As we came to the end of the Old Testament last week, things were looking pretty bad for the people of Israel. The kingdom has split in two, they’d spent years being disobedient to God’s law, most of their kings had been unfaithful and finally the promised curse had fallen on them. They we exiled from the land, first to Assyria (Israel) and then to Babylon (Judah). Jerusalem and the the temple were destroyed. What had happened to God’s promises to Abraham in Genesis 12:1-3? They didn’t have a land, they were scattered as a people and there was no longer any visible sign of God’s rule and blessing (no king or temple).
But the Old Testament doesn’t end quite there. We see some of what happens while they are in exile (for example Esther and the prophets Ezekiel and Daniel) and we see some of the people of God rising to the challenge to be faithful. In fact, once again we see God preserving his people. We know from the prophets that there is hope beyond exile and that hope begins to be fulfilled again in the books of Ezra and Nehemiah, where the temple and the walls of Jerusalem are rebuilt. In fact, we see the people return to some semblance of faithfulness to the law as well.
But it’s not the fulfilment of the promises we expected. When the temple is rebuilt in Ezra there is celebration and weeping (Ezra 3:11-13). The weeping, it seems, is from the older leaders of Israel who recognise that it is a shadow of what it should be. And in the book of Nehemiah, despite the efforts to return to keeping the law, the last chapter (Nehemiah 13) is once again a list of sin and the need for purification. The problem of sin is by no means solved!
In the last book of the Old Testament, Malachi, we read again of Israel’s failure, but we hear of the solution too. A messenger is coming and then the Lord himself will come (Malachi 3:1), the messenger will be like a new Elijah (Malachi 4:5-6) and the Lord will bring both restoration and judgement Malachi 3:2-4, 16-18; 4:1-3).
Then there is 400 years silence until God starts to speak again. Angels start appearing announcing first the birth of the messenger (John the Baptist who will look a lot like Elijah) to Zechariah as he serves in the temple (Luke 1:11-19), then the birth of the Son of God and saving king to a young woman called Mary (Luke 1:26-38). It’s made clear that he is the promised descendent of David, the king who will live and reign forever (Luke 1:32; 2:4; 3:31).
We find out he is God with us (Matthew 1:23; John 1:1, 18). This is the promise of the Lord coming to his temple (Luke 2:22-52). He will bring salvation by saving people from their sins, which is made clear in his name Jesus, which means God saves (see Matthew 1:21; Luke 1:31).
In other words, in Jesus, God is fulfilling all his promises. Here is the one who will crush the serpent’s head (Genesis 3:15), i.e. deal with the problem of sin that has been so persistent throughout the Old Testament. Here is the one who will be king forever in the line of David (2 Samuel 7:13). As we will see, God’s people will become the people who trust in Jesus (hence 12 apostles as the foundation, like the 12 tribes – Luke 6:12-16), those who are in Jesus are in his place (the kingdom of God – Mark 1:15; the temple – John 3:19-22) and they live under his rule, by believing in Jesus as their Lord and Saviour.
The promises are being fulfilled, but how will that happen…?