Question: "Is Jesus in the Old Testament?"
Answer: Jesus shows up often in the Old Testament—not by that name, and not in the same form as we see Him in the New Testament, but He is there nonetheless. The theme of the entire Bible is Christ.
Jesus Himself confirmed the fact that He is in the Old Testament. In John 5:46 He explained to some religious leaders who had challenged Him that the Old Testament was talking about Him: “If you believed Moses, you would believe me, for he wrote about me.” According to Jesus, God’s work with man since time began all pointed to Him. Another time when Jesus showed that He is in the Old Testament was on the day of His resurrection. Jesus was walking with two of His disciples, and “beginning with Moses and all the Prophets, he explained to them what was said in all the Scriptures concerning himself” (Luke 24:27). Earlier, before His crucifixion, Jesus had pointed to Isaiah 53:12 and said, “It is written: ‘And he was numbered with the transgressors’ and I tell you that this must be fulfilled in me. Yes, what is written about me is reaching its fulfillment” (Luke 22:37).
By some counts, more than 300 Old Testament prophecies point to Jesus Christ and were fulfilled by Him in His life on earth. These include prophecies about His unique birth (Isaiah 7:14), His earthly ministry (Isaiah 61:1), and even the way He would die (Psalm 22). Jesus shocked the religious establishment when He stood up in the synagogue of Nazareth and read from Isaiah 61, concluding with this commentary: “This scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing today” (Luke 4:18–21).
Another way that Jesus is in the Old Testament is in the form of Christophanies—pre-incarnate appearances of the Son of God. The Old Testament uses the term angel of the Lord interchangeably with the Lord in reference to these visitations. One Christophany is found in Genesis 18:1–33 when the Lord appeared to Abram in human form. Such tangible encounters with deity are scattered throughout the Old Testament (Genesis 16:7–14; 22:11–18; Judges 5:23; 2 Kings 19:35; Daniel 3:25).
But there are even deeper ways that Jesus is found in the Old Testament. These are seen in what we call “types.” A type is a person or thing in the Old Testament that foreshadows a person or thing in the New. For example, Moses can be seen as a type of Christ. Like Jesus, Moses’ birth was significant, he confronted the evil powers of the day, and he led his people to freedom through a miraculous deliverance. The life of Joseph is another that can be seen as typical of the life of Christ.
Many Old Testament historical events double as symbols of what God would do in the future, through Christ. For example, God called Abraham to offer his son Isaac as a sacrifice. Abraham uttered these prophetic words in response to Isaac’s question about a lamb: “God himself will provide the lamb for the burnt offering, my son” (Genesis 22:8). God did provide a ram in Isaac’s place, symbolizing what He would do thousands of years later on that very mountain when His own Son was offered as a sacrifice in our place (Matthew 27:33). Events surrounding the sacrifice of Isaac thus serve as a type of the sacrifice of Christ.
Jesus referred to another event in Israel’s history as a foreshadowing of His crucifixion. In the wilderness, the people following Moses had sinned, and God sent serpents among them to bite them. The people were dying, and they appealed to Moses for help. God told Moses to make a bronze serpent and place it on a pole. All those who looked to it would be healed (Numbers 21:4–19). Jesus alluded to this incident in John 3:14–15: “Just as Moses lifted up the snake in the wilderness, so the Son of Man must be lifted up, that everyone who believes in Him may have eternal life in him.”
God’s design for the tabernacle is another way that Jesus is in the Old Testament. The altar in the courtyard symbolizes the need for Jesus’ sacrifice to atone for our sin. The laver shows Jesus as providing the water of life (John 4:14). Inside the Holy Place, the lampstand is suggestive of Jesus as the light of the world (John 9:5). The table of showbread is Jesus as the bread of life (John 6:35). In the altar of incense is seen Jesus as our heavenly intercessor, continually offering prayers for us (Romans 8:34; Hebrews 7:25). According to Hebrews 10:20, the veil before the ark of the covenant is a picture of Jesus’ human flesh.
The Son of God is not just in the New Testament; Jesus is in the Old Testament, too. Jesus is God’s promised Messiah. From the virgin birth in Bethlehem (Isaiah 7:14; Luke 1:35; Micah 5:2), through the sojourn to Egypt (Hosea 11:1; Matthew 2:14–15), to His ministry of healing and hope (Genesis 3:15; 1 John 3:8), all the way through His resurrection (Psalm 16:9–11; Acts 2:31), Jesus Christ is the theme of both Old and New Testaments. It could be said that Jesus is the reason for the Bible. He is the Living Word. The entire Bible is a beacon that points us to God’s offer of reconciliation, the hope of forgiveness and eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord.