He said to them, ‘This is what I told you while I was still with you: everything must be fulfilled that is written about me in the Law of Moses, the Prophets and the Psalms.’ Then he opened their minds so they could understand the Scriptures.
Philip found Nathanael and told him, ‘We have found the one Moses wrote about in the Law, and about whom the prophets also wrote – Jesus of Nazareth, the son of Joseph.’
I stand here and testify to small and great alike. I am saying nothing beyond what the prophets and Moses said would happen – that the Messiah would suffer and, as the first to rise from the dead, would bring the message of light to his own people and to the Gentiles.
As we have seen, Christ is our ‘Prophet’. He reveals the character, the will, the plans and purposes of God in the midst of the cacophony of religious opinions and philosophical speculations we have to live with. We recognise the limits of our knowledge of God (Dt.29:29), but insofar as we know anything truly, we know it solely through Christ. Like all else about Christ, His role as Revealer of the life of God was established on the basis of His being willingly chosen and sent by the Father. So an old Dutch theologian writes: ‘He was anointed to be our Chief Prophet from before the foundation of the world, and He began to function in that capacity from the beginning of history’ (Hoeksema, The Triple Knowledge, 490).
This has massive implications for how we read the Old Testament. It has become fashionable to think of the OT as a non-Christian book, or at best as a book that can only be seen to be Christian in the light of the New Testament. This is not at all the historical view of the Church. The mighty Jonathan Edwards, arguably the greatest theologian America has ever produced, wrote in 1739: ‘When we read of God appearing … in some visible form [in the OT], we are ordinarily, if not universally to understand it of the Second Person of the Trinity … He is therefore called the Image of the invisible God (Col.1:15), intimating that, though the Father be invisible, yet Christ is His Image or representation by which He is seen’ (History of the Work of Redemption, 1:I:i). More recently, Stuart Olyott in an excellent book, ‘Son of Mary, Son of God’, writes: ‘Every visible appearance of God has been an appearance of the Lord Jesus Christ’ (p.64). It is and always has been Christ who reveals the Father to creation by the Spirit. It is this that lies behind Jesus’ rebuke of the Pharisees: ‘You study the Scriptures diligently because you think that in them you have eternal life. These are the very Scriptures that testify about me, yet you refuse to come to me to have life’ (Jn.5:29-30).
Similarly Flavel (again!), ‘So [Christ] dispensed the knowledge of God to the Church before His incarnation … It was Christ that was with the Church in the wilderness, instructing and guiding them by the ministry of Moses and Aaron…’ (Fountain of Life, p.123). Any revelation of God either in shadow, in speech or in Himself coming to His people is throughout the OT, as in the ages since, is through Christ by the Spirit. Even when the is Father speaking directly as at Sinai (so Dt.4:12, you heard the sound of words but saw no form), He is still mediated by Christ.
This makes sense of how the Apostles (and Jesus Himself) always seem to think the OT is about Jesus (e.g. Mk.12:36; Jn.5:46; Acts 2:25-32 I Cor.10:1-4; Heb.1:5-13; 2:12 etc.). That is not a distortion of the Scriptures (I Cor.4:2-3). Indeed, it is remarkable how often the OT is seen to consist of the direct speech of Christ (so Is.49:1-7; 50:5-9; 61:1-3 etc.). It explains why the Apostles are quite willing to take OT passages about the God of Israel and apply them directly to Christ (e.g. Is.45:23 / Phil.2:10). And it explains why the Apostles see themselves as saying nothing beyond what was taught in the OT. They do not see themselves as teaching anything new or different - they are simply ‘proving from the Scriptures that Jesus was the Messiah.’ (Acts 18:28). The Scriptures of course being the Old Testament.
The basic dynamic of God’s revealing Himself hasn’t changed from the beginning of creation. The Father reveals Himself through the Son by the Spirit. Whether the date is pre-incarnation, or post-Ascension, it has always been the same. This is what it means to speak of Christ as our Mediator. He is the One who brings us to the Father (Jn.14:6), and significantly He is the One who brings the Father to us (Jn.14:9). Christ is and always has been the faithful Prophet who reveals God, and who speaks by the Holy Spirit in and through all those He in turn chooses and calls to be His faithful prophets.
What do you think of the idea that in Allah, Muslims are worshipping the Father without realising it? Could we worship with Muslims? What would you say to someone who wanted to stress the similarities of the three Abrahamic religions?
Do you think Christians have more in common with monotheistic religions such as Judaism or Islam (one God)? …or with polytheistic ones such as Hinduism (three Persons)?
Why do you think so many Christians struggle with the idea of the Trinity featuring in the OT? Do you think it is right to say people in the OT didn’t ‘have’ the Holy Spirit? Do you think they believed God was Trinity?
Read Hebrews 1:5-14
Why is it so important to show that Jesus is superior to the angels (v.4)? How would you go about proving Jesus is superior to angels? Do you think there is any evangelistic potential in this today?
How do you think people in the Old Testament were brought into relationship with God?
Do you think the author of Hebrews is reading stuff about Jesus into the Old Testament passages he quotes that isn’t really there? Did the Psalmist, or Moses, think they were writing about Jesus?
Do you think we can take these passages as case studies and use them to interpret the whole OT in a similar way, or is this just something we can do with passages quoted in the NT?
Do you think the OT is really a Jewish book that Christians have taken over? … or is it as much a part of the Christian Bible as the NT?
How does this change how you think and feel about the OT?
But as for you, continue in what you have learned and have become convinced of, because you know those from whom you learned it, and how from infancy you have known the Holy Scriptures, which are able to make you wise for salvation through faith in Christ Jesus. All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness, so that the servant of God may be thoroughly equipped for every good work.
(remember: Scriptures here are substantively the OT!)
For further reflection:
How did Christ know who He was? It is tempting to think that He was granted some innate awareness, perhaps through His relationship with the Holy Spirit? Or that it was ‘downloaded’ from heaven in some way?
The evidence would seem to point elsewhere. There are 30 years of Jesus’ life, prior to His public ministry that receive almost no attention in the Gospels. It would seem that all we need to know is found in the one snap shot of His childhood (Lk.41-52). As a 12 year old Jesus is delighting to stay in the Temple, sitting with the best theologians in the world, and to study the writings of Moses and the prophets. Why would He ever want to leave?
And He has already grasped who He is. ‘Didn’t you know I had to be in my Father’s house?’ (2:49). I don’t think it is incidental that the first time Jesus articulates His own understanding of His identity is in the context of His study of Scripture. Jesus learns who He is and what He has come into the world to do because His Father is teaching Him by the Spirit, through the Scriptures that bear witness to Him. Indeed some have argued that the Scriptures were written primarily for Jesus, and that they are only for the Church in a derivative sense!
Either way, the point is simple. If Jesus studies the Scriptures to discover who He is, then how much more should we? Let us never assume that what we believe about Jesus is accurate, unless we are sure we can show it from those Scriptures.