How to Discover Jesus in the Old Testament:
A Framework and Tools to Find the Christ
A CHRIST-CENTERED FRAMEWORK FOR READING THE OLD TESTAMENT
Luke 24 is about Jesus’ resurrection and how he meets two men on the road to Emmaus. The men speak about Jesus’ death but they don’t know it’s Jesus that they’re talking to. Jesus then says something very profound that gives us the framework for seeing him in the Old Testament. He says to the men in Luke 24:25-27: 25 “O foolish ones, and slow of heart to believe all that the prophets have spoken! 26 Was it not necessary that the Christ should suffer these things and enter into his glory?” 27 And beginning with Moses and all the Prophets, he interpreted to them in all the Scriptures the things concerning himself. Amazing, is it? I would have given anything to be there! Jesus teaches us that we are to believe what the whole Old Testament spoke about him. Moses spoke of Christ and all the prophets spoke of Christ.
Then in Luke 24:44-47 Jesus reveals himself to his disciples a saying, “44 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.” 45 Then he opened their minds to understand the Scriptures, 46 and said to them, “Thus it is written, that the Christ should suffer and on the third day rise from the dead, 47 and that repentance for the forgiveness of sins should be proclaimed in his name to all nations, beginning from Jerusalem.” This is an amazing passage. The whole Old Testament was written about Christ, specifically that he should suffer and on the third day rise from the dead. So where do we see that? Where does the Old Testament say specifically that the Christ would rise after 3 days? Jesus also says that the Old Testament predicted that repentance for the forgiveness of sins should be proclaimed to all nations. Where do we read that? Jesus opened the minds of his disciples to understand the Scriptures to see him there, so we should pray and ask God to do just that for us.
In Acts 3:18 and 19, the Apostle Peter spoke to a group of Jews, saying, “18 But what God foretold by the mouth of all the prophets, [do you see that? All the prophets!] that his Christ would suffer, he thus fulfilled. 19 Repent therefore, and turn back, that your sins may be blotted out.” All the prophets of the Old Testament spoke about Christ. It might be hard to see Christ in the Old Testament at times, but we have been promised that he is there.
Peter speaks again about this in 1 Peter 1:10-11. He says, “10 Concerning this salvation, the prophets who prophesied about the grace that was to be yours searched and inquired carefully, 11 inquiring what person or time the Spirit of Christ in them was indicating when he predicted the sufferings of Christ and the subsequent glories. 12 It was revealed to them that they were serving not themselves but you,” Peter says the same thing here too as he did in Acts and he tells us even more. He says not only that the prophets predicted the sufferings of Christ and his resurrection but also that they were prophesying to us about grace. Grace we’d receive through Christ.
So when we read the Old Testament we can be on the lookout constantly for Jesus the Christ, the Messiah, the Anointed One who would suffer and die, and for a message of grace and forgiveness of sins for all nations.
So that’s our framework for reading the Old Testament. We’ve been promised that Christ and grace is there for us to see, so how do we practically see Christ and hear Christ in the Old Testament? It’s like we’ve been brought to this large field and we’ve been told that there are treasures buried all around and all we need is the right tools to find them and dig them up.
BIBLE STUDY TOOLS TO HELP DISCOVER THE CHRIST IN THE OLD TESTAMENT
We know Christ more through the Old Testament when:
1) We see Christ
- His presence (visions and theophanies/Christophanies)
- His hand (his works in creation and redemption)
- His character and work in people and things (Types and shadows)
2) We hear Christ
- His voice directly (Psalms, prophets)
- Others’ voices about him (Promises, covenants, prophecies)
- His gospel story in OT narratives (narratives)
Certain tools find certain things. A metal detector finds rare coins, a stud finder finds wooden beams, a compass finds north, and a GPS finds the nearest caffeine supplier. So certain tools find certain things. The same is true for the Bible study tools we use to find Christ in the Old Testament. There are certain tools for finding certain aspects of Christ. So what aspects of Christ can we find? There are two main categories: you can see Christ and you can hear Christ. You can see Christ in 4 ways and you can hear Christ in 3 ways.
Let’s break down both of those. First, in what ways can you see Christ in the Old Testament? As I said there are 4 ways I can think of, there may be more, but here are 4 along with the tools you can use to find them.
The first aspect of Christ you can see is His presence. We can see his presence with two tools: visions and theophanies. Visions, and I’d also include dreams with visions, are times in the Old Testament when we see a picture of Christ revealed by God. A theophany is a revelation of God, a visual picture of his presence. When we see a vision of God and we believe it is Christ himself, theologians will sometimes call it a Christophany.
One one of the greatest visions and theophanies, or Christophanies, of Christ in Old Testament is Isaiah 6. In Isaiah 6, Isaiah sees a glorious vision of the LORD on his throne:
In the year that King Uzziah died I saw the Lord sitting upon a throne, high and lifted up; and the train of his robe filled the temple. 2 Above him stood the seraphim. Each had six wings: with two he covered his face, and with two he covered his feet, and with two he flew. 3 And one called to another and said:
“Holy, holy, holy is the Lord of hosts;
the whole earth is full of his glory!”
4 And the foundations of the thresholds shook at the voice of him who called, and the house was filled with smoke. 5 And I said: “Woe is me! For I am lost; for I am a man of unclean lips, and I dwell in the midst of a people of unclean lips; for my eyes have seen the King, the Lord of hosts!”
Isaiah saw the King! He saw the king that everyone had been waiting for. The king that Moses prophesied about, the King that Israel didn’t have during the time of the Judges, the King that was greater than Saul and David and Solomon and Uzziah and all the other kings that failed Israel again and again and again. Who was this king? The Apostle John in John 12:41 tells us plainly, saying “41 Isaiah said these things because he saw his glory [that is Christ’s glory] and spoke of him.” Jesus Christ is the Lord, he is Yahweh, the King of kings seated on the throne, holy and mighty and worthy of the worship of the great seraphim and of all living creatures in heaven and on earth! This is an example of a vision and a theophany where we can see Christ’s presence.
The second aspect of Christ you can see is His hand, that is we can see Jesus actively working in the Old Testament. The tools you can use to find his hand are by looking at God’s work in creation and redemption in the Old Testament. John 1 says that all things were created by Jesus, so we can see him in creation. We also see him working to redeem his people. For example, The Angel of the LORD that we see throughout the Old Testament is considered by many solid theologians to be a Christophany, an appearance of Christ himself, and it is often that when the Angel of the LORD appears he works to help save his people, like in 2 Kings 19 when the Angel of the LORD kills 185,000 Assyrians who are laying siege on Israel.
The third and fourth aspects of Christ I’ve combined together because you use the same tools to find them: the third is you can see His character and the fourth is His gospel mission, the work he will do in his incarnation. You can see his character and his future gospel mission in Old Testament people and things who are types and shadows of Christ. A type is someone or something who isn’t Christ but represents Christ. The word “type” is a biblical word, a tool that Paul used in Romans 5:14 to see Christ in Adam. He says, “14 Yet death reigned from Adam to Moses, even over those whose sinning was not like the transgression of Adam, who was a type of the one who was to come.” Adam was a type of Christ in that he was the firstborn, the head of the human race, just as Christ is the firstborn from the dead, the first of all who would be born again and resurrect to the new life, and thus he is the head of all the Church.
So there are types, but also with types there are antitypes. An antitype is someone who is the opposite of Christ. It is interesting that every person who is a type of Christ in the Old Testament is also imperfect and sinful and thus at times an antitype. So we see Christ even in antitypes or types that only partially look like Him in that we’re able to look at them and say, “This guy is good, but he’s not the one we’re looking for. He’s not the king we want. He’s not the prophet. We need to keep looking and waiting for the promised Messiah.” With these antitypes we often use a lesser than / greater than comparison with Jesus, like Jesus is greater than Adam. Jesus is the better Moses. Jesus is the perfect Israel. Jesus is the better David. So types make us look to Christ and so do antitypes, they keep us longing for a better prophet, priest, and king. So there are types and there are shadows. A shadow is similar to a type in that it represents Christ but it also is something that finds its fulfillment or its full revelation in Christ. Hebrews 10:1 says, “the law has but a shadow of the good things to come instead of the true form of these realities,” The law and many aspects of it like the temple and its pieces, are shadows that find their fulfillment and full revelation in Jesus Christ.
Now not only can we see Christ, but we can hear his voice in the Old Testament. There are three ways I have, and there may be more or other ways of categorizing them.
First, we can hear Christ’s voice directly, that is the very voice of Christ himself speaking to us. Now first of all every word of the Old Testament is Word of God, and it was revealed to the authors of scripture by the Spirit of Christ, so every word of the Old Testament is Christ speaking to us, it is just through other people. But what I mean by hearing Christ’s voice directly is that when we use tools such as reading the Psalms or prophecies or poems, there are passages that sound like it is Christ’s own voice, as clear as when he’s speaking in the New Testament. Dozens of the psalms are like this, just read Psalm 16 or 22.
Second, we can hear Christ in other’s voices about him. We hear about him in promises, covenants, and prophecies. Last week we heard about Jesus through the promise of the offspring that will crush the head of Satan the serpent. Jesus is promised also in the covenants made to Abraham, Moses, and David. He’s the offspring, the righteous branch, the king that will forever be on David’s throne! There are dozens of promises, covenants, and prophecies throughout the Old Testament about Christ, and these are some of the easiest ways to find Christ.
And last, we can hear Christ when we hear his gospel story in Old Testament stories. The gospel story has a flow to it, a pattern: Christ lived, suffered, died, rose again, and is reigning in glory. The more you hear his gospel story the more you start to hear that same story with the same plot twists and changes in the stories of the Old Testament. Take Job for instance. Listen to the story of Job, does it sound like Jesus’ story? Job was a righteous and very wealthy man who worshiped God. The book of Job presents him in the beginning as practically perfect, there was nothing wrong with him in God’s sight. God chose to take all his riches away and afflicted his body and even the closest people to him did not understand his suffering. In the end, after Job had suffered miserably, God not only restored everything back to him, but gave him even more wealth and honor! That’s the story of Job, but it also has the same plot twists and details as the gospel of Jesus, like his perfection, his intense suffering even though he was sinless, and his exaltation for his humble obedience. We see similar patterns in the stories of Joseph, Moses, Daniel, David, and others! So hear Christ’s gospel story in the stories of the Old Testament.
So that sums up all 7 ways to see and hear Christ in the Old Testament. I hope these tools will help you to find Christ and worship him!