The Jewish Christians of Jesus' time knew the Scriptures inside and out. They recognized Jesus as the Messiah because He fulfilled the prophecies in the Scripture they knew so well and cherished. But I'm not a Jewish Christian of Jesus' time. I was raised in modern times, after Jesus' ultimate sacrifice of dying on the cross for us. His sacrifice is the point; it's how we are saved (by trusting in Him). As "Christ"ians, why do we need to read the Old Testament when everything about Jesus is in the New Testament?
Or is it?
True, Old Testament prophecies foretell of the Messiah. Still, that reasoning for reading the Old Testament is a bit circular (read the OT to read the prophecies about Jesus in the NT). Is there a good reason to read the Old Testament for itself? Can we learn anything to help us live our lives that cannot be found in the New Testament? And how does reading the OT (the Torah) affect our relationship with God?
Initially, one of my biggest deterrents to spiritual growth was the huge dichotomy between the "Old Testament" God and the "New Testament" God. The divide seemed so wide that I wondered how I would cross it. I wanted to reconcile these two contradictory images in my mind: a God who would destroy the world with a flood (an eye for an eye type of God) versus a God who loved us so much that He died for us (a turn the other cheek type of God). Yet, it was the same God -- I knew that; I just couldn't comprehend how it could be -- it made no logical sense in my human mind.
Instead of ignoring the Old Testament, however, I was led to explore it -- from creation to Moses to Isaiah and all the kings in between and prophets beyond. Now, the more I read of the Old Testament, the more I realize that it helps you better understand God! He is a just God and a loving God, whose people have continually turned away from Him -- not just once or twice, but so many times that it seems to never have any end in Old Testament times.
How could they keep turning away from their Lord? The answer is simple -- because they could not do it on their own, and neither can we. None of us can or ever could. An eye for an eye simply does not work. God knows that -- He always did, but He had to show us by example to get us to believe it as well.
Rather than demonstrating anger and wrath, the lessons learned by the people in the Old Testament are God's loving way of showing us that we cannot do it on our own, by works alone. "Live by faith, not by sight." (2 Corinthians 5:7)
Trying to live perfectly means failure. Rather than seeking perfection, we need to seek a deeper relationship with God and move toward becoming more like Jesus (and any good works are a by-product of that loving relationship). But perfection is a goal we will never achieve until we are with Jesus again.
Failing to reach perfection should not come as a great surprise because we are imperfect people. We are sinners, and, without Jesus, we would all still be lost. Without the failings of God's people in the Old Testament, the righteous of that day and today (seeing by example through reading God's Word) could never truly recognize our desperate need for Jesus' salvation. We might still be thinking we could somehow manage to do it all on our own, following God's laws perfectly.
God showed us we can't do it. He showed us through years and years of His people doing evil and worshipping idols. He showed us by His teachings in the Old Testament, teachings that Jesus interpreted and extended during His short time ministering in human form. We learn more about the NT by reading the OT and vice versa; the two are inextricably intertwined. When reading the New Testament, just try skipping quotes from the Old Testament; they are too numerous to avoid! Where do you think Jesus' teachings came from? The same God has been teaching us the same lessons since the beginning of time, lessons many of His people ignored or simply failed to recognize. Reading both the OT and NT helps us avoid that trap of missing God's lessons, showing us the full picture of a just and loving God who sacrificed everything for His people -- for us.
God loves us so much that, through the Old Testament, He showed us our need for Jesus -- making our relationship with Him so much more special. I grow closer to Jesus through reading the Old Testament, which helps me see how much God loves us all and makes me love Him all the more. I want to PRAISE THE LORD all day long and shout it from the rooftops, sit quietly at night or early in the morning and talk with Him, show others the joy He gives me...
That's the kind of love God wants us to find. Not a love based on right and wrong, out of a sense of obligation. Rather, a love that makes you want to do right simply because you love God and you love those around you, a love that doesn't suddenly make you perfect but that leads you to strive to be more like Jesus, a love that changes you from the inside out and brings tears to your eyes -- a love that only God can provide.
Without the Old Testament, we could not truly and fully comprehend that love.