Jesus understood His identity through the story line of Scripture. The themes, institutions, and figures of the Old Testament were all part of His understanding of who He was and what He came to do. Just read how Jesus understood the Old Testament’s teaching on sonship, kingship, temple, divine presence, covenant, the sacrificial system, or the priesthood, or His references to individuals such as Adam, Abraham, Moses, and David. You will see that Jesus depended upon the grand story line of the Bible to understand and grasp who He was and what He would accomplish. When Jesus was with the disciples on the road to Emmaus, He explained His identity and work according to the identity of the nation of Israel, their kings, their prophets, and the psalms they sang (Luke 24:27).
Jesus’ Obedience to Scripture
Christ was also devoted to the Scriptures as His rule of life. Those who say that Christ, rather than Scripture, needs to be our rule of life seem not to consider how Christ lived. He obeyed the Bible completely. Some may say, yes, but didn’t Jesus in the Sermon on the Mount contradict the Old Testament by saying, “You have heard that it was said . . . but I say to you . . .”? Didn’t Jesus lay aside old instructions for new ones? After all, He said, “You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall not commit adultery.’ But I say to you that everyone who looks at a woman with lustful intent has already committed adultery with her in his heart” (Matt. 5:27–28), and, “You have heard that it was said to those of old, ‘You shall not murder. . . .’ But I say to you that everyone who is angry with his brother will be liable to judgment” (vv. 21–22). Isn’t Jesus contradicting the Old Testament? The answer is no. That would be a misunderstanding of what Christ is teaching in the Sermon on the Mount.
He is both showing the spirit of the law and intensifying it. In other words, contradicting the law would be, “You have heard it said, ‘You shall not commit adultery,’ but I say to you, I am making some allowances for adultery.” But the lust of the heart is at the core of adultery. Jesus is saying, yes, don’t commit adultery, but if you want to be true to the law of God, do not even lust.
Jesus, then, doesn’t redirect our obedience to His commandments over Scripture; rather, His teachings push us further into the commands of Scripture.
The Root Problem: the Bible or the Human Heart?
Maybe the most common verse used to describe a Jesus-over-Scripture rule of life is from the gospel of John: “You search the Scriptures because you think that in them you have eternal life; and it is they that bear witness about me” (John 5:39). The argument goes something like this: “You see, you had a whole community with the Bible but didn’t have eternal life. Why? Because only Jesus gives eternal life and the Scriptures point to it. Clear as day.”
The problem with that understanding is that it misses the point of what Jesus was actually arguing. The context of the passage is Jesus’ miracles on the Sabbath. The whole point of the passage is that Jesus is the Lord of the Sabbath; He’s what the Sabbath was pointing to. Jesus’ opponents were mishandling God’s Word and looking for eternal life by keeping a form of Sabbath laws. Jesus was showing that their problem was not their devotion to God’s Word—the problem was their heart. In other words, Jesus wouldn’t say, “Lessen your devotion to searching the Scriptures,” but, “Look for Me as you search the Scriptures,” because the Scriptures are a witness to Christ in the same way that the Father is a witness to Christ (v. 37). Again, the problem was not that they didn’t believe in the Father; the problem was their hearts: “You do not have his word abiding in you, for you do not believe the one whom he has sent” (v. 38), and, “But I know that you do not have the love of God within you” (v. 42).
If reading and meditating on Scripture is the means by which we are transformed from one degree of glory to the next, into the likeness of Christ (2 Cor. 3:12–18), then we must be devoted to it as it is, the Word of God, the power of Christ in us. It must be the place we are rooted to grow, like a tree planted by streams of water (Ps. 1), as a light to a dark path (119:105), and sweet honey to the taste (v. 103). We submit to it and obey it because we intend to follow Christ and no other.