Old Verses New
Most people think the Old Testament portion of the Bible differs greatly from the New Testament. They think it speaks of a vengeful God who condones the wholesale slaughter of nations, and dispenses rules to test and try his people. They see God as a bearded being sitting on a golden throne, waiting for people to make a mistake, then delighting in punishing them.
By contrast, the New Testament God, as seen in the person of Jesus Christ, is meek and mild. He delights in showing love to his people, not judgement. Because of this apparent division, many don’t even read the Old Testament, and others just dismiss it as outdated and unnecessary to their faith. They live as though the Old Testament is a different story from the New Testament.
But Jesus himself denies this thinking and affirms the truth and importance of the Old Testament scriptures. Throughout the New Testament the various writers agree that it is really all one story. The entire Bible, both Old and New Testaments, contains the gospel message Jesus taught.
The Oldest Story
The Old Testament is where we read of the beginning of time – and of mankind. It is there we learn about how much God loved his creation – especially people. Made in his own image, Adam and Eve were his masterpiece, and he walked and talked with them in complete peace.
But we also learn that they chose to disobey God and shatter that peace and oneness. From that moment on, at the very opening of the Old Testament, their relationship changed. Now they were unfit to approach a holy and sinless God. The Old Testament devotes a lot of space to describing the various sacrifices now necessary to make them fit to approach him.
As nations formed, so did a complex set of rules for purity and cleanness. You could only approach God if you ate certain foods, wore certain clothes, refrained from touching “unclean” things, and so on. All these rules vividly illustrated the spiritual uncleanness of humans.
The law was to be kept perfectly, without omissions or failures. The idea was that, to be justified under the law, you had to be perfect. Jesus stressed that the law cannot save anyone because no one is able to keep it perfectly.
Why the Switch?
Seems harsh, doesn’t it? But through all the Old Testament, God had a plan – one which would not fully unfold till his son, Jesus, appeared. Through Jesus, the Messiah promised as far back as Adam and Eve’s time, God would once again become completely approachable by imperfect humans. Once again He could deal with people as friends and family, not sworn enemies.
This promised deliverer was spoken of throughout the Old Testament, though God’s people didn’t really understand how they would be delivered until Jesus arrived. They generally believed Messiah would be a political savior, freeing them from the tyranny of Rome. But God had so much more in mind!
When Jesus appeared, he made sweeping changes in the system of law. He declared all foods “clean” (Mark 7:19), and even “defiled” himself, touching lepers and dead bodies. He ate with hated tax collectors, women of ill repute and poor folks. Clearly, God’s interaction with man changed when Jesus came, willing to die on a cross to pay for mankind’s sin.
At the moment of Jesus’ death, the Bible states that the veil in the temple was ripped, opening the Holy of Holies to everyone. It also proved that the sacrificial system, with all its clean/unclean rules, was no longer needed. Since Jesus is the ultimate and perfect sacrifice for sin, he makes us “clean” without rituals and rules.
So Is The Old Testament Worthless?
Far from it! God had one plan across the ages, and he slowly unveiled it through his prophets. The law was given to show that no man (or woman) could actually live up to it, or even do all the things necessary to meet with God. The New Testament book of Hebrews explains that the Old Testament laws were not abolished by Jesus, but instead were totally fulfilled by him.
The New Testament actually gives us some direction about how to read and use the Old Testament. Because of Jesus, we learn, the ceremonial law has been repealed. But the biblical author Paul makes it clear that Jesus’ apostles understood the Old Testament moral law to still be binding on us – even though the rituals and sacrifices have become unnecessary. The moral law was the body of law relating to God’s person and character. We are still to “be holy as he is holy.”
All the rules given in the Old Testament about loving others, caring for the poor, being generous with our possessions, and so on are still in force. The New Testament still forbids killing, lusting after your neighbor’s possessions and blaspheming God. The sexual ethics expressed in the Old Testament are also re-stated in the New Testament (Matthew 5:27-30; 1 Corinthians 6:9-20; 1 Timothy 1:8-11).
The Difference in a Nutshell
As Pastor Tim Keller puts it, “In short, the coming of Christ changed how we worship but not how we live.”
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