Christ in the Old Testament
When we study, preach or teach the Old Testament (OT) should we talk about Jesus Christ? Is it hermeneutically sound to see Christ in the OT? Let’s hear the words of the best interpreter of the OT in history. When Cleopas and his companion were doubting that Jesus was the Messiah because He suffered on the cross, Jesus said to them, “‘O foolish ones, and slow of heart to believe all that the prophets have spoken! Was it not necessary that the Christ should suffer these things and enter into his glory?’ And beginning with Moses and all the Prophets, he interpreted to them in all the Scriptures the things concerning himself” (Luke 24:25-27). According to Jesus if we don’t see Him when reading Moses and the Prophets, we are foolish. Jesus spoke to the disciples along the same lines, “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” (24:44). Jesus Himself tells us that the whole OT points towards Him.
When we read the OT, therefore, we must read it christologically. We must interpret it the way Jesus and the apostles did, and their own interpretation of the OT functions as a pattern and guide for us. Neither do we believe that every stick in the OT refers to the cross, nor do we arbitrarily and capriciously see strained references to Jesus. But we do see in the OT story predictions and types of Jesus the Messiah.
The great promise of Genesis 3:15 is fulfilled in Jesus Christ. God said to the serpent, “I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your offspring and her offspring; he shall bruise your head, and you shall bruise his heel.” Jesus is the offspring of the woman who crushes Satan under his feet (cf. Rom 16:20). God appeared to Abraham, promising him that the whole world, the very ends of the earth, would be blessed through him and his offspring (Gen 12:3). The New Testament (NT) teaches that Jesus is the offspring of Abraham through whom the curses introduced by Adam would be overcome (Gal 3:16). Moses spoke of a prophet that would come after him to reveal the will of the Lord (Deut 18:15), and Jesus is the final and definitive word of God to us (Heb 1:2). Joshua gave the people earthly rest in the land, but there is a better rest in Jesus, a heavenly rest that will never end (Heb 3:12-4:11). The OT sacrifices were offered for the forgiveness of sins, but Jesus offers a far better sacrifice than animal sacrifices, and He is a far better priest than the Aaronic priests. As the Melchizedekian priest and the Son of God, His sacrifice for sins secures forgiveness once for all (Heb 7:1-10:18).
God made a covenant with David, the man after God’s own heart, promising him an eternal dynasty that would never end (2 Sam 7). If we read 1-2 Samuel and the Psalms, we see both David’s suffering and exaltation. Still, David was not the ideal king, for he sinned egregiously against the Lord (e.g., Uriah and Bathsheba). David himself needed atonement for his sins. The prophets often predicted the coming of a new David, a David who would shepherd God’s people (Ezek 34:23-24) and in whom Israel would place its trust (Hos 3:5). Jesus of Nazareth, according to the NT, is the new David anticipated and prophesied in the OT. Just as David suffered and then was exalted, so too Jesus suffered and then entered into His glory. When we read the Psalms about David, it is legitimate to see David as a type of Christ. Is the book of Proverbs about Jesus? Space forbids a full examination of the book, but Jesus is the wisdom of God. He is the only one who lived as God’s obedient son. He is wiser than Solomon (Luke 11:31), and all wisdom resides in Him (Col 2:3).
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Israel was called to be God’s obedient son (Exod 4:22-23). Just as Adam was called to be God’s son who trusted and obeyed him, so too was Israel. But Israel, like Adam, failed to carry out God’s instructions. Things got so bad that both Israel (722 B.C.) and Judah (586 B.C.) were sent into exile. The prophets denounced Israel and Judah for their sin, threatening judgment if they did not repent and turn to the Lord. When the people failed to turn, the exile, which Moses saw long beforehand (cf. Deut 27-32), became a reality. But the prophets assured the people that exile was not the last word. God would restore His people. Just as the Lord liberated His people from Egypt, there would be a second exodus. A new David would come, and God would make a new covenant with His people and pour out His Spirit on them. Then the promised new creation would come. The victory over the serpent promised in Genesis 3:15 would become a reality in a most unusual way. The Servant of the Lord, the true Israel, would liberate His people from exile by forgiving their sins, by taking the punishment they deserved upon Himself. But suffering was not the last word, this Servant is also the triumphant Son of Man who would rise from the dead and receive the kingdom for the sake of the saints.
All the promises of God are yes and amen in Jesus Christ (2 Cor 1:20). The narrative of the OT is realized in Him. He is the second Adam, the true Israel, the prophet of the Lord, the Messiah, the Son of God and the Son of Man, and the Servant of the Lord. He is Immanuel and the Lord of all. Through His atoning sacrifice, He forgives our sins and pours out His Spirit upon us. And through Him we enter the new creation where we glorify God, as John Piper says, by enjoying Him forever.
Thomas R. Schreiner is James Buchanan Harrison Professor of New Testament Interpretation and professor of biblical theology. He also serves as associate dean of the School of Theology at Souhtern. He is the author of many books including, most recently, The King in His Beauty: A Biblical Theology of the Old and New Testaments. Follow him on Twitter at: @DrTomSchreiner. This article originally appeared in the Spring 2011 issue of Southern Seminary Magazine.