Is the Old Testament Really About Jesus?

Michael A. Rydelnik
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Although most followers of Jesus believe that the Old Testament predicted the future Messiah, there is a challenging view that has gained popularity. Some Bible teachers are saying that the New Testament authors just picked Old Testament verses out of context and tried to make them sound as if they were about the Messiah.

For example, I once went to an academic conference and heard a paper read by an Old Testament professor from one of the world’s leading Bible-believing seminaries. His paper was about whether or not the Old Testament prophets really predicted the Messiah. I sat there in shock as this biblical scholar made the case that there wasn’t even one verse in the Hebrew Bible that predicted a messianic figure. In fact, he argued that the whole idea of the Messiah was made up in the time period between the Old Testament and the New Testament. Since the New Testament maintains that Jesus is the fulfillment of Old Testament prophecy, this scholar needed to come up with some sort of explanation, some way of dealing with that issue. And he did. He argued that the human authors of the Old Testament only wrote about what was going on in their own day but that the Holy Spirit had a deeper and fuller meaning. He believed the Divine Inspirer of Scripture intended it to mean something more than the human authors understood. Similarly, another scholar I’ve read says the New Testament authors were engaged in “creative exegesis,” finding meanings in the Old Testament that weren’t really there.

The Perspective of the Prophets

To me this “creative exegesis” approach has numerous flaws. First, it seems to maintain that the Hebrew prophets didn’t know they were writing about the Messiah. This idea is rooted in a mistaken interpretation of 1 Peter 1:10–12. In this passage it says the Old Testament prophets “made careful searches and inquiries, seeking to know what person or time the Spirit of Christ within them was indicating as He predicted the sufferings of Christ [the Messiah] and the glories to follow.” However, the passage doesn’t say the prophets didn’t know that they were writing or speaking of the Messiah. It says they didn’t know when the Messiah would come or who He would be. It is similar to our situation as believers today. We know there is a future false messiah, the Antichrist, coming. But we don’t know when he will come or who he will be. The passage goes on to say that it was revealed that they weren’t writing about their own day but about the Messiah’s arrival in the distant future.

The Perspective of Divine Inspiration

Another problematic aspect of this view is an unusual perspective on biblical inspiration. The Bible is an inspired text (2 Tim. 3:16) because human authors were moved by the Holy Spirit to write the words God intended, using their own ideas, personalities, and styles (2 Peter 1:21). In other words, both the Divine Author and the human author had the same meaning when they wrote; they had the same intention. In fact, the Holy Spirit’s superintending of the human author guaranteed the truth of the human author’s intentions and words. The Holy Spirit is the one who enabled biblical prophets to predict the future Messiah. This is what Peter meant when he wrote, “no prophecy was ever made by an act of human will, but men moved by the Holy Spirit spoke from God” (2 Peter 1:21).

We need to reclaim messianic prophecy as one of the great evidences that Jesus is indeed the Messiah and that the Bible, both Old and New Testaments, is supernaturally and divinely inspired.

The Perspective of Jesus the Messiah

Yet another difficulty with this view is that the Lord Jesus, the Messiah Himself, disagrees with it. Think about when the Messiah Jesus met Cleopas and his friends on the road to Emmaus (Luke 24:25–27). He told them that the only limitation that kept them from believing in messianic prophecy was that they were “foolish men and slow of heart to believe in all that the prophets have spoken!” (v. 25). The resurrected Lord goes on to say that the Scriptures taught that it was necessary for the Messiah to suffer before entering into glory (or being resurrected; v. 26). Then, Luke says, “beginning with Moses and with all the prophets, He explained to them the things concerning Himself in all the Scriptures” (v. 27).

Just a short time later, the Lord Jesus had a resurrection appearance with His disciples (Luke 24:44–46). He met them in the upper room and told them, “These are My words which I spoke to you while I was still with you, that all things which are written about Me in the Law of Moses and the Prophets and the Psalms must be fulfilled” (v. 44). And what did He say was written? That “the Christ would suffer and rise again from the dead” (v. 46). Clearly, the Lord Jesus taught His disciples that the Old Testament Scriptures were messianic and that they pointed to Him.

Additionally, just to be clear that the Old Testament authors understood their words, remember what Jesus told Israel’s leadership in John 5:45–47? There He said, “Do not think that I will accuse you before the Father; the one who accuses you is Moses . . . for if you believed Moses, you would believe Me, for he wrote about Me.” Jesus’ point was that, at the final judgment, Moses himself would convict them because they should have believed in his predictions of the Messiah. How could Moses do that if he himself did not understand that he was writing about the Messiah? According to Jesus, the authors of the Hebrew Bible understood they were predicting the Messiah.

Final Thoughts

Last century, biblical scholar A. T. Robertson commented on Luke 24, saying, “Jesus found himself in the Old Testament, a thing that some modern scholars do not seem to be able to do.”27 Robertson was jabbing the critical scholars of his own day, whose anti-supernaturalism kept them from recognizing any direct predictions of the Messiah in the Hebrew Bible (Old Testament). Unfortunately, the views of these critics have become so influential that they have infiltrated even committed Bible-believing scholars today.

God used messianic predictions to lead me to faith in the Messiah Jesus and to have confidence in the inspiration of Scripture. As followers of Jesus, we need to reclaim messianic prophecy as one of the great evidences that Jesus is indeed the Messiah and that the Bible, both Old and New Testaments, is supernaturally and divinely inspired.

For Further Reading:

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