Voices of Faith offers perspectives from religion columnists. This week’s question: How did Jesus view the Old Testament?
Law and prophets
The Rev. Scott Gordon, pastor, Claycomo Baptist Church, Kansas City, Mo.: Regarding the Old Testament, Jesus made two very important statements. In relationship to his followers, Jesus asserts, “Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them but to fulfill them.” (Matthew 5:17)
By “fulfill,” Jesus did not mean “make irrelevant.” By what Jesus goes on to say in Matthew, we see that he gets to the heart of the matter God addresses through the moral law of the Old Testament and calls his followers to live by this standard.
The ability to live what Jesus says comes only by understanding what the Bible, even the Old Testament, says about him.
This consideration brings us to the other important statement of Jesus. He says in John 5:39, “You search the Scriptures because you think that in them you have eternal life; and it is they that bear witness about me.”
Elsewhere Jesus, after his resurrection, consoles and instructs two followers: “O foolish ones, and slow of heart to believe all that the prophets have spoken! Was it not necessary that the Christ should suffer these things and enter into his glory?” And beginning with Moses and all the prophets, he interpreted to them in all the Scriptures the things concerning himself.” (Luke 24:25-27)
Jesus demonstrates that the Old Testament speaks of him, the promised savior of mankind, who enables his people to live rightly, according the truth he has revealed in all of Scripture.
Embracing 1st covenant
The Rev. Joe Nassal, priest at Precious Blood center in Liberty, Mo.: There is a scene in Chapter 4 of Luke’s gospel when Jesus returns to his hometown synagogue in Nazareth and is given the book of the prophet Isaiah to read.
He chooses the passage from Isaiah 61 to capture his mission: “The Spirit of God is upon me, because God has anointed me to bring glad tidings to the poor, to proclaim liberty to captives and recovery of sight to the blind, to let the oppressed go free, and to proclaim a year acceptable to God.”
Then he sat down, and with all eyes fixed on him, he gives one of the shortest sermons on record: “Today this Scripture is fulfilled in your hearing.”
Jesus saw himself as the fulfillment of the promises of the prophets in the Old Testament.
He often quotes the Hebrew Scriptures. When he is tempted by the devil in the desert to be a different kind of messiah, he answers every temptation with a truth from the Old Testament.
But he also sees himself transcending the tradition as in the Sermon on the Mount when he quotes the Mosaic Law but then stretches it to include love for enemies. And he confronts the crowd wanting to stone the woman caught in adultery and offers mercy, not condemnation.
Jesus embraces the first covenant that God made with his ancestors in faith, but then proclaims a new covenant that he inaugurates with his life, death and resurrection, as he calls his followers to be a new creation.