THE HERMENEUTICAL KEY: JESUS

By | December 22, 2013

What is the main topic of the Bible?” That was the question one of my Old Testament professors posed to the students on the first day of class. Some answered, “The kingdom of God.” Others said, “The redemption of mankind.” My professor responded, “The central topic of the Scriptures is God Himself.” His point was simple, yet profound: before we consider the dominant themes that run through the Scriptures, including the gospel, we must not overlook the most conspicuous fact of all, namely that first and foremost the Bible is the revelation of God. The point stuck, and I have never forgotten it. Nevertheless, I want to suggest that we can be more precise. When I ask my kids a question like, “Who died on the cross?” and they answer, “God did,” I follow that up by pressing, “Be more specific. Did God the Father or God the Son or God the Holy Spirit die on the cross?” I believe such a question applies here. While I concur that the Bible is about God, I also assert that more precisely it is about God the Son, Jesus Christ. This is not to deny that the Scriptures speak of the Father or the Holy Spirit or the Trinity. They do. However, God the Father has ordained the inspired Word to focus squarely upon His Son. Jesus said to the Jews of His day, “You search the Scriptures because you think that in them you have eternal life; and it is they that bear witness about me, yet you refuse to come to me that you may have life… Do not think that I will accuse you to the Father. There is one who accuses you: Moses, on whom you have set your hope. If you believed Moses, you would believe me; for he wrote of me” (Jn. 5:39-40; 45-46). Often scholars will speak of the Hebrew Bible (i.e., Old Testament) and the Christian Bible (i.e., New Testament). This is a false dichotomy that Jesus rejected. It implies that we have two different and distinct Bibles. I like to half-jokingly say to people, “You need to realize that there is one page in the Bible that the Spirit did not inspire: the blank page that comes after Malachi and before Matthew. Rip it out!” The Bible is one cohesive book, with one story that starts in Genesis and ends in Revelation—with Jesus as the central figure throughout.

When Jesus addressed the Jews in John 5, He basically said, “You’re half right and you’re half wrong.” The Jews were right in their apprehension of life being found in the Scriptures. The Scriptures are indeed given for life. But they were wrong in thinking that the Scriptures alone brought life. This is essentially salvation by study. For example, Rabbi “Hillel affirms that the more study of the law, the more life, and that if a man gains for himself words of the law he has gained for himself life in the world to come” (D.A. Carson, The Gospel According to John, p. 263). The Scriptures impart life, because they bear witness about Jesus, the One who is “the Way and the Truth and the Life” (Jn. 14:6). These Jews, who refuse to come to Christ for life, will have Moses testifying against them at the Judgment. Moses, who wrote the Pentateuch (Genesis – Deuteronomy), wrote about eternal life in Jesus. This demonstrates that if the central figure is ignored or overlooked, the whole message of the Bible gets distorted. Jesus Christ Himself is the hermeneutical key to understand the Bible, including the Old Testament. Without this key the Bible student will never unlock the treasures found in God’s Word.

In light of Jesus words in John 5:39-40; 45-46, what do you think of the Old Testament professor who said it was wrong to interpret the Old Testament through the lens of the New Testament? Apparently he thinks the Old Testament is merely historical background material that sets the stage for the life of Christ. Clearly, according to Jesus, it is erroneous not to read the New Testament back into the Old Testament. In many ways the New Testament is God’s divine commentary on the Old Testament. In fact, if we fail to read the Old Testament with New Testament eyes (this is one of those places were hindsight is 20/20) we are no better off than the lost Jews, who were oblivious to Moses’ writing about Jesus. “What is at stake is a comprehensive hermeneutical key. By predictive prophecy, by type, by revelatory event and by anticipatory statute, what we call the Old Testament is understood to point to Christ, his ministry, his teaching, his death and resurrection” (Ibid.).

Any reading of the Bible that doesn’t take Jesus into account is a sub-Christian reading. And any sermon from the pulpit that doesn’t relate the text of Scripture to Christ is a sub-Christian message—at best. At worst it may be anti-Christian. Instead of the gospel of grace, it may be a moralistic message of works salvation. And, as R. Albert Mohler pointed out in a message, “We are raised on our parents’ knees to read the Bible, especially the Old Testament, morally, and not Christo-centrically. A moral reading of the text is second nature and our natural default mode. Furthermore, and unfortunately, people want to hear about how they are able to live for God on their own.” This is not to say that the Bible doesn’t have any moral lessons. The Bible is not less than moral, but it is so much more. It is a book about the transforming gospel of Jesus Christ.