Keys to Unlocking the Old Testament Part 1 by Dr. Bruce Logan

Introduction: 

What do you think when you think of the Old Testament?  For most Christians, the immediate thought that comes to mind, are some of the many inspirational stories and characters that we learned about in Sunday school.  We think about such inspiring stories as Noah and the Ark, Daniel in the lion’s den, the three Hebrew boys in the fiery furnace, or one of my personal favorites, the heroic deed of David slaying the giant Goliath.   Other Christians may even go as far as to say that, although they think that the Old Testament is important, it is mostly for the Jews and now since Christ came, we are now not living under the Law but we’re under grace, so the Old Testament isn’t as relevant for New Testament Christians.

Although it is true that God’s plan for the church is found in the New Testament, which focuses on Jesus.  It is also true that the Epistles contain God’s directions to the church.  So is there any reason why New Testament Christians should read and study the Old Testament?  Is the Old Testament just a boring history of the Jews that has no real relevance to Christians today?  Is it simply a collection of inspirational stories and characters?  Can we understand it today?  Should we have just has much passion for learning the Old Testament as we have for learning the New Testament?  Can we fully understand the New Testament without having a clear understanding of the Old Testament?

In part one of this study, I want to first of all, highlight a few of the MANY reasons why understanding the Old Testament is CRITICAL for Christians today.   And then in future posts, I will share some KEYS or PRINCIPLES and a SYSTEM for studying the Old Testament, that prayerfully not only help you understand and appreciate the Old Testament in a whole new way, but will ignite your love and enthusiasm for spending time studying the Old Testament.

Why is it Important to Study the Old Testament?

There are MANY compelling reasons to study the Old Testament.   Here are just a few:

  1. The Bible is incomplete without the Old Testament. Most Christians have heard the phrase, “The Old Testament is the New Testament CONCEALED, and the New Testament is the Old Testament REVEALED”.  But what does that actually mean from a Biblical scholarship standpoint?  The Bible is a “PROGRESSIVE REVELATION”.   By progressive revelation we mean:

Progressive Revelation –  Is a discipline within Biblical theology which studies the Bible from the perspective of recognizing and understanding the “Progressive history” of God revealing Himself to humanity following the fall and throughout the Old and New Testaments in successive stages, each stage building upon the previous stage in order to understand how each succeeding part ultimately points forward to the ultimate fulfillment of God establishing Christ’s Kingdom on earth and man being restored back to his state before the fall.  With the concept of progressive revelation, God “Progressively reveals” new truth over time, which supports, adds to and expands upon previous revelations of God’s truth.  In other words, if you skip the first half of any good book and try to finish it, you will have a very difficult time understanding the plot, the characters, and the ending.  Likewise, the New Testament is only COMPLETELY UNDERSTOOD when we can comprehend the foundation of the events, characters, laws, sacrificial system, covenants, prophecies, and promises of the Old Testament.

If we only had the New Testament, we would come to the New Testament and not understand why the Jews were looking for a Messiah.  We would not understand why this Messiah was coming (Isaiah 53), and we would not have been able to identify Jesus of Nazareth as the Messiah through the many detailed prophecies that were given concerning His virgin birth (Isaiah 7:14), His birthplace (Micah 2), His life, His ministry and His sacrificial death (Psalms 22, Isaiah 53) and his resurrection (Psalms 16:10).

 2. So many of the foundational and doctrinal truths that we cling to, are found in the Old Testament. Truths that the New Testament writers assume we know and understand.  An almost endless list of doctrinal truths and meaningful facts could be given to validate the importance of the Old Testament to the New such as: (Justification, sanctification, the atonement, etc).  Probably the primary reason that so man students of the Scriptures wrestle with truths found in the books of the New Testament is because they fail to recognize their Old Testament background.

3. The story of redemptive history that has it’s culmination in Jesus Christ has its roots in the Old Testament. Although the Bible has two testaments, it essentially tells one story.  The Creation, the fall, the promise of a redeemer, the beginning of God’s redemptive plan with the call of Abraham, the birth of Christ, His ministry, His redemptive death, His victorious resurrection, His establishing of God’s Church, and His glorious return are all part of one continuous narrative that runs from Genesis to Revelation.

4. There are about 350 direct quotations of the Old Testament in the New Testament. And if you count the partial quotations or allusions, the number jumps to more than 2000.  The writers of the New Testament used the Old Testament in their writings, sermons and even in their prayers.  They used it when they were addressing Jews, and Gentiles alike.  They used it in addressing churches, individuals, new converts and veteran believers.  They used it to prove that Jesus was the Messiah, to offer ethical instruction, and to argue points of theology.  The Old Testament was the primary authority that they cited when declaring the gospel of Jesus Christ.

5.  In Luke 24, Jesus Himself gave arguably some of the Greatest Bible Studies ever, using the Old Testament Text – The Old Testament was the Bible that Jesus used. He read from it, quoted it, interpreted it, and declared Himself to be the fulfillment of many of its prophecies.  On one occasion for example, he declared that He did not “Come to Abolish the Law, but to fulfill the Law” (Math 5:17).   And who can forget His famous encounter in the Temple when He was still just a child when he astounded those in attendance when He read from the book of Isaiah  (Luke 4:17-21).

However, probably the best reasons why it is so imperative that Christians develop a love for the Old Testament is how Jesus Christ Himself, used the Old Testament to teach His disciples about Himself during His final interactions with them after His resurrection and just prior to his ascension.  Luke records that Jesus used the Old Testament, to teach a series of Bible Studies that I affectionately like to call, “The Greatest Bible Studies Ever”.

In this final chapter of Luke’s Gospel, we read of two disciples (Cleopas and one unnamed) of Jesus who were walking from Jerusalem to Emmaus on the day that Jesus rose from the dead. As they traveled, a man joined them—the resurrected Jesus, although they did not recognize Him. The man asked, “What is this conversation that you are holding with each other as you walk?” (Luke 24:17).

The two disciples were surprised that the man had not heard of the recent events that had Jerusalem in turmoil. They proceeded to tell the stranger of Jesus’ crucifixion and the report of His empty tomb. Jesus responded, “How foolish you are, and how slow of heart to believe all that the prophets have spoken! Did not the Christ have to suffer these things and then enter his glory?’ And beginning with Moses and all the Prophets, he explained to them what was said in all the Scriptures concerning himself.” (Luke 24:25-27).

So, as they walked, Jesus taught what the Old Testament had predicted about Himself. When they arrived in Emmaus that evening, the two disciples stopped to eat, and they asked Jesus to join them. He did, and as He broke the bread and blessed the meal, “their eyes were opened” (verse 31), and they recognized Him. Jesus then vanished.

Later, while the disciples were gathered together in Jerusalem and discussing these events, the risen Lord “Suddenly” appeared in their midst bidding them peace and demonstrating to them that He was not some sort of ghost but had a physical resurrected reality (Luke 24:36-42).   He then calls their attention to what he had previously spoken on the road to Emmaus regarding the fulfillment of God’s plan rooted in the Old Testament Scriptures concerning the Messiah’s suffering, resurrection, and the preaching of repentance and forgiveness in his name with the disciples as witnesses (Luke 24:44-49).

44 Now He said to them, “These are My words which I spoke to you while I was still with you, that all things which are written about Me in the Law of Moses and the Prophets and the Psalms must be fulfilled.” 45 Then He opened their minds to understand the Scriptures 46 and He said to them, “Thus it is written, that the Christ would suffer and rise again from the dead the third day, 47 and that repentance for forgiveness of sins would be proclaimed in His name to all the nations, beginning from Jerusalem.  48 You are witnesses of these things. 49 And behold, I am sending forth the promise of My Father upon you; but you are to stay in the city until you are clothed with power from on high.”    (Luke 24:44-49 NASB) 

Observe carefully what Luke records in this second occurrence.  First of all, Jesus said, “That all  things which were written about me in The Law of Moses, and the Prophets and the Psalms”.  Then it says that, “Then He opened their minds to understand the Scriptures”.   Or in other words, Christ opened their minds to understand the Old Testament.

What a powerful illustration of how important it is for believers today to develop a love for the Old Testament Scriptures.  Also, how incredible must that have been for Christ’s diciples to be taught such a detailed and comprehensive exegesis of the Old Testament scriptures by “The Word” Himself.   Imagine if there had been video or audio recording technology available to record that session?  WHAT WOULD HAVE BEEN SOME OF THE HIGHLIGHTS OF THOSE LESSONS??

6. The Apostles Taught from the Old Testament – Up until the first Epistles were written (Chronologically, between 45–50 AD with the Book of James), The Apostles preached and taught exclusively from the Old Testament.  One of my personal favorite examples is recorded in Acts 17 while The Apostle Paul was conducting his second missionary Journey through the region of Turkey and Northern Greece.

Paul at Thessalonica – Acts 17:1-4 (NASB)

1 Now when they had traveled through Amphipolis and Apollonia, they came to Thessalonica, where there was a synagogue of the Jews. And according to Paul’s custom, he went to them, and for three Sabbaths reasoned with them from the Scriptures3 explaining and giving evidence that the Christ had to suffer and rise again from the dead, and saying, “This Jesus whom I am proclaiming to you is the Christ.” And some of them were persuaded and joined Paul and Silas, along with a large number of the God-fearing Greeks and a number of the leading women.

First of all, notice what Luke records in verse two.  He says that Paul “Reasoned with them from the Scriptures”.  Then in verse three it says, that Paul explained it and then, “Gave evidence”.   Therefore, since at the time of these events, there was no recorded New Testament, the only evidential documentation that Paul had at his disposal, was the Old Testament Scriptures.

First of all, notice what Luke records in verse two.  He says that Paul “Reasoned with them from the Scriptures”.  Then in verse three it says, that Paul explained it and then, “Gave evidence”.   Therefore, since at the time of these events, there was no recorded New Testament, the only evidential documentation that Paul had at his disposal, was the Old Testament Scriptures.

Following this account, Paul then continues his travels to the City of Athens.  And during his stay in Athens, we read about the following account in Acts 17:16-21:

Paul at Athens -Acts 17:16-21 – (NASB)

16 Now while Paul was waiting for them at Athens, his spirit was being provoked within him as he was observing the city full of idols. 17 So he was reasoning in the synagogue with the Jews and the God-fearing Gentiles, and in the market place every day with those who happened to be present. 18 And also some of the Epicurean and Stoic philosophers were conversing with him. Some were saying, “What would this idle babbler wish to say?” Others, “He seems to be a proclaimer of strange deities,”—because he was preaching Jesus and the resurrection19 And they took him and brought him to the Areopagus, saying, “May we know what this new teaching is which you are proclaiming? 20 For you are bringing some strange things to our ears; so we want to know what these things mean.” 21 (Now all the Athenians and the strangers visiting there used to spend their time in nothing other than telling or hearing something new.)

Once again, we find Paul now in Athens, “Reasoning in the Synagogue”.  And once again, since there was no New Testament at this time, we know that Paul was “Reasoning” from The Old Testament.  But only this time, Luke tells us that some of the Athenian Epicurean and Stoic philosophers came to converse with him.  Now a study of these various Greek philosophies is a fascinating study in itself, however I won’t take the time to go into that at this time.  But suffice it to say, that this idea of “The resurrection from the dead”, was a total foreign concept to them.  Nevertheless, while some took exception to Paul’s teachings, others were intrigued enough to want to hear more.

7. To Avoid Israel’s mistakes –  In Paul’s first Epistle to the Church in Corinth, he had was responding to some troubling reports of immorality and other conducts that were not becoming to the Christian walk.  And among his many directives was this admonition in 1 Corinthians 10: 1-11, to not make the same mistakes that their Old Testament fathers made:

1 Corinthians 10:1-11 (NASB)

1 For I do not want you to be unaware, brethren, that our fathers were all under the cloud and all passed through the sea; and all were baptized into Moses in the cloud and in the sea; and all ate the same spiritual food; and all drank the same spiritual drink, for they were drinking from a spiritual rock which followed them; and the rock was ChristNevertheless, with most of them God was not well-pleased; for they were laid low in the wilderness.Now these things happened as examples for us, so that we would not crave evil things as they also craved. Do not be idolaters, as some of them were; as it is written, “The people sat down to eat and drink, and stood up to play.” Nor let us act immorally, as some of them did, and twenty-three thousand fell in one day. Nor let us try the Lord, as some of them did, and were destroyed by the serpents. 10 Nor grumble, as some of them did, and were destroyed by the destroyer. 11 Now these things happened to them as an example, and they were written for our instruction, upon whom the ends of the ages have come.

Conclusion

The value for the believer to study the Old Testament is incalculable.  We’ve discovered that the Old Testament Scriptures are far more than just a collection of inspirational stories.   There are numerous other examples of why Christians should love the Old Testament that can be summed up by saying that the Old Testament allows the believer to know how to love and serve God, and it reveals more about God’s character, about His plan for man, about his will for man, and about God’s prophetic plan for the ages.  In addition, the Old Testament not only contains numerous fulfilled prophecies, but also an abundant of other prophecies that are awaiting future fulfillment that all believers should be excited about and anticipating.

The Old Testament is worthy of our time and diligent study.  Even though it has held a distinct and specific place in redemptive history with the giving of the Law, which no longer applies because they were fulfilled in Jesus, it still yet contains timeless truths to be learned and applied by believers today.