Christ in the Old Testament is a hot button topic among preachers today. I recently read Gregory Beale’s article, “Finding Christ in the Old Testament” (JETS, March 2020). He argues that we should find Christ in every verse of the Old Testament. Others, like Graeme Goldsworthy and Albert Mohler, make the same assertion based on Luke 24:27.

“Then beginning with Moses and with all the prophets, He (Christ) explained to them the things concerning Himself in all the Scriptures” (Luke 24:27).

Mohler wrote: “Every single text of Scripture points to Christ. … From Moses to the Prophets, He is the focus of every single word of the Bible” (He is Not Silent, 96). Many advocate, with Mohler, that we must not only preach Christ from the Old Testament, but we must apply a Christ hermeneutic to every verse in the Old Testament. In this view, Christ requires us to interpret every verse as pointing to Himself.

However, when we unpack Luke 24:27, I think we find that the OT points to Christ without requiring us to apply a Christ hermeneutic to every text. Here is the critical question. Does the OT as a whole point to Christ, or does the whole OT point only to Christ? (See Dale Davis, The Word Became Fresh, 134-138)
I believe that the OT as a whole points to Christ. The major portions of Scripture all look forward to Him. He demonstrated that principle on the road to Emmaus, but He was not giving us a new hermeneutic to unlock every verse. In the two or three hours that Jesus walked and talked, He painted His portrait from the OT. However, He hardly had time to do more than sketch the outlines of God’s big story fulfilled in Him. I think that the phrase “in all the Scriptures” refers to the major portions of the OT and not to every text for three reasons.

“All the Scriptures” is limited by the texts that speak of Christ.

What did Jesus explain to them? He explained “the things concerning Himself.” The object of the verb limits the action of the verb. The only things that He explained in the OT were the things that were about Him. There is a selectivity to His teaching. Jesus is not discovering Himself in every verse of the OT. He is choosing those verses in the OT that speak about Him (Kuruvilla, Privilege the Text, 250).

Jesus’ point is even more explicit in His own words found a few verses later when He appeared to the disciples in the upper room. After eating a piece of boiled fish to prove that He was not a ghost, Jesus said: “These are my words which I spoke to you while I was still with you, that ALL THINGS WHICH ARE WRITTEN ABOUT ME in the Law of Moses and the Prophets and the Psalms must be fulfilled” (Luke 24:44 emphasis added)

If I say to you that I am explaining the things about COVID-19 in the newspaper, I am not saying that everything in the newspaper is about COVID-19. Jesus is only talking about the things written about Him, which are found in all parts of the OT Scriptures. He is not saying that everything found in the Scriptures is about Him.

“All the Scriptures” is qualified by the use of the preposition.

Beale draws a parallel between this verse and 2 Timothy 3:16, where “all Scripture is God-breathed.” He argues that because “all Scripture” in 2 Timothy 3:16 means “every Scripture” so “in all the Scriptures” in Luke 24:27 must mean every verse of Scripture (Beale, “Finding Christ,” 45). Unfortunately, this is an illegitimate parallel since neither the phrase nor the context is similar.

The familiar ditty, “all means all, and that’s all all means,” is just as wrong here as elsewhere. The preposition “in” refers to the space within which something is found (BDAG, 258). Christ explained the prophecies about Himself that are found in the sphere of the Scriptures. The adjective “all” is plural to modify “the Scriptures.” “All” means “every” when used with a singular noun that does not have a definite article like 2 Timothy 3:16. When used with a plural articular noun, like Luke 24:27, it means “all” (BDAG, 631-632). Christ is saying that you will find teachings about Christ in the sphere of all the Scriptures. In other words, you will see Christ in the Scriptures as a whole, not every verse individually.

“All the Scriptures” is equated to the three divisions of the OT.

Jesus defines the word “Scriptures” for us as “the Law of Moses and the Prophets, and the Psalms” because He goes on to open “their minds to understand the Scriptures” (Luke 24:44-45). This is consistent with how Jesus began to teach them “beginning with Moses and with all the prophets” (Luke 24:27). The three verses use “all” in a parallel manner: “all the prophets” – “all the Scriptures” – “all that was written” (Kuruvilla, Privilege the Text! 249). Jesus explained to the disciples all that was written about Him contained in the three portions of the OT Scriptures – the law, the prophets, and the writings. Every part of Scripture contains teachings about Christ, not every verse.

I gladly preach Christ from the Old Testament, but I do not feel compelled to import Christ into every verse. I do not honor Christ by seeing Him where He is not to be seen. I honor Christ by saying what He has said. He is Lord of the Scriptures, and He has many things to say to us about life from those Scriptures. The best way I can exalt Him is not to artificially insert Him into the text but to faithfully teach what He wants us to learn from the text.