The Role of the Old Testament for Us in the New Testament

“For whatever was written in former days was written for our instruction, that through endurance and through the encouragement of the Scriptures…” (Romans 15:4, ESV, emphasis added)

Encouragement

Here is where the value of the Old Testament shines so spectacularly. The Old Testament is so encouraging! Is all of it? All of it can be. You may say, what about those long genealogies or some dry section of Ezekiel? Those aren’t that helpful. Admittedly, not every passage is as pastoral or devotional or immediately applicable as other sections. But all of it is encouraging in some way. How?

Truth for life

The entire Old Testament is the divine revelation of God, his character, his purpose, and his glory. As such, it provides truth by which I can live my life. David celebrates this in his amazing tribute to the Scriptures in Psalm 119. One verse says, “Your word is a lamp to my feet and a light to my path” (Psalm 119:105). It provides direction in practical things, explanation in difficult things, and comfort in devasting things. The Old Testament is truth for every stage of life.

Examples to warn/inspire

It is also encouraging as it provides living, breathing examples of people like us succeeding and failing, sinning and repenting, struggling and overcoming. Teaching is great but don’t we often learn more from living, breathing examples? The Old Testament is filled with them.

Don’t hate your brother, like Cain. Build a preposterous ark if God tells you to. Listen to God and do what he says, even if your name isn’t Abraham. God judges sexual immorality—look at Sodom if you can find it. Even when things are dire, God sends heroes—see Judges—but don’t look too carefully, because all heroes have flaws. David is an example of the destruction of lust and the power of confession and forgiveness. Elijah won at Mt. Carmel and then ran like a schoolgirl from Jezebel—just like us. Esther was courageous and God used her wonderfully. Dare to be a Daniel. I could go on and on. All of them were so flawed yet so wonderfully used by God. The Old Testament is encouraging. It instructs. It encourages. And it gives us…

Hope

“For whatever was written in former days was written for our instruction, that through endurance and through the encouragement of the Scriptures we might have hope” (Romans 15:4).

Hope for what, exactly? Hope is about the future. Not the past. Not the present. The future. The hope of the Old Testament centers on a person. The Messiah. In fact, the connection between the Old Testament and the New Testament is Jesus. How does Matthew begin his gospel? Does he just start with Mary and Joseph? No. He starts with a genealogy from the Old Testament. Why? He is connecting what God does in the New Testament with what God does in the Old. The “The book of the genealogy of Jesus Christ, the son of David, the son of Abraham” (Matthew 1:1).

Indeed, the Old Testament sets the stage for the glory of the incarnation of Jesus. In many ways, you cannot understand the Old Testament properly without Jesus. As Augustine said, “In the Old Testament the New is concealed; in the New, the Old is revealed.”[1]

Scripture quotations are taken from The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.

© 2020 by Steve DeWitt. You are permitted and encouraged to reproduce and distribute this material in any format provided that: (1) you credit the author, (2) any modifications are clearly marked, (3) you do not charge a fee beyond the cost of reproduction, (4) you include Bethel’s website address (www.bethelweb.org) on the copied resource.

[1] Augustine as quoted by Sidney Greidanus, Preaching Christ from the Old Testament: A Contemporary Hermeneutical Method (Grand Rapids, MI: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1999), 100.

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