Wednesday, July 07, 2010

Reply All Q&A #2: The OT and the NT

The second question in our Reply All series was, How does God in the Old Testament relate to Jesus in the New Testament?  Jacob, our student pastor, preached last Sunday, July 4th, and tackled this rather large topic.  The main point of his message was the the God does not change between testaments.  God is revealed the Old Testament to be holy, just, and gracious toward His covenant people.  God is revealed in the New Testament to be exactly the same way - full of justice, truth, and grace.  Jacob walked through the major covenants of the Old Testament on Sunday to show us that we cannot fully understand Jesus without understanding His place in progressive revelation.  This truth also works the other direction - we cannot fully understand the God of the Old Testament without studying the person of Jesus.  Hebrews 1:3 says that God has spoken in the last days in the person of His Son, revealing exactly what He is like to us in the person of Jesus.  This means that we can get a full picture of God from looking at Christ, who is God in the flesh.  Here are some of the many questions that came in on Sunday morning...

1. If Israel had obeyed and/or had learned their lessons, would Jesus still have had to come down?  did God have to go to that level because of their stubbornness?  The Bible teaches us that God had established the plan of sending His Son to redeem creation before the foundation of the world (see Ephesians 1), so we can be confident that Israel's action/inaction did not impact God's original plan.  God's original plan was to choose a people to reveal Himself to and then to send His Son through that people to reconcile the world to Himself.  That is exactly what God did.  Everything that God did with Israel in the OT was to teach us about Himself and His character and to show all of the us why we needed Christ to come.  Galatians 3 says that the law was given as a tutor to teach us our need for redemption.  We needed redemption before the Law was given, but we didn't understand that we needed redemption.  Therefore, Israel's struggle to obey is the same as my struggle to obey - we cannot keep the law because we are sinners in need of mercy.  Thank God for showing us our need so that we would turn to Christ.

2. Do the old covenants apply today or does the new covenant replace them?  This is the real debate between "covenant" theologians (who believe that the new covenant replaces the old covenants) and "dispensational" theologians (who believe that God is not done with the old covenants and will fulfill them along with the new covenant in the future).  As a church, we tend to lean toward "progressive dispensationalism" which teaches that the answer is both/and.  The new covenant replaces some facets of the old covenants in the sense that Christ fulfilled the demands of the old covenants and earned our place as recipients of the promises of God.  However, there are parts of the old covenants that have not been fully realized yet and will not be fully realized until Christ comes back again.  In other words, in his first advent, Jesus fulfilled parts of the old covenant promises - defeating sin and death - but we are waiting on his second advent before he fulfills the rest - when he will reign on the earth as the physical King of all nations.

3. When/where was the Holy Spirit introduced in the Bible?  The Holy Spirit, as on of the three co-equal persons of the eternal Trinity, has always existed.  His presence is seen throughout the OT, from Genesis 1 to key passages of the prophets.  The full revelation of his unique personhood and work were not given until the New Testament, but His presence and ministry are seen repeatedly in the Old Testament.  Jesus did the most teaching on the person of the Holy Spirit in the gospel of John (see chapters 14-17), and then the Holy Spirit started His unique ministry in the life of the church in Acts 2.

4. Should the entire OT be interpreted through the lens of Jesus?  That is, does the OT only always have meaning through the NT?  The short answer is no - the Old Testament has meaning on its own.  The Jewish community has interpretations of the OT based solely on the OT text.  However, the Christian community believes that the revelation of Jesus Christ has shown us the fullness of the meaning of the OT passages.  In other words, as we study the Old Testament, we need to look first at the micro-context - what does this passage mean in its original context?  Who was it written to originally?  What would it have meant in that time and place?  But, as Christians, we should not stop there.  We should also look at the text in its macro-context - what does this passage mean in the context of all of Scripture?  How does the whole revelation of God give more meaning to this passage?  For example, Genesis 3 talks about the seed of the woman stepping on the head of the serpent.  From reading that in its original context, we can get that a descendant of Eve is going to crush Satan.  But without the NT, we don't know who it is or how they are going to do it.  With the NT, we can see that Jesus is the seed of Eve who crushed Satan through His death and resurrection.  Thus the OT has meaning on its own, but we don't see its fullest meaning apart from Christ.

5. How can God and Jesus be the same when Jesus even refers to God as His father?  Jesus never refers to Himself as God.  Even in Revelations when the heavens are opened, God and Jesus are described differently.  This is why it is important to understand the Christian doctrine of the Trinity.  The Bible does NOT teach that Jesus and God the Father are the same person, but that they are of the same essence.  This is why (as the question above mentions) Jesus can talk to the Father as a separate person, and this is why the three persons of the Trinity can all be present at the same moment (at Jesus' baptism) - they are unique persons.  However, Jesus is fully God.  Jesus does claim to divinity for Himself - He says that He can forgive sin (which he says only God can do) - He says that before Abraham was, "I Am," using the Divine name of Exodus for Himself.  Jesus does and says many things in the gospels that demonstrate his divinity, and the NT epistles repeatedly affirm his divinity.  So the question is wrong when it says that Jesus and the Father are the "same" - they are not the same person, but they are equally divine in their essence.  Well, then, you might say, are we saying that there are three gods?  No - the Christian doctrine of the Trinity affirms what the Bible affirms - that though the Father, Son, and Spirit exist eternally as three divine persons, their is only One God.  This is mystery, but that does not mean it is untrue.  It is what Scripture teaches and what we affirm.


Mike Glass said...

Pastor, do you think that it is Biblically correct (or at least not unbiblical) to think that point 6 answers point 3? That is, that the people who were saved before Jesus were saved by grace through faith only, even when they didn't realize all that their faith was pointing to since Jesus had not come yet. In a similar way, those alive after Jesus came who never hear the gospel message, couldn't they be saved the same way, by grace through faith, even when they don't realize all that their faith is pointing to, since they haven't heard the clear gospel message?

Keith Ferguson said...

This is a great point and the one most commonly used by those who argue that people around the world today who do not hear the gospel can be saved. My only concern is that people in the OT definitely had an object to their faith - the God of the Bible - that they had received through reading the Hebrew Scriptures. They did not know the specifics of Jesus, but they did know the nature and character of God, the seriousness of sin, and the importance of believing in God's promises. What I am saying is that they had more than general revelation - they had special revelation that revealed many things to them - including the need for faith. My understanding is that those in our world today who do not have the Bible are unlikely to trust in the One True God because they are likely (as I am likely without special revelation of the gospel) to believe and trust in false gods. My point being is that I can agree with you that your point is possible, but my concern is that it is not probable.