If you’ve taken even a peek at the book of Hebrews, I’m sure you noticed this: it’s LOADED with Old Testament verses. And I mean loaded. Like a pizza with double everything, overwhelming the bottom crust, the first chapter alone quotes seven Old Testament passages, more text than the writer’s own words and commentary.
Yesterday I took a few minutes to tally the rest of the book and counted thirty-two direct quotes, not counting repeats. Most of the remaining text is full of OT commentary. As for OT characters, twenty-two specific men and women are named in Hebrews, most (but not all) commended as heroes in the faith. In fact, almost everything the Hebrew writer says is grounded, proven, and illustrated by Old Testament prophecies and examples.
Here’s a wonderful way to express the relationship of the Old and New Testaments:
The New is in the Old concealed; the Old is in the New revealed.
I love this! Whether we’re pondering how Moses or Abraham prefigured the life of Christ, or looking back from Jesus’ earthly life to see how all of it was predicted through OT prophecies, we’re blessed with two halves of a glorious whole, illuminating each other. If you love stories and books with endless layers, levels, connections, and inner mysteries (hello, Game of Thrones*) the Bible’s your ticket. And the book of Hebrews is like a codebreaker, making connections and twigging insights we’d never have caught on our own.
If the Old Testament scares you a bit—or a lot—or seems boring, arcane, or irrelevant from your point of view, hiking in Hebrews should change that. It’s anything but. All those strange-but-true stories start making way more sense when read through the prism of Hebrews. And we’ll get to explore lots of those stories as we hike.
But today let’s talk about prophecy.
Specifically, fulfilled prophecy.
The Old Testament contains over 300 prophecies about Christ, all of them fulfilled in his birth, life, ministry, death, resurrection, and ascension back to heaven. Many of these ‘predictions’ go back thousands of years before he appeared.
The earliest prophecy is found in Genesis 3, after Adam and Eve’s sin, when God cursed the serpent—Satan—and pronounced Christ’s ultimate victory over the evil, and the evil one: He will crush your head, and you will strike his heel. (Gen. 3: 15)
The last prophecy is found in Malachi, in the final verses of the Old Testament, a prophecy about John the Baptist, Jesus’ cousin and forerunner, who’d show up right on schedule, over 400 years later.
The rest of the prophecies are sprinkled like gold nuggets in a field of hidden gems, awaiting our discovery.
The book of Isaiah is particularly rich in gold, and when a copy of Isaiah was discovered among the Dead Sea Scrolls, virtually identical to every later version of the document, we had living proof that these prophecies weren’t added later, in an attempt to fake legitimacy, but actually predated Christ by over 1000 years.
God did that for us, we twenty-first century skeptics, through the boredom of a young shepherd boy named Mohammed, pitching stones at a cave in 1946 to pass the time.
It was a world-shaking discovery for everyone who grasped its significance.
As Peter writes in another favorite verse,
And we have the word of the prophets made more certain, and you will do well to pay close attention to it, as to a light shining in a dark place, until the day dawns and the morning star rises in your hearts. (2 Peter 1:19)
This light, the light of truth, burns bright for us in Hebrews.
A lot of Christians get hung up on modern-day prophecy, as if God has anything more to add to what he’s already told us. But the Bible, God tells us, is complete, and adding anything to it—even a single word—is worthy of eternal condemnation. (So is taking anything away: see the last verses of Revelation.)
There’s nothing more to predict. Jesus is coming back, at an hour and time no one can know, and that’s the end, and the beginning, of everything as we know it.
Instead of hungering for new prophecies, we should rejoice in the fulfilled ones: God’s incredible proof that the Bible can be trusted, that God is faithful, that everything he says will happen will surely take place, and that Jesus really is the Son of God.
God doesn’t ask us to put our trust in a bunch of poetic, untested words, but in a living document of rock solid proof. Hundreds of fulfilled prophecies, none of them mistaken or off the mark. Ample historical evidence for the existence of Christ, and for the long chain of Biblical history that led to his birth. Prophecies written for us, who would come later, seeking solid reasons to believe.
Peter notes that the ancient prophets yearned to understand the future they were prophesying through the Spirit of Christ. (1 Peter 1:10-12). For the most part, God left them in the dark—along with the angels, who also longed to look into these things. The lucky recipients were us, holding both Old and New in our hands, the no-longer-missing pieces of the world’s greatest puzzle, now perfectly revealed.
Now that’s a gift!
*I have to admit: I’m one of the six people on earth who has never watched Game of Thrones. But with all the fans and furor over its final season, I figure it must be full of layers, connections, interwoven mysteries, and intriguing backstories to capture so much ongoing attention. Still, I’ll wager the Bible is even richer—and it’s not fantasy!