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As a Messianic Jew (a Jewish believer in Jesus as the Messiah), I am often asked by people ‘Why is the Old Testament important for Christians? What is the difference between the Old Testament vs New Testament as it relates to Jesus and why should I read it? Does it apply to me?’
So in this post, I am going to address these questions and explain why it is important for Christians to not only read both the Old and New Testaments, but to study them.
Old Testament vs New Testament – What is the Difference Between Them?
The Old Testament or Tanakh
I think before we launch into the “why” of reading the Old Testament, we should examine the Old Testament vs New Testament, what the Old Testament is and the differences between the two.
The “Old Testament” is a name I am personally not too fond of since it implies something that is outdated, replaced, no longer valid. That couldn’t be further from the truth.
I prefer ‘Tanakh’ which in Hebrew is an acronym for the Torah or 5 Books of Moses, (These are known as the ‘Teachings” of Moses or the Pentateuch), the Nevi’im or Prophets, the Ketuvim or Writings. Sounds intimidating, right?
And that right there is the issue in a nutshell. People find the Tanakh or Old Testament with all its genealogies and laws, intimidating. But we will address that in a moment.
For the purposes of this post, I will use the term “Old Testament” since that is how most Christians recognize it.
As I mentioned, in addition to Torah, we have the Nevi’im or Prophets. We have Prophets like Ezekiel, Jonah and so on.
Then we have the Ketuvim or Writings. These are composed of books like Psalms, Proverbs, and so on.
To break this down even further, the Old Testament is compiled of:
- Poetry and Songs
- Major Prophets
- Minor Prophets
The New Testament or Brit Chadasha
The New Testament or Brit Chadasha (New Covenant) is compiled of:
- The Four Canonical Gospels
- The Acts of the Apostles
- The Epistles or Letters
What People THINK the Difference Is
In many cases, people would say the difference between the Old Testament vs New Testament is one has Jesus and the other doesn’t. Fair enough.
They may also define the Old Testament as Law and the New as Grace.
Again, fair enough.
But that is not exactly true. First, the Old Testament is not absent of Jesus at all. And we will explore that momentarily.
Second, the New Testament is not absent of law and the Old is not absent of grace. And we will go through that as well.
Old Testament vs New Testament – What the Difference REALLY Is
Again, putting this in a proverbial nutshell, the Old Testament foresees the Messiah and the New Testament reveals Him.The Old Testament foresees the Messiah and the New Testament reveals Him. Click To Tweet
The Old Testament paves the way for and shows the need for the Messiah and the New Testament reveals Him to us.
BUT, one only need look closely enough to see that, while He was not revealed by IDENTITY in the Old Testament, He was revealed by His characteristics, His ministry, and ultimately His sacrifice for us.
The Tanakh paints a picture of what the Messiah will be if not WHO he will be. It speaks of His qualities, His coming, that He will be born in a specific place, that He will suffer, that He will come lowly and not as a conquering political figure.
But even more than that, it speaks of His love for us and His plan from the point of creation to the coming Day of the Lord.
Old Testament vs New Testament – Why is the Old Testament Important?
Torah is often though to be “THE LAW” but in actuality, Torah means teaching. While it contains law, it is not law in and of itself. So why is the Old Testament important for Christians?
Throughout Torah (Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers and Deuteronomy) we are introduced to God’s never-ending desire to dwell with His people.
So we are then introduced to faith. Yes, faith in the Old Testament!
The covenant God made with Abraham was a covenant based on faith. God promised Abraham children, land, blessings and more in return for faith!
We see Abraham’s faith lived out in his obedience in taking Issac up to Mount Moriah.
God does not break covenant. Additional covenants do not negate previous ones. God’s covenant with Abraham did not negate His covenant with Noah. His covenant with David did not negate His covenant with Abraham.
We are also introduced to the sacrificial system and the shedding of blood as an atonement for sin. We see the need to seek forgiveness and make atonement.
We see that the law of God is like a target with obedience being the bullseye and sin is missing the mark. Sin is not only doing “evil” in the way we tend to think of evil. It is falling short of God’s righteous standard.We see that the law of God is like a target with obedience being the bullseye and sin is missing the mark. Sin is not only doing "evil" in the way we tend to think of evil. It is falling short of God's righteous standard. Click To Tweet
What Does the Old Testament Say About Jesus? – The Prophets
The prophets were the mouthpieces of God. God spoke directly to the people through them.
But the prophets not only spoke FOR God, they spoke OF Him.
They were the ones that told the people of a Messiah yet to come. They spoke of a promise that, one day, all this repetitious atonement would cease.
They not only spoke of Him, they described Him…in great detail. They had to or the people would be deceived.
They told the people where He would come from:
But you, Bethlehem Ephrathah, though you are small among the clans of Judah, out of you will come for me one who will be ruler over Israel, whose origins are from of old, from ancient times.Michah 5:2 NIV
They spoke of His mother:
Therefore Adonai himself will give you people a sign:
the young woman (my note: in the Hebrew it is the word ‘almah and it means virgin) will become pregnant, bear a son and name him ‘Immanu El [God is with us].Isaiah 7:14 CJB
They spoke of His suffering:
And I will pour out on the house of David and the inhabitants of Jerusalem a spirit of grace and pleas for mercy, so that, when they look on me, on him whom they have pierced, they shall mourn for him, as one mourns for an only child, and weep bitterly over him, as one weeps over a firstborn.Zechariah 12:10 ESV
Surely he has borne our griefs and carried our sorrows yet we esteemed him stricken, smitten by God, and afflicted.
But he was pierced for our transgressions; he was crushed for our iniquities; upon him was the chastisement that brought us peace, and with his wounds we are healed.
All we like sheep have gone astray; we have turned—every one—to his own way; and the Lord has laid on him the iniquity of us all.Isaiah 53:4-6 ESV
They spoke of His death:
Yet it was the will of the Lord to crush him; he has put him to grief; when his soul makes an offering for guilt, he shall see his offspring; he shall prolong his days; the will of the Lord shall prosper in his hand. Out of the anguish of his soul he shall see and be satisfied; by his knowledge shall the righteous one, my servant, make many to be accounted righteous, and he shall bear their iniquities.
Therefore I will divide him a portion with the many, and he shall divide the spoil with the strong, because he poured out his soul to death and was numbered with the transgressors; yet he bore the sin of many, and makes intercession for the transgressors.Isaiah 52:10-12
They spoke of Him coming again!
…and behold, with the clouds of heaven there came one like a son of man,
and he came to the Ancient of Days and was presented before him.Daniel 7:13
The Old Testament vs New Testament – The Result is Grace
When you read through seemingly endless laws, remember the result of those is grace.
When you sift through never-ending genealogies, the result of those is grace.
As you sit and tire of reading about bulls and goats and doves and wheat and barley, the result of those is grace.
The result of all these things that you may find tiresome in the Old Testament set the scene for grace.
Why is the Old Testament important for you as a Christian? Without those things, without learning about each and every detail of the sacrifice, without understanding each detail of the priestly duties, we do not fully comprehend Scripture when it talks about:
- A Priest according to the order of Melchizedek – what is a Priestly order? What did they do? How often did they serve? What was their own sacrifice? Who is Melchizedek and how does he differ from the other priests?
- A Lamb without spot or blemish – Why is Jesus called the Lamb of God? Why without spot or blemish? When was a lamb sacrificed and for what purpose?
- The Scapegoat – Isaiah 53:6 says “We all, like sheep, went astray; we turned, each one, to his own way; yet Adonai laid on him the guilt of all of us.” (CJB). What does it mean when it says the Lord laid on Him our guilt? Without understanding the role of the Scapegoat on the Day of Atonement, one does not fully comprehend why this was said of Jesus.
When I hear people say the Old Testament doesn’t apply to them it breaks my heart. My Messiah and your Messiah is throughout the Tanakh.
What Does the Old Testament Say About Jesus? – His Presence in the Tanakh
In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God. All things were made through him, and without him was not any thing made that was madeJohn 1:1-3
Now while this is a verse from the New Testament, it shows how Jesus was there at creation! He was not only WITH God, He WAS God. This is evident in Genesis:
Then God said, “Let us make man in our image, after our likeness.Genesis 1:26
He was the fourth man in the fire with Shedrach, Meshach and Abednego:
But he exclaimed, “Look! I see four men, not tied up, walking around there in the flames, unhurt; and the fourth looks like one of the gods!Daniel 3:25
He appeared as an “angel of the Lord” whose Name is ‘Wonderful’.
And the angel of the Lord said to him, “Why do you ask my name, seeing it is wonderful?Judges 13:18
Why is the Old Testament important? – All Scripture is Given by Inspiration of God
2 Timothy 3:16-17 says:
All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, that the man of God may be complete, equipped for every good work.ESV
Keep in mind that when this letter was written by Paul, there WAS no New Testament. The Scripture Paul is referring to here, the Scripture Paul read and Jesus read, is the Tanakh.
Paul is saying that the entirety of the Word, which again was the Tanakh in his day, is to help us be complete and equipped.
The Old Testament vs New Testament – But The Old is Intimidating
I get it, I totally do.
The Old Testament can be intimidating. It can be difficult to read. It can make us feel like we just don’t get it!
I had a dear friend recently tell me that they sensed a prophetic ministry on me and encouraged me to read Ezekiel.
Now, I have read Ezekiel before and I will honestly tell you that I am a HUGE fan of the Book of Revelation but Ezekiel intimidates me!! I can feel my eyes go dim as I read about a wheel within a wheel.
Not every book of the Bible is going to be easy to read. So that is why, for those books, I rely on various tools for Bible study.
Bible Study Tools
Yes, as I mentioned, the one thing about the Old Testament vs New Testament is it CAN be a little difficult to understand.
Using tools like a concordance can help you look at the original meaning of the words to help make them clearer. A commentary can help you by seeing what lessons someone has drawn from the book and can point you to similar texts so you can see how they work together.
Tools are an amazing way to get deeper into Scripture.
Here are some Bible study tools I recommend:
- Blue Letter Bible – This app and website has amazing study tools built into it. You can use their concordance and commentaries, highlight text and more. It is one of my favorite study tools and it’s free!
- Bible Gateway – Another free tool that has multiple tools built in. You can do research, look at different translations and even has devotions. It also has an app as well as an online version.
- The Bible App by YouVersion – A fantastic app that you can even view your church’s weekly verses and sermon info on if your church utilizes it. There is an online tool as well as working with different smart home devices like Alexa! This is a must have app for me!
Old Testament vs New Testament Summary
I hope this article encourages you to spend some time in the Old Testament and seek Jesus there. He is evident throughout! The enemy wants you to feel intimidated or that the Old Testament just ‘doesn’t apply’ because he wants to keep you from experiencing it.
We don’t have an Old Testament vs New Testament. We have one Bible.
If you have chosen to study a book of the Old Testament, comment below and let me know what you plan to read and I might even do a Bible study on that book!
Make 2020 the year you dive into those intimidating books and see what God reveals to you!
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Scripture quotations are from The ESV® Bible (The Holy Bible, English Standard Version®), copyright © 2001 by Crossway, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers. Used by permission. All rights reserved.
Scriptures taken from the Holy Bible, New International Version®, NIV®. Copyright © 1973, 1978, 1984, 2011 by Biblica, Inc.™ Used by permission of Zondervan. All rights reserved worldwide. www.zondervan.com The “NIV” and “New International Version” are trademarks registered in the United States Patent and Trademark Office by Biblica, Inc.™
Taken from the Complete Jewish Bible by David H. Stern. Copyright © 1998. All rights reserved. Used by permission of Messianic Jewish Publishers, 6120 Day Long Lane, Clarksville, MD 21029. www.messianicjewish.net.