Have you ever explored underground caverns? The natural light is dim, so limited sight is a problem, if you can see at all. The more openings you go through and the deeper you descend, the greater the probability you’ll be confused, turned around, and lost. Even when your eyes adjust to the darkness, you may still not see the intricate beauty of the natural architecture.
Some Christians read the Old Testament only in dim light. They enter one chapter after another like exploring a cavern, yet they squint and strain their eyes to answer questions. Why is this episode here? Why has the narrator told the scene from this angle? Where is this storyline heading? Why should I care about this long genealogy? How does this prophecy reach fulfillment? How do this character’s actions contribute to the plot, to the book, to the canon? Is this text built on earlier ones?
Such interpretive questions (and more) arise for every text, but after certain first-century events something became crystal clear: Jesus is the blazing torch for these caverns. The gospel message, the New Testament from beginning to end, is the light needed to see the glories of what has been there all along in ancient words.
Old Testament as Christian Scripture
Jesus discussed these ancient words with two men on a road outside Jerusalem. “And beginning with Moses and all the Prophets, he interpreted to them in all the Scriptures the things concerning himself” (Luke 24:27). Wouldn’t you like to have the audio of that sermon? Though we don’t know exactly what Jesus said, we eagerly agree that he is the goal of the Old Testament.
Where, then, does the Christian faith begin? If you said Matthew, then you missed it by only 39 books. The Christian faith begins where the Bible does, in the beginning. We have 66 books of Christian Scripture that tell the grand story of God’s redemption from Genesis to Revelation.
When I first started preaching 14 years ago, most of my sermons showed a severe disregard for the Old Testament. And even when I crafted a message from one of those books, I was not trying to see the passage post-Easter. I handled the Old Testament as if Jesus hadn’t come.
Don’t read the Old Testament pretending Jesus didn’t happen. After Jesus died and rose from the dead, his disciples saw the ancient promises differently. Those promises were no longer suspended in mid-air but became yes in Jesus. The types had found their antitype, the arrows their target, the shadows their Light.
In light of the resurrection, people began to read the Old Testament through a Jesus lens. More precisely, Jesus taught the disciples how to see the Scriptures this way. The Law, Prophets, and Writings spoke about him, so “he opened their minds to understand the Scriptures” (Luke 24:44-45). The disciples needed a resurrection hermeneutic, so Jesus gave them one. The opening of the tomb meant the opening of the Scriptures.
Did people understand the Old Testament before Jesus? Yes and no. Yes, inasmuch as their eyes could see in the dim cavern. But no, for Jesus revealed to his disciples that he is the key to clarity, the piece of the puzzle that sets all the pieces in the right perspective. When the books are played together, they make messianic music.
Do the bloody cross and empty tomb affect how you read the Old Testament? If your hermeneutic is grammatical-historical but not christological, you’re not reading the Old Testament as the apostles did, as Jesus taught them to read it.
Shadows and Gospel Light
How does the gospel shine light on the Old Testament?
Jesus is the last Adam, the seed of the woman, the first-fruits of new creation, the obedient son, the one whose blood speaks a better word than Abel’s, the mighty ark that delivers from judgment, the offspring of Abraham to bless the nations, the fountain of living water greater than Jacob’s well, the mediator of a new covenant that surpasses all previous ones, the redeemer who leads the greatest exodus, the bread that satisfies more than manna, the sacrifice that puts an end to all others, the prophet who says what God says, the suffering servant who bears our transgressions, the high priest who lives forever, the king who rules righteously and wisely, the temple where the fullness of God dwells, the good shepherd who guides and guards the sheep, the light that dispels the shadows, and the life that swallows death.
When we read the Old Testament—which is Christian literature—let us explore its caverns with the torch of the New, with the message of the gospel. Read those ancient words through this lens because Jesus lights the whole thing up.