The Bible is a book about Jesus. And unless you see Jesus throughout the pages of the Bible, you will likely become incredibly confused as you read. Jesus is the One who brings the Scriptures together into a unified whole. The One who gives ultimate meaning to any particular passage. (For the Scriptural basis for this check out Luke 24:25-27; John 5:39-40; Matthew 5:16; Hebrews 1:1-3; 1 Peter 1:10-12).
What follows are several “roads” to get to Jesus from any passage. More than that, these roads show different ways to discern how any passage fits into the “big picture” of the Bible.
Keep in mind two things here. First, there is going to be a lot of new information here. You may be unfamiliar with seeing the Bible this way. That’s okay. Take it in stride and remember the big picture: this is about what God is doing in and through his Son. I’m summing up about 12 years of reading and research from various sources–books, sermons, podcasts, conversations.
Second, there’s no one-size-fits-all approach to every passage and often the roads “roads” overlap and you can “get to Christ” from several roads.
Over time, knowing and understanding these ideas will become second-nature. I trust this will change the way you see and read the Bible, particularly the Old Testament.
1. Jesus Resolves Themes
This means that there are themes–or tensions–in passages that can only be resolved in Jesus.
In other words, we can ask ourselves, “What questions does the text raise to which only Jesus can be the answer?” Here are four major themes.
- Creator and (Re)Creation: While the world is created good by God, sin has brought death and decay. Life is filled with grief and loss and pain. How can we be new if our current creation is broken and sinful? How can creation and life be redeemed and healed? Only if the Creator himself breaks into creation to provide a solution will we ever be healed and experience eternal life.
- King and the Kingdom: The search for a perfect king consumes much of Israel’s history. The successes and failures of Israel’s kings point to the need for a true, eternal king. No human king is perfect or enough. The people fall into sin and bondage without a truly righteous king, and the expectation in the Prophets and the Psalms is so high than only God himself could fulfill it. What kind of a king can provide the deliverance we need? Only in Jesus, the Man who is God, do we have a king who is powerful enough to liberate us from sin and bondage and also reign over us in kindness and love.
- Grace and Law: A major question throughout the history of Israel is whether or not God’s covenantal love conditional or unconditional. In other words, God is holy, but he is also merciful. He is a Judge, but he is also a Lover. How can he be both holy and faithful to a sinful people? Only in the cross, where God’s wrath and love collide, is this tension resolved. Jesus meets the conditions of the covenant (perfect obedience) and he provides the payment deserved for our disobedience so that we might unconditionally come to God through Jesus.
- True God and Idols: The first two commandments distinguish God between all other so-called gods. Anything that takes the place of God is an idol. Idols can be good things, but when good things become ultimate, they take the place of God. Idolatry is thus the ultimate definition of sin. We worship idols because we find them more beautiful, more lovely than God. How can a disordered self or society be reordered and renovated? Jesus himself is the essence of true Beauty and Love who alone can capture our affections and allegiance.
- Worship and God’s Presence. How can people connect with the presence of God? In Jesus, we behold God’s glory and have access to the Father.
- Promised Land and Inheritance. What does it mean to have a true home? Jesus redeems the whole world and makes his people citizens of a heavenly country.
- Marriage and Faithfulness. How can we find love and intimacy? God depicts his relationship to his people as a faithful husband loving his unfaithful bride. Jesus is the true Spouse who sacrificially lays his life down for his bride, woos her, and presents her to himself.
- Image and Likeness. What does it mean to be truly human? Sin has defaced the likeness of God in us, but in Christ, we can be restored into the image of God.
- Rest and Sabbath. How can we find harmony with God, with ourselves, with others, and with creation? We were made for shalom, but are incredibly restless. We need rest from physical work, but also from our efforts at self-righteousness. Jesus brings rest from our “good” works.
- Judgment and Justice. If there were no ultimate judge, what hope would there be for the world, but if there is an ultimate judge, what hope would there be for you and me? Jesus is the Judge who takes the judgment for us so that we might be justified before a just God.
- Wisdom and the Word. How can we be truly wise? What is life’s meaning and purpose? Only in Jesus, in whom are all the riches of wisdom and knowledge, do we find the meaning of life and our true purpose.
2. Jesus Completes Stories
This means that every story in the Bible finds its conclusion in Jesus.
Every story in the Bible fits into the Bible’s larger plot. Everything happening in the Old Testament is driving toward the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus. When we read the Old Testament stories (large or small), we should hear the echo, “God is acting! He is moving! He has not forgotten his people or his covenant! His steadfast love endures forever! He is coming! He will send salvation!” Every story progresses forward and ultimately finds its completion in Jesus. There are three kinds of stories Jesus completes: individual stories, corporate stories, and grace stories. Sometimes the New Testament explicitly says this; other times it is only implied.
Individual Stories. Jesus completes the story of individuals.
- Adam. Jesus is the true and better Adam who passed his test in the garden and creates a new humanity through his obedience and substitionary death (Rom. 5:12-21; 1 Cor. 15:21-22).
- Abraham. Jesus is the true and better Abraham who ushers in the blessing of God to all who believe in him (Rom. 4:24-25; Gal. 3:14).
- Joseph. Jesus is the true and better Joseph who though betrayed by his brothers, is raised up in power uses his power to save them.
- Moses. Jesus is the true and better Moses, who perfectly speaks the word of God and mediates a new covenant to stand the gap between God and his people (Heb. 3:1-6).
- Joshua. Jesus is the true and better Joshua who leads his people in conquest over their enemies into the Promised Land.
- David. Jesus is the true and better David, the promised offspring of the covenant, who wins the battle for his people though they never lifted a finger (Matt. 1:1; Rom. 1:1).
- Solomon. Jesus is the true and better Solomon in whom is found all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge (Col. 2:3).
- Job. Jesus is the true and better Job, the truly innocent sufferer who intercedes and makes sacrifice for his friends (Job 42; 1 Tim. 2:5-6).
Corporate Stories. Jesus completes the corporate story of Israel as a nation. This includes events, symbols, and institutions.
- Creation. Jesus is the one through whom all things are created (John 1:1; Col. 1:16). Jesus is the creator of a new creation: he redeems people and renews all of creation (2 Cor. 5:17; Rev. 21-22).
- Fall. Adam’s fall and Israel’s wandering in the wilderness point forward to Jesus’ perfect obedience in the wilderness (Matt. 4:1-11).
- Exile. Israel’s exile to Babylon points to Jesus’ homelessness—he left his home in heaven. Jesus went into ultimate exile by suffering the full wrath of God for us “outside the gate” (Heb. 13:12).
- Israel. Jesus is the true son of God—the true Israel, the only one who fulfills the demands of the law and perfectly pleases God. He is the seed of the woman who crushes the serpent (Gen. 3:15; Hos. 11:1; Matt. 2:15; 3:13-17; Gal. 3:16-17).
- Exodus. Israel’s exodus from Egypt points forward to Jesus, as he leads his people out of slavery to sin and death through his death and resurrection (Luke 9:31; see also Hos. 11:1; Matt. 2:15).
- Sacrifices & Temple System. Jesus is the final sacrifice to which all Jewish sacrifices point. He is the Passover Lamb (John 1:29, 36; 1 Cor. 5:7). He is the presence of God with us (John 1:14). He is the temple (John 2:19-21). He is the lamp stand (John 8:12). He is the bread of life (John 6:35). He is the water of life (John 4:13-14; John 7:37-39). We are washed clean by Jesus and Jesus fulfills all the “clean” laws about food and purification (Acts 10-11).
- Priestly Line. Jesus is the true high priest who mediates a better covenant. He does not simply offer sacrifices, but instead offered up himself (Heb. 7-9; esp. 7:27).
Grace Stories. Jesus completes “upside-down” stories. These stories are gospel-patterns because in the gospel where we see the ultimate “upside-down” story.
- Mt. Sinai: At Mt. Sinai Israel is given the law after they are saved from Egypt. Exodus 20:2 says, “I am the LORD your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of slavery,” and then God goes on to give them laws. The world would expect God to save a worthy people. But Israel’s salvation was one-handed: God’s mighty hand saved them and then they were called to obey. In the same way today, God’s people are saved by grace alone in order to walk in good works (Eph. 2:8-10).
- David and Mephibosheth. King David shows kindness to a member of Saul’s household—even though Saul wanted to kill David. While King David had every right to destroy his enemies, he paves the way for one who would not just say, “Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you” (Matt. 5:44), but who would die for his enemies to reconcile them to God (Rom. 5:8).
- Naaman. In 2 Kings 5, Naaman, a commander in Syria’s army, was a mighty man, but he had leprosy. A servant girl informed him about a prophet in Israel who could heal him. He sent money and gifts to the king of Israel so he could have Elisha cure him, but Elisha told him to wash in the Jordan. Naaman resisted at first, but then did it and was healed. Naaman, the powerful general, was clueless about salvation, but the slave girl was wise. Ultimately, through the servant girls wisdom and sacrifice, Naaman was saved, though he had done her great harm. She had possibly been raped, at least taken advantage of, and certainly had been taken from her parents (who were no doubt beaten or even murdered). This points toward Christ who up-ends the wisdom of the world (1 Cor. 1:18-31).
- Ruth. Ruth is a non-Jewish woman who married a Jewish man. Her husband died and she goes back with her mother-in-law Naomi to the land of Judah. Naomi is without an heir and in order for her land to be redeemed she needs a “kinsman-redeemer”—a relative to buy the land and marry the widowed woman in order to keep the land in the family. Boaz is such a man and he is in the line of David. He buys the land, marries Ruth, and from their line comes Jesus. This shows God’s preserving of the “seed of the woman” as he keeps his promises to his people.
- Esther. In Esther, the Jews face an evil plot of ethnic extermination at the hands of Haman. Of all people to bring deliverance, a woman, Esther, faces death and reveals Haman’s plot, saving the Jews from destruction. This again shows the unlikely way God would preserve the Jews in order that the Messiah might be born. Jesus, like Esther, saves God’s people by risking his life. But Jesus, unlike Esther, does not simply risk his life and say, “If I perish, I perish,” but actually gives up his life and says “I will perish” so that “whoever believes in me will not perish”
- Genealogies. These are interludes in the redemptive story that remind us God is preserving a people for himself from whom Jesus, the Messiah, will come. They reveal that God is preserving the seed of the woman to crush the serpent (see Gen. 3:15). Ultimately, God provides the promised offspring in his Son who is not spared, but is given up only to be raised again. Upon this One do all God’s promises depend.
3. Jesus Fulfills the Law
This means means that we only take Scripture’s laws and commands seriously when we see Jesus as Redeemer, not example.
When we read portions of the Bible with laws and commands, we often apply the passage by saying, “I had better try harder to obey! God help me!” This is not really taking the law seriously, because we cannot just “try harder” and obey. The law demands perfect holiness (Gal. 3:10). If we think we can obey it, we are not truly listening to the law. The only way we can truly listen to the law and take it seriously is by looking to Jesus as Redeemer. Galatians 3:24 says, “The law was our guardian until Christ came, in order that we might be justified by faith.” In other words, the law is meant to drive us to Jesus because it’s clear we can’t save ourselves.
Listening to the law shows us that we need a great salvation: the grace of forgiveness, a work for us so that we might be acceptable to God, and a work in us so that we might begin to experience change.
- The law exposes our sinfulness (Rom. 3:20, 28; 7:7).
- Jesus fulfills the demands of the law for us and dies in our place to pay the price for sin (Mark 10:45; Acts 13:38-39; Rom. 5:19; 8:3-4; 2 Cor. 5:21; Gal. 3:10-29; Col. 2:14).
- We are saved by grace through faith in Jesus’ work for us, not our work for God (Rom. 3:21-31; Eph. 2:8-10; Titus 3:5).
- The Spirit empowers us to love and obey Jesus. He changes us from the inside-out (Rom. 8:9-17; Eph. 5:1-21; Col. 3:1-17).
Ask, “What does this text reveal about my need for Christ’s redemptive work?” This will lead us to see Christ as Redeemer, not example, and it will give a gospel-perspective on the passage, rather than a moralistic one.
4. Jesus Fulfills Predictions
This means that prophetic predictions (future promises) are fulfilled in Jesus.
These may be “narrow” predictions or promises, which are specific promises forecasted by OT writers that have a one-to-one correspondence between a person or event and Jesus’ life. At the same time, there also may be “broad” predictions that are not, technically, predictions about Jesus even though the NT often refers to Jesus “fulfilling” them.
Examples of Narrow Predictions:
- Isaiah 53:4 → Matthew 8:17. Isaiah 53:4 predicts that the coming Messiah—the Suffering Servant—would be our Redeemer and Healer. Matthew 8:17 says Jesus fulfills this in his ministry of healing the sick: “This was to fulfill what was spoken by the prophet Isaiah: ‘He took our illnesses and bore our diseases.’”
- Micah 5:2 → Luke 2:1-7 (cf. Matt. 2:6). Micah 5:2 predicts that a coming ruler (i.e. the Messiah) will be born in Bethlehem. Jesus fulfills this promise, for he was born there (Luke 2:1-7; cf. Matt. 2:6).
- Zechariah 9:9 → Matt. 21:4-5. The prophet Zechariah predicts that Jerusalem will be rescued by a coming king, mounted on a donkey. Jesus, the week of his crucifixion, rides into Jerusalem on a donkey, fulfilling this promise (Matt. 21:4-5).
Examples of Broad Predictions:
- Hosea 11:1 → Matthew 2:15. Hosea 11:1 said that God’s son, Israel, was called out of Egypt (i.e. in the exodus—out of slavery). This not a promise—it is merely a factual statement. Yet Matthew says that Jesus fulfills it. Matthew 2:15 says, “This was to fulfill what the Lord had spoken by the prophet, ‘Out of Egypt I called my son.’” Jesus is the true Israel, whom God has delivered once for all (see “Corporate Stories” section above).
- Psalm 78:2 → Matthew 13:35. Psalm 78:2 says, “I will open my mouth in a parable; I will utter dark sayings from of old.” The psalm traces God’s redemption of Israel, Israel’s rebellion despite salvation, and that David is the king who shepherd God’s people. Matthew 13:35 says Jesus “fulfills” this as he speaks in parables, even though Psalm 78:2 is clearly not a promise. Jesus is the truly wise Israelite (think of his parables and interactions with the Pharisees) and the one to whom the psalm ultimately points: he is the true King who shepherds God’s people and redeems them.
- ______ → Acts 3:18. Acts 3:18 says, “What God foretold by the mouth of all the prophets, that his Christ would suffer, he thus fulfilled.” Peter does not cite a particular passage, but what he does is testifies to the fact that throughout OT history, God’s people, particularly his anointed ones, were an afflicted people. Thus, God promised that the Messiah would be one who suffered (cf. Luke 24:25-26).
Always remember that promises can have multiple fulfillments as salvation history progresses! For example, Abraham is promised blessing and land by God (Gen. 15:7). Israel comes into the promised land (see the book of Joshua), yet is exiled because of disobedience. Jesus fulfills the promise to Abraham by blessing the whole world through his death and resurrection. Yet Jesus will also bring final fulfillment to this promise when he brings the New Jerusalem (Rev. 21-22), which is the true promised land.
5. Jesus Links the Church to Israel
Analogy means that the New Testament often applies an aspect of the message of the Old Testament to the church today.
When we discover that the NT church receives the blessings promised to Israel, we must stress that the continuity between OT Israel and the NT church is accomplished in Christ. Analogy, in other words, shows us that what Yahweh was for Israel in the OT, Jesus is for the church in the NT.
This happens in three primary ways:
- Jesus’ “I am” Statements. Jesus calls attention to his divinity by using the divine name. This shows that, in Christ, God has visited his people to dwell among them and make himself known (cf. John 1:14). He is truly “Immanuel,” God with us.
- Israel and the Church. Israel is the bride of Yahweh (Jer. 2:2; Hos. 2:14-20). The church is called the bride of Christ (2 Cor. 11:2; Eph. 5:32; cf. Deut. 10:15; Ex. 19:6; 1 Pet. 2:9). The church is now the “Israel of God” (Gal. 6:16) by virtue of Christ’s finished work.
- God salvation of Israel; Christ’s salvation of the church. Joel says that everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved (2:32). Paul says that whoever confesses and believes in Jesus will be saved, and he goes on to quote Joel as evidence (Rom. 10:9, 13).
6. Jesus Shows the Need for a Redeemer
Contrast means that the flaws and negatives we see in Scripture show us the need for a Redeemer.
All the others ways to see Jesus are positive. This way looks for negative connections. In other words, we don’t need a good example to see Jesus. The flaws of people in the Bible show us our need and longing for Jesus. When we read of a failed prophet, priest, or king, we don’t excuse their flaws or ignore them. It makes us cry out for the true Prophet, Priest, and King. When we read of injustice in any form, we should feel anger and angst because injustice is wrong! It is just to cry for retribution when injustice reigns. Our cry is for the Just one to make all things right and make all the sad things untrue.
- The book of Judges. Read about all the bad Judges (and even the good ones with their flaws), and reflect on how Christ is the true Judge who reigns in righteousness of God’s people.
- Jew and Gentile divide in OT. The OT taught that the Jews were clean and the Gentiles were unclean. Jesus demolishes the division of humanity that separated the Jews and Gentiles through his death and resurrection (Acts 10 and 15; Eph. 2:14-18).
- “All is vanity!” This theme of Ecclesiastes is contrasted by Jesus, whose resurrection from the dead means that “our labor is not in vain” (1 Cor. 15:57-58).
- Restoration of Israel. The prophets speak of a national restoration of Israel, yet the NT moves far beyond that to God’s restoration of all nations and the whole creation (Rom. 8:19-21; Rev. 22:1-2; cf. Rom. 4:13 where Paul says that the offspring of Abraham would inherit the whole “world” not just a small geographic locale in the Middle East).
What About New Testament Passages?
You probably noticed that most of what you just read dealt with seeing how the Old Testament points to Christ. While that is mostly true, each of those six ways to find Jesus in the Scriptures can be used for New Testament passages, too.
But something else must be mentioned about reading New Testament passages: there is a way to read the New Testament and ignore Jesus. It is all too easy to simply look for rules to follow or someone (even Jesus) to imitate and miss the bigger picture of who Jesus is and what he is doing. This is why understanding genre is so important.
- When we read the Gospels, we must remember that all the events in Jesus’ life are leading up to his death and resurrection. The Gospels are about God’s King (Jesus) bringing his kingdom to earth. The entire OT was anticipating this (“king and kingdom” was a major redemptive theme) and everything in the Gospels is a function of the King coming. So we must “insert” Jesus even into all the little Jesus stories we read (miracles, parables, teachings, etc.) by asking, “What does this passage say about God’s redemption, God’s King, the Kingdom, the nature of how God saves, etc.?
- When we read Acts, we must remember that everything that happens is a response to King who has risen from the dead and given all authority to his apostles to be his ambassadors on the earth.
- When we read the Epistles, we must remember the very clear progression from indicative (what Christ has done) to the imperative (how then we as Christians might live). The Epistles are not the new version of OT law, but rather situational letters that call God’s church to be an outpost of his kingdom in their particular context.
- When we read Revelation, we must remember that the vision is about “the Lamb who was slain” and has won for himself people from every tribe, nation, people, and language through the cross. He will come back as a conquering King to rescue his saints and destroy all those who oppose him.
The Instinctual Road
The Holy Spirit uses these “roads” to lead you to Jesus. However, let’s think outside the box of these “roads” for a minute. In the end, because you have the Spirit of God, because he is transforming your interpretive skills, he gives you a Christ-centered instinct. If your mind and heart are fixed on Jesus, if your spiritual eyes are opened, you will not be “slow of heart to believe all that the prophets have spoken” (Luke 24:25). After a while, it becomes an instinct and you don’t necessarily think in terms of “categories” any longer. Then, and only then, will your heart burn within you as Christ himself opens up the Scriptures to you (Luke 24:32). If you are focused on Jesus, when reading Scripture, trust your instincts. Check your work with others, ask people what they think (“Am I forcing this?”), and relish in the glory of Christ!