Thirty-nine books precede the story of Jesus in the Four Gospels, and these Old Testament books foreshadow and prepare for the coming of Jesus. The first advent doesn’t happen in a vacuum but amid a matrix of hopes and promises and patterns and shadows that interpreters can see in Scripture. I will point to three ways the Old Testament anticipates the birth of Jesus.
First, consider direct prophecies of a deliverer. In Genesis 3:15, God tells the serpent, “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.” A son will come, and he will come by birth. From Genesis 3:15 onward, readers are looking for the birth of the Promised One. He would come from Judah’s tribe (Gen 49:10), he would descend from David’s line (2 Sam 7:12-13), and he would be born in Bethlehem (Micah 5:2). When Jesus is born, he fulfills the age-old hope that first sounded in the garden.
Second, consider the power of God upon the womb. There are multiple stories in the Old Testament about God enabling conception by overcoming barrenness. Abraham’s wife Sarah was barren (Gen 16), as was Isaac’s wife Rebekah (Gen 25), Jacob’s wife Rachel (Gen 30), Samson’s mother (Judg 13), and Samuel’s mother (1 Sam 1). There were certainly more barren women than these in the centuries of Old Testament history, but these five are highlighted explicitly by the biblical authors. A pattern is established: when the text draws attention to a woman’s barrenness, God soon overcomes it. There is no obstacle that thwarts his plan. These stories anticipate God’s greatest display of power upon a womb. Mary was unmarried and a virgin. Yet the Spirit of God would move upon her womb and bring life.
Third, consider birth stories. In the case of most Bible characters, we hear about them while they’re already alive. But sometimes we learn about characters before they’re born or as they’re born. In Genesis 21, we read of Isaac’s birth, and his name was announced ahead of time (Gen 17:19). In Exodus 2, we read of Moses’s birth, and his significance unfolds as the one to deliver the Israelites. In Judges 13, we read of Samson’s birth, and it’s even preceded by angelic visitations and instructions. In Ruth 4, we read of Obed’s birth in Bethlehem, and he was the father of Jesse who begat David. These various birth stories showcase characters who fulfilled promises, achieved victories, or brought restoration. When Gabriel visits Mary in Luke 1, he prophesies that she’ll bear a son, and the name is announced ahead of time. The most important birth story occurred in Bethlehem during the days of Caesar Augustus.
The birth of Jesus fulfilled prophecies and patterns from the Old Testament. Stories of covenant faithfulness and divine power had prepared the way for the Lord.
For more on how the Old Testament relates to Jesus, see my new book 40 Questions About Typology and Allegory.