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NTRODUCTION

From the beginning sentences in the preface of the book, it is clear that Dr.

Christopher J.H. Wright, the writer of “Knowing Jesus Through the Old Testament”, intends

to take his readers deeply into the writings of the Old Testament. Wright wants to achieve one

goal: to leave his reader with a newfound appreciation of the pages of the Hebrew Scriptures

and his Lord. He desires for his reader to arrive at the end of his book with a clear and

wonderfully enriched understanding of his Savior and how and why the “Son is the radiance

of his glory and the representation of his essence”, as Hebrews (The NET Bible 2006, Heb

1:3) tells us.

Wright, who serves as the director of international ministries for the Langham

Partnership International in the United Kingdom, has written a trilogy of books on the figures

of the Trinity. He focuses this book on Jesus, the Savior introduced to mankind formally in

the Gospels of the New Testament. From the beginning of the book to its final pages,

Wright’s tries to distill for the reader what the relationship between his beloved Old

Testament writings and the pages of the New Testament is. He does so in order to leave the

reader not as a “mik drinker” of Christianity, but as one who is able to digest “solid food” and

grow in his understanding of God.

SUMMARY OF “KNOWING JESUS THROUGH THE OLD TESTAMENT”

Wright uses Matthew 1 through 4 to show how Jesus is the completion of Old

Testament writings, the fulfillment of promises made by God, the completion of types within

the Hebrew Scriptures, the Son of Man as well as the Servant of the Lord and finally the Son

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of God who yields to the Father in obedience. As such, He models the kind of obedience

required from God as a response to the promises He has given. The clear intention behind

Wright’s writing is not only for the reader to understand why the segmentation of Matthew’s

genealogy of Jesus is important and how it can help us understand Jesus against Bible history,

but to understand God’s plan for mankind, not just towards Israel, but towards all the nations.

In the first part of the book, the reader gains an understanding of the historical

backgrounds of the three periods depicted by Matthew’s genealogy, from Abraham to David,

from David to the exile and from the exile to the Messiah. Already at this point, he begins to

see a clear pattern of God’s moral expectations towards a people redeemed by grace,

displayed in His unmerited favor.

Wright continues this theme in the second part of the book by focusing on the

significance of the promise delivered through the covenants and the resulting expectations. He

highlights that a clear distinction needs to be made between prediction and promise. While a

prediction may or may not come true, a promise involves commitment to a relationship,

requires a response or acceptance and ongoing levels of fulfillment. As Wright describes, the

covenants of the Old Testament always began with an initiative by God, followed by His

promise and the required and expected response by His human subjects. He shows this by

taking the reader through the covenants of the Hebrew Scriptures.

In the third part of the book, Wright discusses Jesus’ identity finding and draws the

analogy to the father-son relationships depicted on both a national and an individual level.

The chapter again highlights the relationship of God’s attitude towards Israel as Father and

His expectation from them in return. Obedience to gain blessing again is the inherent theme.

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Chapter four focuses on the mission of Jesus, again viewed against the background of

Old Testament prophetic Scripture. As Wright points out, Jesus combined both the image of

the Son of Man, a title found in a divine setting only in the writings of Daniel, and that of the

Servant of the Lord, a theme, which is a key element in the book of Isaiah. As such, it

highlights again the obedience of Jesus but also His mission not just to Israel, but to the

nations.

The final chapter of the book delivers to the reader a summary of the values of God as

rendered through Jesus’ interaction with the first century world around Him. Wright

highlights this against the backdrop (and juxtaposition) of the Pharisaic sheer legalism. Jesus

teaches key themes of God first, persons over things and needs over rights. Again, the

message is a universal message of promise and the expectation of obedience, reaching

outward from “to the Jew first and also to the Greek”, as Paul declares in Romans (The Holy

Bible, English Standard Version 2001, Romans 1:16).

WHAT DOES THIS BOOK INTEND TO TEACH US?

Wright leverages a very subtle technique to allow his reader to follow him

willingly into possibly unknown Old Testament territory verses by using the imagery of a

carol-singing Christian who is blissfully unaware of the significance of the references to the

Hebrew Scriptures in the songs he sings. His reader already feels much smarter than his

innocently carol-singing counterpart does, as it is obvious by his choice of the book he is

presently reading that he takes a greater interest in the Scriptures. In addition, the reader is

most likely aware of the genealogy of Jesus Christ as depicted in the Gospels. Beginning with

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the genealogy written for us in the first chapter of Matthew’s Gospel, Wright thus begins his

quest into how the reader can know Jesus through the pages of the Old Testament.

In the initial section of the book, Wright lays out that the depiction of Jesus’

genealogy allows us to draw certain conclusions about Him. Jesus was a real Jew and a real

man, but He also was and is the Son of David and that His appearance on the world scene

represents the end of an era of preparation and signifies a new beginning.

In order for the reader to understand these concepts better, Wright reaches far back

into Biblical history to show what had happened in the pages of the Old Testament prior to

Christ’s birth. He outlines the time period from Abraham to David by highlighting the

elements of the original problem, the election of one man and his descendents, the redemption

out of captivity offered to them, the covenant made with them, clarifying what the

relationship would be, and the inheritance promised if covenantal obedience was kept.

The genealogical segment from David to the exile takes the reader into the glory days

and ensuing decline of the monarchy from David to Solomon, ending in the split of the

kingdom into a southern kingdom (Judah) and a northern kingdom (Israel). Ever-escalating

levels of idolatry and disobedience lead to first the demise of the kingdom of Israel with exile

to Assyria in 722 BC and, almost a century and a half later, of the kingdom of Judah with

destruction of the Temple in Jerusalem and exile to Babylon in 586 BC. Again, Wright

highlights two aspects of the status and character of the God of Israel, Yahweh: He alone was

in control of world history, and that His character demanded complete obedience to His moral

demands. As Wright shows, the divided nation of Israel found itself in deep distress due to

their disobedience, which leads to the third segment of the genealogy of Jesus Christ, the

period from the exile to the arrival of the Messiah.

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As Wright points out, the post-exilic period is highlighted by a return to Jerusalem, the

rebuilding of the Temple and a renewed, invigorated and much more stringent adherence to

the Law. Israel had understood their disobedience had caused calamity. During this phase,

Israel again found itself under the control of foreign rulers, leading to a passionate desire to

see the Messiah come to the rescue of his people. The stage was set for Jesus to arrive.

With all this just in the first chapter of the book, the reader cannot help but wait with

bated breath what else God intends to show us through Old Testament history as it spills over

into the New Testament - and with it to Jesus Christ. Known to the reader from Christmas

carols sung, but hopefully also Scripture studied, as the Savior of mankind, He is the anchor

of history as Christians know it. The excitement is definitely building! As Wright points out:

Not only does the Old Testament tell the story which Jesus completes, it also declares
the promise which Jesus fulfills. (Wright 56)

By allowing such brief yet intimate insights into the pages of the Old Testament, even

if the reader never took the time to truly study them, Wright sets the reader up to understand

the key principles he intends to highlight with his book. His two main focus points will be the

sovereign nature of God as expressed in His grace bestowed, promises made and expectations

of obedience held, and, even more importantly, the stretch of God’s promise to all nations, far

beyond the borders of national Israel. Referring to Psalm 47:8-9, Wright writes:

The nations before God’s throne are there, not behind the people of God, nor even just
alongside them, but ‘as’ the people of God whose promise to Abraham had them in
mind from the beginning. (Wright 49)

Wright encourages the reader to tackle the difficult understanding of the difference

between a prediction and a promise as on this understanding rides a true appreciation of the

character of God and His expectation towards the people He has extended the promise to.

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While predictions may or may not come true, promises hinge on three key factors. Wright

writes that a promise is “made between two people” and “presupposes a relationship between

them” (Wright 64). On the other hand a prediction can be made about a person and does not

guarantee fulfillment. Promises further demand a response or at least acceptance. As Wright

summarizes,

The promise comes as the initiative of God’s grace and always depends on his grace.
But that grace has to be accepted and responded to by faith and obedience. (Wright
68)

This obedience, according to Wright, has a further consequence: it is inextricably

linked to God’s fulfillment of His promise to Abraham to bless all nations and therefore

ultimately to the mission aspect of the calling of Abraham. As Wright states, “(e)thical

obedience stands as the middle term between election and mission”. (Wright 130)

As an author, Wright does not gloss over items that might be difficult to understand.

The chapter on Christ’s identity very clearly shows that the concept of a Messiah was not one

truly formulated throughout the entire Old Testament period, but rather began with Daniel’s

visionary prophecy. Wright points out to the reader:

And it is equally striking that scholars who have studied Jesus’ use of the ‘messianic’
scriptures most closely observe that, of all the figures and titles in the Old Testament
relating to the coming eschatological deliverer of Israel, the one that Jesus used least
was that of the Davidic, kingly, Messiah. Indeed, although it was used about him, he
never used it of himself in his teaching. (Wright 145)

Rather, as Wright teaches the reader, Jesus combined two key teachings – the one of

the Son of Man (a Daniel 7 prophecy) and that of the Servant of the Lord (an Isaiah 53

prophecy). In the use of both titles, Jesus conveys several messages. As the Son of Man, he

refers to His earthly present ministry, but also to his rejection, death and resurrection and

finally to his coming glory. As the Servant of the Lord, he has a mission of restoring Israel

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primarily, but also of restoring the nations. The link between the two is suffering, as Wright

highlights:

These two ideas, suffering and servanthood, come together in a key saying of Jesus,

Mark 10:45.

For even the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give
his life as a ransom for many. (Wright 154)

The key message for the reader, again, is that Jesus, in his dual role, was obedient to

the Father, thereby allowing blessings to flow to Israel and the nations.

Ultimately, what Wright attempts to teach the reader is that a relationship to God has

always ever been about God’s grace being offered freely, a promise being given and our

obedience expected as a response to this gracious outpouring of divine love and care. Wright

brilliantly summarizes this:

Obedience flows from grace; it does not buy it. Obedience is the fruit and proof and
sustenance of a relationship with the God you already know. (Wright 193)

Wright’s book “Finding Jesus Through the Old Testament” has generated favorable

comments by several reviewers. One to be highlighted is a review by Paul Alexander of

IXMark who writes:

Wright is so solid with text and context that once he's done teaching us how to know
Jesus through the Old Testament, we're left identifying with him when he says
Jesus was not just an identikit figure pasted together from bits of the Old
Testament. He transcended and transformed the ancient models…so that for
His followers, what began as a shaft of recognition and understanding of Jesus
in light of their Scriptures, ended up as a deepening and surprising new
understanding of their Scriptures in light of Jesus. (p. 117, emph. orig.)
(Alexander)

As Paul Alexander writes, this is a book that can teach pastors to preach richer

sermons based on Biblical theology without impoverishing their exegesis. It certainly has the

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ability to lead many “New Testament only” (whether willingly restricting themselves to it or

never being taught the whole Scriptures) believers to realms of a relationship with their God

that they could have never even imagined.

CONCLUSION

Wright’s book is part of a trilogy, with each book addressing one member of the

Trinity in relationship to how the reader can know that member more intimately through the

pages of the Old Testament. Having only read one of three, Wright has this reader convinced

that the others are worth reading as well. Whether readers come from a background of already

being closely familiar with the Hebrew Scriptures, or whether this is new reading to them,

Wright allows each to walk away with an intensified appreciation for the one true God of the

universe. Both the goodness of God as expressed through His initiative and promise and the

need for obedience, allowing not just for blessing but for the ultimate mission plan of God for

the nations, is clearly understood to be an integral part of this relationship with our God.

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WORKS CITED

Wright, Christopher J.H. Knowing Jesus Through the Old Testament. Downers Grove, IL:
InterVarsity Press, 1992.

Alexander, Paul. IXMarks. Book review. 9Marks. 3 Dec. 2008.


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