In the first Bible study I ever led, I did something stupid: I took the group through the book of Daniel. It wasn’t a complete disaster, but in hindsight it wasn’t something I could call good. Why? Because someone kind of important was missing:
At the time I was a far newer believer than today. I loved the Bible, but I didn’t know the “big story” well. I couldn’t see the big picture—that all of Scripture is about Jesus.
If I could build myself a time machine and go and visit past-me, I’d do two important things:
First, I’d tell past-me to smarten up and read some good books before trying to teach a book (any book!) of the Bible.
Second, I’d put a copy of David Murray’s Jesus on Every Page: 10 Simple Ways to Seek and Find Christ in the Old Testament in past-me’s hands.
Murray, Professor of Old Testament and Practical Theology at Puritan Reformed Theological Seminary, wants Christians to read the Old Testament Christianly—that is, to see it for the piece of Christian Scripture that it is. It’s the Bible Jesus read. The Bible Jesus taught. The Bible Jesus Himself said testifies to Himself.
So wouldn’t it be in our best interest to know what it says?
The challenge for many of us, though, is we don’t know where to start. That’s why Murray gives us what he calls the “gospel keys” of legitimately seeing Christ in the Old Testament:
1. The New interprets the Old. The Old Testament is all about Jesus, specifically his sufferings and his glory; it is therefore right to interpret the Old Testament in light of the New (despite, Murray contends, what some academics will tell you—including an OT prof who banned the use of the NT in his classroom [p. 15]). “What’s the Old Testament all about? Jesus’ emphatic answer is ‘Me! Me! Me!'” (18)
2. The prophets knew of whom they spoke. According to Peter, the prophets “testified beforehand the sufferings of Christ and the glories that would follow” (1 Pet. 11). The prophets predicted and studied their own predictions—but they already knew the “who,” Murray says. They were more concerned with the “when” and “how.”
3. The covenant at Sinai was a covenant of grace. Paul’s raging against the Law in Galatians and elsewhere isn’t because he was negative about the Old Testament as designed by God, “but about the Old Testament as perverted by man” (26). Paul, Murray says, recognized the Law was actually a gift of grace—in his white-hot anger in Galatians, “Paul is making a distinction between the Old Testament as rightly understood and the Old Testament as warped and perverted by Judaizing legalists” (ibid).
4. Grace magnifies, rather than replaces. John’s contrast of the law being given through Moses and grace and truth coming through Jesus Christ (John 1:17) is not a contrast between the law and grace, a contrast of degree. “Both verbs [‘given’ (edothe) and ‘came’ (egento)] highlight divine graciousness, but the second intensifies and magnifies the first. The law was merely given; in Jesus grace came,” Murray writes (38). This better helps us to understand the NT claim that Jesus fulfilled the Old Testament.
These interpretive keys are important, especially the second and third. We, understandably, get confused when it comes to how salvation “works” in the Old Testament. Were OT believers saved in a different fashion than we are today? Were they saved by works and we by faith? Murray makes it exceptionally clear: “the gospel of Abraham was the gospel of Moses. And both were the gospel of Jesus” (32) The covenant at Sinai was given after the people were redeemed—rightly understood, obedience to the Law was a response to God’s grace.
Likewise, Murray explains, “the prophets ministered the same ‘things’ that the apostles ‘now reported.’ The Old Testament ‘things’ and the New Testament ‘reports’ were identical in substance.”
The major difference, apart from the clothes that dressed up the truths, was that since Pentecost, the New Testament “reports” were accompanied by a greater measure of the “Holy Spirit sent down from heaven,” giving the preaching greater power and better enlightening the minds of the hearers. (23-24)
Although what I’ve described above makes us the content of only the first few chapters, they are foundational to the rest of the book—and to the church reengaging the Old Testament. These gospel keys are what prevent us from falling prey to fanciful and misguided notions of expunging the Old Testament from our canon, as if it had nothing to say to us or presented a different God than the one shown in the New. Differences do exist, to be sure, but, as Murray explains again and again, those differences are matters of degree of revelation, not of character.
One thing is clear as you read Jesus on Every Page: Murray’s excitement for the subject matter is palpable, particularly when he shares 10 ways we can find Jesus in the Old Testament. Jesus can be found in creation, in the characters we meet, in the Law itself, in the history of God’s people, in the OT prophets, in the work of Israel’s poets… Christ is everywhere—even showing up in person on occasion.
Of all of these, there are two that are likely to cause some head scratching from readers:
The first is finding Christ in the people of the OT. Often we approach the stories of David, Boaz, Samson and so many others as mere morality tales. We look for heroes and villains, rather than, as John Owen put it, recognized that “Old Testament examples are New Testament instructions.” These people do not exist in a Christ-less vacuum, but they specifically show us Christ. Their strengths exemplify Jesus and their weaknesses point us to our need for the greater David, the better Boaz, the faithful Samson. Christ’s people show us Christ, and when we present them as mere “moral examples” hinder our own spiritual health and dishonor Christ.
The second is Christ’s actual appearances in the Old Testament. This is probably the most challenging area of any discussion of finding Christ in the Old Testament—partly because it’s difficult for us to understand the idea of Jesus showing up physically 4000 years before His incarnation. But if Jesus is the Eternal Son of God, if He has truly existed for all time, and if it’s true that Jesus is the usual and supreme way God speaks to humanity, it should not surprise that He would appear to humanity before His incarnation.
The chief way Jesus appears is as the Angel of the Lord—”a special Angel [who] appears from time to time in the Old Testament, an Angel who is given divine titles, performs divine functions, and accepts divine worship” (77). This Angel is the Son of God, says Murray, before showing six proofs of his divinity—that he claims divine authority, is a distinct divine person, exhibits divine attributes, performs divine actions, receives divine homage and is even identified as God.
Recognizing that the Angel of the Lord, this special Messenger, is Christ in human form (if not in human flesh), again protects us from shipwrecking our faith in failing to understand the continuity of the Old and New Testaments. If we treat the Angel of the Lord as a created, subordinate being, we may as well sign up to become Jehovah’s Witnesses. And while the Kingdom Halls around my city would no doubt love more people to come (provided they call in advance), I’ve no interest in embracing the heresy of Arianism.
All Scriptures bear witness about Jesus (John 5:39). Jesus is in every story, every poem, every prophecy—and Jesus on Every Page shows us that seeing Him there it’s not as hard as we think. I can’t recommend this book highly enough—read it for the good of your soul and encourage others to do the same.
Title: Jesus on Every Page: 10 Simple Ways to Seek and Find Christ in the Old Testament
Author: David Murray
Publisher: Thomas Nelson (2013)