A survey of Old Testament promises
Roger Ellsworth

B. Childress
Oct 22 2010 08:00 A.M.

It is very important for us to realize that there has always been only one way in which sinners can be forgiven and
restored to fellowship with God, and that is through his Son, Jesus Christ.  The three persons of the Trinity did not agree
on the cross in eternity past only to enter into a desperate search for a way to avoid it.  From the moment the Son's
death on that cross was agreed upon as the means of salvation, the three persons of the Godhead began to move
steadily towards it and point towards it.  All of the Old Testament must be considered in terms of Christ's unflinching
approach to the cross of redemption that he and the Father had agreed upon.

Many fail to understand this.  They view the Old Testament in a way that has God frantically trying to find a way of
salvation for sinners.  They see him, for instance, giving the law of Moses in hopes that the people would keep it and
that would be their way of salvation.  When all else has failed, God finally sends his Son in one last desperate attempt to
save sinners.  Such a view not only fails to do justice to Scripture, but it is also terribly derogatory towards God.

Let it be trumpeted clearly: there has always been one way of salvation, and that salvation is in God's Son and his
redeeming sacrifice.  People in the Old Testament era were saved by looking forward in faith to that sacrifice, and we
today are saved by looking backward in faith to that same sacrifice.

Their pointing towards the cross took two forms: promises and types.  My purpose in this chapter and the six that follow
is to survey these promises and types.  In so doing, we shall see that the cross of Christ was not the last, desperate
attempt of a reluctant God, but the culmination of his plan from the very beginning.

A survey of the promises of the cross logically falls into three categories: the Law of Moses, the Psalms (or Writings) and
the Prophets.  This division is forced on us by the Lord Jesus Christ himself.  On the evening of the day of his
resurrection, he appeared to his disciples in Jerusalem.  There he explained his crucifixion and resurrection in these
terms: 'All things must be fulfilled which are written in the Law of Moses and the Prophets and the Psalms concerning me'
(Luke 24:44).

The Jews recognized a threefold division of the Old Testament books.  The Law of Moses was, of course a general title
covering the first five books of the Bible.  The 'Prophets' contained some of what we know as the historical books
(Joshua - II Kings), as well as the writings of the prophets (Isaiah - Malachi).  And the Psalms was the designation given
to the books of poetry (I Chronicles - Song of Solomon).

The Lord Jesus Christ insisted that each portion of the Old Testament had to do with him.  They were part of his
approach to the cross.  They foretold it, as indicated above, through both promises and types.  We read the Old
Testament books correctly, then, only if we look for Christ in them, or only as we read them with a New Testament

What follows is a brief survey of major promises of the coming of Christ and his work on the cross in each of these major
portions of the Old Testament.  The next three chapters will be devoted to a more detailed study of one of the promises
from each of the major sections of the Old Testament: the books of Moses, the Psalms and the Prophets.

Promises in the books of Moses

This Portion of the Old Testament is more rich in types of Christ than in promises, but there are still several promises to
be found.  The most prominent of these is found in Genesis 3:15.  This is followed by the promises God made to
Abraham (Genesis 12:1-3; 17:1-7; 22:15-18), to Isaac (Genesis 21:12), to Jacob (Genesis 28:14) and the promise he
made through Jacob regarding Judah (Genesis 49:10-12).

Further more, we find God making a promise through Moses that the coming Messiah would be a prophet like Moses
(Deuteronomy 18:15-19).

One of the most remarkable of the promises God made in this portion of the Old Testament came from the prophet
Balaam, the man that stained his calling by harbouring a desire for money.  In his prophecy Balaam speaks of a 'Star'
that would 'come out of Jacob' and a 'sceptre' that would 'rise out of Israel' (Numbers 24:17).

The Bible emphatically affirms that all of these promises were fulfilled by Christ.  He was the seed of Abraham (Galatians
3:16), the seed of Isaac (Luke 3:23,34), the seed of Jacob (Luke 3:23,34) and he came from the tribe of Judah (Luke
3:23,33).  He is the prophet of whom Moses spoke (Matthew 21:11; Luke 7:16; John 4:19; 6:14; 7:40).  And, just as
Balaam said, Christ was the bright, shining star that sprang from Jacob (Luke 3:23,34; John 8:12) and the king that rose
from Israel (Luke 1:33).  

We cannot leave this portion of the Old Testament without a word about the law that God gave to Moses on Mt Sinai.  
After God delivered the people of Israel from Egypt, he gave them this law.  This seems to many to be out of character
with everything that God had revealed prior to this about his plan of salvation.  Some have even concluded that by
giving this law God was opening a new way of salvation and nullifying all he had done before.  Nothing could be further
from the truth.  The giving of the law, far from being a nullification of the promise of redemption through Christ, was in
fact an integral part of it.

How can this be?  The apostle Paul deals with this matter in his letter to the Galatians.  He asks, 'What purpose then
does the law serve?' (Galatians 3:19).  He then proceeds to answer by saying, 'It was added because of transgressions,
till the Seed should come to whom the promise was made...Is the law then against the promises of God?  Certainly not!  
For if there had been a law given which could have given life, truly righteousness would have been by the law.  But the
scripture has confined all under sin, that the promise by faith in Jesus Christ might be given to those who believe'
(Galatians 3:19, 21-22).

The law was given, then, not to be a means of salvation, but to make sinners keenly aware of how desperately they
need the salvation Christ would provide on Calvary's cross.  It was, therefore, consistent with the promise of salvation
through Christ and a further anticipation of it.

Promises in the Psalms

While the other books of poetry contain hints, or glimpses, of Christ, the book of Psalms abounds with promises of his
life and work.  In its introduction to the Psalms, the Open Bible gives the following list of prophecies and their fulfilment in

Prophecy                                                                              Fulfilment

2:7        God will declare him to be his Son.                                 Matthew 3:17

8:6        All things  will be put under his feet.                                Hebrews 2:8

16:10    He will be resurrected from the dead.                              Mark 16:6-7

22:1      God will forsake him in his hour of need.                         Matthew 27:46

22:7-8   He will be scorned and mocked.                                      Luke 23:35

22:16    His hands and feet will be pierced.                                  John 20:25,27

22:18    Others will gamble for his clothes.                                   Matthew 27:35-36

34:20    Not one of his bones will be broken.                                John 19:32-33,36

35:11    He will be accused by false witnesses.                             Mark 14:57

35:19    He will be hated without a cause.                                     John 15:25

40:7-8   He will come to do God's will.                                           Hebrews 10:7

41:9      He will be betrayed by a friend.                                        Luke 22:47

45:6      His throne will be for ever.                                                Hebrews 1:8  

68:18    He will ascend to God's right hand.                                  Mark 16:19

69:9      Zeal for God's house will consume him.                           John 2:17  

69:21    He will be given vinegar and gall to drink.                        Matthew 27:34

109:4    He will pray for his enemies.                                             Luke 23:34

109:8    His betrayer's office will be fulfilled by another.                Acts 1:20

110:1    His enemies will be made subject to him.                         Matthew 22:44

110:4    He will be a priest like Melchizedek.                                 Hebrews 5:6

118:22  He will be the chief cornerstone.                                      Matthew 21:42

118:26  He will come in the name of the Lord.                              Matthew 21:9

Promises in the Prophets

As we have noted, the Jews' threefold division of the Old Testament placed some of the historical books (Joshua - II
Kings) in the Prophets.  These books were known as 'the former prophets', while the Jews called the books which we
refer to as books of prophecy 'the latter prophets'.

The promises of Christ reach their fullest expression in those 'latter prophets'.  We might picture it in this way.  The
promises in the books of Moses are like a spring gurgling up and sending out a stream of water.  In the Psalms that little
stream gathers strength and force.  In the Prophets it is a mighty, rushing torrent.

Nowhere does that torrent rush with more force than in Isaiah's prophecy.  He predicts the virgin birth of Christ (7:14),
the nature of his work (9:6-7), his lineage (11:1), his anointing with the Holy Spirit (11:2), his forerunner (40:3) and his
effect on the Gentiles (60:3).

But the most riveting of all Isaiah's prophecies begins with the thirteenth verse of his 52nd chapter and carries us
through chapter 53.  There we have the cross of Christ portrayed in such detailed and graphic language that we can
practically hear the hammer blows that nailed Christ to the tree.  We see the blood flowing down.  We hear the angry
shouts and taunts of the mob that surrounded the cross.  And we marvel that 'By his stripes we are healed' (Isaiah 53:5).

While Isaiah is foremost among all the prophets in pointing to Christ, he is certainly not alone.  Micah has a startlingly
precise prophecy of the birth of Christ (Micah 5:2-5; cf. Matthew 2:1,5-6).  Zechariah prophesies his triumphal entry into
Jerusalem (Zechariah 12:10; cf. John 19:34).  Malachi includes a prophecy about Christ coming to the temple (Malachi
3:1; cf. Matthew 21:12).

It should be noted that these constitute a mere sampling of all the Old Testament promises about the Lord Jesus Christ.  
A handful would be impressive enough, but there are far more than that.  The promises of the Old Testament are so
many that we can say they resemble an avalanche.

All of these many promises of the Old Testament are one aspect of the triune God's steady advance towards the cross
of Christ.


JOURNEY TO THE CROSS, by Roger Ellsworth, Copyright 1997, EVANGELICAL PRESS.