Christ in All of Scripture: How Do We Understand the OT? Jesus Tells Us on the Road to Emmaus

Jesus gave us an understanding of the Hebrew Scriptures


Back in 2018, popular preacher Andy Stanley suggested we need to “unhitch from the Old Testament.” Stanley told his congregation: “Jesus’ new covenant, His covenant with the nations, His covenant with you, His covenant with us, can stand on its own two nail-scarred resurrection feet. It does not need propping up by the Jewish Scriptures. The Bible did not create Christianity. The resurrection of Jesus created and launched Christianity. Your whole house of Old Testament cards can come tumbling down.”

Tumbling down is a profoundly ironic choice of words by Stanley.

There are many grave problems with that statement, chief among them is this: If we unhitch from the Old Testament (OT hereafter), we unhitch from Jesus, we unhitch from the Christian faith. Our Lord’s encounter with the two men on the road to Emmaus soon after His resurrection completely undermines Stanley’s troubling rejection of two-thirds of the Bible. To say we don’t need the OT today is to join league with the second century heretic Marcion who argued that the Christ’s teaching in the New Testament is incompatible with the God of the OT.

In Luke 24, Jesus furnishes us with the inspired framework as to how we interpret the Old Testament. The OT is sacred Scripture, every bit as Spirit-inspired as the NT. Hours after rising from the dead, Jesus joined two men who were discussing the events that had just taken place in Jerusalem “concerning Jesus of Nazareth.”

God kept the men from recognizing Jesus, but eventually He opened their spiritual eyes (v. 31) and only then did they see who He was. Though the NT remained unwritten at that point, Jesus gave them a framework for understanding the Hebrew Scriptures:

• Ultimately, the OT is all about Him. “And beginning with Moses and all the prophets, he interpreted to them in all the Scriptures the things concerning him” (v. 27).

• Jesus told them (and us) how to rightly divide the OT into three categories of literature: the Law, the Prophets, and the Writings — all of which point to Him (v. 44).

• The Law is the Pentateuch, the books of Moses, Genesis through Deuteronomy. Jesus fulfilled the Law (Matt. 5:17), living a sinless life — thus keeping the law perfectly — and proving to be the Son who is a true Light to the nations.

• The Prophets are the 18 prophetic books, both minor (Hosea, Joel, Amos, etc., so called because they are shorter books) and major prophets (Isaiah, Jeremiah, Ezekiel, etc., the longer books). The cycle of sin-judgment-repentance-restoration depicted in the prophets pointed to the need for a greater Israel who would commit no sin and bring Light to those who walk in darkness.

• The Writings. This is everything else from the Psalter to the wisdom books such as Job, Proverbs, and Ecclesiastes, to the historical writings such as 1-2 Kings and 1-2 Chronicles. Christ is the Wisdom of God (1 Cor. 1:24) and is the final King of kings who will rule over His people in grace and truth. Unlike the vast majority of Israel and Judah’s kings, Jesus’s kingly rule is perfect.

• Jesus illumined their minds to understand His Word (v. 45). Unless God opens our eyes and unstops our deaf ears as Jesus did for His disciples here, we cannot rightly understand or apply His Word. Before we read and meditate on His Word, we should pray for illumination.

ALL THE NT TOUTS THE CHRIST-CENTRICITY OF THE OT

Luke 24 is by no means the only place where Jesus says the OT Scriptures point to Him. In John 5, Jesus upbraided those scholars of legalism, the Pharisees, and pointed out that in their ultra-scrupulous efforts at keeping the law (and some extra-biblical laws), they had missed out on the law’s main point — the Savior: “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).

A few verses later, in answering their claim to be indefatigable adherents of Moses and the moral law as summarized in the Ten Commandments, Jesus unveiled their faulty understanding: “For if you believed Moses, you would believe me; for he wrote of me” (John 5:46).

God the Father also weighed in on the fundamental nature of Christ’s Word at the Transfiguration. After Moses and Elijah appeared to Jesus and Peter, James and John, God thundered from heaven to show the law and prophets testify to Christ: “This is my beloved Son with whom I am well pleased; listen to him!” (Matt. 17:5).

Paul’s writings confirm Jesus’s understanding, even showing how “Jewishness” has been redefined in the New Covenant in terms of the church: “For no one is a Jew who is merely one outwardly, nor is circumcision outward and physical. But a Jew is one inwardly, and circumcision is a matter of the heart, by the Spirit, not by the letter” (Rom. 2:28-29). And again, “For we are the circumcision, who worship by the Spirit of God and glory in Christ Jesus and put no confidence in the flesh” (Phil. 3:3).

Paul refers to Jesus as the second Adam to whom the first Adam pointed. Adam was the representative for all humanity, but he failed the test in Eden and sinned, plunging all the world into sin’s dark night.

The second Adam passed the test, lived a sinless life, and paid for the sins of all the first Adam’s progeny who would repent and believe: “Yet death reigned from Adam to Moses, even over those whose sinning was not like the transgression of Adam, who was a type of the one to come. … For as by the one man’s disobedience the many were made sinners, so by the one man’s obedience the many were made righteous” (Rom. 5:14, 19).

The Book of Hebrews also provides a beautiful and sustained illustration of how Christ and the gospel are central to the OT, unfolding the doctrine of Christ as the final priest to whom the OT priesthood points.

GUARD RAILS

Edmund Clowney once wrote that Christ and His gospel are the “guard rails” to keep our understanding of the Bible on the straight and narrow path that leads to Calvary and keeps us from dropping off the deadly cliffs of legalism and moralism and works righteousness and liberalism and human self-love.

The Bible is one unified story of salvation — and we need all 66 books to tell it. Unhitch from the Old Testament and you unhitch from Jesus. Unhitch from the Old Testament and you unplug from the historic, orthodox Christian faith.