According to Paul, the Old Testament (the Law and the Prophets) tells the story of “the righteousness of God, through faith in Jesus Christ” by the gift of His grace (Romans 3:22). It is important to Paul that his audience understands that he isn’t inventing doctrines. He is merely expressing a faithful reading of the Old Testament. Accordingly, a correct interpretation of Scripture would see Jesus as the unqualified focus of the entire Bible from beginning to end. Every doctrine, every passage, and every narrative, correctly understood, points to God’s plan to save through Jesus. Throughout the Old Testament, countless promises of the Messiah were made. With the coming of Jesus, God confirmed every promise. “For all the promises of God in Him [Jesus] are Yes, and in Him Amen, to the glory of God through us” (2 Corinthians 1:20).
During His earthly ministry, Jesus was adamant about the fact that the Old Testament pointed to Him. He rebuked the religious leaders for their refusal to follow Him by saying, “You search the Scriptures, for in them you think you have eternal life; and these are they which testify of Me. But you are not willing to come to Me that you may have life” (John 5:39, 40). According to Jesus, we misread Scripture when we think the Scriptures can save us. Instead, the Scriptures point to Jesus, who alone can save us. If we miss Him when we read the Bible, we lose everything.
Shortly after His resurrection, Jesus reminded some of His disciples about this essential fact. He began with Moses and all the prophets and explained to them everything concerning Himself (Luke 24:27, 44). This new Christocentric understanding of the Old Testament became the foundation of the apostolic teachings. Throughout the New Testament, we find the apostles formulating their teachings about Jesus in the context of the Old Testament. For example, Peter, who was an eyewitness of Jesus, reminded the church that they weren’t following fables. His eyewitness testimony validated what the Old Testament had promised, thereby confirming the reliability of God’s Word (2 Peter 1:16–21).
As a faithful Jew, Paul knew it was important for the Romans to understand that his teaching about justification by faith in Jesus apart from the deeds of the law was not something he invented. This was the teaching of the whole of Scripture from Genesis to Malachi. It was essential for Paul to help his readers understand that Jesus and His saving grace is the story the Old Testament is telling.