Christ in the Old Testament

There has been an effort among many to “find Christ in the Old Testament.” This has brought both good and bad results, and such from both covenant and dispensational perspectives. I unashamedly align with a “classic” dispensational approach to the Scriptures (a la Ryrie’s Dispensationalism), but I will be the first to say that some dispensationalists have gone a bit too far in trying to find Christ in every peg and cord in the Tabernacle, for example.

Much of the effort to “find Christ in the Old Testament” finds its impetus from this verse:

Then beginning with Moses and with all the prophets, He explained to them the things concerning Himself in all the Scriptures (Luke 24:27).

It is helpful, as well, to hear Jesus’ words just before this:

O foolish men and slow of heart to believe in all that the prophets have spoken! Was it not necessary for the Christ to suffer these things and to enter into His glory? (Luke 24:25-26)

These men walking with Jesus–as probably the vast majority of Jews then–believed in and looked for the Messiah the prophets foretold who would redeem and rule Israel (see Luke 24:21a, “we were hoping that it was He who was going to redeem Israel”). But they had a truncated, incomplete view of Christ, not believing “all that the prophets have spoken” because they did not see, believe, or understand what the prophets said about the suffering of the Christ.

Not every Old Testament passage says either something or everything about Christ, but as a whole the Old Testament clearly foretold about Christ. This is what Jesus was doing on the Emmaus road. He wasn’t revealing nuggets of hidden truth about Himself in the tabernacle furniture, nor did He unload Old Testament truth of what it originally meant and then reload it with a “Christological” focus.

Jesus went to Moses and pointed out God’s promise in Eden of victory over Satan (Gen 12:3), His promise to Abraham of blessing all through one of his descendants (Gen 12:1-3), of a coming prophet from among the Israelites (Deut 18:15), and of course of the Messiah who would provide salvation (Isa 61:1-2a; cf. Luke 4:18-19) and would rule with a rod of iron, redeem Israel, establish His kingdom, and bring judgment on the nations (Isa 61:2b-9, and loads of such prophecies in “all the prophets”). And Jesus, after working through all these Old Testament promises essentially said–“This is everything the Scriptures say about the Messiah!”

The Old Testament clearly foretold this about the Messiah: That He would both suffer and reign. The New Testament, however, is necessary for solving the prophets’ dilemma (“If the Messiah will reign, why must He die? How can He reign if He dies?” 1 Pet 1:10-11)–there would be two comings of the Christ and between them would involve something previously unknown but presently revealed (a “mystery”), the church.

So when you’re reading your Old Testament, remember that while not every Old Testament passage says something about Christ, as a whole it clearly tells about the Person and work of Christ.

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