BIBLE INTERPRETATION: How is Jesus the hero of the Bible?
The opening line of Scripture introduces us to its hero, God.
Throughout the pages of Scripture this God is revealed. In the closing line of the New Testament Scriptures, we are reminded that the God who is the hero of the true story of Scripture is Jesus Christ. Thus, the written Word of God reveals to us the incarnate (“in human flesh”) Word of God, Jesus Christ. Further, without the written Word, we cannot rightly know the incarnate Word. Therefore, defining the central message of the Old Testament is the key to our interpretive process, because without a proper understanding of Scripture we do not have access to truly loving and knowing the real Jesus.
Some people prefer the New Testament to the Old Testament because they wrongly believe that only the New Testament is about Jesus. However, it was Jesus himself who taught that the Old Testament was primarily about him. While arguing with the theologians in his day, Jesus chastised them, saying, “You search the Scriptures [Old Testament] because you think that in them you have eternal life; and it is they that bear witness about me, yet you refuse to come to me that you may have life.”1
Following his resurrection, Jesus opened the Old Testament to teach others about himself: “Beginning with Moses and all the Prophets, he interpreted to them in all the Scriptures the things concerning himself.”2 Likewise, in speaking to his disciples, Jesus said, “These are my words that 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.”3 We then read that he “opened their minds to understand the Scriptures.”4 Jesus’ own words about himself as the central message of the Old Testament are pointedly clear. He said, “Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them but to fulfill them. For truly, I say to you, until heaven and earth pass away, not an iota, not a dot, will pass from the Law until all is accomplished.”5 Jesus repeated this fact throughout his ministry by saying he “fulfilled” particularScriptures.6
Simply, when Scripture is rightly interpreted, it is ultimately about Jesus as God, our Savior, the object of our faith, forgiver of our sins, and giver of eternal life. Therefore, to correctly interpret Scripture you will need to connect its verses, concepts, and events to Jesus.
The Old Testament predicts the coming of Jesus and in a variety of ways prepares people for his person and work. The New Testament reflects on the life of Jesus, particularly in the four Gospels, and reports the results of Jesus’ life and ministry, particularly in the Epistles.
The Old Testament uses various means to reveal Jesus, including promises, appearances, foreshadowing types, and titles. The Old Testament teaches about Jesus in the numerous prophetic promises given about him. At the time of its writing, more than one-quarter of Scripture was prophetic in nature, promising future events. No other world religion or cult can present any specific prophecies concerning the coming of their prophets. However, in the Old Testament we see hundreds of fulfilled prophecies extending hundreds and sometimes over a thousand years into the future, showing God’s foreknowledge of and sovereignty over the future.
The Old Testament teaches about Jesus through appearances that he makes before his birth, or what are called Christophanies. Examples include walking with Abraham,7 wrestling with Jacob,8 appearing to Moses,9 joining Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego in the fiery furnace,10 and calling Isaiah into ministry.11 Other examples may include the occasional appearance of “the angel [messenger] of the LORD,” who is sometimes identified as God.12 This angel provided the sacrifice in Isaac’s place13 and spoke and journeyed with Moses.14
Types are Old Testament representative figures, institutions, or events that foreshadow Jesus. Examples include Adam, who foreshadows Jesus as the second Adam; the priesthood, which prefigures Jesus as our high priest; David and other kings, who prefigure Jesus as the King of kings; Moses and the prophets, who prefigure Jesus as our ultimate prophet; animal sacrifices, which prefigure Jesus as the sinless Lamb of God slain for our sins; the temple, which prefigures God’s presence dwelling among us in Jesus; shepherds who care for their sheep, which remind us we are as foolish and vulnerable as sheep but that Jesus our shepherd keeps constant watch over us; judges, who foreshadow Jesus as the final judge of all people; and many others, such as Jesus the true bread, the true vine, and true light.
One way we see Jesus revealed throughout the Old Testament are people who perform various kinds of service that is analogous to the service that Jesus performs perfectly. Unlike the first Adam, Jesus Christ is the Last Adam who passed his test in a garden and in so doing imputed his righteousness to us to overcome the sin imputed to us through the sin of the first Adam. Jesus is the true and better Abel who, although he was innocent, was slain and whose blood cries out. When Abraham left his father and home, he was doing the same thing that Jesus would do when he left heaven. When Isaac carried his own wood and laid down his life to be sacrificed at the hand of his father Abraham, he was showing us what Jesus would later do. Jesus is the greater Jacob who wrestled with God in Gethsemane and, though wounded and limping, walked away from his grave blessed. Jesus is the greater Joseph who serves at the right hand of God the king and extends forgiveness and provision to those of us who have betrayed him and uses his power to save us in loving reconciliation. Jesus is greater than Moses in that he stands as a mediator between God and us, bringing us the new covenant.
Like Job, innocent Jesus suffered and was tormented by the Devil so that God might be glorified, while his foolish friends were no help or encouragement. Jesus is a king greater than David; he has slain our giants of Satan, sin, and death, although in the eyes of the world he was certain to face a crushing defeat at their hands. Jesus is greater than Jonah in that he spent three days in the grave, not just in a fish, to save a multitude even greater than Nineveh. When Boaz redeemed Ruth and brought her and her despised people into community with God’s people, he was showing what Jesus would do to redeem his bride, the church, from all the nations of the earth. When Nehemiah rebuilt Jerusalem, he was doing something similar to Jesus, who is building for us a New Jerusalem as our eternal home. When Hosea married an unfaithful whoring wife that he continued to pursue in love, he was showing us the heart of Jesus, who does the same for his unfaithful bride, the church.
We see various events preparing people for the coming of Jesus Christ that help us to see Jesus throughout the Old Testament. For example, in the Exodus account of Passover the people were to place blood over the doorframe with hyssop (a common herb bundled for cleaning) and no one was to leave their home until the morning. Death would not come to any home marked with lamb’s blood. Peter says our salvation is given by Jesus Christ and “sprinkling with his blood.”15
There are many titles for God in the Old Testament that refer to Jesus Christ as God. In Daniel 7:13–14 God is called the “son of man,” and Jesus adopted that as his favorite title, using it some eighty times in the four Gospels. Jesus is the Suffering Servant that was promised in Isaiah.16 Jesus is also known by many other Old Testament titles for God, including first and last,17 light,18 rock,19 husband or bridegroom,20 shepherd,21 redeemer,22 savior,23 and the Lord of glory.24
To properly understand the Old Testament we must connect it to the person and work of Jesus. This should not be done in an allegorizing manner where arbitrary meanings foreign to Scripture are assigned to Old Testament words and images, thereby changing their meaning. Rather, the meaning of the Old Testament includes symbolism and identity that are most fully revealed in Jesus.
Unless Jesus is the central message of the Scriptures, many errors abound. The most common is moralizing. Moralizing is reading the Bible not to learn about Jesus but only to learn principles for how to live life as a good person by following the good examples of some people and avoiding the bad examples of others. That kind of approach to the Scriptures is not Christian, because it treats the Bible like any other book with moral lessons that are utterly disconnected from faith in and salvation from Jesus.
How can having Jesus as the center of your biblical interpretation help your relationship with Him grow?