Sunday, 11 January 2015

Christ in all the Scripture - the basics of how Christians should read the Old Testament


        There are few questions more important to growing in the faith and understanding the gospel than how we are to read the Bible.  The Bible is God's primary means of communicating with the world, and especially with His people.  The Bible is not a dead book, just ink on a page - ancient graffiti.  If you want to see how Christians should regard the wonders of the Bible then look no further than Psalm 119 - the longest chapter in the Bible and a page spanning love song over the blessings of having the Bible.  This psalm speaks of the Scriptures as "a lamp for my feet, and a light on my path" (v105), something "sweeter than honey" (v103), something through which the Psalmist expects God to "give me life" (v107) and the source of his hope (v49).  Reading this psalm is a powerful and humbling experience.   

            So how should we read the Bible, especially the Old Testament, in light of the New Testament?  The wonderful thing is that the same God who spoke the words of the Old Testament also spoke the words of the New Testament and has shown us how we should read and understand the Bible.  The lens through which we must understand all the Bible is Jesus Christ Himself. 

            After His resurrection from the dead Jesus came alongside some disciples as they walked to Emmaus.  Hiding who He truly was He caused the hearts of the disciples to be set on fire for God, their eyes to be opened, as He "explained the Scriptures to us" Luke 24.32.  What did Jesus explain to them about the Scriptures?  "Beginning with Moses and all the Prophets, Jesus interpreted for them the things concerning Himself in all the Scriptures" Luke 24.27.  Peter on Pentecost, filled with the Spirit of God, would declare that "what God predicted through the mouth of all the prophets - that His Messiah would suffer - has been fulfilled" Acts 3.18.  Paul would explain in 2 Corinthians 3.12-28 that when the Jews read the Old Testament it is like they have a veil over their face blocking the glory and wonders of God and "this veil is set aside only in Christ... whenever a person turns to the Lord, the veil is removed" v14-15.  Paul then tells us that if you believe and take off this veil then reading the Scriptures leads to us "being transformed into the same image [of God] from glory to glory" v18.  This is what Jesus was talking about when he said these cutting words to the Bible teachers of His day who knew the whole OT off by heart but whose knowledge was worth nothing:  "You pore over the Scriptures because you think you have eternal life in them, yet they testify about me.  And you are not willing to come to me so that you may have life.... if you believed Moses, you would believe Me, because he wrote about Me." John 5.39-40, 46.   All of this is to say that if you don't believe in Jesus the Bible isn't going to get you anywhere, you simply cannot faithfully teach the Scriptures if you are not faithful to Jesus as Lord, God, and Saviour.

            So, if we want our hearts to be set on fire for God, if we want to be transformed more and more into the image and glory of God, if we want true life we must read the Old Testament through the lens of Jesus and the New Testament.   But what does this look like?  Here are some basic ways to faithfully see Christ in the Old Testament, a summary of some of the amazing ways God has put the Scriptures together to point to Jesus.

1) We look for direct prophecies about Jesus and what He would do.  The first of these is right back in Genesis 3.15 and then there are epic ones like Isaiah 53.  There are hundreds of direct prophecies that point to Christ.  Keep your ears open for prophecies that are fulfilled or will be fulfilled by Jesus.

2) We look for the person of Christ.  God actually walks among His people in the Old Testament and speaks to some of them "face to face as to a friend" Exodus 33.11.  Jesus tells us in John 6.46 that "no one has seen the Father except [Jesus]" and John later tells us in 12.41 that Isaiah saw Jesus on the throne in the Temple during his vision in Isaiah 6.  If ever we see God in the Old Testament - often as the enigmatic "The Angel of the Lord" - then it is Jesus.  Keep your eyes peeled for Jesus.

3) We look for what are called 'types' - that is things that foreshadow Jesus and what He did, and recapitulation - that is Jesus going over something already done but doing it perfectly and truly as it was supposed to be done.  Examples of these would be the whole Old Testament sacrificial system which prefigures Jesus' sacrifice for us and the kings who prefigure the true and greater King who doesn't fail.  For example, Jesus is the true and greater Joseph who though sold into slavery and death is exalted to the King's right hand and shows mercy by saving those who left him for dead.  Jesus is the true and great Moses, Job, Abel, Abraham, David, Boaz, and Adam - the list goes on and on.   Keep your minds active looking for types, prefigurements, and shadows of Jesus.

4) We look at the names of God - of Jesus - in the Old Testament and how they tell us about who He is and what He does and did.

5)  We look for stories and situations which only make sense and only find any hope or conclusion in the love and mercy of the cross and what it teaches us about God's justice and mercy - the rape of Dinah, the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah, the flood, and countless others.  These all reveal to us the utter depravity of humanity and how God is perfectly just to so judge us, yet also reveal that we desperately need not only to be shown our sin but to see our saviour - Jesus is that Saviour.

6) Finally, we - cautiously - look for allegory (illustrations pointing to a greater and truer meaning) just like Paul in Galatians 4 explained how the relationship of Abraham to Sarah which resulted in the birth of Isaac represents freedom and grace whilst his relationship with Hagar and the birth of Ishmael represents slavery and legal condemnation. Likewise, there is much allegory in Revelation, Daniel, and Ezekiel - biblical apocalyptic literature in general is full of allegory.   We must carefully and in a biblically faithful way open our hearts to, by the Holy Spirit, knowing Jesus in a deeper truth to an Old Testament story.  Rather than just thinking such things up on our own it is always a good idea to see if great and godly Bible teachers like Matthew Poole, John Trapp, and Robert Hawker, as well as preachers such as John Chrysostom, George Whitfield, and Charles Spurgeon, saw Jesus in these places.  If they did not and only you seem to see him it would be wise to pray some more and seek the prayers of others to confirm if the Holy Spirit is using that text of Scripture to speak the truth of the Gospel and Jesus Christ into your life at that time.  The Bible is a living and active word not a stagnant dead text - this means it must be handled carefully and faithfully, with discretion and care, but also means that God uses it in many different ways at different times to reveal truth to different people.

          Matthew Henry, widely regarded as the greatest Bible commentator of all time, explains Christians reading the Old Testament like this "The inspired penman... writing for the Jews first and calculating his narrative for the infant state of the church, describes things by their outward sensible appearances, and leaves us, by further discoveries of the divine light, to be led into the understanding of the mysteries couched under them."   Would we all, led by the divine light, come to a greater understanding of the mysteries of Christ and the Gospel couched under every text of the Old Testament


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