Nancy Guthrie on Developing the Skill of Seeing Christ in the Old Testament

Photo by Sarah Noltner on Unsplash
Nancy Guthrie on Developing the Skill of Seeing Christ in the Old Testament

A talk by Nancy Guthrie


Nancy Guthrie: We look at the book of Leviticus and we see him as our substitute. We look at the book of Deuteronomy that gives us this law. And we realize he is the one who has kept the law in our place and we love him for it. We get to the book of Joshua, whose name in Hebrew would be Jesus, and he’s gonna lead us into this land that is our inheritance, where we can make our home forever. Now, we see Jesus from that angle and we love him for it.

Welcome to “Help Me Teach the Bible,” I’m Nancy Guthrie. “Help Me Teach the Bible” is a production of the gospel coalition sponsored by Crossway, and not for profit publisher of the ESV Bible, Christian books, and tracks. Learn more at

On this episode of “Help Me Teach the Bible,” I’m offering a presentation of a workshop that I did at the 2018 Christian Counseling Educational Foundation National Conference. They asked me to present a workshop on Developing Skills in seeing Christ in All of Scripture. And I can’t think of a more important skill for every Bible teacher to develop than this one. This is a skill that I didn’t even know I needed a while ago. And over the last decade, I think this is the most important skill that I have been working on developing because I don’t wanna teach the Old Testament as a series of moral lessons, or just try harder, or some kind of moral example from particular characters. I wanna present Christ from all of the Scriptures.

So in this workshop, it’s really divided into three sections. First of all, what we even mean when we talk about seeing Christ in all of Scripture. Secondly, why we want to see Christ in all of the Scripture. I offer seven good reasons that I hope will convince you if you’re not yet convinced in this regard. And then I offer eight ways to see Christ in all of Scripture. You know, growing up, I think most often, if you would have asked me, how do you see Christ in the Old Testament? I would have pretty much only known how to do that by talking about prophecies, about the Messiah that Jesus fulfilled. But there are actually so many more ways to see and present as a teacher of Christ through all the Scriptures. So I hope those eight ways, which I end up having to go through pretty quickly, but I hope they will be helpful to you.

Now, before we start that workshop session, I hope you’ll allow me to give you a little teaser. I want to just put on your radar that in May, I’m going to be announcing a series of events around the country that are going to be held in the fall of 2019 and the spring of 2020, that are specifically for women who want to learn more about seeing Christ through all the Scriptures. And even more particularly, want to develop the skill of tracing major biblical themes that are in the Bible that begin there in Genesis 1, 2, and 3, work their way through the Pentateuch and the history books, and the wisdom books, and the prophets, and the Gospels and the epistles, all the way into the consummation. They were there in the Bible. And the more we learn about them, then the better we’re able to handle scripture. So I’m not telling you much yet, but if you’re listening to this episode before May 1st, 2019, just stay tuned. And if you’re listening to this after May 1st, 2019, then look at my website, for more information about these events.

And now, my workshop presentation from the CCEF 2018 National Conference, “Developing Skills in Seeing Christ in All of Scripture.” We’re talking this morning about developing our skills in seeing Christ in all of Scripture. I get to interact with a lot of people who live in other parts of the world. I find that people from the UK, people from Australia, this is the way they grew up understanding the Bible. This is not the way I grew up understanding the Bible. Am I alone in that? Is there anybody else, you feel like? Yeah, so I grew up in Sunday school. In fact, I often say that I’m physically scarred from Sunday school. I have a scar on my hand from when I was three years old. My hand touched the popcorn popper. Can you believe they were popping popcorn in a three-year-olds…? I mean like, they’d get arrested today, right? But I’m literally scarred from Sunday school. And my mom was always in head of vacation Bible school and I, you know, made a lot of salt maps and things out of popsicle sticks, you know, and ate a lot of cookies in Vacation Bible School. I studied Bible in college. I worked in Christian publishing. I spent a lot of years sitting on the front row of Bible Study Fellowship, but somehow, this coming to the Bible understanding it as one story with the person and work of Jesus Christ in the center, and through every part of it, the focal point, somehow I missed that. I have tried to figure out, I have a bit of a theory about perhaps why so many of you and I didn’t learn the Bible this way when it has been inherent in other parts of the world. This is just my theory and so don’t write this down because this is like totally my idea just because I’ve been trying to figure out why, right?

I did read an article one time in Christianity Today that talked about the Sunday school movement in the early 1900s, that before that point, it was theologically trained people who basically catechized us, who taught us the Scriptures, then the Sunday school movement, lay teachers began to teach Sunday school and train us up as children. What happens when you’re teaching the Bible to kids. I mean, we tend to get very moralistic because we want the Bible to impact their behavior and get them to act right. And so it can become very moralistic. I think most of my growing up though, especially the Old Testament was a collection of disconnected stories. I mean, I never could have put together, you know, why a battle was happening and at what point that was in Scripture or where a king… I couldn’t have put together where judges were and how they were different from kings and all of that. And so, I don’t even think I could have for most of my life retrace the patriarchs, you know, the basic Bible story. Patriarchs, Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, his 12 sons, and those sons going into slavery in Egypt, coming out, going to Sinai, where they get the law led by Moses and then Joshua bringing them into the promised land, but there’s still a loose confederation. And then they have these series of judges, kind of short-term tribal saviors. We know from the book of Judges, there is no king, right? So everybody does what’s right in their own lives and then got answers that need in 1 Samuel, and you would trace the kings from David. First, Saul, of course, and his kingdom comes to an end and then there’s David and his son Solomon, and that’s where the Bible got really fuzzy for me, can you relate to that?

I mean, like, really fuzzy for me. And so, that meant, you know… So I didn’t understand this northern, southern kingdom thing. I didn’t understand that the northern kingdom, they didn’t have access to the temple and the implications of that, that the northern kingdom was carried off into exile by a Syria and they were basically dispersed. And then maybe 150 years later, it was Babylon who came and took the two Southern tribes and carried them off into exile in Babylon. And then it was they who, 70 years later, were brought back. Now, most of my life, I couldn’t have done that. And I think that is something, if I were to set before you, maybe like one very practical thing that, not only will help you get a grip on the Bible, but help us in terms of seeing Christ on those Scriptures. We must get a grip on the storyline of the Bible.

Our central thesis is that the whole of the Bible is most significantly about Christ, not just the New Testament. What’s the contrast of this? What is the way maybe some of us spent a lot of years understanding the Bible and other people we know understand that the Bible is not a guidebook for life. Is there wisdom in the Scriptures? Absolutely. But I find it interesting when I’ll see people just talk about the Bible. Like, I remember speaking somewhere and a woman raised her hand in the Q&A, and she said, “I’d like to know where I could go in the Bible to find answers to questions I have or to problems I have.” So she’s approaching the Bible seeing it as this answer book of a guide for life, where she wants to figure out, “How can I set the agenda for the Bible to tell me what I think I need most to know?” Well, that’s not what the Bible is. Here is the Bible. It’s a collection of books. It’s numerous genre. It has history, and poetry, and law, and it has apocalyptic. And to understand all of those things, it’s not a guidebook, but it is telling us a particular story using all these varied genre.

The Bible is not a history book of one particular people group as if just tracing their history. It’s a divine book that the Bible, that the divine author has inspired the human authors to trace a particular people group certainly, but more than, the work of God in history that is centered in the personal work of Jesus Christ. If we could think of the Bible as the Old Testament, this promise being made, all of it, and then the New Testament, being that this promise being fulfilled. And what promise is it? It’s all centered in that promise of the person and work of Jesus Christ. The Bible is not a dose of inspiration for the day. That’s how many people use the Bible. And maybe they spend their whole lives looking at the Bible to just be a dose of inspiration, maybe even a dose of conviction. But if we don’t have the larger understanding of the Bible that we even bring to that when we’re looking for that inspiration of the day, we’re really just maybe getting the law, rather than the law and the gospel together.

So what do we mean by seeing in Christ of all Scriptures, that Christ is at the center? Why do we want to see Christ in all of the Scriptures? Well, reason number one is that Jesus taught his disciples to read the Bible this way. So I kind of think, “If Jesus thinks we ought to read the Bible this way, this is the way I wanna read the Bible.” I don’t know how I missed some of these Scriptures where Jesus talks about this. But let’s look at a couple. We look in John 5:39, Jesus is in one of these interactions with the religious leaders. And think about this, these are the people that they would say their whole lives are centered around Moses and the prophets. And then Jesus says to them, I am in verse 39, he says to these religious leaders, “You search the Scriptures because you think that in them you have eternal life. It is they that bear witness about me.” He’s just saying, you know, “Your whole lifetime, you’ve been reading these Scriptures, looking, longing, waiting for someone to come. And I am that person. This is all about me.”

And so, there’s one way Jesus did it during his ministry, but perhaps the most significant, I would have to say, the one that has totally changed my life is where we find Jesus in Luke 24, Jesus has just risen from the dead and he walked alongside two very disappointed disciples. They don’t recognize it’s Jesus. They say to him, “We thought he was the one.” I mean, their words there kind of break my heart because I can sense their disappointment in them. These are people who had been studying the Scriptures and Jesus appeared on the scene and they’re like, “We thought he was the one.” But of course, now, they’ve just been to Jerusalem and they’ve seen him die on a cross and now they’re beginning to think perhaps he was not at all the one.

And Jesus, it says in Luke 24:25, I’ll begin there, and he said to them, “Oh, foolish ones and slow of heart to believe all that the prophets had spoken. Was it not necessary that the Christ should suffer these things and enter His glory?” That’s fascinating. He’s saying, “If you’ve been reading your Bibles and really understanding what you were reading, what you would have known from the Old Testament is that when the Christ came, he would suffer before he was glorified.” But clearly, they haven’t understood those things. And so what does Jesus do in grace, verse 27, “And beginning with Moses and all the prophets, he interpreted to them in the Scriptures the things concerning himself.” Is this not one part of the Bible where you wish it had told us a little bit more? But I have to tell you this verse has driven me. It has driven a series of books I’ve written, beginning with Moses and the prophets. So I wanna open up Genesis and I wanna ask every text the question, what might Jesus have pointed to and said this is about me? I think that most profoundly is what we’re talking about when we talk about Christ in the Scriptures.

Think about Luke 24, think about him walking along that road to a mass with those two disciples, what might Jesus have pointed to in Moses and the prophets and said this is about me? And in what way would he have said it was about me. So there he is with those two disciples on the road to a mass, but we read a little bit later he appears to his disciples, and once again, we read in Luke 24:44, “These are the words that I spoke to you while I was still with you, that everything written about me and the law of Moses and the prophets in the Psalms must be fulfilled.” So Jesus over and over again, there he is saying, “Okay, it’s all about me.”

And clearly, the disciples were good learners because if we continue Luke goes into Acts. If you turn to Acts 2, we get Peters first sermon on the day of Pentecost and with a sense that over those 40 days as Jesus himself has opened up the Scriptures and shown how the law and the prophets is most profoundly about him. I mean, we don’t even have to read it. If you have Acts 2, open. You can just see on your page. You can see sections that stand out from the rest of the text, correct? First, there in 17 through 21, here is this quote from Prophet Joel and then we have beginning of verse 25, “For David says concerning him.” Here’s Peter, he’s saying what David wrote about in the songs concerns him, concerns Jesus. We see that quote. Once again then in verse 34, “For David did not inscended in the heavens, but he himself says,” and then he quotes from Psalm 110. And so, Peter is taking hold of this. His way of preaching the gospel is not to start with Jesus born in Bethlehem. Peter’s way of preaching the gospel is to start in the Old Testament and show what it has to reveal about Christ. So this is how Peter teaches the gospel.

If you flip over to Acts 13, we don’t have time to read it. But in acts 13, we have a sermon of Paul, the Apostle Paul. And what he does early on in the chapter is he basically traces the story of Israel and then he gets to the point where he says in verse 23, “Of this man’s offspring, God has brought to Israel a Savior, Jesus, as He promised.” Once again, Paul’s way of presenting and understanding the gospel is to show how the whole of the Old Testament was about Christ.

So why we want to see Christ in all of Scriptures? Number one, Jesus taught his disciples to read and understand the Bible this way. So secondly, the apostles understood and taught the Bible this way. Thirdly, it helps us to avoid moralism and legalism. I mean, if we think about the Old Testament law, even if we think of it only in terms of the 10 commandments, if we were to look at the 10 commandments, do we want to teach the 10 commandments? Yes, but if we teach them apart from Christ, if we teach them apart from the grace that was shown, even in the Old Testament, remember how the 10 commandments themselves, they’re led into by talking about how God has redeemed them from slavery. We see the grace before the law. Without putting Christ in the Old Testament, what does it become? It becomes moralism. For me, I think most of my life, it was mostly about trying harder to have faith like some people and trying real hard not to do the bad things that other people did. Because when we just turn all of the Old Testament situations and people into examples, and solely into examples, because it’s clear that the Bible itself uses some Old Testament situations and people as examples.

And I think we can, in some ways, see them as examples, but not primarily, not first off. For one thing, we are imposing sometimes on the Scripture what is a good example and a bad example. And this is where we run into trouble when we find something in the scripture that seems morally ambivalent. We’re not sure if we’re only using it as moralism, you know, like what are we gonna do with Rehab and her lie? But if we’re seeing that this is most profoundly about Christ, we don’t get stopped up so quickly on something like that.

All right, number four, to read the Bible this way immerses us in the whole of the Bible’s story. I kind of ran for you that story of the Old Testament that for most of my life I didn’t understand. We could tell the story of the Bible. Oftentimes, we would in four words. Can some of you do that with me? Some of you know I know you know. If we tell the story of the Bible in four words, the four words would be what? Creation, fall, redemption, what? See that’s where it gets fuzzy too. Okay, because we got a lot of different words for that. And this is a different talk, but I would say to you now my number four word has to be consummation. And the reason I say that, you’ve got creation, fall, redemption. If we just say restoration, it means we’re just getting back to a way things were in Eden. And if you remember of our talk from yesterday, Eden wasn’t secure. It wasn’t everything God intended. So I now believe if we’re gonna tell it in four words, we’re not gonna end with restaurant, not good enough. We’re gonna say, consummation, consummation.

Now, why is that significant? As we see Christ in the whole of Scriptures, then we get him right. If we understand that this whole of the Bible story, if we understand Adam’s failure. You see if Adam had not failed in the garden, the Bible story could be told in two words, creation, consummation. And so, to understand that the whole story of the Bible is about Christ, we realized, “Okay, there was this failure and because the first Adam failed to lead us into that, now there is a second Adam.” And the whole of the Bible story is tracing the promise of, the anticipation of, the coming of this second Adam, this son who will obey regarding a tree. And his obedience is going to lead us into the glory that Adam failed to lead us into.

Number five, why we do wanna see Christ in all those Scriptures, it helps us make sense of difficult passages. We just mentioned two or three. How about Genesis 22? I remember sitting in a Sunday school class and we were discussing this story of Abraham taking his son, the son that he loves, up a mountain, and that God has asked him to offer that son as a sacrifice. And I remember this one guy in my Sunday school class just going, “I just don’t know what to do with this story. It really bothers me. Why would God ask him to do that?” If we don’t see Christ at the center of this story, we’re a little bit unhappy with God that he would ask someone to do that.

And then how is this story used? How often have you heard it taught that we need to be willing to sacrifice what is most important to us? See there it becomes moralistic about what we’re supposed to do and it becomes about we should be willing to sacrifice. But when we put Christ at the center of that story, we recognize that what this is really about is, here’s Isaac, the promised son, he’s been asked to sacrifice him, does he have to sacrifice him? No. What happens up there? God provides a substitute who was sacrificed instead. And when we realized, “Oh, no, this is about another father and his beloved son, whose son will walk up actually that very same hill of mountain Moriah and he too, will carry the wood on which he has to be sacrificed.” But for this son, the execution, it will not be stayed. He, in fact, will be sacrificed for sin. And so, when we see Christ in the middle of this story, it takes away some of the offense and the confusion about the story because we realize what we’re meant to see in this story is the greater father and the greater son who will be sacrificed, and that Abraham and Isaac are pointing toward him.

Another passage that I think putting Christ at the center helps to make sense is this is all of this in Leviticus about clean and unclean, I mean, what is that about? And you read these things about people, okay, then you gotta do this, you gotta do all of this, This is gonna make you unclean. And we’re thinking, “Well, this doesn’t seem sinful, so why does this make you unclean?” But then here’s, how you’re gonna get clean. But then you can do more not just get clean, but become holy. But once we see Christ in the middle of this passage… First of all, when we put it in the context of the whole of story, we discover that everything that is declared to be unclean is something that reflects an impact of the curse. If you compare the way things were in Genesis 1 and 2 to what’s being described, you see, “Oh, here’s an impact of the curse.” And as God is showing us, there’s gonna be a way to be made clean and it’s gonna be through a sacrifice. And not only that, you’re not only gonna be able to be made clean, you know, one day, you’re gonna be made holy. And when we discover that this is a shadow and that Jesus is the substance of all of those sacrifices, and that he is the way who makes us clean, and he is the one who is in fact, gonna even make us holy, begins to make sense of a difficult passage.

Let me give you one more, Hosea and Gomer. This is another passage people get kind of offended at, right? Why would God ask a prophet to do this? Why would he tell him to marry a woman who, using the ESV, is a wife of whoredom, so we can get kind of offended. And certainly, if we’re going to the Bible trying to make moral lessons about how to choose a marriage partner, this is not gonna be…work out well for us. But instead, when we put Christ in the center, we realize, “Oh, so this is in shadow form. This is a picture of God’s love relationship with his bride, Israel and his love for an unfaithful bride, which is what Israel has been over and over again.” But it’s not only a picture of their bad marriage. It’s a picture of what God is going to do through Christ to bring this bride to himself. And so we see Hosea, what does he do? He’s told, go again, love a woman and it says, where in 3 of Hosea, “So I bought her.” Hello. “So I bought her.”

And it tells us exactly the price that he pays for. And it tells us… What does it say? It says, “So I brought her home and I said to her, “You must live with me as mine for many days.” What’s he doing? He is sanctifying his bride to himself. You see the picture? So it’s difficult to understand, why would God do this passage? It begins to become clear and becomes actually rather than offensive, precious to us. Because we see, cast back into history, this shadow of our greater Redeemer, this one who’s gonna pay the ultimate price, the price of His precious blood to bring his bride to himself and then begin to sanctify us to him.

Number six, it clarifies our understanding of salvation. So often, in modern evangelical Christianity, we get in a ditch when we begin to use our own verbiage for what it means to be a Christian, what it means to be saved, what it means to experience salvation. And so the more we see Christ in the Old Testament, which is giving us picture after picture after picture of the salvation that is available to us through Christ, the more we understand it. Salvation is not just following Jesus as an example, but it’s embracing him as our substitute. How are we gonna get to that? How is that gonna become clearer for us as we read the Old Testament? Well, have you ever read the book of Leviticus over and over again? There’s sin. What must be done for sin? A substitute. Or even in Exodus, we see the story of the Passover, what’s gonna happen? They’re gonna have to choose one little lamb and it’s gonna be just the right size of lamb for the number of people in the household and they’re going to slit its throat and spread its blood. And is it because the people in that house don’t deserve the judgment that’s gonna fall on the Egyptians? No. It’s because they have expressed faith in the death of a sacrifice, that they, in a sense, have been covered by this blood. And because of that, judgment passes over them.

So that begins to give us a clearer understanding of salvation through judgment that, yes, judgment is gonna fall, but we are gonna be saved through what we understand salvation in a deeper, richer way. We understand that salvation is redemption from slavery. That’s the picture that the Old Testament uses over and over again when we get to the Psalms and when we get to the prophets, when they talk about redemption, it’s always in terms of redemption from slavery because this is the paradigm picture of what salvation is. It is being redeemed, brought out of slavery, slavery for us, slavery to sin, but pictured in the slavery to Egypt that God’s people experienced. The book of Jonah, where in the very middle of that book of Jonah, he makes a statement, “Salvation belongs to the Lord.” And here’s Jonah, he is in the belly of a fish at the bottom of the ocean and he clearly could not save himself. Can we agree on that? And so, here we have this picture of salvation is of the Lord. This is something the Lord must do. This is not something I’m gonna work out to accomplish myself, the Lord must do it. You see how these things clarify our understanding of salvation.

But then, this is probably the most important and my favorite, which is, it feeds our appreciation and adoration of Jesus. Last year, I got invited to go to Italy, which was awesome, and I mostly did ministry but I had one day in Florence. Let me just tell you and give you a little tip in case you go. If you only have one day in Florence, you don’t want it to be on Monday because on Monday the museums are closed, okay? I was really hoping to see the statue of David. I’m not a great art appreciator. Some of you could probably teach me a thing or two. But I do know that when you see the greatness of art, you’re supposed to look at it from all different angles to appreciate it. And that’s the case with Jesus Christ. And we wanna see him from all different angles. And as we see Christ in the Old Testament, it helps us to do that. We look at the book of Leviticus and we see him as our substitute. We look at the book of Deuteronomy that gives us this law and we realize, he is the one who has kept the law in our place and we love him for it.

We get to the book of Joshua, and we see Joshua, whose name in Hebrew would be Jesus. And here is our Joshua and he is the one who is going to lead us into our Promised Land. And he is going to lead us into overcoming the enemies in our lives that only want to rob from us. And he’s gonna lead us into this land that is our inheritance, where we can make our home forever. Now we see Jesus from that angle and we love him for it. And then we get to the book of Judges. And we see all of these short term saviors who are all so flawed in one way or another. And we realize that there is a greater hero who is coming to save us. He will be our Savior and we love him. He will deliver us. We get to the book of Ruth and we see in Boaz, this kinsman redeemer, who once again is willing…he wants to do all that the law requires to have his bride, Ruth. So we see him go to the gates of the city and do what is necessary to have this bride. Why? So she can have an inheritance in the land. And we love Jesus more because we see that in Ruth.

We get to 1 Samuel and we see this weak young boy go out to battle against Goliath and defeat the enemy. And because he does, we as God people, where are we in that story? We’re not David slaying our giant. That’s how most of us have been taught to read the Old Testament. We’ve been taught to relate to the key character. Here’s another little phrase to write down for understanding Christ and the Old Testament that’s really helped me, it’s called, the ordinary Israelite principle. When you go to the Old Testament, instead of trying to always identify with the main character, who more often is picturing Christ, the way we find ourselves in the story is to look for the ordinary Israelites. And where are the ordinary Israelites in the story of David and Goliath? They’re shaking and afraid, back there on the lines. And they have one hope. What is there hope? It’s in their champion. Their champion, who’s going out to do battle against their enemy. And you see, if he does not win, they will be slaves forever to the Philistines. But if their champion wins, this one that they identify with, then his victory becomes their victory.

So this is the beauty of seeing Christ to see it rightly, so it’s not about me working up, and my five smooth stones or whatever that’s gonna be or slam my… No. It’s that I’m joined to the champion. And he has represented me and he has conquered. And thanks be to God who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ. I could go on and on. And guess we better get to ways, that’s why you came ways to see Christ in all of the Scripture.

All right, now, I’m gonna go through my eight ways. And let me tell you how I came to this. When I saw that Luke 24 passage and I was starting to hear pastors and preachers who taught Christ all of the Scriptures, I realized, like I have to go back to kindergarten to understand the Bible. Clearly, I do not understand how to read the Old Testament and I need to cut totally reorient how we do it. So I began to do that. My way of doing that is I went to my publisher Tyndale , I said, “Can I write the one year book of discovering Jesus in the Old Testament? And they said, “Yes.” And so I got to spend a whole year working my way through Genesis to Malichi, trying to reorient things. How do I see Christ in this? Asking that question over and over again. What would Jesus have pointed to and said, this was about me?

My number one way to see Christ in the Scripture is to discover a problem that only Christ can solve. Where’s the first problem in the Bible? It’s in Genesis 3, isn’t it? The curse that has come upon all creation. And so right there, we see a problem that has to be solved. Think about Genesis 3:17. In 3:17, one of the impacts of the curse, it says that, thorns and thistles… Remember there’s a curse on the ground, thorns and thistles are going to grow. So I think that throughout the rest of the Bible, every time we see these thorns and thistles that are in inherent to life in the wilderness of the world, not the garden, we’re seeing an impact of the curse. It’s kind of hinting at us of the curse.

So do you think it’s just random that Jesus as he hung on the cross, he is… We know from Galatians, he is our curse bearer. He is bearing the curse for sin that we rightly deserve. How do we see Jesus on the cross? It’s as if there’s a physical picture, is there not? Of him bearing the curse, to see his crown with this crown of thorns. So a problem only Christ can solve might be the curse. When we get to Deuteronomy, and we’ve touched on this a little bit, here’s the law. And it’s clear when we read in Deuteronomy, that Moses is already beginning to make provision for the fact that they’re not gonna be able to keep the law. So in Deuteronomy, we see this problem, how are we gonna keep the law? We can’t. But there’s gonna be one who will come and keep the law in our place. Just jumping back to Genesis 3, that begins a theme that we see throughout the Scriptures that helps us get to Christ. And that is this theme of exile. We see it in Genesis 3 as Adam and Eve disobey and they are exiled from God’s holy realm, where he seeks to dwell with his people.

Then His people, He brings his people to his land, there’s a famine and they innocence go into exile, do they not? Into Egypt. He brings them out, He brings them through the wilderness and into the land. And He says, “If you obey me in the land, you will live in the land and I’m gonna bless you. But if you disobey Me, you’re gonna get kicked out because it’s My holy land. It’s my land and I’m a holy God, and I can’t dwell with an unholy people.” And when their unholiness becomes too much, they are what? They are exiled. Well, how do we get to Christ with that? We realize that on the cross, Jesus experienced the ultimate exile. It’s expressed in his words, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” He is exiled away from God and He is exiled in our place. And so what does this mean for us? Right now, we are living in exile, are we not? But it is coming. We will no longer be strangers living in exile, but we will be brought home into a land never to live in exile again.

All right, number two, a promise that only Christ can fulfill. I think of Genesis 12. This is the first biggie promises, is it not? This promise to Abraham, “I’m going to bless you. I’m gonna give you a great name. And through you, all the families of the earth are going to be blessed.” Now if we spend much time tracing Abraham’s story from them, we begin to think, “I don’t think it’s gonna be all about Abraham.” You’re not laughing because you’re not thinking about the story about Abraham. You remember what he does? Remember all of his huge failures. I mean, as you go from that promise in 12, I mean, just work your way through 13, 14, 15, this cannot be the way he’s gonna bring blessing on the world. And so, here is this promise that only Christ can fulfill. How is this promise to Abraham gonna fill?

In Christ, Christ is the way that all of the families of the earth are going to be blessed. And we see that come to full fruition at the very end of the Bible, when we read in Revelation about a people of every tribe, tongue, and nation who are gathered around the throne. And it’s a picture, it’s an answer to the promise in a fulfillment of the promise in Genesis 12, that all of the families of the earth are blessed. How? Through this offspring, this son of Abraham. A promise Only Christ can fulfill. How about the covenant fulfillment? Once again, in Abraham’s life, in Genesis 17, remember how he says, you know, “How can I know you’re gonna live up to all these promises to me?” And He has him go cut this animal and they’re making this bond, this covenant bond and he splits the animal. And, of course, the two people making the covenant are supposed to walk through the pieces and so that they’re both making a commitment saying, “If I don’t live up to my part in this deal, then you can cut me apart like you’ve cut these animals apart.” That’s what that’s all about.

But do you remember what happens to Abraham? He gets put to sleep. He doesn’t walk through the pieces. God Himself walks through the pieces. So God not only makes the promise, promise of the covenant, He says, “I’m gonna be the one who fulfills the covenant on your behalf because you never can.” All right, so when we see that, we’ll say, “This is a promise only Christ can fulfill,” when he actually is torn apart, when he does bear the curse of the covenant as he takes it upon himself in the cross. Then there are the promises, I think this is the way and I would guess many of you are like me, in terms of, for most of my life I thought of how you saw Christ in the Old Testament. It would have been limited strictly to prophecies about the person, like the birth and life of Jesus. Can some of you relate to that? I mean, for me, Christ in the Old Testament was just Micah 5, “He’s gonna be born in Bethlehem,” ching, right? Or even Isaiah 53, things about the cross. We saw it there or maybe in Zephaniah or Zachariah, I think it’s Zachariah, a king coming into the city riding on a donkey. And it was those things, to me, that was kind of the sum of how you could see Christ in the Old Testament. And I don’t wanna discount those because those are very real. But hopefully, since I’m giving you eight ways, you’re gonna see it’s a lot bigger than that.

Number three, what are some ways we see Christ in the Old Testament? A need that only Christ can meet. I talked earlier about this need for cleansing, that maybe sometimes, maybe because we don’t read the book of Leviticus very much. We don’t since our need for cleansing. But that was the whole purpose of all that cleansing ritual. When we get to the New Testament, what do we see Jesus do? If we read through Mark 5, sometime do that, and you can see in the light of Leviticus, Jesus is working his way touching unclean people, someone with leprosy, unclean, the woman with the issue of blood, unclean, he touches a dead body, unclean. And so as we see Christ in the Old Testament in Leviticus, doesn’t that mean that we get to Mark 5 and it means so much more to us? He is touching him. He in his life, death, and resurrection is taking their uncleanness upon himself and by his touch, he is giving to them his cleanness. So beautiful, so beautiful.

So a need only Christ can meet, the need for cleansing, a need… We got to the end of, I told you the book of Judges, there was no king in Israel. Everybody was doing what was right in their own eyes. And then we turn the page to 1 Samuel and God gives a king. He gives a king who is after his own heart. And once again, can I just say, this is one of my little pet peeves about a little passage, that we turn that into something we’re supposed to do. Have you not heard it taught that? Like, you’re supposed to be a person who is going after God’s own heart, that’s not what this is. You have to understand it in context, the people had chosen a king, we could think of Saul as the King after their own heart, meaning, that fit what they wanted in a king because he looked at kingly. He looks like all the other kings. He was tall and he could lead them into battle. And so God gave them a king. But then, God decides to give them a king after his own heart, meaning the kind of King He longs for his people to have, this King David.

And, in so many ways, we see aspects of who Jesus will be, even more I think when we get to Solomon, we see it’s like the epitome, the golden era for the people of Israel. And in many ways, we see the wisdom of our king. But all of these Old Testament shadows, they missed the mark, do they not? They’re not the ultimate one. And that’s one of the ways we see Christ in the Old Testament. When we look at a person who is pointing us to Christ, sometimes we see aspects of who Jesus is and what they do, but we always see ways and they fall short, as well. And those things point us to a wiser king.

Number four, a pattern or theme that only clamps to resolution in Christ. One of my favorites of these, the theme of marriage begins right there in Genesis 2, does it not? But then we see marriage go really wrong in Genesis 3. You know, first, his like, “At last.” And then in Genesis 3, “It’s that woman you gave me.” And then throughout the Old Testament, God describes Himself as a husband and Israel as His bride. We realize she is an unfaithful bride, she’s chasing after other lovers, the bales, over and over again. But God continues to promise, especially in the book of Isaiah, that there’s gonna be a day when she will call me my husband.

And then Jesus comes on the scene. It’s interesting, especially in the Gospel of John, the first place we see Jesus, the wedding at Cana and there’s a problem. The bridegroom has failed. He failed in his acquisition of enough wine. That was the bridegroom’s job. And what does Jesus do? He not only deals with the problem of wine, He brings the very best wine, the very best wine. I think, they all got a taste of the wine from the marriage supper of the Lamb right there that day. I think that’s what it is because that’s the kind of wine he brings. I think it’s almost as if the gospel writer John is saying, you know, “We’ve been waiting for the marriage, the ultimate marriage of the son and his bride and the bride groom has arrived. He is here and he is here to gather a bride for himself.” And then Jesus, two chapters later, goes to a very unlikely place to find a bride for himself. He says, “I must go through Samaria.” Mary is at a well and a woman comes to him who seems to be the most unlikely prospect to be bound to Christ as her holy husband and yet Isn’t this the one that Jesus calls to himself, showing us what kind of bridegroom he is and the way he loves an unfaithful bride.

You could get me going on that, but you won’t. I mentioned earlier this pattern thing of salvation through judgment. Judgment comes down in Eden, Adam and Eve are saved through it. Judgment comes down at the Passover on Egypt, and God’s people are saved through it. I missed one, a biggie, Noah, right? Judgment comes down on the whole Earth, and what happens? That’s people are saved through the judgment. The cross of Christ, judgment comes down and all of us who are joined to Christ are saved through it. And then the very end of the Bible, judgment is going to come down. Read Revelation 17, 18, 19, 20, judgment is gonna come down, but the People of God, all who are joined to Christ are going to be saved, saved through the judgment.

So it’s a theme that runs throughout the whole of Scripture, but it only comes to fruition through Christ. The theme of rest, once again, promise at the very beginning of the Bible, there God advised us into Sabbath rest. And he instructs them, there at the mountain there, to have one day a week to have this Sabbath rest because the ultimate rest, remember the first Adam failed to lead us into the ultimate rest that God had set out for His people. So they’re gonna mark it week by week as they look back at creation, look back at redemption, but as they look forward to the ultimate rest that is yet to come. And so they, week by week, reorient themselves toward this ultimate rest. And then what happens? Christ comes and on the cross, he experiences the restlessness that we all deserve to experience forever, so that you and I can enter into the rest. And as Hebrews tells us, the promise of rest still stands. We know that promise of ultimate rest is still out there. So now, every time we read about Sabbath in the Old Testament, when we read all the tussles and the gospels about Sabbath, we think of it in that light, in terms of, the rest that only Christ can bring.

Number five, a story that only comes to its conclusion through Christ. I’ve been really helped in understanding all of this by someone name Graeme Goldsworthy. If you don’t own the Goldsworthy trilogy that has three books within one “Gospel and Kingdom,” Gospel and Wisdom,” Gospel in Revelation,” that book will blow your mind, okay? And he early on made a statement that has changed my whole understanding of the Bible. And he says, “The story of the Bible, throughout the Bible is all about God’s people in God’s place under God’s rule.” That’s Eden, right? Under God’s rule. There’s be fruitful and multiply. They should not eat of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. Then he brings them into a place called the Promised Land, God’s people are Israel. They’re living in the Promised Land. God’s rule is the law he has given them. Here we are right now, we are God’s people. Where is God’s place? In Christ. In Christ, is God’s place, where we find our home. And He’s coming now and he’s going to bring us God’s people, people from every tribe, tongue, and nation are going to be in God’s place under God’s rule, where we will enjoy him forever. All right, a story that only comes… So that story, God’s people and God’s place under God’s rule would be one example.

The story of the temple, here you got the tabernacle and the temple, and these pictures of where you’re goinna meet with God. And then Jesus comes on the scene. I mean, don’t we just know instinctively that as we read the Old Testament and we read these passages about the tabernacle and the temple, and all the ritual, that it can’t really be just all about going through the motions of that? That all of that has to be pointing us to something, something deeper, richer, more meaningful. And of course, they are. And Jesus comes on the scene and he says, “My body is the temple. And destroy this temple, and in three days, it’s gonna be raised again.”

So when we’re reading about the temple or the tabernacle in the Old Testament, when we see it in light of Christ, throughout the Bible over and over again, what God is showing is that He wants to dwell with us. I don’t know why. I don’t know why. But then think about all of the chapters in the Old Testament given to the temple. And it’s all about God wants to dwell among His people. And think about how the Bible ends, Revelation 21, we hear a loud voice from the throne, “I will be there God. They will be my people. I will dwell with them.” So I have to tell you, you know, sometimes my heart is cold. I don’t have this passionate longing to dwell with Him. And I am so grateful for Jesus that his zeal for God’s house is enough to make up for my lack of zeal for God’s house. All right, that was number five.

Number six, a person who prefigures an aspect of who Christ will be or what he will do by analogy and/or contrast. Joseph in the Bible, have you ever wondered…? Think about the makeup of the book of Genesis. You got two chapters to tell about the creation of the World, don’t we wish he’d given us a little more detail on that to answer our questions? You’ve got the story of Babel and Noah, and Abraham, and Isaac, and Jacob. And then you’ve got this son of Jacob, who is not…and the one who through whom Jesus is going to come because that’s gonna be through Judah. And Genesis gives 13 chapters to the story of Joseph. That’s pretty fascinating. Why would he do that? Well, I think Joseph is one of the primary things. Remember where it began in Luke 24, where Jesus said, “Basically if you’d read your Bibles, you would have known that the Christ must suffer before being glorified.” I think the first thing he would have pointed to, to show them that they should have known that would be Genesis 3:15. You will crush his head, he will bruise your heel, suffering before glory. But then I think he would have gone to Joseph. Here was this man Joseph, he is the beloved son of his father. He is the one whom all of his brothers will one day bow down to him, but he descends… Here he is, he’s the beloved son, but he’s hated by his brothers and he becomes a slave in a foreign country, that’s a step-down.

But then he goes even lower than that, then he becomes a…he goes into the pit of prison, but then what happens to Joseph? He interprets a dream and in one day, he goes from the pit of prison to what? Being raised to the right hands of the Pharaoh, raised from the pit to glory. I mean, is it not a picture? Is this not what Paul talks about in Philippians 2, when it says, you know, “Have this mind in you, which was also in Christ Jesus, who…” I can’t quote all this, maybe some of you can, didn’t seek to be equal with God, but what? Lowered himself who became a servant, even lowered himself even to death on the cross.

But who was then what? Highly exalted. This is the pattern and the picture of Jesus life. But is this not the pattern and picture of Joseph’s life. Don’t you think maybe Jesus pointed you to Joseph and says, “This is one way, you should have known that I would suffer down to the pit before entering into my glory.” Moses, a rejected deliverer, a mediator, but of course, Moses is inadequate to mediate for his people. Remember when he says, “I want you to kill me and not my people.” But he’s just a man and so we get to Christ by saying, “Okay, but there is another mediator, Joshua, leading his people to inhabit the land.” Boaz as the kinsman redeemer, David, this anointed king. But we get to Christ, but at certain points, in David story, because we say, “But he was one who did sin.”

And we get to that story about Bathsheba and then we get to Psalm 51, and we see David might have been a great king, but he needed a great forgiveness that came from a greater king and that comes from Jesus Himself. Isaiah, about the suffering servant and throughout all of that we see, “Okay, Jesus, he’s going to suffer before being glorified.” Certainly, Jesus pointed to those passages in Isaiah. Number seven, an event or symbol that pictures an aspect of who Christ will be or what he will do the ark. The ark of safety, in whom we hide so that when the storm of judgment comes, rather than being destroyed by it, we live. The Passover, this blood of the Lamb in which we hide, and when judgment comes, we are not destroyed. It’s an event or symbol that pictures an aspect of who Christ will be and what he will do, the temple, the tabernacle. This is a representation of God’s desire to dwell with us and entering into His presence. And how is that going to happen? How did the priest enter into His presence? He had to offer all of these sacrifices and cleanse himself, and he could only go in once a year. Don’t we want greater access to God than that?

So that every time we read about the tabernacle and the temple, we think, “When is it gonna be a time when we can all enter into the presence of God freely?” Not just one representative once a year, who has to offer sacrifices for himself. And this is where of course the writer of Hebrews helps us because he shows us, that was always just a type, a shadow of this greater temple in the person of Jesus. And he’s the one who says, we can boldly approach the throne of grace to receive help in our time of need because Jesus has torn the veil so that we can enter and directly to the presence of God.

And finally, a revelation of the pre-incarnate Christ, we see that throughout the Old Testament, especially when you… Sometimes you see an angel of the Lord and sometimes you’ll see the angel of the Lord, and you can’t be too dogmatic about this. But I think it’s not crazy to think a lot of times, this was the pre-incarnate Christ, not in human flesh yet, but sometimes in human form. For example, Joshua, he’s getting ready to lead the people into the land and he encounters the angel of the Lord, who calls himself the commander of the Lord’s armies, who’s gonna be the one to go out and do battle before him. I think probably, a revelation of the pre-incarnate Christ. You’ve got Jacob wrestling with an angel. But at the same time, it says, he’s wrestling with an angel, he says, “The Lord said to me, this is clearly not just an ordinary Angel. This is somehow the Lord Himself, perhaps a revelation of the pre-incarnate Christ.” And then one we can be very confident about and that’s Isaiah. When he, in Isaiah 6, “I saw the Lord seated on the throne and the train of his robe filled the temple with glory.” And when we get to the New Testament, we’re told specifically in the Gospel of John, that he saw that Isaiah was speaking of Jesus. And so, when we look at that in Isaiah 6, we can see that he is seeing Jesus Himself.

Lord, we thank You for your word. Your word is a treasure to mine. We will never stop finding new reasons to love You and adore You, and to take hold of You by faith as we study Your word. We thank You for the wisdom of Your word. We thank You that You have chosen to reveal Yourself to us. You didn’t even have to do that. And You’ve given us this book that constantly authenticates itself, constantly asserts its own authority because we recognize no human book could do what You have done in your book, which is to reveal Yourself in such beautiful, meaningful ways. Lord help us as we look at the Old Testament, not to just be looking for examples to follow or something that pounds on us to try to have more faith and be better, but instead, over and over on every page to see Christ in the different new way that causes us to love You, that warms our heart toward You. Sometimes our hearts are cold.

And Lord, I’ve been amazed at how You could use pictures and patterns, and unmet needs, and themes in the Old Testament to warm my heart to You because of the beautiful way it shows me who Christ is and what he has accomplished. And what is ahead that will be mine. What is my now and what is the head that will be mine because of who he is and what he’s done. So, Lord, help us as we look to Your word, help us to not be dense. Help us to overcome some of the ways that are so deeply ingrained in us about how to read and understand the Old Testament that always seems to wanna make it about us, instead of making it about You. So help us overcome those because we long to see you more fully, more rightly, in your word, in your name, I pray, Amen.

You’ve been listening to “Help Me Teach the Bible” with Nancy Guthrie, a production of the gospel coalition sponsored by Crossway. Crossway is a not-for-profit publisher of the ESV Bible, Christian books, and tracks, including the, Seeing Jesus in the Old Testament Bible study series, 5, 10-week Bible studies that focus on how each part of the Old Testament presents Christ. You can learn more about Crossway gospel-centered resources at

When we hear Christ presented from the Old Testament, it melts our hearts. We want more. But for many of us, a lifetime of Sunday school lessons has conditioned us to jump from an Old Testament text right to what it means for us today—without traveling through the cross.

In this workshop presented at the 2018 CCEF National Conference, I work through seven reasons we should want to see Christ in all the Scriptures, and eight different ways Old Testament texts point to Christ.

Listen to this episode of Help Me Teach the Bible.