Friday, April 28, 2006

Jesus in the Old Testament

I recently sent an e-mail to my step-son, and I thought I'd share it with you. He does not share our faith (yet!)

Hey there,

I was just reading my Bible and a conversation you and I had once came to my mind. I remember telling you that every story in the Old Testament was about Jesus, and in fact, you can preach Jesus from every verse. You were skeptical, and we never got back to it. Something just popped into my head that I thought you might find interesting in your relaxed moments. I know you don't read the Bible a whole lot, but I know you read it some, so when you do, I have a couple of things you might find it fun to look for - kind of like a 'treasure hunt' from the old children's games.

One of the things about the Old Testament that Christians love is that it's filled with representations about the person and life of Jesus that show Him consistently throughout the entire Israeli history. In each story, there's what I call "The message behind the message." The fun is in figuring out what the underlying message is. To do that, you have to understand a little of the symbology of the Bible. For instance:

Moses was told by God to put a bronze snake on a standard in the wilderness so that when the people were bitten by poisonous snakes they could just "look" to the snake and they would be saved from the effects of the poison. They didn't have to do anything to be freed from the effects of the poison. No medicine, no sucking the venom out, no praying or kneeling or dancing around or anything. Just 'look.' Seems pretty arbitrary. Why a snake? Why just 'look'? Why not pray? Why not go down on your knees in worship? If I'd been writing the story, I don't know what I'd have come up with, but I can tell you it wouldn't have been that.

But the whole point of this story is to illustrate the concept of "salvation by grace" as it's represented in the New Testament. The snakes represent sin - both the ones that are biting the Israelites and are killing them, and the one on the pole. The poison represents the effects of the sin on us personally. The pole itself represents the "tree of Calvary," or the cross. The New Testament tells us that "Jesus became sin for us," so the snake on the standard is a perfect representation of Jesus on the cross. The idea of "looking" to the snake is the idea that all we have to do is "look" to the savior and we'll be saved from the sin that is killing us. We don't have to work for our place in heaven - we just have to trust that He's there, and 'look' to Him and believe that He'll save us from the poison in our lives, and we'll be healed. Saved by grace (the unmerited favor and love of God) and not works.

Throughout the Old Testament, there are symbols and stories like that that point directly to the New Testament concepts that Jesus brought to us. Here's a list of some of them. Be on the lookout for them as you read the Old Testament. This is why I have so much fun reading the Bible, and why I can't hardly put it down. Every day is a fantastic treasure hunt for me - to find the symbols and the "message behind the message" and learn something new about Jesus.

Snakes or serpents - sin

Blood sacrifices
- Jesus' sacrificial death on the cross

Lambs or anything 'innocent' that is without blemish or defect
- Jesus Himself, representing his "without sin" nature - the only way He could be used to atone for us.

The colors red or scarlet
- Jesus' blood, shed to protect and save us. (See the story of Rahab the Harlot and the "scarlet thread." She actually became an ancestor of Jesus')

Egypt - The World without the influence of Christ (the sinful world), or sin itself.

Oil - The Holy Spirit (Christians believe that when we accept Jesus as our "snake on the standard," that His Spirit literally enters our bodies and serves to guide us and is a mediator and communicator between us and God. He also gives us understanding about who God is and how to interpret the Bible.)

Light (such as a lighted candle or lamp, or fire where the light is highlighted as opposed to the heat or destructive properties) - represents the "light of the World" - Jesus himself.

Bread - represents the provision of God to take care of His people as He promised.

Thickets or thorns - The crown of thorns. See the story where Abraham took Isaac to the mountain to sacrifice him. God substituted a Ram whose horns were stuck in the thorns. A perfect picture of Jesus as the sacrifice with His crown of thorns.

Broken earthen vessels
- Represents us (Christians) as we are 'broken' in our journey to learn more about Him and to trust Him. It's the 'breaking' that allows us to show the light of Jesus to the world (see the story of Gideon and the power of the light). When we continue to love Him and trust Him and remain joyful in spite of our brokenness, then people see it and are drawn to it. Without being broken, we have no light to offer that the world doesn't already have.

Kinsman Redeemer - Jesus, as our closest relative, "purchased" us back from Satan. See the story of Ruth for the concept of the kinsman redeemer.

Crosses - The physical formation of the tabernacle's and the Temple's elements form a cross. The physical representation of the tribes around the tabernacle in the wilderness formed a cross. The blood on the doorposts of the Israelites homes prior to the "Passover" formed two crosses. These were all way before the Romans invented the concept of the cross as a means of execution. See the story of Balaam and Balak (the one with the talking donkey). As Balaam looked down from the mountain and tried to curse the Israelites and could only bless them, he was looking at this cross formation from the high mountain.

Trees - The cross.

Incense or fragrances of any kind - prayer.

Water - The Word of God - Scripture itself. "The washing of the water of the Word" is a concept where we are cleansed internally by reading, understanding and incorporating into our lives the Biblical concepts. Or sometimes it represents the saving nature of Jesus as when the Israelites were miraculously saved by the water coming out of the rock. We sort of see that as one and the same, since John chapter 1 calls Jesus "The Word."

Rocks - Jesus Himself.

Anyway, I there's a lot more (the Jewish marriage customs, for instance), but that's a good list to start with. As you come across these elements in the stories you read, substitute the meanings and representations above, and see if you don't see what I mean when I say that every story is about Jesus. And the bigger messages and lessons are always consistent. Once you start seeing it this way, you can really start to see the threads and patterns throughout the entire Old Testament. That's when it becomes clear that the Bible's not 66 books - it's one book with one plot and one Main Character. The rest are just sub-plots and illustrations.

I hope you have fun with this. Share your thoughts with me.

Love - Sue

In response to the question about resources with more information, my primary sources are the Matthew Henry Commentary, and my personal favorite, Jon Courson's Commentaries (New Testament and two volumes of the Old Testament) available on