Is the God of the Old Testament different from the God of the New Testament?

A common assertion is that the Bible presents two very different depictions of God. The God of the Old Testament is a God of wrath who flooded the earth, wiped out cities and commanded the destruction of nations. On the other hand, the God of the New Testament is shown through Jesus to be a God of love. He is patient, ready to forgive and tender towards sinners. Does the Biblical presentation of God change from the Old to the New Testament?

Describing the God of the Old Testament as a God of wrath and the God of the New Testament as a God of love is a caricature. The Bible gives a uniform description of God. The God found in Genesis is the same God found in Revelation. God does not change. His character and purpose has remained the same throughout the history of mankind.

The God the Old Testament is a God of great love. When God showed a portion of His glory to Moses He declared Himself to be, “The Lord, The Lord God, merciful and gracious, longsuffering, and abundant in goodness and truth, Keeping mercy for thousands, forgiving iniquity and transgression and sin.” (Exodus 34:6-7) The Psalms are full of descriptions of God’s love. “The Lord is gracious, and full of compassion; slow to anger, and of great mercy. The Lord is good to all:and his tender mercies are over all his works.” (Psalm 145:8-9)

Even in times of terrible judgment the compassion of God is evident. In the book of Lamentations the prophet Jeremiah weeps over the destruction of Jerusalem. Yet he says, “It is of the Lord’s mercies that we are not consumed, because His compassions fail not. They are new every morning: great is Thy faithfulness.” (Lamentations 3:22-23) God’s love was not restricted to the Israelites. The prophet Jonah did not want to preach in Nineveh because he knew God is “a gracious God, and merciful, slow to anger, and fo great kindness.” (Jonah 4: 2) Jonah hated the Assyrians, God did not. God rebuked Jonah for his callousness towards the Ninevites. God asked Noah if He should not spare Nineveh that had 120,000 children? Just like with Sodom and Gomorrah God was ready to forgive and hold back His judgment. From the very beginning of the Old Testament God shows Himself to be a God of great love.

The God of the New Testament is a God of wrath. Consider Jesus’ stern warnings about hell. He said in Matthew 25 that all those who are not His followers will be condemned to everlasting torment in hell. “And these shall go away into everlasting punishment: but the righteous into life eternal.” Jesus promises the most terrible judgment on unbelievers. He is clearly a God of wrath.

The wrath of God is not only found in the gospels. Romans 1 warns “The wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men.” Colossians 3 teaches the Christian to put aside sinful attitudes. “For which things sake the wrath of God cometh on the children of disobedience.” The book of Revelation is filled with the wrath of God and the judgment of Jesus. The severity of the judgments in Revelation rival anything found in the Old Testament. In Revelation 19 Jesus is described as descending from heaven. “Out of His mouth goeth a sharp sword, that with it He should smite the nations: and he shall rule them with a rod of iron: and he treadeth the winepress of the fierceness and wrath of the Almighty God.” The Jesus of the New Testament is the God of judgment who executes His wrath upon all the lost.

The God of the Bible is the same throughout. Jesus and Jehovah are not two different Gods, or two different personalities of God. They are the same God who pardons and punishes sin. His love and His wrath are equally functions of His holiness. He is the Holy God, Sovereign over His creation, exercising justice and mercy, showing love and wrath, giving grace and punishment, to all. He is God who does not change.

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Did God die on the cross?

Jesus is God. Jesus died on the cross. Did God die on the cross? At times pastors, theologians and the average Christian all say that God died on the cross. This statement is both entirely accurate and entirely inaccurate. In one sense it can be said that God died on the cross. In another, equally important sense, God did not die on the cross.

Understanding what happened on the cross requires an understanding of the Trinity and the hypostatic union. The Bible teaches that God is one God who is Three. God the Father is God. God the Son is God. God the Spirit is God. These three are distinct but not separate. The Father is not the Son. The Son is not the Spirit. God the Son, the second person of the Trinity, became fully human without giving up any part of His deity. Jesus is fully God and fully man. When Jesus died on the cross the God-man died.

Saying God died on the cross becomes a kind of short hand for saying, Jesus, God the Son, died on the cross. When understood this way the statement “God died on the cross” is a helpful way to describe the magnitude of God’s sacrifice for our salvation.

In several important ways God did not die on the cross. Because God is a Trinity and because of the unique nature of the incarnation God the Son endured things that the Father and Spirit did not. God the Father did not hang on the cross. God the Spirit was not buried in a tomb. Only God the Son suffered these things. If the phrase means anything more than God the Son died on the cross it is inaccurate. God did not die on the cross.

If death is a cessation of existence, a loss of ability, or a conclusion of consciousness, then God did not die on the cross. Not only did God the Father and God the Spirit not cease to exist on the cross, neither did God the Son. The Divine portion of the second person of the Trinity did not stop functioning on the cross. No member of the Godhead can cease existing. God the Son is as eternal as the Father and the Spirit. His eternal essence did not dissolve on the cross. He remained fully God and His deity did not cease with the end of His physical life.

This does not mean that Jesus’ death on the cross was purely physical or a solely human act. Jesus died as the God-man. Thus His eternal nature was involved in the suffering and death on the cross. Jesus Christ the Son of God died on the cross. He truly suffered all that death entails, physically and spiritually. God the Son did not cease to exist, even for a brief time, but God the Son endured death for the salvation of men.

Where was Jesus between His death and His resurrection?

The dead body of Jesus was taken off the cross and laid in the tomb of Joseph of Arimathea. What happened to His soul? One of the more popular answers to this question is based on a cryptic statement in the book of 1 Peter.

1 Peter 3:18-20 says of Jesus, “Being put to death in the flesh, but quickened by the Spirit: by which also he went and preached unto the spirits in prison; which sometime were disobedient when once the longsuffering of God waited in the days of Noah.” (1 Peter 3:18-20) These words have led many to conclude that Jesus’ spirit went into hell while His body was in the tomb. Unfortunately, what this verse is talking about is not at all clear. One author has said there are over 180 different interpretations of 1 Peter 3:19. A clear consensus about the meaning of the phrase “preached unto the spirits in prison” will probably never be reached on this earth.

The words of the Apostles Creed (not actually written by the apostles) imply that Jesus’ spirit went into hell.  “I believe in Jesus Christ  . . .  (He) was crucified, died and was buried, He descended to hell.” The apostles creed is believed to have been written 50 years after the death of the last apostle, but the earliest existing copies of this creed do not contain the phrase, “descended into hell”, leading many to conclude it was not originally in the apostles creed. Whether this phrase is original or not, it cannot be traced back to a direct teaching of the apostles.

A strong case can be made that Jesus went into heaven on the day of His crucifixion. At His death He said, “Father into thy hands I commend my spirit.” Knowing that Jesus is God’s beloved Son who pleased the Father in all things we can reasonably assume that at death He was taken directly into the presence of the Father. This is confirmed by Jesus’ promise to the believing thief, “Today thou shalt be with me in paradise.” Either Jesus was with the thief in heaven that very day or He erred in His promise. Since Jesus is God who cannot lie, the latter option is not possible. After His death Jesus went into heaven.  Being the Son of God His spirit was in no way restricted to heaven.

If Jesus did go into hell, though I don’t believe He did, He did not go for the purpose of paying for salvation. Jesus death on the cross did everything necessary to purchase our salvation. His work was finished and the payment fully paid before He died. This is why Jesus said, “It is finished”. Teaching that Jesus had to go to hell to finish the payment for sin diminishes the value of the cross and denies Jesus’ own words.

We don’t know exactly what Jesus’ spirit was doing in the days between His death and resurrection. What we do know is that Jesus died for our sins and rose again for our justification. He is alive now and forever to give salvation to those who turn to Him for forgiveness.

Why is the resurrection so important?

Christianity stands unique among all the religions of the world. Only Christianity claims that it’s God became human, died and then returned to life. The claim that Jesus rose from the dead is one celebrated and remembered every Sunday of the year by Christian churches all across the world. The resurrection of Jesus is the most important event in all human history. The resurrection of Jesus is the seminal moment in all Christianity. That event changed everything. The New Testament is filled with declarations that Jesus died and then rose again. The resurrection is explained in all four gospels and the book of Acts. Jesus’ resurrection is expressly taught in many of the epistles and in the book of Revelation. The resurrection of Jesus is a crucial truth on which Biblical Christianity is built. Without the resurrection there is no Biblical Christianity. Without the resurrection there is no forgiveness of sin. Without the resurrection there is no eternal life. Without the resurrection, God is a liar, Jesus is a fraud and every gospel preacher is a charlatan.

The resurrection is important because without the resurrection the gospel is a lie. “And if Christ be not dead, your faith is vain; you are yet in your sins.” (1 Corinthians 15:17)

The resurrection is important because without the resurrection the Christian life is pointless and worthless. “What advantageth it me, if the dead rise not? let us eat and drink; for to morrow we die.” (1 Corinthians 15:32)

The resurrection is important because without the resurrection the Christian has no hope of eternal life. “And if Christ be not raised, then they which are fallen asleep in Christ are perished.” (1 Corinthians 15:17-18)

The resurrection is important because it is the ultimate display of the power of God that is now at work in the believer. (“And what is the exceeding greatness of his power to us-ward who believe, according to the working of his mighty power, Which he wrought in Christ, when he raised him from the dead.” Ephesians 1:19-20)

The resurrection is important because it is the evidence that Jesus is God the Son and Savior just as He claimed and as the Bible declares. “Then answered the Jews and said unto him, What sign shewest thou unto us, seeing that thou doest these things? Jesus answered and said unto them, Destroy this temple, and in three days I will raise it up. Then said the Jews, Forty and six years was this temple in building, and wilt thou rear it up in three days? But he spake of the temple of his body.” (John 2:18-22)

The resurrection is important because it is the powerful declaration that Jesus is God. “Concerning his Son Jesus Christ our Lord, which was made of the seed of David according to the flesh; And declared to be the Son of God with power, by the resurrection from the dead:” (Romans 1:3-4)

The resurrection is important because if it is untrue, God’s Word is a lie. “We are false witnesses of God; because we have testified of God that He raised up Christ.” (1 Corinthians 15:15)

The resurrection is the lynchpin on which all the gospel hangs, the certification that all the gospel promises are true and the certainty that God is true. Rejoice every Sunday in the remembrance of the risen Savior.

How can I know for certain I am saved?

Many Christians have times in their lives when they doubt their salvation. Doubts should not be brushed aside as if they were mere tools of Satan to discourage. Doubts may be the result of a spiritual assault but they may also warn of spiritual problems. The Bible teaches the Christian to examine the validity of his own faith. (2 Corinthians 13:5) The Christians is to make his salvation evident and certain. (2 Peter 1:10) The epistle of 1 John was written, “that ye may know that ye have eternal life.” (1 John 5:13) Evaluating the genuineness of one’s own salvation can be a beneficial exercise.

Questioning the certainty of one’s own salvation should never be the result of doubting God’s ability to save. One should not question the promise or power of God. Nor should a person wonder if the rights words were said. Salvation is not a matter of saying the right words. Salvation is a matter of genuine faith that believes God’s word.

This question can be wisely asked if the person is assessing the genuineness of his profession of faith. The wise person knows the human heart is a great liar. (Jeremiah 17:9) Only a foolish person believes the feelings and promptings of his own heart. (Proverbs 28:26) The tragic reality is many unsaved people have prayed a prayer, walked an aisle, made a commitment or had a stirring spiritual experience. Assurance of salvation does not come by remembering a feeling or an experience, but from the promises of God in His Word.

A person is saved through believing Jesus is God who became man to die in place of men, believing Jesus was restored to life three days later and believing He promises salvation to all who will trust Him. A person is saved by turning to Jesus in faith believing that God will forgive completely every sin and give eternal life. If there has not been a time in a person’s life where he has turned to Jesus and began to trust Him for all of salvation then that person is not saved. Salvation is not inherited from believing parents. Salvation is not absorbed by church attendance. Growth towards conversion may be a gradual process that takes a long time but there must be a point in time in which the person consciously turns to Jesus, confesses his faith and seeks forgiveness.

A person is saved by trusting in Jesus and only in Jesus for forgiveness. Many who think they are saved are not truly saved because they are not trusting Jesus alone. Any addition of works, personal merit or religious observance denies the salvation of Jesus. Believing that something you do has any part in your salvation denies the need of Jesus’ death. (Galatians 2:21) Salvation is only received by those who trust entirely in Jesus, and only in Jesus, for full salvation.

The person who is saved is transformed by his faith. This last point of evaluation can be confusing and lead some to think the Bible requires good works or obedience as necessary parts of being saved. The transformed life does not save but shows salvation has occurred. The absence of increased obedience is not conclusive proof that a person was never saved, but it should cause the person to seriously question the reality of his salvation. The New Testament gives several key marks of genuine conversion. If a person’s life shows the New Testament marks of genuine conversion then his life supports his profession of faith.

You can know for certain that you are saved if there has been a time in your life when you have confessed Biblical faith in Jesus and turned to Him for forgiveness, if you are trusting only in Jesus for salvation and if your life shows evidence of genuine conversion.

Is Belief in a Historical Adam Necessary for Salvation?

One of the major issues facing the church today is the debate over the creation of the universe. Much of this conflict centers around whether or not the earth was created by God in a span of six days less than ten thousand years ago. Sometimes this discussion focuses on the existence of a real, historical figure named Adam who was the first human being and the paternal ancestor of all other humans.

In order to be saved does someone have to believe Adam existed? This is no trivial question. The existence of Adam has a direct relation to the story of creation and is applied to key teachings about salvation. Believing in the existence of a historical Adam is not in the same category as believing Gideon led 300 Israelites in successful battle against 135,000 Midianites.

The Bible does not teach that a positive confession of six day creationism or the existence of a historical Adam is necessary for a person to be saved. One can be saved without having given great thought to the genuineness of the existence of Adam.

What about one who denies the existence of a historical Adam? The one who believes God used evolution to create all things is not necessarily excluded from salvation. One may believe Adam is an allegorical character used in the Bible to teach of the awfulness of sin. One may believe that Adam and Eve were the first hominids to be given a soul. One may believe Adam is pure myth and still be saved. However, major theological problems arise when a person denies the existence of a literal Adam and a literal, recent creation.

Romans 5 says that “by one man that sin entered into the world.” The Bible traces the guilt of humanity back to Adam. Because of Adam’s sin all humanity is condemned in sin. If Adam did not exist as described in Genesis the entrance of sin into the world has no explanation. The common sinfulness of all mankind has no basis. If Adam is not a real, historical figure the Biblical truth of sin is undermined.

Adam is a picture of Jesus. (Romans 5:14) Adam pictures Jesus in this way: he acted as the representative for all humanity. In 1 Corinthians 15 the saving work of Jesus is shown to be directly related to the condemning deed of Adam. Just as by Adam’s sin were all men made sinners and brought under the consequences of sin so by Jesus’ death and resurrection all those in Christ are made righteous and given life. If all men were not actually in Adam then the death and resurrection of Jesus is insufficient to redeem all men.

Jesus is the last Adam. (1 Corinthians 15:45) Like the first Adam Jesus stands in the place of all humanity. He is able to be mankind’s substitute who suffers the punishment of sin in place of men because He is the physical descendant of Adam and shares the same humanity as all mankind. If there is no literal Adam the doctrines of man’s sin and Jesus’ substitutionary atonement are compromised.

What would the world be like if Jesus was never born?

Imagining history without certain major figures can be an entertaining exercise. What would the world be like if Buddha, Ghandi, Socrates, Einstein or Newton had never lived? Would things be better off? Would someone else have come along to make similar contributions to history? These kinds of questions are ultimately impossible to answer, but attempting to answer them provides insight into the real significance of historical figures

A reasonable argument can be made that the accomplishments of great men and women likely would have been made by others. The philosophy of Buddha was not just the product of his own mind. Buddhism grew out of the philosophy of others and was added to by those who followed Buddha. His ideas are likely to have risen, maybe in a slightly different form, from the mind of another. The genius of Einstein was not limited to Einstein. His discoveries probably would have been made by others. However, Jesus stands alone in history as totally irreplaceable.

Jesus is not another great philosopher like Aristotle or another influential teacher like Ghandi. Jesus is the Son of God who became human. His contribution to history is more than being a great example of compassion or of founding a religion. In His thirty-three years of life Jesus changed the world. By His death on the cross Jesus paid the penalty for sin. All those who trust Jesus for salvation are forgiven, made new in Christ and given the Holy Spirit.

After Jesus was crucified and rose again, God began to make His name known to the world in a new way. For much of recorded history before Jesus’ birth God was working in the world through the nation of Israel. God called the world to come to Israel and see His glory. Because of the birth, death and resurrection of Jesus God sends Christians out into the world to tell all mankind of Him.

Because Jesus died, rose again and returned to heaven He sent God the Spirit to reside in all believers. The Holy Spirit transformed the disciples from a group of terrified men into a bold force that proclaimed the gospel in the face of intense persecution. The gospel they preached spread across the world.

Jesus transformed Saul of Tarsus. Now known by his Greek name Paul of Tarsus traveled the Roman Empire preaching the gospel. The apostle Paul could have been replaced by many other men. Only Jesus of Nazareth, the Son of God and the promised Messiah, could transform and enable Paul to preach as he did. The history of the western world has been shaped by the gospel of Jesus.

Jesus is not done shaping history. As God He is actively working now to bring history to His intended conclusion. The final thousand years of history will take place after Jesus’ conquers the wicked nations of the world and establishes a worldwide, righteous empire. He will bring history to its God designed conclusion.

Jesus is not another great religious leader. Buddhism would have probably found its entrance into he world, but without Christ there is no Christianity. Other Christ’s rose in Judea before and after Jesus, but none were the true Messiah. They faded off the scene and have left little impact on history. Jesus is the true Messiah, the promised Savior and Son of God, who transforms history. The work Jesus did in bringing salvation to the world cannot be duplicated.

Are the words in the Bible written in red more important?

The first red letter edition of the Bible was printed in 1901. The first red letter New Testament was printed just 2 years before in 1899. The idea to print the words of Jesus in red is credited to Louis Kopsch. He was the editor of a Christian magazine and committed to the distribution of the Word of God. He hit upon the red letter idea in hopes of encouraging people to read the Bible. The first red letter editions printed in red the words spoken by Jesus and any passages in the Old Testament that Jesus later quoted. Today most red letter Bibles only print in red direct quotations of Jesus.

The majority of Bibles today are red letter editions. With large blocks of red ink the four gospels have a distinctive appearance. An unfortunate side effect of this printing innovation is readers who treat the red letters as more important than the rest of the Bible. The red letters become the lens through which the rest of the Bible is interpreted. In cases where there appears to be contradiction, the words of Jesus are given the priority in resolving the contradiction.

This seems reasonable. The words in red are direct quotes from Jesus. The rest of the Bible is what God said through men. Shouldn’t we give priority to the words of Jesus?

While the argument sounds good because it gives Jesus the most important place, it misunderstands the nature of inspiration. The doctrine of inspiration teaches that the entire Bible are the words of the Son of God. The things Hosea wrote are no less God’s Word than the things Jesus said. Inspiration is described in 2 Peter 1:21, “Holy men of God spake as they were moved by the Holy Ghost.”

Biblical inspiration refers to the process by which God’s Words were written down by God’s prophets and God’s apostles. The human authors of the Bible wrote exactly what God told them to write. This does not mean God dictated to them what to write. The authors of the Bible were not like secretaries typing up a letter as dictated by the boss. God spake His Word using the personality and intellect of the men. The writing style of Paul is very different from that of Peter. God used these men in such a way that they wrote in their own style but still wrote exactly what God intended to be written.

All of the Bible claims to be the very words of God. How many times does the Bible say, “The Lord said”? Are the quotes of God the Son on the earth less important than the quotes of God the Father from heaven?

Jesus Himself spake the words of the Old Testament as if they were as authoritative over Himself. When Jesus was tempted by Satan in the wilderness He responded by quoting the Old Testament. Jesus was showing that the Word of God was the authority over His life. He did not assert His own superiority, but declared His humble obedience to the Bible.

Jesus quoted the Old Testament in His own life. While on the cross Jesus cried out the words of David from Psalm 22. The words of David were prophetic of Jesus. Are those words more true than the rest of the Psalms because Jesus said them?

The Bible cannot be split into various parts with some more important than the others. The Bible is all the Word of God, equally true and important no matter who is being quoted, or it is not. Emphasizing any section as greater than the rest is a dangerous path which inevitably compromises the authority and perfection of the Bible.

What does “Jesus” mean?

In Matthew’s account of the birth of Jesus we are given some insight into the man who would become his father. When Joseph learned of Mary’s pregnancy he decided to put her away because of her immorality. While Joseph was thinking about the situation the angel of the Lord came to him and explained that Mary was not unfaithful. She was pregnant through the power of God. The angel said to Joseph, “And she shall bring forth a son, and thou shalt call his name JESUS: for he shall save his people from their sins.”

What does the name Jesus have to do with saving people from sin? Someone without a Biblical background would not read the name of Jesus and think about salvation. The explanation of what seems to us to be a cryptic statement is found in the process of transliteration.

Transliteration is the bringing of a word from one language into another. Often a transliterated word is changed a little bit to be more easily pronounced or read in the second language. Taco Bell commercials do not use transliteration. They insert Spanish into the English text and dialog. News programs frequently utilize transliteration. Most reports about Islamic terrorists require transliteration of names and places. Arabic letters are unreadable to most Americans. The producers of news programs write the Arabic names in English and spell them with a close phonetic approximation to the original name. The end result is what we read is a little bit like how the word sounds in its original language However, with every transliteration there is usually a slight change of pronunciation. The word we city we call Moscow is pronounced Moskva in Russian

All of this applies to Jesus’ name because the familiar English word is a transliteration of a transliteration. In Hebrew the name the angel declared was Yeshua or Yehushua. That Hebrew name was transliterated into the Greek as Iesous. The Greek name was then transliterated into English as Jesus.

The angel announced to Joseph “thou shalt call His name Yeshua” and like most names today names in Biblical times had meanings. Most definitions of names were rarely thought of in day to day life (when was the last time you told someone the meaning of your name?). Jesus’ name carries significant meaning.

Yehushua means “Jehovah saves”. The angel told Joseph they would name the child “God saves” because the baby being carried by Mary was the one who would save His people. The baby in Mary’s womb was the Savior promised by God to bring deliverance to His people. The angels message to Joseph is just one of the many reminders of the great importance of the entrance of Jesus into this world.