The Unity of Old Testament Theology

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Steve Bauer, Dave Glover, John McKewen, and Todd Mullen

Be Fruitful and Multiply 

In Genesis 1:28 God blesses Adam and Eve and instructs them to be fruitful and multiply. This theme reappears throughout the Old Testament during times of major transition. After the flood, God blesses Noah and his sons and instructs them to be fruitful and multiply. Jacob receives this promise after fleeing from Esau. In addition, at the time Jacob's name is changed to Israel, God reminds him he will be a great nation and charges him to be fruitful and multiply. Later while in Egypt, it isthe prolific nature and power of the Jewish people that causes the Pharaoh to seek alternatives to curbing their growth. In spite of the persecution at the hands of the Egyptians, God continues to build a nation through which He will deliver the promised seed of Abraham.

Both Jeremiah and Ezekiel speak of this theme in the seventh century. However, they look into the distant future and anticipate a time when the Messiah reigns on earth. In Jeremiah 23:3, God gathers the Jewish remnant from all the nations. Under the reign of the righteous Branch, they live in peace and continue to multiply. Ezekiel describes this theme as part of the Kingdom Age, when Israel will return to a right relationship with God.

The theme "be fruitful and multiply" includes God's blessing, a blessing not only directed at the nation of Israel, but one that would ultimately apply to all the nations.

The Seed

Immediately after the fall in Genesis 3, God pronounces a judgment on Satan that includes a conflict with the woman's seed. The seed will experience a wound on the heel, but will bruise Satan's head. Thus, we have the introduction of the theological theme of the seed. God does not reveal the identity of the seed, only that it is the seed of the woman.

In Genesis 22:18, God promises Abraham that through his seed, all the nations of the world will be blessed and vows to work through his descendents, Isaac and Jacob. At the conclusion of Genesis, God reveals that a ruler will come from the tribe of Judah and that his reign will not end (Gen. 49:10).

Thousands of years later, God reveals more specifically that the seed will come through a descendent of David. God, speaking through Nathan the prophet, promises David that his descendent will build a house, the temple of God. More importantly, God promises David that he will establish his house and kingdom forever (2 Sam. 7:12-15). David recognizes this is a promise that will affect the future of mankind.

As God's plan unfolds, the identity of the seed becomes clearer. The promise of a descendent of Abraham, in whom all the nations would be blessed, includes an eternal kingdom and king who will ultimately defeat Satan.

God's Presence with His Covenant People

During the patriarchal era, God assures Jacob and Isaac, "I will be with you" in Genesis 26:3-4 and 31:3, respectively. The patriarchs have God's assurance that He will continue to be with them and bless them as they followed his will. However, this promise is merely a precursor to God's dwelling with the whole nation of Israel.

The first hint of this theme is found in Exodus 4:22 during the Mosaic era. As God is preparing Moses to stand before Pharaoh, He refers to Israel as "My son, My first born". Later in Exodus 29:43-46 we find the clearest reference to this theme in the Old Testament. God commits to tabernacle, or dwell, with His people. This is an incredible theme! The God of the universe dwelt among His chosen people, thus completing a three-part promise to Israel.[1]

  1. "I will be your God" Gen. 17:7-8
  2. "You will be My people" Exodus 4:22; 6:7
  3. "I will dwell among you" Exodus 29:43-46

This theme continues into the ninth century, when the prophet Joel looks forward to a day when again God will dwell with His people during the millennial kingdom (Joel 3:21). In the eighth century, Isaiah refers to a time when God again will dwell with His people at the first coming of the Messiah (Isaiah 7:14).

While God dwelling with His people is an incredible theme, the ultimate provision is that of His Spirit indwelling the heart of the believer. Ezekiel introduces this theme during the seventh century (Ezek. 37:14). However, before God could dwell among the people, the temple had to be consecrated or purified (Exodus 29:44). In the same way, for God to dwell in the heart of man, a purification process must take place. This, of course, was accomplished through Christ. Christ's death and payment for sin made it possible for God to dwell in the heart of man and is a pledge of our future inheritance (Ephesians 1:14-15).

Nationhood, Land, Heir 

God charges Abram in Genesis 12:1 to leave his country and relatives and go to a new land. Abram left the comfort and security of his home in Ur to follow God's leading. According to Hebrews 11:8-9, he went by faith to a land he did not know, a land he would receive as an inheritance. In addition to receiving the land, God promises Abram that He will bless him, make him a great nation and that through him all the nations on earth will be blessed (Genesis 12:2-3).

With this event, God introduces the theme and promise that Israel, His chosen people, will become a great nation and have a homeland. This is a prominent theme throughout the Mosaic era. God promises His land (Lev. 25:23) to the Jewish people 69 different times in the book of Deuteronomy alone. He reminds the people that this promise is not new, but one that was made to their fathers (Deuteronomy 19:8, 27:3).

Shortly after the Israelites leave Egypt, God summons Moses to Mount Sinai and there promises him that Israel will be a kingdom of priests and a holy nation (Exodus 19:3-6). God had miraculously protected the Jewish people and allowed them to multiply while in captivity. He delivered them from bondage in Egypt and they are now a nation that is ready to take possession of the land God promised their fathers. However, this was contingent on their ability to follow God's commands. The generation that heard God's promise at Mount Sinai does not take possession of the land because of their disobedience. In spite of this, God did not go back on His promise. Under the leadership of Joshua, the nation of Israel enters the promise land.

This theme continues into the Davidic era and is a component of the covenant God establishes with David. God promises to provide a place for His people where they will experience rest from their enemies. In addition, David's heir will build a house for God. However, more importantly, God will build a house for David and establish his throne forever (2 Sam. 7:11-16, see Eternal Dynasty and Kingdom). After years of unrest and persecution by the other nations, Israel experiences relative peace and prosperity in their own land under the leadership of David.

Later, the nation divides into two kingdoms, Israel to the north with 10 tribes and Judah to the south with 2 tribes. Assyria overtakes Israel and Judah fell captive to Babylon. There appears to be no hope of the Jewish people regaining their status as a nation. However, God speaks through the prophet Ezekiel and promises to revive the nation.

(Ezek. 37:12-14) "Therefore prophesy, and say to them, 'Thus says the LORD God, "Behold, I will open your graves and cause you to come up out of your graves, My people; and I will bring you into the land of Israel. {13} "Then you will know that I am the LORD, when I have opened your graves and caused you to come up out of your graves, My people. {14} "And I will put My Spirit within you, and you will come to life, and I will place you on your own land. Then you will know that I, the LORD, have spoken and done it," declares the LORD.'"

This is not a bodily resurrection, but a national resurrection before the Second Coming of Christ. God follows through on His promise to provide a land and make a nation for His people. In the NT, Stephen and the author of Hebrews recount this promise to Abraham, in Acts 7:4-5 and Hebrews 11:8-9 respectively. They join with the rest of the NT authors in looking forward to the hope of a restored nation and land, a nation that experiences not only a political revival but also a spiritual rebirth as described in Ezekiel 37:15-28.

A Blessing to the World

In Genesis 12:3b, God promises Abraham that in him all the families of the earth would be blessed. This blessing is not exclusive to Abraham or to the nation God promises him. It applies to all nations, and tribes (go'wy). Later in Genesis 22:17-18 God states that the source of this blessing will be Abraham's seed.

This blessing is first evident when the Israelites leave Egypt. In Exodus 9:20 and 12:38, Moses describes a "mixed multitude" that includes Egyptians who fear God. Throughout the Old Testament, God makes provision for people from other nations who want to know Him, even placing some in very prominent positions.[2]  This theme continues in the 9th century with the prophet Joel. He makes it clear, "...whoever calls on the name of the Lord will be delivered...".

In Isaiah 49:5-6, God states that Israel will be a light to the nations and that God's salvation will reach the ends of the earth, not just Israel. In Isaiah 52:15, the Servant suffers vicariously for men's sin, and will "sprinkle many nations", (go'wy) clearly an allusion to the high priest sprinkling the blood on the mercy seat (Lev. 16:14). The Servant, the seed of Abraham, Jesus Christ, is shown to cover the sins of all mankind.

Another example of God's concern for the entire world is seen as He goes to great lengths to bring a prophet to the Gentile city of Nineveh. The Ninevites were known enemies of Israel and Jonah is reluctant to preach to these people. His reluctance and lack of compassion for them is evident as he waits, with anticipation, for God to judge and destroy their city. However, the people repent in "sackcloth and ashes" and God withholds judgment of the city, which angers Jonah, (Jonah 3:10-4:1). The book concludes with God expressing His compassion for the people of Nineveh, providing further evidence that God intends the blessing promised to Abraham to apply to all nations.

Jeremiah, Zechariah and Malachi look forward to a time when all the nations (go'wy) of the earth surround the throne of God and worship Him as King.[3]  Clearly, these Old Testament prophets understood God's vision of all nations receiving His message of salvation and blessing.

Therefore, this theme is not unique to the New Testament. God intended to bless the nations from the very beginning. In the New Testament, as in the Old, we see God using human agency to bring the news of His blessing. Christ charges His disciples to go and make disciples of all nations (ethnos) (Matthew 28:18-20; Luke 24:44-49; Acts 1:8). Christ affirms in the Gospel of John that there are other sheep, "not of this fold" who must be brought in under one shepherd (John 10:16). This theme is also prominent after Christ's ministry, through the disciples and Paul:

  • Acts 8:27-39 - The Ethiopian eunuch receives Christ and is baptized.
  • Acts 10:45 - After a vision from God, Peter delivers the gospel to Cornelius, a Gentile and Centurion in the Roman army.
  • Acts 13:46-47 - Paul, quoting Isaiah 49:6, states that he and Barnabas will bring the message of salvation to the Gentiles.
  • Romans 10:11-13 - Paul, quoting Isaiah 28:16, affirms that whoever will call on the name of the Lord will be saved.
  • Romans 10:9-12 - The "root" of Jesse provides hope for the Gentiles
  • Galatians 3:8,14 - Scripture foresees that Gentiles will be justified by faith. In Christ, the promised blessing to Abraham comes to the Gentiles.
  • Ephesians 2:11-18 - Gentiles and Jews united in one body through Christ.
  • Ephesians 3:6-8 - Gentiles are fellow heirs, fellow members of the body, and fellow partakers of the promise.

Finally, in the book of Revelation we see the multitude praising the Lamb and counting Him worthy to open the book. Why was the Lamb worthy? Because through His blood He paid the price for sin for men from every tribe, tongue, people and nation (Rev. 5:8-10). In addition, two chapters later, John describes a multitude from all nations and tribes before the throne of God worshipping the Lamb (Rev. 7:9-17).

From the beginning to the consummation of the age, God desires all nations to hear and take part in the blessing promised to Abraham. God, through His grace, gives Christians the privilege of playing a role in seeing this theme come to fruition.

The Law

The law that God gave to the nation of Israel through Moses serves several purposes.

  • First, the law of Moses reveals the character of God. Commands in the law begin with the phrase, "I am the LORD your God," signifying that the commands are rooted in God's character. The common phrase, "be holy as I am holy," conveys the same point.
  • Second, the law is given to make clear to Israel how they can experience the blessings of God. As Israel follows the commands of the law they "live and prosper and prolong" their days in the land that God has given them (Deut. 5:33).
  • Third, the law points out the sin of the people of Israel. The content of the law, in fact, contains provisions for sacrifices which have to be made because of the people's general uncleanness and specific sin. The prophets use the law as the standard by which to measure the nation. God's judgment comes because of Israel's failure to live up to the law. Conformity to the law would lead to an end of the judgment and the return of blessings. The prophets also speak of a future time when God will at one point provide a sacrifice for the forgiveness of all their sin. Nowhere is this more clear than in Isaiah 52-53 where Isaiah speaks of the "servant of the Lord," who will "sprinkle" the nations and bear the sins of people so as to make them righteous.

In the New Testament, we see similar purposes for the law. Part of Jesus' purpose in preaching the law is to restore the holy standard to which God calls His people. The Pharisees had watered down the law, making it superficial and robbing it of its high claims for holiness. Jesus, in his Sermon on the Mount, seeks to expose and correct their misleading teaching. At times, the Pharisees contradict the law by their hypocritical actions (Mt. 15.3-7). Jesus summarizes the law: "Love God and love your neighbor as yourself." (Matt. 19:19) That is to be the ruling principle which most clearly reflects the character of God and the ethic that is to guide the church.

However, the second purpose stated above for the law in the Old Testament no longer applies in the New. Israel had failed to obtain the full blessings of God through obedience to the law. They had proved unfaithful and there was no indication that they would improve given more time. Would God then get rid of the law in order to bless his people? No. "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," Jesus said (Mt. 5:17). God cannot change his character. Instead, he provides a way for the righteous requirements of the law to be met in his people. That solution is for Jesus to offer his life as a sin offering, so that sin can be condemned and the requirements of the law can be met by those who are made alive in Christ by the Spirit (Romans 8:3-4). Christ's death is the atonement that God had promised through Isaiah.

Lastly, it is revealed in the New Testament that not only was the law given to make to point out sin (Rom 7:7) but also to point people to a way to be freed from sin through forgiveness, that is, to point to Christ. "So the law was put in charge to lead us to Christ..." (Gal. 3:24).

Thus we see that the law serves similar purposes in the Old Testament and the New, and that the law was fulfilled in the New as it pointed sinners to its fulfillment in the substitutionary atonement of Christ.

The Eternal Dynasty and the Kingdom

In the person of David, it becomes clear who "the seed" will be. He will be a king, a descendant of David, and an heir of the promised eternal throne (II Samuel 7:11-16). Thus the promises concerning the seed are inherent in the promise for an eternal kingdom.

The ruler of this kingdom will crush all of his enemies and will be exalted above all other authorities (Psalm 89, 110). Micah reveals that the king will come from Bethlehem and that he will have an eternal destiny. Even as Israel faces exile and is in exile, God affirms that he will be faithful to his promise and that out of the darkness of Israel's sin and consequent judgment, one will come who will fulfill the promise and there will be no end to his rule. Isaiah, Jeremiah, Ezekiel, and Daniel clearly point to a future "David" who will completely fulfill God's promises and bring about an eternal kingdom. It is an awesome promise considering the circumstances God had brought through his judgment at that time. God's people are in a foreign land but the promise remains that God will create his own kingdom for his people to inhabit, led by a descendant of David.

The NT begins with the announcement that the kingdom is at hand. John the Baptist first announces this, and as Jesus begins his ministry he reinforces it. "'The time has come,' he said. 'The kingdom of God is near. Repent and believe the good news!'" (Mark 1:15). There is an element of God's kingdom that still lies in the future, but Jesus is also saying that the kingdom is present with him (Mt. 12:28), because the king has arrived. It is the clear teaching of the NT that Jesus is the promised seed, the anointed one who will reign on David's throne forever, the servant, the root, the branch, the Messiah that the prophets have promised.

The NT makes this clear in two ways. First, it records numerous Old Testament passages about the Messiah and demonstrates how Jesus fulfills them. For example, Matthew notes the fact that Jesus can cast out demons fulfills the prophecy in Isaiah 53:4 that the servant of the Lord "took up our infirmities and carried our diseases." (Mt. 8:16-17) The apostles in the book of Acts make the same sorts of connections as do the writers of the epistles. Second, the NT records the claims, by Jesus, that he is the Christ. Jesus himself points out prophecy that he fulfills (Mt. 22:41-45). He acknowledges before Peter and the High Priest that he is the Christ (Mt. 16:16; Mt. 26:64). Jesus not only identifies himself as the Christ, but he also expounds on the nature of the king and teaches that he is indeed God himself (John 8:58; 10:30). Thus, the revelation of Jesus as the Son of God, the Christ, gives new meaning to the Old Testament's witness through David that "Yours, O LORD, is the kingdom..." (I Chronicles 29:11)

Just as the Old Testament portrays the promised kingdom as transcending over all other kingdoms so is Christ pictured as above all other spiritual (Col. 2:15) and earthly rulers: "Therefore God exalted him to the highest place and gave him the name that is above every name..." (Phil. 2:9).

The nature of the Old Testament's portrayal of the kingdom is also consistent with the portrayal in the New. The kingdom will be characterized by peace, justice, and righteousness, according to Isaiah (Isa. 9:6-7). Jesus communicates in his parables about the kingdom that those who do evil will not be there, but only the righteous (Mt. 13). Revelation 21 depicts a similar kingdom.

The NT adds to the Old Testament description of God's eternal kingdom the identity of the king and the fact that the kingdom has come in Jesus and yet still will come in its fullness in the future.

The Day of the Lord

As described in the Old Testament the "Day of the Lord" will be both the most terrifying and the most glorious day to date - terrible for those who have not obeyed God, and awesome and glorious for those who have God's special favor. The day of the Lord is a future day in which God brings all of his enemies to final defeat and judgment and his people to final prosperity. Generally, it is pictured as judgment with the assumption that the defeat of God's enemies will be good for God's people. Amos, however, alerts his audience  that they would stand under the judgment of God if they do not repent (Amos 8). For the faithful, however, there is the promise of a new heavens and a new earth which will endure forever (Isa. 66). Zephaniah and Zechariah indicate that the day of the Lord will involve a sacrifice which will consecrate the people and removal sin (Zeph. 1:7; Zech. 13:1). The day of the Lord will be the end of time in the sense that people's fates will be sealed and the kingdom that stands will endure forever.

The appearance of Jesus adds a new dimension to the day of the Lord. Jesus brings some of the blessings of the day of the Lord, but without the judgment, warning that judgment will occur in the future, in addition to the blessings of the new heavens and the new earth.

In Luke 4:18-21 Jesus says that the Spirit of the Lord is on him "to proclaim the year of the Lord's favor" and that the poor will have the good news preached to them, the prisoners will be set free, the blind will see, and the oppressed will be released. These are the blessings of the day of the Lord upon the faithful, and Jesus brings them in his first coming. John 3:17 makes the same point: "For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through him." The Pentecost in Acts provides more evidence that the blessings of the last days have come. Peter explains the disciples speaking in tongues as a fulfillment of a prophecy in Joel 2:28-32 regarding the last days.

However, the judgment that accompanies the day of the Lord is still to come. Jesus and his apostles warn that it will come in the future "like a thief in the night." (Mt. 24; II Peter 3:10) The New Testament gives a rough blueprint of what must occur before Jesus returns and the day of the Lord is finished (Mt. 24, Mk. 13, Lk. 21, I Thess. 2). Wars, famines, and natural disasters will occur leading up to it. The gospel will be preached to the whole world. The "man of lawlessness" or the "abomination that causes desolation" will appear. Satan will deceive people into following him by performing false miracles. Then, amidst all "the distress of those days," Christ, "the Son of Man" will appear in the clouds with his angels to gather his people. Then fire will destroy the heavens and earth and God will create a new heavens and a new earth (II Peter 3:13).

The NT affirms what the Old Testament teaches about the day of the Lord. However, it also reveals that some of the blessings of the day of the Lord are available now through Christ. Furthermore, the NT gives more details regarding the events leading up to the day of the Lord.

The New Covenant

The covenant that God made with Israel through the law of Moses was unsuccessful, failing to produce a covenant people who would faithfully act as "a kingdom of priests and a holy nation" (Ex. 19:6) to represent God. The people of Israel proved, by their repeated disobedience, that they could not faithfully follow the law. But, this covenant did succeed in pointing out the need for a different, new covenant. This new covenant could not depend on the response of people, but would depend alone on the faithfulness of God. As Paul points out in Galatians 3:15-19, God had made a promise to Abraham previous to the establishment of the law, and the law did not nullify that promise. That promise also depended only on the actions of God; Abraham participated in it as an individual through his faith. Ezekiel had made the same point (Ezek. 16:59-60). The promise to Abraham gave rise to all of the previous themes. The new covenant is the vehicle through which all of the promises will be fulfilled.

The new covenant is first alluded to in Isaiah and is expounded upon further primarily in Jeremiah and Ezekiel. In Isaiah 49:8, God promises that he will use his "servant of the LORD" to "make you to be a covenant for the people, to restore the land." In Isaiah 55, God specifies that this covenant will be his "faithful love promised to David." In Jeremiah 31:31-34 God promises to make a new covenant, not like the old one that could be broken. Rather, God's law will be in his people's hearts and minds, and everyone will know God for themselves and their sins will be completely forgiven. With this, God will gather his scattered people from everywhere and make a covenant whereby he will never stop doing good to them and they will never turn away from him (Jer. 32:37-40). Ezekiel 36:22-28 describes how God will accomplish this miracle. Through cleansing his people from all sin, God will give his people a new heart and put a new spirit in them - God's Spirit which will "move you to follow my decrees and be careful to keep my laws."

Thus the New Covenant includes the following provisions for his people in the new heavens and new earth: universal knowledge of God, universal peace, universal material prosperity, God's presence among his people, and universal possession of God's Spirit.

These stunning promises come during Israel's darkest hour. Israel was exiled. Judah is facing the same fate. But amidst all this failure, God reassures his people that the previous promises will still be fulfilled. God will turn again to a covenant that depends solely on him for its success.

In the New Testament, all of these aspects of the New Covenant are reaffirmed and some of them begin to be fulfilled. In Jesus, there is a new mediator for a new and better covenant (Hebrews). Jesus' blood which he shed on the cross seals the covenant (Mt. 26:28). Jesus says he came to bring abundant life (John 10:10), a life that would last forever (John 10:28). This new life will come through being born again of the Spirit (John 3:3). God's Spirit brings new life, and in fact, lives with the believer (John 14:17). The Spirit gives the believer power to live a life that pleases God (Gal 5:22-23) and to be a witness for him (Acts 1:8). The Holy Spirit is presently at work in believers. He is the promise of the New Covenant which will bring all the other promises to fulfillment. God finally has a people in Christ, through the Spirit, who are a "chosen people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people belonging to God, [who] may declare the praises of him who called you out of darkness into his wonderful light" (I Peter 3:9).

Still in the future, the ultimate fulfillment of the New Covenant awaits when Israel will be gathered to God (Romans 11:27) and Christ's victory over Satan and death will be complete. God's people will have imperishable bodies (I Cor. 15:54-55), and will live in a new heavens and a new earth where there will be no more evil and the glory of God will be the only light needed (Rev. 21).

Thus in the New Testament, the New Covenant begins to be fulfilled in the person and work of Christ and the ministry of the Holy Spirit; the final fulfillment of the New Covenant is given more detail.

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[1]  This three-part promise is found throughout the Old and New Testament. Lev. 11:45; 22:33; 25:38; 26:12,44,45; Numbers 15:41; Deut. 4:20; 29:12-13; Jer. 7:23; 11:4; 24:7; 30:22; 31:1,33; 32:38; Ezek. 11:20; 14:11; 36:28; 37:27; Zech. 8:8; 13:9; 2 Cor. 6:16; and Rev. 21:3-7 

[2]  Both Rahab and Ruth are included in Matthew's genealogy, Matt. 1:5. In addition, Rahab is mentioned in the "Hall of Faith" in Hebrews 11:31 and in James 2:25 as an example of faith resulting in action. Rahab was a Canaanite from the city of Jericho and Ruth was a Moabite. 

[3]  Jeremiah 3:16-17; Zechariah 2:10-12; and Malachi 11:1



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