ignorance, Priest who has come to deal with our sins, and King who has come to subdue our rebellion. These roles are clearly illustrated in the OT, and they help God’s people to understand their need, as well as the grace that God must provide to redeem his people.
- Prophet: One who represents God to the people (Deuteronomy 18:15-18, John 17:7-8)
- Priest: One who represents the people to God (Leviticus 16, Hebrews 9-10)
- King: One who rules over all that God has given him (Genesis 49:10, Isaiah 32:1, 2 Samuel 7:12-16, John 12:12-19)
The focus of the reader: To find Christ to rest in Him
While we cannot say that Jesus is literally in every verse, paragraph, chapter, or book, we know that he is the recurring theme of the whole of Scripture – old and new. In the OT, we find him in prophecies and portraits (and themes) that reveal glimpses of his ministry and personhood. This is largely achieved through looking at the OT through the lens of the Gospel, which is clearly illustrated in the NT. Many NT texts also help put the OT in their rightful context or explain why these practices or symbols were there in the first place. Thus, we do good to remember what Jesus himself says about Scripture – that the OT and NT are connected and they are about him.
Also, if the OT is truly about Jesus, it means that it is not about us, or how we can become like Abraham, Moses, or David. Instead of looking for ways to emulate these characters and falling into despair because we find ourselves lacking, good readers of the OT search for Christ and how he fulfills and surpasses these characters in all aspects. And it is only when we realize that Christ is the perfect and planned answer to mankind’s brokenness that we will be able to cease our striving, fall to our knees, and worship at his feet.
- Do you struggle with reading the OT or trying to make sense of it? Why?
- How does this help you to be a better reader of the OT and the rest of Scripture?