Have you ever asked the question how the New Testament and Old Testament fit together?
The narratives of the four gospels, Acts and Revelation can give us a pretty clear picture.
What stood out to me in this week’s reading was how the fourfold gospel gives a complete picture of Christ’s life, teaching, and identity. Their shape and position in the canon clearly direct a canon-conscious reader to the conclusion that these four books are the apex of the grand storyline of the Bible. In fact, more casual readers would even pick up on this, if in no other way than sub-consciously.
The Gospel of Matthew starts with a narrative of Jesus’ birth, including a genealogy. This genealogy, by going through the generations of Abraham to David, David to exile, and exile to Christ emphasizes Jesus’ identity as the long-awaited Messiah from the line of David. Going through this genealogy summarizes the covenants, which Jesus came to fulfill in the New Covenant. From a structural standpoint, this genealogy echoes the beginning of the Hebrew Bible—Genesis—and the end of the Hebrew Bible—Chronicles. This moment in history is what all the Hebrew Scriptures have been pointing to.
While the textbook pointed out how the Gospel of Mark portrays Jesus as the Son of God, I was struck by the aspect of Jesus’ kingship. At the beginning of Mark, Jesus says, “The time is fulfilled and the kingdom of God is at hand; repent and believe in the gospel” (Mark 1:15). The kingdom of God is “at hand” because the KING is here! Of note is the fact that Mark slows down his narrative a couple times to emphasize this kingdom, such as the parables in Mark 4 and the discourse about the end of days in 13:1-37.
The Gospel of John also emphasizes the kingship of Jesus, particularly as it relates to His deity. John emphasizes the deity of Jesus, starting with his role in creation: “In the beginning was the Word…in Him was life and that life was the light of men…but men loved the darkness..” The end of the narrative also emphasizes life in Christ, “…these things are written so that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the son of God, and that by believing you may have life in his name” (John 20:30-31). John is constantly bringing his readers to a choice—obey and believe in this king or not. Though John is not as explicit in his reference, he uses OT texts to point out Jesus as the “better David” (pg 193). Throughout his narrative, John references the Psalms, perhaps most notably Psalm 22 in the crucifixion account. John’s use of the Davidic psalms portays Jesus as the Davidic Messiah—both as a shepherd and a king—which connects to Matthews emphasis on Jesus being the “Son of David.” The Gospels are thus bookended by the truth that Jesus was in fact the Davidic Messiah.
The Gospel of Luke, as our textbook outlines, portrays the “journey toward Jerusalem,” culminating in Jesus’ suffering on the cross, resurrection and ascension. “The words of the resurrected Christ [in Luke 24:48-49] shape our understanding of the task of discipleship, the mission of the churches, the nature of the gospel, the Trinitarian character of God's action in the world, and the flow of redemptive history” (pg 193). Jesus’ last words to His disciples before the ascension was that the Father’s promise of the Holy Spirit would come upon them so they would be empowered to proclaim the gospel to the whole world, making disciples as they go. This promise of the Holy Spirit is seen in the book of Acts.
The journey toward Jerusalem is complemented—even continued—by the journey away from Jerusalem in the book of Acts, Luke’s second account. As the narrative of the early church unfolds certain speeches given at crucial times serve as an interpretive guide. They connect Jesus’ death and resurrection to the grand storyline of the Bible. As the textbook says, “The gospel message will continue across geographic, ethnic, and temporal boundaries” (pg 214). The first speech is in Acts 2. Peter cites Joel 2:28-32—presence of the Spirit “in the last days.” He then references the Davidic covenant with Psalm 16:8-11. This is a clear transition from the Old covenant to the New covenant. This was a fitting way for Peter to explain the gospel, as he was speaking to a Jewish audience. The next speech was given by Stephen in Acts 6-7, right before he is martyred—the first Christian martyr. The point Stephen makes is that the Mosaic covenant is no longer binding. this includes the temple worship. He points out how God appeared to Abraham in Mesopotamia; Joseph in Egypt; Moses at Mount Sinai; Solomon in the temple, yet “God does not dwell in temples made with hands.” The New Covenant is now that God would dwell IN His people through the Holy Spirit. Stephen further points out how his Jewish listeners’ “fathers” were disobedient to God and now they are just the same, having crucified their messiah. The next speech happens at the Council in Jerusalem in Acts 15. Here, there is emphasis on how the Gentiles can now turn to God in faith. Paul connects Acts 10-11 to Acts 2-3. The Gentiles believed and received just the same as Jewish believers. James points out Amos 9:11-12 which prophesies of the coming messiah, including all mankind in God’s plan for salvation. The Council in Jerusalem demonstrates the grand storyline of the Law, Prophets, Writings and Gospels. The next speech is given by Paul in chapter 20. As Paul anticipates his arrest, he affirms that the gospel of Jesus Christ will stay with them by the power of the Holy Spirit, who will keep them even after Paul departs. This serves as an indication of continuity from the Apostolic age and the post-apostolic age, much like continuity between Old Covenant and New Covenant. In other words, God’s Spirit is holding everything together. Paul’s final speech happens in Acts 28. He emphasizes how salvation has now come to Gentiles. Any Jews who disbelieve this resist God’s purposes. They will not come to salvation but see it come to another group of people, as Isaiah 6:9-10 foretold.
The gospels bring the Old Testament into clearer focus, Acts serves as the narrative context of Paul’s letters and the Catholic letters, and Revelation brings the narrative of Scripture to a close. However, the one reading from a devotional hermeneutic should be looking forward to the second advent of Christ. The story is not over yet! Revelation, while mysterious in a lot of ways, is clearly a bookend of the whole biblical canon bringing a lot of the elements introduced even in Genesis to a close. In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth. In Revelation 21-22, John gets a vision of God creating a new heavens and earth. In this new creation, proper worship of the Creator will take place, which Adam and Eve failed at. The “work” they were to do in the Garden of Eden was an act of worship, as the Hebrew vocabulary would imply. The imagery of the scene itself also echoes the Garden of Eden. There will be a river and tree of life in a place with no more sin. There is also a renewal of God’s Promise. The LAMB is the one who accomplishes redemption. He is also “the Lion that is from the tribe of Judah, the Root of David” (Revelation 5:5). Jesus says in Revelation 22:16, “I am the root and the descendent of David, the bright morning star.” “Lion of Judah” alludes to Genesis 49:9 and “root of David” comes from Isaiah 11:1, 10. Everything from the Hebrew Bible and the New Testament come to complete consummation here.
Kimble, Jeremy M. and Spellman, Ched. Invitation to Biblical Theology: Exploring the Shape, Storyline, and Themes of Scripture. Kregel Academic, 2020.
Upon reading chapters 5-7 in Invitation to Biblical Theology, I was struck by a central theme which runs throughout Scripture, moving readers through time and redemptive history. That is, the inhabitable land that God has prepared for his creatures. We see the first picture of this in the Garden of Eden where God placed Adam and Eve. God told them to “Be fruitful and multiply,” to fill the earth and subdue it. God told Noah the same thing after the flood. God promised Abraham and his descendants the same thing, eventually bringing the nation Israel into the land of Canaan, “a land flowing with milk and honey.” When the people continue to turn away from God, He promised a ruler who would drive out the surrounding pagan nations and turn God’s people back to Him, establishing peace. We see this ultimately fulfilled in Christ.
Clearly, the God of Creation is God of the Covenants. On each day of creation, God separated one thing from another—ultimately a people for Himself, which is at the heart of the covenant relationship. Adam and Eve were meant to be fruitful—that is sharing in God’s life, dependent upon Him. The same was with Noah and his descendants. Abraham was called out and circumcision was supposed to be a sign of dedication to God—a cutting off of the useless flesh. God’s work in Creation also highlights His ultimate authority and brings us to a choice: obey (and be blessed) or disobey (and be cursed). Adam and Eve’s sin broke the covenantal relationship with God, as they gave more weight to the serpent’s word than God’s word. Curses for man, woman, and serpent amounted to permanent changes in the relationships with the world, each other, and God Himself. Adam and Eve were sent out from God’s presence, highlighting and foreshadowing humanity’s failure to live up to God's expectations.
Interestingly enough, while they did experience spiritual death, they should have been killed. God had said if they would eat from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, “they will surely die.” He would have been justified in putting them to death on the spot; yet, God showed mercy! He killed an animal and clothed them in it, a foreshadowing of the covenants to come—ultimately Christ Himself. Genesis 1-3 sets a pattern for the rest of the biblical storyline. As Adam and Eve leave Eden—God’s presence—the rest of the storyline focuses on returning to that place. This narrative and almost every other narrative in the Pentateuch shows Moses’ prophetic pessimism, but also a reason for hope in looking for a messiah who will establish a new covenant, making it possible to enter God's presence again.
It is evident that the Story of the Pentateuch is a “story of despair” but also a “story of hope.” At the end of the Book of Moses, Curses for disobedience are articulated in Deuteronomy 27:11-26, blessings for obedience in 28:1-14, and curses for disobedience are fully developed in 28:15-68. The Mosaic covenant could not bring people back into a right relationship with God, and the Prophets and Writings illustrate this resoundingly, as Moses predicted. In light of the Mosaic covenant’s failure, hope was held out for one who will "circumcise the hearts of the people and enable them to love the Lord with all their heart and soul (Deut. 30:1-10)” (Kimble and Spellman, 137). The dual themes of despair and hope are also present in the Prophets and Writings, as God’s people are carried off to exile, with the hope of one day returning.
Chronicles is a fitting conclusion to the Old Testament as a whole as it is situated at a strategic place in the Hebrew Bible to look forward to a coming Messiah. Everything in the Tanakh illustrates Israel’s need for a Messiah: David has died, the people have returned from exile, and yet the same patterns of disobedience are still present. This causes the dedicated reader to look forward to the coming son of David who will not only restore His people’s kingdom but also transform their hearts. Further, the Davidic covenant is tied to the Abrahamic covenant. The use of genealogies both in Genesis and Chronicles emphasizes the connection from Adam to David to post-exilic Israel. “In 1 Chronicles 16-17, the promise to David and God’s plan for the nation of Israel in particular is closely connected to the promise of Abraham and God’s plan for the nations in general” (pg 176). The reader of this whole OT storyline would come to understand that God’s covenant with Abraham will one day be fulfilled in the descendant of David. Reflecting upon this further, I thought of Acts 1:6-8, “So when they had come together, they were asking Him, saying, “Lord, is it at this time You are restoring the kingdom to Israel?” He said to them, ‘It is not for you to know times or epochs which the Father has fixed by His own authority; but you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you; and you shall be My witnesses both in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and even to the remotest part of the earth.’ “ Those Jews were expecting the physical kingdom to be restored, but Jesus was trying to get them to see that He has a different type of kingdom—a spiritual, eternal kingdom—which all people of the earth can be a part of. Their role was to bring that kingdom, displaying God’s glory to all people of earth. The call to rebuild the temple at the end of Chronicles perhaps points to this “good king of Israel who will crush the head of the serpent, deal with the heart problem of the people, and lead them in worship and obedience to the Lord” (pg 178). This also points ahead to the truth that all who are in Christ are a “temple of the Holy Spirit” meant to “glorify God in [our bodies]” (1 Corinthians 6:19-20) as we operate in the world as “ambassadors of Christ” (2 Corinthians 5:20). This turns the believer’s attention to not looking for a physical inhabitable land but being ready for a future, eternal home by being inhabitable people now for God's dwelling through the Holy Spirit.
Kimble, Jeremy M. and Spellman, Chad. Invitation to Biblical Theology: Exploring the Shape, Storyline, and Themes of Scripture. Kregel Academic, 2020
This is the blog of Tyler Shepard, the Associate Pastor for Centre Union Church in Yeagertown, PA.
I hope you are encouraged and challenged to walk more closely with Jesus Christ!