The Bible is a collection of inspired writings, spanning an array of genres, written by forty-plus authors over a span of some four thousand years. Yet it presents a single, united message. It is easy to miss this central theme in the complexity of the Scriptures, particularly in an individualistic age in which we tend to read each verse looking for some form of personal inspiration for our day. Confession 4.2 seeks to bring us back to the overriding message of the Bible.
God’s salvation is revealed in the gospel, which forms the central focus of both Old and New Testaments (Luke 24:26–27, 44; John 20:30–31; Romans 1:1–4). In the Old Testament, the gospel was proclaimed through the promises, types and prophecies, which predicted the “sufferings of Christ and the glories that would follow” (Hebrews 10:1–12; 1 Peter 1:10–12); the New Testament proclaims the fulfilment of God’s redemptive purposes through the life, ministry, death, resurrection and ascension of Jesus Christ (Acts 13:38–39; Galatians 3:16–22). Thus, believers of all ages receive salvation through their union with Jesus Christ, the only mediator between God and man (Romans 4:16, 23–25). (Sola 5 Confession 4.2)
The Confession begins with the simple assertion that “God’s salvation is revealed in the gospel, which forms the central focus of both Old and New Testaments.” Luke 24:25–27, 44 claims that “the Law of Moses and the Prophets and the Psalms” all reveal that “the Christ should suffer these things [betrayal and death] and enter into his glory [resurrection and ascension].” There are far more ways than we can name that this is true, but it may help to note just one sample from each of the three genres mentioned (Law, Prophets, and Psalms). Genesis 3:15 (Law) prophesied that Messiah would experience death and seeming defeat in order to crush the work of Satan. Isaiah 52:13–53:12 (Prophets) prophesied Jesus’ vicarious death on behalf of those he came to save. Psalm 22 (Psalms) prophesied in some detail Jesus’ death and resurrection. These are no doubt some of the texts that Jesus took his disciples to.
Romans 1:1–4 similarly tells us that “the gospel of God” was “promised beforehand through his prophets in the holy Scriptures.” This does not mean that the full gospel message, as we know it, is presented in any particular text in the Old Testament, but that various elements of gospel truth are prophesied in various places. The New Testament on several occasions cites particular Old Testament texts as prophecies of particular events. Consider some examples.
Psalm 16:10–11 reads, “For you will not abandon my soul to Sheol, or let your holy one see corruption. You make known to me the path of life; in your presence there is fullness of joy; at your right hand are pleasures forevermore.” According to Acts 2:22–28; 13:35–37, this was a prophecy of Jesus’ resurrection.
Psalm 118:22–24 reads, “The stone that the builders rejected has become the cornerstone. This is the LORD’s doing; it is marvellous in our eyes. This is the day that the LORD has made; let us rejoice and be glad in it.” These verses are cited multiple times in the New Testament (Matthew 21:42; Mark 12:10–11; Luke 20:17–18; 1 Peter 2:6–8 [cf. Acts 4:9–12; Ephesians 2:20]) and prophecy Jesus’ rejection by men (betrayal and death) by exaltation by God (resurrection).
Zechariah prophesied, “And I will pour out on the house of David and the inhabitants of Jerusalem a spirit of grace and pleas for mercy, so that, when they look on me, 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 firstborn” (12:10). This was a prophecy of Jesus’ death, by means of “piercing.” This has particular reference to the sword that pierced his side (John 19:31–37; Revelation 1:7).
The most certain way to know that a prophecy was actually messianic is to look for a place in the New Testament that ascribes it to Christ. There are some texts that seem as if they might have a messianic element to them, but which are not explicitly said to have in the New Testament. It should be noted, however, that ultimately all of Scripture is designed to point us, in one form or another, to the gospel of Jesus Christ.
The Confession continues by clarifying the different means by which Jesus’ ministry, death, resurrection, and ascension were foretold: “In the Old Testament, the gospel was proclaimed through the promises, types and prophecies, which predicted the ‘sufferings of Christ and the glories that would follow.’”
Hebrews 10:1–12 describes the Old Testament as a “shadow of the good things to come,” while Peter speaks of “the prophets who prophesied about the grace that was to be yours” (1 Peter 1:10–12). The Confession tells us that gospel promises can be seen in “promises” and “prophecies” as well as in “types.” A promise or prophecy is a direct statement that points to the person and work of Christ (e.g. Genesis 3:15; etc.). A type of Christ is a person, place, or event that in some way symbolically points to the person and work of Christ (e.g. Adam’s federal headship foreshadowing Christ’s federal headship [see Romans 5:14]; etc.). We should be particularly careful of artificially crafting types of Christ where there is no merit to doing so, but at the same time we must recognise that even Jesus used typology to speak of his own ministry (Matthew 12:38–40).
“The New Testament,” continues the Confession, “proclaims the fulfilment of God’s redemptive purposes through the life, ministry, death, resurrection and ascension of Jesus Christ.” Acts 13:38–39 and Galatians 3:16–22 specifically point to Christ as the fulfilment of these Old Testament types, promises, and prophecies. Galatians 3, in particular, shows how specific some of the prophecies were, pointing even to the use of a singular rather than a plural word on which the prophecy hinges. We are naturally tempted to read the stories of the Old Testament as inspirational tales, making heroic examples of the characters of the story. We can tend to moralise the stories, suggesting that we need to be more like the heroic character in overcoming the challenges that lie before us. While there is, no doubt, much to learn about godly character from many of the Old Testament saints, the Confession reminds us that every story, every poem, and every prophecy in the Old Testament should help us grow in our love and appreciation for Jesus Christ. If we do not leave a particular text with a deeper appreciation of Christ and his gospel, we have missed the point of the inspired author.
There is often confusion about how saints in the Old Testament were saved. The Confession makes a bold claim: “Thus, believers of all ages receive salvation through their union with Jesus Christ, the only mediator between God and man.” Paul makes it clear in Romans 4 that the Old Testament saints were saved not by keeping the law but by faith in the Messiah to come. The sacrificial system was necessary in that it was part of the types and shadows that pointed to Christ, but the faith needed to be in the provision of a substitute for sinners. The earliest prophecy of Messiah (Genesis 3:15) provided all the information that God’s people needed to receive God’s salvation. Salvation has always come through faith in God’s provided Saviour, who would come in humanity’s stead to conquer the work of Satan and the consequences of sin.