The Bible is literary in nature. It uses words to tell a story. One story. The story of a broken people and the redemptive unrelenting grace of their God. Some have drawn a line between the Old and New Testaments, highlighting their disjunction and distinct differences instead of their unity, maybe even accepting one and rejecting the other, functionally at least. However both testaments when struck ring like a tuning fork in harmony together. The OT leads to the conclusion of the NT and the NT is out of context where it does not stand upon the OT. They are an inseparable whole, a unified narrative, the story of redemptive history.
In the previous two chapters we attempted a summary of both the Old and New Testaments giving us a framework to understand each. In this chapter we will synthesize the story of the OT and NT into one unified narrative, highlighting in particular the various ways the OT has been fulfilled in the NT as we unpack the term “Redemptive History.”
Redemptive History is a term that is used to refer to the entirety of God’s plan of redemption for His people from their sin. It encompasses the history of God’s promise of an everlasting covenant with His people through His Son, Jesus Christ. Redemption history includes everything God orders by His sovereign hand before the coming of Christ in time and space and everything He orders for the salvation of His people after Christ’s coming. Redemptive history is His-story, God’s story of how He redeems His people from sin. It reads all of Scripture through the lens of what God is going to do (when reading the OT) and what God has done (when reading the NT) thereby emphasizing God’s gracious initiative for sinners by underlining every line of the story in the red merciful blood of Christ.
THE STORY OF REDEMPTIVE HISTORY
The story of redemptive history surrounds the question, “How does the Old Testament link to the New Testament?” Redemptive history seeks to synthesize the two testaments, to find the link between Malachi and Matthew, a link between the varying genres of the Bible, a link between what may seem at first differing purposes from book to book. Redemptive history seeks to bring clarity to the Scripture as a whole thereby answering these questions emphatically. And it does so by tracing the crimson thread of God’s grace through Jesus Christ in the life of the sinner. Here is a synthesis of the OT and NT highlighting the story of redemptive history.
Both testaments fundamentally address the reality of the human condition. They plainly lay out the disruption of original sin and it’s transmission to all mankind. This disruption to the intended order of creation posed an eternal dilemma: mankind’s relationship to their Creator was disordered through sin and therefore disrupted their created purpose. Instead of living in worship under the Lordship of their God, mankind has sought to worship the created rather than the Creator. This fundamental problem of sin plagues the characters in both the OT and the NT.
In the midst of this problem, both testaments witness to the need for restoration, the need for redemption in their relationship with their Creator. In the OT we see a pregnant hope of a future reconciliation between Israel and their God. In the NT we live in the realization of this hope that has been disclosed. What is this link between this hope and it’s realization? Jesus of Nazareth, the promised Messiah.
“Jesus Christ is the link between the Old Testament and the New. God’s revelation reaches its climax in the New Testament—and this climax is not a new teaching or a new law, but a person, God’s own Son.”
See the OT speaks of a coming Messiah, as we have seen in the previous chapters, who will one day reconcile the disordered people of God to their proper created purpose—the worship and glorification of their Maker. Or as the word of the Lord speaks to this coming hope through the prophet Ezekiel,
“I will make a covenant of peace with them. It shall be an everlasting covenant with them…My dwelling place shall be with them, and I will be their God, and they shall be my people. The nations will know that I am the Lord who sanctifies Israel, when my sanctuary is in their midst forevermore.” (Ezekiel 37:26-28)
Upon this OT promise the NT builds. The NT recounts the life of the Messiah in the Gospels, the link between the two testaments, and the implications of the redemption He brings for God’s people. The NT lives not in anticipation of God’s grace over sin, as Ezekiel prophesied, but in the realization that God has atoned for our sin and reconciled us to Himself.
“Long ago, at many times and in many ways, God spoke to our fathers by the prophets, but in these last days he has spoken to us by his Son.” (Hebrews 1:1-2a)
“But God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us. Since, therefore, we have now been justified by his blood, much more shall we be saved by him from the wrath of God.” (Romans 5:8-9)
The OT anticipates the coming grace of God and the NT unpacks the realization of this grace. This linking relationship between the two testaments is grace. Both exist in unity to tell the same story, the story of a merciful and loving God. Both testaments are linked by this grace, the Messiah, the savior, Jesus. When read through this lens Scripture presents a unified encounter between humanity and their gracious God.
This is the story of redemptive history. It is fundamentally God’s story of how He reconciled his broken people to Himself. Redemptive history is a term that emphasizes the important of context. Therefore every text in Scripture, because of it’s overall context, is linked by Christ to the good news of the Gospel for sinners.
God Designed Redemptive History For His Glory
In light of our understanding of redemptive history, the story of the Old and New Testaments are not mere happenstance. The events recorded were not merely accidental through the exercise of human will. The narrative of both testaments were a planned reality. Redemptive history is His story, designed for His ultimate end for all of creation: His Glory. Redemptive history, the thread of redemption in Christ between the Old and New Testaments (prefigured in the OT and realized in the NT), is the fulfillment of this design.
As the Author of the story, God timed the linking event of Jesus life and death according to the purpose of that which might display His glory most. Some people may ask why Jesus came in time and space when He did, they may say “Why didn’t Jesus come in the garden after Adam and Eve sinned?” We may not be able to give a definitive answer, but we do see two dispensations of history, one in which God’s people know how desperate they are for His saving grace, and one in which they know how gracious God has been towards them in Christ.
Knowing our need is essential for giving praise. If you were sitting at home with a glass of cold water from the tap, your thirst would not be dire. But if you were in a desert far from water, you would know your need. How much more glorious would be the stranger you come across with a glass of cold water in the desert than that person in your home. The same proves true with our praise of God. Only when we know how destitute we are in our sin do we know the weight of praise God deserves from us. And so God in His sovereign will brings about the culmination of our salvation according to His sovereign timing for His glory.
“In him we have redemption through his blood…making known to us the mystery of his will, according to his purpose, which he set forth in Christ as a plan for the fullness of time, to unite all things in him, things in heaven and things on earth.” (Ephesians 1:7a, 9-10)
“But when the fullness of time had come, God sent forth his Son, born of woman, born under the law, to redeem those who were under the law, so that we might receive adoption as sons.” (Galatians 4:4-5)
Scripture is a story of a created purpose. The entire OT leads to this reality, that the people would “Know that I am Lord.” Then in Christ the grounds for our boasting in God was accomplished, “The work of Christ on earth, and especially his crucifixion and resurrection, is the climax of history, it is the great turning point at which God actually accomplished the salvation toward which history had been moving throughout the OT.” The end of redemptive history is God’s glory. Another way of putting it would be that God’s glory is the fulfillment of God’s redemptive plan in Jesus Christ. How is God glorified as the OT is fulfilled in the NT?
God is Glorified Through the OT Fulfillment in the NT
The story of redemptive history highlights the awe-inspiring connection between the OT and the NT, the grace of God in Jesus Christ. At the center of both testaments is the theme of God’s promises and their fulfillment. The OT surrounds the promises of God for His people. It isn’t until the NT that the fulfillment of these promises and institutions are finally realized. As one thirsts for water and rejoices in a cold glass, so too as we look at the OT promises fulfilled in the NT we will rejoice in God’s goodness towards us and raise our praise of thanks. Let’s turn to the progression of a few of the ways God plans in the OT are fulfilled in the NT.
THE OLD AND NEW COVENANTS
A covenant is a binding promise between two individuals. God makes a covenant in the Garden of Eden to Adam and Eve, a promise based on works. Adam and Eve were promised an eternal relationship in the presence of God if they would submit to refraining from eating “of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil” (Gen. 2:17). We call this promise the “Old Covenant” or the “Covenant of Works.”
The Westminster Confession puts it this way, “In [the old covenant] life was promised to Adam and through him to his descendants, on the condition of perfect, personal obedience.” However the fall of Adam and Eve by disobeying God through eating of the tree shattered the covenant of works. It did so for every person as this single act of sin spread to every descendant of mankind. No person, because of the far reaches of sin in every area of life, could now fulfill this covenant through a life of perfect obedience. It is impossible to earn our salvation by works, “so we also have believed in Christ Jesus, in order to be justified by faith in Christ and not by works of the law, because by works of the law no one will be justified” (Gal. 2:16b).
But in the midst of our rebellion, it pleased God to institute a “New Covenant,” a “Covenant of Grace.” Jeremiah records God’s promised covenant of grace:
“Behold, the days are coming, declares the Lord, when I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel and the house of Judah…I will put my law within them, and I will write it on their hearts. And I will be their God, and they shall be my people…For I will forgive their iniquity and I will remember their sin no more” (Jer. 31:31, 33b, 34b).
Now in the NT, at the Last Supper, Jesus declares that He is the fulfillment of this new covenant, “This cup is the new covenant in my blood” (1 Cor. 11:25). Through Jesus’ death on the cross God promises us redemption—not through a fulfillment of legal demands and works—but instead now through faith which is itself a gift from God. The new covenant is an emphatic fulfillment that God is a God of grace to His people. In Christ the promise of relationship that God gave to Adam is fulfilled to all whom by faith rest in the promise of God. When God’s people through faith experience this grace, God becomes increasingly more glorious to them.
THE MEANS OF ATONEMENT
The entrance and subsequent universal spread of sin to all mankind is the problem that God deals with throughout all of redemptive history. Atonement is the means by which God redeems His people from sin. In the OT atonement happened primarily through the sacrificial system. Once a year on the Day of Atonement God’s people through the high priest would offer a blood sacrifice, two male goats, for the forgiveness of their sins as a whole (see Lev. 16). In the giving of the law to Moses, God provided this means of atonement that His people might know the seriousness of their sin, the seriousness bloodshed symbolized, and the graciousness of God to forgive them.
Now in the NT, the OT atonement sacrifices have been fulfilled in Jesus Christ. In the OT only the high priest could offer sacrifice on behalf of the people as their mediator. In Christ we have an eternal high priest who advocates for our redemption, “We have such a high priest, one who is seated at the right hand of the throne of the Majesty in heaven, a minister in the holy places” (Heb. 8:1).
In the OT the sacrifice was a continual sacrifice, done year in and year out. But as John Stott so clearly puts, “The Old Testament blood sacrifices were only shadows; the substance was Christ. For a substitute to be effective, it must be an appropriate equivalent.” Jesus was an appropriate equivalent; He was fully human and completely righteous. Therefore God offered Himself as a sacrifice through the bloodshed of His Son on the cross once and for all, not to be repeated year by year, “He entered once for all into the holy places, not by means of the blood of goats and calves but by means of his own blood, thus securing an eternal redemption” (Hebrews 9:12).
The means of atonement has been perfected, it has been fulfilled through Jesus. We are “justified by his grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus, whom God put forward as a propitiation by his blood, to be received by faith” (Rom. 3:23-24). Our redemption stands now upon a God who took Himself out of grace and mercy to the cross, to die the death we deserved, so that we might have the life with Him that we were created to share in. God is glorified by overwhelming the hearts and minds of His saints by displaying what lengths He will go through to redeem them.
THE ULTIMATE PROPHET, PRIEST, AND KING
In the OT there were three prominent leadership offices, prophet, priest, and king. The prophet’s task was to speak God’s word to His people. God did this through such prophets as Moses, Elijah, Isaiah, and Daniel. God promised that another prophet would come,
“The Lord your God will raise up for you a prophet like me from among you, from your brothers—it is to him you shall listen—just as you desired of the Lord your God…I will put my words in his mouth, and he shall speak to them all that I command him” (Deuteronomy 18:15-16a, 18).
Jesus is the promised coming prophet. Whereas all OT prophets spoke a word from God, Jesus was the Word from God, the logos, because He was God. He came as His own prophet to declare the good news of the fulfillment of God’s promise to His people. The fulfillment of redemption in Himself. Jesus did not need to say “Thus says the Lord,” instead he simply spoke with authority and every word spoken was a “Thus says the Lord.” Jesus fulfills the office of prophet and we have the privilege of His authority and declarations recorded for us in Scripture.
The OT also spoke of the office of the Priest. Priests existed to offer sacrifices to God on behalf of His people for their atonement. They mediated the relationship between the people and their God. However instead of continuing a succession of priests from the Levitical line, God brings a fulfillment to the office of priest through Jesus. As priest He is our eternal mediator, “always [living] to make intercession for [us]” (Heb. 7:25). As priest, as we have just looked at, He offers atonement for our sins, not by means of animal sacrifice, but by displaying His love and mercy towards us by offering Himself as our atoning sacrifice. The fulfillment of the priestly office in Christ is of great consolation for no sinner could mediate as Christ does.
Whereas the prophets and priests were God’s idea to instituted, the office of King in the OT was not, it was a slap in the face to God. Judges were not good enough for Israel. They wanted to be like their neighbors who had kings rule over them. But God was their king. However in God’s grand story of redemption He institutes a human kingship under His own kingly and sovereign rule. Kings Saul, David, and Solomon rule somewhere between faithfulness at times and rebellion at others. The long line of kings from onward from them is a ghastly portrayal of power and human wickedness. Kingship is abused.
But the kingdom of God is not ruled by sinful human kings. Instead Jesus comes as the Messiah, the righteous human king. “Blessed is the king who comes in the name of the Lord!” (Luke 19:38). He is “King of Kings and Lord of Lords” (Revelation 19:16). He rules God’s sovereign kingdom in righteousness. He fulfills our desire for a king, a ruler to govern us for our wellbeing and flourishing. He is the eternal king whom we are to joyfully bow our knee to every day.
So throughout the story of both the Old and New Testaments we see a unity, a vivid portrayal of God’s plan of redemptive history enacted through His love and care for His people. The institutions of the Old Testament give way to their fulfillment in the New through God Himself entering the story in the person of Jesus. Redemptive history is the greatest story ever told and we have the privilege of each being cast a role as it moves closer and closer to it’s ultimate fulfillment at the end of the age.
JT Holderman is Associate Pastor of Bellevue Evangelical Presbyterian Church in Gap, PA.
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 For a further exposition on the subject of Redemptive History, see Geerhardus Vos, Biblical Theology: Old and New Testaments (Carlisle, PA: Banner of Truth Trust, 2012); Jonathan Edwards, A History of the Work of Redemption contained in The Works of Jonathan Edwards, vol. 1 (Carlisle, PA: Banner of Truth Trust, 2009), pp. 532-619.
 Sidney Greidanus, Preaching Christ From the Old Testament (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1999), p. 49.
 Scripture speaks in many places of God ordering all of history so that the nations will know that He is the Lord: cf. Exodus 6:7, 7:5; Isaiah 49:26, 60:16; Ezekiel 5:13, 20:42; Joel 2:27, 3:17.
 The ESV Study Bible (Wheaton: Crossway, 2011), 23.
 The Westminster Confession of Faith, 7.2.
 However the Covenant of Grace is prefigured in the OT: It begins with Adam and Eve. God had every right to simply wipe them out for their sin, but instead he extends grace based on nothing they have done to deserve it. God also extends a covenant of grace to Abraham in Genesis 15 and 17 in which God promised him progeny and the promised land apart from any works. The covenant of grace abounds in many other places in the OT.
 John Stott, The Cross of Christ, p. 138.