Do any OT passages irrefutably point to Jesus?

Questions about God, the Bible and the Christian culture 

Question: Are there any Old Testament verses that state definitively that God would beget a son to a human woman, or who would be sacrificed to take the place of animal sacrifices for people's purification from sins? I'm frustrated. I'm debating with an atheist — trying to save him hell — but he knows the Bible inside out! He says there are no prophecies in the entire Old Testament predicting Jesus as he is described in the N T. Please pray for me and him. 

Answer: Greetings friend. Thank you for your very direct question. First, let me commend you in the Lord for your concern over lost souls, but particularly for your work with this individual. I will indeed pray for you and him(?) this week, and I will share this request with some Christian friends. Second, it sounds as if you might be playing Bible Ping-Pong with a knowledgeable atheist. Such games tend to entertain them and frustrate us, so my overall recommendation will be to change the game.

I’m afraid that you are looking for something that does not exist — not in the way you’d like it to exist, anyway. You seem to be looking for a slam-dunk OT (Old Testament) verse that predicts Jesus’ life and ministry in terms that cannot be debated. No such luck. There are plenty of verses that do point to Jesus specifically, and we can see their significance through our Christian-colored glasses, but nonbelievers remain unimpressed. This is the central divide. The bible-based academic debate may be fun and useful, but it saves no one. The Holy Spirit saves — and none other. Herein is Christianity’s Catch-22. Biblical truth — the very stuff of salvation — is often lost on the people who desperately need it, the unregenerate.

“The natural person does not accept the things of the Spirit of God, for they are folly to him, and he is not able to understand them because they are spiritually discerned.” (1 Corinthians 2:14, ESV)

We Christians have the indwelling Holy Spirit. This is why the Scriptures come alive for us. The unsaved do not have this advantage. They are not born again, and God is not their Father. They do not understand what goes on in our family, and our idiom escapes them.

“And because you are sons, God has sent the Spirit of his Son into our hearts, crying, “Abba! Father!” 
(Galatians 4:6, ESV)

Fortunately, the Holy Spirit still works on the unregenerated person, not from within, as he does with us, but from without. The Holy Spirit woos people, and, whether or not they’ll admit it, they feel the pull. A person must yield to the Spirit to be saved, but pride is the primary deterrent — particularly if the person thinks that he has a handle on the Scripture. An astute atheist may be able to access enough Bible-factoids to deflect a believer’s arguments, but in so doing he will have betrayed his essential weakness, ignorance of context.

The Bible is all about God’s plan of redemption through Jesus Christ. Persons who are either ignorant of this, or who (like your friend) dismiss that notion through prejudice, will never understand Scripture. They may be clever about using its segments to “prove” their errors or to “disprove” orthodoxy, but they will never understand the book until they understand its purpose, which is to reveal Jesus Christ as Redeemer.

The primary method of connecting the OT to Jesus Christ is by using types. A type is a person, event, or institution in redemptive history that prefigures a corresponding but greater reality. A type points to its antitype, which is the greater reality unveiled in the NT (New Testament). Let us eavesdrop on the Apostle Paul as he teaches about this connection.

“So don’t put up with anyone pressuring you in details of diet, worship services, or holy days. All those things are mere shadows cast before what was to come; the substance is Christ.” (Colossians 2:16–17, The Message)

Since the NT phenomenon of Jesus Christ is the substance, and the OT elements are merely shadows, we cannot expect to receive a full revelation of Jesus Christ without consulting both testaments and thereafter connecting type and antitype properly. Let me use an example from our physical world.

Think of electric current for a moment. A current needs a wire to work. Let’s say that we are reading the OT and we find a shadowy reference to Jesus. Think of that as one end of a wire, but know this well: One end of a wire is of no use to us. It is a mere curiosity when it stands alone. Now, we go over to the NT and discover that Jesus revealed a certain fact about himself. This could be just another end of a wire. However, when Jesus himself connects that aspect of his being with an OT concept, then we have a positive connection, and we can let the current (or the Holy Spirit) flow. At this point, we have a legitimate connection between the OT type and the NT antitype.

By this example, you can see how fruitless it is to rummage around the OT without understanding how the NT defines it. Such a person (as your friend) may be picking out the ends of wires all over the place, but without knowing where they go (and without knowing that they must go somewhere), they may have value as scrap metal... but not much else. Let us use a well-known biblical element to illustrate how this works more particularly — manna.

“... and in the morning dew lay around the camp. And when the dew had gone up, there was on the face of the wilderness a fine, flake-like thing, fine as frost on the ground. When the people of Israel saw it, they said to one another, “What is it?” For they did not know what it was. And Moses said to them, “It is the bread that the Lord has given you to eat.” (Exodus 16:13–15, ESV)

The above passage shows that God changed the normal order of things and made a special provision to save his people from starvation — manna from heaven. People who read this account may or may not realize that this manna symbolized (was a type of) Christ. But if having been familiar with this account, they moved to the NT and read Jesus’ account in John, there should be little doubt that the manna was a type of Christ because Jesus himself defined the relationship.

“I am the bread of life. Your fathers ate the manna in the wilderness, and they died. This is the bread that comes down from heaven, so that one may eat of it and not die. I am the living bread that came down from heaven. If anyone eats of this bread, he will live forever. And the bread that I will give for the life of the world is my flesh. (John 6:48–51, ESV)

The more you live with the Bible, the more such relationships you will find. In my opinion, symbols and typology are the primary tools for understanding God’s plan for redemption, and, therefore, the person of Jesus Christ. The Bible is not a literal word puzzle, useful for entertainment but not for anything life-changing. It is the revelation of Jesus Christ from end to end. And symbolism, as opposed to rigid literalism, is the native language of the book. The Bible is not designed for clever people. It is designed for holy people, and your friend will always be at a cognitive disadvantage when reading the Scripture. So, although it is okay to be sad for a lost soul, ditch the frustration — or stop the game.

Many OT verses point either directly or indirectly to Christ, but none are free from impeachment by those who must impeach. That being said, I’ll include a partial list below the NT verses. Note especially Luke 24:44, where Jesus plainly asserts that the OT is about him and that it is incomplete without him.

“Then [Jesus] said to them, “These are my words that I spoke to you while I was still with you, that everything written about me in the Law of Moses and the Prophets and the Psalms must be fulfilled. (Luke 24:44, ESV)

“for [Apollos] powerfully refuted the Jews in public, showing by the Scriptures [Scriptures meant the Old Testament to the biblical writers] that the Christ was Jesus.” (Acts 18:28, ESV)

“Paul, a servant of Christ Jesus, called to be an apostle, set apart for the gospel of God, which he promised beforehand through his prophets in the holy Scriptures, concerning his Son, who was descended from David according to the flesh” (Romans 1:1–3, ESV)

The verses below point to Jesus Christ (although not necessarily as formal types). As you will see, a skeptic will not likely be impressed by these, so keep praying. Skeptics make great Christians.

Genesis 3:15, Genesis 22:18, Genesis 26:4, Genesis 49:10, Numbers 21:6-9, Numbers 24:17, Deuteronomy 18:15, Psalm 16:9-10, Psalm 22:1-31, Psalm 132:11, Isaiah 7:14, Isaiah 9:6-7, Isaiah 40:10-11, Isaiah 50:6, Isaiah 52:13-15, Isaiah 53:1-12, Isaiah 60:21, Jeremiah 23:5, Jeremiah 33:14-15, Ezekiel 34:23, Ezekiel 37:25, Daniel 9:25, Micah 5:2, Micah 7:20, Zechariah 6:12, Zechariah 9:9, Zechariah 9:10, Zechariah 12:8-10, Zechariah 13:7, Malachi 3:1-4, Malachi 4:2-6.

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