Christ’s arrival on this planet two thousand years ago wasn’t some divine plan B after God’s failed attempts at redemption in the Old Testament. Rather, everything that took place in the Old Testament pointed to, and culminated in, the coming of Messiah. Sending the Savior had always been God’s plan, from eternity past.
“God, after He spoke long ago to the fathers in the prophets in many portions and in many ways, in these last days has spoken to us in His Son, whom He appointed heir of all things, through whom also He made the world” (Hebrews 1:1–2). The Old Testament was simply God speaking to the Jewish people (“the fathers”) through the prophets in many different ways and at a number of different times, as the divine timetable marched inexorably toward the Savior’s arrival.
The prophets were men who spoke for God, and they did so “in many portions,” or various times throughout history. In other words, God’s Spirit spoke through the Old Testament writers in thirty-nine different books. And these books come to us in various literary forms: Much of the literature is narrative prose and history, much is prophecy, some is poetry, and a little appears as the law.
Furthermore, God’s servants received His words “in many ways,” or by different methods. Sometimes He spoke to them directly in audible words. At other times He spoke to them indirectly and prompted their minds with the thoughts He wanted conveyed. Then there were other methods by which God communicated His truth—parables, types, symbols, ceremonies, and even stone tablets (the Ten Commandments). But all of it was inspired, inerrant, and truly what God wanted written, the way He wanted it written.
The Old Testament is basically progressive revelation; it moves from a lesser degree of completeness to a fuller degree of completeness. It begins with what the apostle Paul later called the basic elements (Galatians 4:3, 9; Colossians 2:8, 20), the early rules and regulations under the law. Then it spells things out in greater detail through types and ceremonies. Finally, the prophetic books develop a more complete understanding of God’s redemptive program (1 Peter 1:10–12).
The writer of Hebrews and other New Testament writers recognized that all those features of the Old Testament affirmed its divine character. When Paul wrote, “All Scripture is inspired by God” (2 Timothy 3:16), he was referring to the Old Testament. And Peter was doing likewise when he said, “No prophecy of Scripture is a matter of one’s own interpretation . . . but men moved by the Holy Spirit spoke from God” (2 Peter 1:20–21).
Hebrews 1 shows that Jesus Christ is both the culmination and theme of Old Testament Scripture. From Genesis 3:15 (the first allusion to Christ and the gospel) to Malachi 4:1–3 (a reference to Christ’s returning in judgment against the ungodly), the Lord Jesus is the subject all the way through the Old Testament. He’s the One pictured in the sacrifices and ceremonies detailed in the five books of Moses. He’s the great prophet and King who’s promised time and again (Numbers 24:17; Deuteronomy 18:15, 18; Psalm 2:6; 24:7–10; 45:6; 89:27; Isaiah 9:7; 32:1; 42:1–2; 52:7; 61:1; Jeremiah 23:5; Daniel 7:14; Micah 5:2; Zechariah 9:9).
However, the Old Testament preparation for Christ is incomplete and fragmentary. Not one of its books or writers presents the entire picture of the Savior. We get only a partial view here and a partial insight there—and the inspired writers presented those over a fifteen-hundred-year period. As the apostle Peter says,
“As to this salvation, the prophets who prophesied of the grace that would come to you made careful searches and inquiries, seeking to know what person or time the Spirit of Christ within them was indicating as He predicted the sufferings of Christ and the glories to follow.” (1 Peter 1:10–11)
The prophets couldn’t sort everything out; they wondered exactly whom they were writing about and precisely when everything would occur.
The Old Testament’s progressive revelation prepared its readers for the coming of Christ. But no one saw a complete picture of the Messiah until He actually came in the New Testament.
The writer of Hebrews affirms that Christ is the full revelation of God when he says that God “in these last days has spoken to us in His Son” (Hebrews 1:2). When Jesus came, God presented the entire picture. And that’s where we’ll pick it up next time.
(Adapted from God in the Manger)