It is easy to draw a bold, black line through the empty page between the old and new testament and to think that what God did in the past with Israel is largely separated from what he is doing today in the church.
Of course, it is true that there is discontinuity, difference, and dissimilarity, most obviously seen in the way God related to his people (through prophets, miracles events) and in the way the people of God were formed (as a nation). But we must also see that the essence of who the people of God were then and who they are now is the same. God is the same and it is the same message that he brings to his people both then and now. The same kingdom of God spans across the old testament, into the new, and right to our present day.
This is evident by the language David employed when he composed the hymn we find in Psalms 145.
Vv.1-8 – God is the same
David served the same all-powerful, all-good God. Yahweh is described as “gracious and compassionate, slow to anger and great in faithful love.” – a description of God which reaches back to the time of Israel’s inception and forward to the time of the early church, and also into our day. God does not change who he is to stay current with the times. He is who he is and does not change.
Vv.9-13 – The kingdom of God is the same
Like God himself, the kingdom of God is glorious and mighty. And we might be tempted to think that when David wrote these words he had in mind the kingdom of Israel, of which God was king. That is understandable, given that very often the Old Testament saints prayed for and sang about the prosperity of the nation of Israel and the destruction of the pagan nations that threatened their existence.
But we mustn’t forget that the little kingdom of Israel was supposed to be a shadow and foretaste of the great kingdom that was to come. The kingdom of God in the Old Testament had all the same essential elements as the kingdom of God in the New Testament, even while it maintained some distinctive features.
As a prophet of God, David wrote more than he knew when he penned these words:
“They will speak of the glory of your kingdom and will declare your might, informing all the people of your mighty acts and of the glorious splendor of your kingdom.”Psalms 145:11-12
David may have had in mind the great Exodus event, the crossing of the Sea, the conquest of the wicked Canaanites, or any other great battle which the Lord won for his people. But what he did not know, or could only see dimly by faith, was that the glory of God’s kingdom would be shown in an unimaginable way – by God becoming a man and dying in man’s place, taking his punishment and giving him his life.
Vv.14-21 – The people are the same
The people of the kingdom of which David was writing are the same as the people of the kingdom of God today. David did not write: “The Lord is near to all the citizens of Israel.” But rather “The Lord is near all who call out to him, all who call out to him with integrity.” Who are the citizens of God’s kingdom today? “All who call on the name of the Lord Jesus.”
No Israelite could be saved by perfect adherence to Torah, they had to rely on the sheer grace of God to forgive them and count them righteous. That salvation formula is the same now, as the authors of the New Testament took great pains to make clear. The people of the kingdom of God are only accepted based on the righteousness of Christ. That is why the author of Hebrews 11 can count the saints of the Old Testament as our brothers and sisters in the faith, as fellow citizens in the kingdom.
As we read the Old Testament we must maintain the careful balance of recognizing the differences that exist between the church today and the people of God back then, and of also remembering the strong continuity between the two ages. That continuity, or connection can be summed up in one word: Christ. We are all united in Christ and by Christ – whether an ancient patriarch, a first-century Jew, or a modern-day Christian.