Despite how we know we should feel, even Christians who deeply love the Bible often feel a bit less than enthused if the preacher uses an obscure portion of the Old Testament as his sermon text. Some Old Testament books seem so foreign to us, or at least so incomprehensible, that we struggle to know what to do with them. How might we reinvigorate our reading of the whole of God’s Word?

The best way to energize our explorations of what God revealed to His people before Christ’s first coming is to recognize how deeply the Old Testament Scriptures are about Christ. The covenant of grace is God’s one plan to bring all His people to salvation, describing how God distributes His grace to believers. Reformed Christians readily affirm that the whole Bible tells the one story that culminates in Christ. Still, they may not as thoroughly realize that Christ is not simply the climax of the story but also the major character even before He explicitly appears by name. Christ’s role in this sense is the often under-considered aspect of the covenant of grace.

Good mystery stories maintain suspense until the big reveal. On a second reading, however, all the clues needed to deduce the big reveal should be obvious. The Apostles discovered this once Christ rose from the grave when they reread the Old Testament and found that Christ Himself is the shadow across the whole of God’s written old covenant revelation. For example, Jude addressed a church infected by false, godless teachers by reminding them of Christ’s role during the exodus of Israel and the nation’s time in the wilderness: “Now I want to remind you, although you once fully knew it, that Jesus, who saved a people out of the land of Egypt, afterward destroyed those who did not believe” (Jude 5). Jude’s striking claim is that Jesus saved Israel out of Egypt. Obviously, the book of Exodus never mentions Jesus’ name explicitly as it records how God rescued His people from slavery. Still, Jude recognized that Israel was saved not merely by God, nor merely by God the Son, but by God the Son as the mediator of the covenant of grace. In other words, Jesus Christ has always been active as the Savior of God’s people.

Jesus Christ has always been active as the Savior of God’s people.

How does this help us reenergize our Bible reading? Christ’s role as the Savior in the Old Testament pushes us to examine the whole counsel of God with fresh eyes so that we can put all the clues together ourselves. As Paul summarized in 1 Corinthians 15:1–5, the gospel that he preached concerned Christ’s death and resurrection “in accordance with the Scripture.” The Westminster Confession of Faith suggests some further ways that Christians today can recognize Christ’s work in the Old Testament:

Although the work of redemption was not actually wrought by Christ till after His incarnation, yet the virtue, efficacy, and benefits thereof were communicated unto the elect, in all ages successively from the beginning of the world, in and by those promises, types, and sacrifices, wherein He was revealed, and signified to be the seed of the woman which should bruise the serpent’s head; and the Lamb slain from the beginning of the world; being yesterday and today the same, and forever. (WCF 8.6)

Notice that before Christ had executed His priestly work in time of living, dying, and rising for His people’s salvation, “the virtue, efficacy, and benefits” of that work was applied to believers in the Old Testament.” So, even before God’s eternal Son walked the earth according to His human nature, believers received the saving effects of His mission as they trusted in the coming Messiah. The two questions that rise from this are (1) how does this work? and (2) how does this help us see Christ in Scripture?

First, Old Testament believers were saved by Christ’s work in the same way that we are today: by faith alone. The difference between Old and New Testament faith is not quality but perspective. Imagine that you and I visited a museum together and decided to look at a statue. Now, maybe you look at it from the front side and I look at it from the back. Regardless, we are both doing the same thing—looking at the same object—though we are doing so from different vantage points. So it is with Old and New Testament faith. Believers who lived before the Son became incarnate trusted in the Christ who would come, and on this side of the resurrection we trust in the Christ who has come. The difference of perspective serves only to underline that saving faith has always been the same—namely, a heartfelt trust in the Savior whose work covers all our sins.

The Bible clearly teaches exactly this point about Christ as active in the Old Testament. We have already seen Jude’s awareness that it was specifically Jesus who saved Israel out of Egypt. Paul highlighted the same idea for Israel’s wandering in the wilderness in 1 Corinthians 10:1–4: “For I do not want you to be unaware, brothers, that our fathers were all under the cloud, and all passed through the sea, and all were baptized into Moses in the cloud and in the sea, and all ate the same spiritual food, and all drank the same spiritual drink. For they drank from the spiritual Rock that followed them, and the Rock was Christ.”

Christ Himself is the shadow across the whole of God’s written old covenant revelation.

Astonishingly, Paul wrote to a gentile church that the exodus generation was our fathers, underscoring how believers of every era are connected as God’s one people. God’s old covenant people in the wilderness ate the same spiritual food that new covenant Christians eat today, showing how God’s one people are unified in one Savior. After all, “there is one God, and there is one mediator between God and men, the man Christ Jesus, who gave himself as a ransom for all, which is the testimony given at the proper time” (1 Tim. 2:5–6). The rock that provided for the Old Testament Israelites was Christ. It did not simply point ahead to Christ but was Christ, who was always received by faith in every age since the fall.

Second, Christ’s role as the Savior throughout redemptive history helps us see Him in all Scripture because, as the Westminster Confession says, the promises, types, and ordinances communicated the virtue and efficacy of His work to Old Testament believers. In other words, the means of grace that God provided in the Old Testament distributed Christ to those who would receive them with faith. The means of grace are God’s appointed instruments for conveying and applying Christ and his benefits to his people, creating or building up faith in them. In the New Testament, Word, sacrament, and prayer are the means of grace. As Romans 10:14–17 tells us, faith comes by hearing the Word of Christ proclaimed by a preacher. God uses the preached Word as His means of grace to create and deepen faith. So too, in the Old Testament, God used Israel’s various outward practices to do the same. Noah’s ark foresignified Christ, who shields His people from God’s wrath (1 Peter 3:18–22). Circumcision foresignified how Christ was cut off for His people, dying for their sins (Col. 2:11–15). The animal sacrifices fore-signified His death, offered up in our stead so that we would not have to die (Heb. 9–10). In the Old Testament, everyone who received these outward markers with true faith, not in the sign itself but in the One about Whom each sign taught, received Christ Himself and the virtue, efficacy, and benefits of His work.

So, as we read the Old Testament, we should remember that every time we read of a promise, a type, or an ordinance, Christ Himself is present in it. There are abundant mysteries to discover in God’s Word, knowing that Christ Himself is the topic of every page. The Old Testament Scripture was inspired to communicate Christ Himself and His benefits to God’s people of old. Still, it was written for our instruction as well, not as moral lessons, but so that we too might see Christ and have Him by the same faith that Abraham had.


Editor’s Note: This post was originally published on February 9, 2022.

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