Biblical Theology Articles

The Relevance of the Old Testament

Dave Bish

Accessing the OT, an introduction for a university Christian Union

A. What is the Old Testament about?

My Foundational Assumptions:
The Bible is God's word to us and is therefore authoritative to us.
The Bible is truth that must be understood in context its to obtain God's message to us.
The Bible contains many genres of literature and it is important to take into account those genres as we read it.

What is the Old Testament?
The Old Testament is part of what we call the Bible. It comprises all the books considered scripture prior to the coming of Jesus Christ.

The Old Testament comprises many forms of literature including letters, historical narrative, poetry, wisdom writings, apocalyptic literature, prophecy.

The Old Testament was written over about 1000 years by many different authors. It was used by the Apostles to preach the gospel (Examples: Acts 2v14-42, Acts 8v26-38). These talks and the rest of the New Testament would appear to contain much of the content that Jesus explained about himself from the scriptures in Luke 24. The Old Testament was the scripture Paul proved Jesus was the Christ from, and that which the Jews of Berea eagerly searched to check what Paul was saying (Acts 17v11)

Luke 24v25-47
What has just happened?
What is now happening?
Where is the gospel explained from?
What is this "scripture"?
What is this "scripture" about?

2 Timothy 3v12-4v4
Who is writing to whom?
What has scripture done for the reader?
What is the source of scripture?
Why is it important for the reader, and us to know what scripture says

B. What's the story in the Old Testament?

Exercise: Read Nehemiah 9 and trace out the main plot of the Old Testament and note what we learn of God's character as his interacts with his people.

Accessing the OT 1

1800BC. God makes a promise to Abraham. There are signs of it's fulfillment in Israel, but it's true fulfillment will be in Jesus and then us in him.

1400BC. God rescues his people from slavery and teaches them His law. He makes a covenant with them to be their God, and that they will be his people. The covenant is conditional on obedience. They soon tire of desert life so a generation dies but 40yrs on they reach their promised land. Moses is the key figure but he doesn't enter the land. Joshua leads them in.

1000BC. David gloriously rules Israel,... and then sins. God makes promises that David's line will continue and that there will be a great king to come from his line. His son Solomon is looking good but in his wisdom and riches he too falls to sin and God removes the kingdom from him and Israel splits into to the Northern Kingdom of Israel, and the Southern Kingdom of Judah. Jesus will be the true Davidic king

800-400BC. Two Kingdoms. Northern Kingdom Israel. Hosea warns Israel about their unfaithfulness. They don't listen and so they are destroyed by Assyria and never return. In what remains of David's Kingdom in the south things are not much better. Isaiah & Jeremiah & Ezekiel preach to Judah. But then Judah is exiled to Babylon after years of rebellion with occasional signs of promise. They then return under Ezra-Nehemiah

As the OT closes Israel commits herself to God again in Neh9-10, and then switfly turn away again. We find Malachi calling Israel back again.

Accessing the OT 2

C. How is the Old Testament about Jesus?


Abraham & Jesus

God promises Abraham he will make him great (Genesis 12v2, contrast 11v4) that his descendants with be as numerous the stars.
God's covenant promise to Israel is that they will be his people and he will be their God. On the condition that they are obedient.
The tale of the Old Testament is that they are unfaithful. God's promise is not fully fulfilled in the Old Testament but the promise remains, now God will write the law on his peoples hearts & minds.
Jesus is the perfect Israel - keeping the law and obeying God - in him we come to relationship with God - with faith like Abraham (Romans 4, Hebrews 11).

Jesus the King

2 Samuel 7. God promises David his king that his line will rule and that there will be a great king in that line to whom God will be his Father.
That king will be a leader who will rule over all God's people as their King. The kings that follow David fail over and over and over again.
Solomon appears to be the fulfillment of the promise but David's son messes up so much that God takes away most of his territory because he cant keep to a few simple conditions for kingship that were specified in (Deut 17v16-17).
This is the split of the kingdom that then leads to the destruction of the Northern Kingdom that Hosea speaks to.
But the promise of a Davidic king remains and Matthew 1 shows us that Jesus is of David's line.
TYPOLOGY - Helps us interpret the Old Testament - the Bible uses the Old Testament prophetically - Jesus is of the type of David - he is a King like David, of David's line - but not the same, because he isn't flawed like David.
What difference does it make that Jesus is our King?

Jesus the Priest

Sin separates God's people from him because he is holy.
God institutes a priestly system of sacrifice to make atonement.
This system never actually deals with things in the Old Testament but it is a symbol for people to put their faith in God.
What is needed is a priest and sacrifice who are good enough. PSALM 110. A priest in the order of Melchizedek. We find Melchizedek in Genesis 14, Psalm 110 & Hebrews 5,6,7.
Gen 14 - high priest of God who Abraham makes an offering through.
Psalm 110 - this priest is linked to the promise made to David of a king greater than himself.
Hebrews draws things to gether to show Jesus is not only the Davidic King but the perfect High Priest who we later find fulfills the sacrificical system of Leviticus once and for all.
TYPOLOGY - Jesus is of the type of Melchizedek.
What difference does it make that Jesus is our perfect high priest?

The Bible is primarily about God rather than being about us.
Throughout the Old Testament we see God revealing himself to humanity over time.
As he relates to the people he has created they have a perpetual habit of forgetting & ignoring him in their quest for greatness & self satisfaction.
This poses a problem of sin but God isn't about to let go and give up.
When we reach the New Testament we see the fulfillment of God's promises and people in the Old Testament displayed in Jesus.

Further Reading

Full of Promise
By Phil Campbell & Bryson Smith, £3.00

Gospel & Kingdom
By Graeme Goldsworthy
Paternoster Press £1.99

How to Read the Bible for all it's worth
By Gordon Fee & Douglas Stuart
Scripture Union Press £7.50

Author's note. A year on from delivering this seminar there are a few things I'd have love to have done. My section A was designed to establish some foundations with the group. I think there could have been a benefit here to look to John 5 and see Jesus insisting that study of the Old Testament must lead us to him and thus to life. In section B, Nehemiah is one of many possible texts I could have used - I'd love to have had time to look at the genealogy in Matthew 1 and use this as a link from the Old Testament narrative to understanding Jesus from there - Chris Wright's Knowing Jesus through the Old Testament is very helpful in this. It was an introductory seminar and designed to lead people to further study.

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