Finding and Preaching Christ in the Old Testament: The Old Testament Bears Witness to Christ

In the previous post in this series we considered the challenge of preaching Christ-centered sermons from the Old Testament. In a future post we will examine how the OT bears witness to the person and work of Christ. However, before exploring the how we must first establish the fact that the OT does bear witness to Christ. First, the teaching of Jesus, Paul, and Peter will be considered. Second, the NT’s presentation of the storyline of the OT will be examined. Third, the way in which progressive revelation affects the OT’s witness to Christ will be explored.

The Teaching of Jesus and the Apostles

Jesus declared to his opponents among the Jewish religious leaders that the OT Scriptures, in particular the books of Moses, bear witness about him (John 5:39-40, 46-47). After his resurrection, Jesus instructed his disciples that the Law of Moses, the Prophets, and the Psalms bear witness to his suffering, death, and resurrection.

And he said to them, “O foolish ones, and slow of heart to believe all that the prophets have spoken! Was it not necessary that the Christ should suffer these things and enter into his glory?” And beginning with Moses and all the Prophets, he interpreted to them in all the Scriptures the things concerning himself (Luke 24:25-27, ESV).

Then he said to them, “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.” Then he opened their minds to understand the Scriptures, and said to them, “Thus it is written, that the Christ should suffer and on the third day rise from the dead, and that repentance and forgiveness of sins should be proclaimed in his name to all nations, beginning from Jerusalem (Luke 24:44-47, ESV).

In the epistles to the Galatians and the Romans, Paul wrote that Genesis and the prophetic writings bear witness about the gospel of Jesus Christ (Gal. 3:8; Rom. 1:2-3). Similarly, Peter wrote that the OT prophets foretold Christ’s sufferings and glorification (1 Pet. 1:10-12). According to Jesus and the Apostles, the OT Scriptures bear witness to the person and work of Christ.

The Storyline of the Old Testament

The OT witness about Christ is not limited to a handful of texts scattered throughout the OT. It is at the heart of the OT storyline itself. The OT anticipates and progresses toward Christ, and ultimately is fulfilled and completed by him.1 This can be seen in the ways in which the NT structures its presentation of the OT story and Jesus’ relationship to it. For example, each of the Synoptic Gospels begins by placing Jesus’ birth and ministry in the context of the OT. Matthew presents Jesus as the long awaited son of Abraham and son of David (Matt. 1:1-17). Mark records Jesus’ declaration at the onset of his public ministry that the promised kingdom of God had arrived in him (Mark 1:14-15). Luke records the angel’s announcement to Mary of the birth of Christ, in whom the promises to David are fulfilled (Luke 1:31-33).

The sermons and discourses in Acts reinforce the idea that the trajectory of the OT storyline is directed toward Christ. Peter’s sermon at Pentecost dwells on the prophetic ministry of David that pointed forward to the resurrection of Christ (Acts 2:22-36). Stephen’s defense in Acts 7 is a recital of God’s redemptive activity in the OT. It begins with God’s promise to Abraham, moves on to Moses and the exodus from Egypt, proceeds to David and Solomon, and then reaches its climax in Jesus Christ. Similarly, Paul preaches the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ as the culmination of the story begun in the OT (Acts 13:16-41).

Lastly, it should be noted that Hebrews provides the most extensive exposition in the NT concerning how the OT storyline points forward to Christ. It connects Jesus and his redemptive work to OT people (e.g. Moses and Aaron), offices (e.g. prophet, priest, and king), and institutions (e.g. sacrificial system), demonstrating that the storyline of the OT progresses toward Jesus Christ in the NT.

The Old Testament and Progressive Revelation

The fact that the OT bears witness to the person and work of Christ does not mean that its witness is as clear or detailed as the NT’s witness to Christ. The OT prophets foretold Christ’s sufferings, but they did not have absolute clarity concerning when or in whom their prophecies would be fulfilled (1 Pet. 1:10-12). The various witnesses to the person and work of Christ in the OT functioned as “shadows” of what was to come (Heb. 10:1). The nature of redemptive revelation is such that it unfolded with greater degrees of clarity and detail as God directed history toward its climax in the incarnation, life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ (Luke 10:23-24; Rom. 16:25-26).2

Looking Ahead

In the next post in this series we will begin to examine two key ways the Old Testament bears witness to the person and work of Jesus Christ.

  1. Christopher J. H. Wright, Knowing Jesus Through the Old Testament (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 1995), 56. []
  2. Graeme Goldsworthy, Preaching the Whole Bible as Christian Scripture: The Application of Biblical Theology to Expository Preaching (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2000), 72-80. []