In yesterday's meta, beloved bro Phil mentioned a dispensationalist writer who
says Christ is not the theme of the OT at all.
...It would be nice to have a refutation of some of Snoeberger's old-Dallas-style-dispensational arguments from your more Talbot-style dispensationalist perspective.
But note: this is only a very brief introduction. And I continue to be instructed in this vast topic. But this is where years of study and thought have brought me.
You who've heard this story will be patient for the sakes of those who haven't.
It was Sunday School teacher Beulah Landogoshen's first sick day in 48 years, and her young students found themselves looking at an unfamiliar face. Annie Neophyte was bright, eager, and 48 years Beulah's junior.
As the manuals suggested, Annie came up with an activity to break the ice with her class, all of whom were still in their single digits. After a warm greeting and self introduction to the silent faces, with the air of a magician producing a rabbit, Annie drew out a stack of glossy wildlife pictures. "Start with something easy," the manual said.
"I have a piece of candy for the first person to tell me what this is," Annie bubbled, holding up a picture of a lion.
Silence. Expressionless, vast, unmoving silence. Annie was puzzled. Did these rustics never see Animal Planet? Or an MGM movie? She put away the lion, and drew out the picture of a camel.
Same response. In the corner, a cricket scraped its lonely melody.
This was going badly.
Her hand now becoming unsteady, she brought out a picture of a fluffy little squirrel.
"Surely one of you can tell me what this is?" Annie pleaded. "Anyone?"
Reluctantly, little Tommy held up a lone index finger. Annie gratefully nodded to him. "Yes, young man. What is this a picture of?" she asked.
"Well," Tommy drawled. "It sure looks like a squirrel to me. But I do want that candy, so I'm going to say, 'Jesus.'"
This sometimes feels like the dilemma of "finding" Christ in the Old Testament. We're given the impression that He's in there, all over the place; but when we look, we see dead animals, dead Canaanites, long lists of names, tales of mostly mediocre-to-nasty monarchs, plus excruciating details seemingly meant for contractors, engineers, and/or butchers. Sure looks like that to us... but should we say it looks like "Jesus," anyway? For the candy?
The imperative. Jesus sure makes it sound as if we should find Him all over the place. We read that Jesus told the Jews who were trying to kill Him,
Do not think that I will accuse you to the Father. There is one who accuses you: Moses, on whom you have set your hope. For if you believed Moses, you would believe me; for he wrote of me. But if you do not believe his writings, how will you believe my words?” (John 5:45-47)
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 24:25-27)
Then he said to them, “These are my words that I spoke to you while I was still with you, that everything written about me in the Law of Moses and the Prophets and the Psalms must be fulfilled.” Then he opened their minds to understand the Scriptures, and said to them, “Thus it is written, that the Christ should suffer and on the third day rise from the dead, and that repentance and forgiveness of sins should be proclaimed in his name to all nations, beginning from Jerusalem. (Luke 24:44-47)
The guidelines. Here's what I think are some imperatives:
- Jesus leads us to expect to find signposts pointing to Him all over the Old Testament.
- If we believe in Jesus, we should expect to find them, too.
- What is more, Jesus did not instruct His followers as to how to insert, impose, or overlay such points of attestation. In fact...
- Jesus did not think that such points would only become compelling in light of His career, which we know because...
- Jesus held saved and unsaved men alike morally accountable for not already seeing what He clearly believed were the evident signposts throughout. He told the unbelieving Jews that they would be damned if they did not come to heed them, and He told the disciples that they were slow-witted fools for not already believing them. Therefore...
- There is some way in which the plain sense of Old Testament Scripture points to Jesus, from all of its parts.
- Yet this must be uncovered and expounded in such a way that still allows a city-name to be a city-name (Matthew 2:5-6), a kingdom-name to be a kingdom-name (Matthew 2:13-14), and a donkey to be a donkey (Matthew 21:1-5).
At the one pole, the virtual Docetics approach the text as if it only seems to be talking about Noah, Abram, Moses, Israel, marriage, work, morality and all that — but what it's really talking about is Jesus. We're back with little Tommy in Mrs. Landogoshen's class. It only looks like a squirrel. But really, it's Jesus. Everything means something other than what it seems.
This school is commendable for its desire to find Christ everywhere. The fatal error in this approach, however, is that they effectively rob the OT text of authority. It no longer speaks, no matter what the NT repeatedly says about it. The authority is no longer in Scripture, but in some canon-within-the-Canon. We cannot really affirm that God spoke to the fathers in the prophets (Hebrews 1:1), if we think He was really speaking to us over their heads and winking and gesturing behind their backs the whole time.
Further, it runs to grief against Jesus' reproaches. He really should have said something more to the effect of "I can't possibly blame you for not seeing Me in all those Scriptures; here, take this decoder-ring, and I'll show you how to work it right." But He didn't. He insisted they full well should have recognized in Him the fulfillment of OT anticipation.
But at the other pole would be the virtual Ebionites, the school that says that the OT is only about Noah, Abram, Moses, Israel, marriage, work, morality and all that. There is no greater referent than the first one, ever... except maybe in a relatively tiny handful of types and direct prophecies. If I may go back to Tommy once more, this would be the "it's a squirrel, period" school.
This approach is to be commended insofar as it is born of a desire to be true to the text. But its fatal flaw is that it really doesn't end up doing honor to all of Scripture, particularly Scriptures such as those cited above and Acts 3:18, 24; 10:43, among others. These passages clearly lead us to expect that we should be able to find Christ all over Scripture while at the same time doing full justice to the text as given. There is no hint that the apostles were rewriting or overdubbing Scripture when they saw Christ in it. They were convinced that they were simply bringing out its actual meaning.
Now, I am not saying that the OT is about Christ exactly like the squirrel is about Christ. But I am saying that, like the squirrel, the objects and events and institutions and persons in the OT are what they are, and what they are by design is a master-symphony which all points to the central theme of Christ.
We are able to look at the Old Testament, from start to finish, and see that it points to Christ in a constellation of ways both direct and indirect. Some (many? most?) of these are clearer in the light of full revelation; but revelation does not insert new elements into those texts. Rather, it brings out what otherwise might have been thought obscure and not deeply significant.
There are many direct prophecies, such as Genesis 3:15; 49:10; Numbers 24:17; Deuteronomy 18:15, and a host of others. But the godly men and women point forward to Him by positive type, while in their sins and failings they point to Him in negative type. The institutions point to Him in what they accomplish, but almost more so in what they fail to accomplish. The history of the nation of Israel itself sets the stage for Him, both in its essence and in its failings.
Yet at the same time, these things are what they are.
But what they are, are pointers to Christ.
So, to try to be frontal: is the OT about the history of Israel — with all those diverse characters, institutions, morals, and prophecies — , or is it about Christ? My answer:
The OT is about the history of Israel (etc.).
And Israel (etc.) is about Christ.
There y'go. Mend fast, Phil; everyone misses you!
UPDATE: you would swear that either I had read my friend Chris Anderson's essay on preaching Christ from Esther, or that he had read mine. Neither would be true. It is a sterling example of struggling with both text and the Christ-centered metanarrative in exactly the sort of direction I'm suggesting here.