‘When you see the Old Testament through New Testament lenses you will have a much richer understanding of the entirety of Scripture, its cohesiveness and divine unity,” David Limbaugh tells me in explaining his reason for writing The Emmaus Code: Finding Jesus in the Old Testament. In the book, Limbaugh shares his enthusiasm for this. In talking with me about it, he is quick to say that “this book is not intended to shame Christians into focusing more on the prefigurings and foreshadowings of Christ in the Old Testament.” But “I believe it will invigorate your faith and make your prayer and worship life even more meaningful.” And so he talks about The Emmaus Code with great love, faith, and a lawyer’s celebration of a case that is clearly made. — KJL
Kathryn Jean Lopez: Why is it so important to find Jesus in the Old Testament? Did you write the line “Jesus Christ wasn’t born in a vacuum” so I would tweet it?
David Limbaugh: If the entire Bible is God-breathed — its very words inspired by the God of the universe — and if it is a record of God’s salvation history for mankind, culminating in Jesus Christ, it stands to reason that the Old Testament is relevant to God’s salvation plan. We should view the Bible as an integrated work that records man’s dealings with mankind from the very beginning — and His plans for us before He even created us. God created us in His image as relational beings capable of having a loving relationship with Him. He foreknew we would sin, that we would be incapable of redeeming ourselves, and that He would send His Son to die for us to reconcile us to Him, making our eternal relationship with Him possible.
The Old Testament is foundational to the New Testament — part one of a two-act play — because it shows the degree of man’s depravity, his inability to save himself, and his desperate need of God for salvation. Without the Old Testament, we wouldn’t as fully appreciate the profundity of God’s salvation plan, or our emptiness and impotence apart from Him. We wouldn’t understand as clearly how all the pieces fit together — that they are united by a scarlet thread of redemption that courses through the entire Old Testament and into the New Testament, culminating in Jesus Christ.
In short, God superintended the biblical canon. By sovereignly arranging for the Old Testament to be in the Christian Bible, He is telling us, emphatically, that it is indispensible to us. But we don’t need to merely infer this from the Old Testament’s inclusion in the canon. Jesus Christ Himself validates the entire Old Testament, as well as specific historical events that some discount as allegorical — such as Noah and the Ark and Jonah and the great fish. At least 10 percent of the New Testament consists of direct quotes or allusions to the Old Testament. The stunning speeches by the newly converted Christians in the book of Acts include moving summaries of Old Testament history, which are recited by Stephen, Peter, and others, precisely because they are foundational to the Gospel these men are now proclaiming. Many of the New Testament writers interweave Old Testament stories and messages into their writings and affirm the Christ-centeredness of the Old Testament. For example, the Gospel of John tells us that Christ was present and active at the creation. The Apostle Paul affirms, among many other things, that Jesus is the seed of the woman, referred to in Genesis 3:15. The Book of Hebrews illuminates much Old Testament typology concerning Christ.
Most important, Jesus Christ tells us in several places in the New Testament that the entire Old Testament points to Him. One of these instances gives rise to the title of my book. Three days after He was crucified, two of His disciples were walking on the road to Emmaus, which was about seven miles from Jerusalem. They were downcast because they had believed Jesus was the Messiah who would redeem Israel from its political oppressor — Rome. Instead, He died a humiliating death on the cross without so much as a whimper against Rome. Jesus appeared out of nowhere in one of His resurrection appearances and began walking along with the two disciples, but they were made not to recognize Him. He asked them what they were discussing, and they were incredulous that He seemed to be the only one in the area who was unaware of the terrible things that had recently occurred there. So He set them straight by walking them through the entirety of the Old Testament and showing them how it all pointed to Him. But before He opened up the Old Testament to them He said something very important: “O foolish ones, and slow of heart to believe all that the prophets have spoken! Was it not necessary that the Christ should suffer these things and enter into his glory?”
You see, in preparing to open their eyes spiritually, He first told them that they misapprehended the very purpose of the prophesied Messiah. He was not coming to deliver Israel politically or militarily; He came into the world to suffer — to die for our sins before entering into his glory. Then he walked them through every page of the Scriptures and showed how they anticipated, foreshadowed, and predicted Him and His life, death, and resurrection. When he later ate a meal with them, “their eyes were opened, and they recognized him.” He then left as quickly as He had come and then they said to each other, “Did not our hearts burn within us while he talked to us on the road, while he opened to us the Scriptures?”
This poignant exchange between the two disciples couldn’t be more instructive for us. They had just received the greatest Bible lesson in the history of the world, given by the Son of God Himself, who chose to focus on the Christ-centeredness of the Old Testament. What further endorsement do we need? Their reaction says it all: Their hearts burned within them. They had a spiritual epiphany as a direct result of finally being made to understand that Christ permeates the Old Testament.
I had my own Emmaus Road epiphany of sorts in my conversion to Christianity. The messianic prophecies of the Old Testament were so compelling that I was no longer able to maintain my skepticism. For me and many others, the greatest pathway to the Gospel is the Old Testament. No, Jesus Christ was not born in a vacuum. The Old Testament crucially prepares the way for Him and for our understanding of Him. This does not mean that you cannot become a Christian without fully understanding the Old Testament, but I do believe that your understanding of the Gospel will be immeasurably enhanced by comprehending the Old Testament’s foundational importance — as will your appreciation for God’s character and the magnitude of His love for us.
Lopez: Some terrible things happen in the Old Testament. There is a lot of violence. What does that say about the nature of God? Do we really need this at a time when such horrific violence is being done in the name of God?
Limbaugh: One of my pet peeves is the glib assertion that the God of the Old Testament is different from the God of the New Testament; He was an angry, mean-spirited, unforgiving God, while Jesus, the second person of the triune God revealed in the New Testament, is a modern-day liberal hippie skipping through Jerusalem and wholly indifferent to sin.
Without the Old Testament, we wouldn’t as fully appreciate the profundity of God’s salvation plan, or our emptiness and impotence apart from Him.
The Bible teaches that God is unchanging and the God of the Old Testament is the God of the New Testament, though God progressively reveals Himself to us and we see a much clearer picture of His triune nature in the New Testament. Jesus was hardly indifferent to sin. He talks about hell repeatedly and in the Sermon on the Mount and elsewhere, He articulates the most exacting moral code ever contemplated by mankind. The God of the Old Testament did order the Israelites to conquer the Promised Land (Canaan) and eradicate the Canaanites. But it’s important to understand that He didn’t order this until after the Canaanites were a completely sinful people — they were barbaric, evil, and engaged in child sacrifice. Also, He didn’t command the Hebrews to remove the Canaanites out of some sadistic desire to punish other people. He did so because He knew that unless they were entirely removed from the land and the presence of His chosen people, they would entice them to chase after their false, pagan idols, which would interrupt their assigned mission to be a nation of priests who would ultimately bring forth the Messiah and the gospel for the benefit of all mankind, Jews and Gentiles alike.
Further, we must recognize that God’s orders in this regard were specific to this time in history and are not universal principles. There is nothing in the Bible, Old Testament or New Testament, encouraging or condoning Christians to kill other people. We should be careful not to conflate Christianity (and Judaism) with other religions and blame them for the violence occurring in the name of those religions. We know that if Christians today commit violence against people of other faiths or other non-believers in the name of Christianity today, which I believe is rare in any event, they are not honoring, but are dishonoring God’s Word. This is not the place to discuss or debate the Crusades, but suffice it to say it is a complex subject and there is plenty of revisionism in modern summaries of that era.
Lopez: You end the book with “Jesus Christ lives and He saves, and because He saves we may live.” Obviously not everyone believes that. What’s your pitch/invite? And if I’m not interested, where does that leave things?
Limbaugh: Jesus tells us unequivocally, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me,” and, “For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life.”
As Christians we are commanded to evangelize and spread the Word — to always be “prepared to make a defense to anyone who asks you a reason for the hope that is in you; yet do it with gentleness and respect.” So I believe we are exhorted to share the “good news” of Jesus Christ, but not to do so by the sword. Many Christians, myself included, do a very poor job of evangelizing because we feel uncomfortable pushing our ideas on other people. The last thing we want to do is badger or judge others who don’t embrace the Gospel. I certainly don’t want to offend others who don’t embrace the Gospel. I want to turn them onto it, not repel them from it. I try to be especially sensitive to Jews with whom I believe we share a wonderful and special bond and whom I believe God still loves as His chosen people. It is God’s business to judge on these matters, not ours. Our job is to be His ambassadors and to carry ourselves accordingly, always seeking to be Christ-like in our relations with others — as difficult as that is. Since you asked, my pitch is that the Bible speaks for itself, and through my books on Christianity I seek to inspire an interest, even enthusiasm, for Holy Scripture, encouraging people to give it a sincere chance — to read and study it with an open mind because it promises to contain the power of conversion and salvation. So, Kathryn, this isn’t my pitch — I am just seeking in my imperfect way to convey the message of Jesus Christ. If my book in any way helps to steer people toward the Bible itself, I’ll be more than gratified.
As I explained to my brother Rush when he interviewed me on this book for his newsletter, this is the book I wish I’d had when I first became a Christian and was eager to read everything I could on the Bible and theology to accelerate my learning curve and make up for lost time. It is an Old Testament primer of sorts, with an emphasis on its Christ-centeredness. It summarizes every book of the Old Testament and shows how each one specifically points to Christ. Many incredible books deal with various Christ-focused threads, but my aim was to treat this subject as thoroughly and comprehensively as I could, so that the reader would come away convinced of the pervasiveness of Christ throughout the Old Testament. I hope I succeeded in some small measure.