“Jesus never read the New Testament”

Last week, I wrote about the importance of using the Old Testament as a dictionary of Christian vocabulary. But the Old Testament was also a dictionary for Christ’s vocabulary.

Let’s begin here by reminding ourselves of some of the implications of Christ’s humanness. First, the humanity of Christ needed teaching. We are not here speaking of Christ’s divine nature – which was omniscient. We are speaking of His finite and limited human nature. He was not born with perfect knowledge of everything. There were things He did not know (Mark 13:32).

Second, He grew in knowledge (Luke 2:40). As He aged and matured, He also developed in His knowledge and understanding.

Third, He learned, at least partly, if not mostly, by listening, reading, and studying. Although there were undoubtedly times when the Holy Spirit revealed truth directly to His human mind, He usually learned in the normal human way – by listening, reading, etc.

Fourth, His most important source of knowledge was the Old Testament. The Old Testament was Christ’s most important book. His knowledge of it came to Him through His mother’s teaching, His own reading, and His hearing it read and preached in the synagogue.

Fifth, He knew the Old Testament better than anyone ever did. In His short time on this earth he studied it more effectively and with more understanding than anyone before or since.

Christopher Wright has thought deeply and written beautifully about this area of Christ’s life. In Knowing Jesus through the Old Testament,(one of my top three OT books), Wright introduces his insights with this thought-provoking passage:

In the midst of the many intrinsically fascinating reasons why Old Testament study is so rewarding, the most exciting to me is the way it never fails to add new depths to my understanding of Jesus. I find myself aware that in reading the Hebrew scriptures I am handling something that gives me a closer common link with Jesus than any archaeological artefact could do. For these are the words he read. These were the stories he knew. These were the songs he sang. These were the depths of wisdom and revelation and prophecy that shaped his whole view of “life, the universe and everything”. This is where he found his insights into the mind of his Father God. Above all, this is where he found the shape of his own identity and the goal of his own mission. In short, the deeper you go into understanding the Old Testament, the closer you come to the heart of Jesus. (After all, Jesus never actually read the New Testament!) [preface, ix].

Many mysteries remain in this area of what Christ knew and how He learned. For example, what effect did the fact that Christ, as the Son of God, inspired the Old Testament have on His knowledge? How much did Christ learn directly, via the ministry of the Spirit? etc. However, the five points above provide a sufficient basis to consider how much Christ learned about Himself from the Old Testament.

Think of the basic questions any person has. “Where did I come from? Who am I? Why am I here? Where am I going?”Jesus had these questions too. And He answered them by reading His Old Testament. It told Him his ancestors, His family tree, those who sacrificed to keep His family line alive, the “skeletons” in his family cupboard, etc.

His sense of identity, purpose and mission was also derived from the Old Testament Scriptures. When he heard Bartimaeus cry, “Jesus,  Son of David, have mercy upon me,” He remembered 2 Samuel 7, and the many prophetic promises of a great future Son of David. When He thought of His death, He described it in terms of the Old Testament’s brass serpent (John 3:14). When He thought of His resurrection He portrayed it in terms of Jonah’s “resurrection” (Matt. 12:39-40). When He saw the unbelief of the Jews, He contrasted it with the seeking Queen of Sheba coming to Solomon (Matt. 12:42), etc. As Wright puts it:

It was the Old Testament which helped Jesus to understand Jesus. Who did he think he was? What did he think he was to do? The answers came from his Bible, the Hebrew scriptures in which he found a rich tapestry of figures, historical persons, prophetic pictures and symbols of worship. And in this tapestry, where others saw only a fragmented collection of various figures and hopes, Jesus saw his own face. His Hebrew Bible provided the shape of his own identity [page 44].

Let’s not only know Jesus through the Old Testament, but preach Him from there too.

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