How Can We See the Gospel in Exodus?
Someone once asked me what is the most important tip you would give to a person first learning to read the Bible. My answer is simple. It’s all one big story that points to Jesus. This truth has revolutionized the way I read the Bible. Jesus himself, on the road to Emmaus, told his disciples that everything in the Scriptures point to Him.
There are a few pretty obvious places in Scripture that point to Jesus. It’s rather difficult to read Isaiah 53 and not think of what Christ suffered. How could you read of the new covenant in Jeremiah and not see that Jesus is the fulfillment of that promise? Likewise, there are themes (like redemption, sacrifice, holiness, etc.) which run throughout the Old Testament (OT) which obviously find fulfillment in Christ.
But there are also a few rather difficult places in Scripture to see the gospel. How do you see Jesus in the ending of Judges? How do you see the gospel in the conquest of Canaan?
The Exodus as a whole narrative is relatively easy to see a connection to the gospel. I will show how to make those connections, but I also want to show how to make gospel connections in a more obscure passage in Exodus. But first we need some help in learning how to make any gospel connection.
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How Do You Find the Gospel in the Old Testament?
I suppose before understanding how to find the gospel in the OT, it’d be helpful for us to define the gospel. The simplest definition is one given by JI Packer: God saves sinners.
If you’d like to put a bit more meat on your gospel presentation, I use two different frameworks with four points each. The first is God—Man—Christ—Response. The second is more of a story: Creation—Fall—Redemption—Glory.
The first presentation centers upon God’s character and how humanity fails to meet God’s holy standard; as such the judgment of God is upon us. But the good news is that Jesus Christ fixes this by fulfilling what is required through his life, death and resurrection. Our only fitting response, then, is to respond to Him in repentance and faith. When this happens, we are united to Christ and his record becomes our record.
The second presentation centers upon the overarching story of the Bible. God lovingly created us to love Him and enjoy Him forever. We were made for rest, rule, and relationship. But we made shipwreck of this, and so rather than having the blessings of obedience, we are under the curse of disobedience. Rather than having peace (rest), purpose (ruling), and healthy relationship, we often experience the opposite. Ultimately, we are alienated from God. But thankfully God sent His Son, Jesus Christ, to bear our curse and to fulfill what God intended for humanity. As such we now experience the blessings of Jesus’ obedience in our place. He restores the rest, rule, and relationship we were created to enjoy. Someday everything will be ultimately restored and we will live in a new heaven and a new earth.
We could write entire books focusing on these various themes of the gospel. But every gospel story follows this basic skeleton. No matter where you find yourself in the Old Testament (or the New Testament) you can find one of these various threads. Every place in Scripture is either telling you something about God, something about our rebellion, something about His rescue, or something about our future restoration. If you can spot this, then you can fill out the rest of the story.
Let’s now consider the big picture theme of Exodus. How do you find the gospel in Exodus?
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How Do You Find the Gospel in Exodus?
Exodus begins with the Israelites enslaved. This is certainly not living in the rest, rule, or relationship in which God intended for humanity. The Egyptians are not living as God created them to be — because they are not supposed to be ruling over other humans, but serving as co-regents with other humans, creating flourishing in the world for the glory of God. And the Israelites are not intended to be enslaved.
We enter the Exodus story in the “Fall” stage of the biblical narrative. But early on we begin to see that rescue is coming. To borrow a phrase from C.S. Lewis’ Chronicles of Narnia, Exodus 2:23-25 tells us that “Aslan in on the move.” When the people cry out to God and God hears, you know that rescue is coming:
“During those many days the king of Egypt died, and the people of Israel groaned because of their slavery and cried out for help. Their cry for rescue from slavery came up to God. And God heard their groaning, and God remembered his covenant with Abraham, with Isaac, and with Jacob. God saw the people of Israel—and God knew.”
As the story progresses, God appoints a mediator (Moses) to lead the people out of slavery. The evil pharaoh refuses to let the people go, however, and a series of plagues comes upon the Egyptians. The plagues reach their crescendo when the first born of every person in Egypt will be swept away by the death angel. The only ones rescued will be those who have the blood of a lamb on their doorpost. And it will be through this that pharaoh will let the people go and they will cross the Red Sea, eventually being delivered into the Promised Land.
As you might imagine, it isn’t too difficult to connect this story to the story of Jesus being slain on our behalf. Exodus is a story of humanity held captive and then rescued by God’s decisive action on their behalf. That would be a pretty solid definition of the gospel. We are held captive by sin, God acts decisively through the work of Jesus on our behalf, and we are rescued from bondage and restored.
You can also see the themes of rest, rule, and relationship throughout the Exodus stories. The Promised Land that God was bringing the Israelites into is a picture of the Sabbath rest of Genesis. God was bringing them into his rest, but they failed to enter in. It is only through Christ that we can enter into God’s rest (see Hebrews 3-4).
The theme of rule and relationship is present in God’s promise to Moses. “He said, “But I will be with you, and this shall be the sign for you, that I have sent you: when you have brought the people out of Egypt, you shall serve God on this mountain” (Exodus 3:12).
They will enter into a new relationship with God and this relationship will be part of restoring their purpose. The 10 Commandments outlines both of these themes. But as the story unfolds, the Golden Calf as an example, it is clear that the people will not be able to fulfill the demands of the covenant. Exodus not only presents a picture of God’s rescue and redemption, but also leaves us awaiting one who is “greater than Moses” to ultimately rescue.
We have traced the overarching theme of Exodus and shown how it relates to the gospel, but what about one of the more obscure sections of Exodus? How does that relate to the good news of Jesus?
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How Does the Bronze Basin Point to Jesus?
In order to complete this section, I simply opened to a random part in Exodus and came to Exodus 30:17-21. It is about the bronze basin which Moses was instructed to place for the priests to wash before serving in the tent of meeting or the altar. How would we use a text like this to point to the gospel?
Our first step is to understand this text in its original context. The point there is simple — a bronze basin is given to a priest in order to wash before fulfilling his duty. Then we ask questions of the text. What does this teach us about God? For one, it tells us that God must be holy/pure if the priests must wash before entering into His presence. Secondly, it tells us that God provides what he requires. Finally, it tells us that there are consequences if one does not obey God and use the provision with which He has provided.
How would we take any of these points and connect them to the gospel?
We could note that purity is needed before entering into God’s presence. We do not have this purity. Our righteousness is like filthy rags. We are not able to cleanse ourselves because anything we would touch would then be defiled. But God graciously provides that which He requires. In the context of cleansing the priest before making a sacrifice, God provides the bronze basin. This provision points to the greater provision of Christ.
Through his life, death, and resurrection, his people are cleansed for all time by His blood. We no longer need this ritualistic washing to be in the presence of God because God has already provided this purification (Hebrews 1:3). We are accepted in His presence because the blood of Jesus continually and perpetually cleanses us of guilt and sin.
All the Scriptures point to Jesus. Exodus is no exception. The gospel connections in Exodus are perhaps more vivid than any other Old Testament book. The Exodus story has its fingerprints across the whole of Scripture. But from beginning to end, it’s all about Jesus.
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