Jesus was revolutionary in a lot of ways. Dying for our sins and rising from the dead as the first fruits of the resurrection, thereby changing the entire course of eternity, is pretty revolutionary. But you might be surprised how “old” some of the things we associate strictly with Him and His ministry are.
1. Love Your Neighbor As Yourself
“But when the Pharisees heard that Jesus had silenced the Sadducees, they gathered themselves together. One of them, a lawyer, asked Him a question, testing Him, “Teacher, which is the great commandment in the Law?” And He said to him, “‘You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind.’ This is the great and foremost commandment. The second is like it, ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ On these two commandments depend the whole Law and the Prophets” (Matthew 22:34-29).
If you’ve been a Christian for a little while, you’ll surely have heard about the the two greatest commandments, especially the latter. The command “love your neighbor as yourself” pops up everywhere from calls for money to help the poor to people saying we shouldn’t eat at Chick-fil-A because to do eat at a place that is run by those who oppose gay marriage it is not loving to our gay neighbors (which, for reasons that will become clear, is rather silly).
What is often overlooked is the fact that Jesus was quoting the Old Testament. Thus the question that was asked Him, what the greatest commandment in the Law was.
The first commandment is also from the Old Testament, specifically Deuteronomy 6:5.
More specific to what want to focus on here (since the first commandment is a pretty straightforward, absolute statement), is the second commandment, the one that was taught by Jesus who was loving, unlike that cold and stern Old Testament…
Leviticus 19:19 – “You shall not take vengeance, nor bear any grudge against the sons of your people, but you shall love your neighbor as yourself; I am the Lord.”
God has always been one for us loving other people. It is worth noting, however, that this passage is not mean to be taken as a command against opposing sinful behavior. Remember, in Israel under the Old Testament Law (of which “love your neighbor” is a part of), various sins were punishable with death! More importantly, God commanded the death penalty for many of those sins in the very next chapter of Leviticus (Leviticus 20:13)! Obviously we aren’t part of earthly Israel, we aren’t part of God’s earthly theocracy, which is why we don’t stone gay people now. We aren’t part of an assembly that is to gather and carry out God’s earthly judgment against certain evildoers, and I definitely am not in favor of giving our largely pagan, ungodly rulers the kind of mandate that God gave His people. But I digress…
The same could be said for those who insist we never say anything bad about other religions or declare the wickedness of other people’s actions because it will hurt their feelings. I don’t have to tell you what the same Old Testament that Jesus was quoting openly says about those other religions and unrepentantly wicked, high-profile people (hint: the response is usually much harsher than I would even recommend in the modern word of today).
The point is, loving your neighbor was nothing new for God’s people when Jesus came (at least not in theory).
2. Do Not Seek Vengeance
If you’ve ever been around a Christian for a few minutes, or if you have ever been to the Unites States or Europe, no matter what your religion of what religion everyone else is following, you’ll have heard someone talking about “turning the other cheek” when someone is mean to them. It is probably Jesus’ most famous teaching. People who will reject all the silliness of Jesus being the son of God and everything else in the Bible for some reason still love to cite Jesus as an authority on this one point:
“But I say to you, do not resist an evil person; but whoever slaps you on your right cheek, turn the other to him also” (Matthew 5:39)
Even more straightforward is what the lord teaches through Paul in Romans 12:29:
“Never take your own revenge, beloved, but leave room for the wrath of God, for it is written, ‘Vengeance is Mine, I will repay,” says the Lord.'”
When people wrong us, we don’t take vengeance. Worst case scenario, God avenges us (best case is that they eventually repent and turn to Him). That’s a pretty radical idea, right? It is, and it was when it came up in the Law over 1,000 years before….
Leviticus 19:19 – “You shall not take vengeance, nor bear any grudge against the sons of your people, but you shall love your neighbor as yourself; I am the Lord.” Sound familiar (it should; I just quoted it above!).
Admittedly, this appears to apply only to other Israelites, but it does plant the seed. Given the numerous other passages that generally speak of kindness and mercy (Proverbs 11:17, 21:21, Micah 6:8), as well as the commandment to love the alien (i.e. non-Israelite) because the Israelites were once aliens (Deuteronomy 10:18), it is not hard to see that the kind of people God expected the Israelites to be were the kind who would be loving and merciful, not seeking their own vengeance on the alien anymore than they would for one another. It’s not as overt as my first example (where Jesus quoted the Old Testament), but there is a pretty close tie. Jesus didn’t come to tame those who God let be a bunch of barbarians; vengeance has always belonged to God.
You might ask, how can we square that with God’s commands to harshly punish or even kill those who commit various sins in the Old Testament? The answer is along the same lines of why it is okay to have someone who murdered a loved one arrested and sent to prison. The commands are aimed at the individual, not society. We are not to take our own vengeance individually. However, God does allow governments to seek some semblance of justice against evil (Romans 13:4), even though many will never be avenged by government and the fullness of justice against the wicked will not be met out until the next age (whether a person gets away with it or is caught and receives a foretaste of God’s vengeance now). This is probably why, in Matthew 5:39, Jesus uses contrasts “turn the other cheek” with “‘An eye for an eye, and a tooth for a tooth.'” The latter was God’s command, but for the assembly to seek proper justice for crimes against other people, not for one person to do to another. It seems likely (and I have heard it said before) that people were taking these words of God and using it as an excuse to engage in tit-for-tat with others, instead of following Leviticus 19:19. Furthermore, regarding Israel’s government, it was not just a government; it was meant to be God’s government. They were not simply authorized to avenge murders by killing the killers if they saw fit. They were commanded to. When done rightly (i.e. where the person was guilty and not a victim of a mistake or, quite often, false witness against him), it was not the Israelites killing him; it was God killing hm through His people. In our daily lives, we are to forgive, or at the every least, let it go because God will avenge us.
An aside, I just want to say that not seeking vengeance is an enormous test of faith. If we don’t really believe any of this stuff, there is no reason not to get even now. There is no reason not to kill the person who killed your loved one or raped you as a child when you figure out how you could get away with it. There is no reason not to make whoever hurt you hurt just as bad, if we can’t trust that God will avenge us (or perhaps, do in them what He has done in us). Paul’s rationale in Romans 12:19 was specifically that God will avenge us, and that is why we don’t need to seek revenge. Like being burned alive for refusing to deny Christ, it really is one of those things where the only reason to do it is because you believe.
3. Love Your Enemies
““You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy,’ But I say to you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you” (Matthew 5:43-44)
The New Testament elsewhere mimics this message (Romans 12:14; 1 Peter 3:9)
…And so does the Old Testament.
“If your enemy is hungry, give him food to eat;
And if he is thirsty, give him water to drink;
For you will heap burning coals on his head,
And the Lord will reward you.” (Proverbs 25:21-22)
Paul even quotes this passage in Romans 12:20, after telling us to not seek vengeance. The New Testament emphasizes it more, but this is a “New Testament” idea that is totally in the Old Testament.
Now, pouring hot coals on someone’s head doesn’t sound very nice, but the fact is, you do this by doing them good. The exact meaning of the hot coals metaphor is debated, but whether it is to make them feel guilty about treating you badly or whatever else, you do it by being kind, by doing the things Jesus said to do
4. God is Our Father
Pretty much every book of the New Testament at some point makes reference to God being the Father of believers. That we are the “children of God,” the “sons of God,” the “sons and daughters of God,” that God is our Father is something that is hard to be unaware of as a Christian (although the significance of it can of course be overlooked).
You may have heard it said that this is in stark contrast to the great distance placed between people and God in the Old Testament. There is certainly some truth to this; there were more boundaries placed between men and God prior to the coming of Christ. In the temple, for example, no one but the high priest (and only on the day of atonement) could go beyond the curtain into the most holy place. When Jesus died, the curtain famously tore asunder (Matthew 27:51), symbolically showing that the barrier between men and God. had been conquered. And Jews did not often think of God as the their father individually. Unlike the New Testament, such an idea was not common at all in the Hebrew Scriptures…
…But that doesn’t mean that it isn’t there.
“Yet the number of the sons of Israel
Will be like the sand of the sea,
Which cannot be measured or numbered;
And in the place
Where it is said to them,
“You are not My people,”
It will be said to them,
“You are the sons of the living God” (Hosea 1:10).
Paul even applied this verse (together with Hosea 2:23) to Gentiles in Romans Although in context the passage is directly at Israel, I hope I am not shocking anyone when I say that God’s words in scripture can have greater meaning than just what they meant in their immediate context. Part of being an inspired New Testament author is presumably being inspired to know what additional, secondary meanings God’s words have. Here, God is declaring people as respective sons/children of His.
Although less direct, we have several comparisons of God to a Father (and occasionally even to a mother) in the Old Testament:
“Just as a father has compassion on his children / So the Lord has compassion on those who fear Him” (Psalm 103:13).
“Can a woman forget her nursing child
And have no compassion on the son of her womb?
Even these may forget, but I will not forget you [Zion]” (Isaiah 49:15)
“As a mother comforts her child,
so will I comfort you;
and you will be comforted over Jerusalem” (NIV, Isaiah 66:13).
“When Israel was a youth I loved him,
And out of Egypt I called My son.
The more they called them,
The more they went from them;
They kept sacrificing to the Baals
And burning incense to idols.
Yet it is I who taught Ephraim to walk,
I took them in My arms;
But they did not know that I healed them” (Hosea 11:1-3).
It was not totally unheard of for Israelites to call God their father individually. After all, God Himself rhetorically asks of the unfaithful:
“Have you not just now called to Me / ‘My Father, You are the friend of my youth…? (Jeremiah 3:4).
After calling the Israelites to repentance,
God then declared.
Then I said,
‘How I would set you among My sons
And give you a pleasant land,
The most beautiful inheritance of the nations!’
And I said, ‘You shall call Me, My Father,
And not turn away from following Me’
So then, while God as a father is not nearly as ubiquitous of a theme in the Old Testament as in the New (and even rarer are mentions of Him as a father to individuals), it is there nonetheless.
And there you have it; you’re mind has been blown (unless you have read the Bible enough to know this stuff already) 😉
New American Standard Bible (NASB). N.p.: Lockman Foundation, 1995. Biblegateway.com. Web. 6 Jun. 2011. <http://www.biblegateway.com/versions/New-American-Standard-Bible-NASB/>.
Unless otherwise noted, all scripture is quoted from the New American Standard Bible (NASB). Scripture taken from the NEW AMERICAN STANDARD BIBLE®, Copyright © 1960,1962,1963,1968,1971,1972,1973,1975,1977,1995 by The Lockman Foundation. Used by permission.