I have been asked to examine "The Theology of Fulfillment" with special attention given to the relation of the Old and the New Testaments. Like so many of the broader themes of Scripture this subject is both simple and complex, and while it has been discussed over and again for so many centuries it is still fresh and invigorating to every believer. This subject is precisely the subject which John the Baptist preached as he announced the arrival of Jesus. It is the subject which our Lord Himself preached. And it is the theme of the apostles. In fact, as we shall see, this message of fulfillment reaches to the very heart of the gospel itself.
The apostle Paul declared that Jesus' arrived "when the fullness of the times came" (Gal. 4:4). At the very least this implies a previous period of preparation-and so there was. The Mosaic era, Paul points out in this context, was an era which not only anticipated the coming of Christ but, by its law emphasis, led to it and demonstrated the great need for it. The sending of God's Son, then, was the culmination of time: up to this point, history had been running toward this very goal. "For all the promises of God in Him are yea, and in Him Amen" (2 Co. 1:20). But we're jumping ahead of ourselves. We want to show precisely how this is so.
It is Augustine who coined the well-known saying, "The Old is in the New revealed; the New is in the Old concealed." That is to say, what is read explicitly in the NT is seen only implicitly in the OT. The two testaments proclaim the same message only from differing standpoints: one points forward in anticipation, and the other declares a completion, an accomplishment.
But it is not Augustine that teaches us this after all. We have it on the authority of our Lord Himself.
"Think not that I am come to destroy the law, or the prophets: I am not come to destroy, but to fulfill" (Mat. 5:17).
"Blessed are the eyes which see the things that ye see: For I tell you, that many prophets and kings have desired to see those things which ye see, and have not seen them; and to hear those things which ye hear, and have not heard them" (Luke 10:23-24).
"And beginning at Moses and all the prophets, he expounded unto them m all the scriptures the things concerning Himself" (Luke 24:27).
"And he said unto them, These are the words which I spoke unto you, while I was yet with you, that all things must be fulfilled, which were written in the law of Moses, and in the prophets, and in the psalms, concerning me" (Luke 24:44).
"Search the scriptures; for in them ye think ye have eternal life: and they are they which testify of me" (John 5:39).
"For had ye believed Moses, ye would have believed me; for he wrote of me." (John 5:46).
"Your father Abraham rejoiced to see my day: and he saw it, and was glad" (John 8:56).
"In the volume of the book it is written of me" (Heb. 10:7).
Some OT scholars have argued that we should read and study the OT on its own terms. That is, we should seek to understand it by itself without "reading back" into it from the NT. There is a sense, of course, where that is right. But what Jesus seems to be emphasizing in these passages is that we in this age should be able to read the OT better than that. There is the matter of "historical grammatical" interpretation, to be sure. But if "historical grammatical" leaves out the Christological focus, it is deficient. In fact, Jesus seems to be implying that this is how the OT could always have been read! "Moses wrote of me... Abraham saw my day" seem to insist that the NT "revelation" is precisely the message of the OT.
It is not surprising, then, to observe the NT writers interpreting the OT in just this way. And it is highly instructive to see just how the inspired writers from both sides of the cross treat the relevant data. Those of the Old order consistently point forward in expectation and anticipation of a great age to come, and their NT counterparts just as consistently point to Jesus with a glance backward to their forefathers. To put it another way, Jesus is regularly presented in the NT against the backdrop of the OT hope and shown to be its fulfillment. It is obviously impossible to trace this out in detail, but I want to highlight a few of the hopeful expressions of the OT writers and then see how these are understood in the NT. (Pages 1-3)
Finally, when all this is said we must recognize clearly that the "fulfillment" anticipated in the OT and realized in the NT is nothing other than Jesus Christ Himself. He is the covenant, the promise, the kingdom; He is our life, our righteousness, our peace, our salvation, and our everything else. He is the goal of history. We are not simply speaking of "last things" but of a person in Whom these "things" are realized. And when history is brought to its final consummation, Scripture declares, "all things will be gathered up into Him" (Eph. 1:10).
It is for this reason that Jesus is called "the Omega, the eschatos (last), the telos ("end," Rev. 22:13; cf. 1:17; 2:8). "For all the promises of God in Him are yea, and in Him Amen, unto the glory of God by us" (2 Co. 1:20).
Our study of the theme of fulfillment is a study of Christ. It follows, then, that He is the focal point of the gospel. He came not merely to proclaim "things" that had come to pass. He came to proclaim Himself. He is what the OT anticipated, and He is the very essence, the whole warp and woof of the blessedness which we enjoy in this age. Salvation history, realized eschatology, future eschatology-it is all a study of the same Subject, the Lord Jesus Christ, Who in these last days came from Heaven to "put away sin by the sacrifice of Himself," and Who will a second time appear "without sin unto salvation". (Heb. 9:26, 28) (Pages 37-38)
The Theology of Fulfillment. Fred G. Zaspel. Interdisciplinary Biblical Research Institute. P.O. Box 423, Hatfield, PA 19440-0423. 1993. Pages 1-3 & 37-38.
This booklet in its entirety is available online at http://www.biblicalstudies.com/bstudy/eschatology/fulfllnt1.htm
Fred Zaspel's Home Page http://www.biblicalstudies.com/index.html