Continuity: Old Testament Truth in New Testament Clothing

One of the benefits of getting older consists of gaining perspective, being able to put the past into its proper place in order to better understand the present. Fifty-four years of studying the Bible also has its benefits—primarily in more clearly understanding the continuity that exists between the Old and New Testaments. As I was reading through the Bible this past year, Isaiah 62:5 (“as the bridegroom rejoices over the bride, so shall your God rejoice over you”)[1] called to mind the picture in Revelation 21:2 when John beheld the New Jerusalem descending from heaven “prepared as a bride adorned for her husband.” The association led me to contemplate God’s own joy with that city—especially with its inhabitants. Zephaniah 3:17 also speaks of God’s joy over His people:

The Lord your God is in your midst,
a mighty one who will save;
he will rejoice over you with gladness;
he will quiet you by his love;
he will exult over you with loud singing.

We too often fail to understand that our delight in God should be a reflection of His delight in us—the same kind of mutual joy and delight experienced by a bride and groom on their wedding day. At fifty years of marriage, my joy-filled memory of watching my bride walk down the aisle toward me has not diminished. Indeed, the joy has amazingly multiplied many times over! The Holy Spirit superintended the writing of both testaments in the use of the same figure to teach us the same truth.

Both testaments also speak of the antithesis of divine delight. Scripture reveals that sinners will experience God’s fiery wrath. That came to mind as I read Isaiah 66:15–16,

“For behold, the LORD will come in fire,
and his chariots like the whirlwind,
to render his anger in fury,
and his rebuke with flames of fire.
For by fire will the LORD enter into judgment,
and by his sword, with all flesh;
and those slain by the LORD shall be many.”

How could that not evoke the searing words of 2 Peter 3:10, 12?

But the day of the Lord will come like a thief, and then the heavens will pass away with a roar, and the heavenly bodies will be burned up and dissolved, and the earth and the works that are done on it will be exposed. . . . , 12 waiting for and hastening the coming of the day of God, because of which the heavens will be set on fire and dissolved, and the heavenly bodies will melt as they burn!

Such continuities teach us that both testaments speak about the same God. This is the greatest continuity of all. The God of the New Testament is the God of the Old Testament. Therefore our doctrine of God arises out of all of biblical revelation.

At this point someone will say, “That’s rather obvious. Who doesn’t believe that the Bible speaks about the same God from start to finish? But, does the continuity of the Bible extend to how New Testament believers conduct their lives?” In response I would ask, “Do you think that Jesus’ own teachings have authority over how you live today?” Jesus founded His instruction upon the Old Testament’s teachings. For example, a number of contact points can be identified between the teachings of Jesus and Solomon’s observations in Ecclesiastes. Luke 12:16–21 presents a number of parallels with the teaching in Ecclesiastes:

  • Christ precedes His parable of the greedy rich man with the declaration that “one’s life does not consist of the abundance of his possessions” (Luke 12:15). The same message comes through loud and clear in Ecclesiastes:
    • No real profit ensues from material wealth (1:3; 2:10–11).
    • Abundance does not satisfy (1:8; 5:10).
    • Just as God denied the rich man his anticipated enjoyment of his wealth in the parable, so also the Preacher says that God does not empower the rich person to eat of his abundance (6:2).

Key differences exist between the parable and Ecclesiastes, but the main teachings remain basically the same:

  • On the one hand, the foolish rich man selfishly focused on what he considered “my crops . . . my barns . . . my goods” (Luke 12:17–18). Solomon, on the other hand, views the fruits of one’s labor as gifts from God (Eccl 5:19).
  • Solomon taught people to keep busy with God-given joy (Eccl 5:20), rather than taking their ease and doing nothing (like the fool Jesus described). Solomon exhorted people to pour themselves into whatever their “hand finds to do” (9:10).

In the parable, Jesus condemns the foolish rich man for leaving God out of his life. The man had maintained what Solomon described as a life limited to “under the sun” rather than having a focus beyond the sun—in heaven (cp. Matt 6:19–21).

In fact, a comparison of Jesus’ teaching in the Sermon on the Mount with Solomon’s teachings in Ecclesiastes reveals astounding continuity in regard to their instruction for believers. And why not? Look, “something greater than Solomon is here” (Matt 12:42). Jesus even refers to Solomon at a key stage in His discourse (Matt 6:29, “even Solomon in all his glory”). The following table identifies some of the parallels.

Screen Shot 2016-01-24 at 4.47.54 PMAlthough Ecclesiastes never speaks directly of God’s kingdom and righteousness, the implications of passages like 3:14, 17; 5:7; 7:13, 18; 8:12 – 13, 17; 9:1, 7; 11:9; 12:1, and 13 certainly imply the righteousness and sovereignty of God that Jesus intended when He said, “Seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness” (Matt 6:33). The truths of the final verse of Ecclesiastes (12:14, “For God will bring every deed into judgment, with every secret thing, whether good or evil”) also reoccur in Jesus’s teaching in Matthew 12:36–37 and Luke 12:1–3.

What do all of these parallels prove?

  • These parallels are only a fraction of all one might find between the two testaments. The Old Testament reveals theological and practical truths that remain the same centuries later when Jesus, the Master Teacher, addresses first-century disciples about living a godly life and passes it on to the following generations of believers.
  • Focusing on Jesus might give the impression that only His instruction has such a close relationship to the Old Testament. A brief investigation of the New Testament, however, demonstrates that the apostles continued to focus on those very same truths as they impact sanctified living.
  • The internal consistency of the canon of Scripture speaks emphatically to its unity and integrity.

Indeed, Jesus tied His teaching on sanctified living directly to the totality of the Old Testament: “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. This is the great and first commandment. And a second is like it: You shall love your neighbor as yourself. On these two commandments depend all the Law and the Prophets” (Matt 22:37–40, emphasis added). The apostle Paul summarized it well when he wrote to Timothy, “All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, that the man of God may be complete, equipped for every good work” (2 Tim 3:16–17). Therefore, I must read both testaments for instruction in how I ought to live a godly life that glorifies my Savior.

[1] Unless otherwise indicated, all quotes of Scripture are from the English Standard Version (ESV).

  • Ekim

    I appreciate your article and mostly agree until the end where you state, “Indeed, Jesus tied His teaching on sanctified living directly to the totality of the Old Testament: “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. This is the great and first commandment. And a second is like it: You shall love your neighbor as yourself. On these two commandments depend all the Law and the Prophets” (Matt 22:37–40, emphasis added)”

    Was Jesus actually making a teaching about the Great Commandment or merely answering a question from the Pharisees who were testing him? If Jesus were teaching us to keep the OT Law, then do we still have hearts of stone needing to be reminded to Love God or do we have hearts of flesh and the command to love God is written upon our hearts?

    In the context of the passage, I only see Jesus as answering a question…not teaching us to keep the law.

    Respectfully,

    Ekim

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