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Christ in the Old Testament 1

When we confess that Jesus is our Substitute most people mean this:

Jesus stands in our place - living the life we should have lived, dying the death we should have died

I wonder though how many also have this understanding of Jesus' substitution:

He sits on the bench for the first half before the Coach brings Him on as match-winner in the closing stages.

I find that many Christians, though believing in the pre-existence of Christ, function with an understanding akin to this latter belief.

Though we shout from the roof-tops the centrality of Christ, we affirm His exclusivity, His supremacy, His full deity, in practice our gospel has Jesus coming late to the game to solve a problem He's had nothing to do with.  We insist that He is the crux, the ultimate, the final, the greatest, the fulfilment but somehow lose that He is the Beginning, the Author, the Logos, the Creator, the Head etc.

In such theology Jesus becomes the Kappa and the Omega, the Middle and the End.  The foundations are laid.  God is defined (monadically).  Humanity is defined (apart from the true Man).  The God-man relation is taken for granted (according to these Christ-less definitions).  Sin, law, wrath, sacrifice, blessings, hope etc are slotted into place.  And then Jesus comes to find His place within this pre-fab mould.

But we know this can't be right.  Jesus is not merely the cherry on the cake.  He is the flour, eggs, sugar, butter and everything else besides.  We know this because we have come to experience life in Christ.  And it is not the experience of Jesus-the-bridge-to-something-else.  He has not taken us by the hand to another reality (heaven, glory, forgiveness, God), He Himself is our all in all.  All those other things find their meaning in Him and only in Him.

Now it seems to me there are three ways that this christocentricity can be argued:

  1. Systematically
  2. From the New Testament back
  3. From the Old Testament forwards

Systematically we point to verses like Matthew 11:25-30 or John 1:18 or Colossians 1:15 and say Christ is, was and ever shall be the one and only Mediator of the Father in revelation and salvation.  This, when grasped, opens our eyes to see that all of history, all of theology and all of God to His very depths is truly trinitarian and christocentric.  Glory!

But of course, people will soon ask you to show it from the bible.  So often people appeal to the New Testament.  Jesus was constantly saying things like He was the One who spoke with Abraham (John 8:56), He was the One the prophets persecuted (Matt 5:11-12), He was David's Lord (Matt 22:42-45), He was the One who kept pursuing Jerusalem (Matt 23:37).  Or Paul would say Christ accompanied Israel in the wilderness (1 Cor 10:4,9), Hebrews insists Moses trusted Christ (Hebrews 11:26), Jude asserts that Jesus saved Israel out of Egypt (Jude 5).  And this gets people excited.  For a while.

And then someone says: "Ahhh, with what freedom the Apostles imposed christocentricity on the Hebrew Scriptures."  And all of a sudden you get odd things asserted like: "It's ok for Apostles to retrospectively award a Christ-focus to the OT even though the Jewish authors intended nothing of the sort."  And thus a rarely substantiated but practically unimpeachable maxim is born: "They spoke better than they knew."

Rather than rant polemically about the laughible paucity of Scriptural warrant for this view, or the ethical conundrum of Apostles modelling such dodgy hermeneutics or the logical absurdity of retrospectively awarding Abraham or Isaiah or Israel an encounter with Christ I will side-step a stomach ulcer and move to the third argument.  Because if I can show that the OT by itself proclaims Christ then all such nonsense will be shown to be completely unnecessary.

So here's my assertion that I will seek to unpack over a long series of posts: The OT on its own grounds, in its own context, according to its own intention is a plain and understood revelation of Christ.  I will seek to argue that,

  • Christ is active pre-incarnation
  • He is the Mediator in Old Testament times as well as New
  • He Mediates as a distinct Person, divine and yet differentiated from God Most High
  • He was trusted by (the faithful) OT saints as their LORD and as the One who was to come to save
  • In this way the object of saving faith has always been Christ
  • And in this way the experience of true faith has always been irreducibly trinitarian and christological.

If Jesus tarries I will, in my next few posts, have a look at the Angel of the LORD passages before moving onto some other key multiple-Person OT verses.  I'll look at the very natural way in which the NT picks up on this.  I'll give quotes from church history and I'll draw out some implications.

And having made such a commitment, I immediately wish I hadn't.  Ah well, it'll do me good to get it all off my chest!



11 thoughts on “Christ in the Old Testament 1

  1. Dan Hames

    Amen and amen!

    Glen, Glen, Glen, you make me salivate over my keyboard (or rather, what you're writing about does!). Very much looking forward to these posts... I'll be pointing my readers (all two of them) your way.

    Loved '“Ahhh, with what freedom the Apostles imposed christocentricity on the Hebrew Scriptures.”' Somebody's been reading Calvin on Augustine!

    Thanks brother.

  2. Steve

    Great! Looking forward to it all! I've been reading lots of Brevard Childs as a 'foil' for Edwards and it makes pretty grim reading. Childs effectively has two ways of reading the OT: (1) it's the canon of Hebrew Scriptures, the possession of the synagogue. It was received as such by the church and therefore its own 'discrete witness' (his words) needs to be heard. (2) But in the light of the incarnation (seen as revelatory) the OT is also the first part of the Christian Scriptures, the possession of the church. Therefore, we need to hear the witness of the Old Testament before coming to the whole canon. Quite what kind of God Childs envisages is apparent when he concocts a list of divine attributes that seem shared by both Testaments: he's the philosophical god. Nevertheless, Childs acknowledges the force of Barth's objection:

    'But faith in that Word means faith in the one whom this very Judaism with its monotheism, rejected as a sinner against its monotheism, a blasphemer against God. This is the gulf which separates Christian monotheism, if we may use the term, from Jewish monotheism… It is strange, but true, that confession of the one and only God and denial of Him are to be found exactly conjoined but radically separated in what appears to be the one identical statement that there is only one God.' (Barth, CD II.1, p. 453)

    On the subject of immitating the NT's understanding of the OT, how about this as a painful quote from Childs:

    '... the hermeneutical practice of the New Testament does not in itself provide a theological warrant for the church’s imitation of this approach. We are neither prophets nor Apostles. The function of the church’s canon is to recognize this distinction. The Christian church does not have the same unmediated access to God’s revelation as did the Apostles, but rather God’s revelation is mediated through their authoritative witness, namely through scripture. This crucial difference calls into question any direct imitation of the New Testament’s hermeneutical practice....' (Biblical Theology of the Old and New Testament, p. 381).

    Francis Watson makes some pretty devastating criticisms of Childs in 'Text and Truth' and 'Text, Church and World', suggesting that for Childs the Testaments seem to lie side by side as witnesses. In other words, Childs commits the worst kind of bibilicism in which a text is said to have authority independent of its relationship of its content.

    Looking forward to the rest of your posts on this subject.

  3. glenscriv

    Hi Dan, yeah bring the whole High Speed crew over. Let's mix it up!

    Fraid I won't be very exciting - just planning on listing a whole pile of passages and saying: 'There's your verse, what's your problem?' But then, what is Christian ministry if it's not that?!

  4. glenscriv

    Hi Steve,
    Sounds like you're wading through some depressing stuff. The whole approach that says 'let's lay a 'Jewish' and a Christian understanding side by side in the text' is really telling. What do they think is this lowest common denominator spiritual reality that can be shared by synagogue and church? As you say - it's the god of philosophy.

    And then to say NT doesn't show us how to exegete OT you're left with the question: what does? Would I be right in guessing Childs says 'grammatical-historical method'? In which case philosophical theism and text critical tools are actually driving things - which sounds incredibly enlightenment! No wonder you find him a foil to Edwards. Although sounds like it's Childs that would be more at home in the 18th century!

  5. Missy

    I just finished up leading a 3 week class on security through knowledge of the Lord - yeah, me!?? I'm really working on identifying the half-truths that I can often embrace to temporarily comfort me that really end up leading me to deeper insecurity. Believing that Christ is only the intervention, the rescuer is one of these half-truths. In my heart, I begin to believe that it God is unconcerned about my life before and "apart" from Christ - when their really was neither of those to begin with. With the ensuing insecurity, Satan gets quite a foothold in leading me away from the intimate relationship God wants with me.

    I look forwad to more!

  6. glenscriv

    Hi Missy - yes we do tend to minimize Christ just to 'intervention' or 'rescuer.' Do you think the bridge diagram (helpful in many ways) is to blame? You can't really blame it for being such a popular presentation but it does leave you with a view of Jesus as the fixer who gets things back to how they were *without Him*.

    I was listening just today to Colossians 1:

    "For he [the Father!] has rescued us from the dominion of darkness and brought us into the kingdom of the Son he loves, in whom we have redemption..."

    The Father is the rescuer and He brings us to Jesus! How bout that. And the very atmosphere of our redemption is to be in Jesus. So often though we portray Jesus as like Zorro who saves the village but then rides out of town to let us get on with it. Tis a big shame.

  7. Pingback: Christ in the Old Testament 2 « Christ the Truth

  8. The Orange Mailman

    Hey Glen-

    I think the Angel of the LORD is a good place to look, but how about in the garden of Eden with the LORD God who walked with Adam and his wife? I believe it was pre-incarnate Christ walking and talking with them.

    Have fun and stay busy - Luke 19:13

    -The Orange Mailman

  9. glenscriv

    No doubt about it - that's Christ! The Voice of the LORD God walking in the garden (Gen 3:8). And remember 2 Cor 11:3:

    "I am afraid that just as Eve was deceived by the serpent's cunning, your minds may somehow be led astray from your sincere and pure devotion to Christ."

    Just as Eve was led away from *Christ* Paul fears the Corinthians will be!

    It's all about Jesus! Thanks Orange.

  10. Dev

    my standard OT exegetical rule:
    assume everything and everyone is Christ (or a type of) unless proven otherwise =)

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