B.B. Warfield once summarized the mystery surrounding the two natures of Christ when he wrote, “Because he is man he is capable of growth in wisdom, and because he is God he is from the beginning Wisdom Itself.” The Scriptures, at one and the same time, insist that Jesus is the same, yesterday, today, and forever, and that He “increased in wisdom and in stature and in favor with God and man” (Luke 2:52). Believers profess to understand what it means that Jesus never changes inasmuch as He is God, but they have a harder time understanding what it means that Jesus grew in wisdom as a true man. The explanation that we discover by means of scriptural allusions might surprise many Christians. In short, as a man, Jesus needed to learn the Scriptures.
Jesus had to grow in His capacity for sinless human development to the extent that one can grow at each age and at each stage of human experience. As a twelve-year-old, Jesus was filled with divine wisdom to the extent that a twelve-year-old could be filled with spiritual wisdom and maturity. At age thirty, He had gained a greater capacity for wisdom and spiritual maturity than He possessed when He was twelve. This does not mean that He ever had any sinful deficiency. It simply means that He had to grow in His moral, intellectual, and spiritual capacities as a true man while at the same time not ceasing to be God. Jesus willingly laid aside access to what was His by virtue of His divine nature in order to be our representative—the second Adam and true Israel. As fallen men, we need a Redeemer who is truly man. We need a representative who was under the same covenantal obligations as His people (Gal. 4:4) and who was “tempted as we are, yet without sin” (Heb. 4:15).
As a man—as the covenant-keeping Mediator—Jesus had to study and understand the Scriptures. He needed to read the Old Testament just as we need to read the Old Testament; yet, He read the Old Testament uniquely inasmuch as it was written to Him and about Him. We can conclude that Jesus would have known that God wrote the following truths to and about Him whenever He read Scripture.
Jesus understood that God the Father spoke to Him of His eternal and divine nature, work, and reward in the Old Testament revelation. The Father gave the Son the following divine affirmation at His baptism: “You are my beloved Son; with you I am well pleased” (Luke 3:22). Jesus needed this word to help carry Him through the fierce temptations of the devil in the wilderness. When Satan attacked Him with the threefold “If you are the Son of God . . .” (Matt. 4:3, 6; Luke 4:3, 9), Jesus fought back with the Old Testament Scriptures given to Israel in their wilderness wanderings on the basis of the declaration of Sonship that He received from the Father at His baptism. It was only as Jesus held fast to the word of His Father about His person—and to what God had said in Deuteronomy to the typological Son of God (i.e., Israel; see Ex. 4:22) in the wilderness—that He was able to overcome the attacks of the evil one.
In Hebrews 1:4–14, the writer of Hebrews pulls at least four examples from the Old Testament in which God the Father is speaking to God the Son. In Psalm 2:7, the Father tells the Son, “You are my Son”; in Psalm 45:6–7, He tells the Son, “Your throne, O God, is forever and ever”; in Psalm 102:25–27, He tells the Son, “Of old you laid the foundation of the earth”; and in Psalm 110:1, He tells the Son, “Sit at my right hand.” The Father spoke these words to the Son in the pages of the Old Testament. Jesus read these as declarations from His Father to Him regarding His divine nature. This was necessary to carry Him on in His messianic work in the incarnation.
Jesus read in the Old Testament that He would be the law-keeping Redeemer of His people (compare Ps. 40:7 with Heb. 10:7). Jesus is the willing Servant of the Lord who submitted Himself to all of His Father’s commands and who always did His Father’s will for His people.
Jesus knew that all the promises of God were made first and foremost to Him as the Son of Abraham and Son of David. The Apostle Paul explicitly tells us that the promises made to Abraham and his Seed are made to Christ, as the Seed, before they are made to any of the other covenant people (Gal. 3:16). Jesus had to become “the heir of all things” (Heb. 1:1–4) before any of those who believe in Him become “heirs of all things” in union with Him. The Apostle Paul explained that “all the promises of God find their Yes in him” (2 Cor. 1:20). Jesus said yes to the covenant curses that we deserve for our sin in order to merit the covenant blessings for us. Jesus read the legal demands of the covenant law as being dependent on His becoming a curse for us so that we might inherit the blessings (Gal. 3:10–14).
Jesus knew that the Old Testament spoke preeminently of His sufferings and glories (1 Peter 1:10–12), as revealed by His Spirit through the prophets. For instance, Jesus was the only One who would read Psalm 22:1 as referring to the experience He would have on the cross. David was not crucified. David was not actually forsaken of God. The Spirit of Christ revealed the sufferings and glories of Christ to the incarnate Christ in order to prepare Him to experience them in His messianic experience. We see this same principle at work in Psalms 16 and 110 (see Acts 2:23–36). Jesus knew that the whole of the Old Testament was related to His death and resurrection. He explicitly told the two disciples on the road to Emmaus: “Everything written about me in the Law of Moses and the Prophets and the Psalms must be fulfilled. . . . Thus it is written, that the Christ should suffer and on the third day rise from the dead” (Luke 24:44–46).
Jesus knew that He was the Passover Lamb slain for the sin of His people. He knew that He would be the ram that is substituted for His people just like the ram that stood in for Isaac. He knew that He was to be the goat on which judgment fell, as well as the scapegoat that was sent into the wilderness. Jesus knew that all of the sacrificial animals in the Old Testament were symbolic of His substitutionary, atoning death on the cross. When Jesus read about the cup of God’s wrath in the Psalms, Isaiah, and Jeremiah, He was conscious that He would stand in the place of His people and drink the cup of wrath for them. This explains why He used “cup” symbolism in the garden of Gethsemane when He prayed to His Father. This way of reading the Old Testament is also seen in Jesus’ appeal to Zechariah 13:7 as He went to the cross (Matt. 26:31). Jesus is the Shepherd of Israel who was struck with the sword of God’s wrath for the redemption of His people.
Jesus understood that all the Old Testament types, shadows, and symbols pointed to some aspect of His saving work or benefits. We know this because He pointed to Jacob’s ladder, the serpent on the pole, and the water from the rock (John 1:51; 3:14; 7:37–39) as examples of this principle. Jesus read the Jonah narrative, in part, as typological of His own saving work. He also explained that David, Solomon, and the temple all existed as types that pointed forward to Him (Matt. 12).
Jesus acknowledged that the Old Testament saints were not, first and foremost, examples of moral uprightness for sinners to emulate; rather, they were also themselves sinners who were looking forward to Him by faith (Heb. 11). He explained this to the Pharisees when He told them: “Abraham rejoiced that he would see my day. He saw it and was glad” (John 8:56–58).
Jesus understood that every prophecy was about Him. We see this from His persistent appeal to Old Testament messianic prophecies as verifying who He is (e.g., Zech. 9:9 in Matt. 21:5; Zech. 13:7 in Matt. 26:31).
Jesus understood that all the festivals and feasts in the Old Testament were pointing forward to what He would accomplish in the work of redemption. We know this because in His first sermon in Nazareth (Luke 4), He alluded to the Year of Jubilee and explained that He had come to give the reality of what that feast typified. The Year of Jubilee happened once every fifty years—once in a lifetime for the average person (Ps. 90:10). Debts would be canceled and the inheritance would be restored. Jesus does that very thing spiritually for His people through His death and resurrection. He is the Passover, the firstfruits, the Jubilee, and every other feast and festival (1 Cor. 5:7; Col. 2:16–17).
By reading the Scriptures, Jesus came to understand that marriage was ordained at creation so that He might redeem a spiritual bride for Himself. He repeatedly referred to Himself as “the bridegroom” (Matt. 9:15; 25:1–10).
Jesus learned from the Scriptures that He must be the perfectly wise and righteous man in order to be the source of wisdom and righteousness for His people (1 Cor. 1:30). When He read the Proverbs, Jesus read them as covenant wisdom and righteousness, which God requires of man. He knew that He must fully embody the wisdom and righteousness of the Psalms and the Proverbs in order to become the source of that wisdom and righteousness for His people.
Jesus knew from Scripture that He was the Son of David who would sit on the throne of God and rule over His people forever. When Christ read the covenant promises that God had given David—as well as the subsequent kingdom narratives and prophecies—He would have done so with the understanding that He had come to fulfill all of them. Jesus knew that when He finished the work of redemption, His Father would give Him an everlasting kingdom. Jesus read the narrative of David’s life as typological of His own ministry in establishing the kingdom of God.
While much more can be said, the categories we have considered help give us a greater appreciation for the great lengths to which our Savior went in order to redeem us. Embracing this truth helps us fix our eyes steadfastly on the One who is the author and finisher of our faith. It motivates us to seek Him more fervently. It encourages us to trust Him as our Redeemer more fully. It helps us understand that all life and godliness are found in Him and in Him alone. It produces in us shouts of thanksgiving and songs of praise for the loving wisdom of our God in revealing His covenant revelation to the Covenant-Keeper.