The Gospel -- In the Old Testament!

Jack M. Lane

Christians today have a pretty easy job of preaching Christ.  All they have to do is flip open the New Testament and begin reading.  But Jesus, the Apostles, and the first century church didn't have a "New Testament" to refer to.  All they had was the "Old Testament"!

It comes as a surprise to many that Jesus and the apostles never used the New Testament scriptures.  Those books of the Bible weren’t even written yet. When they preached the gospel, they used the "Old Testament" scriptures -- the Hebrew scriptures, which was the only "Bible" they had available to them. And yet, a lot of churches today teach that the Old Testament scriptures are useless. They teach Christ out of the New Testament scriptures, and often say we don't need the Old Testament.

Here's an interesting picture:  The Bible, as we have it today, contains 66 books. The Old Testament has the first 39 of those books. The Gospel of Matthew is the 40th book of the Bible.  Let’s say, for the moment, that the Bible is one big book with 66 long chapters. If each one of the books of the Bible was just a long chapter in a big book, Matthew would be chapter 40.  Wouldn't it seem strange to begin reading a book at chapter 40? Are those first 39 chapters of God's book unnecessary? Maybe God wants them there!

Now, consider this:  How did Jesus preach the Gospel?  What was His authority? Where did He get His ideas of love and grace, forgiveness and salvation? Where did He get the Good News of the Kingdom of God?

When Peter preached about grace and salvation, what was his authority? What did he base it on?

When the Apostle Paul preached the Kingdom to the Gentiles, expounding out of the Scriptures, what was he preaching from?

I think we already know the answer. It was the Hebrew scriptures.

We've all heard of the “Golden Rule”:  “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.” Where did that come from? It came from Matthew 7:12, in the New Testament. The King James Version reads, "Therefore all things whatsoever ye would that men should do to you, do ye even so to them..."
In the New International Version, it reads this way:  “So in everything, do to others what you would have them do to you, [but the sentence continues] for this sums up the Law and the Prophets.” Even though the "Golden Rule" comes from the New Testament, as a saying of Jesus, He shows that the Golden Rule sums up what is written in the Old Testament, in the Law of Moses and the books of the prophets!

Jesus was not doing away with the Old Testament scriptures. In the Sermon on the Mount, He explained that He was filling them up.

"Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them but to fulfill them. I tell you the truth, until heaven and earth disappear, not the smallest letter, not the least stroke of a pen, will by any means disappear from the Law until everything is accomplished. Anyone who breaks one of the least of these commandments and teaches others to do the same will be called least in the kingdom of heaven, but whoever practices and teaches these commands will be called great in the kingdom of heaven. For I tell you that unless your righteousness surpasses that of the Pharisees and the teachers of the law, you will certainly not enter the kingdom of heaven" (Matthew 5:17-20).

Jesus was explaining, clarifying, magnifying – if anything, making the law more powerful and more binding, as a further reading of Matthew chapter 5 reveals.

Jesus taught the people out of scripture. He answered the scribes and Pharisees with scripture. He answered Satan with scripture.

In John 5:45-47, Jesus said, "But do not think I will accuse you before the Father. Your accuser is Moses, on whom your hopes are set. If you believed Moses, you would believe me, for he wrote about me. But since you do not believe what he wrote, how are you going to believe what I say?"

Did Moses write about Messiah? What about the other Old Testament writers? Did they write about Him?

Peter understood that the Hebrew scriptures talked about Christ.  He wrote:  "Concerning this salvation, the prophets, who spoke of the grace that was to come to you, searched intently and with the greatest care, trying to find out the time and circumstances to which the Spirit of Christ in them was pointing when he predicted the sufferings of Christ and the glories that would follow. It was revealed to them that they were not serving themselves but you, when they spoke of the things that have now been told you by those who have preached the gospel to you by the Holy Spirit sent from heaven. Even angels long to look into these things” (1 Peter 1:10-12).

Peter shows that the very purpose of the Hebrew writings was to bring to the church, the ekklesia, the message of God’s grace, of Christ, of His sufferings, and the resulting glory!

In Acts chapter 28, Luke is narrating the story of the time when Paul finally arrives in Rome. He writes: "There we found some brothers who invited us to spend a week with them. And so we came to Rome. The brothers there had heard that we were coming, and they traveled as far as the Forum of Appius and the Three Taverns to meet us. At the sight of these men Paul thanked God and was encouraged. When we got to Rome, Paul was allowed to live by himself, with a soldier to guard him.

"Three days later he called together the leaders of the Jews. When they had assembled, Paul said to them: 'My brothers, although I have done nothing against our people or against the customs of our ancestors, I was arrested in Jerusalem and handed over to the Romans. They examined me and wanted to release me, because I was not guilty of any crime deserving death. But when the Jews objected, I was compelled to appeal to Caesar -- not that I had any charge to bring against my own people. For this reason I have asked to see you and talk with you. It is because of the hope of Israel that I am bound with this chain.'

"They replied, 'We have not received any letters from Judea concerning you, and none of the brothers who have come from there has reported or said anything bad about you. But we want to hear what your views are, for we know that people everywhere are talking against this sect.'

"They arranged to meet Paul on a certain day, and came in even larger numbers to the place where he was staying. From morning till evening he explained and declared to them the kingdom of God and tried to convince them about Jesus from the Law of Moses and from the Prophets. Some were convinced by what he said, but others would not believe" (Acts 28:14-24).

Paul used the Hebrew scriptures to preach about Christ and the Kingdom!

Paul had also written to the young evangelist Timothy:  "You, however, know all about my teaching, my way of life, my purpose, faith, patience, love, endurance, persecutions, sufferings-what kinds of things happened to me in Antioch, Iconium and Lystra, the persecutions I endured. Yet the Lord rescued me from all of them. In fact, everyone who wants to live a godly life in Christ Jesus will be persecuted, while evil men and impostors will go from bad to worse, deceiving and being deceived. But as for you, continue in what you have learned and have become convinced of, because you know those from whom you learned it, and how from infancy you have known the holy Scriptures, which are able to make you wise for salvation through faith in Christ Jesus. All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness, so that the man of God may be thoroughly equipped for every good work" (2 Timothy 3:10-17).

What’s he talking about here?  The Hebrew scriptures! There wasn’t any New Testament when Timothy was a little boy! Paul told Timothy that the Hebrew scriptures are able to make one "wise for salvation through faith in Christ Jesus"! He then goes on to validate all scripture as being inspired by God ("God-breathed" in the NIV).

Just a few verses later, Paul goes on to warn: "In the presence of God and of Christ Jesus, who will judge the living and the dead, and in view of his appearing and his kingdom, I give you this charge: Preach the Word; be prepared in season and out of season; correct, rebuke and encourage -- with great patience and careful instruction. For the time will come when men will not put up with sound doctrine [for example, the Hebrew scriptures?]. Instead, to suit their own desires, they will gather around them a great number of teachers to say what their itching ears want to hear. They will turn their ears away from the truth and turn aside to myths" (2 Timothy 4:1-4).

It’s sad to think Paul knew it was coming.  It’s sad to see that’s what we have today.

Why can’t theologians today recognize that the Jesus Christ they preach about said, “Sanctify them by the truth; Your word is truth” (John 17:17)? What word is that? Jesus is the Word (John 1:1).  The Old Testament scriptures are God's word. And God’s doctrine is the truth.

Let’s look at Luke's story in Acts chapter 17, a bit earlier in time than what we looked at previously. Luke is describing one of Paul's journeys: "When they had passed through Amphipolis and Apollonia, they came to Thessalonica, where there was a Jewish synagogue. As his custom was, Paul went into the synagogue, and on three Sabbath days he reasoned with them from the Scriptures, explaining and proving that the Christ had to suffer and rise from the dead. 'This Jesus I am proclaiming to you is the Christ,' he said. Some of the Jews were persuaded and joined Paul and Silas, as did a large number of God-fearing Greeks and not a few prominent women.

"But the Jews were jealous; so they rounded up some bad characters from the marketplace, formed a mob and started a riot in the city. They rushed to Jason's house in search of Paul and Silas in order to bring them out to the crowd.  [Jason was the president of the synagogue.]  But when they did not find them, they dragged Jason and some other brothers before the city officials, shouting: 'These men who have caused trouble all over the world have now come here, and Jason has welcomed them into his house. They are all defying Caesar's decrees, saying that there is another king, one called Jesus.' When they heard this, the crowd and the city officials were thrown into turmoil. Then they made Jason and the others post bond and let them go. As soon as it was night, the brothers sent Paul and Silas away to Berea.

"On arriving there, they went to the Jewish synagogue. Now the Bereans were of more noble character than the Thessalonians, for they received the message with great eagerness and examined the Scriptures every day to see if what Paul said was true. Many of the Jews believed, as did also a number of prominent Greek women and many Greek men" (Acts 17:1-12).

Notice how Paul went to the Jews, who were very conversant in the Hebrew scriptures, and "reasoned with them from the Scriptures, explaining and proving" things about the very Messiah they were waiting for!

If you were to talk to anyone in the first century church, or in the Jewish synagogues, and you mentioned the scriptures, there’s only one thing they’d think of – what we call the Old Testament scriptures. They had a Greek translation of the Hebrew scriptures, the Septuagint, but that’s all the scripture there was at that time.

Of course, some of the brethren were writing letters, and some were writing down the story of Jesus’ life. But there were no Gospels and Epistles as part of scripture back then.  It was only later that these biographies and correspondence became canonized into scripture, perhaps by John at the end of the first century.

Let's go back a little further in time in Luke's account, reading in Acts chapter 8: "Now an angel of the Lord said to Philip, 'Go south to the road -- the desert road -- that goes down from Jerusalem to Gaza.' So he started out, and on his way he met an Ethiopian eunuch, an important official in charge of all the treasury of Candace, queen of the Ethiopians. This man had gone to Jerusalem to worship, and on his way home was sitting in his chariot reading the book of Isaiah the prophet."

A word of explanation here: This man was an important government official in his country. He may not have actually been castrated, as the word "eunich" implies, since he worked with the Treasury Department, rather than the harem. The commentaries and dictionaries suggest that this was simply a title of a high government official.

"The Spirit told Philip, 'Go to that chariot and stay near it.' Then Philip ran up to the chariot and heard the man reading Isaiah the prophet. 'Do you understand what you are reading?' Philip asked. 'How can I,' he said, 'unless someone explains it to me?' So he invited Philip to come up and sit with him. The eunuch was reading this passage of Scripture: 'He was led like a sheep to the slaughter, and as a lamb before the shearer is silent, so he did not open his mouth. In his humiliation he was deprived of justice. Who can speak of his descendants? For his life was taken from the earth.'  The eunuch asked Philip, 'Tell me, please, who is the prophet talking about, himself or someone else?' Then Philip began with that very passage of Scripture and told him the good news about Jesus. As they traveled along the road, they came to some water and the eunuch said, 'Look, here is water. Why shouldn't I be baptized?'"

Verse 37, from NKJV: "Then Philip said, 'If you believe with all your heart, you may.' And he answered and said, 'I believe that Jesus Christ is the Son of God.'" (Omitted from the NIV.)

"And he gave orders to stop the chariot. Then both Philip and the eunuch went down into the water and Philip baptized him. When they came up out of the water, the Spirit of the Lord suddenly took Philip away, and the eunuch did not see him again, but went on his way rejoicing. Philip, however, appeared at Azotus and traveled about, preaching the gospel in all the towns until he reached Caesarea" (Acts 8:26-40).

There are indications in history that this government official went back to Ethiopia and raised up a large church, which lasted for many centuries. Traces of this church can still be found today in North and East Africa.

It is said that there are more than three hundred specific prophecies regarding Messiah recorded in the Hebrew scriptures, about His first coming to be sacrificed for the sins of the world, and about His second coming to be King of kings and Lord of lords. Can you think of 300 places in the Hebrew scriptures where Messiah is prophesied?

It seems likely that the early church was working on it. Jesus had told them to go out into the world, preach the gospel, make disciples, teach them to observe the things He commanded (Matthew 28:19-20, etc.). But it actually took until the time of Acts chapter 8 before they went out from Jerusalem, and that was only because there was a great persecution driving them out.

"… On that day [the day Stephen testified and was stoned to death] a great persecution broke out against the church at Jerusalem, and all except the apostles were scattered throughout Judea and Samaria. Godly men buried Stephen and mourned deeply for him. But Saul began to destroy the church. Going from house to house, he dragged off men and women and put them in prison.  Those who had been scattered preached the word wherever they went" (Acts 8:1-4).

The church had been using the time, up until that day, to rehearse the story, study the scriptures, find out just what the scriptures really did say about Messiah, and put together an oral history each of the brothers could take with them when they finally did ship out.

And then Philip went to preach to the Ethiopian. He began at a verse in Isaiah 53, and he preached Messiah. After he’d been at it awhile, the Ethiopian requested baptism.

Do you ever wonder what Philip said?  We can imagine what he might have said.  Following is some speculation on some of the things Philip might have discussed with the Ethiopian.

It says in Acts that Philip began at the same verse the Ethiopian was reading, which is in Isaiah chapter 53 – or what we call Isaiah 53, since the chapter breaks that we know didn't exist then – as describing the Lamb of God on His way to the slaughter. He might have tied that into the idea that was current at that time, that Messiah was due to appear, because of Daniel’s 70 weeks prophecy (Daniel 9:24-27).

I think Philip would tell the man that Messiah was going to come first as a humble man, who would be persecuted, despised, the very scorn of men, and the outcast of the people. He might have gone back to the first prophecy of the Messiah, in Genesis 3:14-15: "So the LORD God said to the serpent, 'Because you have done this, Cursed are you above all the livestock and all the wild animals! You will crawl on your belly and you will eat dust all the days of your life. And I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your offspring and hers; he will crush your head, and you will strike his heel.'"

He might have talked about Abraham, and God’s promises to him: Genesis 12:3: “… and all peoples on earth will be blessed through you."

He may have told the story of Abraham sacrificing Isaac (Genesis 22), and how it pictured the Father sacrificing His only-begotten Son, and how in both cases the fathers received their sons back from the dead.

He might have quoted from Micah 5:2: “But you, Bethlehem Ephrathah, though you are small among the clans of Judah, out of you will come for me one who will be ruler over Israel, whose origins are from of old, from ancient times."

He might have told how this was the Branch, prophesied long ago: "'I myself will gather the remnant of my flock out of all the countries where I have driven them and will bring them back to their pasture, where they will be fruitful and increase in number. I will place shepherds over them who will tend them, and they will no longer be afraid or terrified, nor will any be missing,' declares the LORD. 'The days are coming,' declares the LORD, 'when I will raise up to David a righteous Branch, a King who will reign wisely and do what is just and right in the land. In his days Judah will be saved and Israel will live in safety. This is the name by which he will be called: The LORD Our Righteousness. So then, the days are coming,' declares the LORD, 'when people will no longer say, "As surely as the LORD lives, who brought the Israelites up out of Egypt," but they will say, "As surely as the LORD lives, who brought the descendants of Israel up out of the land of the north and out of all the countries where he had banished them." Then they will live in their own land'" (Jeremiah 23:3-8).

He could have mentioned another prophecy of the Branch, the Root of Jesse:  "A shoot will come up from the stump of Jesse [describing King David, son of Jesse]; from his roots a Branch will bear fruit. The Spirit of the LORD will rest on him -- the Spirit of wisdom and of understanding, the Spirit of counsel and of power, the Spirit of knowledge and of the fear of the LORD – and he will delight in the fear of the LORD. He will not judge by what he sees with his eyes, or decide by what he hears with his ears; but with righteousness he will judge the needy, with justice he will give decisions for the poor of the earth. He will strike the earth with the rod of his mouth; with the breath of his lips he will slay the wicked. Righteousness will be his belt and faithfulness the sash around his waist. The wolf will live with the lamb, the leopard will lie down with the goat, the calf and the lion and the yearling together; and a little child will lead them. The cow will feed with the bear, their young will lie down together, and the lion will eat straw like the ox. The infant will play near the hole of the cobra, and the young child put his hand into the viper's nest. They will neither harm nor destroy on all my holy mountain, for the earth will be full of the knowledge of the LORD as the waters cover the sea. In that day the Root of Jesse will stand as a banner for the peoples; the nations will rally to him, and his place of rest will be glorious" (Isaiah 11:1-10).

There’s more about this Branch in Zechariah.

"'Listen, O high priest Joshua and your associates seated before you, who are men symbolic of things to come: I am going to bring my servant, the Branch. See, the stone I have set in front of Joshua! There are seven eyes on that one stone, and I will engrave an inscription on it,' says the LORD Almighty, 'and I will remove the sin of this land in a single day'" (Zechariah 3:8-9).

"Take the silver and gold and make a crown, and set it on the head of the high priest, Joshua son of Jehozadak. Tell him this is what the LORD Almighty says: 'Here is the man whose name is the Branch, and he will branch out from his place and build the temple of the LORD. It is he who will build the temple of the LORD, and he will be clothed with majesty and will sit and rule on his throne. And he will be a priest on his throne …'" (Zechariah 6:11-13).

Philip might have referred to Christ’s suffering and death, and the thirty pieces of silver:  "I told them, 'If you think it best, give me my pay; but if not, keep it.' So they paid me thirty pieces of silver. And the LORD said to me, 'Throw it to the potter' -- the handsome price at which they priced me! So I took the thirty pieces of silver and threw them into the house of the LORD to the potter" (Zechariah 11:12-13).

He might have quoted from Psalm 22, showing Messiah’s crucifixion, including some of the very things that were said and done:  "My God, my God, why have you forsaken me? Why are you so far from saving me, so far from the words of my groaning? (Psalm 22:1).

"But I am a worm and not a man, scorned by men and despised by the people. All who see me mock me; they hurl insults, shaking their heads: 'He trusts in the LORD; let the LORD rescue him. Let him deliver him, since he delights in him'" (verses 6-8).

"Many bulls surround me; strong bulls of Bashan encircle me. Roaring lions tearing their prey open their mouths wide against me. I am poured out like water, and all my bones are out of joint. My heart has turned to wax; it has melted away within me. My strength is dried up like a potsherd, and my tongue sticks to the roof of my mouth; you lay me in the dust of death. Dogs have surrounded me; a band of evil men has encircled me, they have pierced my hands and my feet. I can count all my bones; people stare and gloat over me. They divide my garments among them and cast lots for my clothing. (verses 12-18).

"I will declare your name to my brothers; in the congregation I will praise you" (verse 22).

"All the ends of the earth will remember and turn to the LORD, and all the families of the nations will bow down before him, for dominion belongs to the LORD and he rules over the nations. All the rich of the earth will feast and worship; all who go down to the dust will kneel before him -- those who cannot keep themselves alive. Posterity will serve him; future generations will be told about the Lord. They will proclaim his righteousness to a people yet unborn -- for he has done it" (verses 27-31).

Philip might have mentioned Messiah’s resurrection, referred to in Psalm 16:10:  "Because you will not abandon me to the grave, nor will you let your Holy One see decay."

And in Psalm 118:22-23:  "The stone the builders rejected has become the capstone; the LORD has done this, and it is marvelous in our eyes."

He might have mentioned how God’s grace is now being shed on the people of God: "And I will pour out on the house of David and the inhabitants of Jerusalem a spirit of grace and supplication. They will look on me, the one they have pierced, and they will mourn for him as one mourns for an only child, and grieve bitterly for him as one grieves for a firstborn son" (Zechariah 12:10).

And of course, Philip would tell the Ethiopian about the New Covenant that God would make with Israel and Judah, because Messiah had now come:  "'The time is coming,' declares the LORD, 'when I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel and with the house of Judah. It will not be like the covenant I made with their forefathers when I took them by the hand to lead them out of Egypt, because they broke my covenant, though I was a husband to them,' declares the LORD. 'This is the covenant I will make with the house of Israel after that time,' declares the LORD. 'I will put my law in their minds and write it on their hearts. I will be their God, and they will be my people. No longer will a man teach his neighbor, or a man his brother, saying, "Know the LORD," because they will all know me, from the least of them to the greatest,' declares the LORD. 'For I will forgive their wickedness and will remember their sins no more'" (Jeremiah 31:31-34).

Philip might have talked about how God brings salvation to Israel:  "Truth is nowhere to be found, and whoever shuns evil becomes a prey. The LORD looked and was displeased that there was no justice. He saw that there was no one, he was appalled that there was no one to intervene; so his own arm worked salvation for him, and his own righteousness sustained him. He put on righteousness as his breastplate, and the helmet of salvation on his head; he put on the garments of vengeance and wrapped himself in zeal as in a cloak. According to what they have done, so will he repay wrath to his enemies and retribution to his foes; he will repay the islands their due" (Isaiah 59:15-18).

Philip might have discussed the resurrection of mankind at the time of the end:  "I know that my Redeemer lives, and that in the end he will stand upon the earth.  And after my skin has been destroyed, yet in my flesh I will see God; I myself will see him with my own eyes -- I, and not another. How my heart yearns within me!" (Job 19:25-27)

He might have discussed the two comings of the Messiah, once gently, and later with power, as outlined in Zechariah 9:  "Rejoice greatly, O Daughter of Zion! Shout, Daughter of Jerusalem! See, your king comes to you, righteous and having salvation, gentle and riding on a donkey, on a colt, the foal of a donkey. [But then, later] I will take away the chariots from Ephraim and the war-horses from Jerusalem, and the battle bow will be broken. He will proclaim peace to the nations. His rule will extend from sea to sea and from the River to the ends of the earth.  As for you, because of the blood of my covenant with you, I will free your prisoners from the waterless pit. … Then the LORD will appear over them; his arrow will flash like lightning. The Sovereign LORD will sound the trumpet; he will march in the storms of the south, and the LORD Almighty will shield them. They will destroy and overcome with slingstones. They will drink and roar as with wine; they will be full like a bowl used for sprinkling the corners of the altar. The LORD their God will save them on that day as the flock of his people. They will sparkle in his land like jewels in a crown" (Zechariah 9:9-16).

Now, imagine Philip saying to the Ethiopian, “This man, Jesus of Nazareth, was a great prophet, as you know.  Everyone has heard of His fame.  But He was also the Son of God, and He lives today.  Remember what God said to Moses …” And then he would recall the passage from Deuteronomy 18, when Israel was about to go into the promised land:

"The nations you will dispossess listen to those who practice sorcery or divination. But as for you, the LORD your God has not permitted you to do so. [Instead,] The LORD your God will raise up for you a prophet like me [a prophet like Moses] from among your own brothers. You must listen to him. For this is what you asked of the LORD your God at Horeb on the day of the assembly when you said, 'Let us not hear the voice of the LORD our God nor see this great fire anymore, or we will die.' The LORD said to me: 'What they say is good. I will raise up for them a prophet like you from among their brothers; I will put my words in his mouth, and he will tell them everything I command him. If anyone does not listen to my words that the prophet speaks in my name, I myself will call him to account'” (Deuteronomy 18:14-19).

Now imagine Philip looking intently at the Ethiopian and saying, "This Jesus of Nazareth, that you have heard about and know to be true, is that prophet.  And the word from God He spoke was to repent and believe the Good News, and be baptized for the forgiveness of sin, and receive the Holy Spirit from God, which also makes you a son of God, and an heir of everlasting life.”

Imagine the Ethiopian looking out from his chariot, with a faraway look, as he ponders and processes all these thoughts. Then he realizes that he is looking out over a body of water.

All Philip did was tell him the story. It was the Ethiopian who asked to be baptized. And, as some tell the story, that man went home, to resume his duties in the royal house of Ethiopia, and began to tell the story there.

And the story spread, first among the Jews and God-fearers, and then out to the Ethiopian people. A church arose, and a work was being done in a far-off Gentile nation, because the Spirit sent one man, Philip, to one man, the Ethiopian government official, and Philip knew what the scriptures said.

Do we?

This article was based in part on an article by David Jon Hill, entitled “The GOSPEL -- In the Old Testament,” which appeared in The Plain Truth, July, 1963.