Christ in the Old Testament

Since the rise of modern Biblical criticism, it is common in some circles to think that there are little to no predictions of a Messiah in the Old Testament. But this is not the view of the Scriptures. This is not what the New Testament explicitly teaches. Christ can be found in the Old Testament.

1Pet. 1:10-11 Concerning this salvation, the prophets who prophesied about the grace that was to be yours searched and inquired carefully, inquiring what person or time the Spirit of Christ in them was indicating when he predicted the sufferings of Christ and the subsequent glories.

The prophets in the Old Testament were prophesying about the grace that was coming. The grace that we experience today was foretold long before the person of Jesus came and manifested that grace. These prophets were carried along by the Holy Spirit (2 Peter 1:21). As the prophets were given the message by the Holy Spirit, they diligently searched and inquired. They wanted to know more. They walked by faith. They were looking for the Messiah that the Holy Spirit was telling them about.

We have one benefit that the saints of the Old Testament did not have: we now know the time and person of the Messiah. He has come and we have seen the fulfillment of what they were carefully looking for and searching out.

Peter gives us two aspects of the prophecies concerning Christ: the sufferings of Christ and the glories of Christ. So often, we recognize the prophesying of the sufferings of Christ in the Old Testament. We look at passages like Psalm 22 or Isaiah 53 and clearly see the sufferings of Christ. Yet we don’t pay attention to the promises of the glories of Christ—that He would rise again from the dead and be crowned with glory and honor.

For example, Hebrews 2:12 sees the quote from Psalm 22:22 “II will tell of your name to my brothers; in the midst of the congregation I will praise you:” as fulfilled by the glorified Christ in the heavenly Zion. Isaiah 52 and 53 gives us a foretaste of the glory of Christ in resurrection and exaltation.

Is. 53:12 Therefore I will divide him a portion with the many, and he shall divide the spoil with the strong,  because he poured out his soul to death and was numbered with the transgressors yet he bore the sin of many, and makes intercession for the transgressors.

Is. 52:13-15 Behold, my servant shall act wisely; he shall be high and lifted up, and shall be exalted. As many were astonished at you— his appearance was so marred, beyond human semblance, and his form beyond that of the children of mankind—so shall he sprinkle many nations. Kings shall shut their mouths because of him, for that which has not been told them they see, and that which they have not heard they understand.

Do we go to the Old Testament looking for the exalted Christ? Do we see the Old Testament as pointing to Jesus and the fulfillment of His Work? The Bible is a plot, a storyline. It is the history of God’s acting to redeem and people to Himself. Like a story, it moves to a climax. The climax is Jesus Christ. He is the fulfillment of God’s covenant plan.

The Old Testament saints knew this. The prophets knew they weren’t just writing for themselves or for their day. They were serving, not just their generation but Peter’s and ours.

1Pet. 1:12 It was revealed to them that they were serving not themselves but you, in the things that have now been announced to you through those who preached the good news to you by the Holy Spirit sent from heaven, things into which angels long to look.

The things of Jesus have now been announced and preached to us. The preaching of the Word of God comes with the Holy Spirit, just like the prophesies were given by the Holy Spirit. He comes down from heaven and attends to His Word so that the gospel is effective in the hearts and lives of people. Christ is active from His throne as He sends the Spirit to draw people unto Himself. The grace of Christ accomplished is effective upon people and applied into hearts and lives precisely because the Holy Spirit comes with power and mighty. The work of God in the Trinity are undivided—the Father elects, the Son redeems, the Spirit applies but one God accomplishes one salvation.

Next time you open your Bible, remember what you are reading. It is God’s Word. Ask the Holy Spirit to be at work. Next time you open your Bible, take some time and head for the Old Testament. For some of us, this might be unfamiliar territory. Read the books of history; read the Psalm; read the prophets. Look for Christ. He is not hidden under some rock only to be uncovered by some magic of hermeneutics—He is one the pages, plain for all to see. Every page of Scripture is part of the redemptive history that has its culmination in Jesus Christ.

Tim Bertolet is a graduate of Lancaster Bible College and Westminster Theological Seminary.  He earned his Ph.D. from the University of Pretoria, South Africa. He is an ordained pastor in the Bible Fellowship Church. He is a husband and father of four daughters. You can follow him on Twitter @tim_bertolet.