Why read the Old Testament?

16 Sep 2019
Some are of the opinion that when Jesus died, the Old Testament became obsolete. However, for a full understanding of God and His purpose, the Old Testament and the New cannot be separated. In fact, some of the New simply cannot be understood without the Old. The Old gives a fuller picture of the Kingdom of God and enables us to more fully understand God’s character. The Old Testament’s chronology takes its readers from Creation (circa 4,000BC) to 350 BC, a period of 3,650 years. After a gap we then have the New Testament that covers around 95 years. Clearly, a vast magnitude of time is covered. If we throw the Old Testament away, then we have just a small period of history and revelation left. Some might argue that the Old Testament did not provide a message of salvation, yet Jesus declared that he had not come to destroy the Old Testament message but to fulfil it (Matthew 5;17). On another occasion, following his resurrection, Jesus explained ‘the things concerning himself’ to a confused couple on the road to Emmaus by starting in the Old Testament (Luke 24:25-27). Later in Acts 8:26-40 Philip the evangelist helped a high-ranking, yet puzzled, eunuch to understand the significance of an Old Testament passage (Isaiah 53). Some of the New Testament is only understandable via the Old. For instance, the phrase Jesus cried out from the cross ‘My God, my God, why have you forsaken me’ (Matthew 27:46) becomes more understandable when we read the same words in the context of the Old Testament book of Psalms (22). Jesus himself would have taken comfort from this, and other, Old Testament passages. He certainly turned to the Old Testament when resisting temptation in the desert where he quotes Deuteronomy (Luke 4:1-12). How would we know what Jesus meant when he talked about ‘the days of Noah and Lot’ (Matthew 24:37, Luke 17:28-29) if we did not have the Old Testament (Genesis 6 and 19)? Or would we have any idea what the ‘abomination of desolation’ was that Jesus mentioned in Matthew 24:15 without the book of Daniel (9:24-27)? The Old Testament contains many prophecies relevant today: Zechariah 14, Daniel 12, Isaiah 13, Joel 3 and gives a wonderful description of the future role of Christ when he returns to set up the Kingdom of God on earth (Isaiah 9). While the New Testament mentions the Kingdom of God, the need for judgment and the nature of its King, it is the Old Testament that paints a fuller picture of these things: Isaiah 2, 11 and 35 for instance. So, without the Old Testament we would not have such a rich vision of the Kingdom. As for God’s character, we need both the Old and New Testaments to get a rounded picture. God’s love, grace and judgment is expounded in both testaments. Malachi (Old Testament) emphasises how God does not change and James (New Testament) describes how there is no variation in God’s character (1:17). In other words, we need to read the Old and New Testaments side by side to get a balanced view of the nature of God. The Bible itself tells us that all scripture is breathed out by God and is profitable for teaching, reproof, correction and training in righteousness. (2 Timothy 3:16). What is the Old Testament full of? People: people following God, people with problems, people with problem children or problem parents. People stumbling and struggling with life, yet trying to follow God. People making mistakes (sometimes big ones) yet who kept on in faith. The Old Testament has many examples of ordinary people trying to follow God. A lesson for us all.