This summer I’m sharing a chapter-by-chapter summary/review of Wright’s Knowing Jesus Through the Old Testament, a book I thoroughly enjoyed this past year. Have you picked up your copy yet? I encourage you to read along and share comments on here as well! I think you’ll find it to be a rewarding summer read.
Chapter Two: Jesus and the Old Testament Promise
A longer chapter that sweeps across the landscape of Israel’s history with respect to the covenants especially, chapter two fittingly shows that Jesus fulfills what the Old Testament promised. But the way Wright goes about this is intriguing, for he illustrates in his own book what he says Matthew does in his Gospel—he works backwards from actual events to show that there was deeper meaning in the Old Testament passages. As Wright notes, “It was the events in the life of infant Jesus that suggested the Scriptures, not the other way around.”
One of the key introductory distinctions Wright makes is the difference between promise and prediction. This sets the sage for the chapter, and proved very helpful to me personally, not only in understanding the book better, but also in grasping the whole Old Testament in a more comprehensive manner.
Essentially, Wright sees prediction as that which generally assures the reader what God will do; it is not the cause, just the message. Furthermore, though prophecy has specific things in mind when God gives it, it may not be so specifically clear to the prophet(s) who spoke it at the time. But that isn’t the aim of prediction. Instead, it was simply the heralding of the inspired message that was paramount, not necessarily the understanding of all the future details.
Promise, on the other hand, is deeper and more significant. And though the initial details may not still be clearly seen, much like prediction, the end fulfillment, which is clear from the events taking place, proves to be dramatically specific and targeted.
So when God does complete the prediction—or better said, when God fulfills his promise—it is seen as clearly God’s fulfillment because the current events prove and explain the earlier passages/predictions. It is in this way that the New Testament, specifically Matthew, works backwards from current events to past predictions, leading to an understanding of God’s fulfilled promise.
In laying out some of the events, I appreciated Wright’s perspective in two areas specifically:
- The idea that Matthew’s reference to the east (i.e., Magi) and the west (i.e., Egypt) “embraces both extremes of the biblical world” was a stunning observation of God’s heart for the nations and the extent of his work through the Messiah and Israel.
- The correlation between Herod’s slaughter of boys under two in Bethlehem, and the ensuing grief, with Rachel’s own grief earlier in Israel’s history. Tying this to Jeremiah’s prophecy and showing how it connected the two “exiles” was a remarkable way to take historical events in Israel’s history and show how they indicate the fulfillment of God’s promise.
With the idea of promise firmly planted in the soil of our mind, the three things that show the particular nature of a promise stand out effectively. They are:
- Promise involves commitment to a relationship.
- Promise requires a response of acceptance.
- Promise involves ongoing levels of fulfillment.
It is, in fact, these three traits that run through God’s promises that make up the heart of God’s covenants. And Wright’s explanation of the covenants proved beneficial to me, moving from the Abrahamic to the New. Too often I have seen the covenants as vastly different items, segregating them too much from one another as well as from God’s overarching, redemptive plan. Perhaps this is one of the negatives of hyper-dispensationalism—every new “economy” seems so divided and split that connecting the dots between them all takes a back seat. But chapter two was extremely helpful in keeping all the dots connected, showing how all the tributaries actually flow into the great river of God’s promise.
I found myself exactly where Wright knew I would be as he wrapped up his chapter—amazed at God’s unwavering intention to bless. It was a moment of worship for me, even as I read the book all alone and in silence. Truly, from as far back as the time of Abraham to the very current present age that includes me, God’s commitment was clear and his promise evident: He would save all who believed through his Son, Jesus!
 Ibid, 66.
 Ibid, 67.
 Ibid, 107.