There is no denying the impact of Jesus on Christianity and on many of the fundamental tenets that form the core of this particular religion. However, the fulfillment of the prophecy that Jesus manifested is merely one in a long line of prophecies that stem from the Old Testament. Oftentimes, this fact is overlooked by modern evangelism and teaching about Christianity. However, this very topic provides the subject of Christopher J.H. Wright's Knowing Jesus Through the Old Testament, which provides a prolonged, analytical look at how various facets of the Old Testament were instrumental to the life and times of Christ. In fact, one may successfully argue that it is because of the Old Testament that Jesus was able to fulfill his prophecy and provide redemption and salvation to the world at large and to Christians in particular. Therefore, the author is careful to denote some of the most relevant facets of Christ's life that were directly influenced by the Old Testament. These facets include the genealogy of the story he fulfilled, the covenants he both made and fulfilled, his self-identity, his mission, and his mores. Analyzing these factors demonstrates that the Old Testament has a preeminent relevance in the study of and pursuit of Christianity today.
The basic structure of Wright's work is codified according to the subsequent five sections that pertain to Christ's life -- his genealogy, his covenants, his identification, his mission, and his values. By addressing these five points of Jesus Wright is able to convey to the reader how effective the Old Testament was to both Jesus as well as to contemporary Christians and to the religion which they practice. The author attaches a great deal of importance to the genealogy of Jesus because it indicates how specific figures in the Old Testament actually brought about the manifestation of Christ. This is not only in a literal sense in which the author emphasizes the fact that Jesus is a descendent of such luminary Old Testament personages as David and Abraham, perhaps most notably, but also due to the fact that these personages presaged the coming of a figure such as Christ who would ultimately fulfill the aspects of Christianity which they provided the groundwork for. Therefore, the author largely pools from the book of Matthew to identify the key figures and tales in the Old Testament beginning with Genesis. Doing so provides a comprehensive overview with which to view Christ and his works within the proper context of a tale that was begun well before he actually existed.
In the second section of the book, which spans approximately 50 pages, the author denotes the various covenants which Christ's coming and ascension fulfilled and which he also made with his believers. Furthermore, the author explicates the fact that in actuality these covenants are one and the same -- Jesus' promises to his disciples and to the surrounding world are merely extensions of some of the key prophecies underscored in numerous Old Testament passages. Perhaps the best example the author gives for the continuity of the covenant that Jesus ultimately fulfilled and how it initially stemmed from the Old Testament is the fact that Christ and many of his disciples were well acquainted with these Old Testament promises. The author's point, of course, is that Christ has fulfilled a covenant with Christians which was initiated before he was born (in the Old Testament), which is why Christians also need to consider the Old Testament sources of those promises.
The third section spans approximately 35 pages from page 100, and details the principle point of identity of Christ as God's son. Again, the author does so from a perspective that is both literal and figurative, as Jesus is not only the physical incarnation of God as his son, but he is also representative of the nation of Israel as the progeny of God. In denoting Jesus' identity as the son of God, the author also spends several pages in this section explaining common typology used to understand Christ and his works as relating to his identity. In the fourth section Wright devotes a significant amount of text (approximately 50 pages) to delineating the specific mission of Christ, which is the fulfillment of Old testament prophecy and the building of a nation that would function within God's favor. Again, this information is viewed within the context of the Old Testament and incorporates aspects of the freedom of the Israelites from the Egyptians. The larger point, however, is that Jesus is actually a servant of God, whose largess and favor are first bestowed upon the Jewish people, then the Gentiles, then the rest of the world. In the fifth section the author indicates how the value system of Christ was heavily influenced by Old Testament passages and ideas, which bolstered Jesus in some of his more formidable trials as well as throughout his daily life.
Overall, the underlying premise of Wright's work is the fact that the Old Testament did not merely presage the coming of Christ, but it also edified him in a much more practical sense. Specifically, the author attests to the fact that the wisdom which Jesus both practiced and preached to others stemmed from the Old Testament and its passages in a literal sense, while in a less literal sense (yet still not quite figurative one) Christ was actually the culmination of a series of events and prophecies which originated in the crucial stages of Christianity -- the Old Testament. The subsequent quotation attests to both of these facts.
It was the Old Testament which helped Jesus to understand Jesus. Who did he think he was? What did he think he was to do? The answers came from his Bible, the Hebrew scriptures in which he found a rich tapestry of figures, historical persons, prophetic pictures and symbols of worship. And in this tapestry…Jesus saw his own face 1.
This passage is demonstrative of the overall conviction that Wright is able to add to his argument that the Old Testament is a work of value that should be studied by contemporary Christians because of its influence on Jesus. Passages such as this one, as well as the overall structure of the book which establishes Jesus' identity, mores, and very mission in Old Testament terms and narratives, provide the author a great deal of certitude in substantiating the basic premise of his book.
It is also noteworthy that a good deal of Wright's manuscript helps to inform the contemporary practice and belief system of Christians. Quite simply, by incorporating the Old testament into a more contemporary usage, Wright is helping to expand the meaning of significance of this religion to the full scope with which it was meant to be viewed. The pragmatic application of the author's emphasis on the story of Jesus and the coventry which he fulfilled is that it informs the process of discipleship in modern times. In this regard, Wright is challenging contemporary Christian Church leaders to make their followers more aware of the Old Testament and its influence on Jesus so that they can become more serious disciples of Christianity, as opposed to mere caroling Christians (on last two pages). This aspect of the book provides a social and ecclesiastical relevance that is valuable and which can potentially inform every pastor's teaching of this religion.
Another boon about Wright's book is the sureness of the methodology he employs. He does not spend the bulk of this manuscript focusing on either the Old testament or the New Testament; instead, he synthesizes texts from each book to emphasize the enduring relevance of the former within the practical application of the latter. For instance, many of the points elucidated within the sections covering the story and coventry that Jesus fulfilled are focused on the book of Matthew. Yet what the author does is illustrate how basic points found within the book of Matthew allude to the legacy of the Old Testament which Jesus is propagating. Highly specific aspects of the life of Jesus (such as his infancy) are contextualized in such a format to aid the author's conviction regarding his basic premise that the Old Testament has preeminent relevance in the study and pursuit of Christianity in contemporary times. The basic format which he utilizes for the duration of the book is to analyze the historical significance of the Old Testament via interpretations of the text provided in the New Testament to synthesize these viewpoints and attest to the relevance of the former.
Ultimately, what Wright's work does is reiterate to the reader that the Old Testament and its messages are so deeply ingrained within the New Testament and its messages and deliverers of those messages (including Jesus and the apostles) that they are virtually inseparable. This concept certainly is one of the more value facets of the book that reinforce the importance the author ascribes to the Old Testament. The reader needs to realize…