The question of whether Jesus is found in the Old Testament has been debated for centuries. At the heart of this debate is whether the Messiah that was prophesied in the Old Testament refers to Jesus Christ as portrayed in the New Testament. There are several lines of evidence that point to Jesus being the fulfillment of Old Testament Messianic prophecies.
Throughout the Old Testament, there are many prophecies that point to the coming of a future Anointed One, or Messiah. These prophecies begin as early as Genesis and continue through the books of the major and minor prophets. While the prophecies cover many specific details, some of the major highlights include:
- The Messiah will be born of a virgin (Isaiah 7:14)
- The Messiah will be born in Bethlehem (Micah 5:2)
- The Messiah will be a descendant of David (2 Samuel 7:12-13)
- The Messiah will enter Jerusalem riding on a donkey (Zechariah 9:9)
- The Messiah will be rejected (Isaiah 53:3)
- The Messiah will be beaten and mocked (Isaiah 50:6)
- The Messiah’s hands and feet will be pierced (Psalm 22:16)
When looking at the life of Jesus Christ as recorded in the New Testament Gospels, we find that Jesus fulfilled each of these prophecies specifically. He was born of a virgin, born in Bethlehem, descended from the line of David, entered Jerusalem on a donkey, was rejected by the Jewish leaders, beaten by Roman soldiers, and crucified. The odds of one person fulfilling all these prophecies are astronomically high, leading many to conclude that they could only be fulfilled if Jesus was indeed the Messiah that the Old Testament Scriptures spoke of.
Types and Symbols
In addition to specific prophecies about the Messiah, the Old Testament also contains many types, symbols, and patterns that point to Jesus. Though these are less explicit, they provide additional connections between the story of Jesus and God’s revelation to Israel in the Old Testament era. Some examples include:
- The Passover Lamb – The sacrificial lamb (Exodus 12) represents Christ as the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world (John 1:29).
- The Bronze Serpent – Moses lifting up the bronze snake in the wilderness (Numbers 21:4-9) foreshadows Christ being lifted up on the cross for the healing of the world (John 3:14-15).
- Melchizedek – This mysterious priest and king (Genesis 14:18-20) serves as a forerunner to Christ as the eternal High Priest.
- The Sacrificial System – The entire system of animal sacrifice in the Old Testament points forward to Christ’s ultimate sacrifice for sins.
Examining types like these show that the themes of sacrifice, atonement for sin, and reconciliation with God through a promised Savior run throughout the Old Testament. Jesus is the fulfillment of what the Old Testament sacrificial system was pointing towards.
Another evidence that Jesus is present in the Old Testament is found in the Christophanies – instances where God appears in human form to interact with people. Some examples include:
- The Angel of the LORD – This figure often speaks as God, identifies Himself as God, and exercises the responsibilities of God (Genesis 16:7-13; 22:11-18; Exodus 3:2; Judges 13:20-22).
- God Appearing to Abraham – Abraham speaks with God face to face in the form of a man (Genesis 18).
- The Son of Man in Daniel’s Vision – Daniel sees a vision of one like the Son of Man coming before the Ancient of Days to receive authority over creation (Daniel 7:13-14).
These theophanies, or appearances of God in human form, are considered by many to be pre-incarnate appearances of Christ – the eternal Son of God manifesting Himself prior to taking on human flesh in Jesus Christ. This demonstrates that the Second Person of the Trinity was actively present during Old Testament times.
Both the Old and New Testaments teach that God’s nature and attributes are eternal and unchanging. If Jesus Christ is the same yesterday, today, and forever (Hebrews 13:8), then His attributes should be evident throughout the Old Testament Scriptures. And indeed, we find many passages in the Old Testament that speak of God in terms that perfectly match the nature and work of Jesus.
For example, both the Old Testament and New Testament present God/Jesus as:
- Creator – Genesis 1:1, John 1:3
- Savior – Isaiah 43:11, Luke 2:11
- Lord – Psalm 110:1, Luke 20:42
- King – Zechariah 14:9, Matthew 2:2
- First and Last – Isaiah 44:6, Revelation 1:17
- Light of the World – Psalm 27:1, John 8:12
- Living Water – Jeremiah 2:13, John 4:10
- Bread of Life – Exodus 16:4, John 6:35
- Good Shepherd – Psalm 23:1, John 10:11
The continuity between the Old and New Testaments in describing God’s eternal attributes and character provides further evidence that they are revealing one and the same God: Jesus Christ.
New Testament Confirmation
Perhaps the most definitive evidence that Jesus is found throughout the Old Testament comes from His own words and the words of the New Testament writers. Jesus frequently discussed how He was the fulfillment of what the Old Testament foretold. Here are a few examples:
- “You search the Scriptures because you think they give you eternal life. But the Scriptures point to me!” (John 5:39).
- “If you believed Moses, you would believe me, because he wrote about me.” (John 5:46).
- “And beginning with Moses and all the Prophets, he explained to them what was said in all the Scriptures concerning himself.” (Luke 24:27)
The New Testament writers add many similar statements about Jesus fulfilling the Old Testament prophecies:
- “Philip found Nathanael and told him, ‘We have found the very person Moses and the prophets wrote about! His name is Jesus, the son of Joseph from Nazareth.'” (John 1:45).
- “I want you to recall the words spoken in the past by the holy prophets and the command given by our Lord and Savior through your apostles.” (2 Peter 3:2).
- “For what I received I passed on to you as of first importance: that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, that He was buried, that He was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures.” (1 Corinthians 15:3-4).
The testimony of Jesus and the New Testament authors confirms that Jesus is the central figure in the Old Testament – the long-awaited Messiah.
Objections and Responses
Despite the evidence presented above, some still object that Jesus is never explicitly named as such in the Old Testament. However, when we understand the progressive nature of revelation, this should not be surprising. God did not reveal everything at once, but gradually prepared the way for the coming of Christ through types, symbols, prophecies, and hints about a future Savior and Messiah. Though not named directly, detailed prophecies and messianic titles clearly identify who this Savior would be. Also, we need to allow the New Testament to interpret how the Old Testament prophecies were fulfilled in Jesus Christ.
Another potential objection is that the specific prophecies could have applied to others besides Jesus. However, the odds that one person (Jesus) could fulfill so many varied prophecies defies all statistical probability. The collective evidence clearly points to Jesus as the fulfillment of the Old Testament prophecies.
Lastly, some claim that Old Testament passages referring to God or the Angel/Messenger of the Lord are not in fact the pre-incarnate Christ. However, the New Testament confirms connections to Jesus in passages like Psalm 102 (Hebrews 1:10) and Isaiah 6 (John 12:39-41). And passages like Genesis 19 make little sense unless the Angel of the Lord is actually divine. In the end, it is a matter of faith, not just intellectual evidence, to see the truth revealed about Jesus Christ from Genesis to Revelation.
Significance and Application
Understanding that Jesus is consistently present throughout the Old Testament has profound implications for how we read and apply God’s Word. Here are a few key insights:
- It testifies to Jesus’ eternal nature and divinity. He was not merely a human born 2,000 years ago, but the eternal Son active throughout human history.
- It shows the unity of the Old and New Testaments. There is one consistent divine plan unfolding throughout Scripture.
- It reinforces Jesus’ credibility. He was validated by centuries of prophecy before fulfilling it.
- It gives us a bigger picture of God’s redemption plan. The Old Testament provides the context leading up to Christ’s salvation.
- It fills out our understanding of Jesus. Seeing how He engages with Old Testament figures gives greater insight into His nature.
As author J.I Packer states, “The more we study the Bible as a whole, the more the unbreakable inner coherence of the parts will become evident to us…Jesus is the linchpin, center and focal point of the whole corpus of canonical writings.” Discovering how Jesus is threaded throughout the Old Testament enhances our wonder at how the Bible holds together and magnifies Christ as the fulfillment of all that was written about the promised Messiah.