A fascinating, yet often confused element to understanding the Bible is the way that the New Testament uses, quotes, or otherwise alludes to the Old Testament. We’ve seen it in several recent posts, specifically the Apostle John’s quotation by John the Baptist concerning the name Lamb of God, which is packed full of Old Testament nuances, ascribed to Christ. We needn’t move far from this passage in John 1 before we encounter another strong, clear example of the NT use of the OT, this time from our Lord Jesus Christ.
In John 1:43-51, we find a passage describing the calling of Nathaniel in what might otherwise be an overlooked detail. However, as is always the case in Scripture, there is much more for us to glean. Notice the following observations from the passage:
- Phillips recognition of the promised Messiah (vs. 45)
- The basis for his recognition is the OT, i.e. “Moses in the Law and also the prophets wrote” (vs. 45)
- Nathaniel’s hesitation to believe without seeing (vs. 46)
- Jesus’ observation of Nathaniel’s character (vs. 47)
- Note the contrast with Nathaniel’s statement in vs. 46
- Nathaniel’s encounter with the Lord (vs. 48-49)
- He believes
- Jesus’ promise of better things to come (vs. 50)
- Angel’s ascending and descending on the Son of Man (vs. 51)
- A clear reference to the OT, Genesis 28:12
With these general observations made, there are really two that I want to focus on. First is Philip’s recognition of Jesus in verse 45 and his statement on the expectation of the Old Testament. When Philip says to Nathaniel, “We have found him of whom Moses in the Law and also the prophets wrote, Jesus of Nazareth, the son of Joseph” what are we to make of this? Where is he referring to in the OT? When we read the OT or hear it preached are our thoughts immediately transferred to Christ? Should they be?
Jesus uses similar language when He meets with His disciples after His death and resurrection. In Luke 24:27 we read, “And beginning with Moses and all the Prophets, he interpreted to them in all the Scriptures the things concerning himself “ and again in Luke 24:44-47 “Then he 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.’ 45 Then he opened their minds to understand the Scriptures, 46 and said to them, “Thus it is written, that the Christ should suffer and on the third day rise from the dead, 47 and that repentance and forgiveness of sins should be proclaimed in his name to all nations, beginning from Jerusalem.”
With this in mind, we can see clearly that the OT anticipation of the coming Messiah was fulfilled in the person and work of Jesus Christ and we can better understand that all of the Old Testament types, shadows, and allusions were pointing toward Him.
Which brings us to the second observation, the reference to Genesis 28:12. Note the passage from Genesis 28 in context:
10 Jacob left Beersheba and went toward Haran. 11 And he came to a certain place and stayed there that night, because the sun had set. Taking one of the stones of the place, he put it under his head and lay down in that place to sleep. 12 And he dreamed, and behold, there was a ladder set up on the earth, and the top of it reached to heaven. And behold, the angels of God were ascending and descending on it! 13 And behold, the Lord stood above it and said, “I am the Lord, the God of Abraham your father and the God of Isaac. The land on which you lie I will give to you and to your offspring. 14 Your offspring shall be like the dust of the earth, and you shall spread abroad to the west and to the east and to the north and to the south, and in you and your offspring shall all the families of the earth be blessed. 15 Behold, I am with you and will keep you wherever you go, and will bring you back to this land. For I will not leave you until I have done what I have promised you.” 16 Then Jacob awoke from his sleep and said, “Surely the Lord is in this place, and I did not know it.” 17 And he was afraid and said, “How awesome is this place! This is none other than the house of God, and this is the gate of heaven.”
18 So early in the morning Jacob took the stone that he had put under his head and set it up for a pillar and poured oil on the top of it. 19 He called the name of that place Bethel, but the name of the city was Luz at the first. 20 Then Jacob made a vow, saying, “If God will be with me and will keep me in this way that I go, and will give me bread to eat and clothing to wear, 21 so that I come again to my father’s house in peace, then the Lord shall be my God, 22 and this stone, which I have set up for a pillar, shall be God’s house. And of all that you give me I will give a full tenth to you.”
This fascinating vision given to Jacob becomes the object upon which Christ draws attention in the passage from John 1. Jesus asserts that we are not to expect an actual ladder to be constructed from heaven and earth, that was the mistake of those who built the Tower of Babal in Genesis 11 (likely contrasted here in Genesis 28). Instead, He takes this vision of Jacob and applies it directly to Himself, as a pathway upon which angels will ascend and descend.
Christ is the fulfillment of the OT type seen in Jacob’s dream. He, and He alone, is the bridge, or ladder, between God and man (or heaven and earth as it were). Upon Him, i.e. through His person and work, do angel’s ascend and descend as a picture of the access to God the Father that Christ has provided through His life, death, and resurrection. “…No one comes unto the Father except through me.” John 14:6 It is by way of Christ and no other that access can be granted to God. He is the only “way, truth, and life.” Jesus is the better and true ladder of Jacob’s vision, where the glory of the holy God condescends to meet with sinful man.
Nice you shared a very informative blog. Thanks for sharing this blog.
What is a layperson/non-Bible scholar to do??
Here is our dilemma: Every Christian Old Testament Bible scholar, apologist, pastor, and priest on the planet says that the Old Testament prophesies the birth and death of Jesus of Nazareth as the Jewish Messiah (ben David). However, every (non-messianic) Jewish “Old Testament” scholar and rabbi adamantly states that there is not one single prophecy in the Hebrew Bible about Jesus.
So who are we poor ignorant saps to believe?
In lieu of spending the next 10 years becoming a fluent Hebrew-speaking Old Testament scholar yourself, I would suggest using some good ol’ common sense. Who is more likely to be correct:
1.) Jewish sages and rabbis who have spent their entire lives immersed in Jewish culture, the Jewish Faith, the Hebrew language, and the Hebrew Bible—for the last 2,000 years…or… 2.) seminary graduates from Christian Bible colleges in Dallas, Texas and Lynchburg, Virginia?
Sorry, Christian scholars, but using good ol’ common sense, I have to go with the Jewish scholars. And Jewish scholars say that Christian translators deliberately mistranslated and distorted the Hebrew Bible to say things in the Christian Bible that is never said in the original Hebrew—for the purpose of inventing prophesies into which they could “shoehorn” Jesus!
I recommend that every Christian read the bombshell book, “Twenty-Six Reasons Why Jews Don’t Believe in Jesus” by orthodox Jewish author, Asher Norman. You will be blown away by the evidence that this Jewish author presents that confirms why Jews have said the following for the last two thousand years: “Jesus of Nazareth was NOT the Messiah.”
I haven’t time to reply in depth to your comment, but are you asserting that some Jewish scholars are correct in saying that Jesus was not the Messiah? I suspect that in your comment you’ve created a false dichotomy. If you read the appendix to Alfred Edersheim’s (himself a Jewish scholar, though convert to Christianity) The Life and Times of Jesus Messiah, you’ll find a list of all the OT passages that were considered Messianic at the time of Christ’s first advent (see for example Simeon’s blessing in Luke 2:25ff and Philip’s expectation in John 1:45ff, not to mention Jesus’ own words in Luke 24:44ff). This Messianic scripture list was actually changed by the Jewish rabbis to deceptively hide God’s revealed plan of His Son Jesus as the Christ.
You may also want to review some of the Jewish intertestamental literature for some thoughts on how they viewed the Messianic anticipation of the Old Testament.
Further, I mean no disrespect, but it is not to common sense nor to those who deny that Jesus is the Christ that I make my appeal, but to the Scriptures alone.