The Agora
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How Jesus used the Old Testament


In addition to citing Moses and the Psalms to establish and endorse his teaching, Jesus called on the writings of the prophets to reinforce and emphasize his teaching (cf Luke 24:44; Mat 5:17; 22:40).
Jesus could have argued that his teaching was correct and worthy of acceptance because he was God's Son -- but he did not. Old Testament Scripture was equated with the word of God, and that was sufficient to give his teaching divine authority (cf John 5:37-40; 8:45-47).
For Jesus, Scripture could not be broken, that is, it was inherently true and must be fulfilled; Old Testament teaching should not be watered down or replaced by the words of men (cf John 10:34-38; 17:17; Mat 15:1-6).
Jesus invariably argued his points using an Old Testament phrase or idea (eg, Mat 12:38-42; 13:11-17; 21:16,33-43; 23:29-39; John 6:45).
Jesus clearly understood and presented Scripture in a way quite different from all others (eg, Mark 1:27; Mat 22:15-22; John 6:52-69); he opened up the understanding of the Old Testament, primarily because they spoke of him and he was able to explain the meaning (eg, Luke 4:16-21; John 5:39). So Jesus makes the Old Testament teaching come alive, and renders it much more comprehensible (cf Luke 24:25-32; Acts 1:3).
But Jesus did not introduce any new teaching in the sense that it contradicted or repudiated the Old Testament teaching. The Old Testament is the basis of all New Testament teaching, and Jesus' message is the same as the message of the prophets -- for example:

the Lord's prayer taught in Mat 6:9-13 has 1Ch 29:10-13 background,

the two great commandments taught in Mat 22:36-40 tied together Deu 6:5 and Lev 19:18, and

the prediction of Jerusalem's overthrow and Christ's return taught in Mat 24:15 cites Dan 9:27.

Jesus "filled full" the predictions about the suffering Savior (cf Luke 24:25-27,44-47), confirmed the promises made in the Old Testament (Mat 5:17; cf Acts 3:18; 13:33; Rom 15:8), and will be the completion of the Old Testament prophecies about the returning Christ (eg, Luke 21:7-36). However, the subject of this article is not so much how Jesus fulfilled/will fulfill the Old Testament prophets as how he used their writings in his teaching.
The four Gospel accounts record the actual teaching situations of Jesus and therefore are the best source of information to determine how he used the Old Testament prophets. Of the many examples available, four are taken from each Gospel to provide a sampling sufficient to draw some conclusions.


  1. Mat 9:10-13 cites Hos 6:6 -- to teach the leaders that they should go and learn what "desire mercy" means.
  2. Mat 11:7-15 quotes Mal 3:1 -- to teach the people about the greatness of the prophet John the Baptist (cf Mat 17:10-13).
  3. Mat 13:10-17 quotes Isa 6:9,10 -- to explain why he taught in parables, and why the apostles were privileged to understand.
  4. Mat 24:3-28 cites Daniel's prophecy (Dan 9:27; 11:31; 12:11) -- to explain the signs of his coming and the end of the age to the apostles.

  1. Mark 2:23-28 cites the story of David in 1Sa 21:1-6 -- to show that the Sabbath was made for man and that Jesus was Lord of the Sabbath.
  2. Mar 7:1-8 quotes Isa 29:13 -- to expose the hypocrisy of the Pharisees (their traditions and external cleansings).
  3. Mar 7:21-23 builds on Jer 4:14; 7:24; 17:9 -- to remind the disciples of a key teaching, namely, that the human heart is the source of all evil thoughts, etc.
  4. Mar 8:31; 9:31; and 10:33,34 are a series of Old Testament references -- to plainly teach the apostles of his impending death and resurrection... yet they did not understand!

  1. Luke 4:16-31 quotes Isa 61:1,2 -- to show how he was fulfilling Scripture before their very eyes, in their very hearing.
  2. Luke 11:29-32 cites Jon 3:4,5 and 1Ki 10:1 -- to use Jonah and the Ninevites and the Queen of Sheba and Solomon as examples to prompt his hearers into belief in himself as the Messiah, who was much greater.
  3. Luke 13:6-9 uses Jer 8:13 and Hos 9:10 as the background for his parable of the fig tree -- to give a warning to Israel of its impending destruction.
  4. Luke 21:20-24 talks of Old Testament predictions such as Lam 2:8,13 and Mic 3:12 soon to be fulfilled -- to give a warning to Jerusalem of its impending destruction.

  1. John 2:13-16 alludes to Zec 14:21 and Jer 7:8-11 -- to explain his ousting of the temple moneychangers and to remind his disciples that the temple cleansing must happen.
  2. John 7:38 consolidates the teaching of Isa 44:3; 55:1; 58:11; Joel 3:18; and Zec 13:1 -- to help the Jews understand that he was the promised Messiah.
  3. John 12:12-16 enacted Zec 9:9 -- to show the people and the disciples that he was the promised king.
  4. John 17:6-19 claims that the Scriptures were now fulfilled -- to emphasize that the time spent developing his disciples was according to God's will.


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