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CHRIST IN ALL OF SCRIPTURE
PREACHING CHRIST FROM the Old Testament means that we preach, not synagogue sermons, but sermons that take account of the full drama of redemption, and its realization in Christ. To see the text in relation to Christ is to see it in its larger context, the context of God's purpose in revelation. We do not ignore the specific message of the text, nor will it do to write an all-purpose Christocentric sermon finale and tag it for weekly use.
You must preach Christ as the text presents him. If you are tempted to think that most Old Testament texts do not present Christ, reflect on both the unity of Scripture and the fullness of Jesus Christ. Christ is present in the Bible as the Lord and as the Servant.
CHRIST THE LORD OF THE COVENANT
The New Testament applies the title kurios (Lord) to Christ (e.g., Heb. 1:10; 1 Pet. 3:15). That Greek term, used in the Septuagint version of the Old Testament to translate "Yahweh," became the short designation of the Lord Jesus Christ. Both the Old Testament and the New also use the term "Lord" to designate "the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ," as in Peter's quotation of Psalm 2 in Acts 4:26 (NKJV):
The kings of the earth took their stand, And the rulers were gathered together Against the LORD and against His Christ.
Most of the designations of God in the Old Testament refer to the living God with no distinction of the persons of the Trinity. But the Second Person of the Trinity appears as the "Lord" in many passages. John's Gospel shows that this is the case when John quotes Isaiah 6:10 and adds, "These things said Isaiah, because he saw his glory; and he spake of him" (John 12:41, ASV). Since the quotation is from Isaiah's vision of God's glory in the temple, it is clear that John views that glory of the Lord enthroned as the glory of Christ, the Logos.
Paul does the same in Ephesians 4:8 when he quotes from Psalm 68:18 (NKJV), applying to Christ's ascension words spoken of the Lord's exaltation:
When He ascended on high, He led captivity captive, And gave gifts to men.
The living God revealed in the Old Testament is the triune God. To be sure, the Incarnation brought to light Old Testament teaching that had still been in shadow. Yet the Angel of the Lord's presence did reveal the mystery of the One who could be both distinguished from God and identified with him. When the Commander of the Army of the Lord confronted Joshua in front of Jericho with a drawn sword, he told him to take off his sandals, because he was on holy ground. The Commander revealed himself to Joshua as the Lord himself (Josh. 5:13–6:5). The Lord God had given that same warning when he called to Moses from the flaming bush. The Angel of the Lord spoke to Moses from the bush, but identified himself as I AM, the God of the fathers. This is a well-established pattern in the theophanies of the Old Testament. The Angel was, in fact, God the Son, the Lord. He is the Angel of God's presence who spoke with Abraham (Gen. 18:1-2, 22, 33), who wrestled with Jacob (Genesis 32), who went before Israel (Ex. 23:20), whom Moses desired to know (Ex. 33:12-13), and who appeared to Manoah to announce the birth of Samson (Judges 13). The Angel speaks as Lord, bears the name of God, and reveals the glory of God (Ex. 23:21). Glimpsing his face in the early dawn, Jacob says he has seen the face of God (Gen. 32:30).
Anthony T. Hanson has argued that "the central affirmation [of the New Testament writers] is that the preexistent Jesus was present in much of Old Testament history, and that therefore it is not a question of tracing types in the Old Testament for New Testament events, but rather of tracing the activity of the same Jesus in the old and new dispensations."
To support his thesis, Hanson examines Pauline references, the book of Hebrews, Stephen's speech in Acts, the Fourth Gospel, and the Catholic Epistles. He examines Paul's account in 1 Corinthians 10:1-11 of the experiences of Israel under Moses. Hanson then appeals to the Greek Old Testament, the Septuagint, to note the use of kurios in Exodus 14. Kurios or ho kurios is used throughout the chapter, while theos (God) appears in verses 19 and 31. Hanson finds that such verses support Paul's distinguishing God from Christ the Lord in this chapter. He holds that Paul read "Christ" wherever kurios appears in the Septuagint passage. Christ was the Lord who delivered Israel from Egypt. As the Angel of God in the pillar of cloud, the Lord guided and guarded the Israelites in the Exodus. He led them from ahead, then went behind them to remain there through the night. There he screened them from the pursuing Egyptians (Ex. 14:19):
And Israel saw the mighty hand, the things that kurios did to the Egyptians; and the people feared kurios, and they believed God and Moses his servant (Ex. 14:31, literal translation).
The cloud of which Paul speaks (1 Cor. 10:1) is the cloud of Exodus 14, but it is worthy of note that in the Septuagint of Exodus 13:21 it is God (theos) who "led them, in the day by the pillar of cloud, to show them the way, and in the night by a pillar of fire." (In Hebrew, the name of God is "Yahweh" in this passage.)
Pressing the point that Paul thought "Christ" where he read kurios in the account of the Exodus, Hanson so interprets 1 Corinthians 10:9, "Nor let us tempt Christ, as some of them also tempted, and were destroyed by serpents" (NKJV). Paul, he holds, simply identified the Lord who led Israel through the wilderness as the Lord Christ.
In 1 Corinthians 10:9 the reading Christon (with the weight of the Chester Beatty papyrus) may be preferred to kurion (Sinaiticus, Vaticanus). On either reading, Hanson appears to be correct in claiming that Paul is thinking of Christ as the Lord who delivered Israel from Egypt, leading them through his presence manifested in the Angel.
Hanson refers to an important comment by C. H. Dodd on Romans 10:12-13: "Wherever the term Kyrios, Lord, is applied to Jehovah in the OT, Paul seems to hold that it points forward to the coming revelation of God in the Lord Jesus Christ." Hanson holds that this statement is "at once too sweeping and too tame." Too sweeping, because Paul does not always refer kurios in the Greek Old Testament to Christ (e.g., Rom. 9:28; 11:3). Too tame, because in Paul's view kurios does not simply point forward to Christ, but names Christ, present as Lord.
We may not be convinced of all the intricate exegetical reasoning that Hanson mounts to demonstrate his thesis. We may conclude that at times he stresses an identification of the Lord with Christ in Paul's thinking that is too dependent on Septuagint use, or too superficial for Paul's profound theology. Orthodox trinitarian theology took centuries seeking to unpack the distinction of persons and the unity of being (or "substance") that are implied in the way Paul worshiped the one God of his fathers in the full revelation of Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. It was easier for Paul to pass from the Father to the Son, or from the Son to the Spirit, than it is for scholars who have tried to formulate the mystery.
Where Hanson has traced out the strong recognition of Christ as the kurios in Paul or Hebrews, other studies could balance the picture by demonstrating how strongly Paul's theology is centered on the Father, or by discovering Paul again as the theologian of the Holy Spirit. Yet Hanson rightly alerts us to a more New Testament understanding of the centrality of Christ in the Old Testament. Jesus Christ is one with the Lord. It was the Spirit of Christ who spoke through the prophets (1 Pet. 1:10-12). Interpreting a Septuagint passage that says to fear nothing but the name of the Lord of Hosts himself, Peter substitutes "the Christ" for "himself" (1 Pet. 3:15; Isa. 8:12-13).
Hanson, however, uses the clear presence of Christ as Lord in the Old Testament to minimize typology. He takes it to be evident that we cannot have in any particular passage both the actual presence of Christ as Lord and also a type of Christ. This may seem evident, but it ignores the richness of Old Testament revelation. A text to the point is one that Hanson discusses without taking account of the symbolism at its heart — the passage where Moses strikes the Rock at God's command (Ex. 17:1-7). There the Lord is present, standing on the rock, but the Rock itself becomes a symbol, associated with the name of God, and therefore with God the Rock in symbol (Deut. 32:4). Symbolically, the Rock represented the incarnate Christ, as Paul says (1 Cor. 10:4).
John's Gospel emphasizes the full deity of Jesus Christ as the Logos, the Word who is not only with God but is God (John 1:1). Jesus says, "Before Abraham was, I AM" (John 8:58, NKJV). John, therefore, speaks of the glory that Isaiah saw in his vision of the Lord enthroned in the temple as the glory of Christ: "Isaiah said this because he saw Jesus' glory and spoke about him" (John 12:41, NIV).
Paul affirms the deity of Christ when he writes, "For in Christ all the fullness of the Deity lives in bodily form" (Col. 2:9, NIV). The Son of God possesses all the attributes of God. He is "a Spirit, infinite, eternal, and unchangeable, in his being wisdom, power, holiness, justice, goodness and truth" (Westminster Shorter Catechism, question 4). The Second Person of the Trinity became man to be one with his creatures.
Therefore, the Lordship of Christ does not begin with his resurrection glory and ascended rule. The divine Lordship is his eternally. For that reason we do not understand the Lordship of Christ first in terms of the covenant. Rather, we understand the covenant as established by the Lord. Traditional Reformed theology has spoken of the "Covenant of Redemption." This term has been used for the covenant between the Father and the Son that established God's plan of redemption. The Father willed to send the Son into the world to redeem those given by the Father to the Son (John 17). The Son willed to come into the world and to complete the work of salvation. Jesus therefore speaks of coming from the Father and returning to the Father (John 3:13).
The promise of God's covenant is the goal of Old Testament history. It is grounded in his sure oath that the Son of God would become man to save his people from their sins. John Murray, in his conversations with me, has well pointed out that John 3:16 speaks of the giving of the divine Son, since that giving included the sending of the Son into the world (John 17:3-4). Paul rejoices in the order of God's eternal plan (Rom. 11:33-36). God's covenant promise to Abraham required his own coming in the person of his Son.
The history of redemption is structured by God's covenant promise and moves forward in the "seasons" of God's saving work. After the resurrection, the disciples asked Jesus, "Lord, are you at this time going to restore the kingdom to Israel?" (Acts 1:6, NIV). Jesus replied, "It is not for you to know the times or dates the Father has set by his own authority" (v. 7, NIV).
The author of Hebrews also speaks of the times in the history of God's revelation. These seasons or epochs are marked by major events in the unfolding of God's plan. The popular Scofield Reference Bible speaks of the periods of the history of redemption as dispensations. According to the 1917 edition of the Scofield Bible, the period concerned with Israel lasted from the call of Abraham to the beginning of the church in Acts 2. Dispensationalism teaches that God offers different means of salvation in the different periods. Salvation by works was the way of salvation in the period of Israel, and will be again in the millennium. The "church age" was an unforeseen interruption in the history of salvation. The four Gospels therefore are for Israel, not the church. No Old Testament prophecies predicted it. The prophetic clock stopped.
On this view, the Lord's Prayer is not given to the church, but to Israel. The Scofield note explains that "forgive us our debts as we forgive our debtors" cannot be a prayer given to the church, for the petition rests "on legal ground." Israel asks for forgiveness on the ground of the good work of forgiving. Scofield dispensational theology was for many years the standard evangelical theology in many churches and Bible schools. At present, leading dispensational theologians have come to realize that the Old Testament, as well as the New, teaches salvation by grace. Few scholars now follow this works/grace division between the Old Testament and the New.
On the other hand, the spread of the redemptive-historical understanding of the Scriptures in Reformed circles has brought fresh emphasis on the importance of the periods of that history. We may rejoice that the division between Reformed and dispensational theologians has been diminishing as both turn to the Scriptures. Before Geerhardus Vos at Princeton Theological Seminary brought into American Calvinism the history of redemption and of revelation, classical Reformed theology used separate proof-texts to establish biblical doctrines. John Murray at Westminster Seminary in Philadelphia, however, had studied under Vos at Princeton. Murray taught a course in biblical theology. He proceeded through the periods of the history of redemption: creation to fall; fall to flood; flood to the call of Abraham; Abraham to Moses; Moses to Christ. Murray summarized the theology of each period and showed how each prepared for and pointed toward the full range of systematic theology in the New Testament.
Recent Bible commentaries, for example, the Word series, use the insights of biblical theology in their expositions. Some of these commentaries are too concessive to critical theories and the documentary hypotheses, but they provide exhaustive bibliography and condensed scholarship for biblical-theological understanding of texts.
The epochs of the history of redemption show the Lordship of the Second Person of the Trinity. It is the coming of the Lord that is the climax of the epochs of redemption. The Lord comes to possess his people. In covenantal blessing he possesses them that they may possess him. "I will walk among you and be your God, and you will be my people" (Lev. 26:12, NIV). The promise of his coming mounts like a sea-wave in Old Testament history. The Lord always takes the initiative in redemption. From the sin of Adam in the garden through the triumph of evil in the generation of the deluge, the promise remains, and is marked by the sign of the rainbow. The Lord called Noah, and swore his faithfulness to Abraham. He revealed himself to Jacob at Bethel, and came down the stairway from heaven to stand over Jacob and repeat the promise. He called Moses, and demanded that Pharaoh let his people go that they might serve him in worship. He is Lord. He delivers his people that they may be his servants. Moses declared to them the Lord's blessing if they remained faithful to him, but his curse if they rebelled. After Joshua led them into the land God had given them, the people turned aside and worshiped the Baal of the Canaanites. The Lord sent invaders in judgment but repeatedly delivered his people from those invaders, until at last he abandoned them to their idolatry. The period of the judges pointed toward Israel's need for a king. Samuel anointed Saul, then David, as king of Israel. David subdued the surrounding nations, and prepared for the building of the temple where the Lord would dwell in the midst of his people.
When Solomon dedicated the temple, he confessed that God had kept all his promises to Moses. Israel had received the peace and prosperity the Lord had promised them in the land (1 Kings 8:56). The blessings had been given. Half of the tribes recited them on Mount Gerizim. But then came the curses that had been recited on Mount Ebal (see Deut. 11:29).
CHRIST THE SERVANT OF THE COVENANT
Christ who is the Lord is also the Servant of the Lord. He is the true vine, the true Son, the true Israel. Where a righteous servant of the Lord appears in Old Testament history, it is the true Servant who is prefigured. God makes his covenant, claiming his people as his, and giving them a claim on him. "Lord" and "Servant" express that relation. The Lord's demand to Pharaoh was, "Let my people go, that they may serve me" (Ex. 10:3, ESV). Serving the Lord means worship and obedience. Jesus Christ consummates the covenant relation from both sides.
The Old Testament promises the coming of the Lord and also the coming of the Servant of the Lord. When the Lord condemns the failure of Israel's shepherds to care for the sheep, he declares that he himself will come to shepherd them (Ezek. 34:11-16). He also says that he will set up one shepherd, his servant David, over them to feed them: "I the LORD will be their God, and my servant David will be prince among them" (Ezek. 34:24, NIV).(Continues…)
Excerpted from "Preaching Christ in All of Scripture"
Copyright © 2003 Edmund P. Clowney.
Excerpted by permission of Good News Publishers.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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Table of Contents
1 Christ in All of Scripture,
2 Preparing a Sermon That Presents Christ,
3 Sharing the Father's Welcome (Luke 15:11-32),
4 See What It Costs (Genesis 22:1-19),
5 When God Came Down (Genesis 28:10-22),
6 The Champion's Strange Victory (Genesis 32),
7 Can God Be Among Us? (Exodus 34:1-9),
8 Meet the Captain (Joshua 5:13-15),
9 Surprised by Devotion (2 Samuel 23:13-17),
10 The Lord of the Manger,
11 Jesus Preaches Liberty (Luke 4:16-22),
12 The Cry of the God-Forsaken Savior (Psalm 22:1),
13 Our International Anthem (Psalm 96:3),
14 Jesus Christ and the Lostness of Man,
15 Hearing Is Believing: The Lord of the Word,
What People are Saying About This
"Edmund Clowney is this generation's patriarch of redemptive-historical preaching. For decades he was the voice crying in the wilderness to encourage evangelical preachers to make Christ the focus of all their messages, since he is the aim of all the Scriptures. Now, many others have joined Clowney's gospel chorus, but none with greater mastery than he of the harmonies that weave the symphony of grace throughout the Bible. As Clowney shares with us the jewels of his research, message, and heart, we discern ever more clearly how to make the Pearl of Great Price shine through all the treasures of Scripture."
Bryan Chapell, Pastor Emeritus, Grace Presbyterian Church, Peoria, Illinois
"Edmund Clowney has given a wonderful gift to the church in general and to preachers in particular. Preaching Christ in All of Scripture is the kind of book that isn't just about preaching. It's about Christ and the call on all believers to see him and his glory in all of God's Word. Preachers can rejoice and profit from the practical and profound teaching, and all believers can rejoice in the awesome reality of Jesus as Lord."
Stephen W. Brown, Professor of Preaching, Reformed Theological Seminary
"Here is instruction from a master Bible teacher on how to preach God-honoring, Christ-centered, Spirit-empowered sermons. Edmund Clowney's classes at Westminster Seminary transformed my understanding of how the whole Bible fits together, and I expect this book will do the same for all who read it."
Wayne Grudem, Distinguished Research Professor of Theology and Biblical Studies, Phoenix Seminary; author, Christian Ethics
"Ed Clowney taught me how to preach the gospel to postmodern people. To anyone who wants to learn how to do so as well, these sermons are priceless."
Timothy Keller, Founding Pastor, Redeemer Presbyterian Church, New York City; Chairman and Cofounder, Redeemer City to City