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Eight Ways to Find Jesus in the Old Testament

Posted in Bible, History of Redemption, Old Testament, Theology

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Frank E. Gaebelein said something true and of vast importance to understand:

The center of the Bible is the living Christ. Throughout its pages God the Holy Spirit who inspired it bears witness to the Person who unites all the manifold strands of history, prophecy, poetry, symbolism, and doctrine to bear witness to him and his saving work. Let us, therefore, rejoice that Christ is the center of the Bible, that in him alone it finds its living unity.

Finding "the living Christ" in the New Testament presents no difficulty. Close your eyes and open it up and point, and you'll find Christ. But finding Jesus in the Old Testament holds a greater challenge.

It's important to see that Jesus himself read his Old Testament in this way. When he spoke to the two men on the road to Emmaus, we learn that "beginning with Moses and with all the prophets, He explained to them the things concerning Himself in all the Scriptures" (Luke 24:27). And when he spoke to the Jerusalem Pharisees he boldly proclaimed,

Do not think that I will accuse you before the Father; the one who accuses you is Moses, in whom you have set your hope. 46 For if you believed Moses, you would believe Me, for he wrote about Me. John 5:45-46

But how exactly do we find Jesus in our Old Testament? He is not named there, so how can we do it? Here are eight ways to find him there, most of them inspired by Sidney Greidanus' Preaching Christ from the Old Testament (1999).


First, the Bible presents the unfolding history of God's redemption, and at the center of that story is Jesus himself. He is the promised "seed" that will one day destroy the work of the devil:

And I will put enmity between you and the woman, And between your seed and her seed; He shall bruise you on the head, And you shall bruise him on the heel. Gen. 3:15The God of peace will soon crush Satan under your feet. The grace of our Lord Jesus be with you. Rom. 16:20

He is also the one to inaugurate the new covenant through the shedding of his blood, the covenant that will create a new people whose God is the Lord:

"Behold, days are coming," declares the LORD, "when I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel and with the house of Judah." Jer. 31:31And in the same way He took the cup after they had eaten, saying, "This cup which is poured out for you is the new covenant in My blood." Luke 22:20


A familiar way to find Christ is to see how he fulfills Old Testament prophecy:

I will surely tell of the decree of the LORD: He said to Me, 'You are My Son Today I have begotten You.' Psalm 2:7
God has fulfilled this promise to our children in that He raised up Jesus, as it is also written in the second Psalm, 'YOU ARE MY SON; TODAY I HAVE BEGOTTEN YOU.' Acts 13:33
Therefore the Lord Himself will give you a sign: Behold, a virgin will be with child and bear a son, and she will call His name Immanuel. Isa. 7:14
"She will bear a Son; and you shall call His name Jesus, for He will save His people from their sins." 22 Now all this took place to fulfill what was spoken by the Lord through the prophet: 23 'BEHOLD, THE VIRGIN SHALL BE WITH CHILD AND SHALL BEAR A SON, AND THEY SHALL CALL HIS NAME IMMANUEL,' which translated means, 'GOD WITH US.' Matt. 1:21-23


A "type" is a challenging concept, but it is basically a person, event, or thing that has some quality that Christ also has but in far greater measure. The "type" is the lesser thing, where Christ is the greater. Two types mentioned in the New Testament are Adam himself and also the Passover lamb:

Nevertheless death reigned from Adam until Moses, even over those who had not sinned in the likeness of the offense of Adam, who is a type of Him who was to come. Rom. 5:14

Adam was the representative for the entire human race. Because of that his sin brought all of us into sin and judgment. Yet, Christ is the greater Adam who did not sin. Because of his perfection, "those who receive the abundance of grace and of the gift of righteousness will reign in life through the One, Jesus Christ (Rom. 5:17).

A second type is the Passover lamb:

Clean out the old leaven so that you may be a new lump, just as you are in fact unleavened. For Christ our Passover also has been sacrificed. 1 Cor. 5:7

The Passover lamb shed its blood so that "no plague will befall you to destroy you when I strike the land of Egypt" (Ex. 12:13). Likewise, Jesus shed his greater blood for an even greater salvation. He did not just save us from physical death, but he saved us from unending punishment in the fires of hell.


A fourth way to see Jesus in our Old Testament is to note the way he often uses the Old Testament in his teaching. Of many examples here is one:

And He said to them, "Rightly did Isaiah prophesy of you hypocrites, as it is written: 'THIS PEOPLE HONORS ME WITH THEIR LIPS, BUT THEIR HEART IS FAR AWAY FROM ME. 7 BUT IN VAIN DO THEY WORSHIP ME, TEACHING AS DOCTRINES THE PRECEPTS OF MEN.'" Mark 7:6-7


A fifth way to see Jesus in our Old Testament is to note how he often re-lives important and symbolic events in the life of Israel. One of these is how he experienced Israel's wilderness wanderings in miniature through his temptation "in the wilderness." We need to see that each time he responds to the devil he quotes a passage from Deuteronomy, a book that in these respective passages is looking back on Israel's failures in the wilderness and warning them to be different in the future.

Then Jesus was led up by the Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted by the devil. 2 And after He had fasted forty days and forty nights, He then became hungry. 3 And the tempter came and said to Him, "If You are the Son of God, command that these stones become bread." 4 But He answered and said, "It is written, 'MAN SHALL NOT LIVE ON BREAD ALONE, BUT ON EVERY WORD THAT PROCEEDS OUT OF THE MOUTH OF GOD.'"

5 Then the devil took Him into the holy city and had Him stand on the pinnacle of the temple, 6 and said to Him, "If You are the Son of God, throw Yourself down; for it is written, 'HE WILL COMMAND HIS ANGELS CONCERNING YOU'; and 'ON their HANDS THEY WILL BEAR YOU UP, SO THAT YOU WILL NOT STRIKE YOUR FOOT AGAINST A STONE.'" 7 Jesus said to him, "On the other hand, it is written, 'YOU SHALL NOT PUT THE LORD YOUR GOD TO THE TEST.'"

8 Again, the devil took Him to a very high mountain and showed Him all the kingdoms of the world and their glory; 9 and he said to Him, "All these things I will give You, if You fall down and worship me." 10 Then Jesus said to him, "Go, Satan! For it is written, 'YOU SHALL WORSHIP THE LORD YOUR GOD, AND SERVE HIM ONLY.'" 11 Then the devil left Him; and behold, angels came and began to minister to Him. Matt. 4:1-11


There are many themes in the Old Testament that continue and find their fulfillment in Christ. One of these is the notion of shepherd. David is the shepherd king who will write Psalm 23 about God as our Shepherd. Jesus will then call himself "the good shepherd" as the fulfillment of this:

A Psalm of David. The LORD is my shepherd, I shall not want. Ps. 23:1
I am the good shepherd, and I know My own and My own know Me, 15 even as the Father knows Me and I know the Father; and I lay down My life for the sheep. John 10:14-15


Sometimes Jesus connects to the Old Testament by being the flawless example to contrast with the very flawed example we find in the saints of the Old Testament. Even the heroes of the Old Testament are deeply flawed men who seem to awaken in us the cry for a greater Savior. Abraham lies about his wife and is taken from the pagan Ur of the Chaldeans. Moses is the murdering prince who is disqualified from entering the promised land. David is the murdering adulterer whose family is ravaged by the consequences of his various sins. And these are just the good guys. In contrast to all of these is Jesus who is the "lamb unblemished and spotless" in the most comprehensive way (1 Peter 1:19).


An eighth way that we can find Jesus in our Old Testament is a bit less direct. It is that we are brought face-to-face with our need for Jesus when we read it. In its pages we have a mirror held up to us that shows how depraved and needy we are. The source for all our needs is Jesus. When Psalm 14:3 tells us, "They have all turned aside, together they have become corrupt; There is no one who does good, not even one," we know that apart from Jesus we have no hope for salvation. All we can do is cry out like the Philippian jailer: "What must I do to be saved?" (Acts 16:30). The answer? "Believe in the Lord Jesus, and you will be saved, you and your household."

This is true also when we read the commands of the Old Testament. Our cry when we read these is, "How can I possibly obey this? Look at me!" That's when we need to hear that Jesus is our source for that, too: "We are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand so that we would walk in them" (Eph. 2:10).


We cannot begin to exhaust how the Old Testament speaks of Jesus, but hopefully this summary gives you some new ways of seeing him there. If you want a longer version of this post, go here for an article on the topic.

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