The Cross and Anticipation

The cross of Christ has always been central to the purposes of God and vital for a lost humanity. Without the cross there would be no salvation for sinners. God’s first thoughts are His last thoughts, and the plan of salvation was part of His sovereign will from before time began. To this end, the apostle Peter explained that Christ was “foreordained before the foundation of the world” (1Pe 1:20).1

The two dispirited disciples on the road to Emmaus came to understand that the Stranger who drew near and joined them on their journey was none other than the risen and triumphant Lord. He was able to show them “in all the scriptures the things concerning himself” (Luk 24:27). Those Old Testament Scriptures foretold the coming of Christ into the world as Israel’s promised Messiah. His rejection and shameful death upon the tree were predicted, as were also His future millennial glory and rightful place upon the throne.

Our aim in this article will be to focus on various Scriptures that foretell or foreshadow the death of the Savior upon the cross. Such a brief selection of relevant prophecies leaves many others for you to discover and enjoy for yourself.

“The Scarlet Thread”

One specific theme running through the Scriptures has been described as “the scarlet thread.” This refers to the recurring need for a sacrifice and the shedding of blood if sinners are to draw near to a holy God. This is still God’s way of salvation today: “Without shedding of blood [there] is no remission” of sins (Heb 9:22). To the modern mind such a truth is primitive and objectionable. To the heart of a forgiven sinner, however, this truth is not only foundational but also delightful. Because of what took place at Calvary, sinners can know forgiveness, reconciliation and peace with God (Eph 1:7; 2:13; Col 1:20). The Old Testament points forward to Christ’s death even as the New Testament looks back to it.

The Bruised Seed – Gen 3

No sooner had man fallen into sin than God pronounced His verdict on what had taken place. His holy character could not overlook Adam and Eve’s disobedience; sin must be judged. And yet, can we not see His grace in providing for our first parents animal skins to cover their nakedness and shame? This first “sacrifice” was prepared by God and the blood of those animals stained the ground. God’s words to Satan, the serpent, foretold an ongoing and fateful conflict: “And I will put enmity between thee and the woman, and between thy seed and her seed; it shall bruise thy head, and thou shalt bruise his heel” (Gen 3:15). The thrust of this early prophecy is that Satan would seek to hinder and overcome the Seed, being Christ, but the Seed would strike the mortal blow in victory over the enemy. Hebrews 2:14 comes to mind: Christ took upon Himself mortal flesh “that through death he might destroy him that had the power of death, that is, the devil.” On the cross, Christ died in apparent weakness but rose again from the tomb in triumphant power. He is the mighty Conqueror of Calvary.

The Smitten Shepherd – Gen 4

In this story, Abel was a good and faithful shepherd. His brother, Cain, was a farmer who was proud of his own achievements. He was also jealous that his brother’s offering of a sacrificial lamb pleased God, whereas his own offering of the fruit he had cultivated was rejected. As a result of Cain’s resentment and hatred, he rose up and slew his innocent brother. The two sons of Adam and their two offerings represent two different approaches to God, only one of which is acceptable. Our good works can never satisfy God. Abel, the smitten shepherd, is a picture of the Savior who was hated by His brethren and cruelly slain. Later in the Old Testament, we read the prophet Zechariah’s words concerning the coming Messiah: “Awake, O sword, against my shepherd, and against the man that is my fellow, saith the LORD of hosts: smite the shepherd” (Zec 13:7). The same prophecy was quoted by Christ on the night He was betrayed (Mat 26:31; Mar 14:27). In Christ’s case, the sword that fell upon Him was one of judgment as wielded by a holy God on account of man’s sin. We thank God for the Good Shepherd who willingly laid down His life for the sheep (Joh 10:15).

The Obedient Son – Gen 22

The story of Abraham and Isaac has been interpreted in different ways. This chapter begins by portraying a father who was willing to make the ultimate sacrifice in giving up his own son. It ends with the substitution of another sacrifice in the place of Isaac. Then again, Isaac was an obedient son. The parallel with Christ is obvious but there are significant differences. On the way to Mount Moriah, Isaac was in the dark as to what lay ahead of him, but as Christ journeyed towards Jerusalem and the cross, He knew every detail of what must come to pass. Initially, He declared that “his hour” had not yet come (Joh 2:4; 7:30; 8:20), but later He was fully aware when it was near (12:23; 17:1). To His disciples He spoke of His imminent betrayal and suffering: “Ye know that after two days is the feast of the Passover, and the Son of man is betrayed to be crucified” (Mat 26:2). His footsteps never wavered and “from the track He turned not back.”

The Spotless Sacrifice – Exo 12

The exodus from the bondage and oppression of Egypt was a miraculous deliverance for the nation of Israel. The last plague that Pharaoh and his people faced was the death of the firstborn. The Israelites were saved because of their obedience to the command of God delivered through Moses and Aaron. Each household selected a lamb – “Your lamb shall be without blemish” (Exo 12:5). It was then kept for several days before being slain. The blood was applied to the doors of their homes. The flesh of the lamb was roasted and eaten with unleavened bread and bitter herbs. Anything that remained was burned. After that Passover night, a great cry was heard from every Egyptian home when it was discovered that the firstborn had died. This also affected their livestock. In every Hebrew home the firstborn was saved. The apostle Paul applied the truth of this event to the Christians of his day when he wrote, “Christ our passover is sacrificed for us” (1Co 5:7). As Peter tells us, the precious blood of the spotless Lamb has made all the difference (1Pe 1:19).

The Uplifted Savior – Num 21

As they journeyed through the wilderness, the children of Israel constantly murmured and complained. They tried the patience of Moses and the forbearance of God. In Numbers 21 we read of one such incident when the Lord disciplined them by sending fiery serpents among them. Many succumbed to fatal snakebites. Following their cries of repentance, God instructed Moses to make a serpent of brass, raise it up on a pole, and tell those who had been bitten to look and live. Many centuries later the Lord Jesus explained to an enquiring Jewish ruler called Nicodemus that, “as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, even so must the Son of man be lifted up: that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have eternal life” (Joh 3:14-15). For the sinner today, a look of faith to the Christ who was lifted up upon a cross is sufficient to bring about personal salvation. The message is still, “Look and live!”

The Lonely Scapegoat – Lev 16

The office of the high priest and the service of the accompanying Levites are full of lessons that find their fulfillment in Christ. These types and shadows are too numerous to mention in detail but the furniture of the tabernacle, the high priest’s garments, the sacrificial offerings and feast days all typify the person and work of Christ. The New Testament letter to the Hebrews constantly looks back to these Old Testament events to show the superiority of the work of Christ and the new covenant. The annual Day of Atonement is clearly referenced (Heb 9:7).

On that special day two goats were taken. One was slain as a sin offering for the sins of the people and its blood was taken into the Holy of Holies and sprinkled upon and before the mercy seat. The other goat for the sin offering was not slain, but Aaron laid his hands upon its head and confessed the sins of the people. This live goat was led away to a solitary place in the wilderness. The first goat represents the sacrifice that was required to pay the price of sin. The second goat represents the bearing away of sin. It also suggests to us the loneliness of the cross when our sins were laid upon Christ and He bore them all away. He was forsaken by God, and what that meant for the sinless Savior we shall never fully know.

The Rejected Sovereign – 2Sa 15

King David’s pathway to the throne met with resistance from his enemies and even those of his own household. After Samuel anointed David, the dismissive scorn of the young lad’s older siblings quickly turned to jealousy. This intensified after David boldly confronted and defeated Goliath while the brothers cowered with the rest of the army in their tents. There was also the paranoia of King Saul to deal with. Despite all that David had done to comfort the troubled heart of the king, Saul began to hound him and sought to destroy him. Perhaps the keenest blow inflicted upon David was caused by the rebellion of his own son. Absalom plotted and schemed to usurp his father until that sad and fateful day when David had to flee from Jerusalem, barefoot, weeping, and with his head covered. Crossing the brook of Kidron, he and his followers headed for the wilderness.

These events remind us of the trials and tribulations of Christ during His earthly ministry. He was misunderstood by His own family, despised and rejected by His own people whom He had come to save, and ultimately condemned to death by their rulers who incited the mob in calling out for His death by crucifixion. The governor, Pilate, knew that these rulers had delivered Him up because of envy (Mat 27:18). They put Him to open shame by acting out a mock coronation with a crown of thorns, a purple robe, and a rod in His hand. Even though they protested, “We have no king but Caesar,” Pilate wrote a title and put it on the cross: “JESUS OF NAZARETH THE KING OF THE JEWS” (Joh 19:15,19).

The Sorrowing Suppliant – Psa 22

The deep experiences mentioned in this psalm go far beyond anything that David ever knew in his own life. The Gospel records reveal that the prophetic shadows of Psalm 22 were fulfilled some 1,000 years later at the cross of Calvary. The plaintive cry of the suffering One went unheard and unanswered: “My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me?” (Mat 27:46; Mar 15:34). We sense the anguish and grief of His soul at being left alone to suffer in the darkness; there was none to help (Psa 22:11). He was mocked and belittled by His torturers and despised and scorned by the screaming, hysterical mob. They surrounded Him like wild and vicious animals, baying for His blood. They had already stripped Him and cast lots for His garments; they pierced His hands and His feet (vv16,18). Both Jew and Gentile were united against Him. As we read through this poignant chapter, it is with some relief that we move from the sobbing and pleading of the first half to the singing and praising found in the second half of the psalm.

The Suffering Servant – Isa 52-53

The prophet Isaiah spoke of a unique person designated by God as “my servant.” We are exhorted to behold Him (42:1). His sufferings were graphically portrayed: “His visage was so marred more than any man, and his form more than the sons of men” (52:14). Physically, His face and form were so bruised and beaten as to make Him almost unrecognizable. Socially, His own people despised and rejected Him. They denied Him the honor and respect that befitted their promised Messiah, the anointed One of God. But the heaviest burden was borne when a holy and righteous God meted out upon Him, the Sin-bearer, the crushing weight of judgment that should have been ours: “The LORD hath laid on him the iniquity of us all”; “Yet it pleased the LORD to bruise him; he hath put him to grief” (53:6,10). He bore our griefs and carried our sorrows; He was wounded for our transgressions and bruised for our iniquities (vv4-5).

These various Scriptures leave us in no doubt that the purposes of God concerning the cross of Christ were fulfilled to the letter. We are truly thankful that God keeps His Word.

1Bible quotations in this article are from the KJV.