Theology

Is Jesus found in the Old Testament?

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I remember sitting in Bible studies in which the Hebrew Scriptures were studied – usually the prophets. Without fail, someone would mention where they could find Jesus in those verses, but especially in Isaiah 53. That passage in particular was just so “obvious” that Jesus’ life was planned from the beginning of creation.

This is one area that still trips me up today. Obviously, I was not taught to read those verses the same way. The infamous Isaiah 53 passage is, in Jewish tradition, about Israel – it’s not a messianic prophecy. Knowing the different requirements that Jews have regarding their messiah, training my mind to see Jesus in the Old Testament requires lots of mental gymnastics.

I’m not saying that Jesus isn’t anywhere in Hebrew Scriptures at all – I’m not knowledgeable enough to confirm or deny. Par for the course with me, my best answer is “I don’t know.” I can accept that Jews have one lens through which they read Scripture, and Christians have another. There’s no conflict there.

And yet, as an Episcopalian, aren’t I supposed to see Jesus in the Old Testament? Isn’t that, like, required?

God might have known that Jesus would be the culmination of his plan for salvation and redemption – but the people who wrote the Bible didn’t. A human messiah who was also God would have been unfathomable to them.

But, if you believe in the Trinity – that the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit are all one being, the same way that steam, ice, and liquid water are all h2o – then Jesus is technically already present: John 1:1 says, “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.” There is a definite parallel between Abraham preparing to sacrifice his only son, Isaac, and God sacrificing his only son centuries later. Parallels make sense – but direct references to Jesus within a culture that had radically different ideas about who and what God is? I can’t help but remain skeptical.

These thoughts are not a condemnation of Christians who do see Jesus within the Old Testament. Christian culture loves “light switch” testimonies, in which everything becomes crystal clear from the moment one accepts Jesus into her heart. But real life isn’t like that – especially if you discover Christianity later in life, from the perspective of a different faith.

This isn’t an issue I expect to solve at some point, much as I would like to. Wrestling with the Bible is part of what having a relationship with God is all about, and I struggle more with reconciling the violent and patriarchal sections than the prophetic ones.

But even if it could be proven beyond a shadow of a doubt that specific Jesus references don’t exist in the Old Testament, it doesn’t mean you can’t experience God there. And he is there.

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