Today we continue our three-part series looking at John 5:39. In this series, we began with looking at three reasons we miss the message of the Bible. Today we’ll look at three ways to find Christ in the Old Testament, and finally, we’ll explore five principles to search the Scriptures profitably. When Jesus spoke of the Scriptures in John 5:39, He meant the Old Testament, since the New Testament had not yet been written. It was of the Old Testament Scriptures that he said, “They bear witness about me” (John 5:39). How is this?
In one of his accounts of Jesus’ post resurrection appearances, Luke records an episode that is very instructive regarding the message of the Old Testament. Two unnamed disciples had witnessed the crucifixion and were departing Jerusalem in despair. Jesus came upon them without revealing His identity and pointed out that the death and resurrection of the Messiah had been foretold in the Scriptures. He went on to give them a mini-course in the message of God’s Word. Luke 24:27, “And beginning with Moses and all the Prophets, he interpreted to them in all the Scriptures the things concerning himself.” Note his emphasis that “all the Scriptures” teach about Jesus. This shows us that the chief message of the Old Testament is the person and work of the Savior Jesus Christ. Jesus taught the disciples not just that an occasional verse predicted His coming, but that the message of all the Scriptures concerned Him.
How is Christ spoken of in the Old Testament? A vast amount could be said of this with much profitable study. But one way to organize the Old Testament’s witness to Christ is in three categories: prophecies, types, and ceremonies.
First, the Old Testament contains a storehouse of prophecies that find their fulfillment in Jesus Christ. Some have to do with the details of his life, such as his birth by a virgin in Isaiah 7:14 in the town of Bethlehem Micah 5:2 teaches. Others pertain to His ministry such as Isaiah 61:1, “The Spirit of the Lord God is upon me, because the Lord has anointed me to bring good news to the poor; he has sent me to bind up the brokenhearted, to proclaim liberty to the captives, and the opening of the prison to those who are bound.”
Above all are a great number of prophecies concerning Jesus’ death and resurrection, which Charles Simeon describes as “so detailed they could never have entered into the mind of an uninspired man, nor could possibly have been accomplished by any contrivance or conspiracy of men.”[i] An abbreviated list include these prophecies: He would be sold for thirty pieces of silver (Zech. 11:12); He would be beaten on the face and spit upon (Isa. 50:6); nails would piece His hands and feet (Zech. 12:10; Ps. 22:16); He would agonize in thirst and be given gall to drink (Pss. 22:15; 69:21); despite the normal Roman practice, no bone of His would be broken (Ps. 34:20); and after death He would be buried in a rich man’s grave (Isa. 53:9). The Old Testament also prophesies the purpose and significance of his death: Isaiah 53:5, “But he was pierced for our transgressions; he was crushed for our iniquities; upon him was the chastisement that brought us peace, and with his wounds we are healed.”
Second, the Old Testament teaches about the coming Messiah by means of types. These are persons, events, and institutions that typify something about Jesus Christ. Moses was a type of Christ as our deliverer from bondage. David was a type of Christ as the faithful king. Solomon typified Jesus’ reign of peace and glory. The conquest of Jericho was a type of Christ’s conquest over Satan. The tabernacle typified God as he dwells among men through Christ. How important it is that we read the stories of these Old Testament people and events not just as interesting history or as moral fables, but to teach us about the person and work of the Savior who would come.
Third, the Old Testament ceremonies spoke powerfully of Jesus Christ. The Levitical priests anticipated Christ’s ministry of reconciliation for sin, and the sacrifices showed forth His saving blood. A prominent example was the Day of Atonement (Lev. 16), in which the high priest would enter the Most Holy Place once a year to make a sacrifice for the sins of the people. The details were all significant. First, the high priest would put on clear and holy garments, signifying the Messiah’s perfect righteousness to serve as priest before God. He then took two male goats from the people. These were also spotless, to show that the true Sacrifice must be sinless. On one of these goats, the high priest laid his hands, signifying the transfer, or imputation, of the people’s sins to this “scapegoat.” That goat was then “sent away into the wilderness” (Leviticus 16:10) far beyond the sight of the people, just as our sins are taken away by Christ. The other ram was killed as a sacrifice, and the high priest took its blood into the Most Holy Place. There, in the presence of the glory of God and before the tablets of the Ten Commandments, which presented God’s law that the people’s sin had broken, the high priest sprinkled blood on the mercy seat, just as Christ died to present His own blood to atone for our transgressions.
The prophecies, types, and ceremonies are some of the main ways of seeing the Old Testament’s teaching about Christ. The five books of Moses, known as the Torah, or the Pentateuch, are filled with prophecies of Christ—such as those of Adam and Eve, Noah, Abraham, Jacob, Isaac, Joseph, and Moses. Most of these people are types either of Christ or of faith in Christ. The ceremonies of the law that point to Christ were also given by God through Moses. That the scribes and the Pharisees should fly the banner of Moses and so fail to comprehend his witness to Christ is nothing less than sad. This is why Moses himself, whose name they most prized, condemns them. Through the law he taught, which judges their sin, and the gospel he preached, which they refused by their opposition to Christ, Moses above all accuses these Old Testament scholars. That same law accuses each one of us, unless, as Jesus said, we “come to him that we may have life” John 5:40 says. Let none of us look down on the scribes and the Pharisees, though their guilt was very great, but rather let us confess our own sin and come to Christ, to be saved by the gospel that both he and Moses proclaimed.
Next Post: Five Principles to Search The Scriptures Profitably
[i] Charles Simeon, Evangelical Preaching (Portland: Multnomah, 1986), 197.