Christ in the Old Testament

As we explored in the previous section on the Holy Trinity, Jesus Christ—who is the incarnate Son and Word of God the Father—was active in the world even before He was incarnate. His activity is described in the Hebrew Scriptures—the Old Testament—frequently appearing to the Prophets to bring them knowledge of the will of God the Father, or to inform them of future events. 

In addition to these references, many prophecies of Jesus’ coming are recorded in the Old Testament. The book of the Prophet Isaiah, for instance, makes extended reference to the coming of the Messiah, the Christ (literally, ‘Anointed One’). As early as the fall of humanity, and the curses that attended it, the promise of Jesus was given by God to Adam and Eve (Genesis 3:15). The Gospel of Matthew was written largely with the intent of explaining how the life of Jesus Christ was foretold in the Hebrew Scriptures. Yet, beyond these explicit references, Jesus Christ permeates the entirety of the Old Testament.

In instructing His apprentices, Jesus is frequently described as opening their understanding of the Law, the Prophets, and the Psalms—that is, the whole Old Testament. He told His followers that the Old Testament spoke directly about Him. Later, St. Paul—an Apostle sent to tell the good news of Christ throughout the Roman Empire—would explain that unless one reads the Old Testament in the light of the coming of Jesus Christ, one is reading it with a veil covering it, it is impossible to understand. The poetry of the Church’s services frequently explains this pervasive testimony to Christ, for example: when Moses was required to hold his arms straight out to either side of his body in order for Israel to defeat their enemy in battle (Exodus 17:11), the Church sees as foreshadowing the Cross of Christ; when Moses encountered God in a bush that was on fire, yet not consumed by it (Exodus 3:1ff.), the Church sees as foreshadowing the the Virgin Mary whose womb held God Himself, yet she was not destroyed by His presence. There are numerous allusions, encapsulated in the writings of the Church fathers and in the Church’s poetic hymns, adding depth, richness, and above all—meaning—to the narratives of the Old Testament. Without these, they would merely be a collection of miracle tales, but with their fulfillment in Jesus Christ, they are shown to be a rich mosaic depicting the triumphant coming of the Son and Word of God.

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