Finding Christ in the Old Testament
The Babe Ruth of the pulpit, Charles Spurgeon, once told a story of a young preacher who was criticized by an old one for a bad sermon because there was no Christ in it.
“But Christ was not in the text,” said the young preacher, defensively.
So the old preacher replied, “Don't you know, young man, that from every town, and every village, and every little hamlet in England, wherever it may be, there is a road to London?”
“So from every text in Scripture there is a road to the metropolis of the Scriptures, that is Christ.”
Young preacher. Schooled.
The lesson this young preacher learned is hugely important for all of us when reading the Old Testament, because the name "Jesus Christ" does not appear in it yet he taught that it bears witness to him (John 5:39).
This does not mean that every word, name, or event is Jesus (sometimes a purple robe is just a purple robe), but, rather, that the entire Old Testament reaches its climax in Jesus and that from our vantage point in history all the clues have been revealed, like in a mystery novel.
So here are some (not all) of the roads we can walk from the Old Testament hamlets to find the metropolis, Christ.
1) The Redemptive-Historical Approach
The Bible is composed of 66 books, but they tell one grand story of God’s plan of redemption from creation to new creation. God progressively revealed his plan for salvation, which culminated in Christ, and when reading the Old Testament we enter that story at various stages.
Take a seemingly random one, like David beating Goliath (1 Sam. 17:1-38). At this spot in history, Saul had lost favor with God, and God's Spirit had come upon David, who was anointed by the prophet Samuel as Israel's king. David then defeats Goliath as a miraculous sign that God is with him.
But the point is not that the little guy beats the big guy with God's help. The point is that God has chosen a plan to redeem the world and he is powerful enough to make it happen. After the Goliath story (and some dramatic murders and political intrigue), God promises David that his small kingdom will last forever through a future offspring (2 Sam. 7:12-16). This offspring is Jesus, who is linked to David by genealogy (Matt. 1:6). He has ushered in God's eternal, global kingdom, which no giant can stop. The Goliath story was pointing towards the birth of the Savior of the world.
The redemptive-historical approach may be broad, and some passages are harder than others, but it keeps us from losing the forest in the trees.
2) Finding Promise-Fulfillment
There are numerous messianic prophecies in the OT that were fulfilled by Christ, such as the coming of one who would crush Satan’s head (Gen. 3:15), the suffering servant (Isaiah 53:1-12) and the donkey-riding future king (Zech. 9:9).
The book of Matthew references a ton of these OT prophesies, so this is a good book to read for examples.
Typology is not allegory, but is a way of seeing Jesus (the anti-type) as the truer and better version of a historical person, place, or thing (the type).
The book of Hebrews is a lesson manual in reading the Old Testament typologically, where the author explains how Christ is the better Moses, High Priest, Covenant, Tabernacle, and Sacrifice, among other Jewish types.
4) Tracing Longitudinal Themes
This method is the love child of the redemptive-historical approach and typology. It focuses on micro-themes from Genesis to Revelation, such as the tree (of life, of knowledge of good and evil, etc.). The tree is a place of judgment (Deut. 21:23), and Jesus later hung on one to incur God’s judgment in our place (Acts 5:30). The tree, and the particular stigma of hanging on one, foreshadows the meaning of the cross in a profound way.
For a deeper understanding, check out our Chronicles of Zion sermon series where we employed this very method through a number of key biblical themes.
5) Direct New Testament Reference
This one makes things easy. Sometimes the New Testament writers tell us that a part of the Old Testament is referring directly to Christ, like the Exodus (Jude 5) or the rock that quenched the thirst of Israel (1 Cor. 10:4). Most Bibles have cross reference indexes to help find where the NT writers relate a particular OT passage to Christ, so while reading the OT you can glance and see if a particular passage is referenced in the NT.
The main point is that if we read the OT without traveling the road to Christ, we won’t end up in the great metropolis. We'll end up a punk hamlet full of zombies and stale beer. And SARS.
So stay on the road.