What if Jesus Doesn’t Seem to Look Like God in the Old Testament?

This article will tackle how some people seem to communicate God as if Jesus is different than the God that they see in the Old Testament, and how we can read the Old Testament in light of Jesus.

7 Minute Read

There is a moment after Jesus rose from the dead in the book of Luke where Jesus appears to a man named Cleopas and His friend. There is a verse in this account that, if you don’t focus on, you might skim past.

Luke 24
27 And beginning with Moses and all the Prophets, he explained to them what was said in all the Scriptures concerning himself.

These men were well versed in the scriptures. Jesus wasn’t teaching them from scratch. They would have known about Moses and Prophets since childhood. So why would Jesus have to walk them through this? Well, because it is possible to read the Bible and miss Jesus. By doing this we miss the intention of the Bible (John 5:39-40). 

It is often that when I am writing or talking about Jesus’s way, character, and teaching that It is often that when I am writing or talking about Jesus’s way, character, and teaching that someone responds, “what about God in the Old Testament?” This is basically to say that the Jesus we see in the New Testament is different than the God we see in the Old Testament and that an interpretation of the Old Testament holds the same weight as Jesus’s teachings and life.

I am not saying that the Bible doesn’t hold weight. Don’t hear what I am not saying. I am saying that it has authority because of God, and therefore God holds authority over it. It is really hard for us to understand this nuance.

One day my son came home from VBS at the church I was working at. He was given a little booklet, so I took a few minutes to read the booklet.

Here is what the last page said:

Notice that it says, “Jesus willingly placed Himself under the authority of God’s Word, just as we should. How can you show your obedience to God’s Word?” Is this true, and is Jesus the means for us to obey the Bible, or is the Bible there to lead us by the power of the Holy Spirit to obey Jesus?

Why do we pin Jesus up against the Old Testament as if the Old Testament God somehow trumps God we see in Jesus?

In the Luke verse above, what is happening is that Jesus is revealing that, to truly understand the Bible, you have to see it through the lens of Himself. We don’t separate the Old Testament images that seem like a different representation of God than Jesus and pin them up against each other. No! We read those verses now in light of Jesus. 

Paul is the best representation of this. He was a Pharisee of Pharisees (according to Philippians 3). He was well-schooled in the scriptures but didn’t believe in Jesus. When Jesus got ahold of him on the road to Damascus, instead of throwing out the scriptures, Paul wrote and interpreted them in light of the risen Jesus that he encountered.

Look at all of the Old Testament moments and verses that Paul quoted and referred to in his letters when speaking of the gospel of Jesus. I love the creedal statement that he quoted in 1 Corinthians 15:

3 For what I received I passed on to you as of first importance: that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures (referring to the Old Testament), 4 that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures (referring to the Old Testament).

This type of hermeneutic (interpretation method) is known as a “Christocentric hermeneutic.” The early church would not receive any interpretation of the scriptures that was not seen through this lens and in light of the risen Jesus.

My question is, then why do we do it now? Why do we pin Jesus up against the Old Testament as if the Old Testament God somehow trumps God we see in Jesus?

I want to end with three moments from the gospels where we see Jesus holding authority over the scriptures:

Luke 4

Let me set the stage…
Jesus’s hometown in Nazareth. Nazareth is in Galilee. Galileans were known to have a vision of the kingdom coming through violent revolt, and they believed that the messiah would come to them first to lead them. So, what did Jesus the Messiah do? He came to them first as a boy and then was raised around them. Then in Luke, He starts his ministry by participating in the public reading in the synagogue as a Rabbi.

Luke 4
14 Jesus returned to Galilee in the power of the Spirit, and news about him spread through the whole countryside. 15 He was teaching in their synagogues, and everyone praised him.

16 He went to Nazareth, where he had been brought up, and on the Sabbath day he went into the synagogue, as was his custom. He stood up to read, 17 and the scroll of the prophet Isaiah was handed to him. Unrolling it, he found the place where it is written:

18 “The Spirit of the Lord is on me,
because he has anointed me
to proclaim good news to the poor.
He has sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners
and recovery of sight for the blind,
to set the oppressed free,
19 to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.”
20 Then he rolled up the scroll, gave it back to the attendant and sat down. The eyes of everyone in the synagogue were fastened on him. 21 He began by saying to them, “Today this scripture is fulfilled in your hearing.”

22 All spoke well of him and were amazed at the gracious words that came from his lips. “Isn’t this Joseph’s son?” they asked.

If you look at the Isaiah passage that Jesus read, here is what it says:

Isaiah 61
The Spirit of the Sovereign Lord is on me,
because the Lord has anointed me
to proclaim good news to the poor.
He has sent me to bind up the brokenhearted,
to proclaim freedom for the captives
and release from darkness for the prisoners,
2 to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor
and the day of vengeance of our God,
to comfort all who mourn,

Notice that Jesus didn’t quote the part about the “day of vengeance of our God”, but yet He said that “today [these are] fulfilled.” Jesus is exercising His authority to say, “that violence part is not going to happen.” He cut it out of His reading, by His authority. They expected it to happen a specific way, because of how the Old Testament stated it, and Jesus (God in human form) revealed something different.

You have heard it said… but I tell you…

Here are a couple of verses in the Old Testament that give instructions on how to bring justice to someone who has wronged someone else.

Exodus 21
23 But if there is serious injury, you are to take life for life, 24 eye for eye, tooth for tooth, hand for hand, foot for foot, 25 burn for burn, wound for wound, bruise for bruise.

Leviticus 24
19 Anyone who injures their neighbor is to be injured in the same manner: 20 fracture for fracture, eye for eye, tooth for tooth. The one who has inflicted the injury must suffer the same injury. 21 Whoever kills an animal must make restitution, but whoever kills a human being is to be put to death.

Deuteronomy 19
20 The rest of the people will hear of this and be afraid, and never again will such an evil thing be done among you. 21 Show no pity: life for life, eye for eye, tooth for tooth, hand for hand, foot for foot.

But Jesus exercised authority over these texts from the Old Testament law:

Matthew 5
38 “You have heard that it was said, ‘Eye for eye, and tooth for tooth.’ 39 But I tell you, do not resist an evil person. If anyone slaps you on the right cheek, turn to them the other cheek also. 40 And if anyone wants to sue you and take your shirt, hand over your coat as well. 41 If anyone forces you to go one mile, go with them two miles. 42 Give to the one who asks you, and do not turn away from the one who wants to borrow from you.

He gave a new perspective and way to live that is consistent with how He forgives and shows love. He not only taught this. He modeled it by being beaten and nailed on a cross.

The Transfiguration

Mark 9
2 After six days Jesus took Peter, James and John with him and led them up a high mountain, where they were all alone. There he was transfigured before them. 3 His clothes became dazzling white, whiter than anyone in the world could bleach them. 4 And there appeared before them Elijah and Moses, who were talking with Jesus.

5 Peter said to Jesus, “Rabbi, it is good for us to be here. Let us put up three shelters—one for you, one for Moses and one for Elijah.” 6 (He did not know what to say, they were so frightened.)

7 Then a cloud appeared and covered them, and a voice came from the cloud: “This is my Son, whom I love. Listen to him!”

What is happening here is that Peter, James, and John see Jesus in His glory standing next to Moses (representation as to the one who brought the law) and Elijah (one of the prophets). They were so excited they wanted to build three equal dwelling places for Jesus, Moses, and Elijah, to bring honor to all three. At this moment God spoke and said, “This is my Son, whom I love. Listen to him!” This is a hard passage to interpret unless we understand all of the dynamics that are at play. It is revealing the divinity of Jesus, the fact that Moses and Elijah are key players in the Jewish (and Christian faith) tradition, but they do not hold the same level of honor and weight as Jesus, so they are called to focus on and listen to Jesus, who is God in human form.

In Closing

To bring equal weight of the Old Testament scriptures to Jesus Himself, or even place Jesus under the authority of the scriptures, is to fall into the idolatry of bibliolatry (the worship of the Bible). The Bible holds authority, because of God. God used the limited understanding of humans that he inspired to breathe truth, allowing their imagination to do the best it could to explain who God, in all of His mystery and glory, is. There are human-like traits attributed to God written about in the Old Testament, but we see Him actually in human form as Jesus.

John 1:14
14 The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us. We have seen his glory, the glory of the one and only Son, who came from the Father, full of grace and truth.

Colossians 1
15 The Son is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn over all creation.

Hebrews 1
1 In the past God spoke to our ancestors through the prophets at many times and in various ways, 2 but in these last days he has spoken to us by his Son, whom he appointed heir of all things, and through whom also he made the universe. 3 The Son is the radiance of God’s glory and the exact representation of his being, sustaining all things by his powerful word.

Colossians 2
9 For in Christ all the fullness of the Deity lives in bodily form,

Brian Zahnd says it this way:

God is like Jesus.
God has always been like Jesus.
There has never been a time when God was not like Jesus.
We have not always known what God is like—
But now we do.

We know what God is like in the human flesh. He is Jesus! Let us follow Him!

9 thoughts on “What if Jesus Doesn’t Seem to Look Like God in the Old Testament?

  1. Greetings, David. I mention a number of these issues in my forthcoming book *Is God a Vindictive Bully?* (Baker Academic, 2022). Regarding “vengeance” and Isa. 61, it’s true that Jesus came to save rather than to judge (Jn. 3:16-17), but vengeance still remains for those who reject him and persecute his people (Rev. 6:9-11; 18:20; 19:2; cf. Rom. 12:19; Heb. 10:30). Paul repudiated *personal* revenge (Rom. 12:9), but that is different from divine vengeance. Jesus said drowning someone with a millstone would be fitting judgment for some (Mt. 18:6). Also, in Luke 4, Jesus also omitted “to bind up the brokenhearted” from Isaiah 61:1. // Paul refers to the kindness and severity of God (Rom. 11;22), and Jesus is in the thick of it. According to our best manuscripts, we read that “Jesus . . . destroyed those [Israelites] who did not believe” (Jude 5), and Jesus threatens to cast the false prophetess on a bed of sickness and “strike dead” her followers. There’s a lot more I could add here. But as C.S. Lewis said of Aslan, Jesus is “good but he’s not safe.” Just a few thoughts in light of your post. Thanks for “listening.”

  2. Hi David, Good word! I hope you are doing well! Wellspring prayed for you last Sunday as you have a birthday this week. Happy Birthday! We’re doing well, I’m going to Cabo with family at the end of the month. Girls getaway 😀 First since COVID. Ugh. Dan and I hope to travel to Washington in September to see more family. Hope Kellie and kiddos are well, Lynette

    Lynette Stime

    >

      1. I see that you were just here in Arizona at ACU. I am an adjunct at ACU and live a mile away. If ever you are back with summit (which I am also a native of Colorado Springs), let me know. How did you find my stuff here?

      2. Thanks, David. How interesting.

        I appreciate that. Yes, I’d love to meet up if I’m in your area again. And if you’re in south Florida, please let me know. It would be good to connect face-to-face.

        Also, are you from CO Springs proper–or a nearby town? Fun to know of your connection!

      3. Yes, I am originally from Colorado Springs. Born and raised. I am going to send you a message on your website really quickly, so that you have my email contact.

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