Hundreds of themes can be discovered in the Old Testament. Among them are what the Old Testament says about creation, what the Old Testament says about the origin of human languages, what the Old Testament says about the histories of the ancient empires of the world, what the Old Testament says about features and traits of important individuals who served God, and many more such topics. They are interesting, but they are not the central message of the Old Testament and we do it an injustice when we fail to see that its primary message is about the sufferings of Christ and the glories that will follow.
The sufferings of Christ were prophesied in detail. We only have to read passages such as Psalm 22 and Isaiah 53 to see that is the case (they are examples of many passages in the Old Testament). Peter tells us how such detail was provided – it was given by the Holy Spirit. Isaiah and David did not spend a few years seeking for a suitable message, which they then passed on to others. Their words were not expressions of their own discoveries. Instead they were divinely inspired in what they said about Jesus and his sufferings and were able to go into detail about them.
The sufferings of Christ were substitutionary in nature. It is evident from passages such as Psalm 22 and Isaiah 53 that Jesus suffered on behalf of others (it is also taught in the worship rituals of Israel which were pictures of his future sacrifice). The pain he endured was instead of others having to endure them. His sufferings were not only an example to others regarding how to persevere through them. Nor were they only the sufferings of one who has to perform heroic acts in order to bring benefits to others (similar to how a soldier endures suffering in order to defeat an enemy on behalf of his country). Instead the Old Testament prophets make it very clear that Jesus suffered peculiarly in a penal manner, that his sufferings were actually punishment for the sins of others. And the Old Testament makes it clear that the One who punished him instead of punishing others was his heavenly Father.
The benefits of the sufferings of Christ are for peoples of all nations. This was promised in the first prediction recorded in the Bible when God himself said that the great Deliverer’s heel would be bruised (Gen. 3:15). Psalm 22, which gives a marvellous entrance into the Messiah’s sufferings, tells us that the beneficiaries of it will come from ‘all the ends of the earth’ as they ‘turn to the Lord’ (Ps. 22:27). Through his death, they will receive pardon for their sins because he will have paid the penalty that God required of them.
The other part of the central theme of the Old Testament is the glories that will follow for Jesus. We know what they are because the New Testament reveals what was hidden in the Old Testament, although each of them can be found in the Old Testament: his resurrection, his ascension, his exaltation, his giving of the Spirit at Pentecost, his blessing the nations with the gospel, his return at the end of human history when he will raise from the dead those of his people who have died, the gathering of his people in his presence, his formation of the new heavens and new earth, and countless glories to follow. In fact, it will always be the case that there will be glories to come. They will be endless in number and experience.
Throughout the experiences of these glories, the capabilities of his followers to understand their significances will be expanded. Although we know more than the Old Testament believers did, the development is not the equivalent of going from primary one to secondary school. In a sense we are now in primary two, and ahead of us are endless experiences in which we will be enabled to understand more and more about Jesus. When we die, we will go to the next level; when the resurrection comes, we will go to the next level again; and we will continue to grow in our understanding of Jesus and his glories.
We belong to the same diaspora as Peter’s readers, yet we have more than they had because we now have the complete Bible. I wonder what they would say to us if they could send us a message. Perhaps it would be a reminder how privileged we are, and how we can learn about Jesus from a whole Bible. Let us as exiles read the book that has been sent to us from the homeland and discover more of what it says about Jesus and his glories.