A Theology of the Gospel in the Old Testament


“The beginning of the gospel of Jesus Christ, the Son of God” (Mark 1:1).[1]

Where did the gospel message first begin? The Gospel of Mark points to John the Baptist as the fulfillment of Old Testament prophecy regarding the gospel. If John fulfilled this prophecy, the gospel had a previous beginning point.

Jesus said these remarkable words, “Beginning with Moses and all the prophets, he interpreted to them in all the Scriptures the things concerning himself” (Luke 24:27). The critical, exegetical work of the Lord Jesus Christ tells us the gospel begins with Moses and that it is throughout all of the Old Testament.

To uncover the gospel in its totality requires starting at the beginning and showing that the Bible is a unified book bound together by the common theme of God’s good news declared to sinful man. If this thesis statement is true, there should be overwhelming evidence of the gospel message throughout the Old Testament as it points to Christ. This paper seeks to provide examples of the gospel throughout the Old Testament, which points to Christ as “the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world!” (John 1:29). 

The First Gospel

“I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your offspring and her offspring; he shall bruise your head, and you shall bruise his heel’” (Gen. 3:15).

When sin entered the world through the serpent’s deceit, God cursed mankind and all of Adam’s posterity (Rom. 5:12). The Apostle Paul declares Adam was a type of the one who was to come (Rom. 5:14). The obvious question to ask is, who is this one? Genesis 3:15 sets the answer to man’s sin problem and reconciliation with God in motion. C.H. Spurgeon said, “This is a most glorious promise, the first and only until the time of Abraham.”[2] What is revealed in this verse is nothing less than a divine promise of deliverance. Adam plunged humanity into sin and death through his act of rebellion. God saw the need in the immediate, as He had seen it before time began in the promise of a Redeemer. The great evangelist George Whitefield captures the predicament and the Divine’s answer to the problem:

An amazing scene of divine love here opens to our view, which had been from all eternity hid in the heart of God! Notwithstanding Adam and Eve were thus unhumbled, and did not so much as put up one single petition for pardon, God immediately passes sentence upon the serpent, and reveals to them a Savior.[3]

            The Lexham Bible Dictionary states Genesis 3:15 as the first gospel or protevangelium: “PROTEVANGELIUM Latin term meaning ‘first gospel.’ It refers to the promise of Gen 3:15 that the ‘seed of the woman’ would conquer the ‘seed of the serpent.’ This concept is applied to Jesus as Messiah (see Rom 16:20; Gal 3:16, 19, 29).”[4] In the opening chapter of Genesis, God had pronounced His work in creation as good, but after Adam and Eve’s creation, He pronounces the entirety of His work, “very good” (Gen. 1:31). Genesis chapter three sees the introduction of the serpent, the devil of old, and the manipulator of Eve as Adam stands by and observes the scene (Gen. 3:6). Immediately, things have changed, “then the eyes of both were opened, and they knew that they were naked. And they sewed fig leaves together and made themselves loincloths” (Gen 3:7). They immediately experienced something previously unknown: guilt, so they hid from God.

In the gospel message, the concept of guilt is an essential element. For Adam to know of his need for grace and mercy, he must understand he has violated God’s standard. God is not a harsh and capricious God, so He approaches Adam. K.A. Matthews offers a reason for God’s approach: “God is depicted as a gentle father seeking out his own. The means of uncovering their deed (like the serpent’s means of entrapment) is interrogation rather than charge and denunciation. The effect is pedagogical and permits the guilty to witness against themselves by their own admissions.”[5]

God metes out the consequences of their sin through a series of curses. First to the serpent, then to the woman, and finally to Adam, but within the middle of the curses is the gospel’s promise. In His great love, God has paved a path for forgiveness and reconciliation through the offspring; the seed of the woman will come as a promised deliverer.

Abraham’s Gospel Defined

“For the promise to Abraham and his offspring that he would be heir of the world did not come through the law but through the righteousness of faith” (Rom. 4:13).

            Spurgeon said the gospel’s promise has been silent since the Garden, but not without types and allusions. Types and allusions are given to the reader through God closing the doors of the Ark, as one example, the Ark being a type of Christ and Jesus the narrow gate. God’s revelation is progressive, and as so, He unfolds history in humanly understandable bits and pieces. Understanding the worldwide flood as a manifestation of God’s justice yet the salvation of Noah and his family representing His mercy is imperative to form an accurate understanding of God in all His attributes.

The world has continued its steady decline since the flood, and it is apparent it needs the gospel. Robert Gonzales writes, “Yahweh’s judgment on the Babel endeavor did not eradicate human sin any more than his worldwide Flood erased antediluvian evil (8:21). Instead, it resulted in the dispersal of sinful people-groups throughout the ancient world.”[6] God continues to reach out to the Sons of Adam and covenant with him. The covenants begin with Adam and continue throughout redemptive history, but Adam’s progeny continues to break the promises. God is undeterred in His actions toward mankind, and as revelation continues to progress, God again initiates, this time with a Chaldean named Abram:

Now the LORD said to Abram, “Go from your country and your kindred and your father’s house to the land that I will show you. And I will make of you a great nation, and I will bless you and make your name great, so that you will be a blessing. I will bless those who bless you, and him who dishonors you I will curse, and in you all the families of the earth shall be blessed” (Gen 12:1-3).

            The gospel message is revealed to Abraham in a promise from God to bless him and to make his offspring more numerous than the stars in all the heaven, and God sets His love upon him, not only in material blessing but through faith (Rom. 4:9, 22; Gal. 3:6; Jam. 2:23). “And he believed the LORD, and he counted it to him as righteousness” (Gen. 15:6). There are significant theological implications in the salvation of Abraham. The text articulates that salvation is by God’s grace, not works. Abraham believed the LORD, but the belief exhibited here is initiated by God. Abraham was not seeking God; God was seeking Abraham (Gen. 15:1). Matthews provides a succinct explanation:

The narration describes Abram’s response as belief (trust) in the Lord. The Hebrew construction translated “believed” (heʾĕmin + prep.) means to place trust in someone with confidence (e.g., Exod 19:9; 1 Sam 27:12). The general idea is reliance, and the orientation of the person’s trust is the future. The LXX renders the Hebrew by episteusen, “[Abram] believed.” There is no exact equivalent in the Hebrew for Greek’s pistis (“faith”) and pisteuō (“believe”), but this verbal form (hiphil) of the word ʾāman comes closest. Here Abram’s trust is placed in the Lord (bĕyhwh), whom he believes will carry out his promise (cp. Exod 14:31; Jonah 3:5). The text emphasizes that Abram entrusted his future to what God would do for him as opposed to what he could do for himself to obtain the promises.[7]

            Abraham’s faith was predicated upon God’s intervention, not his acting upon God’s work, as many confuse the roles of faith and works. R.C. Sproul adds, “When Abraham believed the promise of God, God counted him righteous, so Paul is arguing that works did not justify Abraham, nor was he justified by circumcision.”[8] Whether Old or New Testament, the gospel message must be consistent with the root cause being faith. Sons of Adam have no ability within themselves to reach up to God for salvation, and God must always do the reaching first.

Isaiah’s Gospel

“The people who walked in darkness have seen a great light; those who dwelt in a land of deep darkness, on them has light shone” (Is. 9:2).

To whom does the gospel message extend? Is it only for the Jew or for the Gentile as well? God promised redemption for His people, but in defining His people was, the gospel limited to only Jews. Isaiah seems to clear this up, and being a comprehensive prophecy of the gospel message, the prophet explains that this message will come to all nations. The Gospel of Matthew explains that this fulfills Isaiah’s prophecy of Jesus residing in the region of Galilee (Matt. 4:14-16). The message of Isaiah is replete with references to the nations of the world: “He says: ‘It is too light a thing that you should be my servant to raise up the tribes of Jacob and to bring back the preserved of Israel; I will make you as a light for the nations, that my salvation may reach to the end of the earth’” (Is. 49:6). When confronted with the truth of the world’s salvation (John 3:16), Nicodemus should have hardly been shocked. How did this esteemed teacher of the law miss something so obviously spelled out in Isaiah? John Calvin drives home the point:

He now adds, that this labour will be efficacious, not only among the people of Israel, but likewise among the Gentiles; and so it actually happened. Moreover, when the preaching of the Gospel produced hardly any good effect on the Jews, and when Christ was obstinately rejected by them, the Gentiles were substituted in their room. And thus Christ was “appointed to be a light of the Gentiles, and his salvation was manifested to the very ends of the earth” (Acts 13:47).[9]

            The gospel message is a thread that runs through the entirety of Isaiah, just as it does through the entirety of the Old Testament, and from the appointing of the prophet, there is an immediate theme of conviction, repentance, and atonement, all necessary elements to the gospel call (Is. 6:4-7). Immediately the prophet volunteers to the heavenly call and receives the instruction that the people will not listen, a common New Testament reference (Cited Matt. 13:14, 15; Acts 28:26, 27; [Mark 4:12; Luke 8:10; Rom. 11:8]. While Isaiah is abounding with the gospel message, the Servant Songs provide a glorious view of God’s message of salvation to man.

            It would be challenging to pick just one song in this incredible series. J. Nicholas Reid describes it like this:

So it is with the Servant Songs of Isaiah. These passages—Isaiah 42:1–9; 49:1–7; 50:4–9; and 52:13–53:12—make reference to the Servant of the Lord, and each could, like a single mountain, command attention that extends well beyond the treatment given here. In fact, one might feel the temptation to dwell only with one song without reference to the others. Another temptation might be to collapse each passage into the other, rushing from the victory of 42:1–9 to the suffering of 52:13–53:12.[10]

            Can one passage possibly due justice to God’s eternal plan to reveal His Son to the nations in all His glory? While the songs bring amazement, Isaiah 52:13-53:12 has captured the imagination of many throughout history. It culminates in that epic statement, “But he was pierced for our transgressions; he was crushed for our iniquities; upon him was the chastisement that brought us peace, and with his wounds we are healed” (Is. 53:5). This prophecy describes the brutal death the Servant would suffer, but it also proclaims the gospel. Christ suffered that His people might have peace with God. He bore the sin reserved for man. The innocent man dies for the guilty. Penal, substitutionary atonement perfectly defined.

            Isaiah’s gospel is clear. It is evident and apparent that God declared the good news through this point in redemptive history, and as it unfolds, He continues to show the same message through the minor prophets.

Jonah’s Gospel

 “Now the word of the Lord came to Jonah the son of Amittai, saying, ‘Arise, go to Nineveh, that great city, and call out against it, for their evil has come up before me’” (Jon 1:1-2).

Jonah is a prophet of God that appears to be in a crisis of faith. Jonah’s mission is to go to Ninevah, but he rebels, as the story quickly reveals. Can a gospel message be found in a rebellious man called to proclaim the good news to a wicked nation? The evidence is readily available that Jonah wanted nothing to do with God’s commands, and while he ultimately completes his mission, the gospel is intended for Jonah as much as for the Ninevites.

Bryan Estelle, in his book Salvation through Judgment and Mercy: The Gospel According to Jonah, writes,

In short, it seems that the author of Jonah has God intending the fish to rescue Jonah. The fish is not a means of punishment but of snatching from drowning. Jonah is saved in spite of his recalcitrance, and thus he experiences the pity and mercy of God. Hence the climactic exultation “Salvation comes from the Lord” (2:9) is a fitting conclusion to the psalm. [11]

Estelle makes an excellent point. God mercifully provides a fish to save Jonah from certain death, and this shows He is a God that rescues sinners, those hardened against His commands. Estelle, quoting Jacque Ellul, draws a comparison between Jonah and the scapegoat[12]:

What counts is that this story is in reality the precise intimation of an infinitely vaster story and one which concerns us directly. What Jonah could not do, but his attitude announces, is done by Jesus Christ. He it is who accepts total condemnation.… It is solely because of the sacrifice of Jesus Christ that the sacrifice of Jonah avails and saves. It is solely because Jesus Christ has accepted malediction that Jonah’s acceptance has something to say both to the sailors and to us.[13]

            The comparison between Jonah and Christ is applicable since Jesus Himself drew the parallel between Jonah’s time in the fish to Christ’s time in the grave (Matt. 12:40). Jonah is a type of Christ and falls short of the antitype, Christ. Jonah’s gospel message shows the tender mercies of a loving God that saves despite human failures and human rebellion. Jonah is a prophet in crisis, going through a crisis of faith, but Jonah’s story is not about Jonah and how he overcomes his problems and saves the day. The gospel of Jonah shows how God condescends to save the unworthy: “Salvation belongs to the LORD!” (Jon. 2:9). Matthew Henry summarizes the gospel succinctly: “Jonah’s experience shall encourage others, in all ages, to trust in God as the God of their salvation; all that read this story shall say with assurance, say with admiration, that salvation is of the Lord, and is sure to all that belongs to him.”[14] The gospel message may be veiled in the Old Testament through types, shadows, and illusions, but in Jonah, the gospel stands out as a bright light in a dim room.


When Jesus declared the entirety of the Scriptures spoke of himself (Luke 24:27), he declared the gospel message from beginning to end. The Old Testament Scriptures provide shadows and types and, most importantly, clear examples of the gospel message. The gospel message permeates throughout the Old Testament. The Lord Jesus Christ declared that this message begins with Moses and runs consistently through Malachi.

The examples listed above are only a few compared to God’s provision. What of the redemption of Ruth by Boaz showing him as a kinsman-redeemer, Rahab’s deliverance and her inclusion in the lineage of the Messiah, or the love shown by Hosea to Gomer. The reader of the Old Testament Scriptures need not look far to find countless examples and far too numerous to articulate in such a limited space.

God has not left the world without directions. These directions lead to the cross of Christ, whether in the Old or the New Testaments. The cross and the gospel are the central themes of God’s design to bring glory to Himself. God has declared the answer, which is found in the work and person of Jesus Christ. It is the critical work of the exegete of God’s word to root out these gospel jewels for the edification and benefit of the hearer, to proclaim with joy that salvation is of the Lord. The Old Testament concludes with a gospel promise, just as it began with one in Genesis 3: “Behold, I send my messenger, and he will prepare the way before me. And the Lord whom you seek will suddenly come to his temple; and the messenger of the covenant in whom you delight, behold, he is coming, says the Lord of hosts” (Mal. 3:1).



Barry, John D., et al., eds., “Protevangelium,” in The Lexham Bible Dictionary, Bellingham, WA: Lexham Press, 2016.

Calvin, John and William Pringle, trans., Commentary on the Book of the Prophet Isaiah, vol. 4., Bellingham, WA: Logos Bible Software, 2010.

Ellul, Jacque, The Judgment of Jonah, trans. Geoffrey W. Bromiley, Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1971, quoted in Bryan D. Estelle, Salvation through Judgment and Mercy: The Gospel according to Jonah, ed. Tremper Longman III and J. Alan Groves, The Gospel according to the Old Testament (Phillipsburg, NJ: P&R Publishing, 2005.

Estelle, Bryan D., Salvation through Judgment and Mercy: The Gospel according to Jonah, ed. Tremper Longman III and J. Alan Groves, The Gospel according to the Old Testament Phillipsburg, NJ: P&R Publishing, 2005.

Gonzales, Robert R. Jr., Where Sin Abounds: The Spread of Sin and the Curse in the Book of Genesis with Special Focus on the Patriarchal Narratives, Eugene, OR: Wipf & Stock, 2009.

Henry, Matthew. Matthew Henry’s Commentary on the Whole Bible: Complete and Unabridged in One Volume Peabody: Hendrickson, 1994.

Mathews, K.A., Genesis 11:27–50:26, vol. 1B, The New American Commentary, Nashville: Broadman & Holman Publishers, 2005.

Sproul, R.C., Romans: An Expositional Commentary, Sanford, FL: Reformation Trust Publishing, 2019.

Spurgeon, C.H., CBS Spurgeon Study Bible, Nashville, TN: Holman Bible Publishers, 2017.

Tabletalk, “The Servant Songs of Isaiah,” accessed May 16, 2022, https://tabletalkmagazine.com/article/2019/10/the-servant-songs-of-isaiah/

The Holy Bible: English Standard Version. Wheaton, IL: Crossway Bibles, 2016.

Whitefield, George, Selected Sermons of George Whitefield, Oak Harbor, WA: Logos Research Systems, Inc., 1999.

[1] All Scripture citation in this work are taken from The Holy Bible: English Standard Version (Wheaton, IL: Crossway Bibles, 2016) unless otherwise noted.

[2] C.H. Spurgeon, CBS Spurgeon Study Bible (Nashville, TN: Holman Bible Publishers, 2017), 5.

[3] George Whitefield, Selected Sermons of George Whitefield (Oak Harbor, WA: Logos Research Systems, Inc., 1999).

[4] John D. Barry et al., eds., “Protevangelium,” in The Lexham Bible Dictionary (Bellingham, WA: Lexham Press, 2016).

[5] K. A. Mathews, Genesis 1-11:26, vol. 1A, The New American Commentary (Nashville: Broadman & Holman Publishers, 1996), 240.

[6] Robert R. Gonzales Jr., Where Sin Abounds: The Spread of Sin and the Curse in the Book of Genesis with Special Focus on the Patriarchal Narratives (Eugene, OR: Wipf & Stock, 2009), 95.

[7] Mathews, “Genesis,” 166.

[8] R.C. Sproul, Romans: An Expositional Commentary (Sanford, FL: Reformation Trust Publishing, 2019), 104.

[9] John Calvin and William Pringle, Commentary on the Book of the Prophet Isaiah, vol. 4 (Bellingham, WA: Logos Bible Software, 2010), 17.

[10] Tabletalk, “The Servant Songs of Isaiah” accessed May 16, 2022, https://tabletalkmagazine.com/article/2019/10/the-servant-songs-of-isaiah/

[11] Bryan D. Estelle, Salvation through Judgment and Mercy: The Gospel according to Jonah, ed. Tremper Longman III and J. Alan Groves, The Gospel according to the Old Testament (Phillipsburg, NJ: P&R Publishing, 2005), 66.

[12] The scapegoat is a name given to one of two goats. The scapegoat is sent into the wilderness by Aaron as a sin offering. See Lev 16:8–22.

[13] Jacque Ellul, The Judgment of Jonah, trans. Geoffrey W. Bromiley (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1971), 36–37, quoted in Bryan D. Estelle, Salvation through Judgment and Mercy: The Gospel according to Jonah, ed. Tremper Longman III and J. Alan Groves, The Gospel according to the Old Testament (Phillipsburg, NJ: P&R Publishing, 2005), 59–60.

[14] Matthew Henry, Matthew Henry’s Commentary on the Whole Bible: Complete and Unabridged in One Volume (Peabody: Hendrickson, 1994), 1527.

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