You have probably heard the statement “God in the Old Testament is a God of wrath while God in the New Testament is a God of love.” People who say this somehow think that God has multiple personalities. At the very core is a fundamental misunderstanding of what both the Old Testament and the New Testament reveal about the nature of God.
The canon of Scripture is a progressive revelation of God to us that reveals His relationship with mankind throughout history. And if you don’t take whole books and passages and verses in context, if you don’t read the whole counsel of God, you might come to the conclusion that God changes; and that the Old Testament God is harsh and brutal while the New Testament God is like a loving and kind Father. World-renowned atheist Richard Dawkins said that “The God of the Old Testament is arguably the most unpleasant character in all fiction.” But if you read the Old Testament and the New Testament, it becomes clear that God does not change from Old to New Testament. God’s wrath and God’s love are revealed in both testaments.
First, there is the Old Testament. While it is true that there is a much bloodshed in those first thirty nine books; that God deals very harshly with sin and the consequences are very serious; that God floods the earth and only a handful of people live; that God commands the genocide of the Amalekites; one thing is declared over and over. And it is that God is “compassionate and gracious, slow to anger, and abounding in lovingkindness and truth”. You see this in Joel 2:13. In Nehemiah 9:17. In Deuteronomy 4:31. David, who was disciplined very severely for his actions of murder and adultery, cries this three times in Psalm 86:15, Psalm 103:8 and Psalm 145:8.
In the New Testament, God’s lovingkindness is manifested fully in His Son. We know this from John 3:16. And 1 John 4:10 tells us that He loved us and sent His Son to atone for our sins. But the New Testament is also where you get the book of Revelation and the four gospels. In the book of Revelation, we see more of God’s wrath poured out on unbelievers than anywhere else in the Old Testament. And how do we know about the reality of hell? Because Jesus preached about it.
I think it’s quite interesting how some will say that the God of the New Testament is not wrathful. A brother recently pointed out to me that God’s wrath is even more evident in the New Testament. There is no mention of hell in the Old Testament. And you might hear a variety of different thoughts on what happens to the wicked when they die from orthodox Jews. According to the Talmud, which is their book of traditions, “The judgement of the wicked in purgatory is twelve months.” And according to one website I was looking at, Jews believe that the soul of a dead man who has unpaid debts or stolen something may be placed into the body of a child soon to be born.
But in the New Testament Jesus preached about hell. He preached about it a lot. And when He preached about it, He laid out for us all the horrific details about a never ending, conscious torment. That’s probably one of the reasons the Pharisees hated Him so much. Because He preached about the reality of unbelievers burning for eternity. And what could be more wrathful than that?
So our conclusion must be this: God’s holiness demands that sin be punished. But He is also gracious and merciful to those who repent and believe. James 1:17 tells us that with God “there is no variation or shifting shadow.” And while the violence in the Old Testament may be difficult to read at times, our Father in heaven is omniscient and infinitely wise. Romans 11:22 reminds us that God is both kind and severe. And also, read your bible. All of it, both Old and New Testament.