Reading the “Antique” Testament for all its worth

Bryan CribbBryan Cribb, Preaching

Reading the "Antique" Testament

A staple of public broadcasting is the popular series, Antiques Roadshow.

The basic premise for this most-watched PBS program is that people bring discarded, forgotten “antiques” for an expert to appraise. Some of these antiques are deemed to be rubbish. But more often than not the appraiser will tell the somewhat shocked and overjoyed owners that what they perceived to be worth a couple of bucks is actually worth exponentially more.

Like the antiques in the Roadshow, the Old Testament is often overlooked in many pulpits and Sunday School classrooms. And I get the feeling many evangelicals would be just as perplexed if they were told these ancient Scriptures that they treated as obsolete, outmoded, and otherwise fulfilled in Christ, were actually valuable and profitable and authoritative for life and ministry.

Now, as good evangelicals, we will readily confess we believe the Old Testament to be true and trustworthy, inspired and inerrant, and all those good descriptive words. We would all confidently assert the Bible to be “God-breathed” as Paul does in 2 Timothy 3:16. But do we actually take the next step, using it “for teaching, for reproof, for correction, for training in righteousness”?

The sad truth is that most either avoid the Old Testament, or merely use it for illustrations, or for examples of faithful living, or for proof-texting. So we use Samson as a paradigm for a good marriage. Well maybe we don’t go that far, but you get the point. In essence, we ignore or misapply three quarters of the Bible we allegedly consider as God’s special revelation.

My encouragement is for us to preach and teach the full counsel of God; and it is not just because I’m an Old Testament professor. My experience has been that when our people understand the Old Testament the way the New Testament authors (and Jesus Himself!) understood it, they get excited about God’s Word, and they start to see it in all its fullness and beauty.

My experience has been that when our people understand the Old Testament the way the New Testament authors (and Jesus Himself!) understood it, they get excited about God’s Word, and they start to see it in all its fullness and beauty.

Moreover, they gain a better grasp of the arguments, imagery, and worldview of the New Testament.

One example will suffice. People always struggle with the book of Revelation, perhaps because it is so steeped in Old Testament imagery. In fact, John’s Apocalypse has more Old Testament allusions than any other book, even though it rarely quotes directly from the Old Testament.
We see this use of Old Testament imagery from the start, in the opening vision of Revelation 1. There, the Apostle John paints us a picture–one of the resurrected, reigning, and sovereign Christ.

But he does not do it with paint or film. He does it with words, telling of a vision that he has received from God. But these aren’t just any words. God gives John a picture that is painted with Old Testament brushes. He uses a little Ezekiel 1 here and a little Daniel 7 there. Each word, each phrase in this picture in Revelation 1 harkens back to a previous prophecy in the Old Testament. And thus you cannot understand the message without understanding the Old Testament background.

The central figure in this passage is, of course, Jesus Himself, the “Son of Man.” Undoubtedly, John gives this title to the “Voice speaking” to him to allude to Daniel’s vision of the messianic Son of Man, who in Daniel 7, comes up to the Ancient of Days and receives “dominion, glory and a kingdom, that all the peoples, nations, and men of every language might serve him.”

So, by describing His vision in this manner, John is inviting his readers–the persecuted first century church–to cast their eyes back to Daniel’s shocking vision. And in doing so, he would remind the first century martyrs (lit., “witnesses”) of Christ’s sovereignty over all nations. Just like Daniel’s message comforted the Jews in exile within mighty Babylon, John’s Apocalypse comforts those believers under the yoke of the seemingly insuperable Roman Empire.

But the same message still rings true for Christians today. No matter what our life situation, nothing will comfort us, nothing will give more hope, nothing will enable us to live radically Christian lives, more than keeping a picture of the powerful and victorious Christ before us.
But we will not grasp the depth, breadth, and height of this message if we do not investigate and appreciate the Old Testament background.

So, let us commit to doing a little work and dust off that antique portion of our Bible. I think we will all discover its immeasurable worth.