Help! I’m Looking for Jesus in the OT

I wonder how many pastors have felt overwhelmingly discouraged in the midst of preaching through an Old Testament book. You’ve been preaching through Paul’s letters for years, and you decide to spend the summer in Judges. Your first sermon began with a splash! Israel conquers Canaan by the power and might of the Lord. You skillfully point to Christ’s conquest over our enemies at the cross, referring back to the promise to crush the head of the Serpent and then to the promise of Christ’s return to destroy all those who afflict his people. You wonder why so many people complain about the difficulties of preaching the gospel from the Old Testament.

But let’s face it. It’s only easy if we preach the same sermon every week. What do you do with Othneil, Ehud, and Shamgar in Judges 3? And then we’re faced with Deborah’s song in Judges 5! You try commentaries. They give great background information and help with the literary form. You even find out there are seven different chiasms in Deborah’s song. But you want to preach Christ and him crucified, and the experts offer little to no help. Why are they of no help?

Maybe you’ve noticed that many Old Testament commentators are hesitant to look forward to Christ, while many New Testament commentators feel free to point out Old Testament themes, types, and allusions to Christ and his gospel. While we watch and pray for more Old Testament scholars to help us see Christ in the Old Testament (thankfully, there are some), we can make use of the resources that may not be obvious to us.

I’m not the first person to lament the hesitancy of Old Testament commentators to look forward to Christ. Tim Keller and Edmund Clowney brought up the problem in their lecture series “Preaching Christ in a Postmodern World” (2001). In the second session, they asked, “What commentaries are helpful in preaching Christ throughout the whole Bible?” Both Keller and Clowney recognized that Old Testament commentaries are generally not a great help for seeing Christ. But they gave some great advice: Use the Scripture indexes of New Testament commentaries and biblical theologies.

1. Commentaries

You might profitably start with commentaries on Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John. A commentary like D. A. Carson’s The Gospel According to John labors to display how the person, work, and teachings of Christ fulfill the hopes and expectations of the Old Testament (see his commentary on John 3:5, for example). Exploring the Scripture index will show you how the commentator has dealt with the Old Testament text. You may also find leads on commentaries, books, or articles that the writer found helpful. Tim Keller made the remark that “My sermon-breaking moment is often when I see how a New Testament scholar deals with my obscure 2 Chronicles passage.” See, also, Carson’s New Testament Commentary Survey for more guidance on which NT commentaries are more helpful for historical redemptive purposes.

2. Bible Theologies

Edmund Clowney makes the point that you don’t get the full meaning of the passage until you see how it relates to the rest of the Bible. There are books like G. K. Beale’s We Become What We Worship: A Biblical Theology of Idolatry or T. Desmond Alexander and Simon Gathercole’s Heaven on Earth: The Temple in Biblical Theology that develop a particular theme through the Bible in order to show how Christ is the hope or expectation of an Old Testament figure, promise, or institution. The Scripture indexes to these books can often bring out the “big picture” context to your Old Testament text. Thankfully, many publishing houses have started entire biblical theology series, and usually they come as affordable paperbacks. Here are a few good ones:

•   New Studies in Biblical Theology (IVP), series editor, D. A. Carson

•   Exploration of Biblical Theology (P&R), series editor, Robert A. Peterson

•   Biblical Theology for Life (Zondervan), series editor, Jonathan Lunde

This certainly doesn’t solve all the difficulties of preaching Christ in the Old Testament. The challenges seem different for every book and genre. But as we labor to show the promises of God kept in Christ, every little bit helps.


In the comments below, Tim Keller made a few suggestions that are worth including:

G. K. Beale & D. A. Carson, Commentary on the New Testament Use of the Old Testament

Lealand Ryken and Tremper Longman, Dictionary of Biblical Imagery

  • Tim Keller

    Hey John–

    When Ed and I gave those lectures we didn’t have the great resource of Beale/Carson, “Commentary on the New Testament Use of the Old Testament”. It is an absolute treasure trove for preaching Christ from the Old Testament. When you are working through the OT text, the Scripture index in the back will give you every place where the NT authors use or even allude to your OT text. That shows how the inspired NT writers preached Christ from the Old Testament, and nothing could be more instructive for preachers today.

    Another text that’s helpful for this work is Ryken/Longman, “Dictionary of Biblical Imagery”. It traces out inter-canonical themes as well as illumines the metaphors Biblical writers use. The themes are most important, since they always climax in Christ.

    Those who want to “preach Christ from every text” often lapse into allegorizing, which sounds the same every week and will sound far-fetched and unpersuasive to the listeners. But these two texts (together with those listed in your post) will help the preacher connect the Old Testament text to Christ in an exegetically responsibly and theologically rich way.

  • Phil Mollohan

    I tried to follow the links: “Preaching Christ in a Postmodern World” and “second session” you had referred to but was unsuccessful. It says the links aren’t to be found. Was interested in them.

    • Collin Hansen

      Thanks for letting us know, Phil. The links should be fixed now.

  • Nathan Bierma

    I’m a fan of good Old Testament preaching, but I am a little leary of ‘finding Christ hiding under every rock in the OT.’ I think Tim Keller is one of the best examples of doing it right: telling the OT as the story of God’s people, and God’s intervention in the world, and ending up (but not prematurely racing to!) the cross.

    There are some other good examples at our new audio archive for the Center for Excellence in Preaching: ; I should highlight individual ones but for the sake of time let me just point you to all the Genesis sermons, which I think are some of the best in our collection:

    • Steve Lynch

      Jesus in not hiding under every rock… He IS the ROCK.

      Deut 32:4 [He is] the Rock, his work [is] perfect: for all his ways [are] judgment: a God of truth and without iniquity, just and right [is] he.

      There’s a prophetic model to the Rock that Moses struck at Horeb… and the second rock that he struck later disobedient to God’s commands… It was a serious enough infraction that God punished Moses by not allowing him into the Promised Land.

      If he had done what God had commanded… It would have been a model of Christ’s First and Second Coming. The First time he was struck (bruised for our iniquities)… the second time will be when the nation of Israel will call out for their Messiah to come for them…

      I’m sorry that you feel leary about finding Christ in the different types and models of the Old Testament Nathan… but the fact is… that is exactly what Jesus taught the two disciples on the Emmaus Road… and their hearts burned within them as he opened up the scriptures. There are several examples of this kind of teaching in the book of Acts… and always it resulted in people getting saved.

      Hosea 12:10 affirms the teaching of Models and types to us throughout the scripture: “I have also spoken by the prophets, and I have multiplied visions, and used similitudes, by the ministry of the prophets.”

      I’ve got a really good lesson on Ruth that explains this better if you are interested.

  • Daniel F. Wells

    My favorite book on temple symbolism and fulfillment in the NT is Beale’s book on the subject. Simply the best in its field.

    Clowney’s various books and articles I have found to be most helpful. I am leading our church through a Sunday school series on seeing Christ in the OT. It’s been a rich study. I would say that Keller and Clowney’s RTS course is an invaluable resource in this area.

  • James S

    Speaking of Judges, I find some of the best commentaries on that book very cheaply. One is an old paperback you can find for like a buck on or, David Jackman on Judges & Ruth in the “Mastering the Old Testament” series.
    Also, Barry Webb on Judges in the latest ‘New Bible Commentary’ is a good piece, and if you can find the version of ‘New Bible Commentary’ just previous to the latest one, F. F. Bruce has a good overview in that one. Either of those books are great bargains considering all of the excellent content in them.
    Kind of off-topic, but I just had to share it.

    • John

      Thanks, James. David Jackman is a wonderful resource, as is most everything from Proclamation Trust.

  • Matt S.

    Thanks for this post, John. One more (new) volume worth noting is Jim Hamilton’s biblical theology, “The Glory of God in Salvation through Judgment” []. Hamilton travels book-by-book through the whole Bible and unfolds its majestic interconnectedness throughout.

  • Justin

    FWIW, Souther Seminary’s magazine from Spring 2008 has a short article on preaching Christ from Judges (p. 16):

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  • Jason DeRouchie

    Thanks for this insightful post. Just yesterday in the Bethlehem College & Seminary’s weekly staff meeting I expressed my grief that so few OT professors in our seminaries even attempt to model for students how to find the majesty of the Gospel and the beauty of Jesus from the first three-fourths of our Bible. Why should pastors have to rely on the insights of NT scholars alone to meet Jesus in the OT? Yet this is truly the case in the majority of instances. I wonder, is this why the Gospel Coalition spring conference on this topic has no OT professors on the roster to provide key-note addresses? This fact was very striking and even sad to me. It is not a poor reflection on the coalition but on the state of the Church. May God, in coming decades, help me and other OT professors do a better job pushing ourselves and our students to see what the NT authors saw in the OT–namely, the majesty of the Gospel and the beauty of Jesus. The results will only be that those serving in the trenches will be better equipped for proclaiming the gospel of the kingdom from Jesus’ Bible.

    • Nathan Bierma

      great point!

  • Jeff Hardy

    One quality OT commentator who helpfully handles the text and pushes to the cross at the right time is Dale Ralph Davis. He has several small commentaries put out by Christian Focus that cover the text (with some discussion of critical issues) and are very helpful for personal application and preaching. He also has a small book about how to preach Christ from the OT that is helpful,called the Word Became Fresh.

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  • nick gill

    Don’t forget Christopher JH Wright’s strong text, “Knowing Jesus Through the Old Testament.”

  • Ian

    When I preach on the Old Testament my priority is to expound what that specific passage is trying to communicate. Generally, unless the link is obvious, I feel uncomfortable making the theological ‘leap’ to Jesus, except to say that the message of the Old Testament is true for us, because through Christ we are part of God’s people.

    For example, 2 weeks ago I preached on Psalm 73 and felt at liberty to not mention Jesus whilst expounding the rather profound ideas of that song.

    I might be crucified for saying this, but I don’t think every sermon has to be ‘about Jesus’.

    Not if that Jesus is this pre-defined character we try to ‘slot’ into the Old Testament. Rather, the Old Testament ought to inform what we believe about God, what we believe about Jesus and what we believe about the Church.

    As I have read the Old Testament, I have found my appreciation for the Law of God has grown and I have come to treasure Christ as the perfect lawkeeper, and by virtue of following him I too can keep the Law of God.

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  • Israel

    I wrote an entire article here about this concept that everything we understand of Messiah must come from the Torah. Joshua-Revelation simply being inspired commentary on what is found there. If anyone is looking for where to begin using Gen-Deut and the rest of the scriptures as a means to preach the gospel, by all means, start here:

    Messianic Apologetics 101

  • iain duguid

    At the risk of promoting products that I am involved in producing, I’d recommend two series published by P&R: “The Gospel According to the Old Testament” and the Reformed Expository Commentary. Alongside these, I’d add everything written by Dale Ralph Davis and two great resources from Sidney Greidanus “Preaching Christ from Genesis” and “Preaching Christ from Ecclesiastes”. These show his methodology described in his earlier book “Preaching Christ from the Old Testament” applied to particular texts. I would also agree, however, that there is a dearth of materials and resources available. If anyone is in Southern California in January, I will be teaching a one week class at Westminster in California on Preaching Christ from the Book of Isaiah”. Here endeth the first commercial…

    • Nancy Guthrie

      Dr. Duguid:

      You writing and preaching has been very helpful to me in this area. Any chance audio of your teaching series on Isaiah will be available online?

  • Nathan Bierma

    not to take anything away from all these great suggestions (on the contrary: to encourage them!), but occasionally I’m reminded that the greatest and best course on this topic is described in Luke 24:27:
    “Then beginning with Moses and all the prophets, he interpreted to them the things about himself in all the scriptures.” Alas, enrollment was limited and the course was not repeated in future semesters–at least not with that professor.

    • Steve Lynch


      Sorry I didn’t read all of the postings before I replied to an earlier post of yours.

      I’ve been lucky enough to find some real TEACHERS who DID take me on the Emmaus Road… at least that’s the only way I’ve been able to describe it.

      Messianic Rabbi Yacov Rambsel… and Bible teaching Phenom… Chuck Missler.

      In fact… I can’t go back to studying the bible any other way now. I’ve also got a lot of friends who’ve become “Misslerites”… and almost all of them have become that way from listening to his Ruth commentary.

      Available online here:

      Hope you get a chance to check it out. It started me on the road to loving studying the book…


  • lwetter

    I am always searching, but as in anything spiritual the minute you think you know it all is when you get a swipe in the butt from the Unknown. As with the four Gospels one has to understand that they were hard working men of the community. The thing is only their understanding was somewhat fundamental. I do not believe that they wrote from fact and many scholars have found that their gospels are so different from each other to find congruity is not likely.

    Some say that it’s possible that the four popular apostles,(Matthew Mark, Luke, and John), did not write their gospels but told it by word of mouth and others wrote it about 40 years after Jesus died. The Catholic Church decided on the 4,(Matthew, Mark, Luke and John),as the safest, fundamental, and best in story line. Note there were many stops on Pauls journey and many secular churches sprung up. From my own research there were actually 30 gospels and only 4 made it. Gospel of Judas, Gospel of Mary, are some of the ones some scholars say never made it out of fear.
    All gospels are story’s as are the Psalms of the Old Testament. However the clues are vague almost harder then a NY Times cross word puzzle would be to a five year old. The psalms depict a spiritual progression of Judaism. Now here is a succession that might be helpful. Abram returns from his victory over and Chedorlaomer when the King of Sodom greets him Gn14:18 Melchizedek, king of Salem, brought out bread and wine, and being a priest of God Most High, he blessed Abram with these words: “Blessed be Abram by God Most High,” the creator of heaven and earth,. Melchizedek pops up again in the psalm of David. God appoints the King both King and Priest. Ps110:4 The Lord has sworn and will not waver: “Like Melchizedek you will be a priest forever.” The next progression to Jesus is in Hebrews although no one really knows who wrote it,more than likely Paul’s circle. Hebrews 5:6 just as he says in another place:”You are a priest forever according to the order of Melchizedek.”
    That’s about as far as I can go as I am not as learned as most.
    I do not believe these particular men were learned enough to take the clues from the Old Testament so as to fully understand and relate to what their Rabbi was saying unless they were well versed or had as much experience on the road as Sol Paulos and his circle.

  • Brian

    I think Dennis Johnson’s book on preaching “Him We Proclaim” would be a helpful resource too for developing redemptive historical sermons.

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