Question: Is the Old Testament God different to the New Testament God?
Many people question the character of God with the premise; “The God of the Old Testament is a God of wrath, and the God of the New Testament is a God of love.” At a glance, the Old Testament God appears to be mighty, angry, punishing and jealous. In contrast, in the New Testament, He seems kind, loving, meek and forgiving, in the form of Jesus Christ.
How can we reconcile the two? I believe there are some ways to understand there is no variation of the character of God or His attributes in the Old Testament and the New Testament.
Firstly, God’s consistent character
Scripture is explicit that God’s nature is consistent throughout both the testaments. Some claim that God is disproportionately wrathful in the Old Testament and disproportionately merciful in the New Testament. Both testaments testify to God’s wrath and mercy equally.
Some examples are:
- In the Old Testament, God shows His anger when the Israelite’s sin multiple times during their journey in the desert, yet at the same time God shows His love and mercy by sending Jonah to preach repentance to the city of Nineveh
- Likewise, in the New Testament, we see God’s abundant love and compassion poured out on humanity by sending Jesus Christ the Messiah, to die for our sin. Yet, at the same time, we read about the coming judgment of God that awaits those who do not believe in the name of Jesus Christ. The book of Revelation offers a chilling account of how God brings unbelievable judgments on the world before the coming of Jesus Christ.
There is a reason why we think there is a difference of attributes between the Old Testament and the New Testament God. It is because we fail to understand that God’s love and justice “can” be harmonious. God can and must be both loving and just to be God. When each attribute is understood in light of each other, His love and justice are harmonious.
Millard Erickson writes the following:
“Justice means that love must always be shown, whether or not a situation of immediate need presents itself in pressing and vivid fashion. Love in the biblical sense, then, is not merely to indulge someone near at hand. Rather, it inherently involves justice as well. This means there will be a concern for the ultimate welfare of all humanity, a passion to do what is right, and enforcement of appropriate consequences for wrong action. Actually, love and justice have worked together in God’s dealing with the human race. God’s justice requires that there be payment of the penalty for sin. God’s love, however, desires humans to be restored to fellowship with him. The offer of Jesus Christ as the atonement for sin means that both the justice and the love of God have been maintained,”
Secondly, God’s period of grace
When we come to the New Testament, we see Jesus coming into the world with an open-heartedness towards tax collector, sinners and outcasts. There is a seeming difference to the Old Testament, where there is a lot of death and killing. In John 3:17, Jesus says “For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him.”
Similarly, when Jesus enters the synagogue, he reads from the book of Isaiah, proclaiming that prophecy is being fulfilled. Jesus says in Luke 4:18-19 “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to proclaim good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim liberty to the captives and recovering of sight to the blind, to set at liberty those who are oppressed, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.”
Jesus is reading from Isaiah 61:1-2, and He stops reading just before the second part of verse 2 saying “and the day of vengeance of our God;..” We get a picture of this vengeance in the book of Revelation. It is a picture of judgment that is yet to come, and it is not a period you want to be around for. So we see God’s judgment and righteous requirements in the Old Testament and the end of the New Testament. In between this, we see the coming of Jesus as the perfect sacrifice to make way for us to be restored to God.
Friends, we are in a window of “grace” right now, until the “Day of the Lord” arrives in the book of Revelation. Notice it is the same God with the same attributes in the New Testament after the period of grace comes His judgment upon all peoples and all nations.
In conclusion, God’s character remains the same and consistent throughout both testaments. From Genesis to Revelation, we can see that God is a God of love, mercy and patience and also of wrath, anger, and vengeance against sin. Throughout scripture from the old to the new, we see references of a loving Father who extends grace and mercy, even to His enemies. At the same time, He also demonstrated that He is a righteous judge who will punish sin. He is a holy God, and we are currently in a period of grace, before the Day of the Lord arrives, where he takes vengeance and bring judgment on the world.
Revelation 20:12 “And I saw the dead, great and small, standing before the throne, and books were opened. Then another book was opened, which is the book of life. And the dead were judged by what was written in the books, according to what they had done.”
Romans 2:6 “He will render to each one according to his works:”
So, I urge you to seek the Lord, especially in this period of grace so that you may be saved from the coming wrath. His mercy is so great that He is giving people more than enough time to return to Him. That is why it says in 2 Peter 3:9-10 “The Lord is not slow to fulfil his promise as some count slowness, but is patient toward you, not wishing that any should perish, but that all should reach repentance. But the day of the Lord will come like a thief, and then the heavens will pass away with a roar, and the heavenly bodies will be burned up and dissolved, and the earth and the works that are done on it will be exposed.”