Early on in Jesus’ ministry, it’s clear that the disciples were not expecting him to die. When our Lord asked the disciples about who he was, Peter rightly responded: “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God” (Matt. 16:16). But when our Lord begins to teach his disciples that he, as the Messiah, must suffer, die, and be raised, the same Peter says to him: “Never, Lord! This shall never happen to you” (Matt. 16:22). The disciples rightly knew that Jesus was the Lord, but they stumbled over the idea that he had to die for us. But should they have?
Scripture is clear: our Lord’s death and resurrection was no accident of history; it was central to God’s eternal plan, as Peter himself later came to see. As Peter proclaimed Christ at Pentecost he taught the people what he also needed to learn: Jesus’ death and resurrection was according to “God’s set purpose and foreknowledge” (Acts 2:23). Peter finally learned what Jesus had taught from the beginning that he, the divine Son, had become human in order to die for our sins and that apart from his death and resurrection we have no salvation. In fact, Peter finally learned what Jesus taught the two downcast men on the way to Emmaus, namely that his death and resurrection were already anticipated in the Old Testament: “‘Did not the Christ have to suffer these things and then enter his glory?’ And beginning with Moses and all the Prophets, he explained to them what was said in all the Scriptures concerning himself” (Luke 24:26-27).
But where exactly do we see Jesus’ death and resurrection taught in the Old Testament? Much could be said, but let’s focus on three areas where we discover how the Old Testament anticipated Jesus’ coming, death, and resurrection for us.
First, we see it in God’s initial promise (Gen. 3:15) immediately after Adam’s act of disobedience. Although Adam’s sin brought spiritual and physical death into the world (Gen. 2:16-17; 3:17-19; Rom. 5:12-21; 6:23), God promises that sin and death will not have the last word. Instead, from the human race, God will provide a “seed of the woman” who will crush Satan’s power and undo what Adam did. Even though this promise is only given in seed-form, as God’s plan unfolds through the Old Testament, the promise is given greater definition of who exactly this person is and what he must do to save us.
Second, as God enters into covenant relationships with his people after Adam, first with Noah, then with Abraham, Israel, and David and his sons, more precision is given as to who the “seed of the woman” will be. This seed will ultimately be a King—a Son—from David’s line (2 Sam. 7:14-16), the true Seed of Abraham (Gal. 3:16). But we also learn how God will save us through his promised Son. As God taught Abraham in Genesis 22, he must provide a lamb to take the place of Isaac. Or, as God taught the nation of Israel, he must provide the Passover lamb to die as a substitute for the firstborn (Ex. 12), and the lambs of the sacrificial system to cover the people’s sin (Lev. 16), and ultimately a greater High Priest who will not only offer a lamb but himself for our sins (Isa. 53; Ps. 110).
Third, in the Prophets, the anticipation of God’s provision of a Savior who must die to pay for our sins in order to reconcile and justify us before God is taught in the promise of the new covenant. All of the Prophets speak of the new covenant, but in Jeremiah 31:34, the glorious truth is taught that God will do something so great that he will remember the people’s sin no more. In the context of the Old Testament where sacrifices for sins were offered daily and yearly, this can only mean that there is coming the true Servant of the Lord who will finally and fully pay for our sin—something the Old Testament sacrificial system could only point forward to (see Isa. 53).
As we come to the New Testament, all that the Old Testament anticipated now is fulfilled in Christ. In Christ, the Father has given us his Son, our Lord Jesus Christ, to live our life, die our death, and be raised for our justification. In so doing, our Lord fulfills what Moses and the Prophets predicted by securing our eternal salvation by his cross and resurrection (Heb. 7-10). Easter, then, is not recounting accidents of history, but events that God has planned from eternity, and in time, fulfilled in our glorious Redeemer. May Jesus be our only hope and salvation this Easter season.