The Old Testament. Yes, that big part of the Bible full of blood and sacrifices, kings and heroes, laws and regulations, worship and lament, clarity and mystery. Though it makes up close to two thirds of our Bibles the Old Testament remains a bit unknown or disconnected from the lives of many contemporary believers. I’m not so sure if it’s the strange laws of Leviticus regarding bodily emissions or seeing God wiping people out that tends to make people shy away. Yet one thing is certain, God in his wisdom has given us the Bible as a unified whole, made up of sixty six books.1 The story line is consistent from beginning until end; the creator God at work to redeem the world through the person and work of Jesus Christ. JI Packer says it well:
There is but one leading character (God the Creator), one historical perspective (world redemption), one focal figure (Jesus of Nazareth, who is both Son of God and Savior), and one solid body of harmonious teaching about God and godliness. Truly the inner unity of the Bible is miraculous; a sign and a wonder, challenging the unbelief of our skeptical age. 2
As Jesus is the local hero of the Bible, he is also the subject and view of the Old Testament. Though many people may not think “Jesus” when they think Old Testament, its pages indeed anticipate, prepare and foreshadow his coming. Mark Dever, in speaking of the unity of the Bible’s storyline and focus upon Jesus explains it this way:
The context for understanding the person and work of Christ is the Old Testament. God’s work of creation, humanities rebellion against him, sin’s consequence in death, God’s election of a particular people, his revelation of sin through the law, the history of his people, his work among other peoples—I could go on and on—all these form the setting for Christ’s coming. Christ came in history at a particular point in the story line. 3
The Old Testament places our gaze and expectation on the coming one who would fully deliver a world which is under the curse of sin and death. Getting a good overview of the purpose of the Old Testament and its unity can make it much more approachable for modern readers. So I do pray this paper will be of help to motivate study of the Old Testament Scriptures.
Yet before we look at some of the huge importance held by the Old Testament, I want to make one thing very clear. There is one God who created the world and this God does not change. He is who he is and has told us so: I am who I am and I am the Lord, I do not change (Exodus 3:14, Malachi 3:6). One of the unfortunate misunderstandings about the Old Testament is that it reveals a different God than that of the New. Or that God has grown up or evolved over the course of the Bible. I want to emphatically state that the God of the Old and New Testaments is one and the same. It is not like God was having a bad hair day, was going through puberty or forgot his Nicorette gum during the days of the Old Testament. The Old Testament does not reveal a 13 year old God throwing temper tantrums at divinity junior high. Likewise the God of the New Testament is not a fluffy nice bunny rabbit who was never offended by the sins of people. No, God is loving and merciful in the Old and wrathful and just in the New, just as he is wrathful and just in the Old and loving and merciful in the New. This is important and should not be missed. The God who created all things, called Israel out as a nation, brought forth the Messiah through this nation and lineage is the same God who will bring about the Kingdom of Heaven at the end of the age.
With that said, I want us to focus on three major areas of importance of the Old Testament. First, it gives us a proper historical context to understand the work of redemption. Second, it rounds out and gives us a complete vision of the person of God. And third, it actually gives us a fully developed picture of Jesus which is not seen if he is only observed through the New Testament. We’ll handle each of these now in turn.
1. For those interested in a brief treatment of how the sixty six books arrived in the Bible see Reid S. Monaghan, One Bible, Many Books (Power of Change, 2006, accessed December 31 2006); available from http://www.powerofchange.org/blog/2006/11/one_bible_many_books.html.
2. JI Packer in the introduction to Edmund P. Clowney, The Unfolding Mystery - Discovering Christ in the Old Testament (Philipsburg: Presbyterian and Reformed, 1988), 8.
3. Mark Dever, Promises Made: The Message of the Old Testament (Wheaton: Crossway Books, 2006), 27.
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