My buddy Dustin sometimes talks about this idea that always seems unsettling to me. He says that we ought to consider that the New Covenant, the status of our relationship with God after the resurrection of Christ, might not be the second half of a two-chapter story. Perhaps there were earlier chapters before the written record of the Bible, which God has not judged necessary to reveal to us because it’s not part of our salvation history. This might explain some of the discrepancies* between scientific and Biblical understandings of the distant past.
Or, and this is the more unsettling and more relevant suggestion, perhaps there is a next chapter. We understand Jesus as the Messiah promised in the OT who will come again at the end of the world, as promised in the NT. But what if there are more visits planned between now and the end of the world? What if there are even Newer Covenants to be revealed to us. Now, I’m not suggesting that this is true or that there is any evidence for it, but I think it’s useful to think about how unnerving that is, how dissonant with our understanding of Scripture and God and the world.
Now, that feeling is likely what the Jews of, say, 400-100 BC would have had if you told them that the Messiah was going to come in the form of a rural carpenter’s son, initiate the Kingdom of Heaven on earth, die without a single political or military accomplishment, rise from the grave, ascend into Heaven, and then come back in the indefinitely distant future to wrap things up. They would either reject your idea out of hand or be disturbed by the implications that it would have on their worldview, religion, and identity. They would not be able to see any evidence of such a sequence of events in any of the Scriptures. Sure, we can read Isaiah 53 or Psalm 110 and see those prophecies in hindsight (and I’m not suggesting we’re wrong to do so), but the average Jew in the centuries before Jesus would not have found anything in his religious study or practice that prepared him for what was going to happen. In the same way, there could very well be implications and connections in our Scripture — OT and NT — that could, in hindsight, be seen as prophecies for an unexpected third/next chapter in God’s story.
Again, I don’t think this is true. I’ve never heard someone suggest something specific in this regard. Dustin’s objective (I gather) is to be open-minded about how we form our expectations of God based on our understanding of Scripture. My objective is to relate this back to the Jewish experience in the first century to better understand how revolutionary the Christian claim of a New Covenant actually was.
* Of course, this notion of a discrepancy presumes a literal reading of the Bible as scientific historical text, which is problematic at best. Instead of ‘discrepancy,’ we could say that this hypothetical prologue or pre-Old Testament chapter could account for the gaps in our understanding of the more figurative/spritual/metaphysical language in that part of the Scriptures.