There’s a growing trend that Christians want to have the “nice”, “gracious”, and “loving” New Testament Jesus but reject the “wrathful”, “judgmental”, and “violent” Old Testament God.
I recently wrote about the difficult passages in the Old Testament that give people this picture of God:
My motivation in writing these things, as it is with many of the difficult topics I blog about, is to maintain the consistency of all of Scripture as our God-breathed authority. When we start saying “I’ll take that part of Scripture, but not this part”, it sends us down a slippery slope of my opinions vs. God’s word. At the end of the day, we need to surrender our autonomy to God’s authority; his will over our our will. The Bible is either his word or it isn’t, and if it isn’t, how do we know anything about God or salvation?
The primary reason we can’t accept Jesus, but reject the OT God is that Jesus affirms the entire Old Testament. He says clearly in Matthew 5:17-18, “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. For truly I tell you, until heaven and earth disappear, not the smallest letter, not the least stroke of a pen, will by any means disappear from the Law until everything is accomplished.”
(“The Law and the Prophets” is how the Hebrew Bible, “the Old Testament”, was referred to by people in the New Testament)
So if you reject any part of the Old Testament but you accept Jesus, you have just painted yourself into a sticky contradiction. If you accept Jesus, you are accepting him as a truth-teller. And the truth he is telling here is that the entire Old Testament is valid. Everything it says about who God is is valid.
The advantage we have with the Old Testament is that we are not reading it in real time. As we look back on the timeline of redemptive history, we read the entire Old Testament through the lens of Jesus. The reason Jesus fulfills the Old Testament is that the entire thing is pointing toward him. He tells us this directly in Luke 24:44, “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.”
The difficult passages in the Old Testament about God commanding killing are never going to be easy to swallow. I don’t think they are easy to swallow for God. They are a dark period of redemptive history. But when we understand them in the context of the redemptive story, we see that they are individual scenes in a really really long movie. Think about the worst scene of your favorite movie. Does that scene tell you what the movie is about? Of course not. You have to watch the entire movie. You have to watch the climax of the movie. You have to see how the movie ends.
It is no different with the Bible.
I fought against these verses for a long time. But at the foundation of this fight is a rejection and a lack of comprehension of God’s holiness and of my sin. Exodus 33:20 tells us “But,” he (God) said, “you cannot see my face, for no one may see me and live.”
God’s pure holiness cannot be in the presence of sin.
A holy God cannot be in relationship with sin. It cannot happen. It’s a contradiction.
If He could, there would be no reason for Jesus to die on the cross at all! What Jesus bought for us with his innocent life (a relationship with God) would have already been ours.
A helpful way to understand Jesus’ role in the Trinity is that he is God in a way we can relate to him. He is 100% God, but his humanity serves as the buffer of God’s holiness. God came to the earth, in the flesh, so we could look him in the face and live.
There’s a lot of freedom in putting down the boxing gloves and accepting what the Old Testament says about God.
That we all deserve the deaths that the tyrannical and rebellious people of the Old Testament received.
And to be so grateful for God’s mercy. That he did not leave us in this state, but reached down to us in a way we can’t miss him. Taking every one of our rebellious, tyrannical, heinous, vicious, murderous sins upon his innocent, holy shoulders, paying our penalty for our sins. A penalty we deserve. A penalty he didn’t deserve. Taking our place so that we are justified and righteous before a Holy Judge.
It is interesting that today this Old Testament message is difficult to swallow because we are so offended by the death of sinners, but how little we are offended by the death of Jesus.