6.2.1 Old Testament references to the church of Jesus Christ

After the fall into sin, human beings could not remain in direct fellowship with God. They had to leave the environment in which God had granted them encounters with Himself. Through sin, mankind had fallen prey to death. God wishes to redeem human beings from this condition of deterioration into death, grant them salvation, and allow them to have eternal fellowship with Himself.


From the very beginning, God provided for mankind. Upon their expulsion from the Garden of Eden, the Creator clothed them and promised that a descendant of the woman would defeat the tempter (Genesis 3: 15).


The recognition that mankind is fundamentally dependent on God is brought to expression again and again in the Old Testament. This finds direct expression in the building of altars and the offering of sacrifices.


In the course of time, sin became overwhelmingly powerful, and mankind increasingly turned away from God. For this reason, God caused them to perish in the flood, a divine judgement. God granted grace to Noah and his family. They were saved in the ark. God made a covenant with them in which He promised all descendants of the human race that He would preserve and care for them. He gave the rainbow as a sign of this covenant.


These events are already a reference to God's acts of salvation which would later be carried out in the church of Christ: God inclines Himself to mankind, cares for and protects them, and takes them into His covenant. Deliverance in the ark is expressly interpreted in 1 Peter 3: 20-21 as a model for baptism, through which deliverance is effected in the new covenant. As a result, Christian tradition understands the ark as an image for the church of Christ.


The covenant with Noah included all human beings. Through God's election of Abraham, a further covenant was established, which called Abraham and his descendants into a special relationship with God: they became the chosen people of God. The outward sign of this covenant was circumcision. This covenant was confirmed with Isaac and Jacob.


When Moses received the Ten Commandments from God on Mount Sinai and passed them on to the people of Israel by God's commission, God revealed His will in the form of a law. This was proclaimed to a particular assembly, a congregation.


The law defined the relationship between human beings and God, as well as their relationships with one another. It established rules for proper divine service. The latter consisted of the sacrificial rite performed by the priests in the tabernacle, in addition to worship of, and devotion to, God by the people through prayer, profession, and obedience. As the people chosen by God, Israel was called to this divine service.


These elements of the old covenant also point to Jesus Christ and to the establishment of the church: the old covenant points to the new covenant, the old covenant mark of circumcision points to baptism, the proclamation of the divine will points to the preaching of the word of God, the priestly sacrificial service points to Holy Communion and its administration by the authorised ministry, and prayer and profession point to the worship of the triune God in Christian divine service.


The divine service of the Old Testament had its central place in the temple of Jerusalem, where it was celebrated in solemn fashion. It was there that the house of the Lord stood, and it was there that the people came together in order to praise God (Psalm 122) and bring Him sacrifices. This changed with the destruction of the temple and the ensuing Babylonian captivity of the Jewish people. During this period, the Jews gathered in synagogues for divine service, in which the word of God–the law–was read aloud and interpreted. The sacrificial service could not be performed there, however. In this respect, these divine services were deficient. Even once the temple in Jerusalem had been rebuilt after the Babylonian exile, and after sacrificial service had once again become possible, the believers continued to gather for divine service in synagogues, in which the proclamation of the word was the focal element.


This serves as a reference to the church of the New Testament, in the centre of which Jesus Christ is present as the Word incarnate (John 1: 1). The epistle to the Hebrews interprets the old covenant with its law, sacrificial service, circumcision, and priesthood as a "shadow"–that is an anticipation–of the new covenant (Hebrews 8: 5; 10: 1). A shadow is not the object itself–it merely refers to the object. It is not the old covenant that is God's perfect institution of salvation, but rather only the new covenant which Jesus Christ established.


Therefore the chosen people of the old covenant already foreshadowed that which would become reality in God's people of the new covenant, in the church of Christ.