Some 10 years ago, I went through a revolution in my understanding of Christ and his church in the OT when I studied the book of Galatians in a second-year Greek class. Then, this year, my love for this truth and my understanding of it have exploded, especially through a passage in 2 Corinthians 6-7, which we’ll look at last.
I see (at least) three ways in which the church is included in the OT; three ways for you to read the OT with fresh eyes to see the glory of Christ and your blessings in him; three ways for you to apply the OT in a gospel-centered and practical way to yourself as a NT Christian.
(And I would love to hear your feedback on this, as well as passages you’ve found that can be applied to us, through Christ.)
1. Τhe church is included in OT promises to Christ (Gal 3:16, 19).
Paul asserts that the original meaning of “offspring” in Genesis 13:15 was Christ (Gal 3:16) (see also Gen 12:1-3; 15:1-6; 17:1-8). When God promised to bless Abraham’s offspring, he was referring in fact to Jesus Christ himself (Gal 3:19).
This has tremendous implications for how we think about “Israel” as a whole in the OT: first and foremost, Christ is Israel. See Rom 2:25-29; 9:6-8.
And Romans 9:6-8, together with Galatians 3:25-29, shows that we are Abraham’s offspring as well! So secondarily, we the church are Israel.
2. The church is included in OT prophecies about Christ (Acts 13:46).
Paul and Barnabas are on their first missionary journey (Acts 13:1-3). They are in a city called Antioch in the region of Pisidia, in modern southwestern Turkey, and had preached to Jews in a synagogue on the previous Sabbath day (v. 14b-41). Some believed (v. 43), but all wanted to hear these things again (v. 42). The next Sabbath day, massive crowds gathered, which provoked the Jews to contradict Paul’s preaching and revile him (v. 44-45).
In this encounter, Paul and Barnabas support their decision to turn from preaching to them to preaching to the Gentiles by quoting from Isaiah 49. And hidden in this use of Isaiah 49 is a startling principle.
Isaiah 49 is in a section of Isaiah (chapters 38-55) that are all about “the servant of the Lord who by bearing his people’s sins will bring them back to the Lord, and in whom the Davidic promises will be fulfilled” (Alec Motyer, Isaiah by the Day, 180). Who is talking in verse 3? This is Israel personified - Jesus Christ himself.
The startling principle is seen in Paul and Barnabas’s words at the beginning of Acts 13:47: “For so the Lord has commanded us, saying…” And they quote from Isaiah 49:6. But God was speaking to his only Son, his Servant, in Isaiah 49!
Think of it this way: If we are included in Christ as the offspring of Abraham, children of promise (as we saw in Galatians), then these prophecies refer to Christ primarily and ultimately, and to us secondarily and derivatively.
3. The church is included in OT prescriptions for Israel (2 Cor 6:16-7:1).
The key here starts with how Paul supports his exhortation for God’s people to avoid intimate fellowship with unbelievers (v. 14-16c) in 16d-18f. He says that “we,” the NT church, “are the temple of the living God.” How does he know this?
He then quotes “God” (16f) in a wonderful mélange of OT passages. In order, they are Leviticus 26:11-12, Ezekiel 37:27, Isaiah 52:11, Ezekiel 20:34, 2 Samuel 7:14, Jeremiah 31:9, and Isaiah 43:6.
Where my mind blew up in amazement is in a passing line in 7:1, which shows Paul’s astounding underlying assumptions about quoting the OT to NT believers. Promises originally made to the nation of Israel (in the days of Moses and of the Babylonian exile), and to David and his line, are almost indiscriminately applied to us as Christians under the New Covenant!
UPDATE: Watch Nate and I discuss these texts here: