I have an experiment for you to try at your local church. Go and ask young and old alike, what does the Bible teach, who had the gospel preached to them? Hopefully they will not answer back, ‘what is the gospel?’ If they are the average believer they should know the gospel can be summed up as the good news of our hope of salvation provided in God’s word.
So as you take me up on my challenge you will probably get answers like the disciples had the gospel preached to them. Some may say all those who heard Jesus preach. Remember the question is who does the Bible speak of as the first who had the gospel preached to them? Some may respond, those on the day of Pentecost. Of course the list could go on and on. I would dare to venture that most believers would only speak of those mentioned in the New Testament.
For many of us the gospel is a New Testament phenomenon only. I have heard many times from pastors and lay people alike that we live under a new dispensation. I think it is just a fancy way of saying, as New Testament believers, we live under a completely different reality (set of rules) than those who put their faith in God during the Old Testament. As if our hope is built on a totally different word from God than what they hoped for in the Old Testament. Some of us are asking, isn’t it? But is our hope in Christ really built on a different word from God? Is our hope really built on something other than what they had hoped for in the Old Testament?
At the same time we are taught the New Testament is the Old Testament fulfilled. There are different variations of this idea taught in Christendom but the point is clear. We believe that Jesus fulfilled prophecy concerning His birth, life, the manner of His death and His resurrection. It is how we have confidence He is the anointed one from God, He is the one true Messiah. It is prophecy that gives us the same confidence He is coming back and we will recognized Him when He does, by the manner in which He comes back fulfilling prophecy. For this very reason we hold confidently that those who call themselves Jesus in the flesh today, as imposters, because we know prophetically how Jesus will fulfill prophecy when He does return. This is something that these other so called Christ have not done.
What we have is a New Testament belief system is completely dependant on the Old Testament for validation and authority. I think this point is so important that it bears repeating. Everything we believe and hope in Christ for is rooted and completely dependant on the Old Testament for its validity and authority. Consequently it is fool hearty to assume the New Testament stands alone and separate from the Old Testament. But many of us believers think and live our faith this way. Never making the connection we have one Word of God, one gospel.
What authority would our New Testament only mindset or testimony have if our savior was not conceived by the virgin? What if the one we put our trust in was born in Hebron and not Bethlehem? Do you think we would have the authority to command men’s confidence in our gospel? Of course not, the very ground we stand on for authority would be shaken because at that point our authority would no longer be based on scripture, God’s inspired word. If Christ had not fulfilled one prophecy concerning His first stay with us, we would have doubt to the validity of not only our gospel but the Bible as a whole. But we need not fear for our God has completely fulfilled the scriptures pertaining to His life, death and resurrection. We now look confidently for Him to fulfill the rest of not only the Old Testament prophecies but those of the New Testament when He returns.
Since there are many great books concerning Jesus and the fulfillment of prophecy already in print, I have no desire to recall those fulfilled prophecy. I want to concentrate on the gospel that is presented in scripture. I want to concentrate on the gospel that is presented in whole of scripture. Not just the New Testament, but both the Old and New Testaments.
Let us be honest with ourselves. Is our gospel just the New Testament or is it also the Old Testament as well? Let me ask it another way, from what source did Peter preach from on the day of Pentecost? Did he preach from the book of Romans? No, for the book of Romans didn’t even exist yet. He preached from one of the Old Testament prophets. He preached from the book of Joel and the Psalms.
Do we think when Paul set out to evangelize Antioch and every other city he went taking a copy of the New Testament? No, there was no such thing as a New Testament.
They arranged to meet Paul on a certain day, and came in even larger numbers to the place where he was staying. From morning till evening he explained and declared to them the kingdom of God and tried to convince them about Jesus from the Law of Moses and from the Prophets.[i]
So do we think Paul preached from the New Testament? Well of course we do not think that when asked the question. But sometimes the way we think in modern American Christianity, we assume the only gospel in God’s word is the New Testament.
We must understand when scripture testifies that Paul used the Law of Moses and the prophets to convince the Jews that Jesus was the Christ, it was after Paul was in Rome. But before Paul went to Rome we can read in the book of Romans where Paul anticipates his first opportunity to finally go to Rome and preach the gospel.
God, whom I serve with my whole heart in preaching the gospel of his Son, is my witness how constantly I remember you in my prayers at all times; and I pray that now at last by God’s will the way may be opened for me to come to you.[ii]
So if Paul was only anticipating his first visit to Rome when he wrote the book of Romans, then what gospel is Paul referring to in the book of Romans?
I am obligated both to Greeks and non-Greeks, both to the wise and the foolish. That is why I am so eager to preach the gospel also to you who are at Rome. I am not ashamed of the gospel, because it is the power of God for the salvation of everyone who believes: first for the Jew, then for the Gentile. For in the gospel a righteousness from God is revealed, a righteousness that is by faith from first to last, just as it is written: “The righteous will live by faith.”[iii]
If Paul while in Rome was preaching from the Law of Moses and the prophets, what gospel was Paul so eager to share in anticipation of going to Rome? Paul preached the gospel not of the New Testament. He preached the gospel of the Old Testament. He preached the Law of Moses and the prophets, this was his gospel. Every time you read any of Paul’s letters and he mentions the gospel, he is talking about the Law of Moses and the prophets. There was no other scripture or inspired word for him to quote. Yes he did have special revelation but he preached the gospel of the Law of Moses and the prophets.
Please pay special attention the fact that Paul says the gospel (Old Testament) has a righteousness from God revealed, and this righteousness comes by faith. Doesn’t this sound like the covenant God made with Abraham to credit him and his descendents a righteousness by faith.
He preached from the scriptures. When I say scriptures I mean what we call the Old Testament scriptures. It was all they had and all they new. In fact I understand that the best way to witness to a Jew even today is out of the Old Testament. They need to see Christ in the Old Testament before they will accept Him in the New Testament. This is why the scripture says,
From morning till evening he explained and declared to them the kingdom of God and tried to convince them about Jesus from the Law of Moses and from the Prophets.[iv]
But we gentile believers here the good news from the New Testament and base our faith on it. In some cases I am sure some of us, if not purposefully but by our actions act as if the gospel in the Old Testament is inconsequential. We spend most of our time studying from and preaching from the New Testament almost exclusively.
How many times have we said or heard it preached that the New Testament is the gospel of Jesus Christ. We even go so far as passing out only New Testaments with the Psalms and Proverbs to many a new convert. Has not the Old Testament become only a place of reference where we use people of the past as examples in our sermons? Declaring the gospel exclusively from the New Testament. How many of us evangelist types remember a whole lot of New Testament scriptures to share our faith? Now how many of us evangelist types remember Old Testament scriptures to share our faith? Who quotes Old Testament scripture to friends when trying to win them over as a convert?
Remember there was no New Testament for centuries after Christ ascended into heaven. Did those who did not have the benefit of the New Testament as we do today not get the full gospel of God, or did they? Well of course they did. It would be foolish for us to think they didn’t. For those of us who are set in our understanding that the gospel is New Testament exclusively we have missed some very important facts found in those same New Testament scriptures.
You may be surprised at what the New Testament says about the gospel we have today and what it says about those who had only the Old Testament. Did you know that the New Testament reveals that those of the Old Testament had the gospel preached to them? That’s right, the gospel we received was also preached to them. But how can this be? How can the gospel have been preached before Jesus was given as a sacrifice for our sins?
Think very hard and put all of your Christian experience and teaching to the test and take a wild guess as to where does the New Testament say those from the Old Testament had the same gospel preached to them as we did to us?
It still remains that some will enter that rest, and those who formerly had the gospel preached to them did not go in, because of their disobedience.[v]
Do you think the New Testament refers to the time of King Solomon or perhaps Isaiah? Do you think this New Testament quoted is from I Peter, or how about Jude? Which New Testament writer thought the people of the Old Testament, had the same gospel preached to them as we have had to us?
You may infectively argue it has to mean something different than what I am trying to make it out to be. The text sounds clear enough to me but maybe there is more on this.
For we also have had the gospel preached to us, just as they did; but the message they heard was of no value to them, because those who heard did not combine it with faith.[vi]
In just a few verses earlier it is declared that the New Testament believer had the same gospel preached to them, as the Old Testament saints, but the gospel had no value to them because they had no faith. Sounds like the New Testament writer is pretty convinced that he sees no break or change in the gospel from that of Moses and the prophets to the message we have received and call our New Testament.
If you haven’t cheated and looked up my reference I will tell you what New Testament author wrote those scriptures. Oh sorry, I can’t. Since no one knows for sure who wrote the book of Hebrews. Me I just say it was Apollos. That’s right, those two text came from the book of Hebrews.
Did the phrase “not go in” give the clue to whom the gospel was preached to in the Old Testament? It was those in the desert with Moses who had left their bondage in Egypt. They were not allowed to enter the promise land because of their sin and disbelief. Does that make your head spin? How could they have the same gospel in the book of Exodus preached to them as the believer during the writing of the book of Hebrews? Do you question it? If so what about the premises that God’s word is infallible? Maybe I present it incorrectly. Well then please tell me what it means when the Holy Spirit says:
But Christ is faithful as a son over God’s house. And we are his house, if we hold on to our courage and the hope of which we boast. So, as the Holy Spirit says: “Today, if you hear his voice, do not harden your hearts as you did in the rebellion, during the time of testing in the desert, where your fathers tested and tried me and for forty years saw what I did. That is why I was angry with that generation, and I said, ‘Their hearts are always going astray, and they have not known my ways. ‘So I declared on oath in my anger, ‘They shall never enter my rest.'” See to it, brothers, that none of you has a sinful, unbelieving heart that turns away from the living God. But encourage one another daily, as long as it is called Today, so that none of you may be hardened by sin’s deceitfulness. We have come to share in Christ if we hold firmly till the end the confidence we had at first. As has just been said: “Today, if you hear his voice, do not harden your hearts as you did in the rebellion.” Who were they who heard and rebelled? Were they not all those Moses led out of Egypt? And with whom was he angry for forty years? Was it not with those who sinned, whose bodies fell in the desert? And to whom did God swear that they would never enter his rest if not to those who disobeyed ? So we see that they were not able to enter, because of their unbelief. Therefore, since the promise of entering his rest still stands, let us be careful that none of you be found to have fallen short of it. For we also have had the gospel preached to us, just as they did; but the message they heard was of no value to them, because those who heard did not combine it with faith. Now we who have believed enter that rest, just as God has said, “So I declared on oath in my anger, ‘They shall never enter my rest.'” And yet his work has been finished since the creation of the world. For somewhere he has spoken about the seventh day in these words: “And on the seventh day God rested from all his work.” And again in the passage above he says, “They shall never enter my rest.” It still remains that some will enter that rest, and those who formerly had the gospel preached to them did not go in, because of their disobedience[vii].
Wow! How many of us just said, I had no idea? Believe it or not, if we understand how early in history the Bible declares the gospel was preached, it will be very helpful for us to understand our own gospel in which we put our faith. I am going to say something that may be way our there for some of us. Our gospel did not start with the book of Matthew. After all, literally millions of believers believe the gospel started in the book of Genesis.
And I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your offspring and hers; he will crush your head, and you will strike his heel.”[viii]
That is why the scene of Jesus smashing the head of the serpent from the famous movie Passion of the Christ needs no explanation. Even though the Bible does not record Jesus physically smashing a serpents head, we know Jesus crushed the head of the serpent the devil.
If what I have presented so far is not enough evidence that God has made known His gospel to those in the desert , then let us consider what was declared to Abraham. Let us find out what the New Testament Scripture says about the gospel we put our hope in.
The Scripture foresaw that God would justify the Gentiles by faith, and announced the gospel in advance to Abraham: “All nations will be blessed through you.”[ix]
Apparently the gospel was not only announced to Adam the father of all mankind, it has also been announced to Abraham the father of our faith. An announcement that looked through time, to the time of us gentiles.
Let us not forget the New Testament scripture that reveals Paul went to the Old Testament scriptures so he could preach the gospel with authority based on God’s written word.
They arranged to meet Paul on a certain day, and came in even larger numbers to the place where he was staying. From morning till evening he explained and declared to them the kingdom of God and tried to convince them about Jesus from the Law of Moses and from the Prophets.[x]
Next time you share your faith, just try to use the Law of Moses and the Prophets to convince your hearer of the divine nature of Jesus. The average believer might be some what challenged to do this, I would think. Heck, I think many a well aged saint would stumble trying this. The point being, Paul saw no contradiction, no break in theology nor any reason not to proclaim the gospel from the Law of Moses or the prophets. To him it is all one and the same with what we have received in our New Testament scriptures. To him he was preaching the gospel according to the gospel in every city he went to with out the benefit of New Testament.
For many people who have put their faith in Jesus Christ this may seam a strange idea. We are almost programmed to think of the gospel as strictly New Testament exclusively. You may ask, why would it be important to understand that the gospel we received is actually Old Testament? If you want to have confidence in the gospel you put your faith in, it is vitally important. When my defense of the gospel that was passed down to us is complete at the end of our discussion, you will be forced to either accept the gospel as you have had it presented to you or reject it for the gospel announced in scripture. Yes you will balk at that last statement but read on.
Some may argue, I have confidence in what I have believed from the New Testament. After all I have been saying both the Old and New Testament scriptures are the same gospel, right. Why should I argue that you need to understand the same gospel from the Old Testament as well? Just as I have come to understand, most of us don’t know that those in the desert at Mount Sinai had the same gospel preached to them as we did us and this according to the New Testament scripture. Many of us have also missed what our gospel really says about our hope in Christ in both the Old Testament and the New one as well.
Lest you think I rush in to make a big deal out of a few obscure verses, let me present some more evidence to you.
Philip found Nathanael and told him, “We have found the one Moses wrote about in the Law, and about whom the prophets also wrote–Jesus of Nazareth, the son of Joseph.”[xi]
Did you know that the Jews of Jesus day understood that the Law of Moses spoke of the Messiah? It wasn’t just the prophets who spoke of the day of Christ it was also the Law! Doesn’t it help ring clear the truth that they in the desert at Mount Sinai had the same gospel preached to them as we do even today?
I know that I am a mere man and that my words mean nothing. What is my testimony after all? Why should anyone want to consider what I think or have come to understand? You are right to be suspicious as long as you compare your concerns and what I have presented to you by comparing it to God’s word. Maybe there is one more text I can present to you that will help you see that the writer of the book of Hebrews was justified in saying, those at Mount Sinai had the same gospel preached to them as we do to us. I know the scriptures we put our hope in are supposed to stand on their own authority, but let me back it up some more.
He said to them…
“How foolish you are, and how slow of heart to believe all that the prophets have spoken! Did not the Christ have to suffer these things and then enter his glory?” And beginning with Moses and all the Prophets, he explained to them what was said in all the Scriptures concerning himself.[xii]
The gospel of the New Testament we put our faith in declares Jesus Himself started from Moses concerning who He is. Jesus Himself recognizes the good news preached to those in the Old Testament. He recognized the gospel at Mount Sinai. If Jesus testifies that what was given to the people at Mount Sinai was the good news about Himself, shouldn’t we put our faith in what He has said? Shouldn’t we accept the testimony that those who were at Mount Sinai had the same gospel preached to them? Maybe the writer of the book of Hebrews wasn’t out in left field after all. But who in Church understands our gospel this way?
Speaking of the prophets, do you recall what John said when he quoted Isaiah? John wrote for us Jesus’ words when He quoted Isaiah then afterward John says something I found startling.
Even after Jesus had done all these miraculous signs in their presence, they still would not believe in him. This was to fulfill the word of Isaiah the prophet: “Lord, who has believed our message and to whom has the arm of the Lord been revealed?” For this reason they could not believe, because, as Isaiah says elsewhere: “He has blinded their eyes and deadened their hearts, so they can neither see with their eyes, nor understand with their hearts, nor turn–and I would heal them.”[xiii]
I think this would be a popular scripture since I know I have heard it a lot in sermons. I would trust we all would be quite familiar with it.
Are we familiar though with what follows? So what did John say about Isaiah right after this?
Isaiah said this because he saw Jesus’ glory and spoke about him.[xiv]
According to John, Isaiah the Old Testament prophet saw Jesus’ glory and not only saw Jesus’ glory but spoke about Him. Certainly we can understand he had the Law of Moses to point to the Christ, since Jesus Himself used the Law to talk of Himself. Now tell me, who had the gospel preached to them? Have we who have lived from the time of the book of Matthew and after have the gospel preached to us, or those before the book of Matthew as well? Yes those who put their faith in the gospel in the Law of Moses and the prophets before the book of Matthew had the gospel preached to them as well.
If they had not had the gospel preached to them as well, then how could Paul recognize the gospel in the Old Testament and preach the good news from it? Don’t we understand the term good new means gospel? Don’t we understand further, the use of the term good news was based out of the good news recognized in the Old Testament and fulfilled in Christ? How is it we in our understanding only think of the good new as coming from the New Testament? Do we realize the New Testament that we say we put our hope in does not share our understanding of the churched gospel. The New Testament isn’t the beginning of our hope. The gospel found in the Old Testament is the foundation of our hope. Yet don’t we mostly ignore this foundation in most circles of Christendom?
Once again let us go to the testimony of our Lord. Remember when Jesus makes His great pronouncement of I AM.
“You are not yet fifty years old,” the Jews said to him, “and you have seen Abraham!” “I tell you the truth,” Jesus answered, “before Abraham was born, I am!”[xv]
This is one of the key scriptures of our understanding the significance of who Jesus is. But do you remember what Jesus said right before this? He said something about Abraham that I had not known about him for nearly all my Christian life. That is right, all my Christian life. Maybe yours too! Jesus said Abraham rejoiced at the thought of seeing the messiah.
Your father Abraham rejoiced at the thought of seeing my day; he saw it and was glad.”[xvi]
Not only did Abraham rejoice, Jesus said he actually saw the day and was glad. This is the guy to whom the covenant was given to in the first place. This is where the gospel started. This man Abraham saw Jesus’ day. This is the man to whom the promise was given, for him and all his descendents.
Isn’t it something, we search the scriptures because we believe they offer us eternal life. Yet we do not understand the nature of the very gospel we say we put our hope in. We study and think we have eternal life from the gospel held out in the New Testament. Others studied from the Old Testament and were chastised for not seeing what was testified too in those very scriptures.
You diligently study the Scriptures because you think that by them you possess eternal life. These are the Scriptures that testify about me, yet you refuse to come to me to have life.[xvii]
You can argue with me all you want but please as a professing believer don’t argue with the Lord in whom we go to for life. He recognizes and testifies that the scriptures testify about Him. For us skeptics, the only scriptures that were around in Jesus’ day were the Old Testament. The testimony is valid and true. The Old Testament is about Jesus and this is why it was so easy for the apostles to preach the good news of our gospel from the Old Testament.
But look out for me. I am a crafty man who has cleverly twisted the word of God for my own purposes, right? I have misrepresented and misquoted and misunderstood, right? There is no way the Old Testament saints had the same gospel preached to them as we do us.
Forgetting Hebrews for a minute, let us recognize there is only one gospel and it is found in the New Testament starting with the book of Matthew. I am sure you are catching my sarcasm. But isn’t this what we believe in many of our churched circles? Isn’t this what we have come to understand about our gospel? We only put our hope in the gospel of the New Testament. We don’t understand, believe nor teach the gospel announced at Mt. Sinai. The same gospel announced to us. We don’t understand, believe nor teach that Moses wrote about Jesus. We don’t understand, believe nor teach that our hopes our based on the writings of Moses. That is right, the first five books of the Bible.
“I do not accept praise from men, but I know you. I know that you do not have the love of God in your hearts. I have come in my Father’s name, and you do not accept me; but if someone else comes in his own name, you will accept him. How can you believe if you accept praise from one another, yet make no effort to obtain the praise that comes from the only God ? “But do not think I will accuse you before the Father. Your accuser is Moses, on whom your hopes are set. If you believed Moses, you would believe me, for he wrote about me. But since you do not believe what he wrote, how are you going to believe what I say?”[xviii]
If you still wrestle with what I have presented and I have so twisted and perverted the gospel then why is it Jesus testifies Moses wrote about Him? Moses so fully understood and wrote about Jesus that he would accuse the unbelieving before the Father not Jesus. Will Moses accuse us too before the Father for not believing the gospel that has been testified to in scripture? It would be my guess, it would not only be Moses but the Apostles and writers of the New Testament as well. For we search those scriptures for Life yet fail to see the gospel as they presented it to us and have instead believed a gospel that we have received from a church.
Can we all agree the gospel starts quite early in Genesis and God is so kind to keep filling in the details as the centuries ticked away? God starting with Abraham gave us the gospel and started to fill in the details at Mount Sinai in the desert and continued through the prophets. Since we now know according to New Testament scripture this is the case we need to ask ourselves, if our gospel starts so early in the Bible does it bring a challenge to our doctrine? You may say no. But wait!
[i] Acts 28:23
[ii] Romans 1:9-10
[iii] Romans 1:14-17
[iv] Acts 28:23b
[v] Hebrews 4:6
[vi] Hebrews 4:2
[vii] Hebrews 3:6 – 4:6
[viii] Genesis 3:15
[ix] Galatians 3:8
[x] Acts 28:23
[xi] John 1:45
[xii] Luke 24:25-27
[xiii] John 12:37-40
[xiv] John 12:41
[xv] John 8:57-58
[xvi] John 8:56
[xvii] John 5:39-40
[xviii] Jon 5:41-47