Is God in the OT harsher than in the NT? The answer is no. This article shows that God is consistent with His judgment and mercy.

Source: Australian Presbyterian, 2000. 2 pages.

Severity and Mercy Both Come from the Hand of the God of Judgment and Love

It is not uncommon to hear, both inside and outside the professing church, the silly — indeed heretical — notion that the God of the Old Testament was harsh and severe while the God of the New Testament is loving and merciful. Such a notion can only be sustained if one does not actually open either Testament.

Even a perfunctory reading of the Bible reveals that the New Testament stands on the shoulders of the Old. If a person does not believe the writings of Moses, neither will he believe the words of Christ (John 5:46-47). The Old Testament Scriptures, rightly explained, portray Christ just as the New Testament Scriptures do (Luke 24:27; 2 Tim. 3:15).

When Christ wished to repulse the temptations of the devil, he cited the Old Testament with the formula “It is written” (Matt. 4:1-11). The New Testament fulfils the Old Testament; it does not repudiate it. A closer inspection of the Bible in fact reveals that, if anything, the tendency is the other way — that God in the New Testament is more severe with those who reject his word because they are rejecting greater light.

Preaching to the Athenians, Paul says that God overlooked the times of igno­rance (Acts 17:30). In Romans 3:25 Paul explains that at Calvary God demonstrated his righteousness, because in his forbear­ance he had passed over the sins that were previously committed. Douglas Moo com­ments well: “This does not mean that God failed to punish or “overlooked” sins com­mitted before Christ; nor does it mean that God did not really “forgive” sins under the Old Covenant. Paul’s meaning is rather that God “postponed” the full penalty due sins in the Old Covenant.”

The biblical position is that “to whom much is given, from him much will be required; and to whom much has been committed, of him they will ask the more” (Luke 12:48). Hence the author of Hebrews can write:

Anyone who has rejected Moses’ law dies without mercy on the testimony of two or three witnesses. Of how much worse punishment, do you suppose, will he be thought worthy who has trampled the Son of God underfoot, counted the blood of the covenant by which he was sanctified a common thing, and insulted the Spirit of grace?Hebrews 10:28-29

Indeed, the whole structure of the epis­tle to the Hebrews revolves around this point — that God gave much to his peo­ple under the old covenant, but in the new covenant has given much more. The consequences of refusing that greater covenant are accordingly greater. Christ himself had already used the same argu­ment when He upbraided the cities of Chorazin, Bethsaida, and Capernaum whose inhabitants had seen and heard the Messiah yet still not trusted in him. Tyre and Sidon (where wicked Queen Jezebel had come from) and even Sodom itself will find the day of judg­ment more tolerable than those cities which had the Light of the world in their midst but preferred the darkness (Matt. 11:20-24).

Spiritual privileges are dangerous things to the unbeliever! One should also point out that it is in the teaching of Jesus him­self, and not the Old Testament, which most graphically sets out the Bible’s view of everlasting punishment. Nothing in the Old Testament rivals Jesus’ picture of a place where the unsaved are tormented in flames (Luke 16:24) without any hope of ever changing their circumstances (Luke 16:26). It is Jesus himself who on the day of judgment will say to those who have rejected him:

Depart from me, you cursed, into the everlasting fire prepared for the devil and his angels. Matt. 25:41

This will be a place of outer darkness with a fur­nace of fire, where there will be not annihi­lation but wailing and gnashing of teeth (Mt. 8:12; 13:42; 22:13; 25:30).

The true teaching, of course, is that God is consistent in both Testaments. As Paul tells the Christians at Rome:

Consider the goodness and severity of God: on those who fell, severity; but toward you, good­ness, if you continue in his goodness. Rom. 11:22

It is, after all, the Old Testament which first speaks of God as a loving and guiding Shepherd (Psalm 23). Jesus picks up this image and develops it in John 10, but it was hardly a novel doctrine. It is also true that the God of the Old Testament is spoken of as a consuming fire (Deut. 4:24) — but so is the God of the New Testament (Heb. 12:29).

It is the critics of the Bible who are inconsistent; the Lord himself never changes (Mal. 3:6). He is just and he is mer­ciful, and he judges us according to our works and the light he has given us.

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