08 March 2011

Relationship of Old and New in Messianic Prophecy: Huh? and Oh!

by Dan Phillips

Building a bit on the previous post about Messiah in the OT, I'd like to add a couple more seed-thoughts.

The relationship of Old and New Testaments is of course a massive topic, subject of thousands of pages by men vastly my superior. Yet I have a thought I'd like to contribute which I haven't seen elsewhere phrased exactly thus. Maybe for good reason. Let's see.

The relationship has been likened to form and fullness; to shadow and substance; to Law and Gospel; to type and antitype.

My suggestion: the relationship is that of "Huh?" to "Oh!"

Here's what I mean: in many forms and in many ways God spoke to the Fathers in the prophets. He meant every word He said. Every word had meaning for the original writers and audience, and that meaning was God's meaning.

At the same time, many of those meanings ultimately led to ambivalence, puzzlement, or even frustration. They led somewhere meaningful, yet incomplete. Followed out, thought through, they still would have to leave the serious and believing thinker trusting, yet baffled and unresolved. He's stuck at "Huh?"

But when the full-day revelation of the NT dawns, then and only then comes the "Oh!" of resolution and understanding.

We could single out a number of examples. I'll take two, and be brief about it.

First: God — monad, or plurality?

God is One. We're clear on that, right? "Yahweh is our God, Yahweh is one" (Deuteronomy 6:4), the central confession of Israel's faith. "I am the LORD, and there is no other, besides me there is no God" (Isaiah 45:5a). Many Scriptures affirm this truth, beyond all doubt and ambiguity.

And yet....

Plurality in unity? The most common noun for "God" in Hebrew is, beyond debate, plural in form. Most scholars explain this in various ways unrelated to any suggestion of plurality — plural of majesty, potentiality, something. Yet God speaks in the first-person plural (Genesis 1:26), and there are other occurrences of plural verbs associated with the subject "God" (e.g. Genesis 20:13; 35:7;  2 Samuel 7:23). Sometimes plural adjectives modify the noun (e.g. Deuteronomy 5:26).

In fact, back to the verse asserting that Yahweh is "one." The word used there well accommodates the notion of a complex unity (cf. Genesis 2:24; Numbers 13:23), rather than a solitary unit (Genesis 22:2, 12, 16).

Then there's this figure, the Angel of Yahweh, who speaks both of and as Yahweh (Genesis 16:11 and 10, respectively) — that is, as if distinct from, and yet as if identical with, Yahweh. Scholars explain this language away as messenger-talk... but does that explanation really do justice to the language, and to the actions of those in His presence (cf. Joshua 5:13—6:5), and to the figure's appropriation of a title of the Messiah (Judges 13:18; Isaiah 9:6; virtually identical spelling in Hebrew)?

Add to these the baffling back and forths in Zechariah, where Yahweh speaks of Yahweh sending Him (e.g. 2:8-11 NAS). In fact, in Isaiah, Yahweh seems to send both Yahweh and His Spirit (48:16). Plus, Messiah will have God as His Father (Isaiah 7:14), and will bear His name (Isaiah 9:6; cf. Jeremiah 23:6).

So on the one hand, God is one. On the other, there's some kind of plurality going on there.


Second: Messiah — glorious ruler, or suffering victim?

Victorious ruler. The first prophecy of Messiah depicts Him as crushing the Serpent's head (Genesis 3:15). He is the ruler from Judah (Genesis 49:10), the son of God from David's line sitting on his throne (2 Samuel 7:14) who will rule the nations and crush them as with a rod of iron (Psalm 2). In His days, peace will reign, Jerusalem will be exalted, and Eden will be restored (Isaiah 2; 11), He will reign as priest-king at Yahweh's right hand forever (Psalm 110).

Suffering victim. Yet often in the psalms we see a very different picture. If we take David's experience as foreshadowing Messiah, we see him not only triumphing and reigning, but being mocked and forsaken and poured out in the dust of death (Psalm 22), and being abandoned by his friends (Psalm 41:9). Or laying aside types in favor of full-on predictive prophecy, we see the crystal-clear portrait of Messiah offering His soul as a sin offering, and dying (Isaiah 52:13 - 53:12). In fact, going back to the root-prophecy of Genesis 3:15, is not the Serpent-crushing Seed also stricken in His heel?

So, on the one hand, Messiah is a glorious, victorious Conqueror. And on the other, He suffers and dies, forsaken by God.


The fullness of time

But you see, in both of those cases — and I am only singling out two of a number I have in mind — once the full light of day dawns in the NT, we see (to coin a phrase) the rest of the story.

As to the first conundrum, we now see that there is but one God as to His essence, and that He is three as to His persons: Father, Son, and Spirit. All three appear and act in bold distinctness in the events and teaching surrounding the inauguration of the New Covenant, while confirming every jot of the teaching of the Old. So all of the OT is absolutely true, both in insisting at God's unity, and hinting at a plurality within that unity.


And in the case of Messiah — victim, or victor? — we see Him born to the royal family in fulfillment of prophecy, living a holy and righteous life marked by Messianic miracles and words. And we see Him die as an offering for sin, stricken for the iniquity of His people, that by His wounds we might have peace. But after dying, He rises from the dead, ascends to the Father's right hand, and will return one day to begin His kingdom reign on earth. So all of the OT is absolutely true, both in insisting on Messiah's royal reign, and in foretelling His sacrificial suffering and death.


As I said, this is true in a wide variety of ways. Many mysteries are stirred and tales half-told, left unresolved and unsatisfied by the time Malachi (or 2 Chronicles, in the Hebrew Bible) is finally penned. But all those central mysteries are resolved with the complex of revelation unfolded in the coming of Christ.

The NT takes the OT's "Huh?" of penultimate bafflement, and transforms it into the "Oh!" of ultimate fulfillment.

Dan Phillips's signature


Tom Chantry said...

My very favorite such moment is in the statement of God's name in Exodus 34 - "...forgiving iniquity and transgression and sin, but who will by no means clear the guilty..."


But we are justified through union with Christ?


donsands said...

Very nice study. Thanks.
2 Sam. 7:14 is still a Huh? for me though. Is this verse referring to Jesus, or Solomon?

Robert said...

This is quite funny to me that you wrote this. I was just contemplating how Isaiah would have thought of the Messiah after writing Isaiah 52:13-53:12. And you can take that and apply it to any of the authors and prophets of the OT. And then think about those who read/heard the prophecies. There are a whole lot of "huh?"'s in there. Just imagine if you lived before the birth of Jesus and reading through Scripture...what would that leave us contemplating? Whereas we now have the complete testimony of the life of Jesus and how He fulfilled the prophecies about His first coming. How sad it is that we do not marvel nearly enough and treasure the complete Word of God that we have at our hands.

Johnny Dialectic said...





Lynda O said...

Yes indeed, a nice study -- "huh?" and "oh!" often does explain these seeming contradictions. It is so much easier for us to understand, and so how much more thankful we should be for the complete revealed Word of God.

I wonder sometimes if any of the OT saints understood the full picture. We often like to group them all together and wonder how much they understood, but it really came down to an individual level. Just as today, some believers have very great understanding while others (living in the same time period) have very little understanding -- and so I'm inclined to think that some (perhaps only a few) of them really did have a very good understanding.

Jesus Himself expected that His followers were capable of understanding everything, both the suffering and the exaltation to glory, from the revealed OT -- and called the two believers on the Emmaus road "slow" and "foolish" for not understanding it.

It was all there -- though they had to study much more diligently to understand it, than we need to. In a similar manner today, some believers have greater understanding concerning the things yet future, because the subject requires much more diligence in study, whereas others just throw up their hands and claim indifference and "pious agnosticism" -- because it's always easier to understand the things that have already happened, than those things mentioned in scripture that haven't taken place yet within human history.

Johnny Dialectic said...





Manfred said...

I am thoroughly enjoying this foray into the OT. Training for possible eldership, I want desperately to better comprehend Christ in the OT, as such was the Bible Jesus and His Apostles used to preach Christ to the Jew and Gentile. Seeing Christ in all of Scripture (all roads lead to Rome) is my goal. For the glory of his name!

Stefan said...

"Huh?" and "Oh!" is much more tangible and down-to-earth than "type"/"antitype" or "shadow"/"substance." Good lesson.

Re Lynda's question...good question. Peter seems to answer yes, that believing Jews knew what was to come:

"Concerning this salvation, the prophets who prophesied about the grace that was to be yours searched and inquired carefully, inquiring what person or time the Spirit of Christ in them was indicating when He predicted the sufferings of Christ and the subsequent glories." (1 Peter 1:10-11)

Peter writes there of the sufferings and glories of Christ, bringing together both aspects of Messianic prophecies.

And yet, who could have seen exactly what was to come? Although many were awaiting a Messiah—and many clearly understood the true nature of biblical faith (repentance and forgiveness of sins through a substitutionary atonement provided by God), no one seems to have put all the pieces together until Jesus Christ Himself appeared in incarnate form.

Stefan said...

I wrote that the true nature of biblical faith is:

"Repentance and forgiveness of sins through a substitutionary atonement provided by God."

Sorry, that's the Gospel. Old Testament believers clearly understood the true nature of the Gospel.

But especially as summed up in Hebrews 11, they also understood the true nature of biblical faith, which this humble sinner would define as "believing and acting upon the promises of God."

RomansOne said...

"Huh?" and "Oh!" -- I like that. Most excellent. :-)

Robert said...

By the way, if you're still looking for resources for preaching Christ from the OT, I am reading "Spurgeon's Sermon Notes" and just read his notes on a sermon about Joseph and he does a wonderful job of showing how "it (the story of Joseph) is chiefly useful to us as being marvelously typical of the life of our Lord Jesus." I have heard people describe him as a type, but Spurgeon included some things that I had not heard (or just don't remember). I am sure that he does the same in his other OT sermons and this book provides sermon outlines and commentary for 264 of his sermons that span across all of the Bible (almost exactly half of the book covers sermons on the OT).

Kevin Rhyne said...

I think Paul agrees with you...

[8] To me, though I am the very least of all the saints, this grace was given, to preach to the Gentiles the unsearchable riches of Christ, [9] and to bring to light for everyone what is the plan of the mystery hidden for ages in God who created all things, [10] so that through the church the manifold wisdom of God might now be made known to the rulers and authorities in the heavenly places. [11] This was according to the eternal purpose that he has realized in Christ Jesus our Lord, [12] in whom we have boldness and access with confidence through our faith in him. (Ephesians 3:8-12)

theoldadam said...

"The NT takes the OT's "Huh?" of penultimate bafflement, and transforms it into the "Oh!" of ultimate fulfillment."

Sweet as a nut!

Thanks, dan!

Thomas Louw said...

This is by far the best summary about the relationship between the OT and NT I have ever read.

I guess even the trolls just passed through because they couldn’t find any holes or they just “Huh?” at you.

Hey Robert did you know Spurgeon actually wrote a commentary on Matthew, just heard that yesterday. I think because of Matthew’s use of the OT there might be some good stuff in there as swell.

Rachael Starke said...

And don't forget that, very shortly after "Oh!" comes -


Burrito34 said...

Two thoughts occurred to me about this blog post:

(1) It's a shame that many cults, ancient and modern, have taken many "huh's" you described, and forced them into "oh's" that were never intended by Scripture. For example, the Mormons twist monotheism into some weird mix of monolatry and polytheism.

(2)I believe as far as eschatology goes, as to end-time prophecies yet to be fulfilled, how many "huh's" are going to become "oh's" in ways that we cannot clearly see or imagine now.

DJP said...

Rachael - I like it. (c:

Burrito - fair enough, and good point. It's part of why I worked in some minor wiggle-room in saying "Many mysteries ...all those central mysteries are resolved." I don't mean to say that the NT leaves no unanswered question, or no mystery. But central issues such as the nature of God and so on are addressed and brought into the light.

John Dunn said...

I love the Apostle Paul’s covenantal contours. He sees the historical-redemptive fulfillment of the Old Testament covenantal paradigms in the framework of a glorious New (and promised) eschatological Exodus fulfillment . . . all converging in God’s ultimate and final revelation, Jesus Christ himself, the very New Covenant incarnated and written upon the tables of our hearts with his Spirit (Isaiah 42:6, 49:6-8, 55:3-4, John 1:14, 2 Cor. 3:3). I believe that Paul’s interpretive center was Christ and his governing hermeneutical approach to Scripture was promise-fulfillment. Stated simply, it means that Paul understood all of OT redemptive history, with its fleshly covenantal patterns, shadows, types, and figures, as pointing to the ultimate eschatological realization/fulfillment of Jesus Christ (Col. 2:17). In this way, Christ is seen as the new eschatological Adam who does not lead his Bride (the Church) into sin’s bondage, but rather redeems, liberates, justifies, and glorifies her. Christ and his Bride constitute the new eschatological Israel (Gal. 6:16), the true offspring of Abraham, who are circumcised not in the foreskin of the flesh but in the heart by the Holy Spirit. Christ is the true Passover lamb whose atoning blood brings about a glorious New Exodus redemption. Christ is the new eschatological Moses, the mediator of the New Covenant, whom we serve, not in the way of the written code but the new way of the Spirit (Rom. 7:6). The church now comes to Mt. Zion and no longer to Mt. Sinai, with the Pentecost-event itself closely recapitulating the timeline, signs, and patterns of the Sinai-event. Christ and his Bride are the new eschatological temple, filled with the glory and righteousness of God through the Spirit. Christ is the eschatological son of David and Isaiah’s suffering servant. I could go on . . . but in my humble opinion, the eschatological trajectory of Paul’s Christ-centered theology fulfills the Old and makes the New Covenant truly new and glorious.