Tuesday, July 06, 2010

RECONCILING THE GOD OF THE OLD TESTAMENT WITH THE GOD OF THE NEW

Has anyone ever pointed out to you the apparent difference between the way God behaved in the Old Testament and the way Jesus reveals Him in the Gospels? Perhaps you yourself have struggled with this apparent contradiction of character? Is there a logical explanation for why God seems to be so bloodthirsty and vengeful in the Old Testament scriptures, and yet so loving and gentle in the New Testament?

Well, this debate is as old as Christianity itself. In fact, the very first person to point out this difference was Jesus himself. In the Gospel of Matthew, chapter 5, Jesus quotes the Old Covenant and then makes a new proclamation that demonstrates the differences between the two.

First, he points out the differences in the Old Covenant command “Thou Shalt Not Kill” found in the Law of Moses and provides a radical new command under the New Covenant:

"You have heard that it was said to the people long ago, 'Do not murder, and anyone who murders will be subject to judgment.' But I tell you that anyone who is angry with his brother will be subject to judgment” – Matt 5:22-23

Here at the start of his sermon on the mount, Jesus lays out for everyone a new covenant perspective which permeates the Good News of the Kingdom he has come to proclaim.

In the past, God operated under the Old Covenant rule which was expressed through the Law of Moses, or the Ten Commandments. Now, according to Jesus, things will be different. As we enter the Kingdom of God, we can now expect something new. Instead of "Do not murder", Jesus ups the ante with "Don't be angry."

Throughout this section of scripture, Jesus continues to contrast specific commands of the Old Covenant with new standards found in the New Covenant of Grace. Having addressed the command about murder, next he addresses “Thou Shalt Not Commit Adultery”:

"You have heard that it was said, 'Do not commit adultery.' But I tell you that anyone who looks at a woman lustfully has already committed adultery with her in his heart." – Matt 5:27-28

"It has been said, 'Anyone who divorces his wife must give her a certificate of divorce.' But I tell you that anyone who divorces his wife, except for marital unfaithfulness, causes her to become an adulteress, and anyone who marries the divorced woman commits adultery." – Matt 5:31-32

Next he addresses the commands against bearing false witness or swearing oaths:

"Again, you have heard that it was said to the people long ago, 'Do not break your oath, but keep the oaths you have made to the Lord.' But I tell you, Do not swear at all..." – Matt 5:33-34

Finally, he addresses the Law in the Old Covenant concerning murder and retribution:

"Jesus said, "You've heard it said, 'An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth', but I say to you, do not resist and evil man, and whoever shall strike you on the right cheek, turn to him the other also." - Matt 5:38-39

"You have heard that it was said, 'Love your neighbor and hate your enemy.' But I tell you: Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, that you may be sons of your Father in heaven." - Matt 5:43-44


Why do you think Jesus starts off his sermon on the mount by making such a radical set of statements? In effect, he is quoting the Law of the Old Covenant and saying that those things are no longer valid. Instead, he's replacing the commands of the Old Covenant with brand new, Kingdom-centric ideas which go beyond mere obedience. These words of Jesus speak of the heart, not simply about rules to follow.

“Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them but to fulfill them.” – Matt 5:17

So, Jesus came to announce the Kingdom of God and to proclaim a New Covenant. He did this, first of all, by fulfilling the Old Covenant. These were but shadows, according to the author of Hebrews.

“The law is only a shadow of the good things that are coming—not the realities themselves.” – Hebrews 10:1

“But the ministry Jesus has received is as superior to theirs as the covenant of which he is mediator is superior to the old one, and it is founded on better promises. For if there had been nothing wrong with that first covenant, no place would have been sought for another.” – Hebrews 8:6-7


The New Covenant is not like the Old. So, we shouldn't be surprised at the differences. The Old Covenant has now been fulfilled in Christ, and now that Old Covenant is no longer in effect. It has been fulfilled. Now, we are living under the New Covenant which Jesus came to inaugurate. He is the High Priest of this New Covenant and He has outlined for us, in the Gospel, what life in the Kingdom should look like.

No longer will we live by the code, “An eye for an eye” but now we will live by the new code, “Love your enemies”.

This is why I am often frustrated to hear Christians who seem confused about the fact that we are no longer under this Old Covenant of Law and Judgment but we are now, by the blood of the Messiah, Jesus, set free to walk in the New Covenant of freedom and Grace.

I've heard Christians respond to homosexuals by quoting the Old Testament laws and suggesting that we put them to death. Yes, these scriptures are in the Bible, but we are no longer under that Old Covenant, are we? No, we are now under a brand New Covenant of love, mercy, forgiveness, and grace.

I've also heard Christians quote Old Testament scriptures to justify the death penalty, or to justify going to war, or to justify the death of muslims, and all sorts of things. This is simply ignorant, misguided and in direct opposition to the Gospel of the Kingdom.

Whenever we behave this way, we suffer from "Old Testament Christianity" (as I sometimes call it). What we need is true New Testament Christianity that fully embraces and understands the Kingdom that Jesus came to announce.

The Old Testament and New Testament are not concurrent realities. The Old Covenant is fulfilled in Christ and now we are under a New Covenant. Behold the old is gone and the new has come.

This does not imply that the Old Covenant scriptures are irrelevant at all. These are still valuable to us so that we can comprehend how they were fulfilled in Jesus. But these are still shadows which point to Jesus.

“You diligently study the Scriptures because you think that by them you possess eternal life. These are the Scriptures that testify about me, yet you refuse to come to me to have life.” – John 5:39-40

God is still the same. He has always been loving and merciful. The Old Covenant scriptures reveal to us a God who rejoices over us with singing and quiets us with His love,(Zechariah 3:17). But, at the same time, they also reveal to us a God who dealt harshly with sinful behavior and often had no mercy for disobedience.

In the New Covenant scriptures, we see a God who still deals harshly with sin and disobedience, but instead of punishing the sinners, He turns His wrath upon His own Son. His mercy and His love are fulfilled in Christ, and His Law has been made complete in Jesus.

Today, we serve the same God who does not change. Now, we are under Grace and we are ambassadors of the Messiah's love. For a season, we may freely receive of His love and mercy and enter into His presence by the Blood of the Lamb. But soon, Jesus will return and there will be the final judgment. And that judgment will measure how much love and mercy we have shown to others under this New Covenant. (Matthew 25:31-46)

Under the New Covenant what counts is love. Love is to be our calling card. Love is the litmus test of the Kingdom.

"Dear friends, let us love one another, for love comes from God. Everyone who loves has been born of God and knows God. Whoever does not love does not know God, because God is love." - (1 John 4:7-8)

-kg

2 comments:

Anonymous said...

"God is still the same." and He is. from Genesis to Revelation. nothing change.

italeki said...

Very good article but what would happen to countries and their protection and democracies if we were all to avoid wars. God has established governments to punish those who do wrong. It's in the book of Romans in the new testament.