The Old Testament can be tricky to get into. If we start with the Jesus we see in the New Testament, full of grace of truth, it can be a bit of a lurch to go to the Old Testament. What is the relevance of the endless genealogies (e.g. Chronicles 1-9)? Why does God seem to encourage violence and genocide (e.g. Joshua 11:1-16)? What’s with all the blood sacrifices (e.g. Leviticus)? And why do we need swathes of prophecies full of judgement and wrath (e.g. Jeremiah)? Marcion of Sinope, a heretic during the Early Church period, thought that the Hebrew God of the Old Testament was a different God altogether to Jesus Christ revealed in the New Testament, and decided to get rid of the Old Testament altogether.
So why should we keep the Old Testament?
Recording the Revelation
A helpful start is to go back to the beginning. Our God is a God of love, always wanting to reveal Himself to us so that we can have a relationship with Him. But as we see from the first few chapters of Genesis, the devil is always seeking to destroy that relationship through corrupting God’s revelation. The Lord shared his loving prohibition to not eat from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, but the serpent twisted this into the sly question: “Has God said, ‘You shall not eat from any tree of the garden’?” (Genesis 3:1). Attacking God’s revelation of Himself has been one of the enemy’s main strategies ever since.
To counteract this, the Lord needed to do two things:
- set the record straight by cleaning up the revelation that was already there;
- keep that revelation recorded in a way that would prevent it from getting easily corrupted again.
It’s interesting how certain ideas from the earliest parts of Genesis seem to pop up in cultures all over the place. Perhaps the messianic prophecy of the serpent bruising the heel of the woman’s seed (Genesis 3:15) ended up as the Greek myth of Achilles’ Heel? Certainly, creation myths and stories of a Great Flood can be found in many different places. The written word, as opposed to oral tradition, then becomes a fantastic way of preserving this revelation throughout millennia. The Dead Sea Scrolls show us just how amazing the Jewish people were at accurately copying and thus maintaining the scriptures.
Looking like Jesus
Ok, so the Old Testament gives us an enduring record of God’s self revelation, leading to His full revelation in the person of Jesus Christ. But why does so much of the Old Testament not really look like Jesus at all? Part of the answer to this is in the way God has to work with people where they were at: you can’t fix everything all at once! Genesis seems to lay out God’s ideal of marriage, in that’s it’s between one man and one woman for life (Genesis 2:24). But plenty of characters used by the Lord in Old Testament history had multiple wives, and maybe a few concubines, and the Lord didn’t seem to address that. But when we get to Jesus, He reiterates the original intent for marriage (Matthew 19:5).
However, there is a deeper and more profound prophetic way of understanding the Old Testament. Jesus is the Word of God (John 1:1) and all communication and revelation that flows out of the Father’s heart is Jesus. Our eyes must be opened spiritually to see Jesus in all of the Old Testament, but He’s definitely there. On the road to Emmaus, after Jesus’ resurrection, He appeared to some disciples walking there, and “beginning with Moses and with all the prophets, He explained to them the things concerning Himself in all the Scriptures” (Luke 24:27). Jesus is the full revelation of God, but He is able to help us see that He is revealed on every page of the Old Testament. The early church, after all, did not have the ‘New Testament’ as they were still busy writing it, but we find them quoting the Old Testament like mad as they discover some wonderful fresh glimpse of their Jesus in the most unlikely of places.
It’s a bit like if the New Testament revelation of Jesus is a key and the Old Testament is the door. If you take them both by themselves, you can only get so far. If you only have the key, it’s very beautiful to look at of itself, and you can even marvel at it’s wonderful craftsmanship and metalwork. And if you just have an old and dusty door, it’s just a puzzling and impenetrable barrier. But if you put the key in the lock and turn it, door swings open and you can go in! When we read the gospel accounts of the crucifixion, we are moved by the love and self-sacrifice of Jesus. But as we read Lamentations, we get a deeper insight into Jesus’ sufferings; as we meditate on the Servant Songs of Isaiah we understand more of the Lord’s purposes at the cross; and as we immerse ourselves in the Psalms, we see more clearly the victory of our God.
Perhaps the most compelling reason is that Jesus read and paid attention to the Old Testament.
“Do not think that I came to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I did not come to abolish but to fulfill. For truly I say to you, until heaven and earth pass away, not the smallest letter or stroke shall pass from the Law until all is accomplished.” (Matthew 5:17-18 NASB)
Jesus fulfills the Law and the Prophets, but we need the read it to know what he’s filling up! Let’s keep reading the whole of our bibles, always asking our Father in heaven to show us on every page more of His wonderful Son.
If you are interested in reading more about God’s plan for humanity as revealed through both the Old and New Testaments, we recommend you read God’s Strategy in Human History, Volume 1: God’s Path to Victory by Roger Forster and Paul Marston, available to buy in our shop.