Years ago, I was asked to teach on Jesus and His kingdom in the Old Testament. There were a few other teachers, and the books of the Old Testament were divided among us. One got the Law. Another got the Psalms. And I was assigned the Prophets. At the time, I thought I had gotten the short end of that assignment. But I mustered up the perseverance to study through something that did not initially inspire me, and I am so glad that I did. For nothing convinced me of the value of a Jesus-centered reading of the Old Testament like finding the gospel clearly in the most confusing books of the Bible to me, the prophets of the Old Testament.
From Genesis to Revelations, we see the story of the redemption of God’s people, His kingdom, progressively revealed. In an earlier post, we pointed out that In light of this overarching theme most of the Old Testament can be broken into one of three general Christ-centered, Kingdom-centered categories (or some combination of the three):
- Stories that show God’s work to preserve the lineage of Christ (ex. Joseph, Ruth, I Samuel, Ezekiel)
- Stories that are pictures of the coming Christ, His work, and His kingdom (ex. OT sacrificial system, Hosea and Gomer)
- Stories that reinforce our inability to save ourselves and therefore, our need for salvation through Christ (ex. Judges, Amos)
How do the Major Prophets of Isaiah, Lamentations, Ezekiel, and Daniel point to the coming Jesus and His role in God’s kingdom? (We will cover Jeremiah in a separate post.)
Similar to the book of Judges, the first half of Isaiah well establishes Israel’s need for King Jesus. Their fallen, earthly leaders regularly demonstrate pride, sarcasm, and selfishness, and God sends His judgment on them through Assyria. The second half of the book centers on their exile in Babylon and the subsequent deliverance of the remnant. Isaiah names Cyrus, the Persian, as God’s anointed agent to restore the remnant to the land, predicting this nearly 100 years before he came to power (44:24-45:13). Along with the imminent coming of Cyrus, Isaiah also prophesies of the coming of a Servant and Savior much greater than Cyrus. This Servant would bring justice to the nations (42:1-4), establish a new covenant between Israel and the Lord (42:5-7), become a light to the Gentiles (49:1-7), and take away the sins of His people (52:13-53:12). This Servant would suffer willingly to achieve these victories, and God would reward and vindicate Him (50:4-11). The NT identifies this Servant as Jesus Christ. (Reformation Study Bible, p. 948-949)
While Jeremiah, which we will look at in another post, foretells the fall of Jerusalem, Lamentations is the lament of the people in the midst of the judgment of God. Yet despite the anguish of the exile, the author believes still in the faithfulness of the covenant God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob and looks toward the end of the exile and the punishment of Judah’s enemies. It echoes themes of both the goodness and severity of God, themes that are foundational to the gospel. God must judge sin, and yet He pores out His wrath on Jesus and extends us mercy in His place.
The book begins by likening desolate Jerusalem to the woman who was a princess and is now a slave, forsaken by her treacherous lovers. Like Hosea, this echoes the theme of God pursuing His wayward bride, purchasing her out of her slavery, and presenting her to Jesus at the Marriage Supper of the Lamb in Revelations.
Despite God’s judgment on Judah and Jerusalem, He reaffirms His election of Israel as His chosen people, His kingdom. He will restore a remnant, and they will again be ruled by a King from the line of David (37:24-25, 45:7). The New Testament reveals this King to be Jesus.
Daniel contains both historical narratives (chapters 1-6) and prophetic visions (chapters 7-12). The historical narratives emphasize God’s absolute sovereignty over the affairs of all nations (2:47, 3:17-18, 4:28-37, 5:18-31, 6:25-28). He is the King of kings. The visions illustrate the need for confidence in this doctrine. Daniel prepares God’s people for the persecution they will face under Antiochus Epiphanes. It also looks beyond this time to the coming of Jesus Christ, who will destroy human kingdoms and establish His own kingdom in righteousness and peace for all eternity.
Conservative evangelicals tend to view the prophecies of the book in one of two ways. Some believe the predictions are centered around the first advent of Christ. This view is associated with an amillennial or postmillennial view of the end times. The other view stresses the 2nd coming of Christ and is usually associated with a premillennial view of the end times. Either way, Daniel gives insight into both the inauguration and consummation of God’s kingdom.
If you are planning to study through the Major Prophets, I hope this gives you tools to see in them the good news of Jesus Christ and God’s coming Kingdom through Him.