“The Promises … Yes in Him” (2 Cor 1:20)
Yahweh’s promises (old and new) are vital for Christians. If we fail to trustingly embrace OT promises, we will lose three-fourths of the life-giving words of truth that our trustworthy God has given us. Yet we must appropriate them through Christ.
“This Will Turn Out for My Deliverance”
Consider how Paul lived in hope by claiming promises that encouraged Job. The apostle opens his Philippian letter noting that he was in prison for Christ (Phil 1:7) and that his imprisonment had itself advanced the gospel’s spread (1:12–13). He then asserts: “Yes, and I will rejoice, for I know that through your prayers and the help of the Spirit of Jesus Christ this will turn out for my deliverance” (1:18–19, italics added).
With the italicized words in verse 19, Paul alludes to the Greek translation of Job 13:16, the only other place in Scripture where the clause occurs (see the NIV). Thus, just as Job anticipated that even death would not keep him from being saved, so Paul declared that his imprisonment would “turn out for [his] deliverance, … whether by life or by death” (Phil 1:19–20). Like Job, Paul was convinced that he would be delivered, but this salvation could even come “by death.”
Paul’s sole hope for attaining Job’s resurrection hope (3:11) was that he be found in Christ (3:9). The apostle, therefore, claims Job’s promise through Jesus, whose own resurrection power (3:10) made both Job and Paul’s hope possible. The very promises that kept Job fearing God were Paul’s in Christ. And today they belong to all who are in Jesus.
Four Ways Jesus Makes Every Promise “Yes”
Truly, every promise in Scripture is “yes” in Christ (2 Cor 1:20). Yet Jesus fulfills the OT’s promises in more than one way, and this means Christians cannot approach all OT promises in the same manner. Believers must claim Scripture’s promises using a salvation-historical framework that has Jesus at the center. Christ is the lens that clarifies and focuses the lasting significance of all God’s promises for us (see fig. 1).
Figure 1. The Fulfillment of OT Promises through the Lens of Christ
1. Christ Maintains Some OT Promises with No Extension
Christ maintains certain promises without adding any further beneficiaries. For example, Daniel 12:2 envisioned a resurrection of some to everlasting life and of others to eternal contempt. Alluding to this passage, Jesus associated this same resurrection with his second coming: “An hour is coming when all who are in the tombs will hear [the Son of Man’s] voice and come out, those who have done good to the resurrection of life, and those who have done evil to the resurrection of judgment” (John 5:28–29).
Christians should claim Daniel 12:2’s promise of resurrection as our own. We do so, however, recognizing that we will only rise because Christ was first raised. “Christ has been raised from the dead, the firstfruits of those who have fallen asleep…. Christ the firstfruits, then at his coming those who belong to Christ” (1 Cor 15:20, 23). This resurrection has an “already and not yet” dimension, as the redeemed saints from both the OT and NT epochs benefit from it. Jesus maintains the OT promise without altering those profiting from it.
2. Christ Maintains Some OT Promises with Extension
When Christ fulfills some OT promises, he extends the parties related to the promise. For instance, consider how Moses and Yahweh’s promises to Joshua extend to Christians. Speaking to Joshua, Moses declared: “It is the Lord who goes before you. He will be with you; he will not leave you or forsake you” (Deut 31:8). Later, Yahweh said to Joshua, “Just as I was with Moses, so I will be with you. I will not leave you or forsake you” (Josh 1:5). And it is on this basis that the author of Hebrews writes: “Keep your life free from love of money, and be content with what you have, for he has said, ‘I will never leave you nor forsake you’” (Heb 13:5, italics added).
In Hebrews, the OT’s wilderness and conquest narratives play an important role in magnifying Christ and the new covenant. Moses was faithful to God “as a servant,” whereas Christ was faithful “as a son” (3:5). Some, like Joshua, believed that God was able to secure rest, but all others died because of unbelief (4:2). Later, Joshua led Israel into the promised land, but the rest he secured was only predictive of the greater rest that the more supreme Joshua (i.e., Jesus) would secure for all in him (4:8).
So, if the Lord was with the first Joshua and all who followed him, how much more can we be assured that he will be with those identify with the greater Joshua! The original promise God gave to one man bore implications for the whole community (Deut 31:6), and now in the new covenant the same promise expands to all who are in Christ. We already share in Christ Jesus (Heb 3:14) but do not yet fully enjoy all that God promised (6:12). But because God has pledged, “I will never leave you nor forsake you” (13:5), Christians can rest secure knowing that we will one day fully enjoy the inheritance.
Figure 2. God Maintains the Promise of His Presence While Extending It to All in Christ
3. Christ Himself Completes or Uniquely Realizes Some OT Promises
Some OT promises Christ has already completed or realized. For example, the prophet Micah predicted that a ruler in Israel would arise from Bethlehem (Mic. 5:2), and Christ exclusively fulfilled that promise at his birth (Matt 2:6). Nevertheless, his birth was to spark a global return of “his brothers,” and as king he would “shepherd his flock in the strength of the Lord,” thus establishing lasting peace and enjoying a great name (Mic. 5:3–5). All these added promises continue to give Christians comfort and hope, and Christ’s birth in Bethlehem validates for us the certainty of his permanent and global exaltation.
Another example is Yahweh’s promise to Solomon that, because he asked for wisdom rather than long life, riches, or punishment on his enemies, God would give him wisdom, riches, and honor (1 Kgs 3:11–13). This promise is “yes” in Christ in that on the cross Jesus purchased every divine bestowal of kindness, forbearance, and patience experienced in the realm of common grace (Gen 8:20–21; Rom 2:4; 3:25–26). Nevertheless, because the promise was contingent on one man’s request and was related to his specific reign, the promise’s specificity indicates that this is not a promise that every believer always enjoys. Instead, it was unique to Solomon himself, with others benefiting only from the wisdom, riches, and honor he himself enjoyed.
4. Christ Transforms Some OT Promises
At times, Jesus develops an OT promise’s makeup and audience. The land that Yahweh promised to Abraham and his offspring is of this kind (Gen 13:15; 17:8; 48:4; Exod 32:13). The patriarch would serve as a father of a single nation who would dwell in the land of Canaan (Gen 17:8) and oversee an even broader geopolitical sphere (15:18). These realities are initially fulfilled in the Mosaic covenant (Exod 2:24; 6:8; Deut 1:8; 6:10; 9:5; 30:20; 34:4) and realized in the days of Joshua (Josh 11:23; 21:43) and Solomon (1 Kgs 4:20–21). Nevertheless, Genesis already foresees Abraham becoming the father of not just one nation but nations (Gen 17:4–6) and anticipates his influence reaching beyond the land (singular) to lands (plural) (26:3–4). This would happen when the royal offspring possesses the gate of his enemies and all nations count themselves blessed in him (22:17b–18; 24:60).
In the new covenant, Christ transforms the type into the antitype by fulfilling the original land promise in himself and by extending it to the whole world through his people. In Paul’s words, God promised “Abraham and his offspring that he would be heir of the world” (Rom 4:13); at the consummation, the new earth will fully realize the antitype. While Christ maintains (without extension) Genesis’s promises of the antitypical lands (plural), he does this by transforming the promises to Israel of the land (singular) as an “everlasting possession” (Gen 17:8; 48:4). The nature of his fulfillment indicates that the land (singular) was but a type, which he transforms into the antitype, just as God had already foretold to the patriarchs.
God’s promises are often associated with life or death and conditioned on whether his covenant partner obeys. Whereas the old Mosaic covenant was conditional and revocable (and thus temporary considering Israel’s disobedience), the Abrahamic covenant was conditional and irrevocable. This means that God would indeed realize all the promises but would do so only through an obedient Son. Representing Abraham and Israel, Jesus actively obeys and secures OT promises for all who are in him. Christ maintains some promises without extension, maintains others with extension, completes some, and transforms others.
¹William L. Lane, Hebrews 9–13, WBC 47B (Dallas: Word, 1991), 520.
This blog series summarizes Jason S. DeRouchie’s forthcoming book, Delighting in the Old Testament: Through Christ and for Christ (Wheaton, IL: Crossway, 2024). You can pre-order your copy here.