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Jesus in the Old Testament | Theology Matters

  • December 2016 Issue
Practical Theology
Throughout the centuries, some have claimed that Jesus is entirely absent from the Old Testament. But Jesus Himself criticized the religious leaders of His day for failing to pay heed to the testimony of the Hebrew Scriptures about Him: “You study the Scriptures diligently because you think that in them you have eternal life. These are the very Scriptures that testify about me, yet you refuse to come to me to have life” (John 5:39–40).

The Old Testament witness about Christ takes several forms. First, it includes explicit predictions that describe the nature of Christ’s ministry, suffering, and resurrection. These predictions are not limited to the prophets; they can also be found in the Psalms. Psalm 22 provides a clear description of Christ’s suffering. Psalm 16 promised that Israel’s Messiah would not be abandoned to the grave or see decay but would be exalted to the Father’s right hand.

Second, some Old Testament passages seem to foreshadow events in Jesus’ life. These passages offer a kind of double vision by way of analogy, describing historical events that point beyond themselves to particular incidents in the life of Christ. Just as the people of Israel went down to Egypt and later returned to the Land of Promise, Joseph took Jesus and fled to Egypt until Herod’s death. According to Matthew, this “fulfilled” what the prophet said in Hosea 11:1: “Out of Egypt I called my son” (Matt. 2:15).

Some were looking for a miracle that would prove that Jesus was the Messiah. He told them that the only sign they would be given was the sign of Jonah: “For as Jonah was three days and three nights in the belly of a huge fish, so the Son of Man will be three days and three nights in the heart of the earth” (Matt. 12:40).

A third category of passages describes the Old Testament appearances of Jesus Christ before His birth in Bethlehem. On these occasions, He appeared as the Angel of Jehovah. This mysterious being is spoken of as God (cf. Gen 12:7; 16:7, 13; 17:1; 19:1). As the Angel of Jehovah, Jesus appeared temporarily in human form. In the Incarnation, Jesus made humanity a permanent part of His nature: the good news that “in Christ all the fullness of the Deity lives in bodily form” (Col. 2:9). This is what we celebrate at Christmas!

To learn more, read The Scriptures Testify about Me: Jesus and the Gospel in the Old Testament, edited by D. A. Carson (Crossway).

BY Dr. John Koessler

Dr. John Koessler, who retired as professor emeritus from Moody Bible Institute, formerly served in the division of applied theology and church ministry. John and his wife Jane enjoy living in a lakeside town in Michigan. A prolific writer, John’s books include The Radical Pursuit of Rest (InterVarsity), The Surprising Grace of Disappointment (Moody), and True Discipleship (Moody). John is a contributing editor and columnist for Today in the Word.

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