Preach the Old Testament as if Jesus Is Risen

Have you ever explored underground caverns? The natural light is dim, so limited sight is a problem, if you can see at all. The more openings you go through and the deeper you descend, the greater the probability you’ll be confused, turned around, and lost. Even when your eyes adjust to the darkness, you may still not see the intricate beauty of the natural architecture.

Some Christians read the Old Testament only in dim light. They enter one chapter after another like exploring a cavern, yet they squint and strain their eyes to answer questions. Why is this episode here? Why has the narrator told the scene from this angle? Where is this storyline heading? Why should I care about this long genealogy? How does this prophecy reach fulfillment? How do this character’s actions contribute to the plot, to the book, to the canon? Is this text built on earlier ones?

Such interpretive questions (and more) arise for every text, but after certain first-century events something became crystal clear: Jesus is the blazing torch for these caverns. The gospel message, the New Testament from beginning to end, is the light needed to see the glories of what has been there all along in ancient words.

Old Testament as Christian Scripture

Jesus discussed these ancient words with two men on a road outside Jerusalem. “And beginning with Moses and all the Prophets, he interpreted to them in all the Scriptures the things concerning himself” (Luke 24:27). Wouldn’t you like to have the audio of that sermon? Though we don’t know exactly what Jesus said, we eagerly agree that he is the goal of the Old Testament.

Where, then, does the Christian faith begin? If you said Matthew, then you missed it by only 39 books. The Christian faith begins where the Bible does, in the beginning. We have 66 books of Christian Scripture that tell the grand story of God’s redemption from Genesis to Revelation.

When I first started preaching 14 years ago, most of my sermons showed a severe disregard for the Old Testament. And even when I crafted a message from one of those books, I was not trying to see the passage post-Easter. I handled the Old Testament as if Jesus hadn’t come.

Don’t read the Old Testament pretending Jesus didn’t happen. After Jesus died and rose from the dead, his disciples saw the ancient promises differently. Those promises were no longer suspended in mid-air but became yes in Jesus. The types had found their antitype, the arrows their target, the shadows their Light.

In light of the resurrection, people began to read the Old Testament through a Jesus lens. More precisely, Jesus taught the disciples how to see the Scriptures this way. The Law, Prophets, and Writings spoke about him, so “he opened their minds to understand the Scriptures” (Luke 24:44-45). The disciples needed a resurrection hermeneutic, so Jesus gave them one. The opening of the tomb meant the opening of the Scriptures.

Did people understand the Old Testament before Jesus? Yes and no. Yes, inasmuch as their eyes could see in the dim cavern. But no, for Jesus revealed to his disciples that he is the key to clarity, the piece of the puzzle that sets all the pieces in the right perspective. When the books are played together, they make messianic music.

Do the bloody cross and empty tomb affect how you read the Old Testament? If your hermeneutic is grammatical-historical but not christological, you’re not reading the Old Testament as the apostles did, as Jesus taught them to read it.

Shadows and Gospel Light

How does the gospel shine light on the Old Testament?

Jesus is the last Adam, the seed of the woman, the first-fruits of new creation, the obedient son, the one whose blood speaks a better word than Abel’s, the mighty ark that delivers from judgment, the offspring of Abraham to bless the nations, the fountain of living water greater than Jacob’s well, the mediator of a new covenant that surpasses all previous ones, the redeemer who leads the greatest exodus, the bread that satisfies more than manna, the sacrifice that puts an end to all others, the prophet who says what God says, the suffering servant who bears our transgressions, the high priest who lives forever, the king who rules righteously and wisely, the temple where the fullness of God dwells, the good shepherd who guides and guards the sheep, the light that dispels the shadows, and the life that swallows death.

When we read the Old Testament—which is Christian literature—let us explore its caverns with the torch of the New, with the message of the gospel. Read those ancient words through this lens because Jesus lights the whole thing up.

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  • Glen

    Thanks Mitch, I appreciate this emphasis on the OT as Christian Scripture from the very beginning. I would also want to emphasize that Moses and the Prophets were not themselves in the dark when they wrote. The Christian meaning is not merely retrospectively awarded, but consciously and originally present.

    As David Murray has written elsewhere on this site:

    “Christ is [not] merely the end of redemptive history rather [He is] an active participant throughout.

    Puritans such as Jonathan Edwards were masters of balance here. In his History of the Work of Redemption, Edwards shows Christ as not only the end of redemptive history, but actively and savingly involved from the first chapter to the last. He did not view Old Testament people, events, etc., as only stepping-stones to Christ; he saw Christ in the stepping-stones themselves. He did not see the need to relate everything to “the big picture”; he found the “big picture” even in the “small pictures.””

    • Mitch Chase

      Glen, good quote from Murray! Thanks for citing that. And I think 1 Peter 1:10-12 makes your point nicely.

      My emphasis in the article, of course, is the importance of the types finding the antitype, of the promises finding fulfillment. Paul himself makes a distinction between “shadow of the things to come” and “the substance” (Col 2:16-17). So while I certainly want to speak rightly and truly of Christ being actively involved in redemptive history (cf. Jude 5), the progression of salvation-history still allows, I think, for talk about how the Christ-Event serves as a lens to read the OT.

      When the OT is read apart from knowing Christ, a veil remains (2 Cor 3:14-15). “But when one turns to the Lord, the veil is removed” (2 Cor 3:16). Was there a messianic reading of the OT before Christ’s coming, death, and resurrection? Certainly. But the christological significance of the OT escalated after the Christ-Event. Christians see the OT and its Messiah now with unveiled faces (2 Cor 3:16-18).



      • Glen

        Thanks Mitch.

        I think shadow versus reality is explicitly laid out (in Colossians and Hebrews) as the distinction between old covenant legal types and the reality to which they point. It’s not that God’s people BC are necessarily in the dark, it’s that there were certain old covenant practices that weren’t to be trusted as though they were the substance. There were many who realised that the shadows were cast by another Light – they were not in the dark.

        Similarly, on 2 Corinthians, the distinction is whether folks “turn to the Lord” or not. The distinction is not a matter of chronology (i.e. whether you’re pre or post-incarnation).

        As you’ve noted, the prophets were filled with the Spirit of Christ and eagerly anticipated His sufferings and glory – even if they didn’t know the time or circumstances. I’m just not sure that the “dim cavern” illustration actually captures their joy-filled, forward-looking faith in Christ.


        • Mitch Chase

          Glen, I think we’re actually in agreement, just maybe criss-crossing a bit. My only concern is to observe that readers of the OT could better understand what was there once Christ had come. I do believe the biblical authors themselves were joyfully forward-looking. As Jesus said, Abraham was glad to see “my day”!

          I also have a concern, which I think you would share indeed, that believers should read the OT christologically. I think that if we don’t, we’re trying to see 39 books in a dimly lit setting–like a cavern. Messianic hope gave clearer meaning to the OT during the OT age itself, and especially after the Christ-Event. I think we’re agreed on this.

          Some realities of the Christ-Event were not as clearly anticipated by the readers of the OT, it seems. I have in mind realities like inaugurated resurrection (firstfruits of Jesus pointing to a future ingathering) and inaugurated justification rather than only end-time vindication, and even inaugurated new-creation. The Christ-Event helps provide a lens of already-not-yet paradigms. These paradigms are important, I think, to how we see things in the OT, and I think in Christ we see things clearer than they were before certain realities were inaugurated.

          Thanks again, Glen, for your interaction on this! I’m glad you weighed in. Peace,


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  • Matthew Nix

    I appreciate your insights, and I agree that the entire OT must be examined in light of the gospel. However, I am concerned with a common hermeneutical trend that seems to have gripped a lot of young reformed pastors. There seems to be this idea that because Christ is the backdrop, and trajectory of the OT (which he certainly is) that expounding on localized meaning and application is wrong. A false dichotomy has been forced that says, either you preach Christ from the OT, or you preach practical wisdom and principles for godly living. Many have adopted the former, to the neglect of the latter, and as a result many OT based sermons I’ve heard recently are lacking in any practical application.

    We have to remember that while many of the OT characters are Christological typologies, they are also human beings who are examples of faith. For example, I recently heard a message preached on David and Goliath. The pastor spoke about how David was a type of Christ and defeated our greatest enemy, etc… It was a beautiful picture. Unfortunately, he went on to say that David was not meant to serve as an example to us, but rather to show us what Christ has already done on our behalf. Really? Why does it have to be either/or? After all, doesn’t Hebrews 11 uphold David as an example of faith that we should imitate?

    I find it interesting that the NT authors quote OT passages extensively, and not ALL of these allusions are Christological. Of course, many do point to Christ, but not all. For example, in 1 Timothy when Paul says, “Do not muzzle an ox while it is treading out the grain.” In this passage, he is seeking to apply Deuteronomy 25:4 to his NT audience. In this case, he doesn’t expand the text so to see the backdrop of the gospel, but rather focuses on the more localized meaning which was quite practical: As Christians, we should be fairly compensating others, especially our pastors. This text is not an allegory or metaphor for the atonement. Christ is not the Ox…or the grain…etc. Again, I say this because I’ve seen many reformed pastors who want to preach Christ from every text, and try to force him into EVERY single OT passage. In doing this they often force typologies, push metaphors too far, etc. Instead we must realize that sometimes the localized meaning is more in line with the author’s intent, and is worth exploring. To bring in the gospel we can always zoom out and locate our passage within the greater context of redemptive history. Both approaches are needed and should be embraced.

  • Glen

    Yes there’s hearty agreement between us on the Scriptures being thoroughly Christ-centred from the outset. I still think David Murray’s word on OT *faith* being Christ-centred from the outset is a necessary accompanying note, and one that’s sometimes missed in these discussions. Glad to understand you properly now – that it’s christless interpretation of the OT that’s the dim cavern, not the OT itself.

    Thanks so much for interacting!

  • Owen

    Mitch Chase for the win.

    Excellent essay, Mitch. Thank you!

  • Larry Largent

    Mitch, Thank you for your post and for offering a method by which one might begin to have a greater appreciation for the Hebrew bible in light of a Risen Christ. So often, we Christians do get hung up on attempting to study the Old testament for what its worth in mundane passage, that seems to have little connection to a post-resurrection faith. I also agree, that the old testament cannot be reduced to an exercise in grammar and history lessons, that the risen Christ does open up scripture to those he meets on the road to Emmaus.

    I am not however, as confident in adopting the type of hermenuetic you suggest here. I don’t think we really want a christological hermenuetic that reduces the Old Testament to allegorical tale after allegorical tale. In so doing, your “cave dimly lit” becomes a bit more like the shadows on the cave of Socrates. Jesus is not Noah’s ark. Jesus is the god of the universe that is present and active throughout all of Redemptive history. We need not read him into texts where God is already present and acting. This does not diminish Christ’s central role in that redemptive history but it also does not diminish God sovereignty in revealing himself to primary contexts where that history of redemption was yet unfolding. Perhaps a christotelic hermenuetic is better.

    • Mitch Chase


      I agree with your concern. I don’t believe a christological hermeneutic is an allegorical one. In Greidanus’s helpful book “Preaching Christ From the Old Testament,” he shows different ways that readers can approach the text with a christological lens. My article above doesn’t say everything that could be said, nor does it make every clarification that could be made, but there’s only so much that can be done in 1,000 words ;) Blessings,


      • Larry Largent

        Quite right! Be Blessed,


  • Cynthia

    YES! I agree with this! When we read world history, don’t we compare and parallel our current circumstances? Yes, we do. I read the Old Testament many years ago, from beginning to end. I thought that it had to be done. I read and studied it with my mind. I took notes and dissected its meaning like a scientist. However, as the years passed, I began to read it with my new understanding of the New Testament. Not only did it carry more weight and cast more understanding upon my heart, it became a living and viable piece. Yep! I agree with you. It comes alive, when we read it as though Christ has risen. Blessings to you and yours!

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