By Dennis E. Johnson
The Holy Spirit has provided several signals to mark the route from ancient individuals, events, institutions, and offices to their fulfillment in Jesus, his work, and his people. Among the most obvious are Old Testament passages that New Testament writers explicitly quote and apply to Christ.
Case study: Hosea 11 in Matthew 2
Sometimes the Old Testament quotation is introduced with a formula such as “this was to fulfill,” or “so it is written.” In the early chapters of Matthew’s Gospel, for example, “this was to fulfill” introduces not only promises expressed in words (prophecy) but also promises embodied in historical events (type). This formula introduces the predictive words of the prophet Micah, that Israel’s future Ruler would come from Bethlehem (Mic. 5:2, quoted in Matt. 2:6). But it also prefaces the words of Hosea, “Out of Egypt I called my son” (Hos. 11:1, quoted in Matt. 2:15), which look back to a past event, Israel’s exodus from Egypt through Moses.
Out of Context?
Some scholars accuse Matthew of taking Hosea’s words out of context, forcing them to predict an event that was future to the prophet, when Hosea himself was looking back to the exodus long before his time. What such critics do not see is the deeper matrix that links God’s protection of Israel, his adoptive son, at the exodus to his preservation of Jesus, the Father’s unique Son. Matthew’s point is that Jesus fulfills Israel’s early history because he is the true Israel, delivered from death as an infant, brought out of Egypt, and tested in the wilderness (and successfully passing the test that Israel had failed). By affirming that Hosea’s words are “fulfilled” in the young Jesus’ return from Egypt with his parents, Matthew does not claim that Hosea’s words fit Jesus instead of Israel, but rather that they fit Jesus because he himself is Israel’s fulfillment.
Fulfilled in Christ
Among the individuals, institutions, and events that are identified in the New Testament as fulfilled in Christ through explicit quotation of and commentary on Old Testament passages are the creation of Adam (1 Cor. 15:45, quoting Gen. 2:7), the union of Adam and Eve in marriage (Eph. 5:31, quoting Gen. 2:24), the Passover lamb (John 19:36, quoting Ex. 12:46), David’s betrayal by a close friend (John 13:18, quoting Ps. 41:9; cf. Acts 1:20), the groundless hatred of David’s enemies (John 15:25, quoting Ps. 35:19), opponents gambling over David’s garments (John 19:24, quoting Ps. 22:18), the transmission of proverbial wisdom by Israel’s sages (Matt. 13:35, quoting Ps. 78:2), Israel’s deafness to the prophets’ words (Matt. 13:14–15, quoting Isa. 6:9–10), and the grief of Judah’s exile (Matt. 2:18, quoting Jer. 31:15). Even this brief sampling gives us a glimpse of the complex texture of interconnections that link Israel’s history to Jesus as the fulfillment of that history.
About the Author
Dennis E. Johnson (ThM, Westminster Theological Seminary; PhD, Fuller Theological Seminary) is professor of practical theology at Westminster Seminary California. He is also an ordained minister in the Presbyterian Church in America, author of The Message of Acts in the History of Redemption, and a contributor to numerous books and theological journals.
About the Book
In Walking with Jesus Through His Word, Dennis Johnson takes readers of the Bible on a journey of discovery through the Old and New Testaments, pointing out a network of trails in the text. These are recurring themes that link different parts of the Bible to Jesus the Christ, the fulfiller of God’s promises and redeemer of God’s people.