Preaching Christ from the Old Testament

Today’s post is the fifth and final entry in a series on finding and preaching Christ in the Old Testament. See part 1, part 2, part 3, and part 4.

The preacher who seeks to proclaim Christ from the OT has a rewarding, but challenging task. He will be helped in his efforts to proclaim Christ in all the Scriptures by keeping in mind the following important guidelines.

Four Practical Guidelines

1. Identifying OT types is not a matter of speculation or imagination, but rather biblical-theological exegesis and reflection. Goldsworthy has helpfully summarized the four primary characteristics of a type identified by John Currid. Remembering these characteristics will help preachers avoid speculation and allegorical interpretations in their attempts to find Christ in the OT.

First, it must be grounded in history; both type and antitype must be actual historical events, persons, or institutions. Second, there must be both a historical and theological correspondence between type and antitype. Third, there must be an intensification of the antitype from the type. Fourth, some evidence that the type is ordained by God to foreshadow the antitype must be present.1

2. Later biblical revelation, particularly the NT, ought to be consulted when studying an OT passage. The preacher must work at understanding an OT passage in its original context through an analysis of the text’s grammar, literary features, and historical situation. However, after exegeting the text in its original context, the preacher ought to allow the rest of the canon to illuminate the ways in which the passage bears witness to the person and work of Christ.

Graeme Goldsworthy writes,

Progressive revelation requires that we must always allow God’s later and fuller words to interpret the meaning of the earlier and less explicit words…Again I must stress that while earlier expressions help us understand the later, it is the later fulfillment which must interpret the real significance of the earlier expressions. This means, of course, that the earlier expressions point to things beyond themselves that are greater than the meaning that would have been perceived by those receiving these earlier expressions.2

Questions such as, “Does the NT quote or allude to the passage under consideration?” and “Are there themes in the passage that are prominent in the NT or elsewhere in the OT?” should be considered.

3. Jesus is the hero of the story. Often preachers focus on how an OT character provides an example for the congregation to follow. For example, a sermon on David’s defeat of Goliath in 1 Samuel 17 may exhort the congregation to be like David by facing the giants in their lives. However, the primary application of this OT text is that the congregation, like the fearful army of Israel, needs a champion who will fight their battle and gain the victory for them. The congregation needs to hear that just as “David won the victory over Goliath without the help of Israel’s fearful army, so Jesus Christ went to the cross alone and defeated Satan, sin, and death” for them.3

4. The goal of preaching Christ-centered OT sermons is to edify rather than mesmerize the congregation. The preacher who has discovered Christ in the OT will be tempted to craft a sermon that is a redemptive-historical masterpiece. In his attempts to highlight the patterns of redemption in an OT text he may inadvertently obscure the Redeemer to whom the text points.4 This can be avoided by not only making the connections between the text and Christ, but also demonstrating how the aspects of the person and work of Christ found in the text apply to the hearers.


The OT is a book about Jesus Christ. From the opening chapters of Genesis to the end of Malachi, the OT bears witness to the person and work of Christ through typology and promise. Prophets, priests, and kings were designed by God to foreshadow the greater Prophet, Priest, and King to come. The OT’s animal sacrifices pointed forward to the “Lamb of God, who takes away the sins of the world” (John 1:29, ESV). The promises of a coming Savior are fulfilled in “Jesus Christ, the son of David, the son of Abraham” (Matt. 1:1, ESV). Through Jesus’ life, death, resurrection, and ascension God has accomplished the great salvation that his ancient promises announced (Acts 13:33). Finally, Christian preachers today have the great privilege and responsibility of proclaiming Christ in all the Scriptures (Luke 24:27).

  1. Graeme Goldsworthy, Preaching the Whole Bible as Christian Scripture: The Application of Biblical Theology to Expository Preaching (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2000), 111, citing John Currid, “Recognition and Use of Typology in Preaching,” Reformed Theological Review 53, no. 3 (1994): 121. [↩]
  2. Graeme Goldsworthy, According to Plan: The Unfolding Revelation of God in the Bible (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 2002), 123. [↩]
  3. Jim Newheiser, Opening Up 1 Samuel (Leominster, England: Day One, 2011), 102. [↩]
  4. Dennis E. Johnson, Him We Proclaim: Preaching Christ from All the Scriptures (Phillipsburg, NJ: P&R, 2007), 17. [↩]