Recently I had the privilege to have lunch with two distinguished men in the ministry who I hold in high esteem. We discussed many topics, some weighty and some lighthearted. In our conversing, one of the men stated he had recently talked to a minister who said the Old Testament was irrelevant for our day and time and it was of little value for twenty-first century Christendom. Sadly, there are those who embrace such erroneous thinking. However, such a viewpoint is not only erroneous, but sorely lacking in theological insight and is a disastrous concept to embrace when developing NT interpretation. It is of necessity we not abandon the OT but to become familiar with its rich contents. Let me list eleven reasons why the Old Testament is of vital importance for modern-day Christendom. I could list more, but I must stop writing somewhere…so I will stop at eleven!!
First, the Old Testament lays the foundation for understanding the New Testament. In the OT we find the progressive unfolding of the revelation of God to man in regard to Jesus Christ. The OT is more than a history book of random stories, but the OT relates to man how God used imperfect people, events and promises to bring about His progressive revelation of a Savior. If we tossed aside the OT then we fail to understand that Christ didn’t just appear on the scene one day without announcement, but his arrival had been a progressive unfolding since Genesis 3:15 when God promised that a Savior would come from the Seed of a Woman to deal with Satan and sin. His birth in Bethlehem and subsequent work on earth, God had been unfolding since the Fall of Adam and Eve. Without the OT that truth would be lost.
Second, the Old Testament is filled with types and shadows which Christ fulfilled them all. When one studies the OT Tabernacle, every piece of it pictures some aspect of the character and work of Christ. The Jewish Feast Days speak of Christ. The Passover depicts the work Christ. When one looks at the sacrificial system of the OT, it foreshadowed the day when John the Baptist would point to Jesus and cry out, “Behold, the lamb of God which has come to take away the sin of the world” (Jh 2:29). Without an understanding of the OT sacrificial system and the reason for it being instituted, the statement of John the Baptist would make no sense. The OT is filled with many such examples where Jesus fulfilled the types and shadows to the last dot on the i.
Third, without the Old Testament we would not know Jesus was the one sent from God. The Old Testament is filled with signposts (prophecies) along the way that were for the purpose of giving recognizable proofs so one could know if Jesus was the true one sent from God or an imposter. The OT prophesied Jesus would come from the tribe of Judah, come from the line of David, would be born of a virgin, would be born in Bethlehem, would have to flee to Egypt for a short time after his birth, would grow up in Nazareth, would be crucified, and would rise from the dead and the list goes on. Matter of fact, there are some 300 prophesies dealing with Christ’s first coming. Christ fulfilled every one of them to the letter. If we tossed aside the OT how would we know He was truly the Son of God whom the Father promised or an imposter?
Fourth, the Old Testament is important for without it we would not have an understanding of many of the Jewish customs mentioned in the New Testament. We would not understand why the Pharisees got angry when Jesus said, “I Am.” We would not understand why Jesus cleansed the temple courtyard during one of the Passovers. We would not understand why some of Jesus disciples, who were zealots, were excited when they saw the miracles Jesus performed (John 6). We would not understand why the Pharisees hated Jesus so. We would not understand why the Jews were so nationalistic. Without the OT there is so much in the NT that would leave us baffled.
Fifth, without the Old Testament the first book of the NT, Matthew, could not be understood. Matthew’s target group was the Jews, and he is constantly referring to OT passages, Jesus being the fulfillment of those passages. If we only had the NT, we would not know why the Jews were looking for a Messiah or King and the question of the Wise Men would make no sense, “Where is he that is born King of the Jews?” Without the OT we could not grasp why Matthew spent so much time proving that Jesus was the ONLY rightful heir to the throne of David.
Sixth, without knowledge of the OT we could not grasp the preaching of the disciples in Acts. They considered the OT important for they were continually preaching Christ was the fulfillment of the OT Scriptures. Their messages were filled with OT passages. The sermon of Stephen to the Jews would make no sense without an understanding of the OT (Acts 7). Philip’s encounter with the Ethiopian eunuch would leave us scratching our heads as to its meaning without the OT (Acts 8). Many more such incidents in Acts could be cited, which without the OT one would not be able to comprehend.
Seventh, without the OT one could not understand many of the names and titles given to Christ in the New Testament. The names given to Christ are anchored in the OT, and without the OT we would wonder why those names were attached to Him. Names such as the Son of Man, the Seed, Messiah, One greater than Moses, High Priest, Good Shepherd, the Lamb of God, Emmanuel, I AM, Weeping Prophet, Wonderful, Prince of Peace, etc. are all OT names. Those names cannot be adequately understood outside their OT context.
Eighth, without the Old Testament one cannot understand the book of Hebrews. The book of Hebrews is centered upon the theme that Jesus Christ is superior to all the OT types and shadows that foreshadowed Christ and He is superior to the greatest of men in the OT. Without knowledge of the OT one might as well remove Hebrews from the NT for it would be incomprehensible.
Ninth, without the Old Testament there is no chance of understanding the book of Revelation. The last book in the Bible is hard enough to understand as it is, but one who dismisses the OT will never unlock the mysteries of Revelation. There are 100s of clear reference taken from the OT found in John’s apocalyptic writing. To just name a few, allusions are made from OT books like Genesis, Exodus, Nahum, Ezekiel, Isaiah, Ezra, Jeremiah, Psalms, and the list goes on. Dismiss the OT and Revelation remains locked.
Tenth, the OT is important because of the many valuable lessons we learn – both positive and negative. Paul stated that the stories in the OT are given to us as examples from which we can learn (Romans 15:4). If we removed the OT we would never know such powerful and positive stories as the Walls of Jericho come tumbling down, David and Goliath, Ruth and Boaz, Esther, Abigail, and the list goes on. As well, we have many stories that serve as warnings like David and Bathsheba, the failure at Ai, the failure of Israel to listen to the prophets, and the list goes on. The many stories in the OT serve as both an encouragement to us as well as a warning.
Eleventh, the OT is important because it reveals a God who has revealed Himself to humanity as Holy. All of God’s dealing with man is based upon the foundation of God’s holiness. Only that which can comply with God’s perfect holiness can ever come into His presence. Since man is sinful and cannot comply with God’s demands, the OT is the unfolding of the plan of God of how sinful man can be brought into a relationship and fellowship with a holy God. The OT reveals God’s holy-love has provided in our place a Substitute, Jesus Christ, who lived in our stead the holy life we cannot live and then took upon himself the just judgment we deserved for us not being able to comply with God’s holy demands. In Christ our God has provided for us the means of forgiveness of our sins and restored fellowship and communion with Him. It is in the OT we first learn of this amazing provision. Without the OT the NT work of Christ could not be fully understood. The OT teaches us the nature of God and the necessity of the atonement of Christ.
In summary, those who say the OT is unimportant are shortsighted and fail to grasp the full intent of the wondrous of work of God in Christ. Doing away with the OT would be like beginning a story at the middle of a book, much is missed by skipping the first half. Let us always remember, all that came before Christ (the OT) was fulfilled by Him, and all that comes after Him is determined by Him! Those who do not let their footsteps venture over the pages of the OT are missing much that God has to say and will never fully grasp the richness of the character of God the Father and the fullness of the Lord Jesus Christ.
Now, get to reading the Old Testament!