Brian Tabb

Promises, Patterns, and Principles: A Primer on the New Testament’s Use of the Old

From Matthew to Revelation, the New Testament is saturated with citations of the sacred Scriptures. The apostles and their associates appeal to the Old Testament to explain God’s plan of salvation for Israel and all nations through the suffering and resurrection of Jesus the Messiah, and to instruct God’s people about how to live in the present evil age. This article provides a primer on how the New Testament writers cite the Scriptures. To understand the disciples’ powerful and sometimes perplexing quotations of the Old Testament, we begin with their Teacher and Lord.

Roads from Old to New

After his resurrection, Christ teaches his disciples, “These are my words that I spoke to you while I was still with you, that everything written about me in the Law of Moses and the Prophets and the Psalms must be fulfilled” (Luke 24:44). This sweeping claim prompts us to ask some important questions: What are those things “written about” Christ, and in what sense are they “fulfilled”?

Let’s start with the word “fulfill,” which we might use for a store fulfilling an order or a person fulfilling a commitment. The Bible uses fulfillment language not only for prophetic predictions but also for patterns shaped by God’s promises that prepare us for later and greater people, institutions, and events. With this in mind, our Lord’s references to “everything written about me” and “all that the prophets have spoken” (Luke 24:25, 44) include not only explicit messianic prophecies (like Isaiah 53) but also patterns and prefigurements of the Messiah throughout the Old Testament.

The use of the Old Testament in the New has intrigued and challenged theologians for generations. For example, Martin Luther likened the Old Testament to “the swaddling cloths and the manger in which Christ lies” (Luther’s Works, 35:235). And C.H. Spurgeon explained that as every English village has a road leading to London, “so from every text in Scripture, there is a road to the metropolis of the Scriptures, that is Christ” (“Christ Precious to Believers”). While this brief article cannot travel all those paths leading to Christ, I aim to highlight three of the most significant thoroughfares from the Old Testament to the New: promises fulfilled, patterns perfected, and principles restated.

Promises Fulfilled

The New Testament frequently quotes the Old Testament to highlight the fulfillment of a specific promise or prediction. In these instances, Christ and his followers make clear that ancient prophecies have come to pass in their midst, which demonstrates that the sovereign Lord’s words are trustworthy and true. Consider several examples from the Gospel of Luke and the apostles’ preaching in Acts.

One of the most dramatic examples of promises fulfilled is Luke 4:16–21, where Jesus stands to read the prophecy of Isaiah 61:

The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to proclaim good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim liberty to the captives and recovering of sight to the blind, to set at liberty those who are oppressed, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.

He then sits down and states to the people of Nazareth, “Today this Scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing.” Jesus’s point is clear and extraordinary. Isaiah wrote about him. The Spirit rests on him, as Luke’s account of Jesus’s conception, baptism, and temptation have made clear (Luke 1:35; 3:22; 4:1, 14). He is anointed to proclaim good news and liberty to captives and outcasts.

Christ is similarly emphatic when he cites Scripture shortly before his arrest in Luke 22:37:

I tell you that this Scripture must be fulfilled in me: “And he was numbered with the transgressors.” For what is written about me has its fulfillment.

Jesus here quotes from the final verse of Isaiah’s famous prophecy of the suffering servant (Isaiah 53:12). Though he is truly “righteous” (Isaiah 53:11; Luke 23:47), Christ is “numbered with the transgressors” as he gets treated like a robber in his arrest (Luke 22:52), condemned as a lawbreaker (Luke 23:1–5), and crucified between two criminals (Luke 23:32). Jesus appeals to Isaiah to preview his passion and to explain the theological significance of his innocent suffering on behalf of others.

“The Bible uses fulfillment language not only for prophetic predictions but also for patterns shaped by God’s promises.”

Similarly, the witnesses in Acts repeatedly stress that God has accomplished just what he said he would do by sending Israel’s Savior and raising him from the grave. For example, Paul recounts how God raised up David as a king after his heart, and then he declares, “Of this man’s offspring God has brought to Israel a Savior, Jesus, as he promised” (Acts 13:23). Then, after recounting how Christ’s suffering and death fulfilled ancient prophecies, Paul exclaims, “We bring you the good news that what God promised to the fathers, this he has fulfilled to us their children by raising Jesus, as also it is written in the second Psalm, ‘You are my Son, today I have begotten you’” (Acts 13:32–33). Paul draws on this famous royal psalm as a compelling proof for Christ’s resurrection and exaltation, which signals the beginning of his unending reign as the promised son of David.

Patterns Perfected

The New Testament also appeals to a number of biblical patterns or types that Jesus Christ fulfills. He is, for example, the king in David’s line (Luke 1:32–33), the prophet like Moses (Acts 3:22), the great high priest (Hebrews 7:26–28), the better temple (John 2:21), and the last Passover lamb (1 Corinthians 5:7). Because the Scriptures are breathed out by the sovereign God, they reflect consistent patterns throughout redemptive history. Earlier people, events, and institutions in the biblical story correspond to and prophetically prefigure later and greater fulfillments — a correspondence Jim Hamilton refers to as “promise-shaped patterns.” The study of these historical and theological patterns in the Bible is called “typology,” reflecting the biblical term typos, which means “type” or “pattern.” Thus, Paul calls Adam “a type of the one who was to come” (Romans 5:14; see also 1 Corinthians 15:45–47).

Of many biblical examples of patterns that are perfected, let’s briefly consider two.

First, God created the heavens and the earth in the beginning, which anticipates a new heaven and a new earth where righteousness will dwell (Genesis 1:1; Isaiah 65:17; 2 Peter 3:13). Specific features of Revelation’s final vision of the new creation recall Genesis 1–2, such as the tree of life and the river flowing through it. Revelation 21–22 does not merely describe a return to Eden, however, but rather shows how the end of the story is vastly superior to the beginning as the redeemed people dwell in God’s glorious presence without any residual curse, sin, or threats.

Further, Jesus and the apostles appeal to the pattern of the rejected “stone” that is God’s chosen cornerstone of the new temple (for example, Luke 20:17; Acts 4:11; 1 Peter 2:6–8). This image comes from a cluster of Old Testament passages, particularly Psalm 118:22 — “The stone that the builders rejected has become the cornerstone” — and Isaiah 28:16 — “Behold, I am the one who has laid as a foundation in Zion, a stone, a tested stone, a precious cornerstone, of a sure foundation: ‘Whoever believes will not be in haste.’” Jesus fulfills this biblical pattern as he is rejected by the Jewish leaders, who correspond to “the builders” in the psalm (see Acts 4:11), and when he overcomes death to demonstrate that he is God’s chosen Messiah and a sure foundation for his people.

Principles Restated

New Testament authors not only quote Scripture to show how Christ fulfills prophecies and biblical patterns; the Old Testament also provides principles, examples, and moral instruction for Christ’s followers. For example, Leviticus 19:18 — “You shall love your neighbor as yourself” — is cited nine times in the New Testament, more than any other passage. Likewise, Jesus and the apostles restate the Law’s prohibitions on murder and adultery and its commands to honor your father and mother.

The Scriptures offer “instruction” and “encouragement” for believers in various ways (Romans 15:4). New Testament writers appeal to examples of Israel’s unfaithfulness to warn the church about the consequences of sin and unbelief (1 Corinthians 10:6; Hebrews 3:7–19). The steadfastness of Job and the merciful character of God provide hope in times of suffering (James 5:10–11), while Elijah’s life inspires us to pray fervently (James 5:17–18). The righteous person in Psalm 112 who “has distributed freely” encourages Christians to abound in good works (2 Corinthians 9:8–9). Likewise, the Law’s instruction about the unmuzzled ox offers an analogy for God’s people to support those laboring in gospel ministry (1 Timothy 5:18; 1 Corinthians 9:9). And God’s perfect character continues to provide the standard for the holy conduct of believers (1 Peter 1:15–16).

This list is far from exhaustive, but it illustrates the broad applicability of biblical examples and principles for believers’ life together until Christ’s return.

Concealed and Revealed

The great church father Augustine once wrote, “The New is hidden in the Old and the Old is revealed in the New” (Writings on the Old Testament, 125). Indeed, the two testaments hang together in a way that reveals God’s grand plan of redemption and confirms the complete reliability of God’s word. Readers would be hard pressed to find a chapter of the New Testament that does not explicitly or implicitly reference the promises, patterns, and principles of the Old Testament. Phrases like “it is written” and “to fulfill the Scriptures” and “God said” remind us that the Old and New Testaments cohere and culminate in the coming of Christ in “the fullness of time” (Galatians 4:4).

Indeed, “all the promises of God find their Yes in” our Lord Jesus (2 Corinthians 1:20).

When a Ministry Partnership Must End

Throughout the highest joys of laboring alongside fellow believers in gospel work and the deepest pains of relational strain and conflict, the Lord preserves his people and accomplishes his sovereign purposes. He may bring resolution to disagreements and restored relationships in this life—as with Paul and Mark—or he may wait until the life to come to right every wrong, dry every tear, heal every pain, and mend every heart, when we’ll be forever with the Lord who makes all things new (Rev. 21:3–5).

Every seasoned pastor and organizational leader experiences significant conflicts and disagreements with fellow staff members, elders, or ministry colleagues. There are various reasons for such disputes: theological convictions, ministry strategies and priorities, leadership styles, communication gaps, perspectives about partnerships, and more.
While many conflicts can be resolved to preserve and strengthen ministry partnerships, disagreements often prompt coworkers to part ways.
Acts 15:36–41 recounts the end of the early church’s important and fruitful missionary partnership between Barnabas and Paul: “There arose a sharp disagreement, so that they separated from each other. Barnabas took Mark with him and sailed away to Cyprus, but Paul chose Silas and departed, having been commended by the brothers to the grace of the Lord” (vv. 39–40).
Reflecting on this text can provide lessons for leaders today who face challenging conflicts in ministry.
1. Ministry partnerships are vital for the advance of the gospel and the growth of the church.
The book of Acts presents ministry partnerships as normative in local church and mission contexts to promote the church’s health and the gospel’s spread.
When “a great many people were added to the Lord” in Antioch, Barnabas recognized he needed a trusted coworker to teach these new disciples, so he went searching for Saul to join him in teaching (Acts 11:24–26). The biblical account presents Barnabas’s decision to partner with Saul in a favorable light, highlighting Barnabas’s godly character and the longevity and fruitfulness of their ministry in Antioch.
The Antiochian church sent multiple leaders to bring relief to the saints in Judea (vv. 29–30), and the apostles and elders in Jerusalem carefully selected a delegation to deliver an important letter to the Gentile believers in Antioch, Syria, and Cilicia (15:22–29). The plan to send Judas and Silas from the Jerusalem church alongside Paul and Barnabas signaled the church’s consensus in the decision at the Jerusalem council (“having come to one accord,” v. 25) and promoted the church’s encouragement, strengthening, and peace (vv. 30–34).
Later, Paul was willing to set sail for Athens while leaving behind Timothy and Silas on urgent ministry business in Macedonia, with the expectation his trusted colleagues would join him as soon as possible (17:14–15; 18:5; 1 Thess. 3:1–10).
Many pastors, missionaries, seminary professors, and other ministers would testify to the crucial importance of partnership with others involved in gospel work. Robust friendships are often forged as believers labor side by side in the fires of ministry, and such relationships provide needed encouragement and promote greater effectiveness than solo ministry efforts.
2. Disagreements and disappointments are inevitable in ministry partnerships.
Paul and Barnabas parted ways after a sharp disagreement, and many other notable ministry partnerships throughout history have ended in similar fashion.
Disagreements about doctrinal convictions, theological vision, or ministry strategy may lead coworkers to part ways.
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All Things New: When Our Long Night Will End

We live in a world where everything “new” soon becomes old. New cars scratch and rust. New shoes wear out. Fresh bread gets stale. Today’s smartphones are outdated in a few years. New toys are eventually relegated to donation boxes or trash bins. Consumers still clamor for the trending product and the newest model, recognizing that the latest item will soon lose its luster. We purchase insurance and extended warranties to protect our investments and guard against loss.

The Scriptures offer a sober assessment of our world and our lives east of Eden: moth and rust destroy, thieves steal, everything is subject to decay, we are dust and return to the dust (Genesis 3:19; Psalm 90:3; Ecclesiastes 3:20; Matthew 6:19; Romans 8:21). Yet according to God’s promise we also long for a new world “in which righteousness dwells” (2 Peter 3:13).

At the culmination of the biblical canon, the prophet John sees “a new heaven and a new earth” and “new Jerusalem” and hears God Almighty say, “Behold, I am making all things new” (Revelation 21:1–5). These statements draw deeply from the well of Old Testament prophecies, such as Isaiah 43:18–19 and 65:17–19. Revelation does not explain in detail how the old heaven and earth give way to the new; instead, this prophecy focuses on the reality of the Creator God’s purposes to renew, restore, and rectify everything.

Note that God does not merely make new things to replace what is old, broken, and obsolete; he makes all things to be new. This promise of new creation transcends our current categories of temporary newness, revealing a new kind of newness that never wears out or breaks down. The Alpha and Omega makes all things to be new and stay ever new.

Woes That Will End

Consider several aspects of this coming new creation to strengthen your resolve to endure this world’s troubles as we long for “a better country — a heavenly one” (Hebrews 11:16).1

No More Trouble

The fourfold emphasis on what is “new” in Revelation 21:1–5 contrasts with the “first” or “former things,” which “have passed away” and shall be “no more.” These former troubles include death, mourning, crying, and pain (21:4), all universal realities for humanity after sin and death entered the world in Genesis 3. This fulfills Old Testament promises such as Isaiah 25:8: “He will swallow up death forever; and the Lord God will wipe away tears from all faces, and the reproach of his people he will take away from all the earth, for the Lord has spoken.”

No More Curse

Further, no longer will there be “any curse” in the new creation (Revelation 22:3 NIV). This alludes to Zechariah 14:11 (CSB): “Never again will there be a curse of complete destruction. So Jerusalem will dwell in security.” Zechariah 14:9–12 stresses the safety of God’s people when the Lord is king over all the earth and strikes all his foes. Revelation 22 closely links the removal of the curse to believers’ restored access to the tree of life, which signifies eternal life in fellowship with God. The tree’s leaves provide “healing of the nations,” who will walk by the Lamb’s light and bring their splendor into the holy city (Revelation 21:24; 22:2; cf. Isaiah 60:3; Zechariah 14:16). There will be no curse in the new Jerusalem because God will fully reverse humanity’s plight since our plummet into sin.

No More Threats

Finally, the prophet highlights the absence of the sea and of night from the new creation (Revelation 21:1; 22:5). Unlike death, tears, and curse that are passing away, the sea and night are present in God’s original good creation (Genesis 1:5, 10). However, within the book of Revelation the sea is consistently linked with evil power and ungodliness. The devil temporarily exerts his great wrath on the earth and the sea, which together represent the first creation (Revelation 12:12). The blasphemous beast arises from the sea and receives the dragon’s power (Revelation 13:1–2; cf. Daniel 7:3).

“The absence of sea in the new creation signifies that God will finally remove every threat to his redeemed people.”

The sea is also associated with the dead (Revelation 20:13) and with the idolatrous trade of the wicked city, Babylon the Great, which emulates the commercial powerhouse Tyre in the Old Testament (Revelation 18:17, 19; cf. Ezekiel 26–27). John’s reference to the sea may also recall the exodus, when the Lord parted the waters to allow Israel to pass safely then hurled Egypt’s army into the sea (Exodus 14:22, 27). The absence of sea in the new creation signifies that God will finally remove every threat to his redeemed people.

No More Night

The Scriptures regularly associate “night” with darkness, lamentation, sin, and judgment. For example, God sends plagues of darkness against Egypt and the beast’s kingdom (Exodus 10:21–22; Revelation 16:10), and there is darkness throughout the land when Jesus is crucified (Mark 15:33). There is no night in John’s vision of the new creation because the dazzling glory of God and the Lamb will so illumine the New Jerusalem that no other lights will be necessary — including the sun (Revelation 21:23; 22:5; cf. Isaiah 60:19). Moreover, the city’s gates remain open as a picture of comprehensive safety and security since no enemies remain to threaten God’s people under cover of darkness (Revelation 21:25; Isaiah 60:11).

God with Us

Central to the hope of the new creation is God’s enduring presence with the saints. Throughout the Old Testament, God promises to dwell with Israel. For example:

I will make my dwelling among you, and my soul shall not abhor you. And I will walk among you and will be your God, and you shall be my people. (Leviticus 26:11–12)

My dwelling place shall be with them, and I will be their God, and they shall be my people. (Ezekiel 37:27)

“Central to the hope of the new creation is God’s enduring presence with the saints.”

Revelation 21:3 announces the fulfillment of this promise: “Look, God’s dwelling is with humanity, and he will live with them. They will be his peoples, and God himself will be with them and will be their God” (CSB). The phrase “his peoples” (plural) alters the customary reference to God’s singular “people,” perhaps reflecting the prophecy in Zechariah 2:11–12: “many nations shall join themselves to the Lord in that day, and shall be my people. And I will dwell in your midst.”

The point is that God will not simply dwell among one ethnic group but among those from all peoples who are purchased and purified by the blood of the Lamb to declare his praises forever (Revelation 5:9). God’s “dwelling place” (ESV) or “tabernacle” (NASB) is finally, fully, and forever in the midst of his covenant people.

Revelation 21:9–27 describes the glorious new Jerusalem as God’s redeemed people — the Bride of the Lamb — and as the everlasting temple-city, the place where God lives among his people. This vision fulfills Old Testament prophecies about the glory of redeemed Zion (Isaiah 60) and the end-time temple of God (Ezekiel 40–48).

In the new creation, God will dwell among his people forever (Revelation 21:3; 22:1–5). God and the Lamb will supply the saints with everlasting life and continuous light. Every threat and impediment to perfect fellowship between God and his people will be removed, and we will behold his face and worship him forever as priestly kings.

Preview of Coming Attractions

This vision of new creation satisfies our longings for final salvation from the effects of Adam’s sin, for a lasting home in the holy city, and for a God-glorifying vocation as priests and rulers. Revelation’s picture of the renewed world is truly captivating not because of its golden streets or jeweled walls but because we will have the “one thing” that believers have always longed for: to dwell in God’s glorious presence, gazing on his beauty and seeking him in his temple that will fill the new Jerusalem (Psalm 27:4).

As Andrew Peterson sings, “Do you feel the world is broken? . . . Do you feel the shadows deepen? . . . Do you wish that you could see it all made new?” Indeed, we do. Or as Isaac Watts sang, we long to see God’s “blessings flow far as the curse is found.”

We long to see God’s kingdom come and his will done on earth as in heaven (Matthew 6:10). We long for the redemption of our bodies and the renovation of our world (Romans 8:21–23). Revelation strengthens our weary hearts with God’s sure promise, “I am making all things new.” New and ever new, with no more sin or sorrow, death or decay.

God will surely make all things new, and he has already begun that new creation work in his people: “If anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has passed away; behold, the new has come” (2 Corinthians 5:17). The Creator has shined saving light in our hearts so that we might see his glory in the face of Christ, and we now have this treasure in clay jars (2 Corinthians 4:6–7). In other words, we have an advance on the glories of the new Eden in the midst of the present world that is passing away, a preview of coming attractions. The renovation of the hearts and lives of God’s people now anticipates the coming renewal and restoration of all things. Lord, hasten the day when our faith will be sight.

Taught by Jesus: Seeing All Scripture Through the Book of Acts

ABSTRACT: Throughout the book of Acts, the apostles teach us not only what to believe about Jesus, but also how to read the whole Bible like Jesus did. Having learned from the risen Jesus himself how “the law of Moses and the Prophets and the Psalms” all speak of him (Luke 24:44), the apostles learned to see Christ and preach Christ from the whole Old Testament. Peter and Paul in particular display what a true Christ-centered reading of the Old Testament looks like in practice, showing in their sermons how all the Scriptures speak of Christ’s suffering, resurrection, and global mission. By giving careful attention to Acts 2, Acts 13, and elsewhere, Christians today can grow in seeing the Old Testament through the apostles’ eyes.

For our ongoing series of feature articles for pastors, leaders, and teachers, we asked Brian Tabb, academic dean and professor of biblical studies at Bethlehem College & Seminary, to show how Acts teaches us to read the whole Bible.

The first Christians “devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching” (Acts 2:42), Luke tells us. This summary statement prompts us to reflect on what the apostles taught and why they emphasized what they did. My claim is that the apostles (1) instructed the early church about what to believe about Jesus, the crucified and risen Savior and Lord of all, and (2) modeled how to read the Scriptures as Jesus taught them.

The “task of biblical theology,” according to James Hamilton, is to understand and embrace the biblical writers’ “interpretive perspective” as “both valid and normative.”1 Said another way, the apostles teach us what to believe and teach us how to read the Bible. To understand how and why the apostles read the Scriptures in the book of Acts, we begin with their teacher, the Lord Jesus. Let’s turn to Luke 24, where the risen Christ offers a master class in biblical hermeneutics.

Luke 24: Christ’s Master Class

There are many lessons we could draw from Luke 24, which offers the most extensive account of the risen Lord Jesus’s teaching in the New Testament.2 Here I focus on three key points that lay the groundwork for the apostles’ preaching in Acts.

First, Christ gives a concise yet comprehensive course on understanding the entire Old Testament. He does not quote specific verses “written” in sacred Scripture in this chapter (as he does many times in the Gospels), but he makes claims about the teaching of the whole Bible:

“all that the prophets have spoken” (Luke 24:25)
“Moses and all the Prophets” (Luke 24:27)
“all the Scriptures” (Luke 24:27)
“the Law of Moses and the Prophets and the Psalms” (Luke 24:44)
“the Scriptures” (Luke 24:32, 45)
“it is written” (Luke 24:46)

Christ’s reference to “Moses and all the Prophets” is a variation of the common summary for the old-covenant Scriptures, “the Law and the Prophets.”3 “Everything written about me in the Law of Moses and the Prophets and the Psalms” is the New Testament’s most comprehensive reference to the three major units of the Hebrew canon — Law, Prophets, and Writings — with the Psalms as the largest, most cited book of the Writings.4 Note the repeated stress on “all” and “everything” in verses 25, 27, and 44 — Christ makes a sweeping claim that whole Bible, from beginning to end, is about him.

Second, the Lord’s biblical exposition focuses on his suffering, his resurrection on the third day, and the global mission in his name. We see this emphasis in Luke 24:46–47: “Thus it is written, that the Christ should suffer and on the third day rise from the dead, and that repentance for the forgiveness of sins should be proclaimed in his name to all nations, beginning from Jerusalem.” Verse 46 focuses on Christ’s saving work through the cross and empty tomb, while verse 47 prepares for the spreading work to be carried out by his witnesses.

Third, the risen Lord supplies spiritual sight and spiritual power to his people, so that they can understand God’s word and carry out Christ’s mission. The Gospels offer a checkered assessment of Jesus’s disciples. Positively, they leave vocations and possessions to follow him, they preach good news, and they cast out demons. Yet they also misunderstand Jesus’s teaching and plans — especially his calling to suffer and die. They are fearful in the storm, anxious about their next meal, competitive with one another, and sleepy when called to pray. Judas betrays his Teacher, the others run away when Jesus is arrested, and Peter denies him three times.

In Luke 24, Christ “opens” God’s word to the disciples and also opens their minds, giving them clarity about who he is and what the Scriptures reveal as well as the capacity to comprehend (Luke 24:31, 32, 45). He also announces his plan to send “the promise of my Father” to clothe his witnesses with “power from on high” (Luke 24:49), giving them courage to carry out his mission. Jesus reiterates this point in Acts 1:8: “You will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you, and you will be my witnesses.” Christ keeps his promise by pouring out the Spirit on the day of Pentecost, ushering in “the last days” spoken of by the prophets and bringing salvation for all who call on the Lord’s name (Acts 2:16–21).5

Foundational Convictions of the Apostles

Luke 24 previews the mission and message of Christ’s followers, who preach near and far with Spirit-given courage and Christ-centered clarity. Their teaching reflects (1) their relationship with Jesus, (2) their empowerment through the Holy Spirit, and (3) their belief that the Scriptures are completely truthful and consummately fulfilled by Jesus, the longed-for Messiah and Lord of all.

Acts 4 illustrates these points well.6 Peter and John heal a lame man in the temple precincts and proclaim salvation in Jesus’s name, prompting outrage and opposition from the Jewish council — the same group that previously tried and condemned Jesus. To this hostile assembly, Peter boldly asserts that Jesus is “the stone that was rejected by you, the builders, which has become the cornerstone,” and thus salvation is available only through Christ’s name (Acts 4:11–12). The Jewish leaders’ response is striking: “When they saw the courage of Peter and John and realized that they were unschooled, ordinary men, they were astonished and they took note that these men had been with Jesus” (Acts 4:13 NIV).

These verses explain that the apostles’ clarity and courage come from their relationship with Jesus. They exhibit “boldness” (ESV) or “courage” (NIV) as they openly bear witness to their Lord even when experiencing resistance or persecution. These men aren’t just naturally gifted, charismatic leaders; they experience supernatural boldness as they are “filled with the Holy Spirit” (Acts 4:8). The disciples lack the formal biblical education of the Jewish scribes,7 but they were schooled by Jesus, the Master Teacher. Note that Peter’s claim that Jesus is “the cornerstone” (Acts 4:11) alludes to Psalm 118:22 — the very passage Christ himself cites in Luke 20:17 to explain the parable of the wicked tenants. The chief priests, scribes, and elders who questioned Jesus’s authority in Luke 20:1–2 interrogate his disciples in Acts 4:5. Peter identifies these opponents as “the builders” of Psalm 118:22, who have rejected Jesus — “the stone” whom God chose as “the cornerstone.” Throughout the book of Acts, Jesus’s witnesses demonstrate this same Spirit-given courage and Christ-taught clarity as they interpret and apply the Scriptures.

The apostles’ teaching and practice shows that they believed that the Scriptures were God’s true and authoritative word that Christ has fulfilled. Acts 4:24–28 illustrates this foundational conviction. The gathered believers cite the opening verses of Psalm 2:1–2 as the words of the sovereign Creator God spoken through David, by the Holy Spirit. They refer to the psalm’s human author, David, as “our father,” reflecting their belief that the sacred writings are relevant to them as God’s true people. The church appeals to the Spirit’s divine agency because they know that these inspired words reveal God’s wise purposes. They also cite this psalm to explain why Jews and Gentiles set themselves against Christ and his people. They recognize that this conspiracy against the Lord Jesus follows the script of the Scriptures and thus fulfills God’s secret plans. This conviction that God has spoken in the Scriptures and fulfilled his purposes in Christ emboldens his people to endure suffering and keep speaking with clarity and courage (Acts 4:31).

How the Apostles Teach Us to Read the Whole Bible

In Acts, the Spirit-empowered witnesses preach a message of salvation through Christ alone, while following Christ’s model of biblical exposition. While Luke’s second book is sometimes called “the Acts of the Apostles,” the book is not fundamentally about the disciples’ great deeds. Acts 1:1 explains that the Gospel of Luke recounts “all that Jesus began to do and teach” until his ascension, which signals that Luke’s second volume (Acts) is about what the risen Lord continues to do and teach after his ascension into heaven. Christ is not absent or inactive but carries out his work “through his people, by the Holy Spirit, for the accomplishment of God’s purposes.”8

“The apostles teach us not only what to believe but how to read the Bible.”

As Christ’s witnesses carry out his mission to “the end of the earth” (Acts 1:8), they also expound the Scriptures just as their Lord taught them in Luke 24. In Acts 26:22–23, for example, Paul reflects his Lord’s emphases on the fulfillment of Law and Prophets, the necessity of Christ’s suffering and resurrection, and the mission to the nations. While Jesus anticipates the outreach to the nations in Luke 24:47, Paul unpacks the biblical hope that the Messiah “would proclaim light both to our people and to the Gentiles” as he himself has been carrying out this mission, instructing the Gentiles “that they should repent and turn to God” (Acts 26:20).

Peter and Paul are the two most prominent preachers in Acts, so let’s examine their first recorded sermons (in chapters 2 and 13) to see how they interpret the Law, Prophets, and Writings with a particular focus on Christ’s suffering and resurrection and the global mission in his name.

Lord and Christ: Peter’s Message in Acts 2

The risen Lord promises to send the Spirit to empower his people (Luke 24:49; Acts 1:5, 8), and Luke records the dramatic fulfillment of this promise in Acts 2:1–4, when the gathered disciples are “all filled with the Holy Spirit” and speak in other tongues on the day of Pentecost. In response to the questions and confusion of the onlookers (Acts 2:12–13), Peter announces that Old Testament prophecy has been fulfilled. The apostle proves from the Scriptures that Jesus is the promised Messiah and risen Lord, that he has sent the Spirit as he promised, and that he saves everyone who calls on his name (Acts 2:14–36). Peter’s sermon focuses on three key passages from the Prophets and the Psalms.

First, he appeals to “what was uttered through the prophet Joel” to explain the events of Pentecost (Acts 2:16). The coming of the Holy Spirit is a crucial development in the biblical story line, fulfilling ancient prophecy and demonstrating that “the last days” have dawned (Acts 2:17). The Spirit’s work in the Old Testament focuses on select individuals, such as prophets, but Joel depicts a new era in which all God’s people would experience the fullness of the Spirit’s presence. Joel’s prophecy recalls Moses’s words in Numbers 11:29: “Would that all the Lord’s people were prophets, that the Lord would put his Spirit on them!” This ancient hope is realized on the day of Pentecost, when the Spirit is poured out on “all flesh” — men and women, young and old. The Spirit’s coming empowers Christ’s witnesses for their mission to the nations, and Acts 2:5–11 offers a preview of this global mission as people “from every nation under heaven” hear good news in their own languages.9

Next, Peter asserts that death could not keep hold of the risen Christ.10 He supports this claim in Acts 2:25–28 by appealing to what “David says concerning him” in Psalm 16:8–11:

I saw the Lord always before me,         for he is at my right hand that I may not be shaken;therefore my heart was glad, and my tongue rejoiced;         my flesh also will dwell in hope.For you will not abandon my soul to Hades,         or let your Holy One see corruption.You have made known to me the paths of life;         you will make me full of gladness with your presence.

Peter declares that David, the author of this psalm, “foresaw and spoke about the resurrection of the Christ” (Acts 2:31). Many interpreters treat Psalm 16 as a predictive prophecy of the Messiah. However, the repeated first-person language throughout the psalm — “I,” “me,” and “my” — more likely reflect David’s own confidence before God. Thus, I understand Peter’s appeal to Psalm 16 as an example of what Hamilton calls “promise-shaped typology,”11 the fulfillment of a biblical pattern. In this psalm, the king takes refuge in God and trusts in God’s character and faithfulness in the face of adversity and mortal peril. Christ goes even further, as he is kept through death and raised to unending life. Moreover, the Lord’s promise to give the king an enduring house in 2 Samuel 7 shapes how David expresses his faith in God and his expectations for the future in Psalm 16. Psalm 132:11 interprets the Lord’s covenant promise to David as “a sure oath from which he will not turn back,” which explains Peter’s appeal to God’s “oath” in Acts 2:30. The resurrection of David’s greater Son secures the hope of everlasting joy and life after death for David and all believers who take refuge in his Lord.

Finally, the apostle quotes David’s words in Psalm 110:1 to explain where Jesus is now and who he is as the seated Lord. Peter asserts that Jesus has “poured out” the Spirit after being exalted to the right hand of God (Acts 2:33). This is precisely what Jesus promised in Luke 24:49 and what God himself promised to do in Joel 2:28–29 (cited in Acts 2:17–18). Thus, the exalted Christ is responsible for the miraculous events that the gathered crowd sees and hears. Peter then supports this stunning claim by appealing to Scripture (Acts 2:34–35). David himself did not ascend to heaven but says,

The Lord said to my Lord,         “Sit at my right hand,until I make your enemies your footstool.”

The apostle’s point is crystal clear for those who recall that Jesus quotes the same psalm in Luke 20:41–44. Christ poses a riddle: How does David call his messianic son “Lord”? Peter clarifies that David’s Lord, not David himself, sits at God’s side. The command “sit at my right hand” repeats Peter’s claim that Christ has been “exalted at the right hand of God,” while also recalling the earlier quotation of Psalm 16:8 (“he is at my right hand”). Once Peter has established Jesus’s heavenly location (at God’s side) and explained his divine activity (pouring out God’s Spirit), he concludes, “God has made him both Lord and Christ, this Jesus whom you crucified” (Acts 2:36). God has thus kept his sworn promise to establish the throne of David’s descendant (Acts 2:30). The risen and exalted Lord Jesus rules over all nations, has poured out the Spirit in the last days, and now saves everyone who calls on his name (Acts 2:21).

Light to the Nations: Paul’s Teaching in Acts 13

After the Holy Spirit directs the church in Antioch to set apart Barnabas and Paul for a new work (Acts 13:2–3), the missionaries travel to Antioch in Pisidia, where Paul offers a “word of exhortation” in the synagogue (Acts 13:15 NIV).12 In his lengthiest recorded sermon in the book (Acts 13:16–41), Paul summarizes God’s past dealings with Israel, proclaims that Jesus is the promised Savior from David’s stock, and warns his hearers not to disregard this message of salvation. The missionaries then explain their outreach to the Gentiles by appealing to Isaiah (Acts 13:46–47).

Paul offers a sweeping survey of “the Law and the Prophets” that closely parallels 2 Samuel 7:6–16. In Acts 13:17–23, he rehearses the election of the patriarchs (Genesis), Israel’s rescue from Egypt (Exodus), their wilderness wanderings (Numbers), their conquest of Canaan (Joshua), their rule by the judges (Judges), the selection and removal of Saul (1 Samuel), and God’s choice of David as king and covenant promises to David’s offspring (1–2 Samuel). In Acts 13:32–37, Paul explains that God has kept his promises to the patriarchs by raising Jesus from the dead, offering biblical support from Psalm 2:7, Isaiah 55:3, and Psalm 16:10.

Psalm 2:7 provides clear biblical support for Christ’s resurrection. Brandon Crowe rightly calls the resurrection “the logical key” to Paul’s entire speech.13 The phrase “by raising Jesus” in Acts 13:33 parallels references to the resurrection in the immediate context:

“God raised him from the dead” (v. 30).
“He raised him from the dead, no more to return to corruption” (v. 34).
“He whom God raised up did not see corruption” (v. 37).

The resurrection does not make Jesus God’s Son; it powerfully confirms his divine sonship (see Romans 1:4) and also marks a new era of the eternal Son’s reign as the enthroned king.14 The risen Son reigns at God’s right hand (Acts 2:30, 33–35), and he extends salvation and forgiveness to those who call on his name (13:26, 38). Paul cites Psalm 2:7 as biblical proof for the resurrection, and it is significant that Psalm 2:8 promises “the nations” and “the ends of the earth” as the royal Son’s inheritance and possession. The missionaries make this global expectation explicit in Acts 13:46–47, when they announce their turn to the Gentiles.

Paul also quotes Isaiah 55:3 and Psalm 16:10 in Acts 13:34–37 as additional support for Christ’s resurrection. The brief reference to Psalm 16 parallels Peter’s extended argument on the day of Pentecost (see Acts 2:24–32, discussed earlier). The “holy and sure blessings of David” in Isaiah 55:3 recall the Lord’s covenant promise to establish the throne of David’s son in 2 Samuel 7:12–16. Christ has fulfilled this promise through his resurrection and now extends blessings to God’s people through his heavenly reign.

Paul and Barnabas face strong opposition from Jewish leaders when they return to teach the following week, and the missionaries respond with biblical clarity and courage in Acts 13:46–47:

It was necessary that the word of God be spoken first to you. Since you thrust it aside and judge yourselves unworthy of eternal life, behold, we are turning to the Gentiles. For so the Lord has commanded us, saying,

“I have made you a light for the Gentiles,         that you may bring salvation to the ends of the earth.”

“The apostles offer God’s people sound teaching and faithful guidance for understanding and applying the whole Bible.”

They directly quote Isaiah 49:6, which summarizes the mission of the Lord’s chosen Servant to restore Israel and extend saving light to the nations. In what sense did “the Lord” command the missionaries to turn to the Gentiles? Isaiah 49:6 records the Lord God’s commission to his Servant. In Luke 2:32, Simeon rightly identifies the Christ child as “a light for revelation to the Gentiles, / and for glory to your people Israel,” reflecting the hope of Isaiah 49:6. In Acts 1:8, the risen Lord Jesus commissions his witnesses “to the end of the earth,” reflecting the precise wording of Isaiah’s Servant prophecy. The Lord Jesus then reveals himself to Paul and calls this zealous persecutor to be his chosen servant sent to the Gentiles (Acts 9:15; 26:16–18). Thus, Isaiah’s prophecy is God’s biblical message, which the Lord Jesus fulfills and then applies to his disciples as they share in his Servant mission. Paul and Barnabas’s quotation of Isaiah 49 clarifies that the outreach to the Gentiles is not simply a backup plan because of Jewish opposition. Rather, they turn to the Gentiles as an outworking of God’s revealed purposes for his Servant Jesus and his servant people.

Conclusion: Lord, Teach Us to Read!

Jesus and his apostles offer God’s people sound teaching and faithful guidance for understanding and applying the whole Bible. The Master Teacher explains “the things concerning himself” in all the Scriptures (Luke 24:27), and his disciples do the same in the book of Acts. While we cannot claim the same level of certainty in our interpretations as the inspired biblical authors, we can and should seek to embrace their foundational beliefs about the Scriptures’ total truthfulness, binding authority, and comprehensive fulfillment through Christ in the last days. Jesus and his witnesses teach the Bible with a focus on the Messiah’s suffering, his resurrection on the third day, and the mission in his name to all nations. Luke 24 and the apostles’ teaching in Acts can enlighten our own Bible reading and encourage us to participate in the Servant’s mission to the end of the earth until his return.

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