HOW JESUS FULFILLS THE OLD TESTAMENT
“These are my words which I spoke to you while I was still with you, that all things which are written about Me in the Law of Moses and the Prophets and the Psalms must be fulfilled.” Then He opened their minds to understand the Scriptures. -- Luke 24:44-45
Wouldn’t you love to hear a tape of Jesus’ talk showing how He fulfilled the Old Testament? I would. But we don’t need such a tape. We have the New Testament! The New Testament is Jesus’ interpretation of the Old Testament. In sum, His interpretation is this: “You search the Scriptures, because you think that in them you have eternal life; and it is these that bear witness of Me.” (John 5:39) Jesus did not start a new religion. He fulfilled an old one. He said, “Do not think that I came to destroy the Law or the prophets; I did not come to abolish, but to fulfill.” (Matthew 5:17)
In this article I will not list Old Testament prophecies such as “born in Bethlehem” (Micah 5:2, Matthew 2:4-6) or “buried with the rich” (Isaiah 53:9, Matthew 27:57-60) and cite their fulfillment by Jesus. Any number of study Bibles do that quite well. Instead, I plan to show how Jesus of Nazareth fulfills all of the promises made by God in His covenants with David, Israel, Abraham, and Adam.
English-speaking Christians call the Hebrew Scriptures the “Old Testament.” A better translation of Palaia Diatheke, the name of the “Old Testament” in the original Greek, is “Old Covenant.” God made the Old, or Mosaic, Covenant with Israel at Mt. Sinai. The Old Covenant is recorded in Exodus 19-24 and more generally in Exodus to Deuteronomy. The Scriptures written in connection with the Old Covenant contain: 1) the Law, with Genesis as a Prologue to the Covenant; 2) the Prophets, Early: Joshua to II Kings, covering the history of Israel in Canaan, and Later: Isaiah to Malachi; and 3) the Writings, I Chronicles to Song of Solomon, covering Israel’s later history and its Wisdom literature. When Jesus said that all things about Him written in the Law of Moses and the Prophets and the Psalms must be fulfilled, He referred to the entire Hebrew Bible I have just outlined, the Psalms standing for all the Writings.
We are going to begin with the Later Prophets and generally work backward through the Old Testament. At the same time we are going to work forward through the New Testament. Jesus’ followers first understood how He fulfilled the Covenant with David, second how He fulfilled the Mosaic Covenant, and later how He fulfilled the Covenants with Abraham and Adam. We’ll begin with the Jewish longing for a Messiah, promised clearly by the Later Prophets.
After a four hundred year rule King David’s dynasty ended. Nebuchadnezzar conquered Jerusalem, destroyed the Temple, took Israel into captivity in Babylon, and left no son of David on the throne. But God had promised David in a covenant that a son of his would always sit on the throne in Jerusalem. That covenant is recorded in II Samuel 7 and celebrated in Psalms 89 and 132. With Jerusalem’s fall and the end of Judah’s independence, it appeared that God had broken His covenant.
The prophet Jeremiah witnessed Jerusalem’s fall and the crisis of faith godly Israelites felt. God’s word came to Jeremiah:
Thus says the Lord, “If you can break My covenant for the day, and My covenant for the night, so that day and night will not be at their appointed time, then My covenant may also be broken with David My servant that he shall not have a son to reign on his throne.” (Jeremiah 33:20-21)
But Jerusalem fell, and for six hundred years no son of David sat on the throne. Faithful Jews, however, believed Jeremiah’s word and similar prophecies by Isaiah, Ezekiel, Daniel, Micah, Zechariah, and all the prophets: that God would one day raise up a son of David to sit on his throne. They called the coming King the Anointed One, Messiah in Hebrew, Christ in Greek.
What does the New Testament say about Jesus? It opens with this announcement: “The book of the genealogy of Jesus Christ, the son of David.” (Matthew 1:1) It closes with these words: “I, Jesus, have sent My angel to testify to you these things for the churches. I am the root and the offspring of David, the bright and morning star.” (Revelation 22:16) The night Jesus was born, the angel told the shepherds that he had good news for all the people: “For today in the city of David there has been born for you a Savior, who is Christ the Lord.” (Luke 2:11) God kept his covenant promise to David and fulfilled His word through Jeremiah by sending Jesus of Nazareth, the Messiah, to be Israel’s King. When Jesus asked his disciples, “But who do you say that I am?” Peter answered for them all: “You are the Christ.” (Mark 8:29) When we call Jesus of Nazareth “Jesus Christ,” we confess that He is the Messiah, the son of David, sitting on His throne in the heavenly Jerusalem.
Jesus fulfilled the prophetic promise of a Messiah, but He is much more than another David ruling Israel. He is much more in three ways. First, He is the Son of God as well as the Son of David. He is Emmanuel, as Isaiah prophesied, meaning “God with us.” (Isaiah 7:14, Matthew 1:23) “For a child will be born to us,” Isaiah wrote elsewhere. “And the government will rest on His shoulders; And His name will be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Eternal Father, Prince of Peace. There will be no end to the increase of His government or of peace, on the throne of David and over his kingdom.” (Isaiah 9:6-7) Jesus Himself pointed out that David in Psalm 110 speaks of Messiah’s victories and calls his Son “lord.” “If David then calls Him ‘Lord,’ how is He his son?” Jesus asked. (Matthew 22:45) The Pharisees had no answer to that question: fathers do not call their sons “lord.” The answer lies in Jesus’ identity as the Son of God as well as the Son of Man.
Jesus is more than simply another David in a second way. Immediately after Peter said, “You are the Messiah,” Jesus scandalized Peter by telling His disciples that, according to the Scriptures, He would be rejected by the leaders of Israel, handed over to the Romans, crucified, and after three days He would rise again. His reign as Messiah would appear to end even before it began. What Scriptures taught such a sad fate for the Messiah?
Isaiah foretold a Servant of the Lord Who would bring justice to the nations, Who would be a covenant to the people, Who would restore Israel’s fortunes, Who in short would be the Messiah. But Isaiah continued and said that the Servant of the Lord would be pierced through for our transgressions. He would be like a lamb led to slaughter, and He would be buried with the rich. (Isaiah 42:1-9, 49:3-13, 52:13-53:12) Messiah, the Servant of the Lord, would die to take away Israel’s sin. The last Old Testament prophet, John the Baptist, taught the same thing. When he saw Jesus, he said, “Behold the lamb of God which takes away the sin of the world.” (John 1:29)
Finally, Jesus is more than just another David because after three days He rose from the dead and ascended into heaven to rule all nations. Isaiah implied a life for the Suffering Servant after He died when he wrote, “But the Lord was pleased to crush Him, putting Him to grief. If He would render Himself as a guilt offering, He will see His offspring, He will prolong His days.” (Isaiah 53:10) David himself, Peter noted on the Day of Pentecost, prophesied Messiah’s Resurrection in Psalm 16 when he wrote, “Thou wilt not suffer Thy Holy One to undergo decay.” (Psalm 16:8-11, Acts 2:25-31) And Jesus Himself said many times that He would rise on the third day. Psalm 22, whose opening lines He quoted on the cross, “My God, My God, Why have you forsaken Me” (Matthew 27:46, Psalm 22:1), ends with triumph, “I will tell Thy name to my brethren.” (Psalm 22:22-31) The resurrected Jesus fulfills the words of Psalm 110 by sitting at God’s right hand, not on earth but in heaven. (Acts 2:34, Psalm 110:1) Jesus, the Son of David, is also the Son of God, He is the Lamb of God who died for our sins, and He is the Resurrected King. He is much more than another David.
By being the Son of David and God’s chosen Messiah to suffer for His people, rise to life, and ascend to heaven to rule, Jesus fulfills God’s Covenant with David beyond Israel’s wildest dreams. Let’s look more closely now at how Jesus fulfills God’s Covenant made through Moses. First, He is the fulfillment of the central feature of Israel’s God-given worship under the Mosaic Covenant, animal sacrifice. Daily, weekly, and especially at the great feasts, the priests at the temple sacrificed animals on the altar. On the Day of Atonement the High Priest sprinkled blood on the Mercy Seat in the Most Holy Place. Could the blood of bulls and of goats really take away sin? The writer to the Hebrews answers “No,” and shows why from the very sacrificial system of Moses. Sacrifices had to keep being offered over and over again for the same sins; hence they weren’t efficacious. What animal sacrifices did was foretell the coming perfect sacrifice, Jesus, the Savior. Jesus fulfilled all of the Temple worship. Not only is He the sacrifice, He is also the Temple. Concerning the Temple, He said, “Destroy this temple and in three days I will raise it again.” (John 2:19) And He is the priest who offers the sacrifice. The writer to the Hebrews calls Jesus our perfect High Priest, Who entered into the Holy Place of heaven with His own blood to make intercession for us. (Hebrews 9)
Second, Jesus unites in Himself the identity of all three Mediators that God established between Himself and Israel. He is the King Who rules His people for God. He is the Priest Who brings the people before God in worship. He is the Prophet Who speaks for God to the people. He is the Prophet like Moses, only greater. (Deuteronomy 18:18, Acts 3:22) God’s final word to the world has come through His Son, Jesus. The canon of Scripture closes with the witness of His immediate followers. Jesus, in fact, spoke as One greater than the prophets. He never said, “Thus saith the Lord,” the common introductory claim of God’s prophets. He spoke with authority as God’s own Son, a way of speaking that people marveled at. (Matthew 7:28-29) Here is a sample of how Jesus taught as He revealed the depths of the moral law. “You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall not commit adultery;’ but I say to you, that everyone who looks on a woman to lust for her has committed adultery with her already in his heart.” (Matthew 5:27-28) Note the authoritative, “but I say to you.” No man ever spoke like Jesus.
Besides fulfilling Israel’s worship and its Mediatorial offices, Jesus fulfilled the Mosaic Covenant by bringing Israel’s calling among the nations to perfect completion. Israel was supposed to be a light to the nations, revealing the One True God to all people. Eight days after Jesus was born, Simeon took baby Jesus in his arms and, quoting Isaiah, called Jesus “A light of revelation to the Gentiles.” (Isaiah 42:6, Luke 2:32) In His last instructions before His ascension Jesus told His disciples that all authority in heaven and on earth was His. They were therefore to go teach all nations. (Matthew 28:18-20)
In predicting a Messiah the prophets and Psalmists promised a King Who would fulfill God’s Covenant with David. In foretelling a Suffering Servant Messiah who would die for the sins of His people, they also promised a Messiah Who would fulfill the worship and life of Israel under Moses’ Covenant. Through Jeremiah God made explicit the promise of a New Covenant to replace Moses’ Covenant.
“Behold, days are coming,” declares the Lord, “when I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel and with the house of Judah, not like the covenant which I made with their fathers in the day I took them by the hand to bring them out of the land of Egypt.” (Jeremiah 31:32, Hebrews 8-9)
At the Last Passover, the memorial of the Old Covenant, Jesus took bread and the cup, establishing the memorial of the New Covenant, the Lord’s Supper. He said, “This cup which is poured out for you is the new covenant in My blood.” (Luke 22:20) (“New covenant” translates the Greek “kaine diatheke,” a rendering preferred in modern English translations, except that the familiar “New Testament” is still used to name the Scriptures written in connection with the New Covenant.)
Here is an irony of history. Jesus is both David’s heir and the fulfillment of sacrificial worship. In Jesus’ day His disciples were eager to call Him King. They had to be forced to see in Him the sacrifice for their sins. Today, it is sometimes the opposite. Christians are happy to have Christ be their priest and sacrifice. But they sometimes resist obeying Him as King. However, He is both King and Lamb. (Revelation 5:6) If a person will not have Christ as King, he will not have Him as sacrifice either. He is both.
But how does a sinner come near to God through Christ? Does he have to be circumcised according to the Law of Moses and also believe in Christ? Or does he only have to repent and believe in Christ? The early church debated and searched the Scriptures for the answer to that question. After God had sent Peter to Cornelius, the Holy Spirit guided the Apostles and elders to understand that Jesus’ fulfillment of Moses’ Covenant meant that sacrifice, the Temple worship, the sacraments of Passover and Circumcision, and the laws which separated Israel from the Gentiles, such as the dietary laws, were no longer necessary. Does a person have to do the works of the Law in order to be saved? No, they concluded. The proof that God’s plan for salvation was always that it would be by faith in Christ alone is found in His Covenant with Abraham. Abraham, the Scriptures testify, believed God and it was reckoned to him as righteousness. (Genesis 15:6, Romans 4:3, Galatians 3:6) Therefore, the just shall live by faith. (Habakkuk 2:4, Romans 1:17)
Notice that in seeing how Jesus fulfilled the prophesies about the Messiah, we have moved backward in time from the Covenant with David, to the Mosaic Covenant (which Jeremiah labels Old and which gives its name to the Old Testament Scriptures), and now to the Covenant with Abraham. At the same time we are moving forward in time with the disciples as they grew in their understanding of Jesus. First, they understood that He is the Messiah, the Son of David. Next they knew Him as the Suffering Servant who died as a sacrifice for their sins. Then they understood that Jesus is the One Seed of Abraham Who inherits the covenant promises made to Abraham.
“How was Abraham justified?” By faith, the Bible says. God accepted Abraham by faith long before He gave the Law to Moses and even before God told Abraham to observe circumcision. He saved Abraham by faith which shows that Gentiles as well as Jews can be saved. The Mosaic Covenant did not do away with the Covenant made with Abraham; it could not nullify a promise made already. The Mosaic Covenant was a temporary application of God’s promises to Abraham until the true heir of those promises, Jesus, was born. Paul writes, “Now the promises were spoken to Abraham and to his seed. He does not say, ‘And to seeds,’ as referring to many, but rather to one, ‘And to your seed,’ that is Christ.” (Galatians 3:16) Isaac, whom Abraham almost sacrificed at God’s command, was only an illustration, a type, of Christ. But Christ was really sacrificed. Jesus therefore is the recipient of the great promises made to Abraham: that his offspring would be as many as the stars in the sky (Israel under the Old Covenant, the church today), that he would inherit a land (Canaan, and now all the world), and that in Him all the nations of the earth would be blessed (by Israel’s witness to its neighbors, now by the Church’s worldwide testimony.) (Genesis 12:1-3) The nations are blessed by being saved through faith in Christ, just as Abraham was saved by faith alone. (Galatians 3:6-8) When a person believes in Christ, he is united to Him by faith and becomes one of Abraham’s offspring. Paul writes, “Therefore, be sure that it is those who are of faith who are sons of Abraham.” (Galatians 3:7) Jesus fulfills the Covenant with Abraham because He is the One Seed of Abraham. He inherits the promise of being a blessing to all nations of the earth when He grants salvation to all who trust in Him apart from works of the Law.
There is a covenant even more ancient than the Covenants made with David, with Israel through Moses, or with Abraham, the father of the faithful. It is God’s Covenant with Adam and his descendants which God renewed with Noah after the Flood. By this Covenant God promised dominion over the earth to mankind and life everlasting in return for obedience. But Adam failed and was expelled from Paradise. Since then everyone has died. Before expelling Adam from the Garden, God said, “For you are dust, and to dust you shall return.” (Genesis 3:19) But God also left Adam and Eve with hope. To the serpent God said, “And I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your seed and her seed; He shall bruise you on the head, and you shall bruise him on the heel.” (Genesis 3:15) God would not allow friendship between man and Satan to last.
Jesus fulfills God’s Covenant with Adam by perfectly obeying the Law. He never sinned. He was at war with Satan, resisting His temptations and casting out demons. Where the first Adam failed, Jesus succeeded. He is the Second Adam, the beginning of a new human race. Paul writes: “For as through one man’s disobedience the many were made sinners, even so through the obedience of One the many will be made righteous.” (Romans 5:19; see I Corinthians 15:45)
Because of Adam’s sin the whole human race has been exiled from God’s presence. At best in this life we see only dimly in a mirror. (I Corinthians 13:12) We cannot yet eat from the Tree of Life. But in Christ the Second Adam all is renewed. He has conquered death, and when He comes we will be raised and become perfect as He is perfect. John writes concerning the end of our exile from God’s Presence:
“And he showed me a river of the water of life, clear as crystal, coming from the throne of God and of the Lamb, in the middle of its street. And on either side of the river was the tree of life, bearing twelve kinds of fruit, yielding its fruit every month; and the leaves of the tree were for the healing of the nations. And there shall no longer be any curse; and the throne of God and of the Lamb shall be in it, and His bond servants shall see Him; and they shall see His face, and His name shall be on their foreheads.” (Revelation 22:1-4)
Adam lost Paradise. Jesus regains Paradise.
Who is Jesus? How does He fulfill the Old Testament? He is the Messiah, the Son of David. He is the Lamb of God, who fulfills Israel’s worship by sacrifice. He is the Seed of Abraham in whom all nations of the earth are blessed. He is the Second Adam from whom the human race takes a new beginning.
“If any man is in Christ, he is a new creature.” (II Corinthians 5:17) Jesus is the conqueror of death who has reconciled us to God and will bring us home to Him. As He said, “In my Father’s house are many dwelling places; if it were not so, I would have told you; for I go to prepare a place for you. And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again, and receive you to Myself; that where I am, there you may be also.” (John 14:2-3) No wonder the Bible ends with the words, “Amen. Come, Lord Jesus.” (Revelation 22:20)
The grace of the Lord Jesus be with all. Amen.