Many people obviously have a hard time reconciling the God of the Old Testament with the God of the New Testament....but it's really not as complicated as it appears. In actuality, it is the same God in both places....the one true God. He is exactly the same today as He was 6000 years ago when He created Adam and Eve. God has not changed one iota.
"But He endorsed so much violence in the Old Testament against the enemies of Israel....whereas Jesus was so nonviolent. What's up with that?" Here's what is up with that as explained in the New Testament: "The wrath of God is being revealed from heaven against all the godlessness and wickedness of men who suppress the truth by their wickedness." (Romans 1:18) The "wrath of God" was being revealed in those New Testament days, albeit in a different manner than in the Old Testament. So where was the wrath of God being revealed when the apostle Paul penned these words?
It was revealed in one place primarily....and that was on the cross where the Son of God died. The Gospel was revealed from heaven as the New Testament church began....and "the message of the cross" (1 Cor. 1:18) was a revelation of God's wrath and love. If you want to know how much God hates sin....and how perfectly He abides by His own holiness, just look at the cross and study what happened there. It took the suffering and death of the sinless One in order to bear the wrath of God for sinners like us. We deserved that sentence....but Jesus came and hung in our place, and suffered and died for our sins and for our eternal salvation.
This event was foretold by the prophet Isaiah 700 years before it happened. "He was pierced for our transgressions; He was crushed for our iniquities; the punishment that brought us peace was upon Him, and by His wounds we are healed." (Isaiah 53:5) The future punishment which would be laid upon the Messiah was in the works long before any of God's people understood that this punishment on the cross would provide our only means of forgiveness, spiritual healing, and eternal peace.
The wrath of God delivers punishment to the evildoer. In the case of Christ, a spotless and perfect sacrifice was given for sinners. "Christ was sacrificed once to take away the sins of many people." (Hebrews 9:28) "He is the atoning sacrifice for our sins, and not only for ours but also for the sins of the whole world." (1 John 2:2) As God's Word tells us, "Without the shedding of blood, there is no forgiveness." (Hebrews 9:22)
The animal sacrifices of the Old Testament never took away sins. God's Word declares, "It is impossible for the blood of bulls and goats to take away sins." (Hebrews 10:4) Those sacrifices only pointed to the sacrifice of "the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world." (John 1:29) Everything in the Old Testament was leading up to the cross. The Old Testament and the New Testament are the unfolding of God's plan of redemption over many centuries....and they are perfectly consistent with one another. Both contain God's wrath and love.
If God wasn't perfect in holiness, perhaps He could stand to overlook man's sin. But if God was imperfect in holiness, He would then become progressively more and more evil. An evil God would never love the world and want to save sinners. The God of the universe does not have even a hint of evil within Him. He is perfect in righteousness, truth, love, goodness, justice, and mercy.
In our day, it often appears that those who commit evil seem to get by without God doing something about it....like striking them with a lightning bolt. So where is God's wrath today? Here are some more words from St. Paul regarding those who reject God. "But because of your stubbornness and your unrepentant heart, you are storing up wrath against yourself for the day of God's wrath, when His righteous judgment will be revealed." (Romans 2:5) While Jesus bore the wrath which we deserve....those who reject Christ are actually storing up God's wrath. It will be unleashed against them on "the day of God's wrath" at the end of time.
Just think about that for a minute. People who don't repent and believe the good news are literally "storing up" God's wrath. What a frightening reality! No wonder the Bible tells us, "The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom." (Psalm 111:10) No wonder Jesus said, "Do not be afraid of those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul. Rather, be afraid of the One who can destroy both soul and body in hell." (Matthew 10:28) Jesus loved us enough to tell us the truth....and then to die in our place so we could live in eternal joy and escape God's wrath forever.
Do you honestly think that God will withhold His wrath from those who reject Him when His own Son wasn't spared that horrific punishment on the cross for our sins? Just as Isaiah's prophecy took 700 years but was eventually fulfilled at the cross, so also will the punishment of evildoers be sure and consistent with what God's Word says about it. "It is impossible for God to lie," (Hebrews 6:18) and so He certainly isn't lying about the future punishment of those who choose a life of deliberate sin rather than a life with Christ as their Savior and Lord.
If those who don't know Christ truly believed that God didn't spare His Son, just like He said hundreds of years earlier through Isaiah....then they might also believe that He will not spare them either if they continue to reject Jesus as their Savior. It comes down to reading the history of the Bible, which is really "His Story" of man's fall into sin and God's plan of redemption....and then believing it....and relying upon Christ to save you. It's not complicated when you receive the good news of the Gospel with the faith of a child.
We are the ones who make the Bible complicated by refusing to see the common thread throughout all of Scripture. There doesn't seem to be a connection between the God of the Old Testament and the God of the New Testament....unless you understand the cross. This is where God's wrath for sin and love for sinners was satisfied. Punishment was needed in order to pay for the offenses committed by sinners. Who could bear that punishment? An eternity of suffering on our part could never fully pay for our sins against God. We would always remain debtors to the One who made us.
And so God stepped in and did what only He could do to save us. Here again are some prophetic words from Isaiah: "He saw that there was no one. He was appalled that there was no one to intervene; so His own arm worked salvation for Him, and His own righteousness sustained Him." (Isaiah 59:16) Everything in the Old Testament was leading up to Christ....and pointing to Christ....and preparing the way for Christ to come to earth and save us.
"God presented Christ as a sacrifice of atonement, through faith in His blood. He did this to demonstrate His justice, because in His forbearance He had left the sins committed beforehand unpunished. He did it to demonstrate His justice at the present time, so as to be just and the one who justifies those who have faith in Jesus." (Romans 3:25,26) "For Christ died for sins once for all, the righteous for the unrighteous, to bring you to God." (1 Peter 3:18) That took more love on God's part than you or I can fathom.
"For God so loved the world that He gave His one and only Son, that whoever believes in Him shall not perish but have eternal life." (John 3:16) "This is love: not that we loved God, but that He loved us and sent His Son as an atoning sacrifice for our sins." (1 John 4:10) There is no question about it. As the Scripture says, "God is love." (1 John 4:8)
Don't kid yourself into thinking that God has changed. God was the same during the 4000 years or so of Old Testament history as He has been for the past 2000 years of New Testament history. The timeline has progressed....and the genealogy from Adam to Christ has been completed (see Luke 3:23-38)....and God's plan of salvation has been revealed....but make no mistake about it....God is the same today as when He created Adam and Eve. He is a God of love and justice. The cross proves it. What you now do with Christ's sacrifice for your sins is up to you, as you listen to the Holy Spirit....or to those misguided voices in our world who are busy storing up God's wrath for themselves, rather than getting to know the Father through the Son.
At the end of the day, many questions remain unanswered in our hearts concerning time and eternity. But in the midst of our many questions, God made sure to give us a clear description of the Gospel....because this message "is the power of God for the salvation of everyone who believes." (Romans 1:16) So which will it be for you? An acceptance of God's love for you in the punishment which Jesus bore in your place on the cross....or an unleashing of God's wrath and punishment upon you as one who rejected Christ to your eternal shame and misery? "He who has the Son has life; he who does not have the Son of God does not have life." (1 John 5:12)
Jesus told people in his first sermon, "Repent and believe the good news." (Mark 1:15) A few years later He allowed men to nail Him to a cross as part of God's divine plan of redemption. Is this narrative which has been playing out for the past 6000 years too incredible for you to believe....or is it your lifeline to forgiveness and eternal life in heaven? You don't want to be wrong about this one. Don't take my word for it....take God's Word for it.