Does every verse in the Bible point to Jesus? Well, yes and no. Yes, there is a sense in which every verse in the Bible points to Jesus, but probably not the way many people think. Let’s learn how to appreciate every passage in context and also how every passage points to Jesus within the big picture of the Bible.
When studying the Bible, we must always show appreciation for “authorial intent.” In other words, we have to try to answer the question, “What did the author of this book intend to say to the people of his day? How did he intend for them to understand it?”
Unfortunately, when Christians read the Old Testament looking for passages that point to Jesus, we often show very little respect for authorial intent. We tend to assume the authors were simply giving predictions about Jesus. As Tim Mackie said, we think a prophet was a person who had “a little movie screen in his head” on which he saw video clips about Jesus in the future.
This is probably because we tend to think of prophets as predictors of the future. However, prophets were more often interpreters of the present than predictors of the future. The prophets usually spoke or wrote a message from God to the people of their own day about why certain things were happening. As Peter said, “You must understand that no prophecy of Scripture came about by the prophet’s own interpretation of things” (2 Peter 1:20, NIV). The Holy Spirit was helping the prophets interpret the signs of their own time.
Is Isaiah 7:14 About Jesus?
Isaiah 7:14 says, “Therefore the Lord himself will give you a sign: The virgin will conceive and give birth to a son, and will call him Immanuel.” Christians hear these words and usually think, “Isaiah was predicting Jesus’ birth.” However, if we read this verse in context, Isaiah is talking about God giving a sign for the people of his day, specifically for the king of Judah.
In Isaiah 7, a military alliance of Arameans and Israelites had marched against Jerusalem. Ahaz, the king of Judah, was terrified. So, the Lord sent Isaiah to reassure Ahaz that Jerusalem would not fall at that time. Isaiah told Ahaz to ask for a sign from God to reassure him that everything would be alright. However, Ahaz refused to ask for a sign. So, Isaiah replied, “The Lord himself will give you a sign: The virgin will conceive and give birth to a son…”
If these words were a mere prediction about Jesus, there would be no purpose of saying them to King Ahaz. In fact, Isaiah went on to tell Ahaz, “Before the boy knows enough to reject the wrong and choose the right, the land of the two kings you dread will be laid waste” (Isaiah 7:16). This implies, of course, that Ahaz would see this child grow up; and before the boy reached adulthood, Aram and Israel would fall to Assyria.
Why then does Matthew quote Isaiah 7:14 in reference to Jesus’ birth and say, “All this took place to fulfill what the Lord had said through the prophet” (Matthew 1:22)? Did Matthew not care about authorial intent? Was Matthew pulling passages out of context?
Is Hosea 11:1 About Jesus?
Speaking of Matthew’s use of Old Testament passages, what are we to make of his quotation of Hosea 11:1? Matthew told his readers that Mary and Joseph fled to Egypt until after Herod died. Matthew wrote, “And so was fulfilled what the Lord had said through the prophet: ‘Out of Egypt I called my son.’” At first glance, this sounds as if Hosea had predicted this event would happen.
However, if we read Hosea 11 in context, we quickly find that Hosea was writing about Israel’s exodus from Egypt, “When Israel was a child, I loved him, and out of Egypt I called my son. But the more they were called, the more they went away from me” (Hosea 11:1-2a). Hosea was not telling his audience that one day Mary and Joseph would leave Egypt with God’s son, Jesus. He was reminding his audience that they, Israel, were supposed to be God’s son.
If you were under the impression that these prophecies were simply straightforward predictions about Jesus, you’re probably feeling frustrated right now. But before we resolve the tension, let’s explore one more passage.
Is Isaiah 53 About Jesus?
Isaiah describes a servant who, “was pierced for our transgressions” and “crushed for our iniquities” (Isaiah 53:5). You might be saying, “Surely this passage is a straightforward prediction about Jesus!” I’m sorry to disappoint you, but it’s not.
If you read the entire context of Isaiah 40-55 you would find that Isaiah is talking about the suffering of Israel. Marty Solomon, host of BEMA Podcast, writes in his book, Asking Better Questions of the Bible, “Isaiah is clearly having a conversation with God’s people about their suffering and how God is using it for redemptive purposes.” Solomon goes on to say, “This entire discourse culminates in Isaiah 53, where the prophet describes this servant—already identified numerous times as the people of God in exile—as the one who will be pierced, struck, and striped.”
Consider just a few of the times Isaiah identifies Israel as God’s servant:
- “…you, Israel, my servant…” (Isaiah 41:8)
- “…my servant, Israel, whom I have chosen…” (Isaiah 44:1)
- “…you, Israel, are my servant…” (Isaiah 44:21)
- “….you are my servant; Israel…” (Isaiah 44:21)
- “…you are my servant, Israel…” (Isaiah 49:3)
Isaiah did not have a Roman cross in mind when he wrote that the servant of God “was pierced.” He was explaining to his audience why their suffering was happening. He was explaining the “redemptive purposes” of their suffering.
So, are we wrong to say Jesus is the fulfillment of Isaiah 53? Of course not! Jesus is absolutely the fulfillment of Isaiah 53. But in order to fully appreciate what it means for Jesus to fulfill this passage, we must first appreciate it in its original context.
How Does Jesus Fulfill Prophecy?
If the prophets who spoke and wrote these words were not making straightforward predictions about Jesus, how can we say Jesus fulfilled these passages? What did Jesus mean when he said Moses, “Wrote about me” (John 5:46)? Why did Luke say, “Beginning with Moses and all the Prophets, [Jesus] explained to them what was said in all the Scriptures concerning himself” (Luke 24:27)?
What was Jesus claiming about himself? What were the apostles claiming about Jesus? I like to put it this way: they were claiming that all the multiple streams of Jewish expectations converge on Jesus. In other words, when the Jewish people read Moses and the prophets, they rightfully developed many different expectations about the sorts of things God was going to do through his people and for his people.
The Jewish people expected to:
- experience deliverance from oppression like their ancestors had experienced
- rejoice at the ascension of a king like David
- hear a reassuring prophetic word as was heard during the days of Isaiah
- see their suffering become an atonement for sins
- witness all the nations being blessed through Israel, the offspring of Abraham
Jesus is Israel and Israel’s God
Jesus is the offspring of Abraham (Galatians 3:16). As Israel’s King, he represents the whole nation. Just as David went down in the valley to face Goliath as a representative of the whole nation, Jesus has done the same.Jesus became the embodiment of Israel and fulfilled God’s purposes, intentions, and expectations for Israel.
As such, Jesus fulfills all of God’s expectations of Israel AND he fulfills all of Israel’s expectations of God. He fulfills both sides of the covenant. Again, the multiple streams of Jewish expectations converge on Jesus.
If we read the prophets as mere predictors of the future we are not doing justice to the Old Testament Scriptures or what the New Testament authors were actually saying about Jesus. The apostles were not pulling verses out of context or disregarding authorial intent. They were strategically using familiar words and ideas because they knew their audience was saturated enough in the Scriptures to figure out what was being said about Jesus.
We must do the hard work of trying to understand the prophets in their own context. Then, we must figure out what the apostles were claiming when they said Jesus fulfilled the words of these prophets. Finally, when our minds have been trained to do this, we will begin to see how the true meaning of every passage is shaped like JesusChrist and him crucified.
In other words, we will see how God has always been loving, merciful, and even self-sacrificing. We will understand that God always intended to redeem Israel and bless all nations of mankind through Israel. When we truly see Jesus, we will rightly understand all of Scripture.
I love you and God loves you,