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Does the Old Testament Really Point to Jesus? Jesus Thought So

By Koa Sinag

Does the Old Testament Really Point to Jesus? Jesus Thought So

Jesus Is the Authority on Scripture

Does the Old Testament really point to Jesus? To answer that question, we should ask an expert. Who’s the leading authority on Bible interpretation? It’s not the dear person who first shared the gospel with you, as knowledgeable as he or she may be. It’s not your pastor either, despite his wisdom and experience. It’s not even a biblical scholar who has devoted an entire academic career to the study of Scripture. All these people are valuable in the formation of our faith; we should learn from them as much as we can. But the leading authority on all things spiritual—including our question about the Old Testament—is Jesus himself.

Look at Jesus’s credentials. He’s the beloved Son of God, the crucified and risen Savior, the Lord of heaven and earth. I assume that because you’re reading this booklet, you know Jesus in this way. You’ve repented of your sins and believed in him for salvation; you’ve come to know him as the treasure of your life. If you don’t know Jesus in this way, and you’re just reading this booklet out of curiosity, I hope what you read here will help you understand more clearly who Jesus is and what he did—and I hope you will trust in him and be saved. As Lord of all, he’s worthy of your faith.

As Lord of all, he’s also the Bible expert we’re looking for! Jesus is the leading authority on Bible interpretation. So if we could ask him what he thinks about the Old Testament, we would have the answer to our question.

Thankfully, if you read through the Gospels—Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John—you’ll discover exactly what Jesus thought about the Old Testament. He valued it as the authoritative word of God. He studied it as a boy (Luke 2:46); he attended synagogue every week where it was read and explained (Luke 4:16); his grasp of it gained him the title Rabbi (John 1:38); he taught it with an authority that surpassed the scribes of Israel (Matt. 7:29); he insisted that it could not be broken (John 10:35); and he referred to it constantly throughout his ministry, even while struggling for breath during his crucifixion (Mark 15:34). Jesus valued God’s word as authoritative.

But these observations only touch generally on Jesus’s perspective on Scripture. We need to press in a bit further if we’re going to find the answer to our more specific question: Did Jesus see himself in the Old Testament? Did he understand that the Old Testament was ultimately pointing to him? The answer is, He did!

The First Easter Evening

During his earthly ministry, Jesus had prepared his disciples for his resurrection from the dead—but they hadn’t grasped what he meant. You can imagine their fear and wonder when he showed up among them after his crucifixion. The Gospel of Luke reports one of his appearances on that first Easter evening. Jesus had already appeared to Mary, to Peter, and to two other disciples; now he appeared to a larger group of disciples gathered in Jerusalem. After convincing them that he was truly alive, Jesus said to them,

“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.” Then he opened their minds to understand the Scriptures, and said to them, “Thus it is written, that the Christ should suffer and on the third day rise from the dead, and that repentance for the forgiveness of sins should be proclaimed in his name to all nations, beginning from Jerusalem.” (Luke 24:44–47)

Do you notice how Jesus helps the disciples make sense of his death and resurrection? He uses the Old Testament. He reminds them that every part of it—“the Law of Moses and the Prophets and the Psalms”—speaks of him. The Old Testament doesn’t make vague, generic predictions about the Messiah either! These Scriptures, Jesus says, portray him as the Christ who dies, rises on the third day, and is proclaimed as the Savior of the world.

So, yes, Jesus saw himself in the Old Testament. According to him, the Old Testament outlines the very shape of the gospel. The name “Jesus” may not be spelled out, but the person and work of Jesus are. Jesus is the Christ, the promised ruler whose suffering, triumph, and salvation are foreshadowed all throughout the Old Testament.

The Mountainside Sermon

Earlier in his ministry, long before that first Easter, Jesus encouraged his disciples to read Scripture in light of his coming and in light of the fact that he came to fulfill God’s promises. His rather startling instruction came from a sermon he preached while on a mountainside. Using “the Law or the Prophets” as a reference to the Old Testament, Jesus told the crowd,

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. For truly, I say to you, until heaven and earth pass away, not an iota, not a dot, will pass from the Law until all is accomplished. Therefore whoever relaxes one of the least of these commandments and teaches others to do the same will be called least in the kingdom of heaven, but whoever does them and teaches them will be called great in the kingdom of heaven. (Matt. 5:17–19)

Jesus makes it plain that the Old Testament is here to stay. He hasn’t come to scrap it; nor does he intend for anyone to ignore it. So far, so good—no one on the mountainside that day would’ve been surprised to hear Jesus affirm Scripture in this way.

Jesus makes it plain that the Old Testament is here to stay.

But then Jesus drops that word “fulfill.” No doubt, that little word raised some eyebrows. It’s a shocking claim. What kind of person says that he is going to fulfill the Old Testament? How audacious! Yet Jesus sees the Old Testament, down to the tiniest pen stroke on each letter, as uniquely focused on him. All its promises, all its prophecies, all its demands, all its judgments—he intends to take on every bit of them.

Jesus taught his disciples to read the Old Testament in a new way; not by changing the meaning of the Old Testament, but by showing them how he genuinely and truly completes the story of the Old Testament. As a result, we can’t understand either the Old Testament or Jesus without looking at both. First, we come to understand Jesus in light of the Old Testament; then, in his fulfillment of it, we come to understand the Old Testament in light of him.

The Defense Witness

One of the most profound statements Jesus makes about the Old Testament occurs during one of his conflicts with the Pharisees. Tense moments breed terse words. When being accused of blasphemy, Jesus summons multiple witnesses in his defense. John the Baptist was one witness; God the Father was another; Moses took the stand too (John 5:30–47). According to Jesus, each of these witnesses testifies on his behalf. That is, they vouch for him; they point to him.

Guess who else Jesus calls as a witness? The Old Testament. Don’t miss what Jesus says on this occasion about the Old Testament:

You search the Scriptures because you think that in them you have eternal life; and it is they that bear witness about me, yet you refuse to come to me that you may have life. (John 5:39–40)

The people opposing Jesus were diligent students of the Old Testament. They pored over the Scriptures as if the Scriptures themselves could give them eternal life. Yet according to Jesus, they had completely misunderstood Scripture. The Old Testament was never an end in itself, Jesus says. It was always a sign pointing to something else—to someone else. And Jesus is that someone! Eternal life isn’t found in the Scriptures but through the Scriptures, as they bear witness to him.

In short, Jesus would have us read the Old Testament in a way that brings us to him. Otherwise we aren’t reading it right.

When you look at these three episodes in Jesus’s life—the first Easter evening, the mountainside sermon, and his defense of himself to the Jews—Jesus’s view of the Old Testament becomes clear. He sees the gospel in it; he discerns the meaning and mission of his life from it; he understands himself to be the point of it. We may not yet fully grasp the ins and outs of what that means, but at least we have a definitive answer to our question. The Lord Jesus, the leading authority on Bible interpretation, believes that the Old Testament points to him. So we do well to read the Old Testament with Jesus in view

This article is adapted from Does the Old Testament Really Point to Jesus? by David M. King.

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Author: David M. King

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