When we read any novel or book, where do we begin? Of course at the beginning, you'd say. It's a no brainer. And the Bible is no different really. I don't know about you, but sometimes I do struggle with reading the Bible. Certain chapters don't make sense. Narratives are easier, but when it comes to law and poetry, sometimes things seem complicated. Is it just for the intellectual few? No!
In this new series, we'll consider what the Bible's storyline is all about. Sometimes we think we know these things and assume that we've understood everything, but it really is worth pausing and reconsidering what the Bible says about itself, about God and about us. Ready? Let's begin right at the beginning, in Genesis to consider who God is and what is God's initial plan for you and me.
But before we look at the content of the Bible, the Bible presupposes some things. The Bible's story has been written in a way that assumes:
- One author. God (who works through human authors)
- One subject. Jesus Christ and the Salvation God offers through Him (John 5:39)
- One book. It really is one big story though there are many books of the Bible. Yet, each verse and chapter has to be read in a larger context -- of the book and the one big storyline that runs through the entire Bible!
A key theme running through the Bible from cover to cover is the kingdom framework -- God's people living in God's place and under God's rule and blessing. Let's see how this theme is fleshed out in the entire Bible! It's going to be long, so hang in there! But it'll be worth it.
The pattern of the kingdom (Genesis 1 and 2)
The opening chapters of the Bible tells us how God's kingdom should be. God is a creator and He existed as a trinity in the beginning. He is THE eternal being alone. God describes His creation as good (1:31) and human beings are the pinnacle of God's creation. In this paradise, relationships were perfect. God and human beings had a perfect relationship (2:17), man and woman had no conflict between them (2:25) and so did humans and creation (2:15).
The perished kingdom (Genesis 3)
But the perfection of Genesis 1 and 2 did not last. Adam and Eve sinned. What's wrong with eating the fruit? They sinned when they ate the fruit when God explicitly told them not to. The pattern of the kingdom established in Genesis 1 and 2 was that rule is by God's word. Sin is not just how they were eating the fruit. In doing so, they were not just breaking God's law, but also creating their own law. That's sin -- a rebellion against God, being their own "god", de-godding God. There were consequences as a result of sin. The world and relationships were cursed. Broken relationships ensued in every way.
- God and human (3:9, 24). Man goes into hiding although God calls for them. God has to banish them out of paradise.
- Man and woman (3:7, 16). Man rules over the wife, in not a loving way. For the woman, her desire will be for or against the man, and in either cases, their relationship will be strained.
- Human beings and creation (3:17-18). Work will be difficult, as even creation will rebel against the rule of man.
The chapters that follow Genesis 3 shows us the increasing corruption and wickedness of man.
- First murder, and one within a family (Genesis 4)
- First mortality in the genealogy (Genesis 5) The flood (Genesis 6-9)
- Tower of Babel (Genesis 11)
The promised kingdom (Genesis 12:1-3)
Nestled within the curse pronounced on the serpent, man and woman in Genesis is a tiny glimmer of hope. Genesis 3:15 speaks of the serpent crusher. God gives His promise that He will provide an offspring from the woman who will crush the serpent, crush and defeat satan and reverse the curse. In a broken and fallen world that is often depressing, God's promise is somethign that we can take delight and look forward to where God reverses the curse! But how was God going to fulfill his purposes? God calls Abraham and makes a covenant with him in Genesis 12:1-3. A covenant is basically a secure promise. This is the beginning of God's redemptive plan to reverse the curse. God does it by calling His people through making a covenant with His people. In His covenant, he promised land, people and that through Abraham and his offspring, all the nations will be blessed. God was beginning to reveal his plan of blessing to undo the curse.
The partial kingdom (Genesis 12 to 2 Chronicles)
This section of the Old Testament records for us the expansion of God's people. From one man, Abraham and his wife, Sarah, we begin to see how God slowly blessed their family into a tribe by the end of Genesis. Yet, at the end of Genesis we realised that they are in the wrong place -- Egypt, and they needed to return to the land they were promised, Canaan.
Exodus 1-18, then, records for us God's deliverance of His people from Egypt. God chose Moses to work His redemptive plan, which involved the burning bush and plagues, and these continue to remind the people of who He is. The Passover is the final plague, and through it, the people could clearly see God's gracious hand of deliverance.
Exodus 19 to Leviticus tells us of God's rule and blessing, as He blesses them with His law. Their obedience to the law did not earn them their deliverance from Egypt. Rather, their obedience to God's law is a response to the salvation from Egypt that they received from God. The detailed laws and stipulations in Leviticus was designed to show that even the best people cannot keep God's law. Specifically, it was to remind the people that there is no forgiveness of sins without any sacrifice (Leviticus 17:11, Hebrews 9:22). But God still desired a relationship with His people, and the tabernacle is a way for God's people to come and worship Him then.
Numbers to Joshua record for us how God's people travelled to God's promised place -- from Mt Sinai to the border of the Promised Land. It was a short journey, yet because of their disobedience, they were delayed (Numbers). At the brink of the Promised Land, there was a retelling of their story and the law, with its blessing and curse was reiterated (Deuteronomy). At the end of this book, Moses dies and Joshua was the new leader. The book of Joshua tells us about the conquest of the Promised Land. Judges and following speaks of God's king, something first promised in Gen 49:10.
The book of Judges show the nation in cycles of sin and grace. After Joshua's rule, the people often rebelled against God's rule, worshipped other Gods and did as they pleased. God judges them by allowing them to be defeated, then He gives them a judge to deliver His people out of the defeat. Judges 21:25 at a king.
The book of 1 Samuel begins with a priest leading God's people. Yet, the the elders ask Samuel to appoint them a king, because they wanted to be like the other nations. Till now, God's people unlike other nations did not have a "king" in human form because God was supposed to be their King. But God gave them Saul. However, Saul faltered and failed, and God raised David to be the king for HIs people. 2 Samuel records the the reign of David.
1 Kings 1-11 records for us the reign of David's wise son, Solomon and this was the golden age of Israel, because they had everything -- God's people in God's place and under God's rule and blessing. Solomon builds the temple. Yet, things soon turned bad. Solomon marries foreign wives, disobeying God's command. 1 Kings 12- 2Kings 25 records for us the nation's disobedience, division and decline. Eventually, Israel and Judah split into the Northern kingdom and Southern kingdom respectively. Assyrians attached Samaria and the northern kingdom. Babylonians attacked southern kingdom (Judah). 1 & 2 Chronicles focus on the history of southern kingdom and provides a genealogy from Israel to David. God's people faced His judgment and this partial kingdom disintegrates.
The prophesied kingdom
God uses prophets as His mouthpieces to proclaim His word during the period of exile. They spoke of themes of judgment and hope -- a new exodus, Jerusalem, judgment and king. God promised a remnant that He will raise up (Isaiah 10:20-21) and deliver in a new exodus (Jeremiah 16:24-15). He promises to send a servant to accomplish this task (Isaiah 53:5-6), and this time, it is not just for Israel but for the nations as well (Isaiah 49:6).
The prophets also spoke of God's place, this time as a new temple (Ezekiel 40-48) and new creation (Isaiah 65:17-18). God's rule and blessing continued with the promise of a new covenant (Jeremiah 31:31,33) and new king (Isaiah 9:6-7). In the return of the exiles in Ezra and Nehemiah, we see God's peple rebuilding the temple and rebuilding the walls of Jerusalem, tiny steps in restoring the kingdom they lost. The prophets prophesied post- exile, as they continued to point the people to the day when all that has been promised will be fulfilled.
The 4 wisdom books function as less of a historical account, but mainly answer existential questions about God. These books were meant to tell God's people about how life in God's kingdom should be lived.
And so, the Old Testament ends.
The Present kingdom
The first book of the New Testament, Matthew, begins with a genealogy. It speaks of the birth of Jesus Christ -- the long-awaited fulfillment of God's promises (people, place and rule/blessing).
- Jesus Christ as God's people. Just as Adam was the head of the human race, Jesus is the head of God's people. In Him, sinful man can be made a new creation. Just as how Israel was to show the world how God's people were to live in His world, Jesus gathered a people under His name, as the true Israel, to make for Himself a holy people.
- Jesus Christ as God's place. Worship in the Old testament was restricted to the tabernacle, yet in Jesus, God tabernacled with man ( John 1:14). Jesus was the way, the truth and the life, and the true temple (John 2:27) where people could meet God.
- Jesus Christ as God's rule and blessing. The scepter that will never leave Judah leads to Jesus. The laws of Leviticus speak of a need for a sacrifice to atone for sins. Jesus Christ is the sacrificial Lamb that was slain, to pay the price completely. He establishes a new covenant in His blood (Matthew 5:17, Galatians 3:13-14 Hebrews 9:15). He has come as King to usher in the reign of His Kingdom. All that we see in the OT foreshadow and point to what is to come, the savior, Jesus Christ.
The kingdom of God is here, but not completely fulfilled. God's message is being proclaimed now, until He comes again a second time. Pentecost (Acts 2) speaks of the Holy Spirit filling God's people as they accomplish His work.
- God's people in the church is the new Israel in this age (1 Peter 2:9, Romans. 2:28-29).
- God's dwelling and place is no longer in a tabernacle or temple, but in His Spirit-filled holy people (1 Corinthians 6:19-20, Ephesians 2:20-22).
- What about God's rule? His people have a redemption through Christ, who fulfilled the demands of the law completely. And His people, given His Spirit, are able to obey the law (Rom 7:6).
We look forward to the fulfillment of God's rule and kingdom. There will be a throne in heaven with Christ the King (Revelation 5:6). The old will pass away (Rev 17-20) and the new will come -- a new creation (Rev 21-1,4), new Jerusalem (Rev 21:2, 7:4-9) but there will be no need for a new temple (Rev 21:22).
When the serpent crusher, Jesus comes again, we look forward to all things being made new, the curse being completely undone (Rev 22:20-21).
Overwhelmed? Here's a table that summarises everything. And with that, we have basically covered the entire story of all the Bible.
But we're not done. The Bible will just be any other book if it does not have any application for you? What does the story of all the Bible mean for us today? Why is it important for us to know the story of all the Bible? These questions are important in distinguishing our daily approach to the Bible - either as yet another storybook or historical text, or a book for daily living with the King. How does knowing all these help you to grow in love for Jesus Christ, the promised serpent crusher, the true Adam, the true Israel, the true King? Bonus: Slideshow summary of all the above The Story of the Bible