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The Old Testament Portrait of the Messiah

We believe that every page of the Old Testament speaks essentially about Christ. The Old Testament is not merely the history of the world before Christ came. It is not even the history of God’s people with some divine revelation of the promised Messiah sprinkled here and there. No, every word of the Old Testament reveals Christ. Every detail about ceremonial washings, every detail about the sacrifices, every detail about the construction of the tabernacle, every “woe” of the prophets, every war and arrow shot is a careful detail in God’s portrait of Christ.

After Adam had plunged the world into sin, God promised to send a Savior to deliver His people. God then began to reveal that Savior so that His people would know and recognize Him when He came. When the Savior did finally come after thousands of years of preparation and instruction, only a few recognized Him: Joseph and Mary, Zacharias and Elizabeth, some shepherds, and wise men from the East. The lack of recognition was not a failure on God’s part to prepare an accurate portrait, but rather it was because God determined to reveal Christ only to a few. The blindness of man at the time of Christ’s birth was in fact the finishing touch to Christ’s portrait; a finishing touch that reinforced the truth that God is sovereign in every part of salvation.

Though we now have Christ’s own word along with the Old Testament portrait, we cling to that portrait because there are many in the world today who are painting their own portraits of their own Messiah and would have us believe that theirs is more accurate and up-to-date, and therefore better. Churches everywhere are promoting portraits of a Savior who will establish an earthly kingdom in opposition to the whole Old Testament revelation and especially Christ’s own word. Churches everywhere are promoting portraits of a Savior who throws out the life line but leaves it up to the sinner to grab on to it and get saved in opposition to the Old Testament portrait and clear instruction in the New Testament of the Savior as a shepherd who knows His sheep and sovereignly delivers them. It is very important, therefore, that we know our Savior as He is revealed in the whole of Scripture, Old Testament and New so that we can discern the truth.

God began His portrait of the Messiah with the dramatic and amazing strokes of Genesis 3:15. Against the deathly blackness of Adam’s fall God sliced the brilliant life white of the antithesis. “And I will put enmity between thee and the woman.” Brilliant and dazzling, the first stroke of the portrait revealed to Adam the wonder of God as Savior. What grace, what mercy, what love, what justice God revealed of Himself in this word!

Adam stood before God, his covenant Friend; the Friend against Whom he had just lifted himself in proud rebellion. Adam, created to live in covenant fellowship with his Creator, had laughed God to scorn, had turned his back, and had given his love and devotion to Satan instead. Now he stood before his God in naked shame and guilt, and God dashed against the blackness of his soul the glory of His mercy and righteousness. Adam had never before seen these depths of God before. The revelation of mercy for such a sinner could only intensify the dark background hues of shame and guilt. How could he ever lift up his eyes to Him and look Him in the eye as a covenant Friend? Only in Christ.

In one verse, God sketched out for Adam the essential features of the promised Messiah. He would be born of a woman. He would have power to crush the head of Satan. He would deliver man from the awful power of sin. In Him man would behold things which eye hath not seen, nor ear heard. In Paradise Adam had been filled with praise for God as Creator, how much more now for God as Savior!

What joy filled the heart of Adam and Eve when God gave them their first son! “I have gotten a man from the Lord” Eve cried. Was he the one to deliver them from sin and death? Surely he was not guilty of their sin in the garden!… but he was. Cain was born in sin. Sin was a power that had penetrated all creation. Cain’s guilt was Adam’s guilt, and Cain plunged Adam and Eve into new depths of sorrow by his demonstration of wickedness in murder. The horrible effects of sin rapidly spread even to their children’s children until every imagination of the thought of man’s heart was only evil continually. What sort of savior would God send to deliver from such total depravity? Was there a limit to the mercy and grace of God? God’s brush of revelation made the background of sin and death even darker, and the portrait brighter and sharper than before.

More dramatic lines were soon sliced into the canvas. The flood stroke revealed a salvation both cosmic and particular. The portrait now revealed that every sort of creature God had created would be delivered from death, but only an elect remnant of man. God called every kind of creature into the ark and God chose Noah and his family to delivered them from the hands of wicked men with the flood of water. Salvation comes by judgment. God is merciful but also just. The sin and offense against God would be punished. God’s wrath would be satisfied. God would wash sin away in His mercy and righteous judgment.

The flood of water, however, did not and could not wash away sin, only the blood of the Savior could do that. No physical cleansing, no act of man or earthly power could wash away sin. After the flood there was still much more to be learned about the Savior before He could come.

Next God began to develop more fully the spiritual dimension of the portrait. God called Abraham and taught His people that the Savior would lead them in a walk of holiness separate from the world. They would be pilgrims and strangers in this world as they waited for a new heavens and earth. This earth would not be the home of those who are washed of sin. The plan of God for his redeemed people included a new life so wonderful that earthly life could only begin to perceive it. Only a new heavens and new earth could sustain the new heavenly life. The radical transformation of the earth brought by the flood was a picture of the transformation that will occur. Salvation was a spiritual matter and would bring man from this earth to a heavenly realm. Man must understand that everything earthly, though it be very dear to him, is but a picture of the heavenly. Those chosen by God must not cling to any hopes of a perfect fellowship with God in this earth, but to the heavenly.

Having defined the basic features of His Salvation, God began to fill in more details. The Savior would be like Moses: a mediator between God and men. He would be meek and compassionate. He would not seek earthly fame or glory. The Savior would be like Joshua: a mighty leader in the battles and through the depths of the Jordan. He would be as king David sang, like a shepherd leading his people beside the still waters, into green pastures, through dark valleys, revealing the goodness and mercy of God.

He would be like king Solomon: a king who rules His heavenly kingdom in peace and great prosperity. Yet, He would not be an earthly king. No matter how glorious and powerful an earthly kingdom may be, there can never be true peace as long as the sin cursed earth remains. Solomon’s earthly power soon crumbled. Israel was dragged captive to Babylon to erase every idea of a kingdom on this earth. Only when all hope in an earthly savior was exhausted, did the Savior come.

Finally with the prophets God detailed with careful strokes the mouth of the Savior. The mouth of the Savior would speak words of comfort and draw his people into the new and living bond of covenant fellowship. The Savior would speak the word of God. The word was at the heart of the salvation prepared for His people. When the Savior would begin to speak, He would confirm that the portrait was His. From then on, the Savior Himself by means of His word would be the chief source of hope in God’s people.

The prophets proclaimed that “his name shall be called Wonderful, Counselor, The Mighty God, The Everlasting Father, the Prince of Peace” (Isaiah 9:6). In Him God will cover sins and forgive iniquity. The covenant will not be a matter of external obedience, but will arise out of hearts that have been made new by the power of God. Love for God will be written on the heart (Jeremiah 31:33-34). Sin will be destroyed, and the people of God prepared for a new heavenly life in a new heavens and a new earth with resurrected bodies. His kingdom would be heavenly.

Though the prophets proclaimed His nearness, most had lost interest in the portrait. Then, when most had abandoned the true word of the promise, the angel Gabriel announced to a poor virgin, espoused to a man named Joseph, that she would be the mother of the promised Savior. She pondered these wonderful truths in her heart while the people of the world wandered blindly in sin. She told her cousin Elizabeth and praised God with her. Then He was born, a small helpless babe. He was born in a stable! A choir of angels sang! Shepherds came! An earthly king raged! An old man and woman in the temple glorified God. And then it was quiet again while Mary continued to ponder these wonders in her heart. The wondrous glories of salvation and the new life of heaven realized in the birth of the Savior were revealed only to a few pilgrims. Thousands of years of promise, instruction, and preparation had been fulfilled. Only a few of the millions of people on the earth pondered this wonder in their hearts.

Let us continue to cling to the Word of our Lord and Savior though we be small in this world. The God we know and love is pleased to glorify Himself in the humble and lowly. God has revealed Himself and His salvation in the Word alone. We must devote our energy to the teaching of our children and the preaching of the Word so that we continue to sing praise to our God and tell His Name abroad. ❖