The spiritual malady of ignoring the Old Testament is epidemic in the Church today, and it is a serious problem because there is no way to understand the New Testament without knowledge of the Old Testament.
For example, Jesus is referred to by Paul in 1 Corinthians 15:20 as the "first fruits" of those to be resurrected. There is no way to understand that expression apart from a knowledge of the Old Testament sacrificial system.
In like manner, Jesus is referred to in the book of Hebrews as the "High Priest of our confession" (Hebrews 3:1) and as "a high priest according to the order of Melchizedek" (Hebrews 5:10). These terms have no meaning apart from a knowledge of the interaction between Abraham and Melchizedek and the role of the High Priest as revealed in the Hebrew Scriptures.
Another Personal Experience
Let me give you another example of the significance of Old Testament ignorance. When I was growing up in an Amillennial church, one of the statements I heard in sermons over and over again was, "There is not one verse in the Bible that even implies that Jesus will ever put his feet on this earth again."
You can imagine how surprised I was when, at the age of 12, I accidently discovered Zechariah 14:1-9 where it states point blank that the Messiah will return to the Mount of Olives and that when His feet touch the ground, the mountain will split in half.
I took this passage to my pastor and asked him what it meant. He studied it in silence for a long time, and then he said, "Son, I don't know what these verses mean, but I can guarantee you that they do not mean what they say!"
Later I discovered that Zechariah 14 is not the only place in the Old Testament where the Scriptures state that Jesus will return to this earth. Consider, for example, Ezekiel 43:7 where Jesus, in a pre-incarnate appearance, takes Ezekiel on a visionary tour of the Millennial Temple, and in the midst of that tour, He says, "Son of man, this is the place of My throne and the place of the soles of My feet, where I will dwell among the sons of Israel forever..."
I think it is also significant to note that the prophet Ezekiel states that when the Lord returns, the name of the city of Jerusalem will be changed to "Yahweh-Shammah," meaning "The Lord is there."
A knowledge of Old Testament prophecy is particularly necessary to the understanding of New Testament prophecy. Revelation and Daniel fit together like a hand in a glove. Neither one can be understood apart from the other.
The book of Revelation contains more than 300 quotes or references to Old Testament passages, and not a single one is identified. A person without knowledge of the Old Testament could read the book of Revelation and never realize how interlaced it is with Old Testament prophecy. Consider the theme of the book that is found in Revelation 1:7 —
Behold, He is coming with the clouds, and every eye will see Him, even those who pierced Him; and all the tribes of the earth will mourn over Him.
This statement is made up of two quotes from the Old Testament put end-to-end. The first is found in Daniel 7:13 and the second in Zechariah 12:10.
The Significance of the Old Testament
The Apostle Paul emphasized the importance of the Old Testament when he wrote the following words to Timothy:
...from childhood you have known the sacred writings which are able to give you the wisdom that leads to salvation through faith which is in Christ Jesus (2 Timothy 3:15).
Most Christians read these words and assume that Timothy must have had a New Testament that he studied from. Not so. The New Testament had not yet been written and compiled when Paul addressed these words to Timothy. When Paul referred to "the sacred writings," he was talking about what we call today the Old Testament. And the point he was making is that Jesus' fulfillment of Old Testament prophecies about His First Coming was sufficient to produce faith in Jesus as the promised Messiah.
Paul proceeded in that letter to Timothy to state that "all scripture is inspired by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, for training in righteousness..." (2 Timothy 3:16). The term, "all scripture," means exactly what it says. It refers to both the New Testament and the Old Testament.
Evangelism Based on the Old Testament
The very first Gospel sermon ever preached — Peter's sermon on Pentecost — was based entirely on Old Testament prophecies. All Peter did from the beginning of the sermon to the end was to quote an Old Testament prophecy about the Messiah and then proclaim that Jesus had fulfilled it (Acts 2:14-36).
Phillip the evangelist took the same approach when he was confronted with the Ethiopian eunuch, a devout Jew who had been to Jerusalem to observe the feasts and was returning home to Africa (Acts 8:26-39). He discovered that the man was reading an Old Testament passage from Isaiah about the Messiah coming as a "suffering lamb" (Isaiah 53:1-9).
Phillip explained the passage to the Ethiopian, and the man accepted the fact that Jesus had fulfilled it. In response, he was baptized. He then continued on his way, rejoicing that he had found the Messiah.
In the next part of this series on the Millennium in the Old Testament, we'll look at the Messianic prophecies found in the book of Isaiah.