Christ in Old Testament

When Rumpelstiltskin Teaches Bible Class

There are parts the Bible that should have “Rumpelstiltskin Required” written at the top. As that little man spun straw into gold for the miller’s daughter, we could use his assistance to spin biblical straw into spiritual gold. Take your pick. Maybe it’s one of those Leviticus chapters that sounds like it’s written more for veterinarians or butchers than Christians. Maybe it’s a chapter from Exodus or Ezekiel that’s as exhilarating as staring at a blueprint. Yes, “all Scripture is breathed out by God,” but in all honesty some of it leaves us snoring (2 Tim 3:16). And perhaps nowhere is that more true than with genealogies. They’re planted throughout the OT and NT, these family trees. So-and-so begat so-and-so who begat so-and-so. Exhausting lists of tongue-twisting names. They’re evidently important, for otherwise they wouldn’t have been included. In fact, the NT itself kicks off with the genealogy of Jesus. If all Scripture “is profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, for training in righteousness” (2 Tim 3:16), then how are genealogies profitable?

Let’s take one example, from Genesis 5. It’s a list of the ten generations from Adam to Noah. It covers 1686 years. You may be surprised that you don’t need Rumpelstiltskin at all when reading Genesis 5. This chapter doesn’t need to be spun into anything; it’s already gold.

  1. This family tree branches toward Bethlehem. When God first gave the promise of the Gospel, he rooted that promise in the flesh and blood of humanity. He didn’t say, “One day I’ll have my Son just show up on earth.” Rather, he said, “One day a virgin will be pregnant with my Son; he will be the woman’s seed” (Gen 3:15). The family trees in the Bible send their branches in the direction of Bethlehem, where this seed of the woman—the seed of Abraham, the seed of Judah, the seed of David—will be born. Every baby’s birth in the OT puts us one baby closer to the swaddled infant at Mary’s breast. That’s why Matthew begins his Gospel with a family tree; it’s why Luke includes one as well. The roots and trunk and branches of these genealogical trees join the angelic choir to sing, “Glory to God in the highest, and peace to his people on earth,” (Luke 2:14).

  1. This genealogy preaches the need for death’s conquest. Over and over in Genesis 5 the bell tolls upon the death of a sinner. “And he died…and he died…and he died”: eight times that announcement is made. Each time a check is cut for a man who was employed by evil, for “the wages of sin is death,” (Rom 6:23). “Sin came into the world through one man, and death through sin, and so death spread to all men because all sinned,” (Rom 5:12). From the demise of Adam to that of Lamech, each death declared the need for God to un-funeral the world, to put his foot on the neck of the grave and press down till death was death and life lived once more. This chapter, therefore, cries out for Good Friday, begs for Easter. It preaches the need for death’s conquest in the death and rising of the woman’s Seed.

  2. This genealogy testifies that these earliest of men were Christians. The first Christians were not Mary and Peter and Paul; they were Adam and Eve. Christianity began in Eden. When God promised to send the woman’s seed to crush the head of the serpent, Adam and Eve believed that promise. They had faith in the Christ who was to come. They were just as Christian as we are today who believe that promise has been fulfilled. Indeed, when Cain was born, Eve was so confident in God’s promise that she supposed her firstborn was already the Seed. She said, literally, “I have gotten a man—Yahweh,” (Gen 4:1). Seven generations later, the father of Noah made the same mistake. When Noah was born, Lamech said, “This one shall give us rest from our work and from the toil of our hands arising from the ground which the Lord has cursed,” (5:29). Because Noah was the first birth after the death of Adam, Lamech must have thought that now that the first man—the one whose sin had brought a curse upon the ground—was dead, God would renew the earth through his son. Both Eve and Lamech were wrong, of course, but their mistakes only underscore the liveliness of their Christian faith in the coming Messiah.

  1. Genesis 5 gives us a foretaste of Easter in Enoch. There’s one hiccup in the litany of death in Genesis 5. His name is Enoch. And he never had a funeral. We’re told that “he walked with God; and he was not, for God took him,” (5:24). By faith Enoch was pleasing to God (Heb 11:5-6). He too was a Christian; he had faith in the promised Seed. Indeed, Enoch believed not only that Christ would come; as a prophet, he saw past the first coming of Jesus all the way to his final coming, for he prophesied that the Lord will come “with many thousands of his holy ones, to execute judgment upon all,” (Jude 14-15). As a testimony to early humanity that this life is but the first chapter of an ongoing life with God, the Lord took Enoch to heaven before he died, just as he would later take Elijah up to heaven in a chariot of fire. Thus, in each stage of world history, God has testified that life does not end at death. In the pre-flood world, he gave us the example of Enoch. In the post-flood world, he gave us Elijah. And finally, in the New Testament, he gave us Christ, by whose resurrection we are assured of our own resurrection on the last day. In Enoch, the seventh generation from Adam, we are given a foretaste of our Sabbath rest in Easter.

Of these ten generations, Luther says that “next to Christ and John the Baptist, they were the most outstanding heroes this world has ever produced,” (AE 1:334). “That age was truly a golden one,” he writes, “in comparison with it our age hardly deserves to be called an age of mud,” (1:342). This golden age, recorded in this genealogy, is anything but straw. It is a treasure trove of grace, faith, hope, and love. Already in this family tree, we see foreshadowed the tree of the cross. In Enoch, we see prefigured the resurrection of Easter. We observe the life of faith in these earliest of Christians. We have no need of Rumpelstiltskin to spin any straw into gold. When we read Genesis 5—and countless other genealogies—in the light of Christ, we readily grasp how these family trees preach both law and Gospel to us.

Reading Old Testament Narratives Christologically

When we refer to the Scriptures, we are accustomed to think of two divisions: the Old and the New Testament. These two parts of the Bible have their own distinctive features, but together they provide a unified witness to who God is and who we are as His creatures. Both are confessed to be inspired and inerrant – truly God’s own words to us. We receive them as the very oracles of God. For Jesus and the early Christians, however, the term “Scriptures” did not refer to the Old Testament and New Testament. What we call the OT they simply called “the Scriptures”. In reality, these holy writings were neither “old” nor a “testament”. On the contrary, in them one heard the ever-new, living, life-giving word of YHWH. They certainly bore witness to the “testament” that God had made with His people, but they themselves were not that testament. Furthermore, they recorded what God had done of “old”, but they themselves were the words of the ageless Lord. These writings were simply the Scriptures, the Bible of the Church.

Thus, when Jesus preached in the synagogue, He read and preached from the scroll of the prophet Isaiah. When He quoted the Scriptures in His teaching, He quoted from the Torah, the Prophets, or the Psalms. When He explained all things concerning Himself that had been written in the Scriptures, He interpreted what we – for better or worse – call the OT.

It was no different for Saints Peter and Paul. When Peter preached at Pentecost that Jesus of Nazareth was the Messiah, the only biblical texts from which he quoted were OT texts. Similarly, when Paul preached in the synagogues or wrote letters to various churches, he quoted time and time again from the Scriptures of Israel.

The Bible of Jesus and the apostles was therefore the Old Testament. On the basis of these writings, they confessed the totality of who the Messiah is and what He does. To be sure, they interpreted and applied these sacred books, but the writings themselves were the OT Scriptures. Nothing else had to be added. Nothing else had to be written for these Scriptures to be complete. They were the definitive word of God concerning His Anointed One. In this Bible Jesus was confessed fully, truthfully, definitively.

Although the New Testament is also Holy Scripture, it might more precisely be called an “inspired commentary” on the OT Scriptures. Luther makes the same point in his Preface to the OT, where he states that the New Testament is “but a public preaching and proclamation of Christ, set forth through the sayings of the OT and fulfilled through Christ,” (AE 35:236). Luther goes on to say that the writings of Moses are “a well of all wisdom and understanding, out of which has sprung all that the prophets knew and said. Moreover even the NT flows out of it and is grounded in it . . . ,” (247). The Gospels are a narrative Christology, a commentary on the life of Jesus set within the context of biblical fulfillment and interpretation. The Gospels demonstrate that who Jesus is and what Jesus did flowed from and fulfilled the Scriptures. The Acts of the Apostles recount how Jesus continued to act in His church through His apostles. He continued to fulfill the promises of the Scriptures, pouring down His Holy Spirit, spreading His Gospel, granting salvation to Jew and Gentile alike. In Acts you see the promises made in the Old Testament coming to their divinely given end. Thus it also continues in the rest of the New Testament. Paul, the author of Hebrews, James, Peter, and John all write to churches that have in their possession the Scriptures, that is, the Old Testament. Every Sunday they heard these Scriptures read and interpreted by their pastors. As the apostles addressed contemporary problems or concerns in the churches, they did so on the basis of the OT – the Bible of the early church.

Therefore, when we read the OT, we are reading the text from which the Jesus preached about Himself and His Father. Interpretation that somehow “brings Jesus into” the text or superimposes Him on an OT account is not only wrong-headed but unnecessary. If Moses wrote about Christ – as Jesus Himself testifies (John 5:46) – then Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, and Deuteronomy are all about Jesus. It is that simple. This is the ABC’s of Christian interpretation. Jesus does not need to be “read into” these texts anymore than He needs to be “read into” the Gospels. He is already part of them. These words testify about Him, to Him, of Him. They tell us who He is and what He will do.

When we read these texts, therefore, we must ask ourselves: How in these words is Christ speaking of Himself to His Church? That is the question that must reign supreme in Lutheran exegesis. For instance, how is the account of creation about Jesus? How is the story of the Flood about Jesus? How is the affliction in Egypt, Passover, the crossing of the Red Sea, the manna, the tabernacle, the sacrifices, and everything else in the Exodus about our Lord? These types of questions must be asked of every verse of the Pentateuch, for Moses wrote about Jesus.

The same interpretive question applies to the rest of the OT. No part is excluded. No part is somehow “less messianic”. Of course, not all parts are so easily understood as being about Christ. The disciples certainly needed to be instructed on how all the Scriptures – Moses, the Prophets, and the Psalms (Luke 24:25) – spoke of the Christ. But what does that mean? It means only that God had to give eyes to sinful men to see what is already there, but to which they were blind. It is certainly no different with us. We are often tone-deaf to the beautiful messianic music that is played by the prophets. Our eyes need to be opened to understand the Scriptures, just as much as the eyes of the disciples needed to be. “O Lord, open my eyes that I may behold wonderful things in Thy Torah,” prays the Psalmist, and we do well to join him (119:18). This must be our prayer as well. “O Lord, open my eyes to see Jesus in the Psalms. O Lord, open my eyes to see Jesus in Joshua, Judges, and Ruth. O Lord, open my eyes to see Jesus everywhere in the Scriptures for these are they which testify of Him.” And He does. He “opens our eyes to behold wonderful things in [His] Torah,” (Psalm 119:18), for He is the Wonderful One of whom Isaiah spoke (9:6). He removes the “veil of Moses” (2 Corinthians 3:12-18) that obscures our vision. As He interprets the “scroll of the book” which is written about Him (Psalm 40:7) , He “shows us the proper method of interpreting Moses and all the prophets. . . He shows that all the stories and illustrations of Moses point to [Himself],” (Luther, AE 22:339).

As we seek to read the Scriptures Christologically, there are several questions which we might ask of a text to help us to see Jesus therein. These questions are not hermeneutical principles. One might reshape them into prayers that accompany exegesis. That is their intent. They beseech the Spirit to lead us to read the Scriptures rightly, that is, as words of Christ and about Christ. They are questions that lead us to ask the right questions of Holy Writ for they all direct us to the One subject of all that the prophets and apostles have written – the Messiah.

Questions the Interpreter Asks:

1) QUOTATION: Is the OT narrative referenced or alluded to in the NT (or later OT texts) in connection with Christ? If so, what is the purpose of the reference or allusion?

2) THEME: How do the theological themes that are present in an OT narrative unfold in the life and ministry of Jesus?

3) ACTIONS: How do the actions of people in the OT narrative parallel the actions performed by Christ or done to Him?

4) OFFICE: What are the connections between the offices and/or vocations held by people in the OT narrative and the offices and/or vocations of Christ (e.g., prophet, priest, king, son, brother, husband, redeemer, judge, servant)?

5) METAPHORS: Is there a connection between the metaphors employed in the narrative and the same (or related) metaphors used in the ministry of Jesus?

6) LXX: Does a LXX narrative use specific language that is also employed in the NT?

7) GEOGRAPHY: Is there a connection between the geography associated with a specific event and geography in the life and ministry of Jesus?

8) NUMBERS: Is there a connection between the numbers in an OT narrative and the numbers connected with the ministry of Jesus?

9) CHRISTOPHANY: Does Christ reveal Himself in the OT narrative in visible form?

10) SACRAMENTS: How are various OT sacraments related to Christ and the NT sacraments?