Seeking Jesus in the Old Testament

Hide-and-seek was one of my favorite games growing up. I’d crouch under tables, behind bulky clothing items in closets, and pretty much anywhere else I could cram myself in the space of a minute. I wasn’t great at it, but I was seldom the first one spotted.

When I learned that the entire Bible (rather than just the second half) is about Jesus, reading the Old Testament began to feel a bit like my beloved game. If I take my time and pay attention to funny shadows or the sound of breathing, spotting the Savior—even millennia before His incarnation—might not be the hardest thing ever.

How far back is He hiding?

Are you ready for it? Genesis 1:1.

The professor of my Biblical Languages class happily geeked out on Hebrew. He drew our attention to the very first verse of Scripture and gave us this incredible nugget:

“In the beginning” can also be translated as “by the Firstborn.” Is that term familiar?

He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation … And He is the head of the body, the church. He is the beginning, the firstborn from the dead, that in everything He might be preeminent.

(Colossians 1:15, 18)

…Jesus Christ the faithful witness, the firstborn of the dead, and the ruler of kings on earth. To Him who loves us and has freed us from our sins by His blood

(Revelation 1:5)

What’s amazing here is that before anything in the cosmos was created, there was a Firstborn, and it was through Him that “God created the heavens and the earth.” (This shouldn’t be too surprising—John 1 makes a big deal about Jesus’ presence and activity in setting up the world. But I love that you can see all three members of the Trinity working together in verses 1-2 using that translation.)

Sure, Jesus might make a brief appearance in the first phrase of Scripture, but that must be it until Matthew 1, right? Not at all. Mark Driscoll puts it well:

This book [the Bible] is only rightly understood when it’s all about Jesus… Prophecy is where the Bible predicts the future coming of Jesus; Christophany is where Jesus sort of drops down for a little appearance to let us know that He is ultimately coming. [Then] there are types that point to and foreshadow the coming of Jesus… The first Adam sinned in a garden, and the last Adam is suffering in a garden as He prepares to atone for our sin. The first Adam sinned at a tree; the second Adam atoned for our sin on a cross or a tree. The first Adam was naked and unashamed. We stripped the last Adam nearly naked, and He died for our shame. The first Adam brought thorns and thistles, and the last Adam wore a crown of thorns and thistles. The first Adam brought condemnation and death. The last Adam brings salvation and life. Jesus is the greater Adam.

When you see a priest, you remember that Jesus is our great high priest. When you see a king in the Bible, you remember Jesus is our king of kings. When a prophet proclaims, you remind yourself that Jesus is the prophet of God and is the very Word of God. When you see a shepherd tending to a flock, you remind yourself that Jesus, our good shepherd, lays down His life for the sheep. When you hear about a judge who renders a verdict, you remind yourself that Jesus is the judge of us all, and we will all stand before the judgment seat of Christ for an eternal verdict…

There’s a guy named Abel in the Old Testament. He is innocent and slaughtered by his guilty brother. Jesus is the greater Abel who is innocent and is slaughtered by His guilty brothers. Abraham left his father’s home so that there could be salvation. Jesus is the greater Abraham, leaves His Father’s heavenly home to relocate to earth for our salvation. There is a guy named Isaac. He is a beloved firstborn son, and he carries wood on his own back to come to the place where he will willingly lay down his life for his father. And Jesus comes as the greater Isaac, willing to lay down His life, and carries His own wood, the cross, on His back.

There’s a guy named Jacob who wrestled with God, and then Jesus comes as the greater Jacob, wrestling for God’s will in His life in the garden of Gethsemane before He goes to the cross. There is a guy named Joseph who is betrayed, abandoned, thrown in a pit, and left for dead by his jealous brothers. He ascends out of that hole to a kingly position, ruling and reigning from the right hand of him who was in authority, forgives them, and brings salvation to the nation. Jesus is the greater Joseph—He was thrown in a deeper hole, He was betrayed by worse brothers, He was falsely accused, He got out of that pit, He ascended to the right hand, He forgives those who have murdered Him, and He brings salvation not just to a nation but to all nations, because Jesus is the greater Joseph.

Along comes Moses, who is an unlikely leader. He is a proclaimer and prophet of God and a deliverer of God’s people. Jesus comes as the greater Moses, proclaiming the Word of God, and liberating God’s people not just from slavery to Pharaoh, but to Satan and demons and sin and death, so that we can be free to worship Him, because Jesus is the greater Moses. There’s a guy named Job who is innocent, and he suffers unjustly demonic, satanic attack, and he remains devoted to the Lord through his suffering, and God uses him as a picture of the greater Job, Jesus, who undergoes satanic, demonic attack, and just like Job, didn’t get any help from His friends, but went through it alone because He has integrity that is unprecedented. Jesus is the greater Job.

Along comes a guy named David, who is a shepherd boy who becomes a king. He comes from humble beginnings to rule and reign over a kingdom. Jesus comes as a descendent of David, as the greater David. He grows up to rule a greater kingdom and to be a greater shepherd, not just of sheep but of souls. Along comes a guy named Jonah who spends three days and three nights in the belly of a fish and comes forth to bring salvation to a multitude. Jesus is the greater Jonah, spends not just three days and three nights in a fish but three days and three nights in a grave, and He comes forth to bring salvation to the nations, because Jesus is a greater Jonah.

There’s a guy named Boaz who’s in the family line of Jesus. He takes a rejected, outcast woman named Ruth that he is not obligated to. He redeems her, he loves her, he cares for her, and he builds a family with her, and Jesus comes along as his descendent, the greater Boaz, who takes His bride, the Church, as His own, purges us from slavery and redeems us from poverty and gives us an eternal inheritance because Jesus is the greater Boaz.

Along comes a guy named Nehemiah, builds a city called Jerusalem as a home for God’s presence and God’s people. Jesus comes along as a greater Nehemiah, and He is building for us not just a Jerusalem, but a New Jerusalem that will come down from heaven as a place of God’s presence to dwell forever with God’s people because Jesus is the greater Nehemiah. And lastly, there’s a guy in the Bible named Hosea. He marries a rebellious, wayward, wicked, unfaithful woman. He keeps loving her, forgiving her, pursuing her, redeeming her, showing that Jesus is coming as the greater Hosea, and He is coming to redeem us, to pursue us, to love us, because even when we are faithless, He is faithful.

This whole book is about Jesus.*

It doesn’t take too long before our Savior jumps out of His “hiding place” and gives Himself away in the shadows of the Old Testament. (He really is a terrible hide-and-seek player, thank goodness.)

The next time you’re reading a psalm or a proverb or a prophecy or a law (or one of those many, many ‘begats,’), keep in mind that Jesus “holds all things together” (Colossians 1:17). You might imagine Him as the space between the words on the page. His presence is that real, and it’s everywhere you look.

So crack open the dusty part of your Bible and let the next round of hide-and-seek begin!

You will seek Me and find Me, when you seek Me with all your heart.

(Jeremiah 29:13)

*Sermon: ‘Start with Jesus to Understand God’s Will for Your Life,’ January 21, 2018

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