The Old Testament isn't all about Jesus

June 24, 2020

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Many Gentile Christians avoid reading the Old Testament, perhaps because it's perceived as irrelevant or "fulfilled" by Jesus' first coming. But the Old Testament speaks of SO much more than Jesus dying on the cross for the sins of the world. It holds out a clear, certain hope through a larger story involving God's covenants with Jewish people and blessing to the other nations through them.

Transcription

Hey friends, it’s Josh. In several of my past videos I’ve talked about the importance of reading the New Testament through the eyes and lens of a first century Jew. I’ve spent a little time developing their faith and their hope - that for them it wasn’t about saying a prayer to receive Jesus into their heart so they could be forgiven and free from shame and have some good community in this life before they go to heaven when they die, but rather it was about counting God and his words as trustworthy and reliable, specifically expecting God to fulfill his covenantal promises to them, which included things like a full restoration of the twelve tribes of Israel back to the land God had promised to Abraham, the resurrection of the dead, the kingdom of Israel restored, and the nations flowing up to Jerusalem to hear God’s instruction. This promised restoration would be brought about by the messiah, the king of Israel, on the day of the Lord - when he would gather everyone together, punish the wicked and reward the righteous, and rule with justice and equity over all the nations from Jerusalem.

This is quite a different picture of the future than what the average Gentile Christian hears about at church on Sunday morning. There’s a lot of reasons for this, but one of them has to do with the way that modern believers approach the Old Testament. We often have a wrong idea that everything from Genesis to Malachi just “points to Jesus”, and that it’s largely irrelevant for us today because, as the reasoning goes, Jesus has come, and now we don’t really need to know anything other than Jesus and the cross and forgiveness. This is pretty problematic for a few reasons: first, it’s far too general of a statement to make, because the Old Testament presents a story of something much bigger than Jesus coming to die for sins and to rise again. In my experience in working as a pastor for young adults, It’s mostly unfamiliarity with the details that causes this. Don’t get me wrong, Jesus’ life and death and resurrection is extremely important, but it’s important because it’s in context to the larger story of God’s covenantal dealing with Israel, and what those covenants mean for the rest of the nations and for all creation itself. And the second point of why it’s problematic to say that Genesis through Malachi just all “points to Jesus” is that it ignores the context of so many of the words of Jesus and his followers in the New Testament itself. I want to develop this point a little bit and read a familiar story to most people, and that’s the Christmas story. We hear this in churches at least once a year in December, but I think we often overlook the details maybe because of overfamiliarity with the story. So look at this from Luke chapter 1, this is the story when the angel Gabriel comes to Mary, the mother of Jesus, to tell her how God’s eyes have been upon her and that she’s going to bear a son. This is Luke 1 starting at verse 26:

In the sixth month the angel Gabriel was sent from God to a city of Galilee named Nazareth, to a virgin betrothed to a man whose name was Joseph, of the house of David. And the virgin’s name was Mary. And he came to her and said, “Greetings, O favored one, the Lord is with you!” But she was greatly troubled at the saying, and tried to discern what sort of greeting this might be. And the angel said to her, “Do not be afraid, Mary, for you have found favor with God. And behold, you will conceive in your womb and bear a son, and you shall call his name Jesus. He will be great and will be called the Son of the Most High. And the Lord God will give to him the throne of his father David, and he will reign over the house of Jacob forever, and of his kingdom there will be no end.”

Again, familiar passage, right? Well, the last few verses that I read are actually direct quotations from the Old Testament and have nothing to do with Jesus dying on the cross for sins. Those particular words are from 2 Samuel 7 and would have rung loudly in the ears of a first century Jew, because the nation of Israel at the time of Jesus was languishing under the oppression of Rome, and the overarching question that so many were seeking to answer was the question of God’s faithfulness to those promises and how they were going to come to pass. So this is from 2 Samuel 7, starting at verse 10, where God is speaking to king David:

And I will appoint a place for my people Israel and will plant them, so that they may dwell in their own place and be disturbed no more. And violent men shall afflict them no more, as formerly, from the time that I appointed judges over my people Israel. And I will give you rest from all your enemies. Moreover, the Lord declares to you that the Lord will make you a house. When your days are fulfilled and you lie down with your fathers, I will raise up your offspring after you, who shall come from your body, and I will establish his kingdom. He shall build a house for my name, and I will establish the throne of his kingdom forever. I will be to him a father, and he shall be to me a son. ”

So do you see that this is exactly what the angel Gabriel is telling Mary about Jesus? Mary wouldn’t have been thinking, “yeah, I can’t wait to get out of the physical realm and go to heaven where it’s gonna be awesome just to worship forever and sit in Jesus’ lap for eternity”. She, like the rest of first century Israel, would have been longing for this promised deliverance, safety and security and prosperity in the land that God had promised Abraham, where Israel’s enemies no longer oppress them, and a son of David would reign on David’s throne in Jerusalem.

So this is really important - the angel comes and doesn’t redefine the hope that Mary and the people of Israel had, but instead forcefully affirms it. Also, the Apostle Paul, when he’s standing before Agrippa in Acts 26 verse 6, he says:

And now I stand here on trial because of my hope in the promise made by God to our fathers, to which our twelve tribes hope to attain, as they earnestly worship night and day. And for this hope I am accused by Jews, O king! Why is it thought incredible by any of you that God raises the dead?

Also Acts 28 verse 20, he says “it is because of the hope of Israel that I am wearing this chain”. His hope as an apostle and disciple of Jesus didn’t change - even he is still affirming a Jewish apocalyptic hope, even after Jesus came, died, rose again, and ascended back to heaven.

Now because of our modern Gentile ignorance of the Jewish story, we completely miss these details about Jesus or at worst we assume that they get redefined somehow and that Jesus is reigning in heaven now and has already sat on David’s throne and is somehow spiritually subduing Israel’s enemies. Just talk to any Jewish person living in the land of Israel right now or even just look at the news from the Middle East - Israel doesn’t have rest from her enemies, there’s no king from David’s line ruling from Jerusalem, and there’s no house for the Lord’s name, no temple, in Jerusalem right now either. Some in the scholarly world have written volumes spiritualizing these things or saying that Jesus came to actually redefine or reimagine them through his ministry or his death and resurrection, and that the ethnic descendants of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob don’t really matter anymore because God now has a “new people” called “the church”. But we have so much evidence both biblically and historically that this was NOT the way the first century Jews thought and wouldn’t become the way that many Gentiles would think until hundreds of years later when people like Augustine and Constantine came into the picture.

I’ll say more about this in a future video, but the main thing I hope you take away from this is that the gospel and our hope as Gentile disciples of Jesus is wrapped up in tangible, earthly promises that God has made to and through the Jewish people. He intends to be faithful to those promises, as he spoke them. We’re looking forward to a very real day in the future where the Jewish messiah Jesus returns and sets up a kingdom based in Jerusalem that rules over all the nations. The authors of the New Testament say that, because of Jesus’ resurrection, we can have certainty about these things, and as I’ve said in some of my past videos, when we have certainty about the future, it changes the way we live in the present. This isn’t just good Bible study material for pastors and theologians, this is for you and I. This is what we can rejoice in and eagerly look forward to with all of our expectation.

Amen. If this was helpful and encouraging, be sure to hit that like button, and subscribe for more. Or if you have questions or comments, feel free to leave them below as well. God bless, and maranatha.

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