WHY READ THE OLD TESTAMENT?
Many Christians have no interest in the Old Testament. They think that only the New Testament is relevant to believers today--to the church. It is true that God's plan for the church is found in the New Testament, which focuses on Jesus. The Epistles contain God's directions to the church. So is there any reason to read and study the Old Testament? Is it just a boring history of the Jews? Does it have anything to do with Jesus? Can we even understand it?
There are MANY reasons to read the Old Testament! It is part of God's Word, which He divinely inspired and divinely protected through the ages, so that we might have it in its entirety. It is the largest part of the Bible. God's direct words are recorded in much of the Old Testament.
There are many good reasons, but I would like to focus on three. One is that the Bible should be read like any good and important book--the entire book, from front to back. Think of it as a large novel, comparable to a lengthy mini-series on TV. If you only knew the last part, you would miss the introduction of the characters, the setting, the plot, the theme, and many of the conflicts and developments that make up the theme and the many sub-themes. The ending won't make nearly as much sense if you haven't read the beginning and middle.
The Bible is written in a unique style, with sections by various authors, written at different times over 1500 years, in prose and poetry, history and prophecy. Yet the Bible follows a timeline, from "in the beginning" to the "last days." The first few pages introduce the main characters (God, man, and Satan), the setting (God's creation--earth), the conflict (spiritual warfare, God vs. Satan, man vs. Satan, man separated from God), and the theme (how God will send Someone who will defeat Satan, how man can have fellowship with God through the shedding of blood). The Bible then follows a timeline and a bloodline as God works out His plan, while man is often in the dark about what is going on, constantly "blowing it," yet God's plan prevails, even when it looks like all is lost. When understood in this light, the entire Bible is as exciting and captivating as the best novel. It is also good to read and study parts, but do not neglect to read it straight through.
Two, one must answer the question: who is the Bible about? Many will say, Jesus. I used to think that. Over the years I have come to see that it is about God. The Bible is about knowing God. Jesus is the means God gave us to know Him and have fellowship with Him. If you think it is about Jesus, you might have trouble with the Old Testament. If you understand that it is about knowing God, the Old Testament falls into place.
Reread the first three chapters of Genesis. God created man to have fellowship with Him. When man broke that fellowship through sin, God said He would make a way for that fellowship to be restored. According to Gen. 3:15, He would send Someone in the line of the woman (a reference to the virgin birth of Christ). Satan and those who are his would wound Him but it would not be fatal; He would deliver a fatal wound to Satan. In 3:21, God shed the first blood to cover man's sin; man had tried to cover his sin without the shedding of blood, but that was not acceptable to God. The very next incident recorded, 4:1-5, shows man rebelling against God's clearly-given mandate of coming to Him through shed blood.
The Bible is about knowing God; the Old Testament introduces Him as a holy God, holding mankind to His perfect standard as given in the Ten Commandments. God tells man that His wrath against sin can only be satisfied by the shedding of blood; He provided that an animal's blood may be offered to temporarily atone, until the day when the perfect Lamb of God would shed His blood for our sins, Isaiah 53. The New Testament then tells how God's grace was shown through the offering of His Son Jesus (God in the flesh--the only sinless man, and therefore qualified to die in our place). We can only know God by coming to Him through Jesus Christ, the cross, and His blood shed for the forgiveness of our sin.
Jesus can be found in every book of the Bible. The Old Testament is full of types, prophecies, and physical appearances of God as the Angel of the Lord (the pre-incarnate Christ). Jesus taught that we are to believe in Him and receive Him--for what purpose? That we may come to the Father, that we may have eternal life--fellowship with God. John 3:16, 14:6, I Thes. 1:9-10, I John 2:23. Col. 1:19-20 says it was God's plan to reconcile all things to Himself (the Father) through Christ (the Son). Jesus is the Mediator, the Intercessor, between man and God. I Tim. 2:5, Heb. 9:15.
The Old Testament teaches about God's attributes and His character as well as how He works in people's lives and in the world to bring about His plan. Many of our questions and misconceptions about God would disappear if we would spend more time in the Old Testament. Many people find the New Testament easier to understand because it spells out teachings and principles. The Old Testament illustrates them through the stories of people's lives. The people of that time had the same problems we do; human nature hasn't changed. Paul, writing to the church in I Cor. 10:1-11, makes it very clear in verses 6 and 11 that, for our benefit, God has embedded lessons, types and allegories in the Old Testament historical accounts.
One problem many people have with understanding the Old Testament is not realizing that God was dealing with the Jews in a somewhat different way than He deals with the church. He gave them the Law and the prophets; we have neither today. Those have been done away with; we live under grace, not the Law, and have the indwelling Holy Spirit to guide us, which they did not. He made different promises to them and to us. Failing to notice these differences will cause confusion.
Three, the Old Testament is full of prophecy. About one-fifth of the Bible is prophecy, much of which has already been literally fulfilled. Many events were predicted hundreds of years in advance, including the history of nations and kingdoms, and details about Jesus, the Messiah, including His bloodline, the place of His birth, events of His life, and details of His death. Even a handful of fulfilled prophecies would be statistically impossible. Many people naively think that the Bible is just a book, thought up by men. No human could have written such a book; it is mathematically impossible.
Fulfilled prophecy is one of the best evidences for the truth and uniqueness of the Bible. If you are not familiar with some of the basic themes of prophecy, you will miss much of the significance of events of the New Testament, particularly how Jesus fulfilled the over-300 prophecies about the promised Messiah. Fulfilled prophecy shows us the hand of God, the divinity of Jesus, and the supernatural nature of the Bible. An awareness of fulfilled prophecy will strengthen your faith in God and in His Word, as well as give you confidence in talking to others about the Good News.
"I am God, and there is no one like Me, declaring the end from the beginning, and from ancient times the things that are not yet done." Isaiah 46:9-10
Copyright 2006 Jan Young
Return to Jan's Bible Notes