~by Randy Bushey
Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them but to fulfil them (Matthew 5:17).
The Jews of the 1st century knew that their Bible – the Tanakh, our Old Testament (OT) – was a story without an ending.
It was unfinished. Incomplete. Partial and awaiting a climactic conclusion.
After all, the book of Malachi – the final book in our OT – concludes with this adamant warning: I will come and strike the land with a curse (4:6).
In the time of Jesus, the last book in the Tanakh – like the Jewish Bible today – was probably Chronicles (a combination of our 1st and 2nd Chronicles). It intensely, dramatically concludes with the destruction of the Holy City, Jerusalem, at the hands of the Babylonians in 586 BC (2 Chronicles 26).
To any Jewish reader this violent, abrupt, and unsatisfying ending represented a story that is clearly incomplete – a narrative of God making promises, or covenants (with Adam and Eve, Noah, Abraham, Moses, David) that remained unfulfilled.
The Lord pledges to send the Messiah thereby committing to redeem and restore Israel, save those of Gentile nations, and re-establish David’s monarchy.
But then the story abruptly terminates.
After a constant communication from the Lord to Israel through His prophets for 1000 years – from Moses to Malachi – the Word of God goes quiet.
Four centuries of hollow, ominous silence.
Consequently, by the time of the 1st century – with Israel now under the oppressive thumb of Rome – the early chapters of the Gospels portray God-fearing Jewish people wondering, waiting, watching for the next interval of God’s intervention.
Or would Yahweh now be forever silent in response to Israel’s disobedience and wanton disregard of covenant stipulations?
Then, bursting onto the scene is John the Baptist!
His is a dramatic, but short period of ministry – probably measured in mere months. John’s meteoric rise to prominence – the last in a long line of authoritative prophets looking ahead to the Messiah – is suddenly terminated by he is imprisoned and martyred by Herod Antipas during the early phase of the public ministry of Jesus.
Jesus identified John as the Elijah who was to come as predicted in the final paragraph of Malachi’s prophecy: See, I will send you the prophet Elijah before that great and dreadful day of the LORD comes (4:5).
Consequently, John was the final forerunner of the Messiah.
The long-awaited Kingdom of God was about to be inaugurated.
But the Messiah introduced 2 significant concepts – both developed in the pages of the New Testament – that the most expectant Jews had never anticipated in the study of their Scriptures:
1) the Messiah would be the Suffering Servant. Even Jesus’ closest disciples were aghast and confused at the prospect that He – the Messiah of predicted conquest and victory – would first suffer as the Lamb of God, the ultimate Sacrifice for sin.
2) that the Messiah would be great – the greatest Man ever – was a long-cherished Hebrew hope. He would rise to supremacy above the patriarchs, kings and prophets of Israel. However, I’m convinced nobody saw that the Messianic expectation would be fulfilled as the enfleshment of God – Jesus the God-Man.
As we from our vantage-point, read the OT, these concepts seem obvious.
But as the redemptive story concludes, even the most God-loving, Messiah-expecting Jews had to learn what the prophets had predicted: that Jesus of Nazareth was the consummation of those ancient promises, covenants, predictions.
He was the Son of God, the Son of Man.
He is God-Man.
And so Jesus proclaimed in the Sermon on the Mount: I tell you the truth, until heaven and earth disappear, not the smallest letter, not the least stroke of a pen, will by any means disappear from the Law until everything is accomplished (Matthew 5:18).
Takeaway: many contemporary Christ-followers ignore the OT as being remote, confusing, inaccessible, and difficult to read through. It is therefore too often ignored.
However, the true biblical student realizes the Jewish Bible is the essential, if lengthy, prologue to the life and ministry of the Lord Jesus.
That is why the ancient theologian Augustine (4th century AD) summarized about the 2 testaments of the Bible: “The New is in the Old Concealed, the Old is in the New Revealed”.