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Finding Jesus in the Old Testament

To the Jews who were persecuting Him, Jesus said, “These are the very Scriptures that testify about me” John 5:39 (NIV). This should arrest our attention. From a Bible engagement perspective, what could be more important than this text? For in the phrase “that testify about me” we learn that Jesus is present throughout the Old Testament.

Most Christians probably agree that Jesus is central through the New Testament. They’ll also probably agree that He doesn’t seem to be in the Old Testament law or the history of Israel and is only occasionally found in the wisdom literature and the prophets.

Is there a disconnect? Jesus says the Scriptures testify about Him, yet the reality for many Christians is that He’s not plainly revealed in the Old Testament. That is, He seems to be veiled or hidden. Which may be why most Christians tend to mainly read/reflect on the last 20% of the Bible rather than the first 80%.

One of the reasons why we mainly connect with the New Testament is because we want to know Jesus through His Word. But only reading/reflecting on the New Testament to know Jesus through His Word is short-sighted. If we’re reading the Word to know Jesus, and He says in the New Testament that the Old Testament testifies about Him, then our Bible reading/reflecting should include the Old Testament.

All this to simply recognize that maybe, like the disciples on the Road to Emmaus, we need to have our minds opened in order to find Jesus in the Old Testament (cf. Luke 24:45). I know I did. I couldn’t see the forest for the trees. That is, I needed to be retrained in how to interpret and understand the Old Testament. And that’s why I’m putting a plug in for a helpful resource – David Murray’s excellent book, Jesus on Every Page: 10 Simple Ways to Seek and Find Christ in the Old Testament.

© Scripture Union Canada 2018
2 Corinthians 4:5


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About Jesus and For Jesus

Jesus taught that He’s the central theme of the Old Testament. This is plainly revealed on the road to Emmaus when He began with Moses and the Prophets and explained to the disciples what the Old Testament said about Him (cf. Luke 24:27).

While it’s obvious from Luke 24:27 that the Old Testament is about Jesus, it should also be noted that Jesus (when He was physically living in Palestine) had to read and reflect on the Old Testament in order to grow and develop (e.g. Luke 2:40, 52).

How can this be? How can the Old Testament be both about Jesus and for Jesus?

The answer to this question is informed by the fact that Jesus has both a divine and human nature – is fully God and fully man. This is a mystery that’s difficult to understand. Jesus is simultaneously the Son of God and the Son of Man. Which is to say that He is One person with two distinct yet inseparable natures – what theologians call the hypostatic union.

Remarkably, the eternally existent omniscient Son of God is the One who gives us the Old Testament and He’s also the finite Son of Man who had to listen and learn (cf. Luke 2:46) in order to grow in His understanding of the Old Testament.

Most Christians are comfortable with the fact that the Old Testament is about Jesus, yet some are a tad uncomfortable with the fact that the Old Testament is for Jesus. That’s not uncommon. The tendency is to think of Jesus as God and mainly relate to Him as the Almighty who is “alive for ever and ever!” Revelation 1:18. But let’s not forget that Jesus was born of a woman (cf. Galatians 4:4-5), was taught the Old Testament by His parents, and grew up hearing the Old Testament being read and discussed in the synagogue (cf. Luke 4:16).

So just like Jesus is fully God and fully man, the Old Testament is fully about Jesus and fully for Jesus.

One more thought: While the theology about Jesus’ divine and human nature is intellectually fascinating, it’s nonetheless practical. Because the Old Testament is about Jesus, it should elevate the way we receive, read (or hear) and reflect on it. And because the Old Testament is for Jesus, it should elevate the way we respond to it. That is, because the Old Testament is for Jesus, it reminds us that Jesus became one of us so that we would model our lives on Him.

© Scripture Union Canada 2018
2 Corinthians 4:5


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How Do You Read the Bible?

People read the Bible differently. Some read it flippantly, fancifully, dismissively, selfishly or subjectively. Others read it academically or ardently. How do you read it? Do you mine the text for nuggets, search for solace, seek an encounter with God, look for guidance, or simply go with the flow? Do you read it as a collection of disjointed independent books or as a unified canon? Do you read it in mono, stereo or surround sound? Do you read it mainly through the lens of modernity or postmodernity? Do you read it contextually, critically, historically, or literally? Do you read it from the perspective of a Catholic, Protestant, Evangelical, Pentecostal or Charismatic? Do you read it because you want to, have to or think you ought to? Or do you just read it!?

There is a right and a wrong way to read the Bible. So what’s the right way? While there are no quick or easy answers, here are three formative suggestions:

  • Read the Bible as a whole. The two Testaments are not separate books between one cover. View the Bible as the first and second dramatic acts of God’s covenantal relationship with humanity. Recognise that “in the Old Testament, the New is concealed; in the New, the Old is revealed” Augustine of Hippo.
  • Read the Bible Christologically. Christ said, “. . . the Scriptures point to me!” John 5:39. See Christ as the thread holding Scripture together, the central character of the Old and New Testament, the One unlocking meaning and understanding.
  • Let the Bible read you. The Bible is more than a book – it’s alive and active (cf. Hebrews 4:12). Given permission, the Bible will weigh and measure you, and then, finding you wanting, will proceed to fill your heart with faith, hope and love.

© Scripture Union Canada 2013