We can recognize a good storyteller or author when we read their words or see their story come to life on film. A good author knows the art of tracing themes through a narrative by revisiting them in surprising and unexpected ways. Why should we expect anything less from Scripture inspired by the Divine Author? Woven throughout the sixty-six books are the intricate themes of a beautiful mosaic—a unified drama that finds its climax in the person of Jesus Christ.
When I first began to understand the Bible as a larger story, I saw that passages, verses, and even single words form an intricate web of connections. These connections create on-ramps for the attentive reader to understand the larger story about Christ. Most often this is accomplished in the way the New Testament authors use words and phrases from the Old Testament to help paint a theological picture of Jesus. Sometimes even a single word is worth a thousand words. For example, Mark 1:1 says, “The beginning of the good news about Jesus the Messiah, the Son of God” (NIV).
The italicized words and phrases are replete with Old Testament significance. Of course, you can understand what Mark is saying at a basic level, but I am quite certain that Mark wants us to unearth the riches buried in these words.
Fostering our ability to unearth the connections between the Old and New Testaments is not just a cerebral exercise or an application for the classroom. I want to till the soil for fruitful study and application by sharing four reasons why understanding the connections between the Testaments has practical considerations for discipleship.
Places Jesus in His Appropriate Context
First, these connections place Jesus in his proper context. When Jesus encountered the two disciples on the road to Emmaus, Jesus describes them as “foolish” and “slow of heart to believe” (Luke 24:45 ESV). The two disciples had an idea of who they wanted the Messiah to be (Luke 24:21), but their concept of the Messiah was not formed from a comprehensive understanding of Scripture. It Is only after Jesus enables them to understand that they see that Messiah’s suffering, resurrection, and glorification, were central to the storyline (Luke 24:26-27, 31). Unless we understand Jesus through the lens of the Old Testament, we run the risk of making a Messiah in our own image and likeness. To state it another way, unless we see Jesus in the context of the whole counsel of Scripture, we risk our worldview forming our understanding of Jesus rather than the other way around.
Unless we understand Jesus through the lens of the Old Testament, we run the risk of making a Messiah in our own image and likeness.
Informs Our Mission as Disciples
Second, seeing Jesus in all of Scripture informs our mission as disciples. This is evident in the preaching of the early church. Consider the number of Old Testament quotations in Peter’s first sermon (Acts 2:14-36) or Stephen’s recounting of Old Testament history (Acts 7:1-50). These sermons abound with references to the Hebrew Scriptures. Even Paul’s preaching to the Greeks in the Areopagus (Acts 17:22-29) establishes the work of Jesus within the larger context of world history bookended by Adam and the impending judgment. As followers of Jesus, we should see our mission as part of the larger story of what God is doing in the person of Jesus (Acts 17:31). Our calling is to invite others to be part of this larger story.
Dethrones You as the Focus
Third, seeing the connections between the Old and New Testaments dethrones you as the focal point of the Bible. I would challenge you to read Scripture and note the connections with a good cross-reference system rather than default to a devotional. Most devotionals stunt our discipleship growth because they tear verses from their contextual home and make us the focal point of Scripture. When we read this way, not only do we run the risk of misunderstanding and misapplying a passage, we also miss the richness of what the biblical authors are saying. Fruitful reading as disciples means reading both Testaments and seeing the connections. This type of reading shows us that Jesus is the focal point of the whole story of the Bible.
Entry Points for Gospel Conversations
Fourth, understanding the web of connections provides countless entry points for gospel conversations. It is safe to say that all of the major thematic roads in the biblical text lead to the gospel. Because of this, understanding Scripture’s connections provides many entry points for proclaiming the gospel to our culture. For example, one cannot possibly pick up the Bible, even the Gospels, and not conclude that God has a heart of justice. In fact, the Gospel of Matthew describes Jesus’ ministry (Matthew 12:18) using a quote from Isaiah 42:1-4, “I have put my Spirit upon him; he will bring forth justice to the nations (ESV).” When encountering a connection like this, we should seek to explore how Jesus fulfilled Isaiah’s longing. Tracing the biblical theme of justice reveals an incredibly complex and rich facet of the biblical storyline and gives us language as followers of Jesus to engage in the conversations happening in our culture from a biblical perspective.
Opening our eyes to the Bible’s grand story by seeing the connections between the Old and New Testament has at least these four practical applications for our role as disciples. So, my challenge to you is to read as Jesus taught those Emmaus disciples. Read with an eye to how all of Scripture ultimately points to the surprisingly unexpected crucified and resurrected Messiah. What a glorious truth for the one who has eyes to see. What a profound mission to which we are called when we see Christ in all of Scripture.
Tucker Anderson has served at Calvary Church since 2015. He is a graduate of Bethel Seminary and The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary. His passion is helping people develop a biblical worldview by understanding the relationship between the Old Testament and New Testament.