Learn from Luke’s Gospel How Jesus Fulfills the Old Testament

by Benjamin L. Gladd, contributed by our Friends at Crossway
| Time: 7 Minutes

Scholars vigorously debate how Christ relates to the Old Testament, but wading into these deep waters is beyond the scope of this project.

1. All of the Old Testament Anticipates Jesus’ Death and Resurrection

However, in light of these two passages [Luke 24:25-27 and Luke 24:44-47], four critical yet brief thoughts are in order.

First, the totality of the Old Testament anticipates Christ’s death and resurrection. Most scholars argue that only a handful of Old Testament texts explicitly anticipate a coming Messiah figure (e.g., Isaiah 11; Jeremiah 23:5; Ezekiel 34:23; Zechariah 9:9), and even fewer argue that the Old Testament expects a suffering Messiah. But this is not how Jesus (and the apostles) reads the Old Testament. He claims that the whole of the Old Testament anticipates his life, death, and resurrection (see John 5:39–47; 1 Corinthians 15:3–4; 1 Peter 1:10–11).

2. All of the Old Testament Is Fulfilled by Jesus

Second, by tracking Luke’s use of Old Testament quotations and allusions and tracing how he relates Old Testament themes, we can get a concrete sense of how Jesus fulfills the totality of Israel’s Scriptures.[1] Luke keeps his readers’ attention attuned to the Old Testament throughout his Gospel. While we were unable to note every instance where Luke invoked the Old Testament, we still gained some sense of how Luke generally relates the Old Testament to Jesus. To name a few, Luke presents Jesus as the long-awaited, virgin-born Son of King David (Luke 1:69; 2:4; 6:1–5), the last Adam and the true Israel of God (Luke 3:38–4:13), the Messiah announcing the eschatological year of jubilee (Luke 4:18–19), the rejected prophet of Israel (Luke 4:24–27), Yahweh incarnate who redeems his people in the second exodus and leads his people to the promised land of the new creation (Luke 3:4–6; 9:51–19:27; 20:42–43), the new Moses (Luke 6:12–49), Daniel’s Son of Man (Luke 9:21–36; 21:27; 22:69), Isaiah’s suffering servant (Luke 1:32; 22:37), the new temple (Luke 19:45–46), the resurrected one (Luke 24:1–12), and the great interpreter of Israel’s Scriptures (Luke 24:25–27, 44–47).

3. Every Redemptive Theme Is Fulfilled in Jesus

Third, one salient reason why the disciples (and the majority of the Israelites) misunderstood Jesus lies in how Jesus fulfills the Old Testament. For example, the Old Testament contains a bundle of themes that appear to be unrelated on the surface: temple, second exodus, coming Messiah, kingdom, covenant curses and blessings, end-time suffering and tribulation, descent of the Spirit, forgiveness of sin, justification, restoration of true Israel, and so on. Yes, the Old Testament expected that these themes and events would come to fruition at the end of history in “the days to come” / “the latter days” (see Genesis 49:1; Numbers 24:14; Deuteronomy 4:30; 31:29; Hosea 3:5; Isaiah 2:2; Ezekiel 38:14–16; Daniel 2:28–29, 45). But the Old Testament does not explicitly bring them together in the coming Messiah. In other words, Jesus mysteriously pulls together seemingly disparate redemptive-historical threads and consciously fulfills them in himself.[2] Like spokes protruding from a wheel, Jesus, the center of redemptive history, fuses these themes together in his ministry. Take, for example, Jesus’s identity as Adam / true Israel in the wilderness temptation. Whereas the first generation of Israelites was unfaithful in the wilderness and succumbed to idolatry, Jesus as Adam / true Israel faithfully trusted in God’s promises (Luke 3:38–4:13). A handful of chapters later, Jesus, as Yahweh incarnate, stills the storm (Luke 8:22–25). Jesus is Israel and Yahweh! Though the Old Testament may hint at a divine Messiah (see Psalm 110:1; Isaiah 9:6; Daniel 7:13–14; Micah 5:2), it was largely unexpected that the coming Messiah would be both Israel’s (suffering!) King and her divine Lord. These two redemptive-historical spokes come together in the person of Christ.

4. Every Pattern, Type, and Institution Is Fulfilled in Jesus

Fourth, not only does Jesus wed various Old Testament themes, he also typologically fulfills prominent Old Testament events, institutions, and persons. Every verse, paragraph, and chapter, in some way, prophetically anticipates the person of Christ. Most Christians today believe that Jesus only fulfills explicit verbal prophecies in the Old Testament, such as Isaiah 11:1–16 and Zechariah 9:9, but that is only one dimension of how Jesus relates to the Old Testament. Yes, he fulfills verbal prophecies, but he also fulfills Old Testament patterns, types, and institutions. R. T. France, though he’s commenting on the nature of fulfillment in Matthew’s Gospel, is right to conclude,

“Fulfillment” for Matthew seems to operate at many levels, embracing much more of the pattern of Old Testament history and language than merely its prophetic predictions. It is a matter of tracing lines of correspondence and continuity in God’s dealings with his people, discerned in the incidental details of the biblical text as well as in its grand design.[3]

The disciples were not reading the Old Testament rightly. They were failing to read Israel’s Scriptures on “many levels” and failing to trace “lines of correspondence” between Israel’s stories and Jesus.

Jesus Identity in the Book of Luke

Luke climactically ends his narrative with Jesus’s departure into heaven (Luke 24:50–53; cf. Acts 1:9). The Third Gospel begins with Jesus’s humble birth in a feeding trough (Luke 2:7) and ends with his exaltation to the Father’s throne. His exaltation is critical to the story. Jesus sits enthroned not in a subordinate role; he doesn’t rule over the nations from an earthly, physical throne in Jerusalem. Instead, as Richard Bauckham argues, “Jesus was exalted to sit with God on this very throne of the cosmos. This makes Jesus sovereign over ‘all things.’”[4] His assumption to heaven demonstrates his incomparable rule over the universe, explaining why Luke has carefully woven Jesus’s identity as Daniel’s “Son of Man” and Israel’s “Lord” into his narrative. Now that Jesus sits enthroned, he will pour out his Spirit on the church and empower his people to take the gospel to the “end of the earth” (Acts 1:8).

Luke penned his Gospel to convince Theophilus and Gentiles that Jesus is indeed the one whom the apostles proclaim and the one who fulfills the whole of the Old Testament. Two titles largely strike at the heart of Luke’s presentation of Jesus’s identity: the Son of God and the Son of David. As the Son of God, Jesus is identified with Israel’s God who redeems Israel from spiritual captivity in a second exodus. As the Son of David, Jesus inaugurates the long-awaited kingdom of God. Jesus not only faithfully adheres to the covenant, as a second Adam / true Israel figure, he also bears God’s curse on behalf of the covenant community. Both forms of obedience, active and passive, establish the basis for the believer’s justification.

How Should We Interpret the Old Testament?

Luke is thoroughly acquainted with the Old Testament. For Luke and the other Evangelists, the person of Jesus cannot be understood apart from Israel’s Scriptures. Jesus doesn’t simply fulfill one layer or stream of the Old Testament. He fulfills the whole of it. Related to the debate concerning the hermeneutical integrity of the apostles’ use of the Old Testament is the question whether or not the church should follow suit. Should believers read and interpret the Old Testament like the apostles? Though many and perhaps the majority of commentators would answer in the negative, my contention is that the church today should interpret the Old Testament in accordance with the apostolic use of the Old Testament. The apostles learned to interpret and read the Old Testament through the Old Testament itself (the Old Testament prophets’ use of antecedent revelation), the synagogue, family, and Jesus himself. Out of those four areas of instruction, Jesus is the primary resource. During his career and especially after his resurrection, he explained to the disciples how his ministry accords with the Old Testament and how Israel’s Scriptures ultimately point to him. The question is, in reality, whether believers should interpret the Old Testament like Jesus. Since Jesus is the perfect Adam and Yahweh incarnate, his reading of the Old Testament is always valid and exemplary. If we should live like Jesus, we should also read like Jesus.

. . .


[1] Another avenue into Luke’s use of the Old Testament as it relates to Christ is his use of Scripture in the book of Acts. For an excellent overview, see Alan J. Thompson, “Acts, Book of,” in Dictionary of the New Testament Use of the Old Testament.

[2] The biblical category of “mystery” is helpful, particularly as it relates to how New Testament authors read the Old Testament in light of Christ. Complete or full meaning of large swaths of the Old Testament was partially “hidden” but now has been fully “revealed” in Christ. A Christological reading of the Old Testament was really present in the text, but it was latent or hidden. Now that Christ has come, the full meaning of the Old Testament is revealed (see discussion in G. K. Beale and Benjamin L. Gladd, Hidden but Now Revealed: A Biblical Theology of Mystery [Downers Grove, IL: IVP Academic, 2014], 291–93, 328–38).

[3] R. T. France, The Gospel of Matthew, NICNT (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 2007), 13.

[4] Richard Bauckham, “Is ‘High Human Christology’ Sufficient? A Critical Response to J. R. Daniel Kirk’s A Man Attested by God,” BBR 27:4 (2017): 508.

Content taken from From the Manger to the Throne: A Theology of Luke by Benjamin L. Gladd; series edited by Thomas R. Schreiner and Brian S. Rosner, ©2022. Used by permission of Crossway, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers. (Headings Added)
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