In this series, Dr. Dane Ortlund, Senior Vice President for Bible Publishing at Crossway, answers readers' questions about the Bible. If you have a question for Dane, simply leave it as a comment at the bottom of this post.
Q: Why are there two testaments in the Bible?
“. . . on whom the end of the ages has come.” – 1 Corinthians 10:11
Why are there two Testaments in the Bible? In short: Because the end of history took place in the middle of history, dividing all of human time into two basic eras. The structure of the Bible reflects this reality. The Old Testament is the book about the first era. The New Testament is the book about the second era.
Understanding Where We Are in the Story
We tend to think about human history like a long novel with a beginning and an end. God started it all, and one day he’ll end it all. And at some point along the way Jesus showed up and told people how to be sure they were on the right side on that final day.
That’s true enough, so far as it goes. But consider what the New Testament actually says about where we are in human history.
Jesus said, “The time is fulfilled” (Mark 1:15). Paul said that we are those “on whom the end of the ages has come” (1 Corinthians 10:11). Peter said that the Messiah has now been “made manifest in the last times” (1 Peter 1:20). John said “it is the last hour” (1 John 2:8, 18). What in the world does all this mean?
It means [inlinetweet prefix="" tweeter="" suffix=""]the new age that the Old Testament prophets spoke of, and which every human heart longs for, has arrived.[/inlinetweet]
It means that salvation through the gospel answers not only a what question (you are now forgiven) and a who question (you are now a child of God) but also a when question (you are now living in the new creation).
Old Testament Fulfillments
Sound audacious? Look at it this way. What were the major things the Old Testament people of God were longing for? What did they envision “the end” looking like?
From the perspective of the Old Testament, a cluster of world-shaking events would take place in the final days:
- Messiah would come
- God’s enemies would be defeated
- the Fall in Eden would be undone
- sin would be judged
- the nations would stream to Jerusalem
- the dead would be raised
- God’s people would be vindicated over their enemies
- God’s latter-day kingdom would be ushered in
From the vantage point of the New Testament, every one of these expectations has been fulfilled.
- Messiah has come (Romans 1:3–4).
- God’s enemies were decisively “triumphed over”—not on a battlefield, but on a cross (Colossians 2:13–14).
- A second Adam has succeeded where the first Adam failed—in being tempted by Satan, for example (Luke 3:38–4:13). Or consider that the second Adam’s exorcisms (driving demons out of people) were a middle-of-time accomplishing of what Adam failed to do (driving Satan out of Eden).
- Sin was judged once and for all, at the cross. The cross was the end-time judgment on sin, all funneled down onto one man (Romans 5:9; 1 Thessalonians 5:9).
- The Gentiles are now flooding in as never before (Romans 15:8–27).
- In Christ, the dead have been raised. Paul says believers have been “raised with Christ” (Ephesians 2:6; Colossians 3:1; cf. Romans 6:4).
- God’s people have been vindicated in their justification (Romans 5:1). The declaration of “innocent” anticipated at the end of time has been announced in the present based on a middle-of-history event.
- And finally, as Jesus himself said, the kingdom is here (Mark 1:15; cf. Acts 20:25; 28:31; Romans 14:17). We are now in the last days (Hebrews 1:2).
Objection: Then why is my life filled with so much pain and despair and sorrow and darkness? I certainly don’t feel, you might say, swept up in this glorious new age.
Answer: Because the old age has continued steamrolling right alongside the new.
The reason that most days we roll out of bed and do not feel like we’re living in the new age is that we’re not only living in the new age but also in the old one. [inlinetweet prefix="" tweeter="" suffix=""]Christians today live in the overlap of the ages.[/inlinetweet] Our fundamental identity now resides in the new age—this is who we now are. It’s what defines us. But sin and weakness and sadness clings.
The End Is Here
All this is why there are two Testaments. The Old Testament is the story of the creation of the world, the inbreaking of sin and evil and darkness, and the beginning of God’s plan to get us back to Eden again. The New Testament tells us that plan has been decisively put into action, through a baby in a manger.
This child would grow up and eventually be rejected and killed. But he went through death and out the other side, being given a body that ate fish (John 21:9–12) and could be touched
(John 20:27), but which could walk through walls (John 20:26) and was often unrecognizable (John 20:14).
And [inlinetweet prefix="" tweeter="" suffix=""]when believers look at that resurrected Christ, we see our future.[/inlinetweet] Jesus as resurrected is the “firstfruits,” the first instance of the kind of human all believers will one day be
(1 Corinthians 15:20–23). In him, the future has dawned in the present. And when sinners are united to him, we begin to experience that future now. That’s the message of the New Testament.
The fundamental question, the question beneath every other question, the one that defines your existence above all else, is: What age do you belong to?
Do you have a question about the Bible? Leave it as a comment and we'll try to answer it in a future post!
Dane C. Ortlund (PhD, Wheaton College) is Senior Vice President for Bible Publishing at Crossway. He is the author of several books, including Edwards on the Christian Life: Alive to the Beauty of God (August 2014), and serves as an editor for the Knowing the Bible study series. He lives with his wife, Stacey, and their four kids in Wheaton.