Lessons From the Old Testament: Jesus in the Old Testament

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When Israel was a child, I loved him, and out of Egypt I called my son. But the more they were called, the more they went away from me. (Hosea 11:1,2)

Then Isaiah said, “Hear now, you house of David! Is it not enough to try the patience of humans? Will you try the patience of my God also?  Therefore the Lord himself will give you a sign: The virgin will conceive and give birth to a son, and will call him Immanuel. He will be eating curds and honey when he knows enough to reject the wrong and choose the right, for before the boy knows enough to reject the wrong and choose the right, the land of the two kings you dread will be laid waste. (Isaiah 7:13-16)

My God, my God, why have you forsaken me? Why are you so far from saving me, so far from my cries of anguish? (Psalm 22:1)

What do these passages have in common?  Each is an utterance by a prophet speaking about current history that in context do not seem to be related to Jesus at all, but that are quoted in the New Testament as being fulfilled by Jesus. What’s going on?

Though there are direct prophetic predictions relating to the Messiah, many, if not most, of the predictions of the Old Testament concerning Messiah are in fact indirect predictions.  And here is how it works.  A person in Israel whose role in some way anticipates a role the Messiah will play is spoken of or spoken to in ways that do relate directly to that person, but because that person is in some way a foreshadowing of the Messiah, the prophetic implication is that their experience relates to Messiah.  Another way to say this is, they are types of Messiah and their experiences are typical of Messiah.  By a type we mean that they are historical clues put in the life of God’s people by God to build expectation of the coming Messiah and to illustrate what the Messiah’s life will be like.

So, for example, Israel, the nation as a whole, is an illustration of Messiah.  The Messiah is intended to be the ultimate representative of the nation and the nation’s experience will in some way be played out in the experience of the Messiah.  So when Israel is rescued out of Egypt by Yahweh there is an expectation that the Messiah’s history will include a sojourn and rescue from Egypt.  Hosea wasn’t attending to this meaning when he wrote 11:1,2, but if you asked him if his depiction of Israel could have an impact on what happened to the Messiah, he would undoubtedly have said yes.

When Isaiah predicts that a virgin (in this case, his wife, whose child is born according to the next chapter as the sign Isaiah predicted) will have a child and his name will be Emmanuel (meaning, God with us), the immediate application of the prophecy is for King Ahaz to realize that God will deliver Judah from the alliance of nations Ahaz fears before Isaiah’s son is more than a few years old.  But if you asked Isaiah whether the life experience of his son, as a prophet, could be predictive of what Messiah’s life would be like, he could say yes.  Whether he would have understood that Messiah’s experience would be an advance on his son’s experience, I don’t know.  Mary was literally a virgin and bore the Messiah without a human father.  The Messiah’s experience always goes beyond the type’s experience in some way.

This is evident in David’s life also.  Even though he feels God has abandoned him to his enemies (they have figuratively pierced his hands and feet like dogs attacking a victim, Psalm 22:16), that is not actually the case.  God has not abandoned him but has indeed allowed him to experience attacks from his enemies only to be rescued eventually (see verses 22-24).  But in order for Jesus to be the atoning sacrifice for our sins He must literally be abandoned by the Father as the penalty for our guilt.

There are many prophecies that can be understood in this way in the Old Testament.  Interestingly there are similar “types” in other cultures, as evidenced in Don Richardson’s books, Eternity in Their Hearts and Peace Child.  In the latter he chronicles a means of assuring peace between two warring native tribes in one culture by the chief from one tribe giving his son to be cared for by the other tribe, thus guaranteeing the end of warring.  This “peace child” became Richardson’s key to opening the meaning of the gospel to this people when he described Jesus as God’s peace child offered to us.  God has built the expectation of a Messiah in many different cultures, but most clearly in Israel’s culture as recorded in the Old Testament.


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