When my wife and I moved to our current home, our neighbors asked about our work. On hearing that we ministered to the Jewish people and supported Israel, the lady seemed somewhat dismissive of the ministry and said to me, “My priest told me the Old Testament is no longer relevant, and, as Christians, we only need to read the New Testament. So I don’t base anything on the Old Testament.”
Coming from someone we had just met, I was both surprised and taken aback by these comments. With hardly a thought, the Old Testament was sidelined at best and dismissed as a repository of ancient and outdated information at worst. But she was so wrong for so many reasons.
So why should we care about the Old Testament?
1) The OT Tells the Story of Our Redemption
While the New Testament (NT) tells us of the life and ministry of the Messiah (Jesus), the Old Testament (OT) gives us the foundation on which the need for His coming is based. After the fall of Adam and Eve (Genesis 3), we are confronted by two stark realities: We all inherit the same sin of rebellion they displayed, and sin separates us from our Creator. Everything from that point forward, in the biblical record in both testaments, is the story of God’s redemption of mankind through the Messiah.
While the New Testament tells us of the life and ministry of the Messiah, the Old Testament gives us the foundation on which the need for His coming is based.
That story, as it unfolds, reveals God’s purposes for the nation of Israel. Abraham was chosen and called by God as the patriarch of a people through whom “all the families of the earth shall be blessed” (12:3). So, the means of redemption and restoration to God for all people on Earth would come through Abraham’s family (the Jewish people).
But who would save us, and when and how would God accomplish His purposes? The answers are given prophetically in the OT.
2) The OT Builds the Foundation for Jesus’ Coming
In the OT we read of the Messiah’s virgin birth (Isaiah 7:14), His credentials (9:6), and His heritage (9:7). His place of birth is clearly given (Micah 5:2), and His formal introduction to the Jewish people is described in great detail: “Behold, your King is coming to you… lowly and riding on a donkey.” (Zechariah 9:9). And then His suffering in our place for our sin is spelled out for all to see. “He was wounded for our transgressions, He was bruised for our iniquities; the chastisement for our peace was upon Him, and by His stripes we are healed” (Isaiah 53:5–6). We should care about the OT because it gives us the foundation on which the identity and truth of the Messiah can be established. And because it is God’s plan, the NT then documents the fulfillment of all the OT had predicted.
This important truth, like others concerning God’s dealings with Israel and the world, was not lost on the writers of the OT. Paul informed us, “Whatever things were written before were written for our learning” (Romans 15:4), and his letter to Timothy (2 Timothy 3:15–16) acknowledges the OT’s influence on his protégé: “From childhood you have known the Holy Scriptures [OT], which are able to make you wise for salvation through faith which is in Christ Jesus. All Scripture is given by inspiration of God and is profitable … that the man of God may be complete, thoroughly equipped for every good work.” Peter also refers to the OT prophets affirming that, “To them it was revealed that, not to themselves, but to us they were ministering the things which have now been reported to you” (1 Peter 1:12). And, if that were not enough, Jesus Himself declared that the OT pointed to Him (John 5:39, 46–47; Luke 24:27, 53).
3) The OT Prophesies Things Yet to Come
While these are compelling reasons to care about the OT, the elephant in the theological room is the fact that many OT prophecies are yet to be fulfilled, at least in their entirety. Consider some of the promises God made to His Chosen People, Israel.
Ezekiel prophesied to the exiles in Babylon concerning the judgment they were currently facing and God’s ultimate restoration of the Jewish people to the land of Israel. Ezekiel 36:19 reads, “So I scattered them among the nations and they were dispersed throughout the countries” (judgment), and in verse 24 we read, “I will take you from among the nations, gather you out of all countries, and bring you into your own land. Then I will sprinkle clean water on you… I will give you a new heart and put a new spirit within you” (restoration). The first part of this restoration was achieved in the declaration of the State of Israel in 1948. The cleansing and ‘a new heart’ and ‘a new spirit’ are yet to come with the Lord’s return and the turning of Jewish hearts to their Messiah (Zechariah 12:10).
We should care about the OT because it gives us the foundation on which the identity and truth of the Messiah can be established.
Before the time of the Lord’s return, there are many things, revealed in part in the OT and confirmed and expanded in the NT, yet to happen on Earth. The book of Daniel reveals there is a Kingdom that will come upon the earth (Daniel 2:41–43) with a satanically-controlled ruler who will make a covenant with Israel for seven years and then break it after 3.5 years (9:27). This same ruler, “shall speak pompous words against the Most High, shall persecute the saints… for a time and times and half a time” (another 3.5 years; 7:25). This total period of 7 years is the time of the Tribulation described by Jesus (Matthew 24:15–22). A significant amount of details as to the description, character, and actions of this ruler (the Antichrist), along with his ultimate defeat, is only revealed in the OT.
At the end of this time of Tribulation, the Messiah will return to Earth and destroy His enemies. As the world’s armies gather against Jerusalem, the Messiah will come to their aid (Zechariah 12:9; 14:1–3) in His Second Coming. Daniel tells that after the 3.5 years under the devilish rule of Antichrist, “when the power of the holy people (Israel) has been completely shattered, all these things shall be finished.” The conquering King, the Messiah, will then stand on the Mount of Olives (Zechariah 14:4) and soon after, take His rightful place of rulership over the incredible Millennial Kingdom described by Isaiah (2:2–4; 9:6–7; 11:1–10) and others. Not only will the Messiah rule in those days, but Israel will be renewed, and even the Dead Sea will come alive and teem with fish (Ezek. 47:1–12).
There are many more OT prophecies crucial to our understanding of God and His plans for Israel and for the future. We also have much to learn about the character of God, Jewish customs, and lessons from the lives of OT Bible characters. Taking all these things into consideration, it’s clear that the OT is certainly worth caring about.
My neighbor, like a significant number of others, has been mistakenly taught that the OT is no longer relevant. But any Bible-believing Christian who wants to understand God’s Word should care a great deal about the OT because we cannot reasonably comprehend the plans and purposes of God in human history without at least some knowledge of these sacred writings.