For the past few years I’ve been using various lectionaries (Bible-reading plans) to read through the Bible (or most of the Bible) each year. I don’t always keep up perfectly, and sometimes end up skipping stuff to catch up, but the cumulative effect over a few years of this is that I am building up a familiarity with the Scriptures that helps me see its big picture more clearly. This, I am convinced, is the primary reason Bible-in-a-year plans exist, and ought to be used by more Christians than the few who seem to do so at present. It doesn’t replace in-depth study in groups or sermons, but it provides a more solid foundation for understanding those sermons, studies, and devotionals. (And it prepares you to recognize false teachers’ inconsistencies better, too!)
One of the most helpful pieces of advice regarding how to deal with the confusing (or dare I say boring!?) parts of the Old Testament is something Jesus said to his disciples:
Jesus said, “These are my words which 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.” Then he opened their minds to understand the scriptures, and said to them, “Thus it is written, that the Christ should suffer and on the third day rise from the dead, and that repentance and forgiveness of sins should be preached in his name to all nations, beginning from Jerusalem. (Luke 24:44-47)
So Jesus himself tells us to look for Him in the Bible – particularly the Old Testament as that’s all that had been written at the time He spoke these words. And in the process of seeking Christ in the Old Testament that means we are looking not just for his character being revealed, but also his works, centered around the death & resurrection. And in addition to that, Jesus points out that the proclamation of the Gospel – the call to repentance and the assurance of forgiveness – is also drawn from the Old Testament Scriptures.
In recent days I’ve been reading the book of Zechariah, the penultimate prophet in the Hebrew tradition, and some excellent pictures of Christ and the Gospel popped up along the way. Here’s something from chapter 12.
And the LORD will give victory to the tents of Judah first, that the glory of the house of David and the glory of the inhabitants of Jerusalem may not be exalted over that of Judah. On that day the LORD will put a shield about the inhabitants of Jerusalem so that the feeblest among them on that day shall be like David… (Zech. 12:7-8a)
…and the house of David shall be like God, like the angel of the LORD, at their head.(Zech. 12:8b)
And I will pour out on the house of David and the inhabitants of Jerusalem a spirit of compassion and supplication, so that, when they look on him whom they have pierced, they shall mourn for him, as one mourns for an only child, and weep bitterly over him, as one weeps over a first-born. (Zech. 12:10)
On that day there shall be a fountain opened for the house of David and the inhabitants of Jerusalem to cleanse them from sin and uncleanness. (Zech. 13:1)
But one of the soldiers pierced his side with a spear, and at once there came out blood and water. He who saw it has borne witness — his testimony is true, and he knows that he tells the truth — that you also may believe. For these things took place that the scripture might be fulfilled, “Not a bone of him shall be broken.” And again another scripture says, “They shall look on him whom they have pierced.”(John 19:34-37)
So in the death of Jesus, Zechariah’s “fountain” is opened to cleanse God’s people “from sin and uncleanness.” John describes it as blood & water in his Gospel book, and a river of life in his Revelation, the former from the victorious Cross, the latter from the victorious throne. Both of these images point to none other than the life-giving gift of the Holy Spirit. Again, God’s promises, often couched in political terms in the Old Testament, find a much greater fulfillment taking effect not just on a tiny little promised land but among all His people throughout the whole world!
In looking to understand prophesies like Zechariah’s, we must look to Jesus, the Gospel, and the New Testament witness. The more permeated we are in these, the less distracted we will be by red herrings like the modern state of Israel, which represents an amazing turn of events in history but is not part of the biblical “plan” of salvation. Salvation is in Christ alone, and it is to him that we look for the redemption of the world, and it is to his Body that we look for his true people and family.