Finding Jesus in the Old Testament

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A rabbi explains how and why Scripture's theophanies offer more than just head knowledge about Christ

The book of Daniel describes one of the most dramatic appearances of the Son of God in the entire Old Testament. The passage in Daniel 3 tells of three Jews, Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego, who were sentenced to death for refusing to worship an idol that King Nebuchadnezzar of Babylon erected and commanded all his subjects to revere. The king was enraged that they had questioned his supreme authority and ordered that they be thrown into a furnace and it be heated to seven times its normal intensity. The fire became so hot that it killed the soldiers assigned to push them into the inferno. 

But when the three were in the blaze, Daniel states: "Then King Nebuchadnezzar was astonished; and he rose in haste and spoke, saying to his counselors, 'Did we not cast three men bound into the midst of the fire?' They answered and said to the king, 'True, O king.'

"'Look!' he answered, 'I see four men loose, walking in the midst of the fire; and they are not hurt, and the form of the fourth is like the Son of God'" (vv. 24-25).

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What Nebuchadnezzar saw in the fire—the fourth man—was God in human form, Yeshua (Jesus). Many times I have been asked, "If Jesus is Messiah, why isn't there anything about Him in the Tanakh (the Jewish Old Testament)?" The answer is, there are many references to Yeshua in the Old Testament—throughout the Torah (Genesis to Deuteronomy), the books of the prophets and the other Scriptures.

In fact, when I began to read the Bible with an open mind, I was astounded to discover that Yeshua is mentioned more than 150 times in the Old Testament. The apostle Paul even used the Tanakh to teach about Yeshua: "[The leaders of the Jews] arranged to meet Paul on a certain day. ... From morning till evening he explained and declared to them the kingdom of God and tried to convince them about Jesus from the Law of Moses and from the Prophets" (Acts 28:23, NIV).

Understanding the Scriptures—both the Old Testament and New Testament—is a matter of spiritual revelation. As Jesus Himself said, "He who has ears to hear, let him hear!" (Mark 4:9, NKJV). 

Everyone who reads the Scriptures, then, does so through either a lens of faith or a lens of doubt. If one reads the Tanakh with an open mind, he or she will see many references to Yeshua.

For example, the name Yeshua means "salvation" or "God saves." His name signifies why He came into this world—to rescue us from the penalty we deserve because of our sins. Let's take a look at a few times Yeshua's name is mentioned in the Old Testament (with emphasis added):

  • "The Lord is my strength and song, and He has become my salvation" (Ex. 15:2). In other words, "He has become my Yeshua."
  • "God be merciful to us and bless us, and cause His face to shine upon us, that Your way may be known on earth, Your salvation [Yeshua] among all nations" (Ps. 67:1-2).
  • "And it will be said ... 'Behold, this is our God; we have waited for Him, and He will save us. We will be glad and rejoice in His salvation [Yeshua]' " (Is. 25:9).

You see, Yeshua is much more than a name in the human sense, such as Jonathan, David or William. It is a description of His mission: to bring salvation to people everywhere.

Still I am often asked, "OK, but why didn't the writers of Scripture tell us plainly, 'The Messiah's name will be Yeshua'?"

My answer simply is: God does not work that way. Studying His Word is like working on a jigsaw puzzle. He gives us a piece of the complete picture here, another piece there, and so on. The evidence is all there, but we must do our part. He wants us to seek Him wholeheartedly, and when we do, we will find Him (see Deut. 4:29).

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