Searching the Old Testament

John Owen on the Glory of Christ

Representations of the Glory of Christ Under the Old Testament

It is said of our Lord Jesus Christ, that, “beginning at Moses and all the prophets, he declared unto his disciples in all the Scriptures the things concerning himself,” Luke 24: 27. It is therefore manifest that Moses, and the Prophets, and all the Scriptures, do give testimony unto him and his glory. This is the line of life and light which runs through the whole Old Testament; without the conduct whereof we can understand nothing aright therein: and the neglect hereof is that which makes many as blind in reading the books of it as are the Jews, – the veil being upon their minds. It is faith alone, discovering the glory of Christ, that can remove that veil of darkness which covers the minds of men in reading the Old Testament, as the apostle declares, 2 Cor. 3: 14-16. I shall, therefore, consider briefly some of those ways and means whereby the glory of Christ was represented unto believers under the Old Testament.

1. It was so in the institution of the beautiful worship of the law, with all the means of it. Herein have they the advantage above all the splendid ceremonies that men can invent in the outward worship of God; they were designed and framed in Divine wisdom to represent the glory of Christ, in his person and his office. This nothing of human invention can do, or once pretend unto. Men cannot create mysteries, nor can give unto anything natural in itself a mystical signification. But so it was in the old divine institutions. What were the tabernacle and temple? What was the holy place with the utensil of it? What was the oracle, the ark, the cherubim, the mercy-seat, placed therein? What was the high priest in all his vestments and administrations? What were the sacrifices and annual sprinkling of blood in the most holy place? What was the whole system of their religious worship? Were they anything but representations of Christ in the glory of his person and his office? They were a shadow, and the body represented by that shadow was Christ. If any would see how the Lord Christ was in particular foresignified and represented in them, he may peruse our exposition on the 9th chapter of the Epistle unto the Hebrews, where it is handled so at large as that I shall not here again insist upon it. The sum is, “Moses was faithful in all the house of God, for a testimony of those things which were to be spoken afterward,” Heb. 3: 5. All that Moses did in the erection of the tabernacle, and the institution of all its services, was but to give an antecedent testimony by way of representation, unto the things of Christ that were afterward to be revealed. And that also was the substance of the ministry of the prophets, 1 Pet. 1: 11,12. The dark apprehensions of the glory of Christ, which by these means they obtained, were the life of the church of old.

2. It was represented in the mystical account which is given us of his communion with his church in love and grace. As this is intimated in many places of Scripture, so there is one entire book designed unto its declaration. This is the divine Song of Solomon, who was a type of Christ, and a penman of the Holy Ghost therein A gracious record it is of the divine communications of Christ in love and grace unto his church, with their returns of love unto him, and delight in him. And then may a man judge himself to have somewhat profited in the experience of the mystery of a blessed intercourse and communion with Christ, when the expressions of them in that holy dialogue do give light and life unto his mind, and efficaciously communicate unto him an experience of their power. But because these things are little understood by many, the book itself is much neglected, if not despised; yea, to such impudence have some arrived, in foaming out their own shame, as that they have ridiculed the expressions of it. But we are foretold of such mockers in the last days, that should walk after their own ungodly lusts; they are not of our present consideration. The former instance of the representations of the glory of Christ in their institutions of outward worship, with this record of the inward communion they had with Christ in grace, faith, and love, gives us the substance of that view which they had of his glory. What holy strains of delight and admiration, what raptures of joy, what solemn and divine complacency, what ardency of affection, and diligence in attendance unto the means of enjoying communion with him, this discovery of the glory of Christ wrought in the souls of them that did believe, is emphatically expressed in that discourse. A few days, a few hours spent in the frame characterised in it, is a blessedness excelling all the treasures of the earth; and if we, whose revelations of the same glory do far exceed theirs, should be found to come short of them in ardency of affection unto Christ, and continual holy admiration of his excellencies, we shall one day be judged unworthy to have received them.

3. It was so represented and made known under the Old Testament, in his personal appearances on various occasions unto several eminent persons, leaders of the church in their generations This he did as a praeludium to his incarnation. He was as yet God only; but appeared in the assumed shape of a man, to signify what he would be. He did not create a human nature, and unite it unto himself for such a season; only by his divine power he acted the shape of a man composed of what ethereal substance he pleased, immediately to be dissolved. So he appeared to Abraham, to Jacob, to Moses, to Joshua, and others; as I have at large elsewhere proved and confirmed. And hereon, also, because he was the divine person who dwelt in and dwelt with the church, under the Old Testament, from first to last, in so doing he constantly assumes unto himself human affections, to intimate that a season would come when he would immediately act in that nature. And, indeed, after the fall there is nothing spoken of God in the Old Testament, nothing of his institutions, nothing of the way and manner of dealing with the church, but what has respect unto the future incarnation of Christ. And it had been absurd to bring in God under perpetual anthropopathies, as grieving, repenting, being angry, weal pleased, and the like, were it not but that the divine person intended was to take on him the nature wherein such affections do dwell.

4. It was represented in prophetical visions. So the apostle affirms that the vision which Isaiah had of him was when he saw his glory, John 12: 41. And it was a blessed representation thereof; for his divine person being exalted on a throne of glory, “his train filled the temple.” The whole train of his glorious grace filled the temple of his body. This is the true tabernacle, which God pitched, and not man; – the temple which was destroyed, and which he raised again in three days, wherein dwelt the fulness of the Godhead, Col. 2: 9. This glory was now presented unto the view of Isaiah, chap. 6: 1-5; which filled him with dread and astonishment. But from thence he was relieved, by an act of the ministry of that glorious one, taking away his iniquity by a coal from the altar; which typified the purifying efficacy of his sacrifice. This was food for the souls of believers: in these and on the like occasions did the whole church lift up their voice in that holy cry, “Make haste, our Beloved, and be thou like to a roe, or to a young hart, on the mountains of spices.” Of the same nature was his glorious appearance on mount Sinai at the giving of the law, Exod. 19; – for the description thereof by the Psalmist, Ps. 68: 17, 18, is applied by the apostle unto the ascension of Christ after his resurrection, Eph. 4: 8. Only, as it was then full of outward terror, because of the giving of the fiery law, it was referred unto by the Psalmist as full of mercy, with respect unto his accomplishment of the same law. His giving of it was as death unto them concerned, because of its holiness, and the severity of the curse wherewith it was attended; his fulfilling of it was life, by the pardon and righteousness which issued from thence.

5. The doctrine of his incarnation, whereby he became the subject of all that glory which we inquire after, was revealed, although not so clearly as by the gospel, after the actual accomplishment of the thing itself. In how many places this is done in the Old Testament I have elsewhere declared; at least I have explained and vindicated many of them (for no man can presume to know them all), – “Vindicae Evangelae”. One instance, therefore, shall here suffice; and this is that of the same prophet Isaiah, chap. 9: 6, 7, “Unto us a child is born, unto us a son is given; and the government shall be upon his shoulder: and his name shall be called Wonderful, Counsellor, The mighty God, The everlasting Father, The Prince of Peace. Of the increase of his government and peace there shall be no end, upon the throne of David, and upon his kingdom, to order it, and to establish it with judgement and with justice from henceforth even for ever. The zeal of the Lord of hosts will perform this.” This one testimony is sufficient to confound all Jews, Socinians, and other enemies of the glory of Christ. I do acknowledge that, notwithstanding this declaration of the glory of Christ in his future incarnation and rule, there remained much darkness in the minds of them unto whom it was then made. For although they might and did acquiesce in the truth of the revelation, yet they could frame to themselves no notions of the way or manner of its accomplishment. But now, when every word of it is explained, declared, and its mystical sense visibly laid open unto us in the Gospel, and by the accomplishment exactly answering every expression in it, it is judicial blindness not to receive it. Nothing but the satanical pride of the hearts of men, which will admit of no effects of infinite wisdom but what they suppose they can comprehend, can shut their eyes against the light of this truth

6. Promises, prophecies, predictions, concerning his person, his coming, his office, his kingdom, and his glory in them all, with the wisdom, grace, and love of God to the church in him, are the line of life, as was said, which runs through all the writings of the Old Testament, and takes up a great portion of them. Those were the things which he expounded unto his disciples out of Moses and all the Prophets. Concerning these things he appealed to the Scriptures against all his adversaries: “Search the Scriptures; for they are they which testify of me.” And if we find them not, if we discern them not therein, it is because a veil of blindness is over our minds. Nor can we read, study, or meditate on the writings of the Old Testament unto any advantage, unless we design to find out and behold the glory of Christ, declared and represented in them. For want hereof they are a sealed book to many unto this day.

7. It is usual in the Old Testament to set out the glory of Christ under metaphorical expressions; yea, it aboundeth therein. For such allusions are exceedingly suited to let in a sense into our minds of those things which we cannot distinctly comprehend. And there is an infinite condescension of divine wisdom in this way of instruction, representing unto us the power of things spiritual in what we naturally discern. Instances of this kind, in calling the Lord Christ by the names of those creatures which unto our senses represent that excellency which is spiritually in him, are innumerable. So he is called the rose, for the sweet savor of his love, grace, and obedience; – the lily, for his gracious beauty and amiableness; – the pearl of price, for his worth, for to them that believe he is precious; – the vine, for his fruitfulness; – the lion, for his power; – the Lamb, for his meekness and fitness for sacrifice; with other things of the like kind almost innumerable.

These things have I mentioned, not with any design to search into the depth of this treasury of those divine truths concerning the glory of Christ: but only to give a little light unto the words of the evangelist, that he opened unto his disciples out of Moses and all the Prophets the things which concerned himself; and to stir up our own souls unto a contemplation of them as contained therein.

– John Owen, The Glory of Christ