The early disciples knew how to read Scripture. They gave evidence of the concept of Christ as the target of the Old Testament; but, should we read the Old Testament like they did? That is an ever pressing hermeneutical question. I want to suggest that the answer is a resounding “yes!”
Consider John 2:13-22 as a case study for how to read Scripture.
“The Passover of the Jews was near, and Jesus went up to Jerusalem. And He found in the temple those who were selling oxen and sheep and doves, and the money changers seated at their tables. And He made a scourge of cords, and drove them all out of the temple, with the sheep and the oxen; and He poured out the coins of the money changers and overturned their tables; and to those who were selling the doves He said, “Take these things away; stop making My Father’s house a place of business.” His disciples remembered that it was written, “ZEAL FOR YOUR HOUSE WILL CONSUME ME.” The Jews then said to Him, “What sign do You show us as your authority for doing these things?” Jesus answered them, “Destroy this temple, and in three days I will raise it up.” The Jews then said, “It took 46 years to build this temple, and will You raise it up in three days?” But He was speaking of the temple of His body. So when He was raised from the dead, His disciples remembered that He said this; and they believed the Scripture and the word which Jesus had spoken.”
John 2:17 begins, “His disciples remembered that it was written…” This is John’s commentary on the thought process of some of Christ’s disciples in the first century prior to the writing of the New Testament. The words “it was written” refer to what was already written at that time. John tells us what “was written” and what Old Testament text these disciples were thinking about by quoting Psalm 69:9, “ZEAL FOR YOUR HOUSE WILL CONSUME ME” (see John 15:25 and 19:28 where Jesus applies this Psalm to himself). The disciples were interpreting the Old Testament (independent of the New Testament) during the life of our Lord. John’s comment informs us that they started connecting the dots from the Psalms to Jesus while our Lord was on the earth. In other words, their minds were making hermeneutical moves while Christ’s zeal for God’s temple, his Father’s house, was being manifested. As the Word who became flesh manifested himself among men, those who believed in him began to interpret Scripture in light of him (or him in light of Scripture!).
In John 2:22 we read, “So when He was raised from the dead, His disciples remembered that He said this; and they believed the Scripture and the word which Jesus had spoken.” Note first the time when “His disciples remembered that He said this,” that is, “when He was raised from the dead…” The resurrection, among other things, triggered the memories of these disciples. Note second what “this” of “He said this” refers to. It refers to what Jesus said as recorded in verse 19, where we read, “Destroy this temple, and in three days I will raise it up.” Note third John’s comment about what Jesus said. “But He was speaking of the temple of His body” (John 2:21). Note fourth that “they believed the Scripture and the word which Jesus had spoken” (John 2:22). The “Scripture and the word which Jesus had spoken” are not the same thing. The “word which Jesus had spoken” is recorded in John 2:19. The Scripture must refer to the Old Testament. The disciples were interpreting the Old Testament (not only during the ministry of our Lord, but also after his resurrection and prior to the writing of the New Testament, and surely during and after its writing). The resurrection became an interpretive event through which the early disciples “believed the Scripture and the word which Jesus had spoken.” Just as they began connecting the dots during our Lord’s life-unto-death sufferings (John 2:17), so they continued to connect the dots when he entered into his glory, his resurrection (John 2:22; see John 12:16 for the same phenomenon with reference to connecting the dots between our Lord and the book of Zechariah).