7 Places We Find Jesus in the Old Testament
From beginning to end, the Bible reveals the glory of Jesus. But for many Bible readers, it isn’t that simple.
While we know Jesus is the fulfillment of the Jewish story and we want to better understand how the two Testaments relate, we’re often unsure how the Bible’s many stories, characters, and events relate to each other—especially to Jesus. Some are tempted to force the Bible's many pieces together, making superficial jumps from the Hebrew Scriptures to Jesus' story. But most are left wondering:
Does Jesus and his story connect to the Old Testament? If so, where is Jesus in the Old Testament? How does the Old Testament inform our understanding of Jesus—his life and teachings, death and resurrection?
Christ from Beginning to End answers these questions, helping Christians better understand how to read the Bible as a story, seeing how every part of Scripture fits together to reveal the glory of Christ Jesus—from Genesis to Malachi, Matthew to Revelation.
“Like a puzzle,” authors Trent Hunter and Stephen Wellum write, “the pieces of the Bible…do fit together.” And they hope “you will get a clear understanding of the Bible’s unity and central message” (28, 29)—which includes the ways Jesus is found in the Old Testament. Here are seven ways.
1) Jesus is the Last Adam
From the beginning, the full story of Scripture reveals the full glory of Christ—even with Adam. Hunter and Wellum remind us that Adam was “not just the first man in God’s story. He is the representative of humanity and the head of creation itself” (80). And God gave him responsibilities and roles later expressed in Israel:
- “God spoke directly to Adam, and Adam (in a prophetic role) was responsible to mediate God’s word by trusting, keeping, and preaching it to his wife and children” (80-81)
- “Adam (in a priestly role) was responsible to mediate God’s presence to the world by universally expanding Eden’s borders, filling it with image-bearers, and ruling over creation” (81)
- “Adam (in a kingly role) was given dominion over the world as a servant king, who was to act as God’s image, his representative and son” (81)
While he did not possess any explicit title or office, Adam functioned as a prophet, priest, and king. As the Bible’s story progresses, these titles identify other people who carry on these original tasks—which all anticipated a greater office holder: Jesus Christ. Hunter and Wellum explain:
[T]hese roles express the deeper role God originally intended for humans. That role was first established in Adam, but then only Jesus as the last Adam and God the Son perfectly fulfills it. Then he restores it in us (Heb. 2:5–18). (81)
2) Jesus is testified to by ‘the Law and the Prophets’
Paul is clear about Christ’s whereabouts in the Old Testament: “But now apart from the law the righteousness of God has been made known, to which the Law and the Prophets testify” (Romans 3:21).
“‘The Law and the Prophets’ is shorthand for the Old Testament,” Hunter and Wellum explain, “which Paul says prophesy or testify of the salvation that later comes in Christ” (100). In other words, Jesus is present throughout the Torah and the Major and Minor prophet books in the Old Testament. In these pages we find both hope and help:
God is providing for our instruction, endurance, encouragement, and, ultimately, our hope. As we see how God unfolds his glorious plan of redemption in Christ and how he keeps all of his promises, we learn to trust, love, and obey him. The Bible is long and layered for a reason. It prepares us to see and receive Jesus as the only solution to our problem and the only Savior from our sin. (100)
“The Law and the prophets” are written in such a way as “to perfectly portray the greatness of our problem and the greatness of God’s grace in Christ” (100).
Throughout their book, Hunter and Wellum carefully explain how God’s promises in Genesis 3:15 find their fulfillment in Messiah Jesus and how the Old Testament’s characters, events, and story all point to Jesus.
3) Noah: a Foretaste of judgment and salvation through Christ
If Jesus is the last Adam, Noah was meant as a new Adam. In his story, two themes emerge, judgment and salvation—which offer a foretaste of Jesus in the Old Testament.
“As we ponder Noah’s flood, we are confronted with the harsh reality of what humanity deserves for its sin and rejection of God. More accurately, the flood is a foretaste of coming judgment, of what humanity will receive” (108–109).
Hunter and Wellum explain in their book how Jesus compares his return and the future judgment to Noah's flood in the Old Testament. Jesus said, “As it was in the days of Noah, so it will be at the coming of the Son of Man” (Matthew 24:37). Yet the final judgment will be far worse: “In the final judgment there is no relief, and in this way Noah’s flood becomes a reminder to us of a greater judgment to come, which we ought to take seriously” (109).
But positively, Noah’s salvation is a foretaste of coming salvation in Christ. Isaiah 54:9–10 speaks to this. As does 1 Peter 3:20–22, which explains how our baptism corresponds to Noah passing through the waters to find salvation. Hunter and Wellum explain:
As Noah passed through the waters of God’s judgment, now men and women will pass safely through the greater downpouring of God’s wrath. How? … Jesus will save us from God’s judgment by taking that judgment on himself. (110)
4) Isaac: Jesus is the “seed” of Abraham and true substitute
Remember, God promised Abraham that “all peoples on earth will be blessed through you” (Genesis 12:3), and then repeated it: “Through your offspring all nations on earth will be blessed” (Genesis 22:18). Hunter and Wellum make an important point about the fulfillment of this promise through the story of Abraham’s son, Isaac:
Yes, it is through Isaac, the promised seed, that God’s salvation will come to the world. But God is also revealing that Isaac is not enough. Isaac, too, is a sinner in need of a savior. God’s promise will come through Isaac, but ultimately Isaac cannot save. The Savior must come outside of Isaac, by God’s own provision. This is the meaning of the ram that God provides. In sparing Isaac, a substitute must still take his place. (117–118)
Of course, that substitute ultimately comes through Christ. Hunter and Wellum explain:
God did provide a substitute for Isaac, hinting that God himself must ultimately provide the proper substitute to pardon human sin… Isaac needed a substitute to die in his place, and God provided. Abraham hears the voice from heaven say, “Stop! There is another to take his place.” Yet when the Father and Son walk to Calvary, there is no voice saying, “Stop. Here is another.” (123–124)
They go on: “As the Bible’s story unfolds, we learn that it is only through the true ‘seed’ of Abraham, Christ Jesus, that believers from all nations become children of Abraham (Galatians 3:9)” (125).
5) Jesus is greater than the Law-covenant
“Christ and his covenant are so much better!” Hunter and Wellum declare. "This is exactly what the Law-covenant was given to help us see.” What’s more: baked into the Law-covenant were “carefully designed limitations" that pointed toward something greater. As Hebrews 9:8 explains, “The Holy Spirit was showing by this that the way into the Most Holy Place had not yet been disclosed as long as the first tabernacle was still functioning.”
Christ from Beginning to End outlines several divine patterns that reveal past limitations and beautifully point us to Christ in God’s dealings with Israel through Moses and the Law-covenant. Here are a few of them:
- A Greater Exodus. “Israel’s exodus from Egypt was more than a one-time event. It became the paradigm for all of God’s redeeming acts to follow” (143), culminating in ultimate liberation and redemption from sins. “In Christ, an even greater exodus from slavery has occurred” (144).
- A Greater Rest. “Come to me,” Jesus said, “all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest” (Matt. 11:28). Through the Law-covenant "God structured foretastes of ultimate rest into the life of the nation” (144). But since it couldn’t deal with sin, the people couldn’t experience true rest; Jesus offers this rest which the Law-Covenant anticipated.
- A Greater Prophet. “Moses was a great prophet, but Jesus is far greater” (146). Moses himself pointed toward him in Deuteronomy 18:15: "The Lord your God will raise up for you a prophet like me from among you, from your fellow Israelites. You must listen to him.” The people were still waiting for this prophet when Jesus came
- A Greater Tabernacle. Post-Exodus, the Lord instructed Israel to erect a tabernacle for him to dwell with his people, which was “a copy and shadow of what is in heaven” (Heb. 8:5). “And just as the tabernacle symbolized God’s greater presence in heaven, so its priesthood and sacrifices symbolized the greater salvation to come” (149). Jesus was this greater salvation and tabernacle when he “tabernacled among us in his life” and when he “tabernacled among us as he hung on the cross” (149)
6) Jesus is a greater future King David
In King David, all of God’s promises from Noah to Abraham to Moses converge. And yet, as with all parts of the Old Testament, the Davidic narratives look ahead to a greater future king. Psalm 72 explains how Jesus is found in this part of the Old Testament, which “helps us look ahead to a ‘greater’ David, a future king” (163–164).
Hunter and Wellum identify four dimensions to this future king, Jesus Christ, unveiled in Psalm 72:
- Royalty with Righteousness, Psalm 72:1–4. “This is the king our world needs. Our world cries out for justice, but because of sin, even our best leaders are dangerous if we give them too much power. A truly righteous kingdom awaits God’s righteous king” (164).
- As Long as the Sun Rises, Psalm 72:5–7. ”Despite the faithlessness of David’s sons, God’s promise of an eternal king through David is going to happen. The Lord will see to it” (166).
- A King for Everyone Everywhere, Psalm 72:8–11. “This is a picture of total dominion over the world… This king’s rule will achieve the universal rule that God first intended for humanity” (167). And in light of these Davidic promises, “Scripture tells us to look ahead to the coming of the Davidic son/king who will fully bring God’s rule to the entire world” (167).
- A Heart of Compassion, Psalm 72:12–19. “The rule of David’s future son would not conform to the patterns of this world’s rulers. He would not take from his people. He would only give!” (167) But at a cost: “As David did, he will suffer on his way to exaltation. He will bring about great reversals for others by means of a great reversal of his own” (168).
7) A vivid portrait of our suffering servant
The prophet Jonah reminds us, “Salvation is of the Lord” (Jonah 2:9). And all along the way in God’s story, “the story of salvation advances a step further as the Lord takes the initiative to save. The prophets continue this message, carrying it forward” (180).
How do they reveal this salvation will be accomplished? “The Lord’s salvation is made possible through a sinless sufferer” (183), a concept Hunter and Wellum explain is tied to the traditional concept of substitute—“one cast in terms of the previous patterns, but who now, in himself, solves the problem of sin fully and forever” (183). The prophet Isaiah particularly speaks of this coming servant, “one who is from Israel but who is also distinct from Israel. A servant who represents Israel because he is Israel’s king and a truly obedient son” (185).
We have a problem: sinful humans need to be reconciled to a holy God. Isaiah reveals how this will be made possible: “the Lord will accomplish a substitutionary sacrifice for sin. He will do it through the suffering of his obedient servant… The servant who is our Savior is God’s answer to the tension we have highlighted time and again” (184, 186).
Hunter and Wellum explain that the Messiah-Servant, Jesus Christ will do two things in his substitutionary death: “First, he will take what is ours—our iniquities. And second, he will give us what is his—his righteousness. He will provide an obedient covenant partner” (186).
In the prophet Isaiah, we find a vivid portrait of the future death of Messiah Jesus, our Suffering Servant.
Christ from Beginning to End explains how the full story of Scripture reveals the full glory of Christ. This post barely scratches the surface of the book, which in 270 pages examines where Jesus is found in the Old and New Testaments. This book will help you detect the grand story within the entire Bible.
Graeme Goldsworthy says, “This book is a gem for its treatment of the way the Old Testament contributes to our grasp of what it means for Jesus to be the Christ.” “This is the best class you never got to take,” adds Justin Taylor. Read it yourself and better understand how full story of Scripture reveals the full glory of Christ.
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