Seeing Jesus in the Old Testament: Looking Through the Right Lens
Looking Through the Right Lens
There’s nothing quite like getting a new pair of glasses. When you put them on for the first time, you suddenly realize how sharp and bursting with brilliance the world is. You go outside and look at a flower in all its intricate beauty, you look up and see the bright blue sky sharply contrasted with the fluffy white clouds, and you realize that it has been quite some time since you’ve seen clearly.
To see clearly, all you need is the right lens. This is certainly true when it comes to eyeglasses. But it is also true when you are trying to see Jesus in the Old Testament.
When it comes to seeing Jesus in the Old Testament, the lens you need is the New Testament because the New Testament teaches us how to see Jesus in the Old Testament. And it does so in at least two ways.
1. Promises Fulfilled
The New Testament reveals that all of God’s promises are ultimately fulfilled in Jesus (2 Corinthians 1:20). That means that as we read through the Old Testament and read the promises that God made to his people, we can follow those promises to their New Testament fulfillment in Christ.
For example, in Genesis 3:15, God makes this promise to the serpent: “I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your offspring and her offspring; he shall bruise your head, and you shall bruise his heel.” God, from the very beginning of the Bible, promises that one day the offspring of Eve will rise and crush Satan.
The New Testament shows that this promise is directly fulfilled in Jesus. Revelation 12:9-12 tells us how the ancient serpent will be thrown down by Jesus and how God’s people already have victory over Satan through the blood of Christ.
Another example comes in God’s covenant promises to David. In 2 Samuel 7:12-13, God promises David that one of his offspring will be an eternal king through whom the kingdom of God will be established on earth forever.
Again, the New Testament shows us the fulfillment of this promise in Jesus. In Peter’s first sermon in the book of Acts, he shows us that the risen and reigning Jesus Christ is the eternal king from the line of David that God promised in his covenant with David (Acts 2:30).
Examples like this abound. From the promise that all the families of the earth would be blessed through Abraham’s seed (Genesis 12:3; Galatians 3:13-14) to the promise of a new heart and the indwelling Spirit (Ezekiel 36:26-27; Romans 8:9-11), the Old Testament is filled with promises of God that are ultimately fulfilled in the New Testament through the person and work of Jesus.
This leads to a question that you can ask to see Jesus clearly as you are reading your Old Testament and you find a promise that God makes to his people: “How is this promise fulfilled through Jesus in the New Testament?” While it might take some digging and extra study in the New Testament to find the answer to this question, you can do so with the confidence that “all the promises of God find their Yes in Jesus Christ” (2 Corinthians 1:20).
2. Pictures Realized
The Old Testament is filled with pictures that point forward to Jesus. While Bible interpreters can get carried away with trying to find a foreshadowing of Jesus on every page of the Old Testament, there is a better way to identify pictures of Jesus in the Old Testament. All you have to do is read the New Testament carefully.
The New Testament frequently points back to the Old Testament and shows us pictures of Jesus. Here are a couple of examples:
Jesus, the Passover Lamb
“For Christ, our Passover lamb, has been sacrificed” (1 Corinthians 5:7).
In this passage, Paul refers to Passover, when God spared the Israelite firstborns from death by instructing them to kill a spotless lamb and paint its blood on their doorposts (Exodus 12).
But then he connects this to Jesus: Just as the Passover lambs were sacrificed and their blood delivered the Israelites from death, so also Jesus was sacrificed, and now his blood delivers us from death through faith in him. The Passover lamb is ultimately a picture of the saving power of Jesus’ blood.
Jesus, the Serpent, Lifted Up
“And as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, so must the Son of Man be lifted up, that whoever believes in him may have eternal life” (John 3:14-15).
Jesus here points back to a fascinating event from the Old Testament (Numbers 21:4-9). The Israelites were grumbling in the wilderness, so God sent “fiery serpents” to bite and kill many of them. But then God showed them mercy. He instructed Moses to make a bronze serpent, put it on a pole, and lift it up for all the people to see. Anyone who looked upon the bronze serpent was saved from death.
Here’s the analogy Jesus makes: just as that bronze serpent was lifted up on a pole so that anyone who looked at it would be saved from death, so also Jesus would be lifted up on the cross so that anyone who looks to him in faith might be saved from their sin.
These are just two of many examples where the authors of the New Testament help show us pictures of Jesus in the Old Testament. We could also talk about Jonah and the Fish (Matthew 12:39-41), Noah and the Flood (1 Peter 3:20-22; 2 Peter 3:3-9), Abraham and Isaac (Hebrews 11:17-19), and more.
In each of these examples, the same dynamic is a play. The New Testament refers back to the Old Testament and shows us a picture of Jesus where we otherwise would have missed it. So, the most basic and effective way to see pictures of Jesus in the Old Testament is by paying attention to the Old Testament references the New Testament contains.
The Practicality of Seeing Jesus in the Old Testament
Getting new glasses is a luxury. Your vision feels crisp. You get to enjoy the world with renewed clarity. But getting new glasses is also very practical. As you look through your new lenses, you can see pedestrians while driving and read the safety instructions for your new lawnmower.
Similarly, seeing Jesus in the Old Testament is more than mere luxury. It is immensely practical. The way to grow in Christlikeness in your life is to behold Jesus and his glory (2 Corinthians 3:18). The Old Testament is like an untapped reservoir of fuel for your growth in Christ. As you behold more and more of the glory of Jesus in the Old Testament, you’ll grow to become more and more like him. So, open up your Old Testament today with an eager heart to behold the beauty and majesty of your Lord Jesus Christ.
For Deeper Study: Biblical Theology: How the Church Faithfully Teaches the Gospel by Nick Roark and Robert Cline
For Families: Who is Jesus? 40 Pictures to Share with your Family by Kate Hox