Knowing Jesus Through the Old Testamentby Christopher J.H. Wright
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It is somewhat disturbing to see the lack of appreciation of the Hebrew Scriptures by the everyday believer and even more so the absence of depth concerning them from many contemporary pulpits. It is not uncommon to share a conversation with a believer who sees the Old Testament as nothing more than a historical narrative having nothing to do with the person and work of Jesus Christ.
Wright centers his argument around five chapters, every one of them focused on observing Jesus’ relationship to the history of Israel, the promise of the Old Testament, Jesus’ identity, His mission, and Old Testament value systems. Wright treats us to a snapshot of the history of Israel in the first chapter as he begins to lay the foundation for the rest of the text. Beginning with the genealogy of Matthew’s Gospel, he presents us with a very real Jesus with a very real Jewish lineage.
He puts particular emphasis on Jesus’ Jewish heritage by referring us to 1 Chronicles 1-9, stating, “In Jewish society genealogies were an important way of establishing your right to belong within the community of God’s people.”1Christopher J.H. Wright, Knowing Jesus Through the Old Testament (Downers Grove, II: InterVarsity Press, 1995) 3. This becomes important, especially later on, in pointing us to the truth that Christ embodies the fulfillment of the Old Testament promises given to the nation of Israel and ultimately to all mankind.
Also, Wright notes that Jesus was indeed a real man, a descendant of Abraham with whom the covenant was established and that He is also the heir to the throne of David based on His lineage. In addition to establishing Christ’s identity, Wright notes the universal implications of the promise and the sovereignty of God throughout other nations while still maintaining the uniqueness of God’s relationship with Israel. Through this history, we see in the book the divine hand of God establishing His plan and purpose for all mankind through His representative, the nation of Israel. Subsequent chapters continue to build on this understanding, and the distillation of ideas around this central theme point the reader to the Lord Jesus.
Wright’s most concise summary and his heart concerning the Old Testament is found in the following quote,
“In short, the deeper you go into understanding the Old Testament, the closer you come to the heart of Jesus. (After all, Jesus never actually read the New Testament!) That has been my conviction for a long time, and it is the conviction that underlies this book.”2Wright, ix.
Bearing the above quote in mind, we can begin to see where the author intends to direct the reader as they traverse the pages of his book. One of the foundational scriptures supporting this is found in Genesis 12:3, which Wright uses to establish his theological understanding of the universal nature of the promise given to Abraham.3Ibid, 83. He notes on more than one occasion the significance of “all peoples” contained within the verse. While he does cover the significance of the other covenants found in the Old Testament, it does not seem as though they carry the same weight as the Abrahamic Covenant.
This makes sense in light of the authorial intention to primarily treat the Old Testament, although I would have appreciated a treatment of the New Covenant in light of the Abrahamic Covenant. Wright acknowledges disproportionate approach when he points out, “The breadth of the new covenant makes it more difficult to analyse…”4Ibid, 94. While one can appreciate this truth and he does give attention to passages in Ezekiel and Jeremiah (where the covenant text is found), it never carries the impact it certainly could have.
A strong voice cries out from the text reminding pastors and ministry lay workers of the importance and rich content of the Old Testament writings. To simply conclude their relevance is lost on fulfilled prophecy or that they were only addressed to the nation of Israel is to miss God’s voice in His word, as Wright suggests time and time again. Scripture does indeed interpret scripture, so I wonder if we cannot find much correlation between most New Testament texts and Old Testament texts when preparing things like a sermon or personal devotion note.
God is the same God in the Old Testament as He is in the New Testament. From Genesis to Revelation His Word is true and relevant for all of our lives. I commend Wright on his ability to remind us to never forget the power of the Old Testament and its ability to substantiate the claims of the New Testament.
I appreciate Wright’s technique and method of presenting the important truths found in the Old Testament in light of the New Testament, and the genealogy of Jesus in Matthew in particular; that was an incredible exposition, and the historical tie-in easily hooks the audience into wanting to know more about this incredible Jesus and his long story of arrival beginning in Genesis.
Wright’s work without a doubt draws us back to a reverence of God’s word and reminds us that, from cover to cover, we will always have more to learn.