Discovering Jesus in the Old Testament

Jesus, the Lamb of God, the Suffering Servant, and the King of Kings, leaves His mark on the pages of the word of God. Ancient prophecies, symbols, and stories converge to reveal a profound glimpse of the coming of Jesus in the Old Testament.

Jesus is not just a New Testament figure but the fulfillment of a divine plan laid out before the creation of the world.

Let’s dive into the pages of the Old Testament, unraveling the layers that connect the dots between the Old Covenant and the New Covenant.

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Jesus In the Old Testament Promises

We see a common thread woven throughout the passages of the Old Testament scriptures. The entirety of the Old Testament contributes to the grand story of God’s plan and His eternal plan for the redemption and eternal life of mankind through the Son of God, Jesus Christ.

As to this salvation, the prophets who prophesied of the grace that would come to you made careful searches and inquiries, 11 seeking to know what person or time the Holy Spirit of Christ within them was indicating as He predicted the sufferings of Christ and the glories to follow. 12 It was revealed to them that they were not serving themselves, but you, in these things which now have been announced to you through those who preached the gospel to you by the Holy Spirit sent from heaven—things into which angels long to look. – 1 Peter 1:10-12

Jesus in the Abrahamic Covenant

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The Abrahamic Covenant, found in the Old Testament of the Bible, serves as a crucial foundation for understanding the anticipation and fulfillment of the coming of Jesus in the New Testament. This covenant, established between God and the patriarch Abraham, contains promises that hold significant implications for the future Messiah.

Key elements of the Abrahamic Covenant include:

  1. Promised Land: God pledged to give Abraham and his descendants a specific land (promised land), emphasizing a geographical location where God’s plan would unfold.
  2. Promised Seed: A promise of a great nation and numerous descendants was made to Abraham. This not only referred to the physical descendants but also held spiritual descendants pointing towards a singular descendant who would bring blessings to all nations.
  3. Promised Blessing: Abraham and his descendants were to be a source of blessing to all nations. This broader blessing finds its ultimate fulfillment in Jesus Christ, whose life, death, and resurrection bring salvation to people from every nation.

In the rest of the New Testament, Jesus is presented as the fulfillment of the Abrahamic Covenant:

  1. Seed of Abraham: In the genealogy of Jesus, he is traced back to Abraham, highlighting his lineage as the promised seed.
  2. Bringer of Blessing: Jesus, through his life, teachings, death, and resurrection, fulfills the promise of blessing to all nations. The Gospel message of salvation through faith in Christ is extended to people globally.
  3. Land Promise in a Spiritual Sense: The promised land is understood in a spiritual sense, with Jesus ushering in a new covenant not bound to a specific geographical location but accessible to all who believe.

Jesus in the Old Testament Prophecies

The Old Testament passages of God’s Word contain a treasure of ancient prophecies that unveil the arrival and significance of the work of Christ. These prophecies, spanning centuries and various authors, form a compelling narrative that finds its fulfillment in the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus. Here are a few key Old Testament direct references that point unmistakably to the Messiah:

  • Micah 5:2 – Bethlehem’s Significance: Prophecy: “But you, Bethlehem Ephrathah, though you are small among the clans of Judah, out of you will come for me one who will be ruler over Israel, whose origins are from of old, from ancient times.”Fulfillment: Jesus, born in Bethlehem, establishes his divine lineage and fulfills the prophecy of the ruler over Israel.
  • Isaiah 7:14 – Virgin Birth of Jesus: Prophecy: “Therefore the Lord himself will give you a sign: The virgin will conceive and give birth to a son, and will call him Immanuel.”Fulfillment: Matthew 1:23 confirms that Jesus’ birth through the virgin Mary fulfills Isaiah’s prophecy of Immanuel, meaning “God with us.”
  • Isaiah 53 – Suffering Servant: Prophecy: Isaiah paints a vivid picture of a suffering servant who would bear the sins of many and make intercession for transgressors.Fulfillment: Jesus’ sacrificial death on the cross aligns perfectly with Isaiah’s depiction of the suffering servant, bringing salvation to those who believe.
  • Psalm 22 – Crucifixion Details: Prophecy: The psalmist describes details of a piercing, mocking, and divided-clothes scenario, resembling a crucifixion scene.Fulfillment: Matthew 27:35 and John 19:23-24 record the fulfillment of Psalm 22 in the crucifixion of Jesus.
  • Zechariah 9:9 – Triumphant Entry: Prophecy: “Rejoice greatly, Daughter Zion! Shout, Daughter Jerusalem! See, your king comes to you, righteous and victorious, lowly and riding on a donkey, on a colt, the foal of a donkey.”Fulfillment: The Gospels narrate Jesus’ entry into Jerusalem, fulfilling Zechariah’s prophecy as he rides on a donkey amidst shouts of “Hosanna.”
  • Isaiah 61:1-2 – Ministry of Healing: Prophecy: Isaiah foretells a messianic figure bringing good news, healing the brokenhearted, proclaiming freedom, and comforting those who mourn.Fulfillment: Jesus quotes Isaiah 61 in Luke 4:18-19, identifying himself as the fulfillment of this prophecy during his earthly ministry.
  • Malachi 3:1 – Messenger of the Covenant: Prophecy: “See, I will send my messenger, who will prepare the way before me. Then suddenly the Lord you are seeking will come to his temple.”Fulfillment: John the Baptist, described in the Gospels, serves as the messenger preparing the way for the coming of Jesus.

Examples of Jesus in the Tabernacle

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A crucial part of the law of Moses was the Tabernacle and the sacrificial system. We learn in Hebrews that this earthly Tabernacle was merely a shadow of the true Tabernacle that God pitched in heaven. Each piece of the earthly tabernacle was designed to point towards the work of the coming Messiah.

But when Christ appeared as a high priest of the good things having come, He entered through the greater and more perfect tabernacle, not made by hands, that is, not of this creation; 12 and not through the blood of goats and calves, but through His own blood, He entered the holy place once for all time, having obtained eternal redemption. – Hebrews 9:11-12

The Altar of Sacrifice

Positioned at the entrance, the Altar of Sacrifice was a focal point for the Israelites. Its purpose was to receive the blood of innocent animals, foreshadowing the ultimate sacrifice of Christ on the cross. The blood of Christ, shed for the remission of sins, echoes the symbolism of this ancient altar, proclaiming redemption and reconciliation for all who approach with contrite hearts.

The Bronze Laver

Adjacent to the Altar, the Bronze Laver served as a ceremonial basin for the priests to cleanse themselves before approaching the Holy Place. Just as the Laver ensured the priests were ritually clean, Christ’s sacrifice serves as the cleansing agent for humanity, purifying believers from the stains of sin. The water, reflecting the image of those who approach, mirrors the transformative power of Christ’s redemptive work.

The Lampstand

The lampstand was a prominent fixture in the Tabernacle described in the Old Testament. In Exodus 25:31-40, God instructed Moses to create a lampstand with seven branches, emphasizing its significance as a source of light within the sacred space. The lampstand was to be placed in the Holy Place, illuminating the area where the priests performed their duties.

The symbolism of the lampstand is reflected in the New Testament, particularly in understanding Jesus as the Light of the World. In John 8:12, Jesus declares, “I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will never walk in darkness but will have the light of life.” This assertion draws a direct parallel to the lampstand, signifying Jesus as the spiritual illumination that dispels the darkness of sin and ignorance.

The Table of Shewbread

The Table of Shewbread in the Tabernacle, with its loaves of bread, serves as a symbolic image pointing directly to Jesus as the Bread of Life. In the Gospel of John 6:35, Jesus declares, “I am the bread of life; whoever comes to me shall not hunger, and whoever believes in me shall never thirst.” 

The parallel between the loaves on the Table of Shewbread and the twelve tribes of Israel is significant, emphasizing the inclusivity of Christ’s redemptive offering for all. Just as the priests regularly consumed the bread on the Table, believers are invited to partake in the life-sustaining nourishment found in Jesus.  Jesus, as the ultimate Bread of Life, offers eternal satisfaction to those who partake in Him through faith.

The Curtain of the Holy of Holies

The Holy of Holies, veiled by a thick curtain, was a sacred space only accessible by the High Priest once a year. At the moment of Christ’s crucifixion, this curtain was torn from top to bottom, symbolizing the removal of the barrier between God and humanity. Through Christ’s sacrifice, the separation caused by sin was forever dismantled, granting all believers direct access to the presence of God.

Now from the sixth hour darkness fell upon all the land until the ninth hour. 46 And about the ninth hour Jesus cried out with a loud voice, saying, “Eli, Eli, lema sabaktanei?” that is, “My God, My God, why have You forsaken Me?” 47 And some of those who were standing there, when they heard it, said, “This man is calling for Elijah.” 48 And immediately one of them ran, and taking a sponge, he filled it with sour wine and put it on a reed, and gave Him a drink. 49 But the rest of them said, “Let us see if Elijah comes to save Him.” 50 And Jesus cried out again with a loud voice, and gave up His spirit. 51 And behold, the veil of the temple was torn in two from top to bottom; and the earth shook and the rocks were split. – Matthew 27:45-51

The Mercy Seat

Above the Ark, the Mercy Seat served as a symbol of God’s dwelling place among His people. On the Day of Atonement, the High Priest would sprinkle blood on the Mercy Seat, signifying the covering and forgiveness of sins. Christ, as the ultimate High Priest, presented His own blood as the atoning sacrifice, forever securing forgiveness and mercy for those who seek Him.

Work of Christ in the Old Covenant Feasts

jesus in the old testament

The Old Testament feasts, established by God and outlined in the books of Exodus, Leviticus, and Deuteronomy, hold profound significance as they foreshadow the redemptive work of Jesus Christ in the New Testament. Here’s a brief summary of some key feasts and their connections to the story of Jesus:

  1. Passover: The Passover commemorates the Israelites’ deliverance from slavery in Egypt. The sacrificial lamb’s blood on the doorposts protected the Israelites from the angel of death. Jesus, often referred to as the “Lamb of God,” fulfills this feast through His sacrificial death on the cross, providing salvation and deliverance from sin and death (1 Corinthians 5:7, John 1:29).
  2. Unleavened Bread: This feast follows Passover and involves the removal of leaven from the households. Leaven symbolizes sin. Jesus, who lived a sinless life, is the unleavened bread. His sinlessness is essential for becoming the perfect sacrifice for humanity’s sins (1 Corinthians 5:6-8).
  3. Firstfruits: Celebrated during the barley harvest, this feast involves offering the firstfruits to God. Jesus’ resurrection is closely associated with the concept of firstfruits, signifying victory over death and serving as the firstborn from the dead (1 Corinthians 15:20-23).
  4. Pentecost: Fifty days after Passover, Pentecost celebrates the wheat harvest. In Acts 2, the Holy Spirit descends on the disciples during this feast, marking the birth of the Christian Church. Pentecost foreshadows the outpouring of the Holy Spirit after Jesus’ ascension (Acts 2:1-4).
  5. Trumpets (Yom Teruah / Rosh Hashanah): This feast is characterized by the blowing of trumpets, signifying a call to repentance and the anticipation of God’s judgment. It is associated with the future gathering of God’s people. In the New Testament, the concept of trumpets is linked to the second coming of Christ (1 Thessalonians 4:16-17, Matthew 24:31).
  6. Day of Atonement (Yom Kippur): This solemn day involves confessing sins and seeking atonement through the blood of sacrificial animals. Jesus, as the ultimate High Priest, offers Himself as the perfect atonement for sin through His death on the cross (Hebrews 9:11-14, 10:10).
  7. Tabernacles (Sukkot): This feast commemorates the Israelites’ journey in the wilderness and God’s provision. It anticipates the Messianic age when God will dwell with His people. In the New Testament, Jesus embodies this dwelling, referred to as the Word becoming flesh and tabernacled among us (John 1:14).

The Old Testament is not a mere collection of ancient stories and rituals; it’s a masterful narrative crafted by a loving God who orchestrated every detail to culminate in the person of Jesus. Each promise finds its “yes” and “amen” in Him (2 Corinthians 1:20). The Old Testament, in all its seriousness and gravity, echoes the hopeful refrain of redemption, inviting us to see God’s unwavering commitment to His people.

So, as we reflect on these Old Testament revelations of Jesus, let’s be encouraged. The God who meticulously fulfilled His promises in the past is the same God we trust today. In Jesus, we find the fulfillment of our deepest longings, the solution to our most profound problems, and the embodiment of love beyond measure.

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