The journey continues as we explore the implications of a world which God has created by, through, and for Jesus, that Jewish carpenter who lived about 2000 years ago.
In chapter 4 we discussed Psalm 19. The first six verses of this Psalm discuss “ha shamayim” (the heavens), describing how creation in its entirety declares God’s glory. But the rest of the psalm turns to a different subject: the Torah, or God’s written instruction or law or simply Scripture. Essentially, Psalm 19 is comparing and even contrasting the way God reveals himself in his creation (General Revelation) with the way God reveals himself in his Scripture, his written word (Special Revelation). “The heavens declare the glory of God” (v. 1), but “the Torah of Yahweh is perfect, reviving the soul” (v. 7).
The question is, what is special about special revelation, God’s Torah? If God is revealed in all of creation, then why do we need the Bible? And if, as we have been saying, everything can in a real sense be considered a type or metaphor pointing to Christ, then why do we need to pay attention to the types in the Bible?
As is often the case, we are helped by considering Jonathan Edwards’ thoughts on this question. For Edwards, “Scripture, which itself was filled with types, was the key to reading the true meaning of everything else”, as George Marsden explains in his biography of Edwards (Marsden 77).
In other words, the Bible is filled with types of Christ to help us understand how to look at the rest of life. Specifically, the way the Old Testament points to Christ is an illustration of the way the entire world points to Christ. Not only do Jesus and the writers of the New Testament claim that he is the True Moses, the True Tabernacle, the True Israel, the True Messiah, and so on, but they also readily claim that Jesus is the True Door, the True Vine, the True Shepherd, the True Way. The message is essentially to say, “See how these Old Testament images point to Jesus? Well, that’s the way all of life points to Jesus.”
This is why the Apostle Paul is not just concerned to prove that Jesus is the Jewish Messiah who fulfills the history of Israel. He is also concerned to show that Jesus is the meaning of the entire cosmos, that every last molecule is created for Christ.
But what is important to recognize is that while Paul is convinced that all reality points to Jesus, he is still ruthlessly committed to the Hebrew Bible, the Old Testament Scripture. The Scripture is precisely what teaches Paul that Jesus is the meaning not only of the Hebrew Scripture, but of the whole world.
Rabbi Lionel Blue famously said, “Jews are like everyone else, only more so.” This is the same line of thinking that leads Paul to make this statement in Romans 3:18: “The law was given to Israel so that every mouth may be stopped and all people held accountable to God.” The special covenant which God made with Israel was not merely to prove how disobedient Israel was as opposed to the rest of humanity, but rather to prove how disobedient all people are.
The prophet Hosea mentions that Israel “transgressed the covenant like Adam” (Hos 6:7). Adam, representing all of humanity, was also in covenant with God like Israel, at least in a sense. Behind the exclusivity of God in choosing Israel as a special nation is the inclusivity of God; he is demonstrating what is true about all humanity by modeling it exclusively through the nation of Israel.
God is not the God of the Jews only. He is not a tribal God. He is God over every person in existence. Israel was a specially chosen nation to model and demonstrate his plan and purpose for all humanity. We must understand this theological role of the nation of Israel if we are to make sense of the Old Testament.
Why is this important?
Because the conclusion of the history of Israel is Jesus. All the symbols, all the laws, all the rituals, all the prophets and priests and kings and shepherds, and the entire culture of the Israelites pointed to Jesus, and “Jews are just like everyone else, only more so.” The story of the Israelites is a parable. It teaches us that all humanity is searching for a Messiah. It teaches us that “all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God”, as is Paul’s conclusion as he meditates on Israel’s failure. The world of the Israelites teaches us what is true about our world; namely, that everything is orchestrated by a God who is pointing us to his Messiah, Jesus.
2 Samuel 11 records King David’s sin with Bethsheba. But his sin does not end with his infamous act of adultery. After he sins, he begins down a road attempting to cover up his sin, which leads to the murder of Uriah, Bathsheba’s husband. David ends up so far down the path of sin that he loses all perspective on the evil of his actions. The only thing he is concerned about is covering his tracks.
So God sends Nathan the prophet to David. Nathan tells David a story of a rich man who lived next to a poor man. The rich man receives a visitor, and instead of using one of his own many sheep to provide dinner for the guest, the rich man takes one of the poor man’s sheep. David is outraged by this story of injustice, and insists that this man “deserves to die.” Nathan then brings perspective to David: “You are the man!” And he doesn’t mean this in the good sense.
Why did Nathan tell David this story? Why didn’t Nathan simply confront David’s sin?
The reason Nathan chose to tell a story is that he wanted to give David perspective on himself. If Nathan had simply told David that his actions were evil, David most likely would have had Nathan beheaded.
That is the power of stories. They bring perspective on our own story. We do not always have perspective on what we are feeling and the choices we are making or on the people in our life or on our circumstances. But the stories of those who have gone before us or those who have had similar experiences bring perspective and meaning, and allow us to see our own path more clearly.
J.R.R. Tolkien and C.S. Lewis as well as G.K. Chesterton and George MacDonald before them all wrote fairy tales and fiction. They wrote their stories not to escape our world but precisely to get perspective on our world. We live in a Game of Thrones and World of Warcraft culture, a culture in which people find life boring and mundane and so seek to escape into more interesting and entertaining worlds (the irony, of course, is that these worlds are still a world within our world. There is no actual escaping reality). Yet Lewis and Tolkien wrote their fiction not because they believed real life is boring, but precisely because they believed that real life is extraordinary. For Lewis and Tolkien, fiction was reimagining our world through fairy tale to gain perspective on what is real about our world. The tragic irony of the movie series based on their works is that the films capitalize on these masterpieces not to reimagine our own world but to escape into a world where Legolas can snowboard down the trunk of a giant mammoth (or a Mumakil).
But Lewis and Tolkien were using stories in the same way that Nathan the prophet was using stories, namely, to create an imaginary world within their story which brings perspective on the real world. This is how the Bible functions as well. The Bible is not imaginary in the sense that it is not true; the Bible is imaginary in the sense that it engages our imagination and brings us into a world within its text.
Life is confusing. It is almost impossible to stop and get perspective on what we are going through. Not only are we in the middle of our own life but we are in the middle of time and history. We are not able to step back and see the full picture of God’s story from where we stand in time. But the Bible does give us the big picture of our world and of our lives. We are able to see the big picture story of reality and of our lives as we step into the world of Scripture. Essentially, the Word teaches us what is true about our world, namely, the glory of the Gospel of Jesus.
If the story of Joseph in the Book of Genesis had ended with Joseph being sold into slavery, or if it ended with Potipher’s wife slandering his name, then we would say that there is no conclusion or resolution to the story. We would be frustrated with the ending. We would say it is an unjust story and we would wonder why the story was in the Bible at all.
But, as we know, these points in the story of Joseph are not the end of the story. Joseph goes on to excel in Egypt and God uses both of those evil instances in Joseph’s story for his good. The story of Joseph (and the story of the entire book of Genesis for that matter) can be summed up in Genesis 50:24, when he tells his brothers, “you meant evil against me, but God meant it for good.” The story shows that even though evil characters do evil things, and even though there is injustice, God still works through all these things to bring about good and ultimately orchestrates all things for justice.
We, as the readers, can see the full perspective of the story of Joseph. Not only this, but we can see the full purpose of God worked out through the rest of the Torah (Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, and Deuteronomy). In fact, we can see the purposes of God worked out through the rest of the Old Testament and even into the New Testament as his purposes are completed in Jesus. All of this gives us perspective. This is the purpose of the Bible.
Seeing life as full of types and analogies pointing to Jesus does not come intuitively. Each of us are in the middle of a confusing life. We need the perspective of Scripture to see Jesus. We need the Scripture to understand that, in the middle of all the confusion, all the emotion, the joy, the sadness, the frustration – in all of it he is leading us to Jesus.
If we don’t understand how to see Jesus in the Scripture then we won’t be able to see him in our life.
But how exactly does the Bible point to Jesus?
This is an extremely important question. There are many answers to this question which abuse the Scripture, forcing Jesus into texts which were not meant to be about him, at least in an immediate sense.
Genesis 3:15 is perhaps the most foundational verse for understanding how to see Jesus in the Bible. One of my professors describes this verse as the John 3:16 of the Old Testament. It goes like this:
“I will put enmity between you and the woman,
and between your offspring and her offspring;
he shall bruise your head,
and you shall bruise his heel.”
The verse is shrouded in mystery. There really is no clear indication who this “offspring” will be, at least not here.
John Sailhamer compares this verse to a lighthouse which is lit by one flickering candle. The little bit of candle light is reflected by dozens of pieces of glass around it until it becomes a brilliant bright light which can be seen from miles away. Genesis 3:15 is like this candlelight. The verse is a small flickering glimpse of the Messiah with hardly any details. But then the rest of the Bible reflects this flicker as the text searches for the Offspring. Priests, prophets, temples, kings, leaders, symbols, all of these and dozens more images are like reflective mirrors reflecting the light of the flicker of Genesis 3:15, until the Old Testament becomes a brilliant light which ships can see from miles away.
It is not as if the Old Testament is literally talking about Jesus in every story and law, as if we have to awkwardly force him into the text. It is not even as if the Old Testament is literally talking about the Messiah, God’s anointed servant who will save his people. Some of the Old Testament uses the image of the anointed one (the Messiah), but other passages do not use this image. However, the Old Testament does describe one central literary figure, from the start to the finish. After Genesis 3:15 the entire Hebrew Bible is in search of a mysterious person who will – in the words of N.T. Wright – put the world to rights.
But here is the crucial point (to repeat it): the authors of the New Testament were not only concerned to show how the Old Testament pointed to Jesus; they were ultimately concerned to show that the entire cosmos was created by, through, and for Jesus. The Pharisees missed Jesus in their own Scriptures, and they missed everything. And if a person misses Jesus in life, they miss everything.
When you miss Jesus while considering the Old Testament, you miss everything. And when you miss Jesus when you consider your life and your world, then you miss everything too. That is the parallel.
If we see Jesus in the Old Testament we will not fail to see him in our world. There is direct parallel between the way the New Testament authors understood the Old Testament and the way they understood the world; indeed, they only understood their world through the lens of the Hebrew Scripture. When we begin to see how judges, kings, prophets, temples, priests, and poetic images all give us glimpses of Jesus but ultimately fall short of Jesus, then we will also see how families, careers, presidents, food, and everything else in our lives give us a glimpse of Jesus but ultimately fall short of Jesus.
The Bible teaches us how to look at our world, how to take our world seriously yet how to see the seriousness of our world as grounded in the character of Jesus. The reason Noah was important was because of the way he pointed to Jesus. And the reason he falls short of bringing about the true salvation of the world is because he is not Jesus. Likewise, the reason your job is important is because it points to Jesus. And the reason your job falls short in bringing you ultimate satisfaction is because it is not Jesus.
Although the world reveals the glory of Jesus in all its brightness, we have gone down our own paths and have hijacked creation and used it for our own idolatrous purposes. Scripture, then, is God’s gracious and patient way of teaching us the true meaning of our world, namely, Jesus.
John Calvin rightly described the Scripture as a set of spectacles with which to see the world as it really is, to see the world in the context of the cross and the glory of Christ. We are like David after he sinned with Bethsheba. We are wandering down a path of hardness of heart, blind to the reality all around us. We need a story like Nathan the prophet brought to David. We need a story that brings perspective on our reality. That’s what the Bible is.
Stories speak a word about our world. They interpret reality. Every story you have ever heard, whether a simple report about a basketball game or a soldier’s experience overseas, carries with it the baggage of perspective and worldview, for good or bad.
Every story is getting at something. Every story paints a picture of the entire world. Even a mother describing with the delight her child’s first word or step reveals an opinion about life and a set of assumptions about what is good and what is not good. We humans cannot escape metanarrative, the overarching story of everything. We cannot escape the intensely universal questions of good and evil.
The Bible is no different. The Bible declares the metanarrative of Jesus. The Bible points to Christ as the meaning and purpose of creation and history, and the source of goodness and beauty, to the glory of God the Father.
Listen to the message of the story of Scripture, and let the perspective of God sink into our hearts and minds:
“He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation. For by him all things were created, in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or authorities—all things were created through him and for him. And he is before all things, and in him all things hold together. And he is the head of the body, the church. He is the beginning, the firstborn from the dead, that in everything he might be preeminent. For in him all the fullness of God was pleased to dwell, and through him to reconcile to himself all things, whether on earth or in heaven, making peace by the blood of his cross.”