The Future Has Already Come
Perhaps the simplest way to summarize the gospel biblically is to say that Jesus was crucified, buried, and raised from the dead. According to 1 Corinthians 15:1-6, these events at the end of Jesus’s life constitute the “bare bones” of the gospel message.
But there is so much more to say. These events take on meaning as we understand them as the climax to a much bigger story. The gospel is good news precisely because it comes to us as the climax of the unfolding story of human history.
A Story Fulfilled
Looking at these verses in 1 Corinthians 15, we should notice that it is said twice that the death, burial, and resurrection of Christ was done “in accordance with the Scriptures.” This is an important phrase. It does not say “according to” the Scriptures, as if the Old Testament tells us about these events. It says “in accordance with” the Scriptures, telling us that the death, burial, and resurrection of Jesus took place in harmony with what the Old Testament had predicted.
In other words, we should see in the death, burial, and resurrection of Jesus not only events that are salvific but also events that are prophetic, events that are the fulfillment of Old Testament prophecy. The story begun in the Old Testament is fulfilled by the events of the New Testament.
Let’s take a look at just three examples of how Jesus’s death, burial, and resurrection took place “in accordance with” the Old Testament.
In Psalm 16, David says that God “will not abandon my soul to Sheol,” nor will he allow his “holy one” to “see corruption.” Who is he referring to? He cannot be talking about himself, for as Peter explained:
Brothers, I may say to you with confidence about the patriarch David that he both died and was buried, and his tomb is with us to this day. Being therefore a prophet, and knowing that God had sworn with an oath to him that he would set one of his descendants on his throne, he foresaw and spoke about the resurrection of the Christ, that he was not abandoned to Hades, nor did his flesh see corruption. This Jesus God raised up, and of that we all are witnesses. ~Acts 2:29-32
Or how about Psalm 22? Lydia McGrew points out the “uncanny resemblance” between this psalm and the crucifixion of Jesus. In addition to Jesus uttering the very words of this psalm from the cross (Psa 22:1), David writes about being “poured out like water,” his bones being out of joint (but not broken!), his heart melting like wax, and being surrounded by “a company of evildoers.” He speaks of diving garments and casting lots for his clothing, again fulfilled at the cross. David would not have been familiar with crucifixion as a type of execution, and yet he spoke of having his hands and feet pierced. If you read this psalm after you read about the death of Jesus on the cross, the similarities cannot be missed.
Similarly, we notice the words of Isaiah 53, written some seven centuries before Jesus was born. Who did Isaiah have in mind when he wrote about someone being “pierced for our transgressions” and “crushed for our iniquities” (v. 5)? Upon whom did the Lord lay the iniquity of us all (v. 6)? Who did the prophet have in mind when he wrote of someone keeping his mouth shut as he was led like a lamb to the slaughter (v. 7)? Who was “cut off out of the land of the living, stricken for the transgression of my people” (v. 8)? Who “made his grave with the wicked and with a rich man in his death, although he had done no violence, and there was no deceit in his mouth” (v. 9)? And of whom could all that be true while at the same time it also be true that his days were prolonged (v. 10)? The prophet speaks of one who “poured out his soul to death and was numbered with the transgressors” while also saying of him that he “shall divide the spoil with the strong” (v. 12). So which is it? Does this person Isaiah had in mind live or does he die?
No wonder the official from Ethiopia had to wonder, “About whom, I ask you, does the prophet say this, about himself or about someone else?” (Acts 8:34).
We might be tempted to interpret all these Old Testament texts as mere metaphors for some other explanation until we see that Jesus seems to fulfill them all quite literally. It is simply astonishing.
So Philip responded to the Ethiopian’s question by telling him the good news about Jesus, beginning with this Scripture in Isaiah and undoubtedly other Scriptures like Psalms 16 and 22.
Living in the Last Days
Human history has continued now for some 2000 years after the climactic events of the life of Jesus. As Christians we do look forward to the day when Jesus will return and bring everything to its glorious end. But far from living in a time when we can only wait for prophecy to be fulfilled, the Bible calls us to live in the reality that the most consequential prophecies have already been fulfilled.
The promised new creation has already begun. And because of our union with Christ by grace, we are citizens of the future that has already arrived in the present. The future interests us like it does everyone else, but it is the prophecies of the past—so amazingly fulfilled in Jesus—that should astonish us even more.