In part one I laid out a broad overview of the story of the Old Testament. What we saw was that except for the expositional chapters of Genesis 1-11, the surface-level story of the Old Testament is a chronology of the rise, fall, and partial redemption of the nation/people of Israel—a nation that was divinely promised to father Abraham and inaugurated via the birth of his promised miracle child Isaac.
What we will see in this second part of the series is that when the Old Testament is viewed from the Christian perspective, the mere cursory reading of the Old Testament that I just laid out is NOT the main story. It is not even close.
As we unwrap the outer membrane of the Old Testament what we will find is a completely different, inner, hidden narrative that puts a 180° spin and plot twist on the whole story. It is within this hidden narrative that the purpose and understanding of the Old Testament is completely reframed and revealed.
ENTER JESUS OF NAZARATH
In the area of Roman occupied Judea, nearly 2000 years after God made the promises to Abraham, a Jewish man from Nazareth became well-known for his teachings, healings, and demonic exorcisms. He broke many of the cultural norms, practiced unsurpassable love toward others, and rebuked the religious leaders of the time for hypocrisy and self-centeredness. He ruffled the feathers of the clergy because He taught and acted with supreme authority and spoke in a way that left no one guessing that he believed he was in some way equal to God (John 5:18). To top it off, Jesus declared that he was the long-awaited messiah prophesized throughout the Old Testament (John 4:25-26).
Many of those who heard Jesus’s words 2000 years ago believed in his messianic claims and followed him. They said that Jesus of Nazareth taught and performed amazing acts, was then handed over to the authorities by his own people, killed via crucifixion, yet came back to life three days later and witnessed to a great number of people before departing to the heavenly realm. The people closest to Jesus wrote down His words for preservation, as recorded in the four Gospels (Matthew, Mark, Luke, John). Additionally, a few of them wrote down further instructions and guidance to continue to help Jesus’s early followers stay true to their faith (Romans-Revelation). These combined writings make up a new collection of books that continues the Old Testament Abrahamic/Israeli story—we call it the New Testament. Generations upon generations continued to share Jesus’ message and teachings in the centuries that followed leading all the way up to our present day worldwide Christian faith.
The story of the Old Testament that I laid out in part one is a flat, superficial interpretation. When you read the Bible from that view, what you see is what you get, similar to when one reads a textbook or recipe book. When you read the Bible flat, one needs to go no further other than take the face value of the script and the base conclusions upon that understanding.
Therefore, using a flat reading of the Old Testament, my summary in part one would be widely accepted by just about anyone who reads it regardless if they are people of faith or not.
However, when one accepts the claims made by Jesus of Nazareth, the Old Testament must take on a whole new meaning. We are forced to find an interpretation that surpasses a surface-level understanding.
Why? Because Jesus made an absolutely audacious claim—the entire Old Testament was about Him!
IT’S ALL ABOUT JESUS
In a scathing reproach to the religious leaders, Jesus says:
“You search the Scriptures because you think that in them you have eternal life; and it is [the Old Testament scriptures] that bear witness about Me, yet you refuse to come to me that you may have life.” – John 5:39-40
Jesus said that the scriptures, the writings that we now call the Old Testament, were in actuality all about Him. Take a minute and let that soak in…
Not only does Jesus claim to be the long-awaited, promised messiah, but He challenges us to reinterpret the Biblical narrative around Himself. This is absolutely profound.
Jesus further adds to this revelation in verse 46:
”For if you believed Moses [the first five books of the Old Testament], you would believe me; for he wrote of me.”
According to Jesus, The Old Testament, then, is not about learning about ancient laws or rituals that please God or learning about Jewish history so as to be informed about God. Rather, it serves one purpose— the unveiling of Christ (see also II Corinthians 3:14-16).
Just as Jesus told the Pharisees, knowing the Old Testament narrative, knowing all of the Levitical laws, knowing the history, names, and exploits of the all the kings, knowing all of the prophesies, are completely worthless endeavors, unless we find Jesus in them. Knowing the scriptures might be entertaining, it might increase our head knowledge, it might induce the applause of men, and it might give us an appearance of superiority among other Christians. But according to Jesus, just knowing the Old Testament does not serve the purpose God originally intended the scriptures to serve. The Old Testament writings all serve to point and lead us to intimacy with the love and person of Jesus Christ. Knowledge about God in and of itself will not bring us eternal life.
After His resurrection, Jesus appeared to some of His followers on the road to Emmaus and they reported Jesus teaching them the same radical concept again:
“And beginning with Moses [Genesis-Deuteronomy] and all the Prophets, he [Jesus] explained to them what was said in all the Scriptures concerning himself.”
While we found most of the obvious messianic scriptural references in the latter half and end potions of our Old Testament survey, the early followers of Jesus reported that Jesus did not say that just some of the scriptures spoke of Himself, but rather that all of the scriptures concern Him—going back all the way to the first book of Genesis—the very beginning!
This means that if what God intended us to find in the Old Testament was Jesus, then we need to go as far back as we can to find Him first, allow Him to set up the story, and then read the Old Testament and the Biblical narrative that unfolds through a Jesus-lens.
And to what may come as a surprise, Jesus’s own words point us back to where we first started our survey in part one: Father Abraham.
BACK TO ABRAHAM
The gospel of John chapter 8:12-59 gives a lengthy account where Jesus speaks to the Jewish religious leaders of His day. Jesus starts by preaching that he is the “light of the world“, and whoever follows him will have the “light of life“. This would have been a ridiculous claim to the Jewish scribes and teachers of law —”Follow you for life? The scriptures tell us to follow God and His law ONLY. What are you talking about? Who do you think you are?”
Jesus then engages the religious leaders’ challenges, and in his responses Jesus clearly reveals to us just exactly what he thought of himself and of the scriptures.
Near the end of this discourse, Jesus offers up this mind-blowing response:
“Your father Abraham rejoiced that he would see my day. He saw it and was glad.” So the Jews said to him, “You are not yet fifty years old, and have you seen Abraham? ”Jesus said to them, “Truly, truly, I say to you, before Abraham was, I am.” So they picked up stones to throw at him, but Jesus hid himself and went out of the temple.” – verses 56-59
Jesus says that Abraham saw Jesus’s day—what? How can this be? There’s no mention of Jesus in the Genesis account of Abraham. Nothing obvious of a coming messiah. There is no reference to Jesus or a messiah whatsoever. All that we see are a few chapters of God reiterating the same three promises to Abraham that I brought out in part one, which were: though Abraham’s seed (descendant) God would build a great nation of descendants, they will obtain land and grow large, so large and mighty that they would be a blessing to the whole earth.
But from our flat reading of the Old Testament, we can at minimum say with confidence that the first promise, the coming of Abraham’s seed, was fulfilled by Abraham’s miracle son Isaac—right?
But contrary to how the book of Genesis so clearly lays out via a flat reading, Jesus makes an audacious claim saying that Abraham rejoiced in seeing the coming messiah, not Isaac. And to thicken the plot even further, Jesus was claiming to be that very messiah that Abraham saw!
If we are going to take Jesus’s claims seriously, then our understanding of the Biblical narrative needs to be tweaked. Apparently, there is a secondary story being told within the text that is not easily conspicuous on a surface-level, flat reading. This really does change everything.
Let us investigate.
THE PROMISE, THE SEED, AND THE REAL MEANING OF THE SEED
The apostle Paul of the New Testament backs up Jesus’s claim about Abraham. Paul says in Galatians 3:7-9:
“Know then that it is those of faith who are the sons of Abraham. And the [Old Testament], foreseeing that God would justify the Gentiles by faith, preached [the gospel of Jesus] beforehand to Abraham, saying, ‘In you shall all the nations be blessed.’ So then, those who are of faith are blessed along with Abraham, the man of faith.” (that in brackets added for clarity)
This is now the second witness that testifies that the future gospel of the messiah Jesus is found all the way back in the Old Testament story of Abraham. The New Testament is clear—Jesus, and his gospel were preached to Abraham in advance. But if it is not obvious to us on a cursory reading through Genesis, then how are we able to see this in the text?
Thankfully, the Apostle Paul breaks this all down for us in the very same letter to the Galatians.
If we look back to the account of the story of Isaac and Abraham, we see that God made a promise:
“And when Abram was ninety years old and nine, the Lord appeared to Abram, and said unto him, I am the Almighty God; walk before me, and be thou perfect. And I will make my covenant between me and thee, and will multiply thee exceedingly. And Abram fell on his face: and God talked with him, saying, “As for me, behold, my covenant is with thee, and thou shalt be a father of many nations. Neither shall thy name any more be called Abram, but thy name shall be Abraham; for a father of many nations have I made thee. And I will make thee exceeding fruitful, and I will make nations of thee, and kings shall come out of thee. And I will establish my covenant between me and thee and thy seed after thee in their generations for an everlasting covenant, to be a God unto thee, and to thy seed after thee. And I will give unto thee, and to thy seed after thee, the land wherein thou art a stranger, all the land of Canaan, for an everlasting possession; and I will be their God.” — Genesis 17:1-8 (KJV)
In what modern Bible versions translate as descendant, we see from this passage in King James version that God promises a future coming seed. On a flat reading of the text, we of course understand this seed to be Abraham’s miracle child, Isaac. And a flat reading of the Biblical narrative records this as such, and Abraham’s seed Isaac it is played out across the building of the physical nation of Israel in the books of the Old Testament accordingly. A plain reading of the text is very straightforward.
But, knowing that Jesus said that Abraham saw Jesus’s day (John 8:56-59), and saw his gospel (Galatians 3:7-9), let us now understand the real mystery of this seed and how the apostle Paul taught how we ought to understand this Abrahamic seed in connection with Jesus:
“Christ hath redeemed us from the curse of the law, being made a curse for us: for it is written, Cursed is every one that hangeth on a tree: That the blessing of Abraham might come on the Gentiles through Jesus Christ; that we might receive the promise of the Spirit through faith. Brethren, I speak after the manner of men; Though it be but a man’s covenant, yet if it be confirmed, no man disannulleth, or addeth thereto. Now to Abraham and his seed were the promises made. He saith not, “And to seeds“, as of many; but as of one, “And to thy seed”, which is Christ. – Galatians 3:13-16
Paul tells us that there was something far greater bring promised to Abraham than his physical son Isaac in Genesis 15 and 17. Initially that sounds crazy, but this exactly what Paul and Jesus believed concerning Abraham’s promised seed.
While there would be a descendant that would come forth from Abraham’s physical seed (Isaac), apparently the physical aspect was only a cover story the true seed that God was disclosing to Abraham. The actual realization of God’s promise was NOT referring to Isaac, but Jesus Himself! This is incredibly profound.
Take time to let that soak in…
There is no doubt.
The New Testament is crystal clear.
Jesus is the seed that God promised to Abraham. I say it again, Jesus is the seed that God promised to Abraham. Jesus is the real meaning behind the Old Testament text. Jesus is the real story that God was trying to set-up through this narrative. Again, take time to let that soak in…
But wait, didn’t God promise that it would be through Isaac that the nations would be blessed (Genesis 21:12)? Yes, God did. But with the Light (Jesus) of the New Testament, an undisclosed underlying story is revealed to be going on between Isaac and Abraham. The apostle Paul called this a mystery “hidden for ages and generations but now revealed to his saints.” (Colossians 1:26, see also Romans 16:25 and I Corinthians 2:7).
The mystery was that God was not trying to build a nation using Abraham’s physical descendants, even though a physical nation did derive from Abraham, but it would be through the spiritual descendant of Abraham that the promises would be fulfilled—the Christ.
Are you scratching your head yet? Does this seem strange? Abraham’s seed was supposed to be the foundation that God builds an entire nation upon. How could this not be referring to Isaac, the physical seed from Abraham?
If God’s promise was not referring to a physical group of people who share a common genetic lineage, then what type of descendants is this promise referring to?
It is here, in the spiritual lineage of Abraham, where the gospel of Jesus is ultimately realized.
What makes Abraham truly unique was that He put his total trust and faith in God. Genesis 15:6 says that when Abraham believed and trusted in what God told Him, God then considered Abraham righteous before Him, “ And he believed the Lord, and he counted it to him as righteousness.”
Believing in God, having faith, putting full trust in Him as the only, true God is the spiritual lineage God sets out to exalt and establish.
The apostle Paul dedicates the entire passage of Romans chapter 4 to prove that Abraham’s righteousness was given to Abraham before he had the sign of circumcision, before the giving of the 10 commandments, and before any kind of moral directives of rights and wrongs.
God didn’t consider Abraham righteous because Abraham was such a good person, or because he was someone who kept the 10 commandments perfectly. As we see later in the book of Genesis, Abraham has plenty of character faults (Geneses 12:10:20, 20:1-18). Rather, it was Abraham’s faith, his steadfast trust, reliance, belief, and adherence to God’s promises that put Abraham in right standing with God. And this is the mystery: It would not be something in his genetics, but his unwavering faith that would be the lineage that would be carried on through the Old Testament narrative—a lineage so indestructible that no matter how hard the cosmic, evil forces of this world would try to extinguish it, the lineage would carry on and eventually give birth to the spiritual seed who would become a blessing to the entire world.
God was using the physical story of Abraham and Isaac from the Ancient Near East to embed the sneaky, spiritual story of the global messiah. If we as Christians are to regard Jesus and the apostle Paul’s words as true, then we must accept that this is the real story of the Old Testament. A story that trumps any other surface-level interpretation, and the story that we need to realize if we are to truly understand God’s purposes in the messiah Jesus‘ story.
And going back to John 8 and Galatians 3, this is how the gospel was preached to Abraham in advance. Abraham was the first person in the Biblical narrative to put absolute faith in God. And for all others who put faith in God through Jesus, regardless of physical linage or genetics, THEY are the true descendants of Abraham (Galatians 3:7-9). They become the actual people of God—not those born of genetic descent from Abraham, but via Abraham’s spiritual descent who believe. Those who come to trust in Abraham’s seed—Jesus—receive the same righteousness as Abraham did, and thereby fulfill the original promise made to him. And it is through Abraham that the whole world is blessed through the same faith!
Understanding the Old Testament and the story of Abraham and Isaac from the New Testament, Jesus’ perspective would have been beyond heretical to the Jews during Jesus and the apostle Paul’s day. The Jews considered themselves to be the exclusive, unique, chosen people of God, who were special due to their physical lineage and called out from all the other nations of the earth because of that lineage. In their eyes, they were favored beyond all other groups of people of the earth because of their blood ties to Abraham.
But this is exactly what Paul was teaching against in Galatians 3. The true descendants of Abraham are NOT those who have a physical lineage through Abraham, but rather those who put faith in the messiah Jesus. And just like Abraham, those who are righteous before God are not those who live a good moral life by adhering and practicing a set of moral rules and laws. Yes, those are important, but they are not the criteria, because all of us sin at one point in our lives or another. People become righteous and in good standing relationship with God in the same way that Abraham did—through faith in God. Good works follow as a fruit and product of that relationship.
Jesus’s revelation as the seed/messiah forces us change the entire narrative of the Old Testament. Through the announcement of faith to Father Abraham, the real purpose of the Old Testament, then, is to teach us to put faith in God and His coming messiah who would bring restoration redemption to the earth. In the light of Jesus, this is the central and overarching story of the Old Testament: the coming seed (Jesus) who will fulfill the promises given to Abraham.
God did not have two stories going on simultaneously in the OT—a physical story and a spiritual story. God used the surface-level story of the nation-building of Israel to bring about the ultimate story of Jesus.
IT DOESN’T STOP THERE
Understanding that the seed of Abraham from the book of Genesis is actually referring to Jesus is mind-blowing, This changes everything. It is a radical paradigm shift. But the revelation of Jesus being found in the Old Testament doesn’t stop there.
The New Testament is full of revelations that shed light on what the true story of the Old Testament was really about. In addition to Abraham’s seed, we find many more examples of where Jesus is found to have been hidden among the surface-level story of the Old Testament.
Time doesn’t permit us to venture into all of them with the depth that I did with Abraham’s seed, but here are some other examples that emerge in the light of Jesus:
- The tabernacle and the temple in the Old Testament are places where God’s presence was said to have dwelt (Exodus 40:33-35, 2 Chronicles 5:13:14). A person may think that we should endeavor to restore the ancient Jewish temple in Jerusalem so that we can bring back a place for God’s presence to dwell. Or maybe we think that we need to go to a sacred church building or to the Holy Land to experience the presence of God, “Isn’t there a special presence of God inside temples and holy places/lands?” Yet the New Testament reveals that the true temple where God dwells is within the innermost part of the human heart through the Holy Spirit (John 7:38-39). Furthermore, Jesus said that God’s presence will not be relegated to a certain place or building of worship (John 4:20-24). So. then, the tabernacle and temple of the Old Testament become mere symbols of the place where the presence of God now lives through faith in our soul (Romans 5:5, I Corinthians 3:16, 6:19).
- The promised land and place of rest that God gave to Abraham in the Old Testament (Joshua 1:10-13) is realized not by controlling/occupying the physical land of ancient Israel, but is entered into by putting faith in Jesus Christ and receiving the rest that He wrought for us in His cross (Hebrews 3:7-4:3). We needn’t any longer fight wars to gain physical territory in order to support or establish a rest for our faith. We receive the rest of Abraham’s “promised land” by ceasing from all of our personal attempts to please God through our own efforts and instead experiencing the life-giving repose that Jesus’ death and resurrection now offers to us through faith in him. The peace, joy, and satisfaction in God that arises though faith in His messiah becomes our holy rest, and we allow Jesus’ finished work to spiritually transform our lives in a way that surpasses anything that an ownership of physical land can do. Additionally, the rest that came by the observance of the weekly, Saturday sabbath (an Old Testament commandment of God) is fully realized in receiving the rest that is available to us through faith in Jesus (Hebrews 4:4-11). This is why when the first gentile (non-Jewish) converts to Christianity came to faith, the leaders of the church did not instruct them to keep the Sabbath as they and their Jewish ancestors did (Acts 15:5-30). They gentiles did not need to keep a special day as their sabbath—Jesus was their Sabbath, and their rest. Believers in the one, true God no longer needed a day to symbolically rehearse this rest because through the messiah they could now finally enter into the very rest they had been waiting centuries for!
- The great nation that God promised to build through Abraham was not going to be a nation of physical descendants through Isaac. Even though we do see a physical manifestation of this promise at the end of Israel’s captivity in Egypt (Exodus 1:7-9), God’s ultimate promise to Abraham as revealed in the New Testament turns out to be the building of the spiritual nation of Israel—a people who have faith in God through Jesus (Galatians 3:26-29). Those who come to believe in Jesus are Abraham’s true offspring—an innumerable large family consisting of the nations and people of the world who come into relationship with God through Jesus (Revelation 7:9-10).
- Waters flowed from a rock that Moses struck with his staff while leading the Israelites through the desert. The waters sustained and brought life to the Israelites through a dry period as they wandered in the wilderness. The story of Moses and the rock can be read flat just as one reads it as found in Exodus 17. Yet again, the New Testament instructs us that the actual living water they were drinking from was from the life of Jesus (I Corinthians 10:4). Similarly, when the Israelites gazed upon a brass serpent in the wilderness to induce the healing power of God (Numbers 21), Jesus identifies Himself as the One that needed to be lifted up so that people can receive eternal life in Him (John 3:14). We see this again with God miraculously providing daily manna for the children of Israel to eat in the wilderness (Exodus 16). Jesus again reveals that the miraculous manna isn’t just a side note to the Israelites’ sojourning story, but it is a spiritual picture being displayed in the Old Testament that is supposed to point us to Jesus Himself. Jesus is the manna and the life-giving, sustaining provision that God provides to His people in the wilderness (John 6:31-35). The Old Testament was not merely documenting what physically happened between God and some randomly selected group people in the wilderness. It turns out that the Old Testament story is a type and shadow of what Jesus would be doing through His incarnation, His cross, and His resurrected life.
- One of the most foundational stories in Judaism is the salvation and redemption of the nation of Israel from slavery under the Egyptians. The Passover holiday is celebrated to this day in remembrance of this liberation. The centerpiece of the first Passover, according to the Old Testament, was the sacrificial lamb. It was to be slaughtered for two purposes: the blood was to be painted on the doorpost so that the God’s plague would not enter any of their houses that first Passover night, and the meat was to be eaten together with family with any that remained to be burned so that nothing was left. This was commanded to be an annual celebration for all the people of Israel handed down generation upon generation. However, the New Testament shows Jesus as the very incarnation of the Passover story:
– When John the Baptist sees Jesus coming to the Jordan River to be baptized, he says, “Behold, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world!” (John 1:29).
– Jesus’ death and resurrection occurs over the Passover week.
– Just as the Israelites were to find a lamb for the Passover that was without blemish (Exodus 12:5), the New Testament refers Jesus as being “like that of a lamb without blemish or spot” (I Peter 1:19). Moreover, Jesus is directed cited as being our “Passover lamb” (I Corinthians 5:7).
– Jesus’ shed blood frees us from the same symbolic death that befell the Egyptians when God’s 10th plague of judgement went out over the land. And for those who follow Jesus and receive His Spirit, He frees them out from the bondage of a fierce enemy that has been bitterly enslaved them—sin.
– Jesus tells His followers to eat his flesh just like they would eat the flesh of the Passover lamb (John 6:48-59).
– In the closing book of the New Testament, Revelation, Jesus is referred to as the lamb 25 times. The church is then invited to the marriage supper of the lamb where the two will feast and consummate their oneness.
- Even though God never wanted a king to rule over Israel, He accommodated Israel’s rejection of Him and gave His people over to the rule of a physical king. God uses the elements from His accommodation and tells king David prophetically that they need to set their hearts on the king who He would be sending—a king who would be raised up from David’s own lineage, established forever, and would be like a son to God (II Samuel 7:12-16). David misinterprets this to be regarding his physical son Solomon and the narrative that follows in the Old Testament plays this out accordingly. Yet in the New Testament it is revealed that Jesus would be the Son of God whose kingdom is established after the house of David (Luke 1:30-33). Contrary to the popular Jewish belief at the time, the messiah Jesus does not come to rule over the people and their land as a national king. He comes to rule and live in the hearts of those who surrender to His lordship.
- The Old Testament shows God’s nature and identity in shadowy-like form: appearing in burning bushes (Exodus 3), speaking from mystical whirlwinds (Job 38:1), and manifesting on top of mountain in smoke and thunder (Exodus 19:16-20). But in Jesus, the claim is made that He was always displaying the nature and character of God perfectly (Colossians 1:15, 19, 2:9, John 14:6-11, II Corinthians 4:4-6, Hebrews 1:3). While God’s character/nature in the Old Testament was shrouded in the culturally conditioned views and sins that God entered into, God was able to finally reveal His true self in Jesus. Jesus redefines our very ideas of who God really is, since He could project God in the manner that was pure and free from sin. Thus, all other shadowy revelations of God in the Old Testament become trumped, and our picture of God must be reinterpreted through His final and full glorification in Jesus and in His cross (John 12:27-28).
- Events in the Old Testament appear to be entirely orchestrated by God. The Old Testament can easily give one the impression that whatever happens in any given situation is happening due to God’s sovereign will. Yet, as revealed in the New Testament, we find many times where circumstances and situations occur that thwart God’s will and purposes (Matthew 12:22-26, Mark 9:17-29). Jesus brings light that exposes a dark, demonically controlled world (Matthew 4:8-9, Ephesians 2:2) that is actually in rebellion and working outside of the purposes of God.
WHAT JESUS REVEALS ABOUT THE PURPOSE OF THE OLD TESTAMENT
What we see witnessed in the New Testament Gospels and in the writings of those closest to Him after His death, then, is that the Old Testament is not a narrative that merely includes some prophecies concerning Jesus which adds to the existing revelations and story of God. We don’t stack the multiple revelations on top of each other to form a whole. The twist is that the Old Testament story leads us wholly to the fully and complete revelation of who God really is in Jesus. Jesus spins the Old Testament from being a just an historical account of a physical lineage of people into a collection of books that set up the framework for God’s grand unveiling as manifested in Jesus Christ via His incarnation and sacrificial death. To read the Old Testament in any other way steals the life that God intended to bring to us when we see it with Jesus-glasses on.
Reading the Old Testament stories without seeing or having it lead us to the ultimate revelation of God incarnate through Jesus creates interpretations that are wholly in error. To extrapolate God’s nature and character from the Old Testament without first allowing the knowledge of God in Christ to overrule it creates pictures of God in our mind that are not accurate—because it was only in Jesus that all the treasures of knowledge and wisdom were hidden (Colossians 2:1-3). We are to be conformed to the image of the incarnate Christ (Romans 8:29-30, Colossians 3:10), not to the pictures and stories of God in the Old Testament. And it is through beholding the singular image of Jesus that we are transformed into the life-giving, image-bearing children He wants us to become. “And we all, with unveiled face, beholding the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from one degree of glory to another. For this comes from the Lord who is the Spirit“ (I Corinthians 3:18).
We need move away from reading the Old Testament and using it as an equally revelatory truth about God. We need move away from taking the Old Testament as our primary understanding of God that we just incorporate Jesus into, and instead take the entirety of the Old Testament and conform it to Jesus’ image. Yes, the Old Testament is God-breathed and -inspired, but specifically inspired to bring us to the knowledge of Jesus. Yes, the Old Testament brought God’s holy law, but His grace, His story to humankind, and the truth of who He is came through Jesus (John 1:17). Yes, the Old Testament showed that there is only one God, and all other gods are false, but the New Testament showed us who this true God really is and the real message He conveys.
When a carrier pigeon arrives at your door, the pigeon’s arrival is not the purpose or the object of attention. It doesn’t matter what the pigeon looks like, how it smells, or how it acts toward us. The pigeon’s primary function is to transport the message that someone gave it to bring to us. In the same way, the Old Testament prepares, carries, and delivers the message of Jesus to us. The Old Testament, then, really has no life or value to us in itself. It is not to be regarded as the fourth person of the Trinity. It is just the messenger.
Yet what many of us tend to do is over glorify the messenger rather than the message. We would never heap praise and attention upon the donkey that Jesus rode on into Jerusalem days before the Last Supper. Why? Because we obviously know that the donkey was only the vehicle that brought the Message. But this is exactly what some of us do when it comes to the Old Testament. We worship it. We isolate it, make it a power of its own, and then integrate its flat-read conclusions into our understanding of God. Perhaps we don’t exalt it over Christ, but for many of us we hold it up to be equal, mix the two together, and/or hold the surface-level reading of the Old Testament up to par with the spiritual meaning thinking that they have the same importance. They do not. Christ trumps any and all other interpretations of scripture. That is one major plot twist!
The surface-level story of the Old Testament documents the rise, fall, and partial restoration of the people of Israel. The texts told the Israelites to put their hopes in a soon-coming messiah who would eternally restore the physical kingdom of Israel and promote it above all other nations of the earth. But what we discover, learn, and must accept through the revelation of Jesus being that messiah is that the actual narrative of the Old Testament is a spiritual story—a story of a messiah who was not coming to serve the nation of Abraham’s physical seed alone, but a messiah who would be creating a new nation of people made up of all inhabitants of the earth who come to know God through Abraham’s spiritual seed of faith.
If we shine Jesus over the Old Testament, in a way similar to how we might use a black light over a carpet, the Light will show us all sorts of insights that we would never see if we were only looking at the text with our everyday, flat-reading goggles on.
If we accept Jesus’s claim to be the messiah, then we must admit that the Old Testament means something quite different than what we see on the surface. And we also must admit that we would never have understood the Old Testament differently had not Jesus and His first followers shined a light on its true meaning.
Much like an iceberg, the 10% we see above the surface in the Old Testament is the story of Abraham and his physical offspring. But it is what is below the surface, the overwhelming bulk of the iceberg that contains 90% of the mass, that is what God intended for us to see in the light of Christ.
As we read and try make sense of the Old Testament, let us aim at getting to the bulk of the iceberg. Let us get out our black lights and search with our Jesus-lenses on. Let us focus on the message, and not the messenger. Let us find Christ and NOTHING else.
*As always, I’d love to hear what’s on your mind so please drop your thoughts in the comment section below!