“I’m glad you preached out of the New Testament,” said the man. We were chatting after the morning worship service. “I don’t like the God of the Old Testament,” he added. I suspect that he reflects the perspective of lots of people today. Jesus, they think is cool. The “God of the Old Testament”, however, is far less appealing to them. To them He seems at best, cranky and unstable, at worst, He’s a monster who’s always “smiting” someone – sometimes for seemingly capricious reasons. Perhaps you feel that way yourself – you’re attracted to Jesus, but confused and uncomfortable with God as He’s described in the Old Testament. Let’s begin by drawing out some of the reasons why people have this perception. I have many Scripture references listed here which I won’t be read on the broadcast but which are noted in the written transcript.
Why are people uncomfortable with God as described in the Old Testament?
1. The God of the Old Testament seems domineering to people
God was not running a democracy. And, while He did accommodate folks to some extent, when it came to following His direct commands (Lev. 26:3) He expected complete obedience.
2. The God of the Old Testament made rules, lots of them
You’ve heard of the Ten Commandments. Well, those are only a very short summary of a much longer list. The Jews had over 600 laws which involved everything imaginable from spiritual issues like worshiping God alone, to practical ones involving things like food and clothing. Furthermore, God took these commands seriously. There were negative consequences for ignoring them.
3. The God of the Old Testament punished sin, sometimes severely
While God exhibited a certain amount of patience and grace – otherwise the human race would have perished the moment Eve ate the forbidden fruit, His consequences could be draconian. He rained down fire and brimstone on Sodom and Gomorrah (Gen. 19:24), killed 23,000 people in one day for sexual immorality (1 Cor. 10:8), not to mention the laws that required beating (Deut. 25:1-3) and even stoning for disobedience (Lev. 24:14).
4. The God of the Old Testament wiped out whole nations
When Israel conquered Canaan they were instructed to kill everyone, even women and children (Joshua 10:29,30). This one is a particularly hard pill for many, even Christians, to fully understand and swallow.
5. The God of the Old Testament often seems crabby
God does quite a bit of criticizing and complaining in the Old Testament, especially through his prophets (Is. 1:2-4)
Jesus, on the other hand, seems like a breath of fresh air to many folks. He tells us to love our enemies (Matt. 5:44), and to turn the other cheek when we are struck (Luke 6:29). He heals the sick (Luke 5:17), raises the dead (Luke 7:11-17), and has compassion on the multitudes (Matt. 14:14). He comes, not to be served, but to serve and, instead of killing, allows Himself to be killed; to “give his life as a ransom for many”(Mark 10:45 ). He even asks the Father to forgive those who are crucifying Him (Luke 23:34 ). Most paintings of Jesus show him with a calm, thoughtful face, looking, with his long hair like a gentle hippie. What’s not to like?
The “gentle Jesus” versus the “mean Jehovah”, however, in my opinion, is based on a facile, superficial understanding of both of them. Here’s my thesis in this article:
The God of the Old Testament is in harmony with the Jesus of the New Testament
This leads to the main question I’ll be addressing in the rest of this discussion:
Why do people sometimes see the Old Testament God and the New Testament Jesus as opposites?
1. People often see them as opposites because they don’t seriously study their Bibles
If, for instance, you simply see the God of the Old Testament as a “God of wrath”, you’re probably relying on stereotypes, or what you’ve heard from others, rather than carefully reading and studying each verse of the Old Testament for yourself. This leads to the next point:
2. Both the God of the Old Testament and Jesus are complex characters who defy simplistic stereotypes
Yes, the God of the Old Testament can be severe, but that’s far from all that He shows Himself to be. He’s also often tender, patient, generous and kind (Ps. 23). In fact, this is His default mode. He’s “slow to anger and great in lovingkindness” (Ex. 34:6). Jesus, on the other hand, as we shall see, while tender and patient, could also be caustic and tough, even toward His beloved followers ( Matt. 16:23). To maintain the stereotypes mentioned above requires selective reading; a sort of interpretive cherry-picking.
3. Jesus fully supports the God of the Old Testament
Jesus quotes constantly from the Old Testament and never criticizes or demurs on what it teaches or the God it represents. He approves of its laws and calls its God “Father”, even expressing a strong eternal love relationship between them (John 17:24 ). In fact, it goes even deeper than that. Jesus says “I and the Father are one” (John 10:30).
4. Jesus was fully involved in Old Testament times
Paul says that, in the Old Testament times that the “spiritual rock that accompanied them was Christ” (1 Cor. 10:4) Many theologians believe that Old Testament appearances of God, called “theophanies”, like God appearing to Abraham (Gen. 18), involved the Son of God, Jesus, rather than the Father. So Jesus was in the middle of Old Testament activities.
5. Jesus too expects total obedience from His followers
While we do have “a friend in Jesus”, He’s more than just our buddy. He’s also our Lord; our Ruler. As such, He expects us our total obedience (John 14:21). He expects us to put loyalty to Him above even our loyalty to family and friends (Luke 14:26). He’s the “King of Kings and Lord of Lords ” (Rev. 19:16).
6. Jesus too supports punishment for sin
In reality, Jesus speaks of a much greater penalty for sin than physical death, such as that caused by plague, or snake bite. He warns of eternal Hell (Matt. 5:29) and makes no apologies for its existence or severity.
7. Jesus will return with a “sword in His mouth” to crush the armies of Satan and the Beast
The Jesus revealed in the book of Revelation, while loving in many places, is also scary . He opens the seals on the scroll in the Father’s right hand which release calamities on earth (Rev. 5) and, in the end, leads God’s army (Rev. 19, 20), which easily crushes God’s enemies.
I’ve just attempted that show that Jesus isn’t the “soft” New Testament God versus the “hard” Old Testament God, Jehovah. They’re both hard in certain ways. They have to be because they’re Rulers of the universe. They created it and must judge and deal with sin or it would destroy all that is good. But, and please don’t miss this, they’re both soft too. John tells us that “God is love”(1 John 4:8). We see this love demonstrated repeatedly in both Testaments. It was the Father, who sent the Son to die on the cross for our sins so that we could be forgiven (Gal. 4:4). He sends the Spirit to save and support His followers (Luke 11:13). And He intends to live with and love His people forever (Rev. 21:3,4).