Christians often practice a Christ-centred reading of Scripture. Yet this approach can sound like a pop-a-mole game where Christ just springs up everywhere in Scripture. I do not think that is the case here, but I can understand the concern.
One way to understand the Christ-centered nature of Scripture is to use two key metaphors. That is what I do here before making some conclusions on Christ in the Old Testament.
The sheet and bowling ball
When I speak of “centre,” I imagine a sheet pulled out by four corners. Sometime afterwards, I imagine that a bowling ball falls into the middle of it. And then the ball weighs down the sheet. The fabric of the sheet, in a manner of speaking, points towards the bowling ball. This does not damage or destroy the rest of the sheet. Instead, it gains a new relationship due to the presence of the bowling ball.
In this metaphor, the sheet is Scripture (specifically, the Old Testament). Before Christ, the sheet remains the sheet. Yet after Christ, the sheet has a new relationship—it draws down towards the bowling ball. Here is where the metaphor breaks down because I would argue that Christ was always hidden in the Old Testament. Yet the bowling ball enters as a new entity in the metaphor.
Despite that, the metaphor helps to clarify christ-centered reading. The sheet fabric (the Old Testament) keeps its integrity. It does not somehow disappear or turn into the bowling ball magically! Instead, the fabric remains what it is but points towards a new object—it gains a new relationship, a Christological one.
The painting with the hidden shepherd
A second metaphor can illustrate how Christ can both be new and always there in the Old Testament. Imagine a picture with a beautiful landscape and skyline. The picture can be seen and understood, but at the centre lies a black rectangle. While the picture still makes sense, everything has the sense of displacement or incompletion.
Understood on its own, the green hills and sheep on them make sense. But something doesn’t quite feel right. Then the artist walks into the room. He takes off the black rectangle, and there the shepherd appears. Now, the picture makes much better sense. It is about a shepherd herding sheep across the skyline.
The shepherd was always there but clouded by shadow and darkness. What was guesswork in the past, became manifest when the artist appeared to unveil the full picture. It is this unveiling that makes the hidden manifest.
The picture is the Old Testament. The hiddenness of the central figure requires an unveiling, yet the shepherd’s visage was always there. Once he is revealed, then the whole picture changes through addition (not subtraction). The background does not itself change but there is a new (to us) relationship created between the backdrop and the shepherd, between the Old Testament and Christ.
What does this mean for reading the Old Testament?
These two metaphors represent the apostolic hermeneutic which reads the Old Testament as to uncover the hidden mystery of the Gospel that Christ has now revealed through his incarnation (e.g., Rom 16:25–26).
Every piece of the scriptural revelation then somehow and someway naturally and organically points to Christ. Practically, we deepen our understanding of the whole Scripture. Hence, even in Genesis 1, we discover why God spoke creation into existence—”let there be light.” It was because the Father creates by the Word of God. We know why God’s Spirit hovered over creation (Gen 1:2). It was to perfect the creative act (Ps 33:6).
We even can define the image of God with greater precision since Paul calls Christ the image of God (Col 1:15). It is Christ in whose image we are made and now reformed by the resurrection work of new creation.
We thus read the Old Testament with greater clarity and depth of Spiritual identification. We see Christ as the one who shows us the Father and sends the Spirit to us in and through the scriptural Word. Theologically, Christ is the end-time Word of God (Heb 1:2) who has the life of the Father in himself (John 5:26) and who shares the Spirit of Life (John 16, etc).
Christ at the centre of Scripture means, therefore, God as triune at the centre; it also means the Gospel since the Gospel is the fitting work of the triune God in history. In God, the Father eternally begets the Son and spirates the Spirit. In God’s economy, the Father sends the Son ito the World to save it through whom the Spirit comes to perfect the work of salvation among God’s people.
As the bowling ball pulling revelation to himself, he in fact reveals the Father and sends the Spirit; and all creation correlates to him. So the sheet (Old Testament) does not lose its integrity but gains a new and true relationship to the person of Christ which, before the incarnation, was hidden, mysterious, and sealed.
Christ unsealed the books. He made the hidden manifest. That changes everything.