The Old Testament Points Us to Christ

by Tommy Peeler

The Old Testament is valuable because it points us to Christ.

Jesus emphasized that the Old Testament pointed to Him

Jesus said, “You search in the Scriptures because you think that in them you have eternal life; it is these that bear witness of Me” (John 5:39). When the audience failed to believe Jesus, He said that Moses would accuse them to the Father. “For if you believed Moses you would believe Me, for he wrote about Me. But if you did not believe his writings, how will you believe My words?” (John 5:45-47). As Jesus was talking to the two disciples on the road to Emmaus He emphasized that the things that had taken place in His cross and resurrection were a fulfillment of the prophets. Then beginning with Moses and the prophets He explained to them the things concerning Himself in all of Scripture (Luke 24:25-27). He gives the apostles the same lesson later that evening saying “that all the things which are written about Me in the Law of Moses and the Prophets and the Psalms must be fulfilled (Luke 24:44-47).

The gospel writers stress Jesus’ fulfillment of the Old Testament Scriptures

Matthew tells the story of Jesus by emphasizing how He fulfilled the Old Testament. Matthew’s quotation formula, “this took place to fulfill what was spoken by the LORD through the prophets” or something similar is used repeatedly in Matthew.

  • Matthew 1:23/ Isaiah 7:14
  • Matthew 2:15/Hosea 11:1
  • Matthew 2:17-18/Jeremiah 31:15
  • Matthew 2:23/??
  • Matthew 4:14-16/Isaiah 9:1-2
  • Matthew 8:16-17/Isaiah 53:4
  • Matthew 13:34-35/Psalm 78:2
  • Matthew 21:4-5/Zechariah 9:9
  • Matthew 27:9-10/Zechariah 11:12-13 with concepts from Jeremiah 19 and 32.

Matthew’s emphasis on how Jesus fulfilled the Old Testament is not limited to this quotation formula. From the first verse of Matthew, he is stressing Jesus' fulfillment of the Old Testament. Matthew 1:1 demonstrates Jesus' fulfillment of the promises to Abraham (Genesis 12) and David (II Samuel 7). Matthew 2:5-6 the chief priests and scribes paraphrase Micah 5:2 to describe the Messiah being born in Bethlehem. John the Baptist and his preparation for Christ is interpreted in light of Isaiah 40:3 in Matthew 3:3. The suffering of Jesus fulfills the Scripture according to Matthew 26:54, 56, and from the cross. He quotes Psalm 22:1 in Matthew 27:46. This is not limited to the gospel of Matthew. It is true of each of the gospels. Look at just a few examples in the gospel of John- 12:13, 15; 19:24, 28, 36, 37 as just a few examples. These passages and examples barely begin to show all the times the gospel writers appeal to the Old Testament to teach Jesus.

The apostle’s preaching in Acts emphasized Jesus' fulfillment of the Old Testament

On the day of Pentecost Peter quotes Psalm 16:8-11 (Acts 2:25-28, 31), Psalm 132:11 (Acts 2:30) and Psalm 110:1 (Acts 2:34-35) to emphasize that God’s promises to David were fulfilled in the resurrection of Jesus from the dead. Acts 3 states that Jesus fulfilled all the prophets (Acts 3:18, 21, 24). In Acts 4 Peter emphasizes Jesus’ fulfillment of Psalm 118:22 (Acts 4:11) and Psalm 2:1-2 (Acts 4:25-27). Stephen points out that the rejection of Joseph by his brothers (Acts 7:9), Moses by Israel (Acts 7:27-28, 39-41), and the prophets (Acts 7:52) foreshadowed the rejection of Jesus (Acts 7:51-53). Philip points to Jesus as the fulfillment of Isaiah’s suffering servant from Isaiah 53 (Acts 8:32-35). Even to the Gentile Cornelius, Peter showed all the prophets pointed to Jesus (Acts 10:43). In Paul’s journeys, he usually went first to the Jewish synagogue. In the synagogues, Paul teaches from the Old Testament showing that Jesus was the expected Messiah. Paul explains who Jesus is in light of Psalm 2:7 and Psalm 16:10 (Acts 13:33-37). See Acts 17:2-3 and Paul’s reasoning from the Scriptures that Jesus was the promised Savior. Acts 28:23 Paul was “testifying about the kingdom of God and trying to persuade them concerning Jesus from both the Law of Moses and from the Prophets.” In Paul’s trial which led him to Rome, he stated that He taught Jesus as the fulfillment of the Law and the Prophets (Acts 24:14; 26:22-23). Since Jesus is the fulfillment of the Law and prophets, Paul asks Agrippa if he wants to be a Christian by saying, “King Agrippa, do you believe the Prophets”? (Acts 26:27).

The Epistles and Revelation show the Old Testament points to Jesus. Galatians 3:24 says the “law has become our tutor to lead us to Christ so that we might be justified by faith.” The context of Galatians 3 points to the fulfillment of the promises to Abraham in Christ (Galatians 3:16) and His followers (Galatians 3:26-29). In discussing Israel's adventures in the wilderness, Paul says the rock which followed them was Christ (I Corinthians 10:4). Paul said Christ is the end of the law (either this means termination point or goal or both) in Romans 10:4.

This emphasis continues in epistles not written by Paul. Almost every sentence of Hebrews is built upon Jesus as the fulfillment of specific passages and types from the Old Testament. I Peter 2:18-25 repeatedly uses words and ideas from Isaiah 53 to Jesus and to show we behave as His followers.

Often the New Testament says the Old Testament was written for us.

Romans 15:3 quotes from Psalm 69:9 and then says, “Whatever was written in earlier times was written for our instruction, so that through perseverance and the encouragement of the Scriptures we might have hope” (Romans 15:4). Paul goes on to tie Old Testament passages together in Romans 15:9-12 which show Jews and Gentiles in “one accord” and with “one voice” glorifying God (that wording is from Romans 15:6). Paul is constantly constructing his arguments on the Old Testament.

Romans 4 deals with God’s justification of Abraham. The chapter quotes Genesis 15:6 and uses it to teach a lesson in how we are justified (Romans 4:3). Paul shows that this statement was made before Abraham was circumcised so the justification is the same whether one is circumcised or not (Romans 4:9-12). “Therefore it was credited to him as righteousness. Now not for his sake only was it written that it was credited to him, but for our sake also, to whom it will be credited, as those who believe in Him who raised Jesus our Lord from the dead” (Romans 4:22-24). This passage is a good example of how the Old Testament is able “to give you the wisdom that leads to salvation through faith which in Christ Jesus” (II Timothy 3:15).

In I Corinthians 9, Paul is dealing with the right of preachers to be supported in their work. He describes how he foregoes that right to help others. He quotes Deuteronomy 25:4 and its command to not muzzle the ox to defend his right to support. He says, “God is not concerned about oxen, is He? Or is He speaking altogether for our sake? Yes, for our sake it was written…” (I Corinthians 9:9-10). While saying it was written for our sake, Paul is mainly saying the point of the law was not just about oxen. If God shows such concern for oxen, then how much more concern will He show for those speaking His word? However, it must also be written for us in a chronological sense or how could Paul use it to defend the right of preachers to receive support?

I Corinthians 10:1-13 reviews Israel’s history in the wilderness. As Paul tells the story of Israel’s wilderness journey, that story has similarities to some problems the Corinthian church was experiencing. As Paul warns the church against idolatry (I Corinthians 10:7), fornication (I Corinthians 10:8), testing the LORD, and grumbling, he appeals to Israel’s wilderness experience. Twice Paul says that these events were for our benefit. Paul says, “Now these things happened as examples for us” (I Corinthians 10:6) and “they were written for our instruction” (I Corinthians 10:11).

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