The Holy Spirit created a human nature for the eternally begotten Son of God in the womb of the virgin Mary; “and, so” as the Westminster Shorter Catechism says, the Son of God “became, and continues to be, both God and man in two distinct natures and one person forever.” In His human nature, Jesus had to “grow in wisdom and stature” (Luke 2:40; 52). He had to learn, just like any other man. At 12 years old, He was in the Temple, “sitting among the teachers, listening to them and asking them questions” (Luke 2:46). Luke then tells us, “Everyone who heard him was amazed at his understanding and his answers” (Luke 2:47) This was the method by which the Son of God grew in wisdom and stature. He learned God’s word by reading it and by interacting with those who taught it. Though in the Divine nature He was omniscient, His human nature was finite and subject to growth and development. B.B. Warfield captured so well the reality of the two natures in the one Person of Jesus when he wrote, “because he is man he is capable of growth in wisdom, and because he is God he is from the beginning Wisdom Itself.”1 At each stage of human experience He had to grow in His capacity for sinless human development to the extent that one could grow at that stage. He never ceased to be God, yet, He willingly laid aside access to what is His by Divine right in order to be our representative second Adam. We needed a Redeemer who was fully man. We need a Redeemer who entered into the same experiences, put Himself under the same Law and who was “tempted in all points as we are, yet without sin.” As a man–as mediator and covenant-keeper–Jesus had to study and understand the Scriptures. He needed to read the Old Testament in the same way that we needed to read the Old Testament; yet, He read the Old Testament uniquely in so much as it was written to Him and about Him. Here are 14 ways that Jesus would have understood the Old Testament to have been written both to and about Himself:
1. Jesus understood that God the Father spoke to Him in the Old Testament about His eternal and Divine nature, work and reward. Some might object, at this point, that Jesus wouldn’t have needed such a revelation since He was the eternal God in His Divine nature. However, the Father said to the Son at His baptism, “You Are My Beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased” (Luke 3:22). No one would dream of suggesting that Jesus, in His human nature, didn’t need this word from His Father in the days of His flesh. He certainly needed it to help carry Him through the fierce temptations of the devil in the wilderness. When Satan came with the threefold, “If You are the Son of God…” we must conclude that he was tempting Jesus on the basis of the declaration that Jesus received from the Father at His baptism. It was only as Jesus held fast to the word of His Father about His Person–and to what God had said in Deuteronomy to the typological Son of God (Israel – Ex. 4:22) in the wilderness–that He was able to overcome the attacks of the evil one.
In the same way, we find the Father speaking to the Son about His Divine nature in the Old Testament. Hebrews 1:4-14 makes this point explicitly and abundantly clear. There, the writer of Hebrews pulls four examples from the Old Testament in which the Father tells the Son, “You are My Son…(Ps. 2:7);” “Your throne, O God, is forever and ever…(Ps 45:6-7);” “You, LORD, in the beginning laid the foundations of the world…(Ps 102:25-27);” and “Sit at My right hand…(Ps 110:1).” These are words written from the Father to the Son in the Old Testament. While we can be confident that the Father spoke these words to the Son as to His divine nature in the counsels of eternity, we can be equally confident that Jesus read these as declarations from His Father to Him about His Divine nature in order to carry Him on in His Messianic work.
2. Jesus understood that the entire Old Testament revealed that He would be the law-keeping Redeemer of His people. We know this from Psalm 40:7 and Hebrews 10:7. He would be the willing servant of the LORD who submitted Himself to all of His Father’s commands and who always did His Father’s will for His people.
3. Jesus understood that all the promises of God were made to Him–first and foremost–as the Son of Abraham and Son of David. The Apostle Paul explicitly tells us that the promises made to Abraham and his Seed, were made to Christ–prior to being made to anyone else (Gal. 3:16). He had to first be “the heir of all things” (Heb. 1:1-4) before any of those who have faith in Him become “heirs of all things.” Jesus said, “Yes” to the promised curses of the Covenant (curses that we deserve for our sin) in order to merit the Covenant blessings for us. Paul tells us that “all the promises of God are ‘yes’ and ‘amen’ in Him.” This means that Jesus read the legal demands of the Law–with their promised blessings and curses–as dependent upon His becoming a curse for us so that we might inherit the blessings (Gal. 3:10-14).
4. Jesus understood that the Old Testament spoke preeminently of His own sufferings and glories (1 Peter 1:10-12), as revealed by His Spirit through the prophets. He knew that this was written in part to carry Him through His ministry. For instance, Psalm 22 could only be read experientially by Jesus. David was not crucified. David was not forsaken of God. The Spirit of Christ revealed the sufferings and glories of Christ to prepare Him to experience them in His Messianic experience. We see this same principle at work in what is said by and of Christ in Psalm 16 and Psalm 110 (Psalm 16; Acts 2:23-36). In this sense we can say that Jesus knew that the whole of the Old Testament was related to His death and resurrection. He told the two on the road to Emmaus that “everything written about Me in the Law of Moses and the Prophets and the Psalms must be fulfilled”…and said to them, “Thus it is written, that the Christ should suffer and on the third day rise from the dead” (Luke 24:44-46).
Jesus understood that all the punishments that God foretold in the Old Testament would fall on Him as He would be the substitute of His people. He knew that He would be the Passover Lamb that was slain for His people. He knew that He would be the ram caught in the thicket that served as a substitute for Isaac. He knew that He was to be the scapegoat on which judgment fell, as well as the scapegoat that was sent into the wilderness. Jesus knew that all of the animals in the Old Testament were symbolic of His substitutionary, atoning death on the cross. When Jesus read about the cup of God’s wrath in the Psalms, Isaiah and Jeremiah, He read them conscious that He would step in the place of His people and drink the cup for them. This explains why He alluded to the “cup” symbolism in the Garden of Gethsemane when He prayed to His Father. For a fuller explanation of this idea, see this post.
5. Jesus understood that the Old Testament saints were not–first and foremost–examples of moral uprightness for fallen sinners to emulate, but were themselves sinners who were looking forward to Him by faith (Heb. 11). He explained this to the Pharisees when He told them that “Abraham saw My day, and rejoiced to see it and was glad” (John 8:56-58). Additionally, He explained that David, Solomon and Jonah existed to point to Him (Matt. 12).
6. Jesus understood that all the Old Testament types, shadows and symbols pointed to some aspect of His saving work or benefits. We know this because he pointed to Jacob’s ladder, the serpent on the pole, and water from the rock (John 1; 3 and 7) as examples of this principle.
7. Jesus understood that every prophecy was about Him. We see this from his persistent appeal to OT Messianic prophecies as verifying who He is (e.g. Zech. 13:7 in Matt. 26:31; and, Zech. 9:9; Matt. 21:5).
8. Jesus understood that He was the True Israel, who came to recapitulate Israel’s history for the redemption of His people. We know this from Matthew’s citation to Hosea 11:1 in Matthew 2:15 (see Matt. 2:13-15); but we also see this from Jesus’ quoting from the book of Deuteronomy when he was tempted in the wilderness by the devil (Luke 4). Jesus took up Scripture that was given to Israel in the wilderness where they were tempted. He prevailed where they failed. He is the true Israel (see this post and this post). He went down into Egypt, out of Egypt, through the waters, into the wilderness, up on the mountain, down from the mountain, etc.
9. Jesus understood that His ministry was to be one of proclaiming the Kingdom of God and the Good News of redemption to hopeless and helpless sinners. We see this from His first sermon in Nazareth (Luke 4:16-30) where He appealed to Isaiah 61:1-2: “The Spirit of the LORD is upon Me, because He has anointed Me to proclaim good news to the poor…”
10. Jesus understood that all the festivals and feasts in the Old Testament were pointing forward to what He would accomplish in the work of redemption. We know this because in that first sermon in Nazareth, He alluded to the Year of Jubilee and explained that He had come to give the reality of what that feast typified. The Year of Jubilee happened once every fifty years–once in a lifetime in an average lifetime (Ps. 90:10). Debts would be cancelled and the inheritance would be restored. Jesus does that very thing spiritually for His people through His death and resurrection.
11. Jesus understood that marriage was ordained at creation in order for Him to have a spiritual bride in the church that He would redeem. He repeatedly referred to Himself as “the Bridegroom” (Matt. 9:15 and 25:1-10).
While much more could and should be considered regarding this subject, understanding that Jesus read the Old Testament as being written to and aboutHimself should give us a greater appreciation for the extent to which our Savior went to redeem us. It should help us fix our eyes more steadfastly on the One who is the author and finisher of our faith. It should motivate us to seek Him more fervently. It should encourage us to trust Him as our Redeemer more fully. It should help us understand that all life and godliness are found in Him and in Him alone. It should produce in us shouts of thanksgiving and songs of praise for the loving wisdom of our God in revealing His Covenant revelation to the Covenant keeper.
12. Jesus understood that He needed His Father to teach him His will so that He might be the perfect counsellor/teacher of His people. We find this taught in Isaiah 50:4-5 where the Spirit of Christ, speaking through Isaiah, spoke of His need to be woken every morning to hear from His Father. We must conclude that the “learning” Servant, is one and the same with the suffering Servant of Isaiah 53. Here, the Son of God, foretold the experience He would have in the days of HIs incarnation. This would be a further development of the idea that Jesus “grew in wisdom and stature, and in favor with both God and man” (Luke 2:41 and 50).
13. Jesus understood that He needed to be the perfectly wise and righteous man in order to be the source of wisdom and righteousness for His people (1 Cor. 1:30). He read the Proverbs as the Covenant revelation of the wisdom and righteousness that God required of man. He fully embodied the wisdom and righteousness of the Psalms and the Proverbs as the only sinless man who could so attain to the perfections of wisdom and righteousness contained in the Wisdom literature. As Sinclair Ferguson has so helpfully explained: “What a redeemed soul needs is human holiness. Angelic holiness will not serve fallen man. If we are to be holy, that holiness must be wrought out in our humanity. This is what Christ has accomplished.”
14. Jesus understood that He was the Son of David who would forever sit on the throne of God and rule over His people. When Jesus read the covenant promises to David, or any subsequent Kingdom narrative or prophecy, He understood that it was all to be fulfilled by Him. Jesus understood, that by finishing the work of redemption, His Father was going to give Him an everlasting Kingdom. Jesus would have read the narrative of David’s life as typological of His own ministry in establishing the Kingdom. Kingdom prophecies like Daniel 7:13-14 would have further shaped Jesus’ own understanding of what He was sent into the world to accomplish and receive. In this sense, we can say that the prophecies about what it would mean for Him to be the King, establish the Kingdom and rule in victory were all directed to carry him forward in the accomplishment of that work for which He had come into the world.
1. B.B. Warfield “The Human Development of Jesus,” in The Bible Student (1900).
*This post is an adapted form of two posts (see here and here) first published at The Christward Collective.