Jesus can be found all through the Bible - in the Old Testament as well as in the New! This page reviews some important Old Testament promises which spoke of the future work of Jesus, but it also examines the way in which Jesus was foreshadowed in the Law of Moses, and a foretaste of many aspects of his life was given in the lives of many faithful men who came before.
The big storyline of scripture is God’s plan for bringing mankind back to Him. The Bible tells a story of how paradise was lost and how it can be restored. The story is told in a multi-dimensional manner like a cord woven from many different colored threads. The journey back to our Creator is recorded on a global, national, and individual level.
Each time a dimension of this redemption theme is explored, there is a common ingredient: that there is a person through whom the plan of redemption will be realized. This person is of course is Jesus, the one who was both the son of man and the son of God.
This page reviews a sampling of the way in which the Lord Jesus is ever-present in the Bible. While this is obvious in the New Testament, it is no less true in the Old. Whether in history or prophecy, law-code or poetry, the Lord Jesus is always just below the surface.
In the Beginning
God’s plan for saving the human race starts immediately after the fall of man in the Garden of Eden. Before Adam and Eve are driven out of the garden as a result of their disobedience, God delivers a promise. The promise is directed to the serpent although a much broader audience is implied. In Genesis 3:15 God tells the serpent:
“I will put enmity between thee and the woman, and between thy seed and her seed; it shall bruise thy head, and thou shall bruise his heel.”
Much is promised in this short verse. We are told of two seeds that would engage in a struggle. Both would be wounded but in different ways. What does this promise mean? We have a glimpse of how Eve interpreted the promise upon the birth of her first son, Cain. In the next chapter of Genesis, Eve makes a statement when Cain is born. A literal translation of the original Hebrew is startling:
“Adam knew Eve his wife; and she conceived, and bare Cain, and said, I have gotten a man even the LORD.” (Genesis 4:1)
As the story unfolds, Eve discovers Cain is unworthy of such a lofty title. His behavior must have been a devastating blow to her. Instead of being one who would carry the name of the Lord, he ended up a remorseless killer. The question, though, is why did Eve ascribe this title to her firstborn? Who was she hoping Cain would become?
To answer this question, we need to look at the promises to the patriarch Abraham. Abraham was more than the father of the Jews and Arabs. He had a special relationship with God being called a friend of God. He was given a number of promises by God. The one that connects us with the statement made by the angel in the Garden of Eden is found in Genesis 22:18:
“And in thy seed shall all the nations of the earth be blessed; because thou hast obeyed my voice.”
To understand the importance of this promise, we need to refer to a commentary upon this verse by the apostle Paul written some 2000 years after Abraham. In the letter he writes to the church in the province of Galatia (in present day Turkey), he says the following:
“Now to Abraham and his seed were the promises made. He says not, and to seeds, as of many; but as of one, and to thy seed, which is Christ.” (Galatians 3:16)
Now we are getting somewhere. By simply following the word “seed”, we see that Eve - and then 2000 years later, Abraham, and then another 2000 years later, Paul - all realized that God’s plan culminated in a single person. Paul tells the Galatians in no uncertain terms that the one Eve and Abraham were promised is Jesus.
We see a similar pattern in the promises made to King David. David was promised that, you guessed it, one of his seeds would, at a future time rule from his throne forever.
“When thy days be fulfilled, and you sleep with thy fathers, I will set up thy seed after thee, which shall proceed out of thy bowels, and I will establish his kingdom. He shall build a house for my name, and I will establish the throne of his kingdom forever.” (2 Samuel 7:12-13)
The important addition to the picture we get from the promise to David is that this seed would not only be of the line of Abraham, but also a direct descendent of David and therefore an heir to the throne of the Kingdom of Israel. We can trace David’s understanding of his greatest descendent, Jesus Christ, by considering the Psalms, many of which are no less than prophetic of the Messiah.
The Law of Moses
Following the development of God’s promises is one way to discover Jesus in the Old Testament. It is by no means though the only way. A study of the Law of Moses is another journey of discovery. A good portion of the Law deals with principles and regulations that were to guide the Jewish nation toward a spiritually and physically healthy life. The Law is also a study of God’s plan of salvation through Jesus. Indeed we find Jesus and his life’s work everywhere in the Law. Just one example is the Passover feast. In all four gospels it records that Jesus partook of the last supper and was arrested on the night the Passover meal was to be prepared (e.g. Matthew 26: 17-19). This is an obvious hint that we should look for connections between the Passover feast and the life and death of Jesus.
The Passover celebration was instituted shortly before the Israelites left Egypt. After more than two centuries in Egypt, God delivered the Jews from under the yoke of slavery. To force Pharaoh into letting the people go, Egypt was afflicted with ten plagues. The last and most terrible of these was the death of all Egyptian firstborn sons. Before that disaster struck Egypt, God provided a way of deliverance. If a household kept a special feast, the angel of death would “pass over” their house and all who were in it would be spared.
What was ordained in Exodus 12 is a ceremonial meal which contains a number of distinctive aspects, each highly symbolic. At the center of the meal was a sacrificial lamb that was to be without blemish. Its blood was sprinkled on the doorposts of the house and the meat was to be consumed by the family. The entire household would share the meal together, signifying unity and separation from the world around them. Where then can Jesus be found in this meal? John the Baptist removes any doubt that Jesus is represented by this lamb.
"The next day John sees Jesus coming unto him, and says, behold the Lamb of God, which takes away the sin of the world." (John 1:29)
There was no doubt in John’s mind who the Passover lamb represented. The words of Peter are even more specific as he describes the way to salvation:
"But with the precious blood of Christ, as of a lamb without blemish and without spot." (1 Peter 1:19)
Not only is Jesus connected to the lamb, but the idea of salvation is linked into the picture also. This clues us to look back at the details of the feast to see if there are parts that connect it to Jesus’ work. In just the few details already provided, we can see connections. First, the lamb is killed. Jesus was of course killed. These deaths were not in vain. The death of the lamb in Egypt provided a path of deliverance. The death of Jesus is the centerpiece of God’s plan to save the entire human race. The blood of the lamb was connected to the house and all those that were in the house were spared. The importance of associating oneself with Christ’s body is emphasized in the New Testament. Paul writes to the Colossians about this when he comments on the issue of suffering in his life:
"Who now rejoice in my sufferings for you, and fill up that which is behind of the afflictions of Christ in my flesh for his body’s sake, which is the church." (Colossians 1:24)
There are a number of other parts of the feast that connect it to Christ. The family was to eat the feast dressed for travel. This fits the transient state of the believer in this world as Jesus says in John 18:36: “my Kingdom is not this world”. The meal was to include bitter herbs, a reference to the suffering that all will experience on the journey to this kingdom. The lamb was to be eaten with unleavened bread, an oft-used symbol of an undefiled nature.
Jesus Between the Lines
We have seen Jesus in God’s promises and in the Law of Moses. But there are many more places to find Jesus in the Old Testament. Most are hidden in the accounts of people and events which at first blush, might appear to have nothing to do with the life of Jesus. Here is a brief sample.
Joseph, one of the 12 sons of Jacob, started out being loved by his father but hated by his brethren. After an odyssey that saw him sold as a slave, falsely accused and then imprisoned for three years, he rose to greatness and became a savior to both his family and the world. Many aspects of the story have clear parallels to Jesus. The one who was rejected by his Jewish kinsmen would eventually become their savior. Three years in prison can be connected to the three days Jesus spent in the grave. Joseph had the faith to patiently cope with life’s most discouraging moments and come out the other side stronger than ever. This reminds us of how Jesus dealt with his struggles. The life of Joseph is not only a factual account of the record of this faithful man; it is also a parable of the life of one who would arrive on the scene centuries later.
Joshua is another example of one who foreshadowed the life of Jesus. Even their names are similar: the name Joshua is the Hebrew form of the Greek name Jesus! You might remember that it was Joshua who took the reins of leadership from Moses and brought the Israelites into the promised land. It is hard to get a clearer forerunner of Jesus than that!
Another example of a type of Jesus in the Old Testament is the prophet Elisha. This connection is a little more subtle. Through the account of this prophet who lived during the period of the kings of Israel (the record starts in 1 Kings 19 and carries through to 2 Kings 13), there are descriptions of numerous miracles. Many of these miracles are strikingly similar to the miracles performed by Jesus. An additional hint of an Elisha-Jesus connection is that Elisha is preceded by another prophet named Elijah. That might seem like an irrelevant detail if it were not for some New Testament verses talking of a prophet like Elijah being the forerunner of the Messiah. Consider these verses in Matthew:
"And his (Jesus) disciples asked him saying, why then say the scribes that Elijah must first come? And Jesus answered and said to them, Elijah truly shall first come, and restore all things. But I say unto you, that Elijah has come already, and they knew him not, but have done unto him whatsoever they listed. Likewise shall also the Son of man suffer of them. Then the disciples understood that he spoke unto them of John the Baptist." (17:10-13)
In these words, Jesus is connecting Elijah to John the Baptist. Both Elijah and John blazed the trail for someone of greater acclaim. Elijah laid the groundwork for Elisha and of course John the Baptist did the same for Jesus.
Linking the prophets to Jesus is a broad topic. We are helped in the effort by the New Testament authors and Jesus himself since the writings of the prophets are quoted dozens of times throughout the gospels and the other writings in the New Testament. In the following reference, Jesus links his death to an event in the life of the prophet Jonah:
"For as Jonah was three day and three nights in the whale’s belly; so shall the Son of man be three days and three nights in the heart of the earth." (Matthew 12:40)
Another place we find Jesus frequently referred to is in the Psalms. As commented earlier, many of the Psalms don’t make as much sense until we find them quoted in the New Testament and discover they are actually prophesies about Jesus. One great example of this is Psalm 22. The Psalm starts with words Jesus uttered on the cross shortly before he dies: “My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me?”. In Matthew 27:46 it says:
"And about the ninth hour Jesus cried with a loud voice saying, Eli, Eli, lama sabachthani? that is to say, My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me?"
When we read the psalm from the perspective that it is actually the words of Jesus on the cross, a psalm that at first has an uncertain meaning now makes perfect sense. The Psalms contain many of these “Messianic” sections that are quoted by New Testament writers.
The New Testament
The New Testament is synonymous with Jesus. Every message in every book of the New Testament is focused on detailing the good news of Jesus. Moreover the New Testament continues the theme that Jesus will, at his second coming rule over the earth upon the throne of his father David. The proclamation of Jesus as the center of God’s plan of salvation takes many forms in the New Testament. In the gospels, it is manifested through miracles, parables, debates, and exposition. The four writers use a variety of tools to build the case. Key words and themes are used regularly to aid the reader’s comprehension. In John, there are many repeating ideas and phrases that build a picture of Jesus as the promised seed. Possibly the most poignant is the phrase Jesus uses of himself, “I am”. He is "the light," "the good shepherd," "the way," "the vine." In the Gospel of Mark, there are cycles of miracles and exposition that reveal the role of Jesus in God’s plan for saving mankind. In Matthew, Jesus is introduced through numerous quotes from the Old Testament.
In the rest of the New Testament, Paul and the other writers complete the picture. Passages like the beginning of 1 Corinthians are typical where in the first ten verses alone Jesus’ name appears 10 times! We can look to the last book, the Revelation, to see Jesus once again at the center of the story. Jesus himself proclaims in Revelation 1:8, “I am the Alpha and Omega, the beginning and the ending, says the Lord, which is, and which was, and which is to come”.