A Simple Guide for Seeing How the Old Testament Points to Jesus Christ

Seeing How the Old Testament Points to Jesus Christ

This article begins a new blog series on Jesus Christ in the Old Testament. Subscribe to our blog to receive each new article in your inbox. (Lee este artículo en español en The Gospel Coalition.)

How to Find Jesus in the Old TestamentHave you ever been lost in the middle of a city with no clue where you were or which way to go?

That is the experience of many Christians when they read the Old Testament. They open the Bible, begin reading, and soon find themselves in a place that seems totally different from the New Testament world. The seemingly random stories, genealogies, strange laws, and occasional talking donkey make for a sometimes confusing read.

If that’s you—don’t panic! This is a simple guide that will help you understand how Jesus relates to the Old Testament and will act as a road map to steer you in the right direction as you study God’s Word.

One Book with One Story about One Person

The Bible is one book telling one story that culminates in One Person: Jesus Christ. The discipline of Biblical Theology helps us see the overarching story of the Bible along with how each piece fits into the whole and testifies of Jesus Christ. The Old Testament prepares the way for and points to Christ, while the New Testament reveals and explains who He is. The Old Testament displays a “shadow” of Christ whom we experience in the New Testament (see Colossians 2:16-17).

A Simple Guide to Seeing Jesus Christ in the Old TestamentFor those who sometimes find themselves “lost” in the Old Testament, it is helpful to think of a system of streets, roads, avenues, and boulevards that all connect to one main highway. The main highway represents a major passage or a major theme in the Old Testament that connects us directly to Christ and ultimately to the gospel. In a system of roads there are many boulevards, avenues, side streets and alleys that are not on the main highway, though they eventually connect to it. We may be studying a passage that is on a side road off of the main highway. The important question to ask is: How does this passage get me to the main highway? Or, how does this passage connect with a main theme that points me towards Christ?

The goal for seeing how the Old Testament points to Jesus is not merely intellectual—it is to encounter the Lord of Creation and Savior of the world so we may believe in Him and find life in His Name (John 5:39-40; 20:30-31). What follows are two steps and three questions to help you find Jesus in an Old Testament passage.

  1. Study the passage in its original context.

Looking for Jesus is not like playing “Where’s Waldo” in the Old Testament. We should avoid forcing a passage to speak about Christ in a way that it wasn’t intended to. Doing so will distract from the passage’s original message and potentially diminish the true work of Christ. This is why we first understand a passage on its own terms before looking for Christ.

  1. Look for connections and work to understand it in its broader context.

Other passages in the Bible can provide clues such as words, phrases, quotations, or ideas that can lead you to Christ. Again, we don’t want to force anything. Just because the same word or thought appears in two different passages does not mean that the two passages are talking about the same thing. We should consider many things like the context and the use of particular words in order to make a wise decision about whether there is a true connection.

A good connection could come from one of the following:

  • A promise (like in Genesis 3:15 or Deuteronomy 18:15-18)
  • Symbols or typology (like the bronze snake in Numbers 23 or Jesus being the “Second Adam”)
  • Prophecies (Messianic or of the age to come)
  • Titles (like priest or prophet).
  • Themes (like God’s judgment or covenant. More on this below.)
  • Ideas related to redemption and salvation (act as an easy onramp to the main highway leading to Christ)

Three Helpful Questions to Consider as You Look for Connections

  1. Does the New Testament say anything about this topic or passage?

Sometimes the New Testament will quote a verse and provide direct clues to an Old Testament topic or passage. A wise student of Scripture continually seeks to develop his or her eye for connections between the Old and New Testaments as they read the Bible each day.

  1. How does this passage connect with a main theme that points me towards Christ?

Since the Bible is one story, we see various themes woven together that develop from the Old Testament to the New. We describe the Bible being like a rope that has many strands. The Bible has many events and themes, but they are all woven together into one story like strands of a rope. When you read an Old Testament passage and a biblical theme pops up, think ahead to how Christ fulfills and develops that theme.

Example: The presence of God. While Israel wandered the desert, God led Israel by a pillar of cloud by day and fire by night before instructing Moses to build the tabernacle, where God dwelt until the building of the temple in Jerusalem. Then God put on human flesh in the incarnation of Jesus Christ, and dwelt among us. The Spirit’s coming gave believers God’s Spirit to dwell in us, making us living stones to be built into a spiritual house (1 Peter 2:4-5). This theme finds its ultimate fulfillment in the New Heavens and New Earth where we know, “…the dwelling place of God is with man. He will dwell with them, and they will be his people, and God himself will be with them as their God” (Revelation 21:3).

  1. How does this passage aid my understanding of Christ and what he has done?

Your passage may not explicitly speak of Jesus, but it may speak of the Messiah or describe a person or thing that symbolizes Christ or points to who He will be and what He will do (examples include the Suffering Servant in Isaiah 52:13–53:12 or the Son of Man with all dominion in Daniel 7:13-14). Sometimes, though, a passage may only prepare the way for Christ. For instance, a passage may describe a desperate shortcoming in Israel’s leaders or a tragic situation among God’s people that points to Christ as the only one who can come and meet that need or make right the situation. (For example, the failures of Israel’s kings leave us with the realization of the need for a Messiah who will rule over God’s people in perfect righteousness.)

Over time, these steps and questions will help you navigate the sometimes confusing streets of the Old Testament and understand better God’s redemptive plan to send His Son into the world to save us from our sins. Our hope is that as you study, the Holy Spirit will reveal to you God’s riches in the Old Testament by shining the spotlight on Jesus Christ and filling you with joy in Him to the praise of His glorious grace.

This article introduces concepts and illustrations about Biblical Theology as taught by Leadership Resources. Learn more about our pastoral training programs Fellowship of the Word and Training National Trainers.

Authors: Paul Adams and Kevin Halloran.

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5 Crucial Questions Every Preacher Needs to Answer Before Preaching a Text

5 Crucial Questions for Preachers to Answer

A preacher’s task is not easy.

Practically, preaching takes many hours to write a good sermon to preach to a congregation, and theologically, preaching is a heavy responsibility not to be taken lightly. Scripture exhorts preachers to handle the Word of God correctly (2 Timothy 2:15) and to preach the Word (2 Timothy 4:2).

In 2 Timothy 4:1, Paul charges Timothy, in one of the most forceful ways imaginable, to preach the Word – reminding Timothy in the presence of God and of Christ of its necessity: “I charge you in the presence of God and of Christ Jesus, who is to judge the living and the dead, and by his appearing and his kingdom: Preach the Word…” 2 Timothy 4:1-2a

Faithfully proclaiming the Word of God needs to be a goal of every preacher. The Bible is a complex theological book, and finding the full meaning and richness of a passage will not usually happen without digging deeper into the passage and looking at it from different angles.

The five questions listed below are based on categories of thought about a text that we use in our Fellowship of the Word and Training National Trainers programs, in which we teach pastors around the world to faithfully exposit the Scriptures.

5 Crucial Questions Every Preacher Needs to Answer about a Text

  1. What is the Context of the passage?

You may have heard the common adage: “A text without a context is a pretext for a proof text,” which is to say that if a person does not study a portion of the Scripture in its proper context, the passage can be used to say things that God never intended.

  • Understanding the literary context of a passage (the surrounding paragraphs, chapters, and rest of the book) allows preachers to know how the passage fits into the flow of thought of the author’s message through the rest of the book.
  • Understanding the historical context (historical events, culture, religious practices, and geography) allows preachers to understand the situation into which the author was speaking. This is important because in most cases the biblical writers wrote for a specific audience in a certain time and place. Thousands of years later we can easily miss vital details that help tell the story or communicate the whole message.
  • Understanding the biblical context (or how a passage fits into the whole story and message of the Bible and how it points to Christ) allows preachers to see the heart of God in a deeper way as they see how a particular text relates to the gracious purpose and plan of God that comes to fulfillment in Jesus Christ. The biblical context helps connect major biblical themes and show the unfolding of God’s revelation in Jesus Christ.

Literary Historical and Biblical Context of Bible Passage Study to Preach

  1. What is the Structure of the passage?

The structure of a passage involves: (1) the parts of a passage – the units of thought that contain the major ideas of the passage, and (2) the connections of thought that hold the sections and major ideas of the passage together.

As we analyze a passage’s structure, we are better able to understand the main idea, supporting ideas, and smaller details. A faithful preacher seeks to understand the ways the author made his points, and then arrange ideas in a sermon the same way. This allows the Word of God to be communicated most like it was originally communicated.

An awareness and understanding of structure in the Bible brings a clarifying power to our preaching by understanding the major building blocks of the passage.

How do you find the structure of a passage?

  1. Look for patterns and shifts in thought. As you read the passage, what kind of patterns do you see that point to the major ideas the author is trying to convey? Also as you read, look for shifts in thought or a change in direction. These can be detected by a change in patterns.
  2. Divide the passage. After seeing the patterns and transitions in thought, divide the passage into sections that contain the major ideas. Write down the chapter and verse numbers for each section.
  3. Describe the major ideas. State the major idea of each section of the passage in one complete sentence.
  4. Find the connections of thought between the major ideas. How does one major idea connect or lead to the next? How do all of them connect together and reveal the direction of the author’s thoughts?

The main ideas in a passage should be like the beams of a bridge that hold up the overall message and help the reader get from one side of the passage to the other.

The Structure and Big Idea of Expository Preaching

  1. What is the Main Idea of the passage?

Once a preacher analyzes the structure of a passage, he is then able to find the main idea of the passage because he has seen how the biblical author makes the points he is making; which points are major, which are minor, and which are supporting points.

Finding the main idea of a passage helps us discover what God is saying through that passage and remain faithful to God’s intent. This main point becomes the focal point around which everything in a sermon is organized.

Here’s a helpful illustration: The Main Idea is like the rope or string of a necklace. A passage may have several important but smaller ideas (like beads on a necklace). The Main Idea is the central thought that connects all those important ideas and holds them together.

Finding the Main Idea in A Biblical Text - Expository Preaching

Finding the main idea of a passage involves combining the answers to two essential questions into one complete thought (a complete sentence):

  1. What general idea is this passage talking about?
  2. What specifically is it saying about that idea?

A few tips for finding the big idea of a Bible passage:

  • Pray for God’s wisdom and insight
  • Look for connections between how a passage begins and ends
  • Look for a repetition of key words or ideas
  • Look for a summary verse
  • Look for conclusions or purpose statements (typically beginning with “so that” or “therefore”)
  • Analyze the flow or development of thought through the passage
  1. How does this text point to Christ? (Biblical Theology)

The Bible is not a random collection of books; rather, it is one united book made up of several books that come together to tell one story about one person, Jesus Christ, and the salvation He brings (Luke 24:27; John 5:39-40). Without understanding how a text relates to Jesus Christ and the Gospel, a preacher’s work can at best be labeled incomplete.

Nobody reads random chunks of Shakespeare on its own without knowing the greater story. In the same way, preachers are to understand how the text they preach fits into the entire story of the Bible and how it points to the gospel of Jesus Christ.

Not every text will relate to Christ in the same way or to the same degree. It can be helpful to imagine the Bible as a system of roads that all lead to Jesus Christ. Some portions of Scripture act as a main highway that quickly carries readers directly to Christ, while some passages act as a series of side streets, boulevards, avenues and on-ramps that connect to Christ more indirectly. No matter what road one is on, it is eventually leading to Jesus Christ.

Biblical Theology - Finding Jesus Christ in the Old Testament Illustration

  1. How can we apply this text to our lives today? (Application)

The ultimate goal to reading and preaching Scripture is not to know information, but rather to be transformed by the God’s Word to glorify God and enjoy Him forever. Application involves knowing what God’s Word says and conforming your life to it. If you read the Word and neglect to be a doer of the Word, you deceive yourself (James 1:22).

Application is not simply making a list of do’s and don’ts but rather involves a change of heart and mind. A preacher has the task to not only explain Scripture clearly to listeners, but also to apply it in a way that listeners know how they need to think and live differently in light of God’s truth.

Preachers should ask the following questions to help apply the text to life:

  • What does this passage tell us about God?
  • How should that change our hearts?
  • How should we live as a result?
  • Is there any application already in the text?
  • Does the passage give some command or exhortation for how we should live?
  • How does the situation of our lives today correspond with the situation of the original audience? What is similar?
  • What did God say to them about those things that are similar, and how would that apply to the similar circumstances in our lives?
Traveling Instructions A Trip to Corinth

(Illustration based on original material © The Proclamation Trust with kind permission. www.proctrust.org.uk)

Leadership Resources teaches the five principles these questions are based on in our Fellowship of the Word and Training National Trainers (TNT) workshops. We know that to really learn a skill like properly exegeting the Word of God, it is tremendously beneficial to practice honing skills under guided supervision. Our programs in the US and around the world involve long-term relationships built through eight intensive training sessions over the course of four years.

We teach these principles (and several more) in a variety of different ways:

  • Demonstrate Sessions: We begin and end each session of TNT with a sample sermon that demonstrates what a good expository sermon looks like. Trainees see the power of God through the clear explanation and application of Scripture.
  • Do Sessions: Each workshop gives those trained an opportunity to practice and demonstrate their ability to exegete a text. Trainees prepare and present a five minute sermon analyzing a text with the five main categories in mind (the five questions above), and provide feedback for one another. This exercise allows trainees to practice these principles as well as evaluate the work of others. The second half of these sessions involves Leadership Resources staff leading a group discussion on the meaning of the text and additional feedback.
  • Dig & Discover Sessions: Many of our hermeneutical principles are introduced and reviewed in our Dig & Discover Sessions. These sessions give trainees an introduction to a specific principle by seeing it put into practice and also by practicing themselves.

You can learn more about Leadership Resources by browsing what we dohearing stories of transformation, or by getting involved.

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Repenting Pastors: A Sign of God’s Word and Spirit at Work

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Dear Friends,

We keep hearing pastors repent…what’s going on?

1Pastor Solomon

“Looking back over the past 17 years of ministry, I am ashamed of most of my teaching and preaching. I have to repent.” Solomon spoke with deep emotion during his TNT (Training National Trainers) graduation ceremony in Ethiopia as he repented from preaching his own thoughts, rather than God’s thoughts as revealed in the Scriptures.

2Pastor Mikael

Mikael also experienced transformation in Ethiopia. Here’s what he told us after spending several days with us in the book of Jonah…

Jonah’s rebellion reminded me of my rebellion. Jonah fled from God’s command. When I looked in the mirror, I realized that I too am in rebellion. Jesus said in Matthew 28 to “go and preach the gospel”. I’m not doing that and my church is not doing that. God is returning us to our original mission.

3Pastor James

Hearing Mikael, reminded me of James, a pastor living in a repressive country in Asia. James also had a “Jonah experience”. He told us…

My heart is worse than Jonah’s. Jonah hated the Ninevites and I hate the communists because of the way they’ve persecuted my brothers and sisters. I actually have found myself hoping that they are condemned to hell. Now I realize how hard my heart is….I repent…please pray for me.

We Rejoice When Pastors Repent

It means that our training is not simply an academic exercise, but a transformative encounter with both the Word of God and the Spirit of God.

Might you, too, experience this same transformation as you spend time in his precious Word this year.

With gratitude in Christ,

Craig ParroCraig Parro


PS: This month our Africa team is in Uganda where our partners have recently launched five(!) pastor-training groups and are eager to launch two more(!!) once funds are available. Would you please send a generous gift today so that pastors all over Uganda might repent to become faithful teachers and preachers of God’s Word?

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