This week in “What’s in the Bible?” we examined God’s work in history as he creates Mankind in His image, punishes Adam and Eve for their disobedience, and begins His work of redeeming Mankind through a chosen people. God’s work in history plays itself out over the course of thousands of years and in thirty-seven different books all of which play a role in advancing the drama. The stage is set for the pinnacle of history where God Himself will appear on the scene of history to accomplish the redemption that He has promised.
There are hundreds of themes that run throughout the Old Testament; an exhaustive examination of these themes may take multiple lifetimes. We are intentionally examining eight themes that play a major role in helping us to understand the events that unfold in the New Testament. These themes include:
- The creation and fall of man;
- The entrance of evil into the world;
- God’s promise to Abraham;
- Joseph’s life and God’s sovereignty;
- Moses and God’s redemption of Israel from slavery in Egypt;
- God’s covenant with Israel and Israel’s failure to keep the covenant;
- God’s judgment on Israel and the punishment of exile, and
- God’s promise of a new and everlasting kingdom and covenant.
Understanding these themes is essential to understanding Jesus’ message, mission, and significance to the redemption of mankind.
SETTING THE STAGE FOR CHRIST
The Bible tells the story that sets the stage for the coming of Christ by bringing the human problem clearly into focus. Faced with a perfect and holy God, mankind is exposed. Created in God’s image and charged with reflecting God’s glory to the world, Adam and Eve are inadequate for the task as they fall prey to Satan’s temptation and disobey God’s command not to eat the forbidden fruit. But Mankind’s unfaithfulness is contrasted with God’s faithfulness and his unfailing sovereign plan to redeem His creation. These two themes set the stage for the pivotal moments in human history that are recorded in the New Testament.
Mankind’s inability to follow the word of God is an over-arching theme of the Old Testament. We see it as the world sinks into darkness immediately after the fall of Adam and Eve. In Genesis 6:5 we read: “The LORD saw that the wickedness of man was great in the earth, and that every intention of the thoughts of his heart was only evil continually.” Mankind’s evil is so pervasive that God considers totally destroying his creation but chooses to save one man’s family who he finds righteous before him, Noah. God’s plan of redemption does not fail as Mankind is saved through Noah.
As the world continues to sink into darkness after Noah, God’s sovereign plan of redemption continues. Out of the darkness God calls Abraham. God promises to bless the world through his offspring and to give Abraham’s descendants a “Promised Land” in Canaan.
Abraham’s great grandson, Joseph, is another victim of the evil hearts of Mankind when his own brothers, motivated by jealousy, sell him into slavery in Egypt. But Joseph’s misfortune is an opportunity for God to demonstrate his sovereignty as he raises Joseph from a lowly slave to the highest position in all of Egypt. Then in a dramatic turn of the tide, God uses Joseph to save the very brothers who sold him as a slave.
When Joseph’s descendants become slaves in Egypt, it is God who sends Moses as His rescuer. It is God who gives the Law and establishes Israel as a Holy Nation set apart to serve Him. The Law, the priesthood, and the sacrificial system will sanctify the nation making it able to serve God’s purposes in the world. God leads Israel to the Promised Land. As the world falls into darkness it is God who will bring light to the world through the lowly tribes of Israel. In Deuteronomy 7 God makes it clear that he did not choose Israel because they were the best, but because of the promises he made to Abraham. Here we see God’s faithfulness to do all that he has promised. His sovereign plan of redemption cannot fail, even when men do.
Israel does fail; it does break the Law. The story of Israel is the story of a nation constantly pursuing idols. Once again, we see Mankind’s inability to keep its obligations to God. But God does not forsake Israel or the promises He made to Abraham. In the end, Mankind’s unfaithfulness brings to light God’s faithfulness to the promises He has made.
God is patient. He send’s envoys of grace to Israel, the prophets. God commissions his prophets to declare the truth. Acting as God’s prosecutors, they proclaim the indictments against God’s Holy Nation, the constant rebellion, the consistent idolatry, the persistent unfaithfulness. Acting as God’s mediators they call the people to repent. Finally, acting as God’s spokesmen they deliver God’s judgment when the nation fails to repent and persists in rebellion.
Rebellion against God always brings consequences. For Israel it was civil war and a shattered kingdom. Israel splits into the northern kingdom of Israel and the southern kingdom of Judah. In a diminished state and without God’s protection, both kingdoms fall to the nations around them. The Holy Nation is humbled and exiled, brought to its knees until it repents. Finally, after 70 years in captivity the Holy Nation returns to the Promised Land. But the return is not a return to its former glory; this time it will be a mere vassal to the great empires around it. But God is preparing Israel’s glory for another. Salvation will come from God, who will send a king to establish an everlasting kingdom.
As the pages of the Old Testament draw to a close there is the overwhelming sense that God’s plan of redemption will not succeed through the obedience of mere men. Israel’s failure to keep God’s commands have erased the hope that an earthly king or kingdom can save the world and establish itself as God’s image bearer to His creation. Salvation must come from somewhere else.
Four hundred years of silence follow the conclusion of the Old Testament. God does not speak through Special Revelation for ten generations. But God is still preparing the way for his Messiah. The Babylonian and Persian empires that conquered and exiled Israel give way to Greeks and then Romans. Israel and the Promised Land is reduced to a backwater province compared to the grand stage of world events. But God is at work setting the stage for the Gospel, God’s declaration that he will bring salvation through his chosen Messiah; the Christ. The world is about to change.
The church father, Augustine of Hippo, is quoted as saying: "The New Testament is in the Old Testament concealed, the Old Testament is in the New Testament revealed." The Old Testament is not simply a history book. It looks forward to the coming of Jesus and hints at his coming through the stories it contains. As Jesus says in John 5:39: "You search the Scriptures because you think that in them you have eternal life; it is these that testify about Me….”. Examples include the story of Abraham and Isaac on Mount Moriah, God’s deliverance of Joseph from slavery in Egypt, Moses’ rescue of God’s people from slavery in Egypt and the Passover, the giving of the Law and the priesthood, kings David and Solomon. Each of these and many more are early pictures of the ultimate messiah who will come and rescue his people once and for all.
Beyond the stories that foreshadow Jesus’ ministry are the prophecies that boldly declare the coming of the Christ. Scattered throughout the Old Testament are clear and subtle prophecies that point towards God’s redemption through Jesus. Hundreds of years before Jesus birth, the prophets declare he that he will be born of a virgin, that he will heal the sick, make the lame walk, make the blind see, willingly submit to death, be flogged, struck, spit upon, have his hands, feet, and side pierced, die, and be resurrected after three days so that our sins would be forgiven. The foreshadowing of Jesus’ ministry, death, and resurrection is boldly and clearly declared in the Old Testament for those with eyes to see.
It is impossible to understand the full significance of Jesus’ ministry, death, and resurrection without the Old Testament to give us perspective on the problem Jesus came to solve. The Old Testament establishes God’s sovereignty, grace, mercy, and faithfulness and contrasts it against Mankind’s impotency, fallibility, selfish conceit, and faithlessness. We are poor image bearers. It is not a humanist story of man climbing up to God. It is God who is at work to bring about redemption; reaching down to Mankind. When Mankind fails time and again to do what God commands, and to live by God’s word, it is God who remains consistently faithful to do everything he has decreed that He will do.
God’s plan for redemption will not fail. Join us this week as we examine the decisive turning point of history this week in the New Testament.