Not only does Jesus instruct Christians to read the Old Testament in a Christ-centered way, but the apostles also teach Christians to read the Old Testament in a Christ-centered way. The Christ-centered nature of the Old Testament is especially clear in Paul’s letters, Hebrews, and 1 Peter.
Paul on the Christ-centered Nature of Scripture
Both of Paul’s longest epistles, Romans and 1 Corinthians, model for Christians how to read the Old Testament as a testimony to Christ. In both epistles, Paul employs an Adam-Christ typology. Paul says, “Yet death reigned from Adam to Moses, even over those whose sinning was not like the transgression of Adam, who was a type of the one who was to come” (Rom 5:14). Adam’s sin and death leads to the sin and death of everyone after him, even before God’s written law arrived with Moses. Paul understands this as an inverse parallel of Christ:
Therefore, as one trespass led to condemnation for all men, so one act of righteousness leads to justification and life for all men. For as by the one man’s disobedience the many were made sinners, so by the one man’s obedience the many will be made righteous. Now the law came in to increase the trespass, but where sin increased, grace abounded all the more, so that, as sin reigned in death, grace also might reign through righteousness leading to eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord.Rom 5:18-21
According to Paul, Christ is the antitype of Adam. Adam is an antihero, but Christ is the great Hero. Adam’s sin led to death for all before there had been any track record of righteousness. Christ’s righteousness, by contrast, leads to eternal life for all those who trust in him, even after people have lived whole lives of unrighteousness.
Paul maintains this Adam-Christ typology in 1 Corinthians 15:42-49. Christians, from birth, bore the image of Adam, and therefore will one day die physically in weakness and thus experience dishonor. But through faith in Christ, Christians now bear the image of Christ, and therefore will one day be resurrected physically in power and thus experience glory. In Adam, Christians were perishable, but in Christ, Christians will be imperishable.
Paul’s identification of an Adam-Christ typology seems to work on the basis that both Adam and Christ are covenant heads. Adam was the head of humanity at the original creation covenant (Hos 6:7). Christ is the head of the new humanity within the new covenant (Luke 22:20). By extension, Christians can continue to compare and contrast Christ with other covenant heads from the Old Testament: Noah, Abraham, Moses, David. All of the Old Testament occurs within these covenant epochs (or dispensations). Therefore, all of the Old Testament may be profitably (2 Tim 3:16) compared and contrasted with our current new covenant era.
Paul applies this very principle in 1 Corinthians 10:1-11. He portrays the exodus from Egypt as a foreshadowing of Christian baptism (vv. 1-2). He identifies the rock from which Israel drank in the wilderness as, in fact, Christ (v. 4). These sorts of observations enable Paul to refer to these things from Old Testament history as examples for Christians’ own instruction to abstain from idolatry, sexual immorality, and grumbling (vv. 6-11).
Christ is in fact God (1 Cor 10:9), so we Christians can read things said about God in the Old Testament and rightly apply them to Jesus, albeit being careful to hold to Trinitarian orthodoxy as we do so. Paul teaches us that the Old Testament in fact is a testimony to Christ.
The Christ-centered Nature of Scripture in Hebrews
Perhaps more thoroughly than any other New Testament book, Hebrews shows the Christ-centered nature of all Scripture. Christ is “a high priest after the order of Melchizedek” (Heb 5:10). Hebrews 7 spends a chapter unpacking this statement, which shows that Psalm 110 prophesied of Jesus (a point also made by Jesus himself in Matt 22:41-46 and by Peter in Acts 2:34-35). Similarly, the other Psalms also point forward to Jesus and the new covenant (cf. Acts 1:16-20; 2:25-28; 4:23-30; 13:32-39; Heb 1:5-14; 2:5-9, 11-13; 3:7-12; 5:5-6; 10:5-10).
The author of Hebrews gives us another way to interpret the Old Testament as a testimony to Christ. Hebrews 11 is known as the hall of faith chapter, and it describes the faith of Old Testament saints. But it concludes,
And all these, though commended through their faith, did not receive what was promised, since God had provided something better for us, that apart from us they should not be made perfect. Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight, and sin which clings so closely, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, looking to Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God.Heb 11:39-12:2
According to the author of Hebrews, all the heroes of the faith in chapter 11 are just “a great cloud of witnesses” spurring us on to follow after “Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith” himself. We certainly can gain good moral lessons from various Old Testament figures, but they all were sinners like us. Their imperfect examples point us to the perfect example of Christ himself (cf. 1 Pet 2:21-25; 4:1).
The Christ-centered Nature of Scripture in 1 Peter
1 Peter also emphasizes the Christ-centered nature of Scripture. Peter explicitly says that the Old Testament prophets prophesied of Christ by the Holy Spirit: “Concerning this salvation, the prophets who prophesied about the grace that was to be yours searched and inquired carefully, inquiring what person tr time the Spirit of Christ in them was indicating when he predicted the sufferings of Christ and the subsequent glories” (1 Pet 1:10-11). Peter acknowledges that the Old Testament prophets didn’t know many of the specifics about the coming Christ, but they did truly know that the Christ was coming, and they prophesied of him. Peter also says, “It was revealed to them that they were serving not themselves but you, in the things that have now been announced to you through those who preached the good news to you by the Holy Spirit sent from heaven” (1 Pet 1:12). Doesn’t 1 Pet 1:10-12 sound a lot like Heb 11:39-12:2?
In fact, Peter is basically drawing out the argument of Heb 11:39-12:2 over the course of his whole book. Just as Israel was holy in the old covenant, Christians should be holy in the new covenant (1 Pet 1:13-2:3). Jesus is the cornerstone of the true temple of God, and Christians are being built up into that temple (1 Pet 2:4-8). Therefore, Christians are in fact God’s covenant people now just as the nation of Israel was under the old covenant (1 Pet 2:9-10). Peter addresses his audience as his “beloved” who should abstain from sin and keep their conduct pure instead (1 Pet 2:11-12). He commands them to “be subject for the Lord’s sake to every human institution” (1 Pet 2:13), first to government (1 Pet 2:14-16). He tells them to relate to everyone rightly (1 Pet 2:17-4:11). Christian slaves should submit to masters, ultimately because Christ suffered for his people and left them an example to follow, prophesied by Isaiah 53 (1 Pet 2:18-25). Christian wives should “likewise,” following the example of Christ, submit to their husbands (1 Pet 3:1-6), and Christian husbands should “likewise” honor their wives (1 Pet 3:7). All Christians should follow Jesus’ example of enduring unjust suffering (1 Pet 3:8-22), ceasing from sin (1 Pet 4:1-6), and living a holy life (1 Pet 4:7-11). The Old Testament prophesied the fiery trials that befall Christians as the people of the Messiah, so they should not be surprised (1 Pet 4:12-19). Peter concludes by exhorting all Christians to be humble, again based on the Old Testament (1 Pet 5:1-7), and by exhorting them to resist the devil and endure suffering until God exalts them in Christ, even as “Babylon” presently causes them trouble as the Roman Empire (1 Pet 5:8-14).
The New Testament letters take Jesus’ teaching about the Christ-centered nature of the Old Testament and show that it remains normative for Christians even today.