QUESTION: “Why is it that God in the Old Testament seems much harsher and judgmental than does Jesus in the New Testament? There appears to be more love and grace coming from God in the New Testament; why is that?”
ANSWER: The thought that God is different in the OT as compared with the NT is an all too common idea. But a careful look at the text of the Scriptures will show that this is without a legitimate biblical basis. Consider these 6 points.
#1. THE UNCHANGING NATURE OF GOD.
We must remember that one of the characteristics of the God of Scripture is that He is immutable (that is; He does not change). So He isn’t different today than He was in the days of Noah or Abraham. (Psalm 102:27; Malachi 3:6). He hasn’t become more loving or gracious as time has gone by. He has not and does not change.
#2. JESUS HAS THE SAME NATURE AS GOD THE FATHER.
In His last hours before the cross, Jesus had supper with His men and during that time revealed some vital truths. When His disciple Philip asked Jesus to reveal the Father to them, Jesus mildly rebuked Philip and declared that “he who has seen Me, has seen the Father.” (John 14:8). The attributes of Jesus and the attributes of God the Father are identical. In light of Jesus statement, to believe that Jesus is somehow more loving and good or less holy than God the Father is erroneous.
#3. THE O.T. REVEALS GOD TO BE FULL OF LOVE AND SLOW TO ANGER.
Exodus tells the story of that time when Moses asked God to reveal Himself to Moses, and He did. In 34:6-7, God describes Himself as being “gracious”, “abounding in lovingkindness”, “compassionate”, “slow to anger”, “abounding in truth” and One who forgives. This passage is echoed throughout the O.T. in both the Psalms and the prophets (e.g. Jonah 4:2). The people of the O.T. had a clear and correct view of God. In those verses, God also makes it clear that if people didn’t respond to His love and forgiveness, then eventually He must judge since He is also holy.
#4. GOD’S JUDGMENTS AND THE TIMING OF THOSE JUDGMENTS.
Some portray God in the O.T. as having a really short fuse, just living for those moments when people sinned so that He could bring really bad things into their lives. God’s judgments and His disciplines are indeed seen in the O.T., but it is important to note how long it took for God’s patience to end before He judged. Some illustrations:
- God waited for 120 years before judging the world with the flood of Noah’s day, while all the while giving them warning of what was to come. (Genesis 6)
- The Canaanite nations were as wicked as people could be, being characterized by idol worship with child sacrifice, gross sexual perversions and lust for blood. God gave them 400 years to turn around before judgment came. (Genesis 15)
- The northern kingdom of Israel willfully turned from the Lord and set up golden calf images as their gods. God sent prophet after prophet to them and pleaded with them to return to Him. They didn’t. After over 200 years, God disciplined them. (1 Kings 12; 2 Kings 17).
- Other illustrations could be added. God, over a period of a year, warning and giving Pharaoh opportunity to do what was right; withholding deserved judgment from the very wicked king Ahab; waiting for over a century to discipline Judah for its idolatry; and the list goes on.
Seeing the “time context” is very important in correctly seeing the judgments of God.
#5. ISRAEL’S COVENANT PROMISES BROKEN BRING DISCIPLINES FROM GOD.
Much of the O.T. is the story of God dealings with His chosen people Israel not the USA or Spain or China. They are His covenant nation and, as a result, much was required of them. When Moses led Israel to Mt. Sinai to receive their Law Code, they agreed to obey God. They entered into a “conditional covenant”, which means that blessing was conditioned on obedience, and conversely, disobedience brought God’s disciplines. Their agreement to obey God placed them into a unique situation to receive either blessings or judgment. They promised God that they would obey Him and when they didn’t there were consequences. We must see God’s actions, both bringing blessing as well as judgment, in light of this covenant commitment. They disobeyed quite often, breaking their word, and God patiently had to deal with them, and this is why we see so much judgment. Much judgment because of much disobedience. But, as we noted in Exodus 34, God is slow to anger, not quick to anger. He always worked with His people, very often in the latter years through the prophets. But because the O.T. is the story of the covenant people of Israel, and because they disobeyed so often, and because the holy God had to eventually judge them, it appears that God did an awful lot of judging over that 2000 year period.
#6. JESUS WILL BE THE GREATEST JUDGE IN ALL OF HUMAN HISTORY.
In supporting the erroneous idea that there is much judgment in the O.T. and God in the N.T. is different being filled with love, grace and forgiveness, Jesus is set forth as the gracious, compassionate One. He is, of course, gracious, loving, merciful and patient. However, as with the points made and the pattern set in Exodus 34:6-7, there will come a point where the patience of Jesus is exhausted by the rebellion and sin of men. In one of His sermons (John 5:22, 27), Jesus declared that all judgment in the future has been given over to the Son of God, and that the Father will not be the judge. When the scroll with the Tribulation judgments is given to Jesus (Revelation 5:1-7), He begins to execute the most severe judgments ever on mankind, which will bring about the deaths of perhaps 6 billion people. Jesus Himself said this is the worst time ever in human history (Matt. 24:21-22). All the judgments mentioned in the N.T. have Jesus as the judge. So the attitude of Jesus and the approach of Jesus to men and their disobedience is just the same as that of the Father.
Jesus Himself stated that there are no differences in character between Himself and the Father. They are the same. Both are gracious, full of lovingkindness and very slow to anger. But if men will not repent and turn to Him for forgiveness of sins then His holiness requires that they be judged (essentially paying for their own sins). The context, especially the timing issue, must be understood when looking at the judgments of God in the O.T. And, the covenantal context, where Israel promised to obey God is so much a part of the judgments of the O.T.
There is no difference between the God of the O.T. and the God of the N.T. Only bad theology and poor exegesis leads one to say that there is a difference; that God has matured over time and has grown out of His harsh, judgmental approach and has come to be loving and compassionate.
- Dr. Paul Benware