Editor's note:

Chris Webb is one of those writers who is reliably thoughtful, genuinely gifted, and always timely—so we find it always a pleasure to dip once more into the refreshing waters of his lessons on the streams.

Today he draws us deep into the Evangelical Stream with this reflection on the absolute centrality of Christ throughout all of Scripture. May it revive our spirits as we head into the weekend!

—Renovaré Team

He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation; for in him all things in heaven and on earth were created, things visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or powers—all things have been created through him and for him. —Colossians 1:15-16

If the whole of creation entirely centered on Jesus, then we might reasonably expect to discover that Scripture is equally Christocentric. Not only that, but the idea of the Absolute Primacy of Christ could then become a compelling starting point for our interpretation of Scripture, especially when we approach Scripture with the desire, above all else, to find in it an encounter with God in Christ.

And in fact this was the way most Christians read the Bible for much of the Church’s two millennia long history. During one of his sermons on the Psalms, the fifth century African bishop Augustine of Hippo exhorted his congregation to “remember that God speaks only a single word throughout the length of Scripture, and that only one Word is heard from the many mouths of the sacred writers—the Word that was in the beginning, God with God.” Six centuries later the hugely influential Parisian abbot Hugh of St. Victor would write: “All sacred Scripture is but one book, and that one book is Christ, because all divine Scripture speaks of Christ, and all divine Scripture is fulfilled in Christ.”

These writers were developing a tradition that reaches right back to the New Testament period. Throughout the Gospels, the epistles, and the book of Revelation we see Jesus presented as the fulfillment of the Hebrew Scriptures. We have often narrowed that focus by affirming that in Christ a specific collection of ancient biblical prophecies about the future came to pass; some even claim to be able to enumerate the number and sequence of such prophecies. But the apostles and the New Testament writers asserted so much more: for them, Jesus was the completion and fulfillment of all Scripture, of the whole Bible in its many varied aspects.

Think, for example, of Peter’s first sermon on the day of Pentecost. These few brief words draw together a collection of different texts from the Hebrew Bible—a passage from Joel and quotations from a couple of Psalms—and apply them all to Jesus. Two chapters later in Acts, Peter is confronting the Sanhedrin and quotes from another Psalm (“the stone that was rejected by you, the builders; it has become the chief cornerstone,” Psalm 118:22) which, he asserts, speaks directly of Christ. In a prayer later in the same chapter the disciples apply yet another Psalm to Jesus, while in chapter seven Stephen, during his trial, draws whole sweeps of the Old Testament narrative into his interpretation of the significance of Christ’s death and resurrection. Philip hears an Ethiopian official reading from the book of the prophet Isaiah while traveling on the road to Gaza—“starting with this scripture, he proclaimed to him the good news about Jesus” (Acts 8:35). This same pattern continues throughout Acts: the Old Testament is constantly referred to as a text which speaks of Christ.

If anything, the picture becomes even richer as we turn to the New Testament letters. Paul, in particular, seems to see Jesus everywhere he looks in Scripture. Christ is portrayed as a new Adam, a descendant of the first man who overturns the tragic results of the first sin in Eden (Romans 5:12-21). Abraham’s unwavering faith in God’s promise makes him the spiritual ancestor of those who will place their faith in Christ’s resurrection (Acts 4:1-25). Sarah and Hagar become allegories of the challenging choice presented by Christ: between living under the law of Sinai or in the freedom of the new Jerusalem (Galatians 4:21-5:1). In one text Jesus is linked to the entire story of the exodus—to the “baptism” in the Red Sea, the leadership of Moses, the miraculous food and drink provided in the wilderness—leading to the startling assertion that Jesus was present to the Israelites throughout their wanderings: “they drank from the spiritual rock that followed them, and the rock was Christ” (1 Corinthians 10:5). And so it continues throughout Paul’s letters—it seems that he is able to discern the presence of Christ in almost any biblical text.

The letter to the Hebrews draws on the Old Testament in a remarkable way to expound on the significance of Christ’s life, death, and resurrection. After a short, breathless introduction in the first four verses (just a single sentence in the Greek original) the letter launches into a whirlwind tour of the Hebrew Scriptures: quotations from right across the Psalter; excerpts from books as diverse as Deuteronomy, Proverbs, Isaiah, and Jeremiah; allusions to the meeting between Abraham and Melchizedek, the giving of the law at Sinai, Israel’s wandering in the wilderness, the design and structure of the temple, the rules governing the priesthood and the sacrificial system laid out in Leviticus, and the prophetic promise of a new heart covenant between God and his people. The eleventh chapter famously presents a panorama of Old Testament heroes, calling to mind the examples of Abel, Enoch, Noah, Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Joseph, Moses, Gideon, Barak, Samson … the list is overwhelming. And all this is offered as one great and glorious witness to Jesus—Jesus who is greater than the angels, who mediates a better covenant than Moses, who embodies the Sabbath rest of the covenant, who fulfills the great priesthood of Melchizedek, who ministers in the true heavenly sanctuary of which the earthly temple is simply an imitation, who offers the supreme and final sacrifice, and who establishes the foundations of the heavenly Jerusalem.

No wonder, then, that the author of this letter calls Jesus “the pioneer and perfecter of our faith” (Hebrews 12:2). He is the beginning and the end, the one who participates in creation with God at the dawn of time and draws it to its conclusion at the end of days. His presence can be felt on every page, during every incident, through every prophecy, in every life. Jesus is not simply a character who appears in the Bible somewhere towards the end, drawing together the threads of a rambling and complex story. Jesus is the central character from the first page to the last. The Bible is, above all else, the book of Christ.

Starting Soon: The 2018-19 Renovaré Book Club

How do we read for transformation, not just information? Choose books that stir the soul and have an enduring quality. Then read with God and others at an unhurried pace, attentive to what the Holy Spirit wants to teach. The Renovaré Book Club is designed for transformative reading. It runs October 2018—May 2019.

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