What do I mean by “Christ is the center”?
One important tool for Bible study is to remember the focus the Bible has on Jesus Christ. This is especially true for the New Testament, but to a lesser degree, even the Old Testament has this Christocentric focus. If we understand what the New Testament teaches about Christ, this focus is quite reasonable.
He is more than just the focal point of Scripture
Christ is so much more than the focal point of Scripture. He is the wisdom of God (1 Corinthians 1:30) and the Word of God (John 1:1; Revelation 19:). He is the creator of everything in heaven and on earth, and sustains everything, minute by minute, by his power (John 1:3; Colossians 1:16–17). Not only is he the origin of all things, but he is also their goal (Colossians 1:16b). This is true not only in the physical realm, but also in the spiritual. The author of Hebrews calls Christ “the pioneer and perfector” of our faith (Hebrews 12:2). God’s purpose is to bring everything in heaven and on earth to complete unity under Christ (Ephesians 1:10; 2 Corinthians 5:19).
That is why we find in Scripture clear statements about the centrality of Christ. Consider, for example, Colossians 3:11: “Christ is all, and is in all,” and Philippians 1:21: “For to me, to live is Christ.” Nor is this something foisted on Jesus by the primitive church. Our Lord himself says, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the father but by me” (John 14:6). Making him the center of our lives is so important that Jesus compares it to eating and drinking: “unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood, you have no life in you. Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life, and I will raise him up at the last day” (John 6:53–54). Jesus is employing a hyperbolic metaphor: your relationship to Christ, renewed daily, is as important to spiritual life as eating and drinking is to physical life.
To illustrate this point of the centrality of Christ in Scripture, let us take a brief look at First Corinthians.
A brief study of First Corinthians
Corinth was a church coming apart at the seams. Here is a list of their many issues:
- They were dividing into preacher fanclubs that were quarreling with each other (1 Corinthians 1:11-12).
- They prized the style of preaching (i.e., eloquence) over its content (1 Corinthians 2:1-5)
- They boasted over their tolerance of sexual immorality (1 Corinthians 5:1-2).
- They took each other to court before pagan judges (1 Corinthians 6:1).
- They thought that celibacy was more spiritual, including celibacy of married couples (1 Corinthians 7:1, 5).
- They ignored the temptations of newly converted pagans by eating meats dedicated to idols (1 Corinthians 8:7).
- Their women flaunted cultural propriety in their eagerness to exercise spiritual gifts (1 Corinthians 11:4–6).
- Their wealthy members ignored the needs of poor brothers and sisters in their observance of the Lord’s Supper (1 Corinthians 11: 21 – 22).
- They used spiritual gifts as a means of self-promotion rather than as an opportunity to build up their brothers and sisters (1 Corinthians 14:2–3).
- They denied the future resurrection of physical bodies (1 Corinthians 15:12).
For each one of these 10 issues, the apostle Paul had one solution: Jesus Christ.
- Christ, not their preachers, had been crucified for them, and they were baptized in His name (1 Corinthians 1:13).
- The content of the preaching, Christ crucified, is not foolishness; it is God’s wisdom and God’s power to save everyone who believes (1 Corinthians 1:18–25).
- The Corinthians had to get rid of sexual immorality, like Jews rid their houses of leaven before Passover, because Christ the Passover lamb has been sacrificed (1 Corinthians 5:7).
- All of the Corinthian Christians had been washed, sanctified, and justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ; they had no reason to judge one another (1 Corinthians 6:11).
- Married Christians, as well as single Christians, belong to the Lord, since they were bought at a price (1 Corinthians 7: 21–24).
- Newly converted pagans should be treated with consideration as those for whom Christ died, and sinning against them is the same as sinning against Christ (1 Corinthians 8:11-12).
- The roles assigned to men and women are part of the structure of authority that includes the relationship between God the Father and Christ (1 Corinthians 11:3).
- To take the Lord’s Supper in an unworthy manner (i.e., ignoring the needs of brothers and sisters) is sinning against the body and blood of the Lord (1 Corinthians 11:27).
- All Christians are members of the body of Christ, and God expects them to build up one another rather than promoting themselves (1 Corinthians 12:24–27).
- Our future resurrection is tied to the resurrection of Christ; to deny the one is to deny the other (1 Corinthians 15:12-20).
Notice that each problem Paul addresses finds Christ as its solution. What First Corinthians demonstrates also occurs elsewhere in the New Testament. See, for example, Acts 8:35; Hebrews 2:5–9; 1 Peter 1:7-8; 1 John 1:1-3; Revelation 1:5-7; Revelation 19:10).
The focus of the Old Testament
At the center of the message of the Old Testament is the promise God made to Abraham to bless all the nations of the earth through him and his offspring (Genesis 12:2-3; Genesis 20:17-18). That promise is the reason God redeemed the Israelites from Egyptian slavery (Deuteronomy 9:5). Ultimately, Christ is the fulfillment of that promise (Galatians 3: 29). More explicitly, Christ is the subject of dozens of messianic prophecies scattered throughout the Old Testament (for a list, see below).
The Old Testament opens with a promise that the Seed of woman will crush the head of the serpent (Genesis 3:15) and closes with a promise that the Lord will come in judgment as a refiner’s fire (Malachi 4:1b-3). In between, we find passage after passage predicting the coming of the Lord, including the place of his birth, His tribe, His connection with David, His rejection by the leaders, His sacrificial death, His resurrection from the dead, and His eternal reign.
How do I apply this to Bible study?
When you are reading a passage in the New Testament, look for how the biblical author relates what he is saying to the person and/or work of Jesus Christ. Almost always, you will find some connection.
Many of the epistles are organized into two parts: doctrinal and practical. The doctrinal part focuses on the sacrifice Christ made for us and the spiritual benefits we receive as a result. The practical part calls on us to make a response in keeping with that sacrifice. For example, Ephesians chapters 1 through 3 detail how God has blessed us in Christ. Chapters 4 through 6 describe the Christian lifestyle as a path worthy of the gospel.
New Testament books that are not organized this way still follow the general theme of Christ’s active love for us and our active response to that love. See, for example, 1 John 2:1-2 speaks of Jesus Christ, the Righteous One who is the atoning sacrifice for the sins of the whole world, followed closely by 1 John 2:6: “Whoever claims to live in him must live (lit. “walk”) as Jesus did.” Living a life of holiness and love expresses our gratitude to Christ for what He did and does for us.
Once you understand this connection to Jesus, you will begin to see it everywhere in Scripture. It’s that Christocentrism (Christ-at-the-center) that provides us with a broader context for understanding nearly every New Testament passage, and many in the Old Testament as well.
Want to go deeper?
As an exploration of the Christocentrism of the New Testament epistles, count the references to Jesus Christ (include “Jesus,” “Christ,” “Lord,” “Son,” and pronouns clearly referring to Him) in Ephesians 1 and in 1 Peter 1.
Here is a list of messianic prophecies found in the Old Testament, including discussion about related issues.
For further reading
Ernst Wilhelm Hengstenberg. Christology of the Old Testament. Vol. 4: Commentary on the Messianic Predictions (1856)
C. L. Peppler. Book 2, Chapter 6: “Christocentricity,” pp. 177-179 in Truth is the Word: Restoring a Lost Focus (1977).