From Adam to Jesus, Lesson 1

Learning to Read the Old Testament with a Christian Heart and Mind


Many of us have started to read the Old Testament with a blessed purpose: to learn God’s truths.  So, we start on page one, as we do with any other book.  Fortunately, Genesis has many captivating stories.  Later, in Exodus, we even enjoy the account of Israel’s deliverance from Egypt.  But then we bog down with Israel’s wandering in the wilderness, which is where Israel also bogged down.

We come across chapter after chapter about building the Tabernacle and its furnishings.  Then comes Leviticus, with long descriptions about how to sacrifice animals, what parts of their insides to burn on the altar, and where to put the blood.  Our eyes begin to glaze over, and our efforts fail us.

Forget about Numbers and Deuteronomy.  We may remember stories about Joshua and the Battle of Jericho, when the walls came “a-tumbling down,” but it’s unlikely we got far enough into the text to read about it.  The Old Testament, which for our Lord, the apostles, and the early Church was simply “the Scriptures,” has now become “the other Testament.”  And so our bookmark remains stuck somewhere in Exodus or Leviticus.

–          Discuss some of your frustrations with trying to read the Old Testament.


What’s the Problem?

Part of the problem is the mindset we have.  We see the Old Testament as a history of the Israelite people, which it is (but it’s not only that).  And how have we learned history since our earliest days?  We learn history relating it to politics, economics, technology, and war.  Yet, other than some battles and a smidgen of politics, the Old Testament is a wasteland of such information.  For God did not inspire the Old Testament writers to give us an account of that history.

And so we’ve approached the Scripture with a Christian heart but a secular mind.  And our minds have failed us.  This is as best a mixed marriage, which causes many problems for us to understand Scripture properly.


What’s the Solution?  It’s Jesus

Jesus tells us.

  • John 5:39: “You examine the Scriptures because you think that in them you have eternal life; it is they that testify of me.”

Building off Jesus’ words, a student of the Apostle John, Ignatius, wrote what his charter was for understanding the Old Testament.  He wrote, “Jesus Christ is the sacred charter: His Cross, His Death, and His Resurrection.”  In his statement, we find the Christian understanding of the Old Testament.  In a word, Christians read the Old Testament as a revelation of Jesus Christ!

Jesus and the early Church make it clear.  We are to read the Old Testament in such a way that we find Jesus Christ in its pages.  What we don’t know is how to do that.  We’ve learned the Old Testament as a series of stories and the source of God’s Ten Commandments.  What we haven’t learned is how to read the Old Testament to be the cradle that brings us Christ.


So, How Do We Find Jesus Revealed?  In the Covenants

We earlier learned that the Old Testament doesn’t give us history as we’ve learned to expect it.  The Bible gives us history from God’s perspective.  It shows us that, throughout time, God was (and is) working to bring us salvation.  So, the Old Testament does give us history, but it’s “salvation history.”

“Salvation history” is the story of how God’s plan to save us unfolds over time.  This salvation history, in turn, hinges on the “covenants” that God has made with His people, which Scripture records.

The faithful early Church Father, Irenaeus (a student of Polycarp, who was a student of the Apostle John), lets us know how crucial it is that we understand these covenants.  He wrote, “Understanding …consists in showing why there are several covenants with mankind and in teaching what the character of those covenants is” (Against Heresies, Book I, Chapter 10, no. 3).


What’s a Covenant?

What is a covenant?  Most people think that a covenant is the same as a contract.  This is not true.  It’s true that both covenants and contracts set up relationships, but the types of relationships are different.

Contrasting Contracts and Covenants




Made with a promise Sworn with an oath
Signed in our name Sealed in God’s name
Exchange of good and services Exchange persons


To put it bluntly, here is an example of the difference: marriage is a covenant (at least, it’s supposed to be); prostitution is a contract.

Yet, even within God’s covenants to His people, we find a significant difference.  God set up His covenants in the Old Testament with human mediators who were under oath.  But, of course, they sinned (for example: Adam, Romans 5:12-21;Israel, Hebrews 3-4), breaking the covenant oath and triggering covenantal curses.  In contrast, Jesus, who is both God and man, set up the New Covenant.  He not only fulfilled the terms of the New Covenant without flaw, but He also bore the curses for our failure in the old covenants (Hebrews 8:9).

–          In the Old Covenant, the people of Israel publicly suffered when they broke the Covenant.  Since Christ has fulfilled the New Covenant for us, are we punished like Old-Covenant believers when we mess up?


We can outline the entire Bible as a series of family creating covenants.  That’s the “point” of the entire Bible story.  It’s about how God, through these covenants, reveals more and more of Himself to His creatures and asks them to enter a family relationship with Him.  And it is these covenants that point to, and bring us, Jesus.


Read 2 Corinthians 6:14-18

Throughout salvation history, God acts through His covenants to extend the family of God.  He started small, with two people: Adam and Eve.  He then proceeded–through Noah, Abraham, Moses, David–until finally all nations were brought into the covenant through Jesus Christ.  In short, we can sum up “salvation history” as the story of God becoming our Father.

  • Romans 8:15: You didn’t receive a spirit of slavery to fall back into fear, but you received the Spirit of adoption, by whom we cry, “Abba!  Father!”
  • Galatians 4:4-5: But when the set time had fully come, God sent His Son, born of a woman, born under the law, to redeem those under the law, so we might receive adoption as sons.
  • Ephesians 1:5: God predestined us to be adopted through Jesus Christ for himself, according to the kind intention of his will.

–          What was God’s plan from the beginning?


Applying God’s Truths in Our Lives

  • 2 Peter 1:20: First of all, know this: No prophecy of Scripture is a matter of one’s own interpretation.


–          How is this to curb our individual understandings of Scripture?


2 Timothy 3:16-17: All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, reproof, correction, and training in righteousness, so the man of God may be complete, equipped for every good work.

–          If our understanding of Scripture is lacking, what else suffers?



Lessons in this Series


  1. Learning to Read the Old Testament with a Christian Heart and Mind
  2. Picking Up the Pieces: The Covenant with Adam
  3. Starting Over: The Covenant with Noah
  4. ANew Hope: The Covenant with Abraham
  5. God’s Law: The Covenant with Moses
  6. The Covenant of Kings: The Covenant with David
  7. The New Covenant Foreshadowed
  8. The Covenant of Covenants: The Lord’s Supper


Click here to go to Lesson 2.