When it comes to seeing ‘Christ in the Old Testament’, I am definitely not a minimalist. Not just for reasons of principle – but out of my experience – I’m a ‘Christ on every page’ sort of person. I’ve yet to study an Old Testament passage where I couldn’t see a significant connection to Christ. I tend towards the instincts of a Keller than the caution of a Ralph Davis.¹
Yet there are some subtle dangers when it comes to preaching Christ from the Old Testament.
i) Christ is everywhere in the Old Testament but he’s also the promised one.
God the Son was present in all the history of redemption (John 8:56-57, Hebrews 11:26, Jude 5). He was active in creation, in the exodus and in the time of Israel’s exile. Yet the Old Testament predominantly presents God the Son as the promised one (Genesis 3:15, 49:8-12, Numbers 24:17, 2 Samuel 7). Scripture itself encourages us to see God the Son as anticipated by the Old Covenant. His appearance in the New Covenant era is climactic (Galatians 4:4, 1 John 3:8, Hebrews 1:1-2). Christ is consistently revealed in the Bible, but also increasingly revealed. So don’t rush too quickly from the Old to the New. Don’t imply that it would always have been obvious to Jewish saints that what was happening to them, what they saw and heard, spoke of Christ. Linger for a while in the Hebrew text where things start true but sometimes vague. Then take things forward from the early dawn to the noon-day sun.
ii) Christ is everywhere in the Old Testament but don’t neglect the Trinity.
Sometimes evangelical preachers sound more like Modalists than Trinitarians. When we preach the Old Testament – and even when we bring its teaching forward to the age of fulfilment – we should note that it reveals not just the Son, but the Godhead. Christian writers in recent years have pointed out the dangers of an exclusive focus on the Son. We do not honour Christ when we squeeze the Father and Spirit out of our preaching. Some excellent books have emerged on this topic of lately – including: The Deep Things of God (Sanders), The Good God: Enjoying Father, Son and Spirit (Reeves) and Delighting in the Trinity (Chester).
iii) Christ is everywhere in the Old Testament but there are moral examples too.
Preaching that is heavy on ‘to do’ has been given a bad wrap in some circles.² Detached from Christ, such preaching leads to the hubris of self-help or the despair of self examination. But ‘preaching the law’ so to speak (when properly done) can both lead us to Christ and be a response to his grace. Further, the New Testament sometimes uses the Old Testament to either warn us of sin or give an example of godliness (1 Corinthians 10:1, James 5:17, Hebrews 11, 12:1).
iv) Christ is everywhere in the Old Testament but beware of artificial links.
The five stones that David picked up to slay Goliath do not represent the five books of the Pentateuch… which represent the law that is fulfilled in Christ…which then matches up with the five teaching blocks that are found in Matthew’s gospel. This is an extreme example, but it highlights the dangers of allegorizing and making unlikely links. Only by steeping ourselves in Scripture will we develop a greater instinct for what is a legitimate connection and what is just arbitrary and fanciful.
¹ I hasten to add that Dale Ralph Davis is something of a genius. I have gleaned so much from him in understanding OT narrative. However he is undoubtedly cautious: “I am convinced that I do not honour Christ by forcing him into a text where he is not.” (p 138, Word became fresh)
² “The word moralising can be used like a flame-thrower to intimidate people, and it can be used as damagingly. In every real preacher there is an instinct to use the Old Testament in an exemplary way, and I would encourage you to follow this instinct uninhibitedly and unapologetically – in the context, of course, of the history of redemption, linking it to Christ (his life, his cross, his resurrection, his ascension, his Lordship, the coming of his Spirit). This exemplary preaching, for want of a better word, has always been a mark of relevant, searching, applied preaching, and we need not be intimidated away from it as there is ample New Testament warrant for it.” (Ted Donnelly, https://banneroftruth.org/uk/resources/articles/2014/six-principles-preaching-christ-old-testament/)
Article by Sinclair Ferguson “Preaching Christ from the Old Testament” (Proclamation Trust but available on various websites) is very helpful, especially on “proleptic participation” (how Old Testament saints are saved by Christ)