What we today call the “Old Testament” is what Jesus simply called “the Scriptures.” During his earthly life, there were no Gospels, no letters from Paul, no Revelation. The “New Testament” was yet to be written.
So also, for the first Christians, the Bible consisted only of the Torah, the Prophets, and the Writings. In those earliest days of the church, as believers gathered for worship, when they heard the Bible read and preached, they heard only Moses or Isaiah or the Psalms or another OT prophet or sage.
And yet, what did these Scriptures proclaim to them? What did Genesis teach? What did 1 Samuel or Proverbs reveal to them? Whom did they see in the Psalms? Jesus the Messiah. If they wanted to know more about Jesus, they read the Old Testament.
But for us, it’s different, right? We can read Matthew’s gospel. We can pore over Paul’s epistle to the Romans. Or, we can study Hebrews. We have the New Testament, so the Old Testament is no longer relevant or instructive or enlightening to us.
In fact, some parts of it not only confuse us, but trouble us. Some parts even embarrass us. Better to stick with the New Testament. That’s our go-to part of the Bible for learning more about Jesus.
How Jesus Viewed the Old Testament
If that’s your view of the Old Testament, then it’s high time to rethink that stance. To the extent that we ignore or downplay the Old Testament, we denigrate the very Bible that Jesus himself read.
In fact, these are not only the Scriptures from which he preached and taught, but they tell us all about him. As Jesus himself said, “You search the Scriptures because you think that in them you have eternal life; and it is they that bear witness about me” (John 5:39).
And again, “For if you believed Moses, you would believe me; for he wrote of me” (5:46). He fulfilled “all things which are written about [him] in the Law of Moses and the Prophets and the Psalms” (Luke 24:44).
And to the disciples on the road to Emmaus, “beginning with Moses and all the Prophets, he interpreted to them in all the Scriptures the things concerning himself” (24:27).
We cannot be followers of Jesus and unfollowers of his own Scriptures.
Therefore, it’s no different for us than for those earliest believers: when we want to know more about Jesus, we read the Old Testament.
What We Find in the Old Testament
We read, first of all, not only the promises that the Messiah will come, but also abundant details about who he will be and what he will do for us. When parents await the birth of a child, they don’t know much about that child. A sonogram may tell them the baby is a boy or girl, but that child’s future, personality, and accomplishments are all unknown.
Not so with Jesus. In the Old Testament, we learn that his mother will be a virgin (Isaiah 7:14), he will be born in Bethlehem (Micah 5:2), God will call him out of Egypt (Hosea 11:1), he will minister in Galilee (Isaiah 9:1-2), heal the sick (35:5-6), be rejected by his people (53:1-3), be forsaken by God during great suffering (Psalm 22:1), bear our iniquities (Isaiah 53:4-6), crush the head of the devil (Genesis 3:15), be vindicated by the Lord in victory (Psalm 22:22-24), and much more!
There’s a good reason that Isaiah, for instance, is called the “Fifth Evangelist.” Over seven centuries before Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John, this prophet told us the story of Jesus in advance.
The whole Old Testament is a sort of pre-biography of the Messiah. It tells us in profound detail about the Savior of the world. Martin Luther captured the essence of the Old Testament when he called it “the swaddling cloths and the manger in which Christ lies.” Wrapped up in the pages of these Scriptures is Jesus himself.
“Dress Rehearsal” of Jesus’s Life and Ministry
Not only is the Messiah prophesied in the Old Testament, we see a sort of “dress rehearsal” of his life and ministry in earlier people and events:
- Melchizedek, who was a priest and king, prefigured the Messiah’s priestly service and royal reign (Genesis 14:18-20; Psalm 110:4; Hebrews 7).
- Jonah’s three days in the belly of the fish foreshadowed Christ’s three days and three nights in the heart of the earth (Matthew 12:40).
- All the animal sacrifices of the Old Testament pointed toward him who is “the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world” (John 1:29).
- The tabernacle and temple, as the house of God, the dwelling place of his glory, was the blueprint for the one who is the Word made flesh, who tabernacled among us, and revealed his glory (John 1:14; 2:19-21).
The Old Testament sketches out, in black and white, what the Messiah will show in full color. By reading these ancient Scriptures in light of Jesus’s accomplished work, we see portrayed in them the pre-portrait of our salvation.
“The new is in the old concealed; the old is in the new revealed.”
Augustine famously described the relationship between the Old and New Testaments this way: “The new is in the old concealed; the old is in the new revealed.” In other words, the two work in tandem. They cannot be separated from one another. They must be read as one continuous story, gradually unveiling the narrative of God’s saving plan.
As in a marriage, the man and woman become one flesh, so the Old and New Testaments are married. Their unity cannot be put asunder or put in opposition to one another. They are “one flesh,” one book, one proclamation that’s all about Jesus.
Each page, each story, from Genesis 1 to Malachi 4, is like a jewel or precious stone. All together they form the mosaic of the Messiah. Who he is. What he’s done for us. And our hope and salvation and life in him.
Do you want to know Jesus more? Read the Old Testament.
If you want a helpful summary of the Old Testament story, listen to the first session of Open the Bible Story: The Flight titled “5 People from the Old Testament.”