Jesus’ connection with the Old Testament

Editor’s note: This continues a series of columns by Father Martin L. Buote on Catholic worship.

In the first installment of this series, I wrote that ideas of covenant and sacrifice were fundamental to understanding the roots of our worship. It is time to draw these ideas together in the Biblical context. We shall start with the story of the binding of Isaac. 

Two versions of the revealed Scripture were available to the New Testament writers. Since very few people outside the Jewish community could read Hebrew, Christianity spread using the Greek version, the Septuagint. In that version, Isaac was called the “beloved son.” That same phrase is used of Jesus at His Baptism and transfiguration (e.g. Mt 3:17 and Mt 17:15), as well as in connection with the charism of prophecy which could relate the historical Isaac and Jesus (2 Pet 1:16–21). There are seven citations of “Beloved Son” in the New Testament.

In the Hebrew version, Isaac is called the “only begotten son.” This phrase is used of Jesus in the writings of John five times (Jn 1:14,18; Jn 3:16,18; and 1 Jn 4:9). Besides that, the story of Isaac, the “only begotten son” is directly referenced in Hebrews 11:17.

Thus, without hesitation we can say that in the time of the New Testament writers, Christians saw parallels between Jesus and Isaac.

The connection between Jesus and Melchizedek is explored in chapters five to seven of the Letter to the Hebrews. The priesthood of Jesus is written of in chapters eight to 10 of the same letter. Three quotations aptly summarize the argument, though I encourage you to read all those chapters completely.

Quotation one: “Every high priest is appointed to offer gifts and sacrifices; thus the necessity for this One also (Jesus) to have something to offer” (Heb 8:30).

Quotation two: “But when Christ came as high priest of the good things that have come to be, passing through the greater and more perfect Tabernacle not made by hands, that is not belonging to this Creation, He entered One for all into the Sanctuary, not with the blood of goats and calves but with His Own Blood” (Heb 9:11,12).

Quotation three: “For this reason He is mediator of a new covenant” (Heb 9:15).

We saw the terms of the Sinai covenant in the Book of Exodus. They were given in a conditional form in Exodus chapter 19, verses five and six. The terms of the New Covenant are also given in cognitional form in John, chapter 14, verses 15-24.

As Moses ordered the Passover sacrifice to be repeated each year, so Jesus ordered His sacrificial gift to the Father, His Body and Blood, which He pre-presented at the Last Supper, to be re-presented: “This is My Body that is for you. Do this in remembrance of Me. This cup is the new covenant in My Blood. Do this, as often as you drink it, in remembrance of Me” (1 Cor 11:24, 25).

And they did do it! Since this new type of worship did not have some already established form and name, it was simply referred to as the Breaking of Bread. That this was something other than simply having something to eat can be seen by reading the references (See Lk 24:35; Acts 2:42 and 46, 20:7 and 11; 1 Cor 10:16).

Since Jesus is the author of life, and declared that He had the authority to lay down His life and take it up again, therefore His death was a true sacrifice. It differed from the death of martyrs who accepted death rather than give up their faith and commitment to God. It also differs from the deaths of suicide terrorists who kill themselves and others, but do not have such authority over human life.

Thus:

1. As Isaac was the beloved son of father Abraham, Jesus was the Beloved Son of God.

2. Like Melchizedek, the priest, Jesus brought forth bread and wine, His Body and Blood in sacrifice. 

3. As sheep were preferred animals for sacrifice in the Old Testament, so Jesus is called the Lamb of God.

4. Like Isaac, He carried the wood on which He would offer His life.

5. Jesus was recognized by Paul (Heb 5-7) as a priest according to the order of Melchizedek.

6. Jesus was of the Davidic kingly nine and entered Jerusalem so proclaimed.

7. Jesus performed a ritual at the Last Supper and enjoined His followers to repeat it as Moses enjoined the repetition of the Passover sacrifice. And His followers did repeat it.

8. Jesus died on a hill in what was known as the land of Moriah where Isaac was bound.

The Christians of the first century understood that Jesus had offered sacrifice. They were familiar with food stuffs being offered in sacrifice, even the elements of bread and wine as in the case of Melchizedek. They were even familiar with a meal being associated with sacrifice. (See what Paul has to say on the matter in First Corinthians, chapter 10, verses 16-21.) The theology would be worked out over the following centuries as various challenges to faith arose.

Next, we have to take a look at the how and where of early Christian worship.

Father Buote is a retired priest of the Fall River Diocese and a frequent contributor to The Anchor.


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