Christ and the Old Testament

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There are three questions that come to mind when we discuss the subject of Christ and the Old Testament. These questions are:

  • Were the mortal ministry and mission of Jesus Christ foretold in the Old Testament?
  • Was the mortal Christ aware of Old Testament prophets and their prophecies during His ministry?
  • What is the relationship between Jehovah in the Old Testament and Jesus Christ?

We shall explore here only the second and third questions. The first question, about Old Testament prophecies of Christ’s mortal mission, is discussed in some depth on this web site under Messages of the Old Testament.

Christ’s Awareness of Old Testament Prophecies

The scriptures used by the Jews during Christ’s ministry would have been the
Greek Septuagint. This was a translation of the Hebrew scriptures into Greek, made in the third century before Christ. Its name came from the tradition that it was translated in 70 (actually 72) days by 70 Palestinian Jews, at the order of Ptolemy, for use by the Greek-speaking Jews in Alexandria. The Septuagint was of immense value to the Jews because they were no longer able to read the Hebrew language. All Old Testament scriptures quoted in the New Testament are from this Greek Septuagint. Thus, the reading is somewhat different from what we find in those same Old Testament verses in the King James Version of the Bible.

From the very beginning of His ministry, Christ showed His familiarity with the scriptures—the scriptures in general and also those scriptures that specifically prophesied of Him. In the synagogue of his hometown, Nazareth, he announced His divine Sonship by reading Isaiah 61, verse 1 and part of verse 2. He read thus: “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he hath anointed me to preach the gospel to the poor; he hath sent me to heal the brokenhearted, to preach deliverance to the captives, and recovering of sight to the blind, to set at liberty them that are bruised, To preach the acceptable year of the Lord” (Luke 4:18-19). After reading, he closed the book, and said, “This day is this scripture, fulfilled in your ears” (Luke 4:21).

When Christ was tempted by Satan following His 40-day fast in the wilderness prior to beginning His ministry, He responded to Satan’s enticings by quoting scriptures. In response to each of the three temptations, He responded by saying, “It is written,” and then quoted from the scriptures. When tempted to turn stones into bread, He said, “It is written, Man shalt not live by bread alone, but by every word that proceedeth out of the mouth of God” (Matthew 4:4), a clear reference to Deuteronomy 8:3 where Moses explained to the Israelites that God had given them manna in the wilderness that they might know that “man doth not live by bread only, but by every word that proceedeth out of the mouth of the Lord doth man live.”

When Jesus was tempted to cast himself down from the pinnacle of the temple, He responded: “It is written again, Thou shalt not tempt the Lord thy God” (Matthew 4:7). This is a reference to Deuteronomy 6:16 where Moses told the Israelites, “Ye shall not tempt the Lord your God…”

When tempted to worship Satan in exchange for the kingdoms and glories of the world, Jesus answered, “Get thee hence, Satan: for it is written, Thou shalt worship the Lord thy God, and him only shalt thou serve” (Matthew 4: 10). This is an obvious reference to the first commandment: “Thou shalt have no other gods before me” (Exodus 20:3), with the same message also being found in Exodus 34:14 and Deuteronomy 6:14.

When Jesus taught the multitude concerning the mission of John the Baptist, He bore His witness that “this is he, of whom it is written, Behold, I send my messenger before thy face, which shall prepare thy way before thee” (Matthew 11:10). This was an obvious reference to Malachi 3:1: “Behold, I will send my messenger, and he shall prepare the way before me: and the Lord, whom ye seek, shall suddenly come to his temple.”

When Jesus drove the money changers from the temple, He said to them, “It is written, My house shall be called the house of prayer; but ye have made it a den of thieves” (Matthew 21:13). The Savior’s reference here was to Isaiah 56:7.  There Isaiah expounded on the glorious blessings to be bestowed on those who keep the commandments. As he (Isaiah) talked about those who keep the Sabbath, he said, “Even them will I bring to my holy mountain, and make them joyful in my house of prayer: their burnt offerings and their sacrifices shall be accepted upon mine altar; for my house shall be called an house of prayer for all people” (emphasis added).

At the Last Supper, Jesus made it known to His Apostles that He would be betrayed by one of them, and as the Apostles questioned him, He said, “The Son of man goeth as it written of him: but woe unto that man by whom the Son of man is betrayed!” (Matthew 26:24). This is an obvious reference to a scripture that prophesied His betrayal. Such a prophecy concerning Christ’s betrayal is found in Zechariah 11:12-13: “And I said unto them, If ye think good, give me my price; and if not, forbear. So they weighed for my price thirty pieces of silver. And the Lord said unto me, Cast it unto the potter: a goodly price that I was prised at of them. And I took the thirty pieces of silver, and cast them to the potter in the house of the Lord.”

With regard to this same declaration in Matthew 26:24, the prophesy in Isaiah 53:7 is also relevant: “He was oppressed, and he was afflicted, yet he opened not his mouth: he is brought as a lamb to the slaughter, and as a sheep before her shearers is dumb, so he openeth not his mouth.”

When the Savior was questioned by the Pharisees and scribes about the failure of His disciples to wash, according to the “tradition of the elders,” before they ate bread, He replied: “Well hath Esaias prophesied of you hypocrites, as it is written, This people honoureth me with their lips, but their heart is far from me. Howbeit in vain do they worship me, teaching for doctrines the commandments of men” (Mark 7:6-7). The well-known prophecy referred to here is found in Isaiah 29:13. It says, “Wherefore the Lord said, Forasmuch as this people draw near me with their mouth, and with their lips do honour me, but have removed their heart far from me, and their fear toward me is taught by the precept of men.”

When Jesus appeared to His 11 remaining Apostles in the upper room after His resurrection, he said, “Thus it is written, and thus it behoved Christ to suffer, and to rise from the dead the third day” (Luke 24:46). There is no scripture in the Old Testament canon, as it exists today, that says anything quite like this. There can be no doubt, however, that such a prophecy was contained within the scriptures that Jesus had available to Him. There is a scripture in Hosea that mentions the third day in reference to the resurrection, but it is improbable that Jesus was referring to this one: “After two days will he revive us: in the third day he will raise us up, and we shall live in his sight” (Hosea 6:2).

When Jesus had miraculously fed a great multitude with loaves and fishes, many sought after him for the sake of the food. He rebuked them for their short-sightedness in seeking for bread that would perish, telling them that He was the Bread of Life. As part of that exchange, Jesus said, “Our fathers did eat manna in the desert; as it is written, He gave them bread from heaven to eat… Moses gave you not the bread from heaven; but my Father giveth you the true bread from heaven” (John 6:31-32). This scripture refers to Exodus chapter 16 where the entire forty-year history of manna is briefly discussed. It relates also to Psalms 78: 23-24, where the psalmist wrote, “… Though he had commanded the clouds from above, and opened the doors of heaven, And had rained down manna upon them to eat, and had given them of the corn of heaven” (emphasis added).

As you can see, there is abundant evidence that Jesus was not only familiar with the scriptures of the Old Testament, He was also well aware that those scriptures spoke of Him, His earthly ministry, and His great mission of redemption.

Christ and Jehovah

As a basis for this discussion on the connection between Christ and Jehovah, it is essential to first establish the fact that God the Father and Jesus Christ, the Son of God, are two separate and distinct personages, notwithstanding what is stated in the various creeds of Christendom. The separateness of Jesus and His Father is clear from the references in the New Testament where they were manifest as separate beings at the same time. One such occurrence was at the baptism of Jesus: “And Jesus, when he was baptized, went up straightway out of the water: and, lo, the heavens were opened unto him, and he saw the Spirit of God descending like a dove, and lighting upon him: And lo a voice from heaven, saying, This is my beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased” (Matthew 3:16-17, emphasis added).

Another occurrence in recorded in the Acts of the Apostles when Stephen, the first Christian martyr, was stoned for preaching that Jesus was the Christ, the scripture states that “he, being full of the Holy Ghost, looked up stedfastly into heaven, and saw the glory of God, and Jesus standing on the right hand of God, And said, Behold, I see the heavens opened, and the Son of man standing on the right hand of God” (Acts 7:55-56, emphasis added).

There is no denying that Jesus said that He and His Father were one (John 10:30), but there are more ways to be one than being the same person. Perhaps the best way to explain the oneness of the Father and the Son is found in John 17, where Jesus, in His great intercessory prayer, prayed to His Father saying, “I have glorified thee on the earth; I have finished the work which thou gavest me to do. And now, O Father, glorify thou me with thine own self with the glory which I had with thee before the world was. I have manifested thy name unto the men which thou gavest me out of the world: thine they were, and thou gavest them me; and they have kept thy word. Now they have known that all things whatsoever thou has given me are of thee. For I have given unto them the words which thou gavest me; and they have received them, and have known surely that I came out from thee, and they have believed that thou didst send me. I pray for them:… for they are thine. And all mine are thine… Sanctify them through thy truth: thy word is truth. As thou hast sent me into the world, even so have I also sent them into the world… Neither pray I for these alone, but for them also which shall believe on me through their word; That they all may be one; as thou, father, art in me, and I in thee, that they also may be one in us; that the world may believe that thou hast sent me. And the glory which thou gavest me I have given them; that they may be one, even as we are one: I in them, and thou in me, that they may be made perfect in one; and that the world may know that thou hast sent me, and hast loved them, as thou hast loved me” (John 17: 4-23, emphasis added).

Certainly there can be no doubt that the oneness for which the Savior prayed in behalf of Himself, His Apostles, and those who would believe the Apostles’ words was not a physical oneness but a oneness of purpose.

Jesus Christ is the Son of God, the Only Begotten of the Father in the flesh (see John 1:17, 18; 3:16, 18; 1 John 4:9). He is God the Son, separate and distinct from God the Father.

There are also some things we need to explain about Jehovah, the God of the Old Testament. When the Hebrew Bible was being written, the writers were hesitant to write (or speak) the name of God. Thus, in reverence for the name of Deity, whenever the name of Jehovah should have been written, they wrote the title “Adonai” (which means lord) in its place. When the King James translators made their translation they honored the same practice. Thus, whenever they determined that the name Jehovah should be in the text, they wrote “the LORD” (with LORD in small capital letters) in its place. The name Jehovah appears only four times in the King James Version of the Old Testament (see Exodus 6:3; Psalms 83:18; Isaiah 12:2; Isaiah 26:4). In every other instance, “the LORD” is used instead. Even a cursory perusal of the Old Testament will reveal that this usage was extensive.

The Apostle Paul, in the first chapter of his Epistle to the Hebrews also gives us more important information about the identity of Christ and His relationship to God the Father:

God, who at sundry times and in divers manners spake in time past unto the fathers by the prophets, Hath in these last days spoken unto us by his Son, whom he hath appointed heir of all things, by whom also he made the worlds; Who being the brightness of his glory, and the express image of his person, and upholding all things by the word of his power, when he had by himself purged our sins, sat down on the right hand of the Majesty on high; Being made so much better than the angels, as he hath by inheritance obtained a more excellent name than they. For unto which of the angels said he at any time, Thou art my Son, this day have I begotten thee? And again, I will be to him a Father, and he shall be to me a Son? And again, when he bringeth in the firstbegotten into the world, he saith, And let all the angels of God worship him. And of the angels he saith, Who maketh his angels spirits, and his ministers a flame of fire. But unto the Son he saith, Thy throne, O God, is for ever and ever: a sceptre of righteousness is the sceptre of thy kingdom. Thou hast loved righteousness, and hated iniquity; therefore God, even thy God, hath anointed thee with the oil of gladness above thy fellows. And, Thou, Lord, in the beginning hast laid the foundation of the earth; and the heavens are the works of thine hands: They shall perish; but thou remainest; and they all shall wax old as doth a garment; And as a vesture shalt thou fold them up, and they shall be changed: but thou art the same, and thy years shall not fail. (Hebrews 1:1-13)

The gospel of John begins with the Apostle’s well-known introduction to the identity of Jesus Christ: “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. The same was in the beginning with God. All things were made by him; and without him was not any thing made that was made. In him was life; and the life was the light of men. And the light shineth in darkness; and the darkness comprehended it not” (John 1:1-5).

Now, taking all these things into account, let us consider this passage from Isaiah: “And I will feed them that oppress thee with their own flesh; and they shall be drunken with their own blood, as with sweet wine: and all flesh shall know that I the LORD [i.e., Jehovah] am thy Saviour and thy Redeemer, the mighty One of Jacob” (Isaiah 49:26).

Consider, also, this scripture from Isaiah: “Thou shalt also suck the milk of the Gentiles, and shalt suck the breast of kings: and thou shalt know that I the LORD[i.e., Jehovah] am thy Saviour and thy Redeemer, the mighty One of Jacob” (Isaiah 60:16).

And now this scripture from Isaiah: “Thus saith the LORD [i.e., Jehovah], thy Redeemer, the Holy One of Israel; I am the LORD [i.e., Jehovah] thy God which teacheth thee to profit, which leadeth thee by the way that thou shouldest go” (Isaiah 48:17, emphasis added). Isaiah makes it clear that (1) the Mighty One of Jacob is our Savior and Redeemer, that (2) the Holy One of Israel is also our Redeemer, and that (3) Jehovah is both the Mighty one of Jacob and the Holy One of Israel. This leaves  us little room to doubt that Jesus Christ is also Jehovah?

The Book of Mormon prophet Nephi, while explaining the prophecies of Isaiah to his people, adds another witness: “And now behold, I say unto you that the right way is to believe in Christ, and deny him not; and Christ is the Holy One of Israel; wherefore ye must bow down before him, and worship him with all your might, mind, and strength, and your whole soul; and if ye do this ye shall in nowise be cast out” (2 Nephi 25:29, emphasis added).

Though the scriptures make it clear that Jesus Christ is both Jehovah of the Old Testament and the Holy one of Israel, some tell us that this is confusing. The confusion arises because there are many instances in the Old Testament where the words of Jehovah [the LORD] appear to be words that the Father would speak, and not the Son. It is true that there are many such occurrences. But these are occasions where the Son is speaking with His Father’s authority in His Father’s behalf. This is called “Divine Investiture of Authority” and is quite a common phenomenon in the scriptures. In fact, since the Fall of Adam, the only times God the Father has spoken directly to the earth is to introduce His Son, as He did on the occasion of Christ’s baptism: “This is my beloved Son in whom I am well pleased” (Matthew 3:17).

In the book of Revelation we can see the same principle in operation when an angel spoke to John as if he were the Son of God, saying, “Behold I come quickly: blessed is he that keepeth the sayings of the prophecy of this book. And I John saw these things, and heard them. And when I had heard and seen, I fell down to worship before the feet of the angel which shewed me these things. Then saith he unto me, See thou do it not: for I am thy fellowservant, and of thy brethren the prophets, and of them which keep the sayings of this book: worship God” (Revelation 22:7-9, emphasis added).

The God of the Old Testament, Jehovah, is also the God of the New Testament, the Lord Jesus Christ—the Mighty one of Jacob and the Holy One of Israel. He loved us so much that He was willing to come to earth, in the most humble of circumstances, to experience mortality, then to suffer, bleed, and give His life for our sins. Then, because He was God and had power over death, He rose again from the dead and provided the resurrection for all mankind. He did all this in order to fulfill His Father’s plan for the salvation of the human family.

How grateful we are for Him and for His Father who sent Him. “For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life” (John 3:16).

Also, when we look back at our previous question (Was the mortal Christ aware of Old Testament prophets and their prophecies during His ministry?), we can have no doubt about the Savior’s awareness of the Old Testament prophecies relating to Him.  He was, after all, the one who spoke to the prophets and the true author of those prophecies.

The Old Testament: understand it, love it!