I began a two-part series on The God that we Judge with a little introduction. In reading and listening to people who judge “the God of the Old Testament” (or, more universally, “the God of the Bible”), I am shocked at how little understanding most people have about what they are judging and rejecting. My goal is to provide a little context and understanding, albeit it is very little.
For starters, the biblical narrative is the story of an infinite God revealing Himself to His finite, limited creation. That creation (humankind) has capacity to learn and to understand, but the limits in knowledge, experience, understanding, perspective, etc. must be overcome. The revelation is progressive, little by little over a long period of time. That perspective and understanding is developed through one people group that God tries to work with to a point when, at that right time, God introduces Himself into the creation/story in human form – Jesus.
Many of the people who judge “the God of the Old Testament” consider Jesus to be a wise man, like Ghandi. Jesus is the universal religious figure. All religions claim Jesus and acknowledge him, but many of them don’t consider Jesus to be God. Many people believe Jesus was just a wise man. Many people also believe Jesus to be very different than the God of the Old Testament. And that is where I will start in this second half of this two-part series.
We don’t need a theology degree to realize that Jesus didn’t allow us the option of accepting him and rejecting “the God of the Old Testament”. We only need to consider what Jesus said. Jesus referred to the Scripture (what we call the Old Testament) as the “commandment of God” (Matthew 15:3) and the “word of God” (Mark 7:13). Jesus always referred to it as authoritative. (See How did Jesus view the Old Testament?)
Jesus also equated Himself with God (the God of the Old Testament). (See Did Jesus Say He Was God) He claimed to be God in the flesh. (See John 1:1-14) If Jesus was who He says He was, we can’t consider Him just a wise man. We have to contend with the fact that he affirmed “the God of the Old Testament”, and he claimed to be the God of the Old Testament in the flesh.
While people dispute the idea that Jesus claimed to be God, a candid review of the claims Jesus made paint a pretty clear picture. For instance, Jesus made the following statement to his Jewish audience one day: “Before Abraham was, I AM”. (John 8:58) That statement would have left little doubt in the minds of that Jewish audience what he was saying.
Those words are only found in Exodus. When Moses asked God who it is that Moses should say sent him (to the Israelites in Egypt), God said “’I Am Who I Am. This is what you [Moses] are to say to the Israelites: I Am has sent me [Moses] to you [the Israelites].’” (Exodus 3:13-14)
The Jewish audience clearly understood that Jesus was equating himself with God because they wanted to stone him for blasphemy. When Jesus said on another occasion, “I and the Father are one”, the Jewish leaders wanted to kill Him on the spot because Jesus was claiming to be God. (John 10:33)
The statements Jesus made about Himself to his Jewish audience would be like me announcing in a Mosque in Saudi Arabia, “I am Allah, your God!” People would want to kill me if did I that because death is the Islamic penalty for blasphemy. Death by stoning was the penalty for blasphemy in New Testament times.
The claims that Jesus made about himself – equating himself with God – is why the religious leaders at the time wanted to kill Jesus. Those statements about himself are the reason he was eventually crucified:
Again the high priest asked him, “Are you the Messiah, the Son of the Blessed One?” “I am,” said Jesus. “And you will see the Son of Man sitting at the right hand of the Mighty One and coming on the clouds of heaven.” The high priest tore his clothes. “Why do we need any more witnesses?” he asked. “You have heard the blasphemy. What do you think?” They all condemned him as worthy of death. (Mark 14:63-64).
We cannot accept the Jesus of the New Testament without accepting the God of the Old Testament. Jesus said, “I and the Father [think Old Testament] are one.” (John 10:30) Jesus said, “If you have seen me you have seen the Father.” (John 14:9)
The entire thrust of Jesus’s life was the claim that He was God in the flesh, revealing His true Self to men, fulfilling the Law He gave to Moses and sacrificing Himself for the salvation of mankind.
Elsewhere we read that Jesus is the “image of God”. (2 Corinthians 4:4) We read that Jesus is “the image of the invisible God”. (Colossians 1:15) We read that Jesus is “the radiance of God’s glory and the exact representation of his being….” (Hebrews 1:3) These statements show that his followers knew exactly who he was claiming to be.
If we are going to accept Jesus, we need to take another look at God who is revealed in the Old Testament. Jesus does not allow us to dismiss God as revealed in the Old Testament without considering the Old Testament in light of Jesus. Jesus is the true revelation of God, and Jesus gives us a different perspective on “the God of the Old Testament”.
In the Old Testament, the people viewed God from afar. They saw Him behind lightning and thunder, clouds and smoke. The people trembled in fear. Even Moses had to hide His face. That was all the people knew of God at that time. How could God convey who He really is under those circumstances?
That is we are told in Philippians 2:7 that God emptied Himself to become a man; God came to us in the form of the man, Jesus, stripped of his glory, power, majesty and the thunderous, overwhelming display that Moses and the Israelites experienced. Jesus is God and all of His attributes reduced to man.
In reducing Himself to become one of us, Jesus reveals God in a way that we are able to see, touch and understand that God is love, and He loves us. He demonstrated His love for us in the willingness to sacrifice Himself for us. He is no less the God who Moses and the Israelites experienced; He is no less the Creator of the Universe, omniscient and omnipotent. But is is much more than that.
Emptied of all the things that would make us tremble in His direct presence, and appearing to us in human form, we see that God is not just justice, wrath and judgment; God is also love. We can trust such a God and return the love of such a God who loves us enough that He would empty Himself and sacrifice Himself for us, His creation.
The reality is that God is God. We do not get to create Him in our own image. We are created in His image. God put eternity in our hearts, and He made us with the purpose and intention that we would be able to commune with Him.
Even so, the gap between Creator and created – omniscient, omnipotent, infinite God and finite, fragile, limited man – is cosmic. The Old Testament chronicles centuries of revelation and limited understanding by man viewing God only from afar, unable to stand in God’s magnificent presence or appreciate Him as anything other than the fearful, thunderous, all-powerful God of gods. Over two thousand years since God appeared in the flesh, emptied of the attributes that made Him unapproachable by men, we still struggle to understand.
We are in a better position to understand, having seen God in the flesh – the loving, sacrificial revelation of God in Jesus. God as revealed in the Old Testament, however, cannot be dismissed. His ways are not our ways. Who are we to stand in judgment?! We are told not to fear man who can kill the body, but to fear (respect) the God in whose power our souls are held in the balance. (Matthew 10:28; Luke 12:5)
From our perspective, death to the body seems like, feels like, looks like, the ultimate tragedy, the ultimate injustice. From our perspective, God striking a man dead or instructing men to kill other people appears unethical and unjust. The reality is that God who creates life can take it away, and it isn’t unjust for Him to do so.
Further, the reality that God reveals to us is that this present world of time, space and matter is not all there is. God set eternity in men’s hearts so that we can know that there is something else, something more significant, though we see it only through a glass darkly from where we presently stand in this life.
Jesus reveals that God, the same God who is revealed in the Old Testament, loves us. We can trust Him, a God who was willing to be one of us and subject Himself to the worst that we could dish out as a demonstration of that love.
We are told throughout Scripture that God is true; God keeps His promises. That is, perhaps, the primary revelation in the Old Testament.
Jesus fulfilled the Law (the old Covenant) and fulfilled God’s promises made in the Old Testament. Though God sometimes appears to us as fearful, even cruel and arbitrary from our very limited perspective, there is a much bigger picture. We can no sooner judge God, than change Him, but we are fortunate that he is loving and keeps His promises.