When Jesus said the Scriptures “testify about me” (John 5:39) he was talking about the Hebrew Scriptures we typically refer to as the Old Testament. While his words naturally apply to the New Testament body of literature, they were first true of the Hebrew Scriptures.
The Hebrew Scriptures, so often called the “Old Testament” are not really old in the sense of being obsolete or useless. While the Bible consists of 66 books written over hundreds of years, on three different continents, by about 40 different authors, it tells a remarkably coherent story.
Jesus is the climax to that story. He is where it was all headed. So to just study the last 27 books of the Bible is like watching the last hour of a four hour epic movie and then claiming that you know the story.
The Hebrew Scriptures aren’t just background to the story. They are a large portion of the main plot. They tell of the fall due to sin, resulting in death, disease, and decay in a fallen world. They tell of man’s inhumanity to man, for the foundation of sin is selfishness, which leads us to abuse of others to get what we want. They expose the idolatry of substituting trust in other things in place of reliance on God, again with selfish motives.
While most ancient literature was produced by the wealthy elite, the Bible includes the testimony of the poor and the persecuted, though a couple of kings are among its authors. But the Old Testament narrative denounces injustice as the law laid down God’s standards of righteousness. These Scriptures testify to the character of God while testifying to the coming of his Messiah—a just ruler who would ascend to the throne and restore justice among the people of God.
He would do this by solving the sin problem in becoming the embodiment of sin on the cross, taking its punishment in our place. The sacrificial system, the kingship, the priesthood—it all pointed to Christ. The prophets gave Messianic visions of a coming king who would overthrow the injustices so prevalent in their time and ours. In being raised from the dead, Jesus would be vindicated over the dominating powers that crucified him as God overturns their verdict and announces the coming end of their regimes. The whole narrative of Israel, God’s chosen people, is paralleled by key events in the life of Jesus, who now takes the place of Israel in revealing God to the world.
The Scriptures play a significant role in bringing us to Christ, but they’re not an end in themselves. It’s possible to read Scripture, but miss the Messiah. While the Scripture is in a sense God’s Word, it actually points us to his Word-in-the flesh which is Jesus. If we’re just reading the Bible for intellectual stimulation or to prove ourselves right, then we’re missing the point. And if we’re only reading a part of the Bible, then we’re missing the big picture.
Significant to the relevance of the Hebrew Scriptures is the fact that the covenant God made with Abraham has never been repealed. The Bible is the story of that covenant. We are still under the covenant promise of God that through Abraham’s seed people of all nations will be blessed. That seed is ultimately Christ who offers redemption to all who accept him as Lord. But we are also the seed of Abraham as we imitate his faith by trusting in God through Christ.