“Truly, truly, I say to you, he who does not enter the sheepfold by the door but climbs in by another way, that man is a thief and a robber. But he who enters by the door is the shepherd of the sheep.”
How Jesus Views The Tanakh
In the verses to follow, Jesus is about to share who he is, using shepherd and sheep imagery from the Tanakh (or Old Testament). Something I’ve noticed about Jesus is his complete belief in the reliability and authority of the Old Testament scriptures. Speaking of the Tanakh he said, “Scripture cannot be broken.” (John 10:35) And he referred to the Old Testament scriptures as words from God and God’s final authority. “Have you not read what was said to you by God?” he said in Matthew 22:31-32, referring to an Old Testament passage.
Jesus believed in the accuracy and reality of the Tanakh. He confirmed that manna fell from heaven. (John 6:49-50) He validated the account of the destruction of Sodom including the death of Lot’s wife. (Luke 17:29-32) And Jesus spoke of Daniel of the Old Testament as a real and genuine prophet. (Matthew 24:15) Those are just a few instances. Look for yourself and you’ll find more examples of Jesus citing the Tanakh as God’s words and final authority.
In the Tanakh we see images of God as the Shepherd of Israel.
- Genesis 48:15
- Genesis 49:24
- Psalm 23
- Psalm 28:9
- Psalm 77:20
- Psalm 78:71
- Isaiah 40:11
- Ezekiel 34:11-31
And Israel as His flock
And we see “abusive or unfaithful religious leaders as destroyers of His flock.”
Also, “Faithful human shepherds included Moses, David, and the Davidic Messiah.” (Micah 5:4)
Jesus’ uses of the shepherd and sheep imagery in John chapter 10 are based on these scriptures from the Old Testament. (Keener)
The First Time I Gave Myself To Jesus
While in my twenties the big questions, questions about God and eternity came to the fore. So I was searching everywhere, turning over every rock I could find. Of course, in the course of my studies, I came across Jesus. And the more I learned about him, the more I was attracted to him, until I found him to be the most beautiful person I had ever encountered. He was amazing.
And there comes a point when I’m attracted to the beauty of Jesus, but I haven’t yet given my life to him, because I really don’t know how. I mean, at the time I didn’t even own a Bible. I had probably only been to church less than a dozen times in my entire life. What happened was, I went out into the woods in the foothills of the Siskiyou Mountains and I asked God to give me a group of Christ followers who could teach me more about Jesus. Within a few weeks I was offered a job at the Medford Fire Department. (I had absolutely zero qualifications, zero experience, and zero education for the job. And I never aspired to be a firefighter.) The Chief assigned me to a crew of seven, most of whom were Christians. They invited me to join them for the evening Bible study they held during each shift. They gave me a Bible. They taught me about Jesus. Precisely what I asked for in the Siskiyou Mountain wilderness was given to me. A few months later there was an altar call at church and I gave my life to Christ.
The Second Time
But years later my beliefs were challenged. Someone close to me relentlessly raised question after question about the evidence supporting my belief in Jesus. These questions were of the penetrating and foundation shaking kind. To understand how this affected me, you have to understand how my mind works. I’m an analytical type, a skeptic. I have this built in voracity for the truth. I’m the kind of person who if I learned that the scriptures about Jesus are false, I would be compelled to disavow Christianity. I couldn’t hang on for social reasons, or any reason, other than the truth. So in response to these questions, I started investigating, started digging–for truth. And I came to the place where I wondered if maybe what I believed about Jesus was wrong.
What I found were the two dangers associated with researching questions like these. They have to do with rationalization and motivation. On the one hand, there was the lure of independence from God, to be able to live life on my own, apart from God’s authority. On the other hand, there was the pull of the familiar. So as I’m researching, I’m walking this razor’s edge toward the truth, because the truth is independent of either of the two motivations, even though each is pulling me from opposite directions.
The truth I found came from a variety of sources (including this from C.S. Lewis). But one of the most profound discoveries was how, as mentioned in the scripture at the top of this post, Jesus entered by the door, he didn’t climb in by another way. That is, Jesus came into the sheepfold through the Tanakh, through the Jewish scriptures. The Tanakh is the door through which Jesus came. The way he came, through the Tanakh, is what legitimizes Jesus as the Messiah. Maybe the most profound discovery that answered these great questions that came to me, I found there, in the Tanakh.
When Jesus encountered the two men on the road to Emmaus we’re told that “. . . beginning with Moses and all the Prophets, he interpreted to them in all the Scriptures the things concerning himself.” (Luke 24:27)
Jesus In The Life Of Joseph
So I began to dig into the Old Testament and I found Jesus in the life of Joseph. The parallels between Joseph’s life and Jesus’ life are amazing. Reading about Joseph made me wonder if his life might be a prophetic picture of Jesus.
Gethsemane In The Old Testament
Then I also found Jesus in the story of Abraham’s sacrifice of his son Isaac in Genesis chapter 22. I used to wonder about this passage. It bothered me because of what God asked of Abraham. It always struck me as one of His most bizarre requests in all of scripture.
“Take your son, your only son Isaac, whom you love, and go to the land of Moriah, and offer him there as a burnt offering . . .”
What in the world? Why would God ask this of anyone? It doesn’t fit His character. It doesn’t fit the pattern of His behavior in all of the Old Testament. The sacrifice of Abraham’s son, his only son, whom he loves, only makes sense is if it’s seen in the context of Jesus.
And like Jesus, Abraham experienced his own Gethsemane. I don’t know if Abraham sweat great drops of blood as Jesus did but imagine with me the heaviness of his heart. Imagine the tears. Imagine the thoughts of how Sarah would react. Imagine with me Abraham’s anguish as he imagined carrying out what the Lord had requested of him. (see Genesis chapter 22)
Calvary In The Old Testament
And Jesus’ Calvary experience is found here too. Even as the wooden cross was put on the shoulders of God’s Son, Abraham put the wood for the burnt offering on Isaac’s shoulders. As they ascend up the hill, Isaac asked about the absence of the lamb for the sacrifice. Abraham said: “God will provide for himself the lamb for the burnt offering . . .”
After they get to the top, Abraham, I imagine, with tears streaming down his face and heart breaking, binds Isaac to the altar. This speaks of how Isaac was submissive to his father because Isaac is estimated to be in his early thirties at this time, so there’s no way 130 year old Abraham could overpower him.
“Not my will, but yours, be done,” Jesus said to His Father. Even as Abraham’s son was submissive to his father, Jesus was submissive to his Father also. He allowed the soldiers to bind him and take him to Calvary. (Luke 22:42, John 18)
Resurrection In The Old Testament
How Abraham found the faith to obey God and sacrifice his son, his only son, whom he loved, is a mystery to me. But we find at least a clue in what he said to his two servants before he put the wood on his son’s shoulders and walked up the hill. He said, “. . . I and the boy will go over there and worship and come again to you.” So that raises the question: if Abraham sacrifices his son, how will he and the boy come back to the servants?
Years ago God promised Abraham that his descendants would come through Isaac. So it may be that Abraham reasoned that the Lord would ultimately provide a way for Isaac to live, even if it meant his son’s resurrection. Paul speaks of this in Hebrews 11:19 when he says, “He considered that God was able even to raise him from the dead, from which, figuratively speaking, he did receive him back.”
In this passage, at the last moment, the Angel of the Lord tells Abraham to stay his hand. And God Himself provides a ram for the sacrifice.
As if that wasn’t a strong enough prophetic picture already, consider the following additional parallels.
- Both Isaac and Jesus were conceived miraculously. Isaac was miraculously conceived by a man and woman 100 and 90 years old respectively. Jesus was miraculously conceived by God, of a virgin.
- Both Isaac’s and Jesus’ births were promised previously. Isaac’s some twenty-five years before and Jesus’ hundreds of years before in Isaiah 53.
- Both Isaac’s and Jesus’ parents were instructed by the Lord what to name their son.
- Both Isaac and Jesus were beloved by their father, and Father, respectively.
- “…and in your offspring shall all the nations of the earth be blessed, because you have obeyed my voice.” God said in verse 18. All nations will be blessed because Jesus Christ, “the source of eternal salvation” for all of the world, would come from the line of Isaac. (Hebrews 5:9, Matthew 1, Luke 3)
- “The Lord will provide,” Abraham called the place where God provided the ram for the sacrifice (or, “In the mount where the Lord is seen”). John the Baptist said of Jesus, “Behold, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world.” (John 1:29) On the mountain of the Lord, on Calvary, on the mount where the Lord is seen, God provided His lamb as a sacrifice in place of me, and in place of you. Abraham and his son prophetically enacted God and His Son’s story of death and resurrection.
Jesus died for your sins and mine, in place of you, and in place of me.
More Of Jesus In The Tanakh
I also found Jesus in Daniel’s prophecy about the seventy sevens, and Psalm 22 (Which Jesus points us to when he quotes from it on the cross. Read Psalm 22 and you’ll recognize it right away.), and the meanings of the names listed in Genesis 5, and Isaiah chapter 53.
And there’s more. But don’t take my word for it. Look for yourself. Read about Jesus in the New Testament, then read the Old Testament and see if you don’t find him there.
For me I can’t read these passages from the Tanakh without seeing Jesus.
For me I can’t read these passages without believing Jesus is who he said he is.
My hope and my prayer is that our Father reveals Jesus to you too.
References and Resources:
Jonathan Bernis, A Rabbi Looks at Jesus of Nazareth, Chosen Books, 2011
Max Margolis, Tanakh, Jewish Publication Society
You might also like the Jesus in the Old Testament series from God Running.
Craig S. Keener, The IVP Bible Background Commentary: New Testament, InterVarsity Press, 1993
[Image of Tanakh via Wikimedia Commons]