The Bible is one big story of Jesus, but we have to be careful to resist the temptation to find Jesus in every single detail of the Old Testament—which would mean we are then reading the Bible as allegory, where the basic meaning of the text is set-aside for a hidden, often mysterious meaning underneath of it.
So how do we show that all of the Bible is about Jesus without going too far? Here are four ways to see Jesus in the Old Testament correctly.
When most people think of where Jesus is in the Old Testament, this is what they think of. Messianic prophecies can be considered the clearest and safest way to see Jesus in the Old Testament because they are affirmed in the New Testament.
EXAMPLE: The prophecy of the virgin birth (Isaiah 7:14) is affirmed in Matthew 1:18-25 and Luke 1:26-35.
Images of Jesus
God gave us a multitude of pictures that foreshadow Jesus in the Old Testament. Unlike prophecies, these images do not point directly to something about the life and ministry of Jesus (such as the virgin birth), but they do reveal part of God’s plan for Jesus. Many Old Testament images of Jesus are affirmed in the New Testament, but not all are. Be careful when you come across what you believe is an image of Jesus that is not supported in the New Testament. Make sure there is a clear, biblically sound, connection to Jesus. Also, do not minimize the importance of the straight-forward meaning of the Old Testament account.
EXAMPLE: Abraham’s test to sacrifice Isaac (Genesis 22) is a picture of God sacrificing His Son, Jesus.
Many passages do not point directly to Jesus, but indirectly by clarifying the core nature of the gospel and our need for and God’s provision of Jesus. At times, we see how deeply sin has ruined us and the helplessness of our sin condition. At other times, we see God’s holiness, purity, grace, mercy, and kindness. Still at other times, we see what a right relationship with God can look like. All of these help us to develop a Christ-centered theology of the gospel.
EXAMPLE: The law shows us our inability to meet God’s perfect standard (Romans 3:20).
We cannot forget that the Bible is a book of history. God promised Adam and Eve that someone was coming (the Messiah, Jesus) who would crush Satan. Much of the Old Testament advances this narrative and leads us directly to the manger in Bethlehem, the cross on Calvary, and the empty tomb in the garden.
EXAMPLE: The establishment of the kingdom point us to King Jesus who was coming.
Brian Dembowczyk is the team leader for The Gospel Project for Kids. Brian earned an M.Div. from the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary and a D.Min. from the New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary. Brian, his wife and their three children live in Murfreesboro, TN, where Brian enjoys drinking coffee and teaching 1st-3rd graders at City Church.