This is the first part in a series on how the Bible is all about Jesus.
One way the Old Testament teaches us about Jesus is through events. Looking back upon the various events and festivals in the Old Testament through the lens of the New Testament, we read in Colossians 2:16–17,
Therefore let no one pass judgment on you in questions of food and drink, or with regard to a festival or a new moon or a Sabbath. These are a shadow of the things to come, but the substance belongs to Jesus.
From Paul, we learn that the festivals established by God in the Old Testament were not an end in and of themselves but rather served as a means of pointing to Jesus. Now that Jesus has come and fulfilled the meaning of these various festivals, we are no longer bound to celebrate them. Nonetheless, we learn a great deal about Jesus by simply studying these events.
There are several events that we could look at, but for brevity, let’s consider two major events in the Old Testament: Passover; and the Day of Atonement.
At the end of the book of Genesis, a family of 60-some people suffering from a massive famine sought refuge in Egypt.
Over the course of more than four hundred years, from Genesis to Exodus, this little family grew to become the great nation of Israel (Ex. 1:1–7). During this time, a new pharaoh arose in Egypt who didn’t know Joseph and didn’t like Israel since they were many and mighty (Ex. 1:8–10).
This new pharaoh was worshiped as a god, and he enslaved, mistreated, abused, and harmed God’s people, collectively called Israel. Due to the harsh treatment meted out by the pharaoh upon Israel, God said that he wanted to deliver the Israelites from their bondage so that they would be free to worship him.
Exodus records that the real God showed up to the false god named Pharaoh, and he basically said to Pharaoh, “These are my people. You’ve enslaved them and are hurting them. You need to let them go, otherwise I’m going to punish you.” Pharaoh’s heart was hard toward God, and he resisted the grace of God, kept fighting against God, and wanted to be god.
Due to Pharaoh’s stubbornness, God continued to send an escalating succession of plagues, and a messenger named Moses. On behalf of God, Moses said to Pharaoh, “A plague is coming. Please repent. Obey God. Let the people go. He loves them. They’re his people, not yours. If not, this horrible thing will happen.”
Pharaoh didn’t listen, and the plagues continued to come just as God promised, culminating in a final, devastating plague—the killing of the firstborn in Egypt.
As a result of Pharaoh’s inflexibility, death came to the firstborn in every home with one exception: those homes that, in faith, scarified an animal and spread the blood of that animal over their doorpost. This act served as a substitute, indicating that while all people were sinners deserving of death, God would in his mercy pass over the houses covered by the blood. This event became the first Passover, which is celebrated by the Jews to this day.
Thousands of years later, John the Baptizer proclaimed Jesus as “the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world!” (John 1:29). And, as the Apostle Paul tells us, Jesus Christ is “our Passover Lamb, [who] has been sacrificed” for us (1 Cor. 5:7). From this we learn that the Passover is all about Jesus.
Today, as Christians, we don’t have to celebrate the Passover. Do you know why? We don’t need to because Jesus fulfilled the Passover. Jesus is our Passover sacrifice. He shed his blood for our sin so that the wrath of God would pass over us through faith in Jesus. We don’t need to annually celebrate the Passover because we have Jesus and we celebrate him every day.
The Day of Atonement
The second major event that teaches us about the person and work of Jesus is called Yom Kippur, the Day of Atonement (Lev. 16; 23:26–32). For the Jews, the Day of Atonement is the biggest day in the Jewish calendar year. So big, in fact, that they simply call it “the Day.”
In the Bible, the Day of Atonement was marked by Jews usually travelling to Jerusalem to make atonement for their sins. The high priest, serving as Israel’s mediator between them and God, would fulfill the Day of Atonement through two goats, one used as the sacrificial goat and one used as the scapegoat. Over the sacrificial goat, the high priest would confess the sins of the people and slaughter the animal as a substitute sacrifice. The blood of that animal would be shed, and the wrath of God would be poured out on that animal in their place as a substitute. Over the scapegoat, the high priest would confess the sins of the people and rather than being slaughtered, it would be sent away.
For Christians, Jesus is our Yom Kippur. He is our Day of Atonement. His cross will ultimately achieve what is alluded to in this event. He is our high priest who mediates between God and us. He is our sacrifice who forgives our sins. He is our scapegoat who takes our sins away and makes us clean (Heb. 9:7–14). This is why we don’t celebrate Yom Kippur. We celebrate Jesus. Jesus is the whole point of Yom Kippur, for the event served as the preparation, anticipation, and expectation of the crucifixion of Jesus.