Many nominal or liberal Christians say that they believe in Jesus, but reject the Old Testament, saying it is not inspired by God. Or non-Christians say they like Jesus, but they can’t be a Christian because of the OT. In their view, the God of the Old Testament is intolerable. He judges people, throws down nations, sends his people to war, and makes laws that seem barbaric. He can’t be the same God as loving, peaceful, forgiving Jesus.
This is a huge topic that can’t be covered in one blog post. However, going by what Jesus himself said and what was written about him, it’s impossible to accept him but reject the Old Testament.
Jesus is presented as the fulfilment of Old Testament prophecy
It’s estimated that there are over 300 Old Testament prophecies of the Messiah that were fulfilled by Jesus. In the gospels, particularly Matthew, OT prophecies are frequently quoted to prove that Jesus is the one he claims to be. His birth to a virgin (Matthew 1:22-23), his place of birth (2:5-6), Herod’s killing of male babies to try to destroy him (2:17-18), and John the Baptist’s ministry of preparation (3:3), are just a few examples.
The very beginning of Matthew is Jesus’ genealogy, included to establish his descent from King David and from Abraham.
Jesus himself claimed to be the fulfilment of OT prophecy:
And he came to Nazareth, where he had been brought up. And as was his custom, he went to the synagogue on the Sabbath day, and he stood up to read. And the scroll of the prophet Isaiah was given to him. He unrolled the scroll and found the place where it was written,
“The Spirit of the Lord is upon me,
because he has anointed me
to proclaim good news to the poor.
He has sent me to proclaim liberty to the captives
and recovering of sight to the blind,
to set at liberty those who are oppressed,
to proclaim the year of the Lord's favor.”
And he rolled up the scroll and gave it back to the attendant and sat down. And the eyes of all in the synagogue were fixed on him. And he began to say to them, “Today this Scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing.” (Luke 4:16-21)
Jesus saw his betrayal, arrest, and death as fulfillment of Old Testament prophecy:
And Jesus said to them, “Have you come out as against a robber, with swords and clubs to capture me? Day after day I was with you in the temple teaching, and you did not seize me. But let the Scriptures be fulfilled.” (Mark 14:48-49).
Jesus frequently quoted the Old Testament
In his ministry, Jesus constantly quoted the Old Testament, referred to it as Scripture, and viewed it as authoritative.
It’s impossible to overstate the frequency of Jesus’ quotations and references to the Old Testament. He was saturated in Scripture, and used it to refute Satan’s temptations (Matthew 4:1-11), to support his own teaching (Matthew 22:34-40), and to argue against the Pharisees and Sadducees (Matthew 22:23-33, 41-45).
Anyone who likes Jesus but not the Old Testament is forced to ignore large portions of Jesus’ teaching, as well as to affirm that Jesus was wrong for viewing it as God’s word.
Jesus specifically affirmed the Old Testament
“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 say to you, until heaven and earth pass away, not an iota, not a dot, will pass from the Law until all is accomplished. Therefore whoever relaxes one of the least of these commandments and teaches others to do the same will be called least in the kingdom of heaven, but whoever does them and teaches them will be called great in the kingdom of heaven. For I tell you, unless your righteousness exceeds that of the scribes and Pharisees, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven. (Matthew 5:17-20)
The entire Old Testament is preparation for the coming of the Messiah. Right back at the very beginning, after Adam and Eve had sinned, God makes a promise about the coming offspring of the woman who would crush Satan’s head (Genesis 3:15).
The law and sacrificial system were designed to show us the holiness and righteousness of God, our inability to please God on our own, our need of a sacrifice for sin, and our need of a Priest to mediate between us and God.
The prophets prophesied about a coming King who would rule righteously and who would die for his people’s sin (Isaiah 53).
We would not know who God is, about human sin, why we needed Jesus, what he came to do, or even that he is the one sent from God, without the background of the Old Testament.
Jesus didn’t just show up on the world scene, outside of any culture or context. He was a first century, observant Jew, who went to synagogue, followed the law, and believed the OT to be God’s word. You simply can’t sever Jesus from his Jewish context or ignore how he treated the Scriptures. To do so makes no sense of him, and completely contradicts how he himself spoke and acted.
This viewpoint is also based on a mistaken idea of Jesus, taken from a few passages (love others, don’t judge). If you take this as the whole of Jesus, you might have a problem reconciling Jesus with some of the Old Testament. But the problem is, Jesus himself actually spoke quite a lot about hell, sin and repentance, and God’s judgement. In the next blog post I’m going to look at that.