Jesus in the Old Testament

One common misconception regarding the Bible is that only the New Testament has Jesus present in its pages. The Old Testament, it is thought, speaks of God in a general sense, but Jesus only really shows up after his birth in the gospels. This, however, is seen to be untrue as even Jesus himself affirmed that the Old Testament’s primary purpose was to point to his coming:

  • Luke 24:27 And beginning with Moses and all the Prophets, he interpreted to them in all the Scriptures the things concerning himself.

Jesus appears in the Old Testament in two primary ways. (1) Jesus shows up in a literal, visible sense prior to his incarnation. These pre-birth appearances of Jesus are known as Christophanies, or “appearances of the Christ”. (2) Jesus’ presence is seen in a less tangible sense through typology and foreshadows, meaning that certain people and events represent Jesus symbolically in an incomplete, yet significant, way.

1. Christophanies

A Christophany is when Jesus appears prior to his incarnation (human birth). In most of these instances, he is referred to as “the angel of the Lord”. We can infer that Jesus is “the angel of the Lord” since on many occasions this figure is also identified as God. Angels are not God, but Jesus is. Also, “the angel of the Lord “ differs from the phrase “an angel of the Lord”, which the Bible also uses. Saying “the angel” instead of “an angel” gives obvious importance that this particular being is distinct from and superior to the other angels.

Jesus appears in a Christophany somewhere around 20 times in the Old Testament (an exact number is difficult to determine since not all instances are definitively Jesus). Here are just three instances:

  • Genesis 22:11-18

[11] But the angel of the LORD called to him from heaven and said, “Abraham, Abraham!” And he said, “Here am I.” [12] He said, “Do not lay your hand on the boy or do anything to him, for now I know that you fear God, seeing you have not withheld your son, your only son, from me.” [13] And Abraham lifted up his eyes and looked, and behold, behind him was a ram, caught in a thicket by his horns. And Abraham went and took the ram and offered it up as a burnt offering instead of his son. [14] So Abraham called the name of that place, “The LORD will provide”; as it is said to this day, “On the mount of the LORD it shall be provided.” [15] And the angel of the LORD called to Abraham a second time from heaven [16] and said, “By myself I have sworn, declares the LORD, because you have done this and have not withheld your son, your only son, [17] I will surely bless you, and I will surely multiply your offspring as the stars of heaven and as the sand that is on the seashore. And your offspring shall possess the gate of his enemies, [18] and in your offspring shall all the nations of the earth be blessed, because you have obeyed my voice.”

Notice in verse 12 that the angel says Abraham has not spared his son Isaac from “me”, something God asked of Abraham (Genesis 22:1-2). Therefore, this angel is referring to himself as the person who gave the initial command, and thereby claiming to be God.

  • Exodus 3:1-6

[1] Now Moses was keeping the flock of his father-in-law, Jethro, the priest of Midian, and he led his flock to the west side of the wilderness and came to Horeb, the mountain of God. [2] And the angel of the LORD appeared to him in a flame of fire out of the midst of a bush. He looked, and behold, the bush was burning, yet it was not consumed. [3] And Moses said, “I will turn aside to see this great sight, why the bush is not burned.” [4] When the LORD saw that he turned aside to see, God called to him out of the bush, “Moses, Moses!” And he said, “Here I am.” [5] Then he said, “Do not come near; take your sandals off your feet, for the place on which you are standing is holy ground.” [6] And he said, “I am the God of your father, the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob.” And Moses hid his face, for he was afraid to look at God.

Again we see here the angel of the Lord being referred to as “the LORD” and “God”. This is a pre-birth appearance of the Lord Jesus Christ.

  • Isaiah 6:1-5

[1] In the year that King Uzziah died I saw the Lord sitting upon a throne, high and lifted up; and the train of his robe filled the temple. [2] Above him stood the seraphim. Each had six wings: with two he covered his face, and with two he covered his feet, and with two he flew. [3] And one called to another and said: “Holy, holy, holy is the LORD of hosts; the whole earth is full of his glory!” [4] And the foundations of the thresholds shook at the voice of him who called, and the house was filled with smoke. [5] And I said: “Woe is me! For I am lost; for I am a man of unclean lips, and I dwell in the midst of a people of unclean lips; for my eyes have seen the King, the LORD of hosts!”

This description alone is not enough to ascribe it to Jesus with certainty. However, the disciple John, writing under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, records in John 12:41 that the figure Isaiah saw in this vision was Jesus.

2. Types / Foreshadows

A type or foreshadow is a person or event that represents Jesus or his ministry in some way. It is a precursor to Jesus, an expectation of his arrival. There are many figures and events in the Old Testament that are designed to point to Jesus. Below are just a few examples.

People:

Moses Jesus
  • Life threatened by mass slaughtering of babies
  • Life threatened by mass slaughtering of babies
  • Escaped murder in Egypt
  • Escaped murder in Egypt
  • Mediator between God and his people
  • Mediator between God and his people
  • Fasted for 40 days
  • Fasted for 40 days
  • Was adopted by Pharaoh’s daughter
  • Was adopted by Joseph
  • Performed miracles
  • Performed miracles
  • Forsook priviledged position to suffer among his people
  • Forsook privileged position to suffer among his people
Joshua Jesus
  • Name means “God will save his people from their sins”
  • Name means “God will save his people from their sins”
  • Delivered God’s people to a promised land
  • Delivered God’s people to heavenly promised land
Joseph Jesus
  • Rejected by family and sold for price of slave
  • Rejected by friend and sold for price of slave
  • Came from lowly state to sit at right hand of great ruler
  • Came from lowly state to sit and right hand of God
  • Was not recognized by his own family
  • Was not recognized by his own people (Israel)
Melchizedek Jesus
  • Only person to be both king and high priest
  • Is both a king and high priest
Boaz Jesus
  • Righteous man who is a redeemer
  • Righteous man who is the redeemer
Hosea Jesus
  • Purchased bride back from whoredom
  • Purchased bride (the Church) back from whoredom

Events:

Passover Jesus
  • God’s wrath comes to those who are not covered by the lambs blood
  • God’s wrath comes to those who are not covered by Jesus’ (the great Lamb’s) blood
High Priest Rituals Jesus
  • Mediator between God and man
  • Mediator between God and man
Sacrificial System Jesus
  • Shed animal blood to make atonement for sin
  • Shed own blood to make atonement for sin
Abraham offers Isaac Jesus
  • Father (almost) sacrifices son on a hill
  • Father God sacrifices Son on a hill
The Ark Jesus
  • People saved from God’s wrath through one man
  • People saved from God’s wrath through one man


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