Yesterday, I preached on Luke’s account of the Great Commission. There, Jesus said to his apostles,
These are my words that I spoke to you while I was still with you, that everything 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, and said to them, “Thus it is written, that the Christ should suffer and on the third day rise from the dead, and that repentance and forgiveness of sins should be proclaimed in his name to all nations, beginning from Jerusalem (Luke 24:44-47).
Before Jesus sends his disciples into the world to proclaim the gospel, he tells them how to understand the Old Testament in light of his person and work (Luke 24:44-47). Jesus gave them insight to see the gospel from the Law, the Prophets, and the Psalms—the entirety of the Old Testament Scriptures.
It’s important for every disciple to read the Bible this way. But this is often at odds at how we tend to read the Bible. Too often we tend to read the Bible with ourselves in mind first. We read a verse or a paragraph looking for what it means to me, or how it can give me a quick, devotional boost. But if that’s our only goal, it’s going to lead us a shallow understanding that misses what God is actually trying to teach us. There are practical instructions we’re meant to hear, but they come in the context of a story of God’s redeeming work. And that story is fulfilled in Christ.
Look for Christ
So, we need to look for Christ. But what does that mean? Practically speaking, what are we looking for when we read the Bible Christocentrically?
1. Pre-incarnate appearances of Christ. Properly called theophanies or Christophanies, we’re talking about any appearance of Christ before he takes on flesh. In the New Testament, Jesus is said to be the image of the invisible God (Col 1:15) and the radiance of the glory of God (Heb 1:3). But that didn’t begin with the incarnation. Eternally, as God the Son, he has revealed the Father to humanity. We see him appearing to Abraham in Mamre, wrestling with Jacob through the night, and coming to Joshua as the Captain of the Lord’s army. These appearances often refer to the Being as an angel. But remember that the word angel isn’t just a term used to describe angelic beings. The word means ‘messenger.’ So, while we often see angels appearing on God’s behalf, the term can also be applied to the Son. How can you tell the difference? The easiest way is to see whether or not he receives worship. No mere angel ever permits that.
2. Prophecies fulfilled in Christ. This is usually pretty easy. In fact, most Christians enjoy seeing the direct prophetic words that speak to Jesus. God’s specific words about how, where, when, why Christ would come into the world. If you’re on a regular schedule of reading through the Bible, these will begin to obvious from the text. As you read the New Testament, you will not only find the biblical authors pointing out fulfilled prophecy, but you will begin to see them for yourself. And as you read the Old Testament, you will recognize the fulfillments in the New.
3. Promises fulfilled in Christ. The Old Testament is driven by God’s promises. Sometimes these are formal promises, called covenants. Other times, these are informal promises to specific people. And Paul makes clear in 2 Corinthians that “all of the promises of God find their Yes in Christ” (2 Cor 1:20). Sometimes, there may be an immediate fulfillment to those promises. But Christ is always the fuller or final fulfillment. So, for example, the promise of blessing the nations through the Seed of Abraham is fulfilled through Isaac and Israel, but ultimately in Christ (Gal 3:15-4:7).
4. Problems resolved in Christ. Humanity has faced many problems and experienced many needs because of sin. Those things can only be finally resolved in Christ. So, how do we undo the curse of Adam? How can we keep the Law? How can God forgive sin and still be just? How can there be justice and mercy in the world for the poor and helpless? How can evil be stopped and war come to an end? How do we find hope in personal suffering? How can we overcome death? The whole gamut of human struggle finds resolution in Christ. He rights every wrong, calms every fear, and meets every need.
5. Patterns realized by Christ. What kinds of patterns are we talking about? By pattern we mean any repeated theme, event, or institution found in the Old Testament. For example, think about the institution of the priesthood, temple, and sacrifices. This was a massive part of Israel’s life that was anticipated by God’s first sacrifice of animal for sin in Eden. From there, the patriarchs would offer sacrifices of worship to God. This would be formalized in the gracious system given to sinful Israel so that they might dwell with a holy God. But it never ended; full and lasting atonement was never made. But then Christ came. He came and brought together the patterns of priest, temple, and sacrifice in himself (Heb 2:14-18; 4:14-5:10; 7:11-10:18). There are many themes that run through the whole Bible that come to realization in Christ: kingdom, covenant, sonship, marriage, reconciliation, exile, rest, and more.
6. Persons superseded by Christ. We see in people all throughout the Bible, examples of what Christ did and will do in better ways. For example, Ezra shepherds God’s people by living out God’s word and teaching them to do the same (Ezra 7:10). Esther is prepared to die at the hands of the king attempting to save her people (Esth 4:12-17). David is a man after God’s own heart who reigns as king over Israel. How much more did Christ obey the word of his Father and teach others to do the same? How much more was Christ willing to lay down his life to save his people? How much more was Christ the Father’s beloved Son (Matt 3:17)? But sometimes the supersession comes by way of contrast. There are far more wicked kings in Israel’s history than good ones. There are false prophets as well as true ones. For every David there is an Ahab. For every Isaiah there is always a Jonah. There are many sinful people who failed and leave bad examples. And Christ stands in righteous contrast to all of them. He did what they could not.
Hopefully, those directions will help you to read the Bible as the Christ taught the apostles; to read in a Christ-centered way. But we must also be careful when we read. Consider two cautions as you go about looking for Christ.
1. Remember the context. Remember that all of this is not where you begin when reading the Bible. You don’t start with Christ’s fulfillment. Like any good Bible reading, you begin with the there and then. You begin by observing what was happening in that moment as the events unfold, the word of wisdom was given, the prayer was lifted up, or the psalm was composed. Only then, can you begin to see how the passage points forward to and comes to fulfillment in Christ.
2. Remember the application. Sometimes people get into a Christ-centered reading and drop any kind of desire to apply the text in practical ways. Dos and don’ts are frowned upon. So, for example, I had a friend who loved Christ-centered preaching. But he thought that any example of how to live, or any specific instruction beyond “trust Jesus” was wrong. But the apostles didn’t divorce robust Christ-centered theology from deep Christ-honoring living. Think about the book of Hebrews. Like no other biblical book, the author pulls together threads of the Old Testament and ties them together in beautiful ways. But why does he do it? In almost every chapter, he gives a moral exhortation to his readers based on the finished work of Christ (e.g. Heb 4:11-16; 6:1-12; 10:19-25; 12:1-2).
Read and Rejoice
Jesus said that the Scriptures bear witness to him and he gives life (John 5:39-40). Wherever we are in the Bible, let us remember to read it in light of the saving work of Christ. Let us read and rejoice in that glorious work. But if we fail to remember these two cautions, then these other directions will misfire. We’ll end up missing out on the richness of God’s word and misapplying to our lives.