Christ: The Focus of Biblical Theology
This week, in the third and final post in our series on biblical theology, we examine one final outcome of studying biblical theology. In addition to enriching our study of Scripture, teaching us our spiritual heritage, and leading us to worship—as we outlined last time—biblical theology yields still one more rich benefit:
It Trains Us to Set Our Eyes Upon Christ
In one of the most incredible passages in Scripture, Jesus rebukes a pair of disciples on the Emmaus road for their unbelief following his death, his identity hidden from them while he speaks. The root issue was that they had wrongly interpreted the OT Scriptures to believe that, because of his recent shameful death, Jesus of Nazareth must not have been the Messiah after all. Quite contrary to this, Jesus teaches them that his betrayal and death were actually God’s means, foretold by the OT Prophets, of ushering the Messiah into glory and bringing salvation to Israel. Then we read, “And beginning with Moses and all the Prophets, he interpreted to them in all the Scriptures the things concerning himself” (Lk 24:27).
All of Scripture—both OT and NT—is meant to testify to Christ! However, though the conviction that Christ is to be found within the pages of the OT has long been a major strength of reformed theology, it is not always obvious exactly how a given passage points to Christ. Furthermore, if we are sloppy in how we seek to relate a particular passage to Christ, we can draw false and damaging conclusions. Every Scripture is about Christ, but not in every possible way we might imagine!
The key to rightly recognizing and appreciating how all of Scripture points to Christ is to develop an understanding of biblical theology. Without exception, when we study any of the various major themes within Scripture (e.g. Temple, Sacrifice, Covenant, etc.), we find that, though they begin in a humble, ill-developed seed-form early on in Scripture, they inevitably find their ultimate fulfillment and climactic expression in the person of Christ. For instance, God institutes the Levitical Priesthood in the Pentateuch, but it is later revealed in Hebrews 7-10 that Jesus is the true and better High Priest that this ancient order always anticipated. Similarly, whereas the salvific high point of the OT was God’s rescuing his people from slavery in Egypt, the NT speaks of the Exodus of Christ’s rescuing us from slavery to sin!
There are many diverse storylines within the Bible, but all roads, as it were, lead to Christ. All of Scripture is meant to testify about Christ, and an understanding of biblical theology is the key to properly recognizing how each passage does so!
The first and most important way to begin learning and utilizing biblical theology is simply to commit to trying to read the Bible as a single, unified story in your private reading. You can do so by attempting to call to mind other passages you have read that seem to discuss the same topic in the passage you are currently studying, and then try to draw connections between them in order to help interpret them in light of one another. For instance, when studying Romans 5 where Christ is compared to Adam, it would be incredibly insightful to also study Genesis 2-3 at the same time and to recognize the impact that these two passages have upon one another. Alternatively, when reading a passage in the OT, try to be sensitive to how the NT authors pick up and expand upon the same topic further on in Scripture. Of course the more familiar you become with the Bible, the easier this task will be.
Beyond this, spending some time learning more about each of the Bible’s major themes—there are about 20—so that you can more readily recognize them and apply their insight to a given passage, will prove to be an indispensable aid in helping you to see the connections within Scripture (some recommended resources are listed below). To this end, over the next few weeks, we will be posting a series attempting to lead us in the study of one such major biblical-theological theme: the Temple. We will trace out this topic in broad strokes from Genesis to Revelation with the aim of trying to better understand what God intends to teach us about himself and about our salvation by way of the temple.
I pray and trust that you will find this upcoming study of the temple to be fruitful and ask that you might keep watch for its coming!
Recommended Resources on Biblical Theology:
“New Dictionary of Biblical Theology” General Editor T. Desmond Alexander and Brian S. Rosner — An incredibly helpful theological dictionary that contains concise articles on each of the major themes of Scripture as well as many other minor themes
The recently released “NIV Zondervan Study Bible” edited by Don Carson — This entire study Bible is laid out with a sensitivity toward biblical theology and pointing out the interconnectedness within Scripture. It has helpful articles on all of the major BT themes in its appendix (these articles alone are worth the purchase!)
“New Studies in Biblical Theology” — This is a book series which covers major topics in biblical theology at a greater depth than you will find elsewhere; these are advanced studies and can be a bit technical but have a big payoff
**Aside from these, you can always keep watch for biblical theology articles published on your favorite websites (I will often search for articles on a particular theme in Biblical Theology either on Desiring God or The Gospel Coalition).