One of the first things to do in coming to an Old Testament book is to check for any explicit quotations of that book in the New Testament. This is important because these quotations in their New Testament contexts form the basis for understanding how the New Testament authors saw Jesus Christ in the Scriptures and how they understood the previous revelation to be speaking to their time in light of the coming of the Messiah.
Habakkuk 1.5 is the first such passage that is picked up in the New Testament. It reads:
Look among the nations! Observe! Be astonished! Wonder! Because I am doing something in your days--you would not believe if you were told.These are the Lord's first words in response to the cries of Habakkuk in his painful confusion and questioning as to why God is not responding to the evil in the midst of Judah (1.2-4). God's response is to begin speaking of the judgment that is to come upon Judah at the hands of the Chaldeans (1.6). Verse five is an arresting declaration of God's sovereign judgment about to begin. Context is important here because I've seen this verse used as the theme verse for a mission's conference year's ago. The organizers of the conference saw the language of "nations" and how God was doing something "astonishing" and, presto--theme verse for world missions! Not a good use of Scripture. The context is God's just judgment upon his own people for their willful rebellion against his law and the subsequent violence that ensues. (Note: the language of "violence" is used seven times--1.2, 3, 9; 2.8, 12, 17--as well as related words such as "destruction" and "strife")
The apostle Paul quotes Habakkuk 1.5 in his sermon at Pisidian Antioch found in Acts 13.16-41. Acts 13 is a significant chapter. It deals with the beginnings of Paul's first missionary journey. It gives us Luke's recitation of Paul's first sermon to the Jewish synagogue. It also serves as the transition point of Paul's moving to the Gentiles as the Jewish community of Pisidian Antioch rejects the message of Messiah Jesus (Acts 13.44-47).
Paul's sermon in Acts 13 begins by setting the covenantal context with particular focus on the Davidic promises (the parallels with Peter's first sermon in Acts are noteworthy even including the use of the same prooftext--Psalm 16). Paul speaks of the death and resurrection of Jesus. It is through this one who has been raised from the dead that forgiveness of sins in offered:
Therefore let it be known to you, brethren, that through him forgiveness of sins is proclaimed to you, and through him everyone who believes is freed from all things, from which you could not be freed through the Law of Moses. (Acts 13.38-39)It is at this point, in the conclusion, that Paul urges a response by the use of Habakkuk 1.5.
Therefore, take heed, so that the thing spoken of in the Prophets may not come upon you: "Behold, you scoffers, and marvel, and perish; for I am accomplishing a work in your days, a work which you will never believe, though someone should describe it to you."That is how Paul ends the sermon. It is meant to be an exhortative prod that moves his hearers to belief in Jesus. The failure to heed this message of the risen Messiah will bring judgment--a judgment like what the Prophets spoke about in the time of Judah's rebellion against the word of the Lord.
Where is Jesus in Habakkuk? The threat of divine judgment administered in a striking and sovereign manner cannot be dismissed as "just for them" way back in history. God's surprising ways include a crucified and risen Messiah. Judgment will be a reality for all those who do not heed this message of the risen Jesus and find their refuge in him (Psalm 2.12). But for those who heed this message the threat of judgment is no more: "Much more then, having now been justified by his blood, we shall be saved from the wrath of God through him" (Romans 5.9).