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Christ in the OT: Promised, Patterned AND Present

christ-and-mosesJustin Taylor recently linked to Calvin's New Testament preface. It contains a heart-warming account of OT typology. Let me quote a few lines...

[Christ] is the victorious and noble king David, bringing by his hand all rebellious power to subjection.

He is the magnificent and triumphant king Solomon, governing his kingdom in peace and prosperity.

He is the strong and powerful Samson, who by his death has overwhelmed all his enemies.

It's a Keller-style "Jesus is the true and better..." long before Keller. Well of course, it's a thoroughly biblical - a thoroughly Christian - way of reading the bible.

But let's not forget that Christ is also David's Lord (Psalm 110:1); Solomon's Fount of Wisdom (1 Kings 3:5); and the Angel of the LORD foretelling Samson's birth (Judges 13).

In other words, Christ is not merely patterned in the OT (through the types). He is not merely promised. He is present. He is there as the consciously-known object of saving faith in all ages. David Murray gets at why this is so important here.

I'm massively encouraged by the church’s renewed interest in preaching Christ from the Old Testament, and especially by the increased willingness to see how Old Testament people, places, events, etc., point forward to Christ. This “types and trajectories” (or redemptive-historical) hermeneutic has many strengths.

However, I’m a bit concerned that an overuse of this tool can give the impression that Christ is merely the end of redemptive history rather than an active participant throughout.

Puritans such as Jonathan Edwards were masters of balance here. In his History of the Work of Redemption, Edwards shows Christ as not only the end of redemptive history, but actively and savingly involved from the first chapter to the last. He did not view Old Testament people, events, etc., as only stepping-stones to Christ; he saw Christ in the stepping-stones themselves. He did not see the need to relate everything to “the big picture”; he found the “big picture” even in the “small pictures.”

I’d also like to encourage preachers and teachers to be clear and consistent on the question: “How were Old Testament believers saved?” The most common options seem to be:

1. They were saved by obeying the law.

2. They were saved by offering sacrifices.

3. They were saved by a general faith in God.

4. They were saved by faith in the Messiah.

Unless we consistently answer #4, we end up portraying heaven as not only populated by lovers of Christ, but also by legalists, ritualists, and mere theists who never knew Christ until they got there. Turning back again in order to go forwards, may I recommend Calvin's Institutes Book 2 (chapters 9-11) to help remove some of the blur that often surrounds this question.

I agree wholeheartedly with that recommendation. It gives the other side to Calvin's teaching on the matter. Christ is not simply the true and better Adam, He is Adam's true and only hope! Jesus is not simply better than Noah. Faith in Him is not simply better than faith in a sub-Christian God. It's Christ alone or not at all. This is why we can never be content with merely preaching Jesus through OT types. Let's hear Calvin some more...

[The OT saints] had and knew Christ as Mediator, through whom they were joined to God and were to share in His promises.” (II.10.2).

“Holy men of old knew God only by beholding Him in His Son as in a mirror.  When I say this, I mean that God has never manifested Himself to men in any other way than through the Son, that is, His sole wisdom, light and truth.  From this fountain Adam, Noah, Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, and others drank all that they had of heavenly teaching.  From the same fountain, all the prophets have also drawn every heavenly oracle that they have given forth. (IV.8.5)

Christ is the fountain, not simply the finale!  Therefore it's vital to maintain both the christological promises and patterns of the OT and the presence of Christ.

But let me conclude with a word to those who bang the "presence" drum (people like me).  We mustn't forget the patterns and promises. The OT saints did not merely rest in a correct doctrine of God. The fact that they grasped the Divine Sent One as 'God from God' did not save them! The fact they knew Christ as a distinct Member of the Godhead is not, in itself, salvific. They trusted in the Christ they knew there and then but also in what He would do when He came to save them. Their faith was not merely in the Person but also the work of Christ.  The object of their hope was not merely the Word of the LORD but His redeeming work as the Seed of the woman.

To use Calvin's phrase, Christ always comes clothed in His promises. No-one can behold a naked Christ and we mustn't preach a naked Christ in the OT. Christ is the root and offspring of David (Rev 22:16). If we only preach Christ as the root then we miss His incarnate - i.e. His saving - work.  And no-one can rest their faith on a non-incarnate - i.e. non-saving - Christ!

Let's hear one last time from Calvin who helpfully upholds both sides for us: the presence and the promises/patterns:

The fathers, when they wished to behold God, always turned their eyes to Christ.  I mean not only that they beheld God in his eternal Word, but also they attended with their whole mind and the whole affection of their heart to the promised manifestation of Christ. (Commentary, John 1:18)

15 thoughts on “Christ in the OT: Promised, Patterned AND Present

  1. Paul Austin

    This is an awesome subject. If you've ever wondered what Jesus meant in John 3.10 by 'these things,' now you know. Still, having been raised a Presbyterian I know there are pastors who know Calvin better than Jesus, so let's keep our perspective. Praying to Jesus helps.

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  3. Dave K

    Very well said. The link between patterned and present/person and work is important. Thank you for putting it so well... who could disagree with any of it!?

  4. Brian Midmore

    The issue of how the OT saints were saved is interesting. To say that they were saved by' faith in the Messiah' is problematical since they had scant knowledge of that Messiah. (We look back at Christ in the OT). They were saved by Christ's crucifixion from before the foundation of the world but that salvitic power was surely mediated through faith in YHWH. This faith in YHWH was expressed by keeping the law and by making sacrifices and so to separate out these things seems very odd to me.

  5. Gav

    I've been reading The Cross of Christ (huge effort for me) and the thing that I kept wanting to read was "preach Christ crucified".....and why.......it's not a challenge because I agree with all of it. Just what I was thinking that's all.

  6. Michael Baldwin

    "But let’s not forget that Christ is also David’s Lord (Psalm 110:1); Solomon’s Fount of Wisdom (1 Kings 3:5); and the Angel of the LORD foretelling Samson’s birth (Judges 13)."
    I was just listening to a 2 part talk on Proverbs by Mike Reeves where he argued that the Wisdom described therein is not Christ but the Holy Spirit! Interesting stuff, and quite surprising as he admits that for the vast majority of history Christian theologians have said it is Christ. Reeves is quite persuasive on that note, though!

  7. Bill

    People often say that Jesus says people even though they don't trust him. Muslims submit to God and honour God so perhaps the death of Jesus saves them anyway. I think the idea is that Jesus is the mechanism for salvation and knowing him isn't really very important to being saved. I'm a bit nervous of this because knowing Jesus seems to be the point of salvation. Why be "saved" if we don't know Jesus? If knowing Jesus is something that happens later, after salvation, perhaps only after death... then why shouldn't this be given to everybody? The only answer I can think of is that knowing Jesus is salvation itself. We are saved from ignorance far from Jesus and he comes to find us and bring us home as his friends. Brian Midmore says that faith in "YHWH" expressed in earthly religion is no different to a specific faith in Jesus - faith in the messiah or the seed or whatever title people gave to Jesus at the time. Brian is not alone and this kind of universalist theology in the Rob Bell style is more and more common. Perhaps Brian is right but it still makes me nervous :(

  8. Simulator

    Looks like you, along with Edwards and Calvin, are going against what is said here in a popular daily devotional about Abraham in Genesis 22, specifically on 22v8, when Abraham says to Isaac, "God himself will provide the lamb for the burnt offering, my son." The author writes, "There is no suggestion that Abraham foresaw the cross" Apparently, this was a "masterstroke" from Abraham, pulling a fast one over Isaac, with what seems to be a "pious answer for the boy until the dreadful truth could no longer be concealed."
    For the love of Jesus Christ! Abraham's faith was in the Word of the Lord who took him outside for a bit of stargazing in Genesis 15, and specifically on what He would do on the Cross for Abraham. Again and again Jesus would appear to sinful and doubting Abraham to assure him that He will die on the Cross for Abraham through all sorts of illustrations, whether the vision of sacrifices, painful circumcision, or in offering Isaac up in Genesis 22. Indeed, Abraham knew the Cross was so central to the eternal Word's promises to Abraham that he reasoned that the LORD would raise Isaac from the dead if He were to come and die as one of Isaac's descendants as promised.

  9. Glen

    Hey Michael,

    Yes that's why I call Christ Solomon's *Fount* of Wisdom (rather than Wisdom Himself).

    Bill - yes, Jesus *is* salvation, that thought simplifies a lot of our theology.

    Hey Leon, it's tragic that the author not only misses this proclamation of the cross but actively dismisses it. Troubling indeed!

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  11. Di Wang

    Elohim fulfills everything that His servants have said.

    Abraham answered, “God himself will provide the lamb for the burnt offering, my son.” And the two of them went on together.

    Genesis 22:8

    Blessing by Yakov to Judah
    The scepter will not depart from Judah, nor the ruler’s staff from between his feet, until he to whom it belongs shall come and the obedience of the nations shall be his.
    Genesis 49:9-11

    Psalm 130:7, 8 by David
    7 Israel, put your hope in the Lord,
    for with the Lord is unfailing love
    and with him is full redemption.
    8 He himself will redeem Israel
    from all their sins.

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