Jesus showed his disciples in Luke 24:27 that the entire Old Testament pointed to him. It is easy for us read that verse and say "The whole Bible is about Jesus" but sometimes this is much easier to say than to see, especially when reading some of the difficult passages of the Old Testament. So how can we see him in the Old Testament? How can we know that it all points to him? Below are 9 ways to find Jesus in the Old Testament. Hopefully they can serve as tools to help you faithfully interpret the Bible. (Before we begin, I want to say that I did not come up with any of these on my own. All of this stuff I've learned mainly from Sidney Greidanus and his book, Graeme Goldsworthy, and a podcast from Tim Keller and Edmund Clowney have also been helpful. Click on their names to learn more)
1. Redemptive Historical progression
This approach requires us to ask the question, "Where does this OT passage fit into the storyline of the Bible?"
The Bible begins with God creating a perfect world, with perfect creatures and perfect relationships. In Genesis 3 Adam and Eve listen a lie of Satan and rebel against God. This results in brokenness to everything that God created perfect. God forgives them of their sin and promises that one day he will send someone to defeat this brokenness and death (Genesis 3:15). This person would become known as the Messiah. The rest of the Old Testament is the unfolding of who that person would be, what family he would come from, how he would act and what he would do. So the redemptive historical approach is to see how a particular story or passage fits into the greater story of the Messiah.
For Example the Story of Ruth is about a nice guy named Boaz taking in a widow (Ruth) to be his wife. We might ask, "Why is this in the Bible?" But the last verses of Ruth tells us. It says that Boaz fathered Obed, Obed fathered Jesse, Jesse fathered David (Ruth 4:21-22). God later made a promise to David that the Messiah would come from his line and the New Testament tells us that Jesus comes from the line of David. In other words, God used the kindness Boaz showed to Ruth to bring about Jesus, the Savior of the world. This is what it means to see the story of Ruth as a piece in the greater Story of Jesus.
Typology requires us to ask "Does this OT passage contain a person or object that specifically foreshadows the person and work of Jesus?"
I think this approach is the funnest but also the most abused approach. It is fun because it is really cool to see how many things in the Old Testament specifically foreshadow Jesus. It can be dangerous because there may be a temptation to find Jesus in the Old Testament where he simply is not. One leader in my church calls that "stretchology" because you stretch the Bible to mean something it doesn't mean.
Typology is looking for foreshadows. For example, Jonah is a type of Christ. This can include people or objects. As Jonah went into the belly of the fish for 3 days, Jesus went into the belly the earth for three days (Matthew 12:40). As Job is a righteous man who suffers, Jesus is the greater righteous man who suffers. As Issaac carried wood up a hill to be sacrificed by his father who loved him. Jesus carried wood up a hill to be truly sacrificed by his Father in Heaven who loved him. For objects you could say the tabernacle. The tabernacle was the special dwelling place of God on earth. In order for people to connect with God, they had to go to the tabernacle. John tells us that when Jesus became flesh he dwelt, or tabernacled, amongst us (John 1:14). In order to connect with God, you must go to Jesus (John 14:6). Jesus is the truer and greater tabernacle. These, and many more things are all foreshadows of Jesus.
Different from typology, Anti (meaning opposite) Typology requires us to ask, "Does this OT passage contain a person or object that specifically foreshadows the opposite of Jesus and his work?"
An example would be King Saul. God appointed Saul to be the king of his people. Saul looked like a king. He was tall, handsome and stood out among the people (1 Samuel 9:2). Saul started out good but overtime became proud. He started to care for himself more than the people. Because of this he became a bad king. Jesus, however is like and unlike Saul. Like Saul he was appointed by the Father to be king of his people, but unlike Saul he didn't look like a king. He didn't become proud but took on the form of a servant, even to the point of death (Matthew 10:45). Jesus is a king who valued people more than he valued himself. Jesus is the anti-type of Saul.
4. Longitudinal themes
This approach leads us to ask, "What idea or theme is in this OT passage that finds it's ultimate end in Jesus?"
Longitudinal themes are ideas or dominant themes that develop throughout the Old Testament and are most fully revealed in Christ. Examples of this include the phrase "Salvation belongs to the LORD" said by Jonah when he hit rock bottom (Jonah 2:9). We too, when we hit rock bottom can call out to Jesus to be saved. Another theme is that salvation is by faith alone in God. Paul says that as Abraham had faith in God, we need to have faith in Jesus in order to be saved (Romans 4:3). Martin Luther once said, "God uses crooked sticks to draw straight lines." This too is a longitudinal theme. Throughout the entire Old Testement we see God using flawed men and women to advance his purposes. We see the same with Jesus as he chose flawed disciples to be his apostles and chooses a broken church to advance his kingdom. These are all themes that find their end in Jesus.
5. Promise and Fulfillment
For this approach we ask, "Does this OT passage contain any promises that are fulfilled in Jesus?"
The Old Testament contains over 300 prophecies that have already been fulfilled by Jesus. This is not to mention the many that have yet to be filled in his return. One simple way to find Jesus in the Old Testament is to look for these promises. My favorite is Genesis 3:15. God tells the serpent, "There will be man who comes from the seed of a woman, who will crush your head but be wounded in the process." Jesus fulfills this by being the man who was born from a virgin, who defeated Satan, sin and death, but was wounded in the process as he died on the cross. He was only wounded though, because he resurrected from the grave 3 days later and lives victoriously. Jesus is the fulfillment of God's first promise of redemption.
6. New Testament References
To find Jesus with this approach, we ask the question, "Is this passage quoted in the New Testament as being about Jesus."
Most of the New Testament is made up of Old Testament quotes or references. When we find a Old Testament quote being used in the New Testament as being about Jesus, we can conclude that the original passage was meant to point us to Jesus. The Apostle Peter shows us this in Acts 2:24-33 when he says that Psalm 16:8-11 is really about Jesus not David. Thus we have a fuller meaning to Psalm 16. There are many quotes like this in the New Testament. This approach is to mine them out. This may not always be easy, so a good Study Bible or online study tool might be helpful.
Analogy requires us to ask "Does this OT passage reveal a relationship Between the LORD and his people that is parralleled in the relationship with Jesus and his church? "
The relationship between the LORD and Israel in the Old Testement is often analagous to Jesus' relationship with his church. For example, as Israel was called the bride of the LORD, the church is called the bride of Christ (Revelation 19:7). As Israel is the chosen people of God in the Old Testament, the church is the chosen of people of God (new Israel) in the New Testament (1 Peter 2:9). As the LORD was the faithful king to Israel as athey sojourned through the wilderness, Jesus is the faithful King of his disciples as they sojourn on earth toward the promise land of heaven. In summary, Jesus relates to the church the same way we see the LORD relating to Israel.
8. Law and Gospel
For this we ask the question, "How is the law of God revealed in this passage ultimately fulfilled by Christ?"
The Law is what God commands. It is beautiful but also terrifying. I like to think of it like the ocean. It draws you to its beauty. It terrifies you with its size and power. This is how the commands of God are. They are beutiful and show us the goodness of God. But they are terrifying because we will never be able to live up to their standard. Jesus did not come to abolish the law, but to fulfill it (Matthew 5:17) The easiest summary of the Law is the 10 Commandments (Exodus 20:3-17). In every way that we fail the 10 Commandments, Jesus fulfilled them on our behalf. He also paid the consequence for our disobedience to them on the cross.
There are different types of Old Testament laws. Some are Ceremonial laws, describing what was required for the ceremonies of worship for Israel. Others were Civil laws, describing how Jesus Israel was supposed to civilly treat each other. Others were Moral laws, describing how all people are called to treat each other as fellow humans. In Jesus' life and death, he fulfilled all these categories.
This final approach finds Jesus by asking "How are the ways God works in this Old Testament passage different than the way Jesus works in the New Testament?"
While God's relationship with his people in the Old Testament and New Testament is very similar, often the way he works and accomplishes his purposes is different. For example, in the Old testament God calls Israel to invite people to join their nation so they could worship God (Exodus 12:48). But in the New Testament, Jesus sends his disciples out the nations to proclaim the gospel so all nations can worship (Matthew 28:16-20). In other words, in the Old Testament, God's people had a ministry of gathering. In the New Testament God's people have a ministry of going. With the coming of Christ we see contrast to the way in which God advances his kingdom.
The whole Bible, even the Old Testament, points to Jesus.