Why is God so different in the Old Testament than He is in the New Testament?



Question: "Why is God so different in the Old Testament than He is in the New Testament?"

Answer:
At the very heart of this question lies a fundamental misunderstanding of what both the Old and New Testaments reveal about the nature of God. Another way of expressing this same basic thought is when people say: “The God of the Old Testament is a God of wrath while the God of the New Testament is a God of love.” The fact that the Bible is God’s progressive revelation of Himself to us through historical events and through His relationship with people throughout history might contribute to people’s misconceptions about what God is like in the Old Testament as compared to the New Testament. However, when one reads both the Old and the New Testaments it quickly becomes evident that God is not different from one Testament to another and that God’s wrath and His love are revealed in both Testaments.

For example, throughout the Old Testament, God is declared to be “merciful and gracious, slow to anger and abundant in loving-kindness and truth” (Exodus 34:6; Numbers 14:18; Deuteronomy 4:31; Nehemiah 9:17; Psalm 86:5; Psalm 86:15; Psalm 108:4; Psalm 145:8; Joel 2:13). Yet in the New Testament, God’s loving-kindness and mercy are manifested even more fully through the fact that “For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have everlasting life” (John 3:16). Throughout the Old Testament, we also see God dealing with Israel much the same way a loving father deals with a child. When they willfully sinned against Him and began to worship idols, God would chastise them, yet each and every time He would deliver them once they had repented of their idolatry. This is much the same way that we see God dealing with Christians in the New Testament. For example, Hebrews 12:6 tells us that “For whom the Lord loves He chastens, and scourges every son whom He receives."

In a similar way, throughout the Old Testament we see God’s judgment and wrath poured out on unrepentant sinners. Likewise, in the New Testament, we see that the wrath of God is still “revealed from heaven against all unGodliness and unrighteousness of men who suppress the truth in unrighteousness” (Romans 1:18). Even with just a quick reading of the New Testament, it quickly becomes evident that Jesus talks more about hell than He does heaven. So, clearly, God is not any different in the Old Testament than He is in the New Testament. God by His very nature is immutable (unchanging). While we might see one aspect of His nature revealed in certain passages of Scripture more than other aspects, He Himself does not change.

When one really begins to read and study the Bible, it becomes clear that God is not any different from the Old Testament to the New Testament. Even though the Bible is really sixty-six individual books, written on two (or possibly three) continents, in three different languages, over a period of approximately 1500 years, by more that 40 authors (who came from many walks of life), it remains one unified book from beginning to end without contradiction. In it we see how a loving, merciful, and just God deals with sinful men in all kinds of situations. Truly, the Bible is God’s love letter to mankind. God’s love for His creation, especially for mankind, is evident all through Scripture. Throughout the Bible we see God lovingly and mercifully calling people into a special relationship with Himself, not because they deserve it but because He is a gracious and merciful God, slow to anger and abundant in loving-kindness and truth. Yet we also see a holy and righteous God Who is the judge of all those who disobey His word and refuse to worship Him, instead turning to worship Gods of their own creation, worshiping idols and other Gods instead of worshiping the one and only true God (Romans 1).

Because of God’s righteous and holy character, all sin past, present, and future must be judged. Yet God in His infinite love has provided a payment for sin and a way of reconciliation so that sinful man can escape His wrath. We see this wonderful truth in verses like 1 John 4:10 “In this is love, not that we have loved God but that he loved us and sent his Son to be the propitiation for our sins.” In the Old Testament, God provided a sacrificial system whereby atonement could be made for sin, but this sacrificial system was only temporary and merely looked forward to the coming of Jesus Christ who would die on the cross to make a real substitutionary atonement for sin. The Savior that was promised in the Old Testament is more fully revealed in the New Testament, and the ultimate expression of God’s love, the sending of His son Jesus Christ, is revealed in all its glory. Both the Old and the New Testaments were given "to make us wise unto salvation" (2 Timothy 3:15). When we study them more closely, it really is evident that God is no different in the New Testament than He was in the Old Testament.


Recommended Resource: Knowing God by J.I. Packer.

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Why is God so different in the Old Testament than He is in the New Testament?