… and the Old Testament becomes not only a New Testament, but a deeper New Testament, which starts to reveal to us greater depths about Jesus himself. An example of this is taken from the book of Jeremiah Chapter 11:18-20 (see below).
One of the key elements in Christianity, which enables us to gain entry to and to read the Old Testament under the Light of Jesus, is given to us by the Fathers of the Church, namely: each Prophet from the Old Testament (Moses, David, Isaiah, Jeremiah, …) presents one side of Jesus to us. With the help of the Holy Spirit, we start to “see” in the life and words of a Prophet, some aspects and lights that belong more specifically to Jesus. It is classified today under Spiritual Exegesis as Typological. This will result, for example, in St. Augustine saying that it is Jesus himself who prays in David’s Psalms. In light of this, because all the words and all the Prophets are “taken up” by Jesus, endorsed, carried, in His light, the New Testament is literally transfigured, like during the Transfiguration when Jesus shed his Light on Moses and Elijah. Again, because of this, we can affirm that the entire “Old Testament” belongs to Jesus and therefore belongs to we who have access to the Bible. Accordingly, for instance, when we pray the Psalms, we are at one with Jesus in his most intimate of prayers.
“God, the inspirer and author of both Testaments, wisely arranged that the New Testament be hidden in the Old and the Old be made manifest in the New. For, though Christ established the new covenant in His blood (see Luke 22:20; 1 Cor. 11:25), still the books of the Old Testament with all their parts, caught up into the proclamation of the Gospel, acquire and show forth their full meaning in the New Testament (see Matt. 5:17; Luke 24:27; Rom. 16:25-26; 2 Cor. 14:16) and in turn shed light on it and explain it.” (Vatican II, Dei Verbum 16)
“One of the possible aspects of the spiritual sense is the typological. This is usually said to belong not to Scripture itself but to the realities expressed by Scripture: Adam as the figure of Christ (cf. Rom. 5: 14), the flood as the figure of baptism (1 Pt. 3:20-21), etc. Actually, the connection involved in typology is ordinarily based on the way in which Scripture describes the ancient reality (cf. the voice of Abel: Gn. 4:10; Heb. 11:4; 12:24) and not simply on the reality itself. Consequently, in such a case one can speak of a meaning that is truly Scriptural.” (“The Interpretation of the Bible in the Church”)
As a practical exercise let us look at a passage taken from the Prophet Jeremiah. It could be read in two ways:
– once as a text written ages ago, before the birth of Jesus, inspired by the Holy Spirit, but apparently written just to tell us about Jeremiah and his journey and mission.
– then re-read it again, and try to contemplate Jesus Himself, and try to hear these words as coming from Him, directly.
“I knew their plot because the LORD informed me; at that time you, O LORD, showed me their doings. Yet I, like a trusting lamb led to slaughter, had not realised that they were hatching plots against me: “Let us destroy the tree in its vigour; let us cut him off from the land of the living, so that his name will be spoken no more.” But, you, O Lord of hosts, O just Judge, searcher of mind and heart, Let me witness the vengeance you take on them, for to you I have entrusted my cause!” (Jer. 11:18-20)
Old Obstacles – New Depths
In your reading you would have certainly noticed the word “vengeance”. It is not at all unusual to struggle with the concept that God can behave in this way. – “This is NOT the God of the New Testament, the God revealed by Jesus” may be your reaction. And you would be totally right. So, you might say to me: – “how then can we take on board this text as inspired, or at least as a text that tells us about Jesus himself? How can this text be a ‘deeper rendering of the New Testament’?”.
– Well, the first part of the answer is that we need to read the Old Testament under the Light of Jesus. We cannot avoid doing so without this Light. His light, compared to the light of the literal reading of the Old Testament, is a much deeper light. In fact, Jesus has opened to us the Heart of God… opened it wide.
– The second part of the answer will be then to dig more deeply and see how God actually applied vengeance with Jesus, in Jesus, through Jesus. You will agree, I think, that this, is an acceptable premise?
For a start, Jeremiah’s text itself is totally coherent: see how he already speaks about a “lamb led to slaughter”. After all, didn’t we behave badly towards Jesus: Peter said that he did not know Him; Judas exchanged Jesus for some money; the crowds, who were being healed by Him a few days before, next turned against Him and insulted Him. What was His reply? How did He take vengeance? Did He retaliate? How did He retaliate? We wounded and opened up his chest and heart, and in return, what did we see: He gave us, willingly, His All: Water, Blood and Holy Spirit.
We gave Him evil deeds and He in return, on the Cross, gave us a ‘healing power’, a transformative power, – the power of Mercy, Love, Forgiveness, Transformation, Change. He in return changed us for the better.
Let us also examine another in-depth description of this “vengeance” of God in Jesus, through Jesus the Lamb:
“4 Surely he took up our pain and bore our suffering, yet we considered him punished by God, stricken by him, and afflicted. 5 But he was pierced for our transgressions, he was crushed for our iniquities; the punishment that brought us peace was on him, and by his wounds we are healed.
6 We all, like sheep, have gone astray, each of us has turned to our own way; and the Lord has laid on him the iniquity of us all. 7 He was oppressed and afflicted, yet he did not open his mouth; he was led like a lamb to the slaughter, and as a sheep before its shearers is silent, so he did not open his mouth.
8 By oppression and judgment he was taken away. Yet who of his generation protested? For he was cut off from the land of the living; for the transgression of my people he was punished. 9 He was assigned a grave with the wicked, and with the rich in his death, though he had done no violence, nor was any deceit in his mouth. 10 Yet it was the Lord’s will to crush him and cause him to suffer, and though the Lord makes his life an offering for sin, he will see his offspring and prolong his days, and the will of the Lord will prosper in his hand.” (Isaiah 53:4-10)
Did you notice the “balancing movement” of God’s supreme Vengeance? He takes evil, and “avenges”, that is, transforms it into Holiness – a Higher Good. With Jesus and in Jesus, God created a New World, and this world does not have any evil in it (see Revelation 21 and 22 and the parallels in Isaiah). In God there is no evil. Therefore, He Transfigures the word and the reality of “vengeance” and makes it His. When we strike God, He replies with Mercy, with Love, with His Power of Transformation: He offers real change. He is the Only One Who has the Power to change the human being, to change any evil things in us into a higher good. This is His revenge….
Old Testament Obstacles – New Testament Depths!
During the time of the first generation of Christians, the time of the Apostles, the Power of the Holy Spirit was so strong that when they opened the Old Testament (the only text of the Scriptures that they had at that time) they actually found it was transfigured and they were enabled to read it as a New Testament. It was the Fathers of the Church (the great Bishops of the first six centuries) who then taught us how to activate this Gift of the Holy Spirit.
God indeed, in Jesus, made Everything New, and gave back to us our lost Resemblance to Him.
Conclusion: in brief the two levels of reading the Old Testament are as follows:
The first level of reading the Old Testament was to prepare us, to make us receptive, to understanding and receiving God Himself in our reading.
The Old Testament as a result, in the second level of reading, with the coming of God Himself in Jesus, is transfigured and becomes an even deeper and more profound New Testament.
Question: But what about those passages in the Old Testament where God actually takes vengeance by killing whole populations or children especially?
Answer: In the Old Testament we had a people in formation, primitive and living crude lives. They needed to have their conscience formed, as we finally see at the end of the Old Testament when the sons of the widow all died rather than betray the One God.
But also there are plenty of passages from the Old Testament that are of the same beauty and depth of the New Testament (and vice versa).
Question: How, then, do we see this through the eyes of a merciful and transformative Jesus?
Answer: The time God spent to prepare us in order to receive Him, in His Incarnation, was needed.
He himself says: “Do not give dogs what is sacred; do not throw your pearls to pigs. If you do, they may trample them under their feet, and turn and tear you to pieces.” (Mt 7:6) This means that preparation is needed. We can’t receive and understand the meek and gentle God if we are not prepared. In this case we will trample God’s meekness underfoot and turn on Him and tear Him to pieces.
Why preparation is needed? Because “whatever is received, is received in the manner of the receiver” (“Quidquid recipitur ad modum recipientis recipitur”). Our vision and understanding of God, which is a choice we make when we are adults determines the outcome, it determines what we will get from God.
“I would like to try to make you understand by means of a very simple comparison how much Jesus loves even imperfect souls who confide in Him:
“I picture a father who has two children, mischievous and disobedient, and when he comes to punish them, he sees one of them who trembles and gets away from him in terror, having, however, in the bottom of his heart the feeling that he deserves to be punished; and his brother, on the contrary, throws himself into his father’s arms, saying that he is sorry for having caused him any trouble, that he loves him, and to prove it he will be good from now on, and if this child asked his father to punish him with a kiss, I do not believe that the heart of the happy father could resist the filial confidence of his child, whose sincerity and love he knows. He realizes, however, that more than once his son will fall into the same faults, but he is prepared to pardon him always, if his son always takes him by the heart… I say nothing to you about the first child, dear little Brother, you must know whether his father can love him as much and treat him with the same indulgence as the other…” (St. Therese of the Child Jesus, Letter 258)
In a way we may say that the image we have of God is of our own making. Jesus says to us: “I will judge you by your own words.” (Luke 19:22) Hence when the slothful servant says: “I was afraid of you, because you are a harsh man. You withdraw what you did not deposit and reap what you did not sow.” (Luke 19:21) we have to ask where he got the idea that this was the real image of God. He never questioned his understanding of God, the image he had of God. “Pay attention, therefore, to how you listen. Whoever has will be given more, but whoever does not have, even what he thinks he has will be taken away from him.”” (Luke 8:18) The way I listen is also the way I see God.
It seems as if we are invited to choose which image of God we want to deal with. It is as if you are the adulteress, surprised in adultery and brought into the middle of the crowd for judgement who then needs to choose between Moses’ Law or Jesus’ Mercy. Two images of God. Both are right in their own way. Ironically God wants us to be his companions and friends (John 15:15) but still many prefer to be his slaves.
This is why Jesus words had huge difficulty to enter in the heart of his Jewish audience and convince them that God is humble, meek, gentle, utterly merciful. Was it too good to be true? Was it really against what Moses said? Was it their hardened heart which decided which was the better image? Was it their own childhood experience that made them go for the “harsh” God?
As paradoxical as it looks to us, they preferred Moses. One might argue: – we still need to warn them!
– The last word goes to Abraham: “if they do not listen to Moses and the Prophets, they will not be convinced even if someone rises from the dead.” (Luke 16:31)
Question: Is it a general or particular grace to see Jesus in the Old Testament? In order to “see Jesus in the Old Testament”, what preparation is needed? Is it a consequence of the faith we are given once we have received formation? Or is it again a deepening as one grows?
Aswner: Thank you for asking this curcial and practical question. First of all, let me say that certainly it belongs to the “Particular Help of the Grace of God”. This means that the “normal” baptised person, usually, wouldn’t be able to access this “vision”. One can see this grace happening in Luke 24 when the Lord opens the minds, infuses his grace to the Apostles enabling them to “see” what usually one can’t see.
“And He said unto to them, “These are my words, which I spoke to you being still with you, that all things having been written concerning Me in the Law of Moses and the Prophets and the Psalms, it behooves to be fulfilled.” 45 Then He opened their mind to understand the Scriptures. 46 And He said to them, “Thus it has been written: The Christ was to suffer and to rise out from the dead on the third day, 47 and repentance and forgiveness of sins to be proclaimed in His name to all nations, having begun from Jerusalem.” (Luke 24)
One can insert the following verse (which belongs to the Emmaus Disciples) after “he opened their mind to understand the Scripture” : “having begun from Moses and from all the Prophets, He interpreted to them the things concerning Himself in all the Scriptures.” (Luke 24:27) It is the result of the opening, one can undersand and see Jesus in the Old Testament. Before this opening that belongs to the Resurrection and the coming of the Holy Spirit it is not possible to see and understand properly the presence of Jesus in the Old Testament. One needs the direct intervention of the Holy Spirit.
Now, how can this happen to us? When we are baptised the Priest performs a rite called the Ephphata, that normally opens our ears and mouth in order for us to listen to the Word of God and enter deep in it and to talk to God properly. This grace, part of the Baptismal grace, can stay dormant in us for years. We can very well hear people talking about seeing Jesus in the Old Testament, we can even read the Fathers of the Church explanations on how they see Jesus in the Old Testament, we can perfectly appreciate it and love it. Does this mean that we are ready to have the same experience first hand?
Many people try Lectio Divina, which involves the “connection between two texts”, sometimes a text from the Old Testament (which might be talking about Jesus himself) and a passage from the Gospel. Do all people have the supernatural experience of “seeing” Jesus in the Old Testament first hand? No. What is the condition? Personally, I do beleive that it happens together with a deep second conversion, hearing Jesus’ Call to follow him from close. This involves really a progressive but complete change in our life. Jesus, the Risen Lord enters in our life, really. Meeting Him becomes a reality. Listening to Him becomes a reality. I humbly think that this experience of “seeing Jesus in the Old Testament” comes with it.
In any case, i.e. it applies to all, nobody can stop us from learning about it and having an “intellectual” experience of it, like for instance reading Isaiah 53 or Psalm 21 and “seeing” in these texts not Old Testament texts but also a “New Testament” Text, telling us about Jesus. God is free to give His Grace the way He wants, and whoever is reading this article can have this Grace given today. Praised be to God. Amen.
Note: If one checks the Holy Week liturgy in the Coptic rite (Mass and Divine Office), one can find more than 400 quotes from the Old Testament. They all talk to us about Jesus’ Pascal Mystery, death and resurrection. This is simply a mindblowing experience. Beeing liturgically in the grace of the Holy Week, the power of the Grace of God is deployed in a stronger way, helping us to be very focused on Jesus’s last days on earth and suddenly we can “see” what the Fathers of the Church saw. Beware, one can see it intellectually, and be convinced that this is a sound theological connection, but we are not talking about intellectual vision, we are talking about and living experience here. Something that is there, alive and that stays in us. (See the link to the liturgical book of the Holy Week for the Coptic Rite)