Finding and Preaching Christ in the Old Testament: Promise

In the previous post we began to examine the nature of the Old Testament’s witness to Christ by considering the Bible’s use of typology.

Promise in the Old Testament

A second key way in which the OT bears witness to the person and work of Christ is through promises of a coming Savior and salvation. God’s promises directed the hopes of his people toward a time when his redemptive purposes would be fulfilled (Heb. 10:39-40). Although there were immediate and partial fulfillments of many of the promises in OT times, the OT ends as an incomplete story.1 The promise of a glorious day of salvation had yet to be fulfilled. The good news proclaimed by the NT is that God’s promises have been fulfilled in Jesus Christ (Rom. 15:8; 2 Cor. 1:20).

Jesus Fulfills God’s Promises

Jesus is the ultimate fulfillment of God’s promises to Abraham (Gen. 12:1-3, 7; 15; 17). He is the promised offspring (Gal. 3:16). Through faith in Christ, both Jews and Gentiles become true children of Abraham thus fulfilling God’s promises to him of innumerable descendants and worldwide blessing (Gal. 3:14, 29).

God’s promises to David are also fulfilled in Christ. He is the son of David (Matt. 1:1; 9:27; Rom. 1:3; 2 Tim. 2:8) whose kingdom is everlasting (2 Sam. 7:12-13; Luke 1:32-33). As God’s Son (Matt. 3:17; 11:25-27), Jesus enjoys the unique relationship with the Father promised to David’s heir (2 Sam. 7:14; Ps. 2:7; Heb. 1:5). He is the promised Davidic Messiah (Isa. 7:14; 9:1-7; Jer. 23:5-6; Matt. 1:22-23; 4:15-16) who sits at God’s right hand (Ps. 110:1; Heb. 1:3, 13) and faithfully shepherds God’s people (2 Sam. 5:2; Ezek. 34:11-24; 37:15-28; Mic. 5:2; cf. Matt. 2:5-6; John 10:1-18). Yet, as the Servant of the Lord who gives his life as an atonement for the sins of the people (Isa. 42:1-7; 49:1-6; 50:4-11; 52:13-53:12; Acts 8:29-35; 1 Pet. 2:24-25), Jesus fulfilled these promises in a way that surprised his disciples (Matt. 16:21-23) and his opponents (Matt. 27:39-44).2

Finally, as Dennis Johnson has insightfully observed, Jesus fulfills the OT promises of a future “superior redemptive arrangement.”3 He is the Melchizedekan priest whose priesthood “surpasses Aaron’s in its permanence, grounded in [Jesus’] eternal life and the Father’s unbreakable oath” (Ps. 110:4; Heb. 6:20; 7:11-28).4 In contrast to the Aaronic priests who repeatedly offered sacrifices for the sins of the people, Jesus, as the great high priest, offered a single sacrifice that has secured eternal redemption for his people (Heb. 7:27; 9:11-14, 24-28; 10:1-18). He is mediator of the promised new covenant, a covenant “characterized by internalization of God’s law, expansion of intimate knowledge of God, and forgiveness of sins.”5

God’s ancient promises pointed forward to and have been fulfilled in Jesus Christ.

  1. For discussions of the concept of multiple levels of fulfillment of OT promises, see David L. Baker. Two Testaments, One Bible: The Theological Relationship Between the Old and New Testaments (Downers Grove, IL: IVP Academic, 2010), 208-217; Christopher J.H. Wright, Knowing Jesus Through the Old Testament (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 1995), 70-77. [↩]
  2. Bruce K. Waltke and Charles Yu, An Old Testament Theology: An Exegetical, Canonical, and Thematic Approach (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2007), 888-889; Thomas R. Schreiner, New Testament Theology: Magnifying God in Christ (Grank Rapids: Baker Academic, 2008), 205-232. [↩]
  3. Dennis E. Johnson, Him We Proclaim: Preaching Christ from All the Scriptures (Phillipsburg, NJ: P&R, 2007), 180. [↩]
  4. Ibid., 179. [↩]
  5. Ibid., 182. [↩]