200 – The Two Testaments
Similarities and Differences Between the Old and New Testaments
Like Two Pieces of a Treasure Map That Only Make Sense Together
If the Bible was a movie, what kind of movie would it be? It would be a heart-gripping, action-packed drama, the epic story of a broken family, ripped apart by every ilk of dysfunction, but reconciled in the end–though not everyone–by a strong adoptive father who heroically refused to give up, who pledged to do “whatever it takes” to save his family.
Imagine you go to see such a movie, but get the starting time mixed up. When you enter the theater, you’re surprised that three-fourths of the two-hour movie is already over.
Suppose the film’s story took place over a period of 100 days. You’re further surprised that the hour and one-half you missed covered the first 99 days. The half-hour you do watch covers only the events of that one final day.
In this scenario, it would be hard to catch up, right? Even when you did start to catch on, you’d still have to do a lot of guesswork.
If the Bible was a two-hour movie, the first 90 minutes of the film would cover the first 99% of the timeline. The last 30 minutes of the movie–25% of it–would focus on the events of that one final day.
The Bible actually covers about 4,000 years of human history. By page count the Old Testament makes up about 75% of the Bible, but covers a whopping 99% of the Bible’s timeline.
Without the Old Testament we would miss 75% of the Bible’s narrative and 99% of its chronological history.
Like Two Pieces of a Treasure Map
The Old Testament and the New Testament are like two pieces of a treasure map–neither complete without the other, both presenting the same message from different perspectives, anticipation in the Old Testament yielding to fulfillment in the New Testament, the Christ of prophecy becoming the Christ of history.
“Testament” is simply a synonym for “Covenant.” The Old Testament (Old Covenant) promises a king will come to save God’s people. The New Testament (New Covenant) proclaims that king is Jesus.
Christ is the common thread who runs through both the Old and New Testaments; the drawstring that pulls them together.
A woman at a well once said to Jesus, “‘I know that Messiah, called Christ, is coming. When he comes, he will explain everything to us.’ Then Jesus declared, ‘I who speak to you am he.'” (John 4:25-26).
Jesus attested that the Old Testament was all about Him: “This is what I told you while I was still with you: Everything must be fulfilled that is written about me in the Law of Moses, the Prophets and the Psalms” (Luke 24:44). He said, “These are the Scriptures that testify about me” (John 5:39).
The Old Testament has something like 300 prophecies about Jesus fulfilled in the New Testament.
Is God Angry or Loving?
We’ve all wondered, “Isn’t the God of the Old Testament an angry God, while the God of the New Testament is the God of love?”
The God of Love
What was the single greatest act by the God of the Old Testament? I think we would all agree that it was to send Jesus. God reduced Himself to human flesh so that we might comprehend Him. “The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us” (John 1:14).
The Incarnation of Christ, the final act by the God of the Old Testament, was, and remains, the single greatest act of love ever known, a tour de force. “For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son” (John 3:16).
Love is the unchanging character of God in both testaments. What the New Testament calls agape(Greek for God’s love), the Old Testament calls chesed (Hebrew for God’s unfailing love). Chesed appears some 250 times; a rich word that includes God’s loving-kindness, goodness, faithfulness, favor, loyalty, and mercy.
The Anger of God
Psychologically, we don’t want the God of the New Testament to be angry, do we? A likely explanation is “anthropomorphism”–attributing a human characteristic to God. We know our anger is mostly sinful. “For man’s anger does not bring about the righteous life that God desires” (James 1:20).
We don’t want a God like us! But God’s anger is not like human anger. God’s anger is altogether holy, righteous, pure, and justified–always directed at sin. To compare the sinful anger of humans to the holy anger of a righteous God, once considered, does seem a bit ludicrous.
God was not angry in the Old Testament, and then suddenly had a change of heart when Jesus came. Jesus repeatedly warned of coming judgment, Paul frequently sounded an alarm for the coming wrath of God, and the apocalyptic book of Revelation describes people begging for mountains and rocks to fall on them.
According to the Bible, God is no less angry at sin in the New Testament than the Old Testament, and no less loving toward people in the Old Testament than the New Testament.
God loves people and hates sin, no matter which testament you’re in.
What’s “New” About the New Testament
In a previous article on the Bible I mentioned “shifts” or “transitions” into new major periods (my list has 14 periods). But the biggest shift was from the Old to the New Testament–lots of changes.
For example, the Old Testament message was replaced by the good news of the kingdom of God. “Until John the Law and Prophets were proclaimed, now the good news of the kingdom of God is preached” (Luke 16:16).
In the Old Testament, Jews weren’t even allowed to associate with Gentiles. But in Acts 10, Peter received a vision for the inclusion of the Gentiles in the offer of salvation. And Paul was sent specifically to convert Gentiles.
The Old Testament required repetitive bloody animal sacrifices for sins. In the New Testament, Jesus made a new covenant by His “once for all” sacrifice for sins. “Christ is the mediator of a new covenant, that those who are called may receive the promised eternal inheritance–now that he has died as a ransom to set them free from the sins committed under the first covenant” (Hebrew 9:15).
In the Old Testament, the Holy Spirit anointed a few special saints, like Moses, David, and the prophets. In the New Testament, the Holy Spirit makes his home inside every believer. “But the Counselor, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, will teach you all things and will remind you of everything I have said to you” (John 14:26).
In the New Testament, Jesus modified the second commandment from “love your neighbor as yourself” to “love as I have loved you”–no small adjustment! “A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another” (John 13:34).
Finally, the New Testament ends with Jesus launching what we now call the Great Commission, His mission for the church and every disciple. “Therefore go and make disciples of all nations… (Matthew 28:19). Millions of people and billions of dollars have been mobilized by those last or near-last words of Jesus.
Do We Still Need the Old Testament?
Since the New Testament so radically modifies the Old Testament, why do we still need it?
Once I spoke to forty young prisoners, 14 to 17 years of age, at the county jail in Orlando. They were all there for serious crimes: rape, robbery, weapons, and drugs–mostly drugs. Only 10% had a father figure in their lives.
At the beginning of the message, I created some curiosity by personally handing each young man a nametag as he sat down and said, “I’ll let you know what that’s about later.”
I won their attention by telling them how I quit high school, and how my brothers struggled with alcohol, drugs, and divorce. Also, I shared the tragic death of my younger brother to a drug overdose–a story not unlike the movie plot at the beginning of the chapter.
About halfway through, I asked the boys to write their names on the nametags and stick them to their chests.
Then I went and knelt in front of each boy, one by one, read his nametag, looked him in the eye, and said, “Carlos Rivera (or whatever was on his nametag), God knows your name, and He loves you very much. He knit you together in your mother’s womb. He knows when you sit and when you stand. He knows every word you speak before it comes to your tongue. He knows your thoughts from afar. He knows everything you have ever done or will do, and He wants to forgive you. He has good plans for you. If you will reach out for Him, He is already reaching out for you. You can change your life. God wants to adopt you and be your father. Do you understand this?”
It started out slow, but by the third boy the snickers stopped and a hush fell over the room. A few resisted putting on their name tags. I just said, “Well, you put on the nametag, and I’ll come back to you.” With just enough hesitation to still be cool, they all did.
Every single boy looked me directly in the eye as I spoke, their eyes like dried out sponges, soaking it up. Something sparked. Toward the end I knew I had missed a few boys, so said, “Who have I not spoken to yet?” One young man cried out and pointed to his sheepish friend, “You haven’t done him yet!”
At the end I shared the good news about Jesus Christ with them, led them in prayer, several put their faith in Christ, and several more indicated they had already done so since being incarcerated.
As I dismissed them I said, “I’m a hugger, so if any of you need a hug come up and see me before you leave.” About a dozen boys lined up. I gave each a hug, exchanged words, and watched as guards then chained them two-by-two for the walk back to their cellblock.
Virtually everything I said to those boys came from the Old Testament (Psalm 139). We cannot possibly understand the depth of God’s love and longing for us without it.
The Old Testament was the Bible of Jesus–the Bible from which He quoted.
Jesus did not correct, contradict, or rescind any part of the Old Testament. Instead, he said, “It is easier for heaven and earth to disappear than for the least stroke of a pen to drop out of the Law” (Matthew 5:17).
As with those boys, the Old Testament helps bring us to faith. “So the law was put in charge to lead us to Christ that we might be justified by faith” (Galatians 3:24).
Much of our perspective about the gospel (good news) of Jesus comes from the Old Testament. “The Scripture foresaw that God would justify the Gentiles by faith, and announced the gospel in advance to Abraham: ‘All nations will be blessed through you'” (Galatians 3:8). Paul called himself an apostle of “the gospel (God) promised beforehand through his prophets in the Holy Scriptures regarding his Son” (Romans 1:1-2). The “Holy Scriptures” he mentions are what today we call the Old Testament.
Finally, we will never fully appreciate our new covenant in Jesus until we understand the old covenant he replaced. The Old Testament describes an elaborate, precise, repetitive, and labor intensive system of animal sacrifices for sin. Just writing about it makes me dizzy–it’s a stinky, bloody, nauseating assault on our sensibilities.
Yet we need the Old Testament because, without it, we could never fully appreciate the demanding, burdensome system that Jesus graciously replaced by his innocent, once-for-all sacrificial death for our sins. To see the tedium of the animal sacrifices in the Old Testament cannot help but fill us with gratitude for the astounding sacrifice and gift of Jesus Christ.
What does this mean to you?
The Old Testament matters. It holds 75% of the content and 99% of the chronological history of our faith.
There are lessons in the Old Testament that can be learned no other place–like feeling the pain and abandonment Joseph felt when sold into slavery by his own brothers or the indelible example of forgiveness when, decades later, Joseph said to his brothers, “You intended to harm me, but God intended it for good to accomplish what is now being done, the saving of many lives” (Genesis 50:20). Here we see a convincing example of God sovereignly orchestrating even what seem like random events.
How much effort you should devote to the Old Testament is a matter of personal choice. Books that have helped me grow tremendously include Genesis (more than 50% of the chronological Bible’s history in one chapter), Exodus (the dramatic departure from Egyptian slavery, Wilderness experiences, and the 10 Commandments), Joshua (securing a homeland for the Jews), Judges (stories about Gideon, Samson, and other early leaders), 1 Samuel (the exemplary life of David before he was crowned king), 2 Chronicles (a clear picture of the sovereignty of God in action), Nehemiah (the story of a Godly leader), Psalms (encouragement for the heart), Ecclesiastes (the futility of life apart from God), and Proverbs (practical and spiritual wisdom). If you’re not that familiar with the Old Testament, you may want to try reading some of those books and see how it goes.
The Old and New Testaments are inseparable, like a coin. Heads and tails are not two things, but two parts of one thing. You can’t put only the heads side of a coin into a vending machine.
We need both the Old and New Testaments. Together, they tell the story of a loving Father who sacrifices one Son to relentlessly pursue the rest of His children. Like two pieces of a treasure map, each presents the same message from a different perspective, anticipation in the Old Testament yielding to fulfillment in the New Testament, the Christ of prophecy becoming the Christ of history.
© 2011. Man in the Mirror. All rights reserved. This article may be reproduced for non-commercial ministry purposes with proper attribution.