The Bible — the Old and New Testaments — is one continuous grand narrative. In the great historical narrative of the Bible, we discover that God reveals himself over time. He does not give us everything all at once. Instead, He works in history and provides a dramatic unfolding story in Scripture in which his purposes and plans become increasingly clearer in ever richer and expanding ways until ultimately all things are summed up in Christ, the promised Jewish Messiah.
Jesus plainly told his disciples that they — and by extension we — are to understand the Hebrew Scriptures in light of his work. After the resurrection, for example, Jesus appeared to two of his disciples on the road to Emmaus. He said to them, “How foolish you are, and how slow of heart to believe all that the prophets have spoken. Did not the Christ have to suffer these things and then enter his glory? And beginning with Moses and all the Prophets, he explained to them what was said in all the Scriptures concerning himself.” (Luke 24:25-27)
What an astounding claim! On this road to Emmaus and then later to the rest of the disciples, Jesus made himself as the Christ (i.e. Messiah) the focus of the entire cannon of the Hebrew Scriptures. He is explaining to them that He himself is the climatic event in the biblical narrative that explains all of the others. A bit further in the same chapter He says to them, “This is what I told you while I was still with you: Everything must be fulfilled that is written about me in the Law of Moses, the Prophets and the Psalms.” (Luke 24:44)
Again Jesus is disclosing that the whole of the Scripture — that is, the entirety of what we now know as the Old Testament — finds its focus and fulfillment in the life, death and resurrection of Israel’s Messiah.
The Hebrew Scriptures and its many prophetic paradoxes concerning the Messiah would remain as mysteries if they had not been solved by the appearance of Christ. As reflected in Christ’s disciple’s own difficulty in seeing how the Scriptures pointed to him, one cannot work out exclusively from the Hebrew Scriptures who it points to. The hundreds of messianic prophecies that are spread throughout the Hebrew Scriptures could not be harmonized or understood without the light thrown on them by their fulfillment. Author John Bright offers a helpful analogy. He compares the two testaments to acts in a play with the Old Testament as Act I to the New Testament’s Act II. An audience cannot expect to show up during the intermission and understand Act II, nor can an audience leave at the intermission with an understanding of the play based only on seeing Act I.
Jesus is the answer to the Old Testament expectations, but he also redefines them to the point that we ultimately discover that the complete story turns out to be richer, wider, fuller, grander and more surprising, creative and all-encompassing than anything any of us could have possibly dreamed up. Author Marvin Rosenthal expressed it well: “To suggest that mere men maneuvered and manipulated to make the myriad of events surrounding the birth of Christ fit the Old Testament pattern is ludicrous. Far easier would it be to disassemble a complex watch, throw the dismembered parts into a running clothes dryer and believe that in due course, given enough time, the watch would be whole, running on time, to the very second.”