Devastated and confused by the brutal crucifixion they had just witnessed, two travelers leave Jerusalem, walking together on a dusty road to the town called Emmaus (see Luke 24:13-35). They are processing and debating all they had seen, when a stranger starts walking alongside them. The stranger wonders why they are so upset.
The two travelers are shocked that he doesn’t know already. They then explain that a man named Jesus has just been murdered. He is the prophet whom everyone had been hoping for—the Messiah, or in Greek, the Christos. This Jesus was supposed to set Israel free from Roman oppression and evil, everywhere. But rather than freeing people, he was arrested, convicted, and executed as a criminal.
But then the stranger, who later reveals himself to be the risen Jesus, starts talking about the Hebrew Bible—the Law of Moses,the Prophets, and the Psalms. He says that these Scriptures had been describing that kind of Messiah all along, promising a loving Messiah who instead of fighting against people, serves them, suffers death, and then rises again three days later.
The two travelers are shocked. Who is this guy? But the promised Messiah that this stranger was talking about was there in Genesis as the snake crusher who would have his heel bitten. He was there in Isaiah as the promised suffering servant. The real Messiah was there in the Psalms, poetically imagined and deeply hoped for.
In all their knowledge, these two confused, hurting people had missed that part. They needed to learn how to see that this diverse collection of literature we call the Bible tells the story of Jesus, the Christos, the Messiah.
But how could they learn to see this? And how can we?
Let’s take a look!
The Garden of Eden Replayed
If the whole Hebrew Bible is ultimately telling the story of Jesus, how do we identify the way any given narrative or book is telling that story?
First, we turn to Genesis 1-3. The garden of Eden story establishes key themes in Scripture, especially the promise of the human whom God will send to rescue humanity. This divine promise will repeat throughout the Bible. So once we can see the patterns in Genesis, we can also see how the authors use them elsewhere in Scripture.
In Genesis, we enter an amazing scene where God speaks creation into existence (Gen. 1). Then we are transported to a garden filled with trees and rivers and animals (Gen. 2). In this garden, God creates and breathes life into human beings, and he appoints them as gardeners, tasked with cultivating true life on Earth.
This whole setup, humanity living in peace with God on his terms and enjoying his abundance and life, is called God’s blessing. And it’s a key biblical theme. But a deceitful creature tempts the humans to ignore God’s terms for life in the garden. Humans give into the creature and make a grab at ruling creation on their own terms—another key theme. Things don’t go well from there. God’s realm, where he is present, is not a space for deception or corruption, so he must exile humans from the garden. They are now outside of his life-giving presence (Gen. 3) and spiraling back toward darkness, chaos, and death.
Not being connected to the source of life means certain death, but we’ve just started this book! This cannot be the end. Will God abandon his creation? If so, he cannot be called loving. Will he ignore the corruption humanity is causing? If so, he cannot be truly just. So what choice does he have? (This series of questions has been summarized as the "Divine Dilemma,” first articulated by Athanasius in chapter three of his work titled, De Incarnatione.)
In Genesis 3:15, God promises to raise up one human being to rule over and defeat that deceiver. This human, the “seed” of the woman, will restore life to the original blessing and will both defeat the deceitful creature and be defeated by it. The deeper promise is that one defeat will last, and the other will not.
The deceiver will ultimately be defeated, but the promised human one of God will not.
Noah, the Promised Rescuer?
Then Noah enters the story. He is described as a righteous one who walks faithfully with God (Gen. 6:9). Is he the promised human being? Is Noah the one who is going to get humanity back to the garden?
For a while, it seems so. He lives faithfully, and he follows God’s instructions. But after leading his family and animals through the chaotic waters in a sure act of great salvation, he still turns out to not be the one. He plants a vineyard, gets drunk out of his mind, and our new humanity ends up much like the first—naked and ashamed in a garden.
Here, a key theme unlocks: a garden theme.
The Eden story is replayed. These intentional arrangements of pieces—images, phrases, characters—replay over and over. God’s chosen partners have a chance to trust God and live in his world, on his terms, but they end up repeating the sin of Eden. All of this, along with God’s original promise, builds expectation for a rescuer—a chosen human being who will not fail and will restore humanity back to the garden blessing.
From here, these key themes emerge when authors are trying to show us how their story is connected to the story of the Messiah, the one God promised.
Moses, the Potential Messiah?
After we discover these repeated themes, images, and words, we notice how they begin to drive our expectations for certain stories to follow a pattern.
Take the Exodus story, for example. God has just delivered the Israelites from Egypt and is leading them to the promised land (described in Eden-like terms, e.g., Exod. 3:17). God tells the Israelites not to construct any idols or images of him or other gods; those are his terms. But a few days later, the people do exactly that! They construct a golden calf that they can worship, and they thank this golden “god” as the one who rescued them from slavery in Egypt (Exod. 32).
The author is linking to the Bible’s opening themes. God's chosen partners who have the opportunity to live within God’s blessing are making the same mistake the original humans made. They're receiving instruction from God and choosing to ignore it.
By this point in the Hebrew Bible, based on the many similar stories leading up to this moment, we are starting to expect this type of behavior. Here, it gets worse. God says he’s going to remove them, not from the garden, but from life! Readers brace for impact, because it looks like God’s about to wipe everyone out. But Moses, a human one, prays to God on behalf of the people, and God listens to him and chooses to spare the Israelites (Exod. 32:11-14).
Moses acts like the rescuer, the one promised in the garden! So is he the one we’ve been waiting for? Our expectations are building, but then he too ignores God’s instruction and tries to lead the people on his own terms (see Num. 20:1-13).
Israel and Exile
As the stories and poems and prophecies continue, Israel has many moments of living within the blessing of Eden. They experience peace with God and a true sense of their responsibility to bless their neighbors (e.g., 1 Kgs. 10). They can and do partner with God. But when they break their word and violate the agreements they made with him (e.g., Isa. 1), God, in his justice, must exile Israel.
He sends them out of the promised land, which means outside of his presence and blessing. This is the result when people reject life on God’s terms and attempt to redefine it on their own (e.g., Isa. 2-11); they lose their ability to live with God peacefully, which ends in losing true life.
The Suffering Servant in Isaiah
In his prophecies, Isaiah activates these Genesis themes and engages the questions that began there. Will God abandon human beings? Or will he rescue them? God’s response to people throughout Scripture could be paraphrased as both “Yes, I will rescue you!” and “Probably not in the way you expect.”
Isaiah starts to talk about a strong prophet whose sure victory over evil will happen not through war but through self-giving love and suffering on behalf of others.
Is this the promised human being from Genesis 3? The one who will bring peace and life back to humanity? Isaiah paints the portrait of a Moses-like servant who will come to offer his own life for the well-being of Israel and all humanity (Isa. 42-55). Isaiah does not name this servant, instead, he holds him up as a person humanity desperately needs—the promised rescuer.
And we are left wondering: Who is this servant?
The Rescuer in the Garden
Years later, a man named Jesus, from the Galilean town called Nazareth, kneels down to pray in a garden. He is distressed and in deep anguish. As he fights to utter words of prayer, sweat mixed with blood falls from his face.
For the last three years, he has been announcing the arrival of God’s Kingdom. Some people are following Jesus everywhere he goes. Fishing towns and villages throughout Galilee are buzzing: “Is this the Messiah, the human one God promised?” He has to be!
The problem is that he refuses to kill any of Israel’s enemies. Not even one person! He tells people to forgive everyone, even their enemies.
The people were expecting their Messiah to be a warrior king, not a king of mercy and forgiveness. Their hope is for restoration, which is good, but they have come to trust in the world’s terms for establishing peace rather than God’s terms.
Much to their surprise, part of Jesus’ announcement is a warning against Israel! He specifically focuses on Jerusalem, the temple, and the leaders of Israel, promising them that God will expose their evil. He warns of God’s coming judgment (Matt. 7:24-27, 10:7-15, 24:1-28). And if Israel will not accept the blessing of God on his terms, then like Adam and Eve, they too will be placed outside of the source of life.
Notice here that Jesus is not wielding an angry threat to harm his own creation or human beings, whom he loves. He is an honest truth-teller, teaching people about what is real. His good blessing must be received on his terms, not achieved on their own terms.
Jesus does not condemn or terrify them. He weeps over the lost sheep of Israel, and he pleads with them as a true friend and shepherd (Luke 19:41-44). The New Testament stories tell us that he has deep compassion on them (e.g., Mark 6:34; Matt. 9:36). Though they had wandered from the partnership he had with them, he never stops loving them (John 13:1).
And it’s toward the end of the Gospel accounts that we find Jesus in the garden. He’s facing the same question Adam and Eve faced: Do I trust and follow God’s will, or do I trust that what I want is best?
Adam and Eve both trusted their own desire more than God’s will—something every human being also does. Will Jesus also make the same mistake, following the pattern established in the garden of Eden, or will he introduce something new?
In a new garden, he prays, “Not what I will, but what you will” (Mark 14:36). Where all humanity has gone wrong, Jesus gets it right. He stays in the blessing by refusing to ignore the will of God.
This is good, but we also remember that promise in Genesis 3, where God said this rescuing human being would also be defeated by the deceptive creature! This is God’s will? This is a hard responsibility for Jesus to accept, but he accepts it in love and is ready to serve and suffer by offering his own life on behalf of Israel (cf. Isa. 53; Mark 10:45).
Not long after the garden scene in Gethsemane, Jesus is defeated. Mocked and publicly tortured before a final execution by the Roman guard, this promised Messiah ends up condemned as a below-average, dead criminal.
On the Road to Emmaus
Three days later, devastated and confused because their Messiah was murdered, two travelers are leaving Jerusalem and heading to Emmaus. A stranger joins them, walking alongside them like a friend, and talking about how all of the stories and poems and prophecies in Scripture point to him—not a warrior king but a suffering, servant King whose defeat by the deceiver is not a final defeat.
He’s making sense, but could it be true? They’re unsure, but there’s something about him, something familiar, yet different. When they reach Emmaus, they beg the stranger to stay and share a meal with them. And he agrees. The stranger takes bread, blesses it, breaks it, and gives it to the others, inviting them to share in the blessing.
When Adam and Eve chose to turn their attention away from God, they became blind and could no longer see what was true. But when these humans receive the blessing of this broken bread, that old theme reverses!
Their eyes are opened, and they recognize him—the stranger is Jesus! The stranger is the one they had just seen murdered. Wait, what?
Then Jesus disappears.
It is him! The elated followers express to each other how unique it was to be in his presence. “Didn’t our hearts burn within us while he was speaking with us on the road, while he was explaining the scriptures to us?” (Luke 24:32).
And they set off immediately to tell the others. Jesus, the Christos, the Messiah, is alive. And this Jesus is the one the Hebrew Bible had been talking about all along.
Not every passage in the Hebrew Bible is about the entire biblical story leading to Jesus. But every passage will play off the themes introduced in the garden (Gen. 1-3). And these themes are developed throughout the Hebrew Bible, weaving in and out of narratives, songs, parables, and prophecies.
Like the two people walking alongside Jesus, we only need to learn how to see the tapestry. And as we learn, our eyes will be opened to see how this diverse collection of literature within the Bible is telling the story of Jesus, the Christos, the Messiah.
This is the third post in our series The Paradigm, which summarizes the core ideas that shape the way biblical authors intended for us to read the Bible. To dive deeper into this topic, listen to the podcast episode “Who Is the Bible About?” For an overview of all the pillars of how we read the Bible, check out The Paradigm Study Notes.