Reading the Old Testament is difficult, but worth the effort. Last week, I explored how the Old Testament serves as a mirror for our lives and leads us to Christ. This week, we will look at a second reason for reading the Old Testament.
When he came to Nazareth, where he had been brought up, he went to the synagogue on the sabbath day, as was his custom. He stood up to read, and the scroll of the prophet Isaiah was given to him. He unrolled the scroll and found the place where it was written: “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to bring good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim release to the captives and recovery of sight to the blind, to let the oppressed go free, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.” And he rolled up the scroll, gave it back to the attendant, and sat down. The eyes of all in the synagogue were fixed on him. Then he began to say to them, “Today this scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing.” (Luke 4:16-21)
Everywhere Jesus went, the Old Testament was on his tongue.
Having been baptized in the Jordan, Jesus was tempted in the wilderness. He responded to each temptation with a word from Deuteronomy. After finishing the temptation, he returned to his hometown. He went into the synagogue and stood up to read. There is one detail in this passage that we often skip over – Jesus knew where this passage was in the scroll of Isaiah. Jesus knew the scriptures well enough that, when he was handed the scroll, he could find them.
The Old Testament was Jesus’ Bible. Jesus knew them all – Genesis to Malachi (or 2 Chronicles if you take them in the typical Hebrew order). It seems that no matter where he was or what situation he was in, his life, identity, and words were shaped by these 39 books of the Old Testament.
- When preaching the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus is riffing off the Old Testament commandments.
- When faced with controversy from bible scholars and religious leaders, Jesus quotes and interprets the Old Testament.
- When Jesus says “I am the good shepherd,” Psalm 23 stands in the background.
- When Jesus says, “I am the vine,” all the plant imagery connected with Israel and the Messiah are in view.
- When suffering on the Cross, Jesus quotes Psalm 22.
- And when he is raised from the dead, he opens the minds of his disciples to understand the scriptures.
And when Jesus says ‘scriptures,’ he means the Old Testament. Jesus’ love for the Old Testament should inspire our own and lead us deeper into knowing Jesus himself. As Philip Yancey says,
When we read the Old Testament, we read the Bible Jesus read and used. These are the prayers Jesus prayed, the poems he memorized, the songs he sang, the bedtime stories he heard as a child, the prophecies he pondered. He revered every “jot and tittle” of the Hebrew Scriptures. The more we comprehend the Old Testament, the more we comprehend Jesus.
– Philip Yancey The Bible Jesus Read
When we gain a deeper understanding of the Old Testament, we not only gain a deeper understanding of Jesus himself, but of the entire New Testament. Much of the New Testament is difficult to read without a basic (or advanced) knowledge of the Old Testament. It was the Bible of the Church while the Spirit was working in and through them to write the New Testament. Hebrews and Revelation are almost impossible to grasp without the Old Testament – the majority of those books are quotes and allusions from the Old Testament itself. Even as the church understood that God was doing something new in and through Jesus, they knew there was great continuity between the two Testaments because it is the same God who is active in all of it. The whole imagination of the New Testament is saturated with the Old. Quotations, images, and allusions abound in the New Testament as they wrestled with the reality of Jesus Christ, the Word made Flesh, in the light of the only Bible they knew – the Old Testament.
Knowing Jesus loved the Old Testament does not always make it easier to read. It’s challenging. It takes wrestling deep and long with the Word of God through prophecy, story, and song. Like Jacob, who spent all night wrestling with an angel until it blessed him, we are called to wrestle with the Old Testament and not let go until it blesses us.
What difference does Jesus’ love for the Old Testament make in how you see it?
Where have you read the Old Testament and been surprised to see Jesus?
Where have you wrestled with the Old Testament only to find yourself blessed?