The Old Testament, though before God’s revelation through Jesus Christ, preluded God’s radical mission for the New Testament church using various motifs. By exploring God’s mission in the Old Testament, Christians today can see how history was leading up to Christ and our own mission today.
Looking at the Apostle Paul’s story for inspiration, he was a meticulous law-keeping Pharisee. When he learned of The Way–what Christians called themselves at the time–he set about trying to squelch it to extinction, seeing it as a perversion of his holy Judaic system of belief. All this changed when he actually met Jesus. Realizing for the first time the heart of who God is, he completely changed his worldview on salvation and righteousness before God. He realized it is through Jesus we have both salvation and righteousness (Acts 9:1-20)–and that gift is for all people.
This point in seeing Jesus as the foundation of faith does not, however, devalue our written foundation for knowing God better. We can follow the Acts 9 passage a couple more verses and see that Paul certainly knew the scriptures well enough to confound the Jews about his recent revelation of Jesus (Acts 9:20-22). Spending time in God’s book is a key for a deeper understanding of who God is, communing with Him and better understanding our calling. When we spend time in God’s word, we can begin to see the overall story of Scripture leads up to this point. Johannes Verkuyl identifies four particular key themes from the Old Testament that contribute to the overall story. As Verkuyl terms them, there’s the Universal Motif, the Motif of Rescue and Liberation, the Missionary Motif, and the Antagonistic Motif. 1
The Universal Motif recognizes how God was always the Lord of everyone and not just of the clan of Abraham or later Israel. God selected Israel as His chosen people but also to be the body through which He would bless the world, not exclude them. “He deals so intently with Israel precisely because he is maintaining his personal claim on the whole world,” Verkuyl notes 2.
This flows directly into the motifs of mission and of rescue and liberation. It was always God’s intention that Israel would share her blessing and freedom from the dark powers of the world with the nations around them. But this was a concept that Israel never grasped very well. Those God raised up as prophets to Israel had to constantly remind the people that God wasn’t about to allow Israel to treat these blessings as “a privilege which she may selfishly keep for herself” and that election, in God’s mind, means a call to service. 3 Thankfully, Israel’s performance wasn’t the extent of God’s plan.
All throughout the Old Testament, you find God fighting against the spiritual powers and forces that contest His gracious, redemptive authority, 4 something He did with or without the cooperation of His elect ones. The epitome of the Antagonistic Motif finds itself in the self-sacrificing act of God’s son Jesus dying to destroy the power of evil over those who claim and worship Him.
The important thing to take away from these themes is that God hasn’t changed. The same way He worked during the Old Testament times He worked when the church began in the New Testament and He works today through His followers’ sharing the life He gives with those around them and far beyond.
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Daniel Casella graduated from Harding with degrees in journalism and missions in December 2015. Earlier that year, he started a blog that he uses to share stories of the work of God’s Spirit all over the world. Daniel currently lives in Searcy, AK seeking the ways God is leading him to be a light to those around him and developing him for future work in His Kingdom.