I can still remember the day, the classroom, and even the chair in which I sat, the first time my eyes were opened to the fact that the entire Bible, including the Old Testament, was meant to point us to Jesus Christ and his gospel. My teacher and mentor, Arturo Azurdia unfolded a Biblical theology of God's shepherds, starting in the Pentateuch, traveling through the Psalms, and then into the Prophets. In each Scripture, he showed us clearly from the text (no hermeneutical sorcery involved) how passage after passage resounded with anticipation.
I was mesmerized as Dr. Azurdia expounded Moses, and King David, and Psalm 23, and Ezekiel 34, each time building expectancy and anticipation toward a better shepherd to look after God's people. Over and over he illustrated the problem - that human shepherds were always going to fail us; that we in fact need God himself to shepherd us.
And then I nearly fell out of my chair when he finally reached the New Testament, and told us, "OK. Now you're ready to hear this otherwise obscure rabbi declare in John 10: I AM the Good Shepherd. And the Good Shepherd lays down his life for his sheep..."
I was never the same after that class.
But here's the conundrum I faced at first, and that I imagine many Christians face:
I believe that many Christians find themselves in the place of sensing the gospel-centric nature of the Old Testament; we can feel that there's more to it than a few smattered verses here and there. We believe Jesus's words to the Emmaus Road disciples, that Moses, the Psalms, and the Prophets all speak of him.
But at the same time we're afraid. We're afraid of making interpretive errors. We're afraid of making the Bible say something it doesn't say (there's certainly too much of that going around already). We instinctively know that the Old Testament points us to Christ, but simultaneously know that the solution is not to see Jesus' blood every time the color red is mentioned.
Even if you don't have an expert to walk alongside you and train you in (legitimate) interpretation of Christ in the Old Testament, many good books have been written on the subject. I offer seven great ones here. I won't call this "top" or "best" books, because I'm acutely aware that I haven't read everything on this topic. But I'm confident saying that these are a great place to start...
The Unfolding Mystery
by Edmund Clowney
Dr. Clowney has influenced many of the "movers and shakers" of the Gospel-centered movement, and is in many ways its unsung hero. Not only did he tremendously impact my teacher, Dr. Azurdia, but other great men such as Mark Dever, Dennis Johnson, and Tim Keller. This is a great starting point for anyone interested in seeing the gospel story unfolded through the Old Testament. This isn't a methods book. Rather, it contains nine passages masterfully exegeted by Clowney. Your heart will soar. His chapter on the water from the rock (Exodus 17) is worth the price of the book all by itself.
Preaching Christ from the Old Testament
by Sidney Greidanus
Greidanus' work is (as the title suggest) aimed directly at preachers, and is certainly 'academic' in nature, but I believe it's still accessible to most readers. There's great stuff here by way of an apologetic for striving toward Christ-centered interpretation of the Old Testament, and the methods section here can't be beat. His seven "ways" of seeing the Gospel message through the Old Testament are really what you're after here. Seminary students and pastors are likely the ones who would profit most from this work, but again, his methods section is SO key.
How to read the Bible for All its Worth
by Gordon Fee & Doug Stuart
This isn't really a book about Christ in the Old Testament per se. Nevertheless, I would recommend this book to any and every Christian, from the newest babe in Christ to the most experienced pastor. There is a bit in the beginning about the Bible itself, and issues like inspiration and interpretation. The lion's share of the content however, is organized through different Biblical genres, i.e. How to Interpret the Epistles, How to Interpret the Psalms, How to Interpret Old Testament Narrative, etc. This is where we can learn much about seeing the gospel story throughout all sixty-six books of the Bible, even though that's not necessarily the authors' primary purpose. If you don't own this book, you need to.
The Jesus Storybook Bible
by Sally Lloyd-Jones
Yup. A children's Bible. But not just for your kids. I promise that you will benefit greatly by reading through this book. The subtitle of the Jesus Storybook Bible says it all: Every Story Whispers His Name. Whether you're looking at Jonah, or David, or Noah - all these little stories play a role in telling us the "big" story of how God is rescuing his people. It's not a "how-to", but definitely teaches us by example how to see that the hero of every Bible story is always God, and that his story of redemption permeates the entire Old Testament. This is a children's Bible, and is simple enough that your kids can grasp it, but it would be a mistake for adults to dismiss or ignore this helpful resource.
How Jesus Transforms the Ten Commandments
by Edmund Clowney
Truth be told, I could fill this entire list exclusively with books written by Ed Clowney. But I'll just add this one more. Understanding what to do with the Law (including the Decalogue) is one of the major issues that drives many Christians to pursue Christ and the gospel in the Old Testament. Clowney doesn't disappoint. The book is a composite of talks and articles that Dr. Clowney's daughter compiled and edited very near the end of his life. Each of the "Ten" is covered, and followed up by a short list of study questions, which in my estimation, are much better than most study questions that accompany Christian books.
According to Plan
by Graeme Goldsworthy
This book is an introduction to Biblical theology (as opposed to systematic theology), which in my view is one of the most important ways for us to (legitimately) see and understand how the Old Testament points us to Christ and the gospel. Goldsworthy's primary concern is showing readers the continuity of the entire Bible, through tracing historical and theological themes (like the shepherd example above). The writing feels academic, but is accessible, even if it sometimes feels a little dense. It's not a quick read, but it's an important one. If you're interested in how all the diverse parts of the Bible fit together with each other, this is a book you should check out.
Jesus on Every Page
by David Murray
This fairly recent book sets out to teach methods for interpreting Christ in the Old Testament at a popular reading level. Murray is correct, in that most books on methods (great as they are), are written specifically toward preachers, pastors, and other Christians who are theologically inclined. One unique aspect of Jesus on Every Page is Murray's first-person account of his own journey and process of finding Christ to be the center of all Biblical revelation. The book is concise, yet thorough, and definitely worth picking up.
A Journey worth Continuing
Encountering the beauty of Christ in the Gospel stirs my heart every time. I hope that it does yours as well. I'd love to hear what resources you've enjoyed on interpreting the Old Testament Christianly. Also - I'd love to hear about any Old Testament people, passages, concepts, etc. that you'd be interested in seeing how they help us anticipate Jesus and his Gospel!