A Model for How to Teach About Jesus From the Old Testament (Matthew 1-2)

In Luke 24:19-27, we see Jesus explaining the gospel. One of the things that makes this passage interesting is that he teaches about himself from the Old Testament:

And he said to them, “What things?” And they said to him, “Concerning Jesus of Nazareth, a man who was a prophet mighty in deed and word before God and all the people, and how our chief priests and rulers delivered him up to be condemned to death, and crucified him. But we had hoped that he was the one to redeem Israel. Yes, and besides all this, it is now the third day since these things happened. Moreover, some women of our company amazed us. They were at the tomb early in the morning, and when they did not find his body, they came back saying that they had even seen a vision of angels, who said that he was alive. Some of those who were with us went to the tomb and found it just as the women had said, but him they did not see.” 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 (Luke 24:19-27).

Jesus assumes that the two disciples on the road to Emmaus understood the Old Testament’s basic teaching of Christ’s death and resurrection. In Luke 24:25-26, Jesus states the problem: the two men on the road to Emmaus are slow to believe what is so plainly understood in Scripture (“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?’”). Jesus explains that the men on the road to Emmaus should have been able to understand the crucifixion and resurrection events as foretold in Scripture. Jesus then teaches them about those events using the Old Testament in verse 27: “And beginning with Moses and all the Prophets, he interpreted to them in all the Scriptures the things concerning himself.” This demonstrates that a rich understanding of Jesus’ identity and ministry doesn’t start in the New Testament—it starts by connecting Old Testament narrative and prophecy about the Messiah to their fulfillment in the person and work of Jesus.

What Does Jesus Teach About Himself from the Old Testament?

It would be convenient if Luke 24 provided a transcript that conveys exactly what Jesus taught them about himself from the Old Testament. Unfortunately, we get no more detail about that conversation from Luke. However, we get a good demonstration of what the Old Testament teaches about Jesus (that he is the anticipated Messiah) from Matthew 1-2. There we find that Jesus is the Messiah (1) that is from Abraham, (2) from David, (3) that will lead Israel out of exile, (4) that has come as the Prophets foretold, and (5) will return as the Prophets have foretold.

Descendant of Abraham

Matthew 1:1, 17 frames the importance of Jesus as tied directly to expectations of the line of Abraham (the Father of Israel) and David (the King of Israel). Jesus is the fulfillment of the promise to Abraham and he is the one from David’s line who will have the government upon his shoulders.

The book of the genealogy of Jesus Christ, the son of David, the son of Abraham…So all the generations from Abraham to David were fourteen generations, and from David to the deportation to Babylon fourteen generations, and from the deportation to Babylon to the Christ fourteen generations (Matthew 1:1,17).

The genealogy is used to point out that Jesus is the blessing to the nations that will come from Abraham as promised in Genesis 12:2-3: “And I will make of you a great nation, and I will bless you and make your name great, so that you will be a blessing. I will bless those who bless you, and him who dishonors you I will curse, and in you all the families of the earth shall be blessed.” This covenant with Abraham was partially fulfilled in the nation of Israel; Jesus fulfills it in its entirety. Galatians 3:8-9 demonstrate this:

And the Scripture, foreseeing that God would justify the Gentiles by faith, preached the gospel beforehand to Abraham, saying, “In you shall all the nations be blessed.” So then, those who are of faith are blessed along with Abraham, the man of faith…so that in Christ Jesus the blessing of Abraham might come to the Gentiles, so that we might receive the promised Spirit through faith (Galatians 3:8-9).

Without the promises made to Abraham and Israel, the rest of the world would have no hope.  Our hope is in Jesus, the descendant of Abraham, as the fulfillment of the promise to Abraham. The Jew and the non-Jew have this in common: they hope to take part in the blessing of Abraham by faith. It is by believing—like the saving faith that Abraham exhibited in Genesis 15:6—and not by works of the law (Galatians 3:10) that one becomes a child of Abraham (Galatians 3:7). The blessings that Abraham’s children (Jew and non-Jew alike) receive are justification (Galatians 3:8) and the gift of the Spirit (Galatians 3:14). Jesus himself reveals his identity as the Messiah and the Son of God in reference to the promise to Abraham in John 8:56.

A King of David’s Line

As stated previously, Matthew 1:1, 17 also frames the importance of Jesus as tied directly to expectations of the line David. As the Bible’s description of the Holy One to come from David’s line unfolds, we discover four types of connections: Messiah’s resurrection, Messiah’s rule, Messiah’s nature, and Messiah’s work.

Jesus’ Resurrection

…this Jesus, delivered up according to the definite plan and foreknowledge of God, you crucified and killed by the hands of lawless men. God raised him up, loosing the pangs of death, because it was not possible for him to be held by it. For David says concerning him,

“I saw the Lord always before me,

  for he is at my right hand that I may not be shaken;

therefore my heart was glad, and my tongue rejoiced;

  my flesh also will dwell in hope.

For you will not abandon my soul to Hades,

  or let your Holy One see corruption.

You have made known to me the paths of life;

  you will make me full of gladness with your presence.”

  Brothers, I may say to you with confidence about the patriarch David that he both died and was buried, and his tomb is with us to this day. Being therefore a prophet, and knowing that God had sworn with an oath to him that he would set one of his descendants on his throne, he foresaw and spoke about the resurrection of the Christ, that he was not abandoned to Hades, nor did his flesh see corruption. This Jesus God raised up, and of that we all are witnesses (Acts 2:23-32).

In Acts 2, Peter connects what David writes in Psalm 16:9-10 to the resurrection of Jesus. If what David writes is inspired Scripture, then he couldn’t have been prophesying about himself, since David did indeed die and remain in the grave. Psalm 16 instructs that the identity of the Messiah will be marked by prevention of bodily decay in the grave; the Messiah will be identified by resurrection. Jesus is the descendant of David whose body did not decay (“see corruption”) in the grave. Jesus’ bodily resurrection, which the disciples and others have witnessed and attested to (1 Corinthians 15:5-8), indicates that he is the Messiah that David anticipated. Similarly, Paul makes the same point about David’s prophecy from Psalm 16:

Therefore he says also in another psalm,

“You will not let your Holy One see corruption.”

  For David, after he had served the purpose of God in his own generation, fell asleep and was laid with his fathers and saw corruption, but he whom God raised up did not see corruption. Let it be known to you therefore, brothers, that through this man forgiveness of sins is proclaimed to you, and by him everyone who believes is freed from everything from which you could not be freed by the law of Moses (Acts 13:35-39).

Jesus’ resurrection not only validates that his blood was an accepted sacrifice for the atonement of sin, it also identifies Jesus as the Messiah of which David spoke.

Jesus’ Rule

In 2 Samuel 7, we find prophecy about the Messiah that is told to David as opposed to prophecy told by David.

…Moreover, the LORD declares to you that the LORD will make you a house. When your days are fulfilled and you lie down with your fathers, I will raise up your offspring after you, who shall come from your body, and I will establish his kingdom. He shall build a house for my name, and I will establish the throne of his kingdom forever. I will be to him a father, and he shall be to me a son. When he commits iniquity, I will discipline him with the rod of men, with the stripes of the sons of men, but my steadfast love will not depart from him, as I took it from Saul, whom I put away from before you. And your house and your kingdom shall be made sure forever before me. Your throne shall be established forever” (2 Samuel 7:11b-16, emphasis added).

This prophecy is clear at the outset that it is not speaking about David (“I will raise up your offspring after you”). Admittedly, this passage is difficult as it entangles prophecy about Solomon (“…when he commits iniquity, I will discipline him…”) with prophecy about Jesus (“and I will establish the throne of his kingdom forever”). This post will not attempt to disentangle the intermingling of those prophecies; such a task would be too lengthy to handle satisfactorily within the scope of this post. Instead, one can simply contend that this passage describes an individual descendant of David (“I will raise up your offspring after you, who shall come from your body and I will establish the throne of his kingdom”) who will have a perpetual reign on the throne of David. Isaiah 9:6-7 is another passage echoing that the line of David will produce a perpetual king whose reign has no end:

For to us a child is born,

    to us a son is given;

    and the government shall be upon his shoulder,

    and his name shall be called

    Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God,

    Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.

    Of the increase of his government and of peace

    there will be no end,

    on the throne of David and over his kingdom,

    to establish it and to uphold it

    with justice and with righteousness

    from this time forth and forevermore.

    The zeal of the LORD of hosts will do this (Isaiah 9:6-7).

While this prophecy about Jesus’ rule is not presently realized in its fullest form, we can make two conclusions in regard to it:

First, Jesus fits the description of the prophecy. He is of the line of David. He is alive, having bodily resurrected and ascended. In his second coming, he will entirely fulfill this prophecy.

Second, no one else is qualified to fulfill this prophecy.  The Old Testament ends with God’s people under foreign rule and looking for the promised king–the king descended from David that will bring them out of exile. There is no king in Israel now, and if there was someone claiming to be king of Israel at present, they would have to be a descendant of David to even begin to be qualified to fulfill this prophecy.

Jesus’ Nature

In Psalm 110, David indicates that his descendant that will reign on the throne of David forever is more than just one of his descendants–David calls him his “Lord.” While this descendant of David is truly from David, he is also God. Jesus made this point as he asked the Pharisees a pointed question in Matthew 22:

Now while the Pharisees were gathered together, Jesus asked them a question, saying, “What do you think about the Christ? Whose son is he?” They said to him, “The son of David.” He said to them, “How is it then that David, in the Spirit, calls him Lord, saying,
‘The Lord said to my Lord,
Sit at my right hand,
until I put your enemies under your feet’?
If then David calls him Lord, how is he his son?” And no one was able to answer him a word, nor from that day did anyone dare to ask him any more questions (Matthew 22:41-46).

Isaiah 9:6-7 makes the connection abundantly clear: the perpetual king of David’s line is “Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.”

Jesus’ Work

…The LORD has sworn

  and will not change his mind,

You are a priest forever

  after the order of Melchizedek (Psalm 110:4).

Psalm 110:4 shows that the Messiah is also a priest, making atoning sacrifice for the people.  We should draw from this Davidic psalm that the Messiah from David’s line who will reign on the throne forever will be identified by his priestly service. Hebrews 1:3 and 10:9 describe Jesus’ priestly role further.

From David we see that the Messiah would be called Mighty God, that he would be a king from the line of David that will reign forever, that he would experience resurrection, and that he would serve a priestly role of mediating between God the Father and man. Just as Peter declared in Acts 2:32, it is this Jesus that meets this criteria.

The One that Will Lead Israel Out of Exile

Matthew 1:17 references the “deportation to Babylon” as a significant time in the genealogy of Jesus. As stated previously, the Old Testament ends with God’s people under foreign rule and looking for the promised Messiah.  At the time of the New Testament, Israel is under Roman rule—effectively in exile. However, Israel still held some expectation of God delivering on promises such as those in Ezekiel 36:16-30.

Therefore say to the house of Israel, Thus says the Lord GOD: It is not for your sake, O house of Israel, that I am about to act, but for the sake of my holy name, which you have profaned among the nations to which you came. And I will vindicate the holiness of my great name, which has been profaned among the nations, and which you have profaned among them. And the nations will know that I am the LORD, declares the Lord GOD, when through you I vindicate my holiness before their eyes. I will take you from the nations and gather you from all the countries and bring you into your own land. I will sprinkle clean water on you, and you shall be clean from all your uncleannesses, and from all your idols I will cleanse you. And I will give you a new heart, and a new spirit I will put within you. And I will remove the heart of stone from your flesh and give you a heart of flesh. And I will put my Spirit within you, and cause you to walk in my statutes and be careful to obey my rules. You shall dwell in the land that I gave to your fathers, and you shall be my people, and I will be your God. And I will deliver you from all your uncleannesses. And I will summon the grain and make it abundant and lay no famine upon you. I will make the fruit of the tree and the increase of the field abundant, that you may never again suffer the disgrace of famine among the nations (Ezekiel 36:22-30, emphasis added).

God’s people are in exile and He promises to restore them on account of His great name. He promises to change their hearts from hard, disobedient hearts to soft hearts of flesh that have obedience fueled by His Spirit. God has let His people see His goodness, He has guided them by miracles, He gave them messages from their prophets, and He gave them a land and made them a nation. But, it was never enough to cause them to be obedient; all those things are external and the problem for them has been internal. So, at the right time, God is promising to execute His long-conceived plan to have a people that are changed from the inside.  For His glory and for our good He is executing this plan that existed from the beginning. However, as Ezekiel 37:23-28 indicates, the timing of the return from exile seems to be an event we are still waiting for in Christ’s second coming.

They shall not defile themselves anymore with their idols and their detestable things, or with any of their transgressions. But I will save them from all the backslidings in which they have sinned, and will cleanse them; and they shall be my people, and I will be their God.

My servant David shall be king over them, and they shall all have one shepherd. They shall walk in my rules and be careful to obey my statutes. They shall dwell in the land that I gave to my servant Jacob, where your fathers lived. They and their children and their children’s children shall dwell there forever, and David my servant shall be their prince forever. I will make a covenant of peace with them. It shall be an everlasting covenant with them. And I will set them in their land and multiply them, and will set my sanctuary in their midst forevermore. My dwelling place shall be with them, and I will be their God, and they shall be my people. Then the nations will know that I am the LORD who sanctifies Israel, when my sanctuary is in their midst forevermore (Ezekiel 37:23-28, emphasis added).

It should be noted that Ezekiel prophesied centuries after David’s death. When he prophesies that “David my servant shall be their prince forever,” this is speaking of the descendant of David who will rule on David’s throne. The final, peaceful return of true Israel to the Promised Land, seems to occur after (1) the pouring out of the Spirit at Pentecost and (2) Christ’s second coming. It is Jesus who will finally deliver God’s people from exile.

Prophecy (The First Coming)

The first chapter of Matthew ends with a prophecy about the Messiah and the second chapter continues to do the same.

Matthew 1:18-25 references Isaiah 7:14, Matthew 1:22 says that “all this took place to fulfill what the Lord had spoken by the prophet:”; Matthew 2:1-12 references Micah 5:2, Matthew 2:5b says “…for so it is written by the prophet”; Matthew 2:13-15 references Hosea 11:1, Matthew 2:15 says that “this was to fulfill what the Lord had spoken by the prophet”; Matthew 2:16-18 references Jeremiah 31:15, Matthew 2:17 says “then was fulfilled what was spoken by the prophet Jeremiah.” The point is quite clear, there is a lot of prophecy that Christ fulfilled. We can follow the example of Matthew 1 and 2 and point to the wealth of Old Testament prophecy that Christ has fulfilled—such as Isaiah 53.

Prophecy (The Second Coming)

Some Old Testament prophecies speak of Christ’s first coming and his saving work (Micah 5:2; Isaiah 7:14, 9:6-7; Isaiah 53), some Old Testament prophecies speak of his second coming and resultant rule and judgment (Psalm 110; Zechariah 9; 2 Samuel 7), and some Old Testament prophecies mingle them together.

The LORD says to my Lord:

    “Sit at my right hand,

    until I make your enemies your footstool”  (Psalm 110:1).

We see from Luke 19:11 that the people of Jesus’ day expected the Messiah to be an immediate conquering king that would deliver Israel politically.  Eagerness for such a thing is understandable for the Jew of Jesus’ day:  there is still an expectation of the return from exile as promised in Ezekiel 37.

Therefore prophesy, and say to them, Thus says the Lord GOD: Behold, I will open your graves and raise you from your graves, O my people. And I will bring you into the land of Israel. And you shall know that I am the LORD, when I open your graves, and raise you from your graves, O my people. And I will put my Spirit within you, and you shall live, and I will place you in your own land. Then you shall know that I am the LORD; I have spoken, and I will do it, declares the LORD (Ezekiel 37:12-14 ESV).

When Jesus tells Nicodemus (John 3:17) that his first coming is for salvation and not judgment, we have the privilege to understand two things:

First, it shows that outstanding, unfulfilled prophecy about Christ will be fulfilled at his second coming as the Kingdom of Heaven is finally fully revealed (as we see in Revelation 19). Jesus reinforces this in Acts 1:6-10.

So when they had come together, they asked him, “Lord, will you at this time restore the kingdom to Israel?” He said to them, “It is not for you to know times or seasons that the Father has fixed by his own authority.But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you, and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the end of the earth” (Acts 1:6–8 ESV).

Second, it sets the mission for the church as the Great Commission to the end of the age. Now is the time for salvation. The return from exile for true Israel is to come. The fullness of the Kingdom of Heaven is to come. While we have the chance, before the Judgment, we should share the gospel knowing that God is patiently waiting for all who will come to repentance to do so (2 Peter 3:8-10). To that end, the apostles continue the practice that Jesus modeled: they used Old Testament prophecy to declare Jesus as the Messiah (Matthew 1-2; Acts 2; Acts 13:32-41).

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