How did Jesus and the apostles interpret the Old Testament? What did they preach? The goal of this post is to answer these two questions to show that both Christ and the apostles preached the gospel through expositions of the Old Testament. The first place we see this is in the gospels. There are two great passages in the gospels and in each passage Jesus explains He is the main subject of all the Old Testament. The first instance is in John 5:37-40 and Jesus said to some Jews:
“And the Father who sent me has himself borne witness about me. His voice you have never heard, his form you have never seen, and you do not have his word abiding in you, for you do not believe the one whom he has sent. You search the Scriptures because you think that in them you have eternal life; and it is they that bear witness about me, yet you refuse to come to me that you may have life.”
The Scriptures (the Old Testament) bear witness about Jesus Christ. Not just part of the Old Testament, but all of it testifies that Christ is the way to eternal life with God the Father. He makes this clearer in Luke 24:25-27 as He speaks with two men on a road to Emmaus:
And he said to them, ‘O foolish ones, and slow of heart to believe all that the prophets have spoken! Was it not necessary that the Christ should suffer these things and enter into his glory?’ And beginning with Moses and all the Prophets, he interpreted to them in all the Scriptures the things concerning himself.
In other words, Jesus interpreted himself throughout the entire Old Testament for these two men.
Jesus’ interpretation of the Old Testament came out in His preaching and teaching ministry as well. In Luke 4:16-30, Jesus follows the custom in the synagogue of reading the assigned Scripture and then preaching on it. The text was Isaiah 42 and after Jesus finished reading it He explained that He was the fulfillment of this prophesy. The Spirit of the Lord came upon Him so that He could preach the gospel to the poor and proclaim liberty to the captives. “Something similar to Jesus’ approach to Scripture in Luke 4 is found again in his handling of Scripture in large parts of the Sermon on the Mount, especially Matthew 5:17-48.”
There is also something similar to Jesus’ approach to interpretation and preaching found throughout the rest of the New Testament by all the apostles. Don Carson said, “I would be prepared to argue that many of the interpretive stances displayed by the writers of the New Testament could be traced back to Jesus himself.” The apostles preached the gospel from all over the Old Testament, just like Jesus did. Speaking about his own preaching, Paul says “I decided to know nothing among you except Jesus Christ and him crucified” (1 Cor. 2:2). The person and work of Christ is the message Paul says he proclaims over and over. This is typical of all the apostles. It is the same thing John and Peter write in the opening chapters of their first epistles. The entire letter written to the Hebrews is one exposition after another of Old Testament texts. The final book of the New Testament, Revelation, is the subject of all sorts of crazy ideas and so many have failed to realize the book is first and foremost “the revelation of Jesus Christ” (Rev. 1:1). Whether it is Jesus, Paul, Peter, John or any other apostle, the gospel is the central focus of all their preaching, writing, and the key to understanding the Old Testament. Now we turn to why the gospel is central.