Is Jesus In The Old Testament?
September 6, 2023 Creekwood United Methodist Church

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Is Jesus in the Old Testament?


“In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God. All things came into being through him, and without him not one thing came into being. What has come into being in him was life, and the life was the light of all people. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not overcome it.”

-John 1:1-5 NRSV

“He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation; for in him all things heaven and on earth were created, things visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or powers – all things have been created through him and for him. He himself is before all things, and in him all things hold together.”

-Colossians 1:15-17 NRSV

As part of our “Bible Basics” worship series we will dig into some more nuanced curiosities about the Bible, how we read it, what it means, and how it is our guide for life. As we discussed the building and structure of the Bible last Sunday, here’s a question Christians tend to struggle with – even if they don’t realize it.

“Is Jesus in the Old Testament?” The short answer: No…and Yes. I’ll unpack the answer in a little bit, but first we want to celebrate something awesome that YOU did!

On July 14th we had around 50 volunteers serve with Feed My Starving Children and packed 24,408 meals in just around 2 hours!

We just found out those meals were shipped off right away to Haiti and Honduras to give children there nutritious meals to help them thrive in ways they might not have without proper nutrition. Way to be the hands and feet of Christ! This is what happens when we give our time and finances together through the church!

Now, back to the question at hand: “Is Jesus in the Old Testament?”

Why No?

The only people that call the Old Testament by the name of “The Old Testament” are Christians. This is because Christians are the only ones that claim “The New Testament.” The word “testament” can refer to a new agreement or a new statement of belief, and the 27 books of the Bible that tell the story of Jesus and the early Church very clearly believe God has made a new deal with them through Jesus. By this definition, the Old Testament is an old statement of belief – one that doesn’t include Jesus.

In seminary, we studied the Bible academically, which means we had to acknowledge that our belief in inspiration is a faith statement and not a scientific statement. We had to read the Old Testament in a historical-critical way, and in the timeline of history Jesus had not been born into this world as a human yet. My Old Testament professor, Carol Newsom, even imposed two rules in class:

  1. It should be called “The Hebrew Bible” because it isn’t old or outdated to the people who still claim this testament and wrote it in the first place.
  2. We weren’t allowed to talk about Jesus. After all, why would a scripture be about Jesus is he wasn’t physically there to refer to?

(Dr. Newsom is a very faithful Christian in case you were wondering.)

How does this change things?

First of all, when we read scriptures like Isaiah 53, which is traditionally seen in hindsight as an inspired prophecy about the coming of Jesus, it becomes more about the whole nation of Israel suffering through exile and the continued promises of God’s restoration into glory for God’s people – more than a statement about one person. This jives with much of the Old Testament where “you” is best interpreted in the plural as “y’all.” For example, read Jeremiah 29:11 and replace the word “you” with “y’all” and see how it changes for you. Reading Isaiah 53 for what it is instead of what we interpret it to be can widen both the responsibilities of righteousness and blessedness to include all of us instead of just Jesus.

All that to say, Jesus is not a historical figure in the Old Testament and any choice to interpret an Old Testament passage to be about Jesus is a statement of faith.

Which leads us to…

Why Yes?

Jesus famously told the crowd gathered for the Sermon on the Mount in Matthew 5:17-18 that he did not come to abolish the law or the prophets, but to fulfill all that they intended. Matthew’s Gospel alone quotes the Old Testament 36 times and there are 283 direct quotations of the Old Testament by New Testament authors. To these New Testament authors, and it seems Jesus himself, there is a continuity between the old agreement and new agreement that would suggest God hadn’t just decided to go with Plan B and trash Plan A – but maybe continue Plan A in a different way.

Let’s’ Talk About the Trinity

If you go back to the top of this e-mail and read John 1 or Colossians 1 again, there’s a defined belief in both the early writings of Paul to Colossae (60-62 A.D.) and the later Gospel of John (90-110 A.D.) that Jesus wasn’t just a historical figure as defined by a time and place.

Starting as early as Matthew 16, Peter declares Jesus as the Son of God, which is both a relational term of closeness and a business/legal analogy for how much power the Son has on behalf of the Father. The belief developed then that if Jesus has the full power of God, as the Son of God, then perhaps Jesus wasn’t just an emissary for a specific point of history but instead his presence is as eternal and everlasting as God.

With the recognition that the Holy Spirit was also fully God’s presence, Christians began talking about “The Trinity” to describe the perfect relationship of mutuality and distinctiveness that the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit live in. The Trinity has tried to be describe by using multiple metaphors, but all of them fall short because there is no other relationship like the one shared by the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit which are all distinct entities but also exactly the same in their essence and mission.

In light of The Trinity and the belief that Jesus was there at the beginning of all things, then all things “God” in the Old Testament would also be Jesus – which makes Jesus’ statements about not abolishing the law or prophets make a lot more sense. Jesus isn’t completely new on the scene, Jesus is just bringing us back to the intention of God – even if he has to do it himself by conquering sin and death.

Why Does This Matter?

Believing that Jesus was part of creation and beyond gives a continuity between the intent of the law, the admonition of the prophets, and the redemption offered by Jesus. It gives Jesus the authority to challenge the ways the law was abused and manipulated for personal profit and power.

It also forces us to question the disparities between the Old Testament wisdom and New Testament wisdom, and choose “what would Jesus do?” when we are framing our beliefs about the nature and character of God, which ought to reflect in our chosen ethics and morals. The question of inspiration will once again come to play as to if we hold Joshua or Matthew as more authoritative, but if Jesus is the Word – meaning “wisdom” from the word “logos” in Greek – that is present from the beginning and which all things were made through, it’s probably a good idea to err on the side of the eternal 2nd member of the Trinity. Even when it’s less convenient.

Do you have questions about the basics or nuances of the Bible? Let us know and we’ll try to answer them!


David Lessner

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