Seeing Jesus in the Old Testament: From Problem to Solution
The Disciples on the Road to Emmaus
Luke 24 records one of the greatest Bible studies in all of history. After his resurrection, Jesus appears to two of his disciples as they walk from Jerusalem to a town called Emmaus. When he first appears to them, they don’t even recognize him and aren’t even sure if he has truly risen from the dead.
But as he walks and talks and eats with them, he opens their eyes to see who he is, and he teaches them one of the most important Bible lessons you’ll ever hear:
“Then he said to them, ‘These are my words 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 for the forgiveness of sins should be proclaimed in his name to all nations, beginning from Jerusalem’” (Luke 24:44-47).
Here’s the lesson Jesus teaches his disciples: when we read the Old Testament, we should see Jesus. And we should not just see small glimpses of him. We should see him throughout the whole Old Testament.
Moreover, we shouldn’t just find little bits and pieces of information about him. We should see the whole gospel on display: his life, his death, his resurrection, and his offer of forgiveness to everyone who repents and believes in him.
Wouldn’t it have been wonderful to attend that Bible study as Jesus walked these disciples through the entire Old Testament and showed them himself?
But here’s the question: how do we see him in the Old Testament?
One of the best ways to see Jesus in the Old Testament is by paying attention to the biggest problem in the Old Testament and finding the solution to this problem in Jesus.
From Problem to Solution
The pages of the Old Testament are absorbed with one overarching problem: the problem of sin. From Genesis 3 onward, every page of the Old Testament testifies to the devastating effects that sin has on mankind and on the world.
But the presence of sin in the Old Testament isn’t just a problem; it is also a pointer. The problem of sin points us to Jesus Christ as the solution to sin.
Let’s look at an example of this. Within the first six chapters of the book of Genesis, we see sin separate mankind from God (Genesis 3:22-24), introduce relational strife that leads to murder (Genesis 4:1-16), and ultimately condemn all mankind so that God’s wrath is aimed at them to wipe them out completely (Genesis 6:5-7).
This shows us that the problem of sin in the Old Testament is massive. Its effects are pervasive and devastating.
When we pay attention to this as we read the Old Testament, it is like looking at your car dashboard and seeing the “check engine” light flashing in red. Just like that flashing red alert on your dashboard is warning you that you need a mechanic, so also the problem of sin in the Old Testament is a flashing red alert that is warning you that you need a redeemer.
And when we turn to the pages of the New Testament, we find that this is exactly who Jesus is. As our redeemer, he pours out his blood to restore us to a right relationship with God and one another (Ephesians 2:13-16). It is through faith in him that we are freed from the condemnation of sin (Romans 8:1) and the wrath of God to come (Romans 5:9). It is through his Spirit at work in our hearts that we are transformed from one degree of glory to another (2 Corinthians 3:18).
The Old Testament reveals the problem of sin to us and then points us toward Jesus Christ and his gospel as the solution to our sin. This is one of the primary themes of the New Testament – it is through Jesus alone that we are forgiven for and freed from our sin.
This leads to a strategy that you can use every time you open up your Old Testament to ensure that you are seeing Jesus. Each time you read, ask these three questions: 1) Where do I see the problem of sin in this passage? 2) How does the problem of sin in this passage lead me to Jesus Christ as the solution to sin? 3) What New Testament passages or teaching show Jesus as the solution to the problem of sin that this Old Testament passage describes?
We have seen how this strategy works in the first six chapters of Genesis. But it also works throughout the entire Old Testament.
For instance, when you are reading about the kings of Israel in 1 & 2 Samuel or 1 & 2 Kings or 1 & 2 Chronicles, you’ll see a mixed bag of faithfulness to the Lord and sinful behavior that leads to brokenness. As you pay attention to the problem of sin among these kings, it should lead you to Jesus Christ, the King of kings who perfectly protects and rules over his people (1 Timothy 6:15-16).
Another example is the Temple. The reason the people of Israel were separated from the Holy Place by a giant curtain is because they were too sinful to enter the presence of God (Isaiah 59:1-2). As we pay attention to this effect of sin, it should lead us to Jesus, whose blood was poured out and whose flesh was torn so that the curtain of the temple could be torn in two and God’s people could have free access to him by faith (Matthew 27:51; Hebrews 10:19-22).
Over and over again, you’ll see how the problem of sin in the Old Testament points us to Jesus as the solution to sin. So, as you read your Old Testament, pay attention to the problem of sin and allow it to point you toward the ultimate solution to sin in the person and work of Jesus Christ.
The Road to Emmaus and You
As you strive to see Jesus more and more clearly in the Old Testament, pray that what happened to the disciples on the road to Emmaus would happen to you:
“And their eyes were opened, and they recognized him. And he vanished from their sight. They said to each other, “Did not our hearts burn within us while he talked to us on the road, while he opened to us the Scriptures?” (Luke 24:31-32)
Pray that your eyes would be opened to see Jesus throughout all of Scripture. And pray that as you see him, your heart would burn within you with love for Jesus and a desire to please him with your whole life.