Phillip Cary begins his Brazos commentary on the Book of Jonah with these powerful and convicting words:
First of all, this is a Christian reading of the Scriptures of Israel, which Christians call the Old Testament because it contains the ancient covenant to be fulfilled by Jesus Christ. Like the whole Bible, the book of Jonah is about Christ and therefore about all those who find their life in him.[†]
Like the whole Bible, this particular Old Testament book is about Christ.
For the past year or so, I’ve taken this message to heart, and it’s changed my preaching for the better. It’s also changed the way I read the Old Testament. It’s not that I now read the Old Testament as allegory: I believe the Old Testament reports the history that it does first because these events really happened. But I’m convinced that the Old Testament is filled with signs that point to Jesus, whether its authors intended them or not.
For example, I’m currently re-reading Genesis. In Chapter 18, when the Lord warns Abraham of the impending destruction of Sodom, Abraham intercedes on their behalf. “Will you indeed sweep away the righteous with the wicked? Suppose there are fifty righteous within the city. Will you then sweep away the place and not spare it for the fifty righteous who are in it?” And the Lord said, “If I find at Sodom fifty righteous in the city, I will spare the whole place for their sake.”
Likewise, Abraham is emboldened to ask if God will destroy the city if there are only 45 righteous within it, then 40, then 35, on down to ten. Even for the sake of ten righteous people, God says, he will not destroy the city. Abraham doesn’t dare to ask about fewer than that, but he probably got the point: no one in Sodom was righteous. Lot and his family were saved, but as the men of Sodom complained to him, Lot and his family were merely sojourners (Genesis 19:9), not citizens.
So let’s ask the question Abraham didn’t ask: What if there were only one righteous person? Would God spare the lives of the people for the sake of the one?
We already know the answer to that. God answered that question on the cross. Jesus Christ was the one righteous person for whose sake God offers salvation to the world. Christ lived his life and died his death on behalf of the ungodly.
Isn’t that beautiful? It wouldn’t have even occurred to me to make that connection even a couple of years ago. The next time I preach this passage, I promise I will!
I’ve written about this Christ-centered approach to reading the Old Testament before, including right here.
† Phillip Cary, Brazos Theological Commentary on the Bible: Jonah (Grand Rapids, MI: Brazos Press, 2008), 17.