My goal over the next hour is to give you an overview of the main events and themes in the Bible. I want you to walk away with a feel for the big picture so that you can appreciate how an individual passage fits into the Bible’s overall story. When we study a passage in isolation without an understanding the big picture, when we lack a broader context, we risk missing its power, richness and full meaning. (e.g. 9/11 – meaningless symbols without the historical perspective we have today.)
Overview of the Bible
What would you expect if you read a book that was written by dozens of people living over a period of 2000 years, a book written by authors from three different continents and a variety of cultures in four different languages? The end result would no doubt be a mish-mash of unconnected stories, ideas, and sayings.
Instead, what we find when we read the Bible is a well crafted story, complete with main characters, a developing plot line, a climax and conclusion. The authors of the Bible were separated by time, culture, geography and language, yet taken together, the books they wrote reveal that a single author, God himself, was behind the scenes crafting an amazing story. Hopefully, by the end of this overview, you’ll have a deeper appreciation for the incredible story recorded in the Bible.
The Bible doesn’t open with people seeking God. Rather we read that God is active and involved in creation, creating all that is, and creating and interacting with man.
God created humans in his own image, his own likeness. Because they bore God’s image, Adam and Eve were able to enjoy close, personal interaction with him. God also gave mankind the authority to rule over his creation and over every creature that moves on the ground.
Unlike a McDonald’s play land, which is a nice, safe, padded environment designed to keep kids from being injured, the world that God created contained real dangers for its inhabitants.
There was an enemy moving freely in the Garden, the serpent, Satan. He wanted to drive a wedge between God and man.
There was also a choice, represented by the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, to trust God or to disobey him. God told Adam and Eve not to eat from the fruit of this tree. If they obeyed God and trusted him, they could enjoy his presence and share his dominion over creation. But if they ate the fruit, this act of disobedience would be a rejection of God’s authority. It would call his goodness into question. And instead of enjoying his presence, they would have to strike out on their own.
We know what happened. Adam and Eve chose to eat the forbidden fruit. The Bible calls this decision the “fall” and here, for the first time, sin enters the human race.
Two terrible things happened when they bit into that fruit:
- They were separated from God
- They lost dominion over the creation that they shared with God
Separation from God...
Think of how painful it would have been, after being in regular close contact with God, to be driven out of the Garden and away from his presence. He kicked them out of the house, so to speak, and slammed the door. He posted an angel to keep them from finding the tree of life; they couldn’t return to his presence again.
So many things changed that day. Adam and Eve lost...
- ... a sense of who God was, because they called God’s character into question. And, as the narrative in Genesis unfolds, we see people’s view of God become more and more distorted.
- ... a sense of God’s image in their own lives. They turned increasingly away from God and did things that no longer reflected his image.
- ... the very presence of God because they were cast away from him.
e.g. I have a friend who’s brother is on death row. His brother killed two men in southern Ohio and he’s awaiting his execution. He’s under a death sentence for what he did... and that’s the place the Bible puts human beings in. We’ve violated God’s character and stand under a sentence of death.
Instead of sharing rule with God, humans are now under the rule of God’s enemy, Satan. The whole world, according to John, “lies in the power of the evil one.” In Ephesians 2, we’re described as Satan’s subjects... before we knew Christ, Paul says we walked “according to the Prince of the Power of the Air.” People living in the world without God are having their values and the whole direction of their life shaped by a new ruler – Satan.
God’s Rescue Plan
Any good story starts out with a problem that needs to be fixed or resolved (e.g. Star Trek episodes). The Bible is no different: separation from God and lost dominion with God... these are the problems that frame the rest of the biblical story. They are deep problems that won’t be resolved easily. Nor will man be able to fix the problems himself. God will need to intervene with a rescue plan...
Our first hint at God’s response to these problems comes immediately after the fall. Do you remember what God says to the serpent after he entices Eve to eat the forbidden fruit? (Genesis 3:15 read) This verse is cryptic – God makes a dark, shadowy statement to the serpent.
God says, “Eve, you are going to have a male descendant and that male descendant is going to crush the Serpent’s (Satan’s) head.” In other words, one of Eve’s male descendants will deal a death blow to Satan. But in dealing that death blow, he won’t go unscathed. He himself will be wounded in return.
Good story tellers use foreshadowing like this to build suspense and give readers clues about what lies ahead. Here in Genesis 3:15 we see a hint of how God will begin to address the problems caused by the Fall. Eve’s seed will crush the serpent on the head (pointing to the decisive death-blow that Christ would deal Satan on the cross) and the serpent will bruise Eve’s seed on the heel (referring to the horrible cost Christ incurred in dealing that death blow – crucifixion).
So God has a rescue plan, but as the plot continues, things go from bad to worse:
- Genesis 4: Murder! Cain kills Abel.
- Genesis 6: “Every intent of the thoughts of man’s heart was only evil continually.”
Things were so bad that God wiped out the human race in a flood and started fresh with Noah. But more problems develop. Noah’s descendants become so prideful and audacious that they build a tower to reach the heavens in order to make a name for themselves – a direct affront to God. And so as Genesis unfolds, we’re exposed to wickedness... wickedness on wheels, rabid wickedness that explodes across the human race. The problems that began the story have only deepened.
The Abrahamic Covenant
In this midst of this darkness, God decides to put his rescue plan into action. He reveals his plan to individuals in the Bible in the form of covenants or agreements that he makes with them. Genesis 12 records one of these covenants – an agreement that God made with Abraham.
In the Abrahamic covenant, God reveals a more detailed outline of his plan to rescue humans. The covenant is described in Genesis 12:1-3. (read)
This is one of the most important passages in the Bible. There are three components to this covenant we should note:
- ... he promises that Abraham’s family will grow into a nation of people. This is why Abraham is regarded today as the father of the Jewish nation.
- ... he promises that this nation will occupy land that God would set aside for them
- ... he then makes promise, cryptic like Genesis 3:15, a promise foreshadowing a future event. He says “in you Abraham (through one of your descendants) all of the nations of the earth will be blessed.”
We should make a mental note here that the Hebrew word for “nations” is “mishpaha.” The word doesn’t refer to geopolitical entities like France and Germany... it means a cultural group, or what missiologists call “people groups.” God is telling Abraham, “one of your male descendants is going to do something that will bless every cultural group of people in the world.
So these are the three promises/blessings make up God’s agreement with Abraham, the Abrahamic covenant.
The Lives of the Patriarchs and the Egyptian Sojourn
Abraham was a Patriarch, a father-ruler of his extended family – the Jewish people. He passed this father-ruler role on to his son Isaac, and Isaac to his son Jacob. To each successive generation, God repeated his original promise to Abraham. He made the same covenant with Isaac and made these 3 promises to Jacob as well. God kept singling out a particular descendant of Abraham that the covenant applied to.
The rescue plan was launched, but as in any good story, obstacles stood in the way. Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob each had barren wives, but God miraculously enabled them to have children. We also learn that that despite God’s gracious promises to them, the Patriarchs weren’t very faithful or spiritual. (e.g. In order to protect himself, Abraham tells the kings of territories he passes through that his wife is his sister! Jacob’s most distinguishing characteristic is that he fights and wrestles with God.)
Despite their weaknesses, God keeps expressing his commitment to honor his covenant with Abraham. It’s as if God was saying “I’m able to accomplish my rescue plan in spite of you. It will be accomplished through my grace and through my power.”
Now, lets quickly look at a map to get a geographic sense of what is going on. Abraham left Ur of the Chaldees (show map) and migrated to the area around southern Canaan (show map). Abraham’s grandson Jacob (a.k.a. “Israel” – this is where the Jewish nation gets its name) had 12 sons. The descendants of these 12 sons became the 12 tribes of Israel.
Toward the end of the Genesis, we see a familiar cycle of moral decline (recall the decline leading up to the flood, and leading up to the tower of Babel) repeated in the lives of the Patriarchs. At one point, 11 of Jacob’s 12 sons actually sold their brother Joseph to slave traders, a total betrayal! As a result, he is carted off to Egypt.
While in Egypt (show map), Joseph rose to a powerful position in the court of Pharaoh and became his right-hand man. He was a skillful administrator and with God’s help, was able to prepare the Egyptians for the coming of a 7-year famine. During the famine, inhabitants of the ancient near east had to turn to the Egyptians to obtain the grain they needed to avoid starvation.
The famine forced Jacob and his 11 sons to leave Canaan and seek food in Egypt. There, they were eventually reunited with Joseph, the 12th son they had betrayed. Jacob, his sons, and their entire extended family never returned home; they and their descendants remained in Egypt for 400 years.
You’d think with the moral decline of the Patriarchs, with Joseph being carted off into slavery, and with Jacob and his sons forced to move away from the land they were promised, you’d think that this entire rescue plan given to Abraham was up on blocks. To make matters worse, during this prolonged stay in Egypt, the Jews were forced into slave labor, building storage cities for Pharaoh. Nevertheless, God used all of these events to deliver on the first part of his covenant with Abraham – becoming a nation.
It was in Egypt that the small band of people descended from Abraham, Isaac and Jacob multiplied and grew. It was in Egypt that God’s promise to make Abraham “a great nation” was realized. When the Jews left Egypt to escape slavery under Pharaoh and cross the Red Sea, there were 600,000 men on foot (see Exodus 12:37). With women and children, that’s over a million people!
Exodus from Egypt
In Exodus, we read how God singled out Moses and appointed him as the ruler of the Jews. He charged him with leading the Jewish nation out of Egypt and back to the promised land. With his brother Aaron at his side, Moses confronted Pharaoh, called down a series of 10 plagues on the Egyptians, and eventually led the Jews out of slavery. Pharaoh pursued the Jews, but God miraculously parted the Red Sea, allowing his people to escape, and engulfing Pharaoh’s pursuing army. Safe at last, Moses led them south into the wilderness of the Sinai peninsula (see map).
The logistical challenge of leading more than a million people through a barren wilderness must have been daunting. In order to function as a nation, the Jews needed a way to govern themselves - a system of law, a system of social administration. This is where the Mosaic Covenant comes in.
God dictated the terms of the Mosaic covenant to Moses on Mount Sinai. This agreement obligated the Jews to obey an elaborate system of laws. It included not just the ten commandments, but over 600 laws detailing how the Jews were to live and how they should interact with God.
Theologians often put these laws in three different categories:
- Civil law: How to resolve disputes, distribute land, etc., in essence, rules a nation would need in order to function.
- Moral law: A picture of God’s own morality and his ethical will for the Jewish people.
- Ceremonial law: Scores of rituals that the Israelites were to perform in connection with a portable tent that they took with them every where they went. This tent was called the “tabernacle”; God would come down and occupy it in order to be with his people.
In the ceremonial law, God gives us more insight into how he would resolve the problem of separation from God caused by sin. The Jews weren’t allowed to a casually approach God and interact with him. They were too sinful to come into his presence. They could only approach God after they had carefully performed the rituals God prescribed.
These rituals were often bizarre, grisly, and bloody affairs. For example, on one occasion, the high priest would place his hands on a goat and confess the sins of the people, symbolically transferring the sins of the people to the goat. Then he would shoo the goat off into the wilderness - away from the Israelite’s camp – a vivid symbol of sin being removed from the people.
Then the high priest would take another goat, kill it, and spatter its blood over the top of a box (the ark). God would look down and see the blood and accept it as a covering, or an atonement, for Israel’s sin.
God’s anger towards the people because of their sin was satisfied when he saw the blood and recognized that an innocent, spotless substitute had died in their place. This is the “atonement blessing” mentioned in your notes – human sin covered via the sacrificial system – sin paid for by the death of a substitute. So the ceremonial law was a powerful image of God’s ultimate plan to address problem 1- our separation from God caused by sin.
The Conquest of the Land and Subsequent Struggles
God didn’t want the Jews to remain in the wilderness. He wanted them to go and take the land that he had promised to them. But the people were afraid. Their fear of the nations inhabiting the promised land was greater than their faith in God to give them the land. Instead of taking possession of what God wanted to give them, they wasted 40 years in the wilderness working up the courage to enter into Canaan.
Moses died at the end of the 40 years, and God selected Joshua to lead his people. Under Joshua’s leadership, the Jews finally entered the promised land. Theologians call this period of Israel’s history “The Conquest” – a time when the Jews went into the land, destroyed its inhabitants, and occupied it. You can read about the military campaigns involved in this conquest in the book of Joshua.
The nations living in Canaan were wicked. They worshipped other gods through morally reprehensible practices like child sacrifice. God told the Jews to go into the land and completely wipe them out – partly to move in judgment against those nations, and partly to ensure that the Jews remained insulated from their wicked influence.
God warned the people that if they failed to completely remove the former occupants of the land, their corrupting influence would eventually destroy the nation of Israel. Despite this warning, the Jews failed to totally flush out all the nations. As God warned, this omission allowed them to be influenced by their beliefs. Over time, the hearts of the Israelites gradually turned away from God and towards other gods. This influence grew like a cancerous tumor and eventually destroyed them.
Who is the real king of Israel? Yahweh is. But once the Jews entered the land, they weren’t able to function with God as their king. It says repeatedly in Judges that there “was no king in Israel” and that instead, “everyone did what was right in his own eyes.” The people didn’t submit to God’s rule, and when he delegated his rule to charismatic leaders called “Judges” they often failed to represent his interests.
So God chose to delegate his authority as the true king of Israel to a line of human kings, starting with Saul. This period of Israel’s history is called the time of “Monarchy.”
The first three kings (Saul, David, and Solomon) ruled over all twelve tribes. The Jews were united under one monarchy.
Saul was man’s ideal king – tall, good looking, a great warrior. But he had a fatal flaw: he was not able to submit to God’s leadership. Instead of expressing God’s rule to the people, he disobeyed God and ruled on his own terms. God removed him as king on account of his disobedience.
God then selected David to be king in Saul’s place. Instead of choosing a tall, strong man like Saul, God selected a boy, the youngest son of Jesse. Instead of choosing a wealthy, powerful political figure, God selected a shepherd.
Like Saul, David’s life was checkered by sin – he did some terrible things. But when called out on the carpet, he showed a willingness to submit to God. That’s why he’s called a man after God’s own heart. David’s real strength, and what distinguished him from Saul, was his total confidence in God’s ability to overcome any obstacle, and his willingness to submit himself to God’s will. (e.g. Goliath)
The Davidic Covenant
To David, God expresses a third great covenant. The first covenant with Abraham hinted that somehow God will bless the whole world through one of Abraham’s descendants. The Mosaic covenant provided a picture of how God would deal with the problem of sin separating man from God. In this covenant with David, we get the first hint of how God will deal with the second problem in Genesis... how man has lost his shared dominion with God.
Let’s read about this agreement in 2 Samuel 7:12-14. (read) Here God is talking about Solomon, David’s son. We know this because he says “he will build my house.” Solomon built a temple (not just a tent) for God to live in during his reign. (vs. 15,16 read) Notice here, though, that God says he will establish his throne forever through one of David’s descendants.
Now we’re moving beyond Solomon far into the future. God is saying, “I’m going to set up an eternal kingdom that will never end, and I’m going to rule that kingdom (restoring the rule that Adam and Eve lost with God way back when) through a descendant of yours.”
We should quickly note here that the Bible uses the title “Messiah” or “annointed/chosen one” to describe this future king. We read a lot more about the messiah as the Bible unfolds.
The kingdom of Israel was united under the first three kings – all 12 tribes under one ruler. After Solomon, the kingdom divided: 10 tribes in the north, and 2 tribes in the south. This period is called the divided monarchy.
The northern kingdom was called “Israel” and the southern kingdom was called “Judah.”
The Prophets and their two Portraits of the Messiah
During this time when the kingdom is split, a group of bold, wild, and unpredictable men emerge called the “prophets.”
The prophets were like God’s press secretaries. They were his mouthpiece. Through them, God spoke to the Jews (in either kingdom) about their compliance with the Mosaic law, and what the future held for them. The prophets were bold... speaking directly with the kings about their failure to keep God’s law, how they were being corrupted by the influence of surrounding nations, and how if they failed to comply to God’s law, God would move in judgment against them.
The Prophets also kept reiterating the promises God made to Abraham and to David - and ultimately, how God would address the problem of separation from God and lost dominion. Let’s look at two passages in the prophetic book of Isaiah that illustrate this:
In Isaiah 53:5,6, Isaiah is describing the life of a man identified as “God’s servant, God’s chosen one.” (read) Here we pick up the concept of atonement again... only here it’s not the blood on an animal sacrifice being presented to God, but the blood of a human, a human sacrifice to pay for human sin – “the Lord caused the sin of us all to fall on him.”
Here’s the strange thing... this man, this suffering servant, is called God’s chosen one, God’s messiah. But instead of being depicted here as a conquering king, he’s a human sacrifice for the sin of the people. We’re left with the sense that the first problem (sin causing separation from God) won’t ultimately be dealt with by animal sacrifice, but instead by the death of this man!
In Isaiah 9, the second problem of lost dominion is addressed. (Read vs. 6). Isaiah says a son, a human will be given to you, and he will be God. (Read vs. 7) He will sit on “...the throne of David.” Clearly Isaiah is tying this promise to the Davidic Covenant. He is describing a descendant of David who will one day rule God’s kingdom forever.
So Isaiah the prophet tells us that...
- ...a sacrifice for sin will be provided by a human.
- ...a human God-king (“his name will be called mighty God”) will come and restore God’s dominion.
So the Prophets keep affirming God’s covenant with Abraham and David. And they provide more information about how God will address the problems that arose at the beginning of our story.
Exile of the Northern Kingdom to Assyria
What happened to the Northern kindgom of Israel? They were thoroughly wicked. Every Northern king failed to keep God’s law. Eventually God allowed them to be attacked and absorbed by Assyria. They were wiped off the face of the earth.
Exile of the Southern Kingdom to Babylon
The southern kingdom meets a similar fate. They lasted over a century longer, but also went south spiritually and were conquered and taken into captivity by the Babylonians. Unlike the northern kingdom, however, the people of the southern kingdom managed to maintain their national identity despite losing their homeland.
You can imagine what a dark time this would be for the Jewish people. God promised to make them a nation, but now they had lost their sovereignty; God promised them land to live in, but now they were torn away from it; instead of being a blessing to the world, they were being kicked around like dogs. It’s easy to look back now and say, “God had his plan and he was going to work it out.” But imagine being them, living through this. It would be easy to despair and to think that maybe all the covenants and promises were lies.
Yet even in this darkest hour, we still see God, speaking through the prophets to his people, affirming his commitment to honor the covenants he had made with Abraham and David.
The prophet Daniel, a Jew living in exile in Babylon, predicted the rise and fall of several kingdoms (Babylon, Media-Persia, Greece, and Rome). After all these, he says, (Daniel 2:44 read). What a ridiculous claim for Daniel to make! God’s people are in captivity in a foreign country and his kingdom will rise and displace all others before it? Insane! Against all odds, Daniel still thinks God’s kingdom will win in the end. This like a football team being down 28-0 with 50 seconds left on the clock and claiming “we’re going to win this game!”
The New Covenant Foretold
While in Babylon, the Jews had to come to terms with the reality that the Mosaic covenant was a total failure. From the day Moses brought God’s law down from Mt. Sinai, the Israelites were unable to keep it. That law (with its hundreds of rules, elaborate ceremonies, and complicated rituals) pointed toward the provision God would provide for human sin, but the Jews utterly failed to obey it. If they couldn’t relate to God through his law, what would they do?
During the life of Jeremiah, God revealed that he would work through his people under a new arrangement called the “New Covenant.” (Jeremiah 31:31-34 read)
When you read about all of the ritual cleansings and procedures that people must follow in order to approach God in the law of Moses, it’s easy to get the sense that God didn’t want to have contact with his people. Why would he make it so hard? And yet, he did want to be with them. This is one of the great themes in the Old Testament - God’s desire to be with his people. When they broke his law and left him, when he finally had to move in judgment against them and allow them to be destroyed, God was like a broken-hearted husband who was betrayed by his wife. “You’ve been sleeping with anything that moves (see Hosea). I’m heartbroken. I want to be with you but I can’t, because you won’t turn back to me.”
Here, in the new covenant, we see God reasserting his desire to be with his people – “I want to be your God, to forgive you of your sins, to write my law in your heart, to know you and to live inside you.” To do that, God promised to set up a new covenant. Today, through the Spirit living inside of us, we enjoy this new way of relating to God that Jeremiah predicted. We don’t have to interact with God through the terms of the law of Moses anymore.
Return from Exile
During the southern kingdom’s exile in Babylon, the Medes and Persians conquered the Babylonians and adopted a more tolerant policy toward the Jews. After 70 years of exile, the Persian king Artaxerxes I began allowing the Jews to trickle back to their home land. The books of Ezra and Nehemiah narrate the return of the Jews to the land that God promised them. Maybe God hadn’t forgotten his promises...
After they return and are reestablished in the land, there is a 400 year period of silence. No prophets, no voice from God, nothing. Scholars call this the “intertestamental period” – the time between writing of the Old and New Testaments.
Jesus Christ’s First Coming (Servant)
At the end of all that silence, instead of sending another prophetic spokesman, God comes down to earth himself in the form of Jesus Christ and confronts humanity face to face.
Let’s turn to John 1:29. Here is a great example of a little verse that is seemingly insignificant, but when understood against the backdrop of the big story of the Bible, it has incredible meaning and power.
Remember...God told Abraham, “through one of your descendants, all the peoples of the world would be blessed.” God told the Israelites that sin must be paid for by the blood offering of an spotless, innocent substitute. God told Isaiah a human, my chosen one, will have to die and atone for human sin. And here, in John 1:29, when John sees Christ coming to be baptized, he tells us, “behold the lamb of God who takes a way the sin of the world.”
This is such a rich passage! So many of the images and symbols – the forshadowing we’ve studied so far – are called to mind in this verse. Jesus was the sacrificial lamb symbolized in the ceremonial law, he was the chosen one who would come and die for the people, he was the descendant of Abraham through whom all the nations of the earth would be blessed, he was the solution to man’s first problem: separation from God caused by our sin.
What a powerful verse, what an incredible story! The notion that Jesus just appeared on the scene as a religious innovator, that he invented a new twist on Judaism that was unconnected to what came before him – that notion is ridiculous. Jesus was standing on the shoulders of centuries of prophecy, of symbols, and promises that all pointed to him, all describing why he was coming and what he would do.
The Church Age
After his death and resurrection, Jesus commissioned the disciples to tell the world about God’s rescue plan – the gospel. (Matthew 28:18-20 read) Notice in verse 19 he says “make disciples of all the nations.” The word for nations in Greek is “ethnoi.” “Ethnoi” does not refer to “nations” in the sense of geopolitical entities like France and Germany... “ethnoi” are cultural groups, or what missiologists call “people groups.” The Greek word “ethnoi” is synonymous with the Hebrew term, “mishpaha,” that we encountered in Genesis 12. As the church responds to Jesus’ commission to take the gospel to all the nations, we are witnessing the fulfillment of God’s covenant with Abraham to bless the nations (cultural groups) through one of his descendants.
During the church age, the blessing of the atonement expands to more and more people. (Acts 1:8 read). The news that people separated from God (problem 1) can come into his presence through the death of God’s son moves out like a shockwave from Jerusalem, to Judea, to Samaria, and even “to the remotest parts of the Earth.”
World-Wide Spread of the Gospel
Is the church today succeeding in carrying out the great commission? Today 3,500 of the world’s 13,000 cultural groups are unreached – in other words, there is no church within those cultures actively sharing the gospel.
Worldwide, the number of evangelical Christians is increasing three times faster than global population growth. The church in non-western countries is growing the fastest – 35% of the population is Christian in Korea, 50% in Africa. At the beginning of the 20th century, there were only 250,000 evangelical Christians in Latin America. Now there are 60 million.
8 out of 10 people on the earth have a Bible written in their own language and 94% have a New Testament. Encouraging numbers, but there’s still more work to do.
Destruction of Jerusalem, Scattering of the Jews, and Regathering of Israel
In 70 AD, after the church had established a foothold in cities all over the Roman world, the Romans attacked Jerusalem. They burned the city and deported its population. During his ministry, Jesus actually predicted that this would occur. (Luke 21:24 read) As Christ foretold, Jerusalem was destroyed and the Jews were forcibly deported into all the nations.
What’s even more intriguing is the remarkable phrase, “until the times of the Gentiles are fulfilled.” What do these words suggest lies in the future for the Jewish people? If the Jews are going to be trampled underfoot until the time of the Gentiles are fulfilled, it implies that after that period is over, they will once again occupy their land.
For two millennia, Jews have been living all over the world without a homeland. In the late 1800s, however, they began trickling back into Palestine. In 1947, the British ceded control of Palestine to the United Nations, who in turn, designated part of it to become a Jewish state. On May 14, 1948, the modern nation of Israel came into existence under the leadership of David Ben-Gurion.
From the beginning, surrounding Arab countries opposed Israel’s existence, but Israel defended herself and remained in the land. In 1967, after the “Six-Day War” against Egypt, Syria, and Jordan, Israel also gained full control of Jerusalem.
Never in the history of Planet Earth has a widely distributed group of ancient peoples like the Jews reconstituted themselves as political entity, back in their homeland. Where are the ancient Hittites or the Jebusites? Gone! But the Jews, against all odds, were able to reconvene in their land. And this was predicted well in advance, not just by Christ, but the Old Testament prophets as well.
The Tribulation and Jesus Christ’s Second Coming (King)
As we move toward the end of the Bible’s story, we’ve seen the answer to problem 1 – separation from God caused by sin. But what about the problem of lost dominion? What about God’s promise to David that one of his descendants, a God-king, would come and sit on the throne of David? The re-emergence of Israel as a nation in her land is an encouraging sign, but we still haven’t seen the fulfillment of the Davidic covenant or the final solution to our second problem.
This final problem will only be fully resolved when Christ returns. When he comes for the second time, it won’t be to die for sin, but instead to set up his throne as messiah-king and reestablish his rule.
Of course, we need a climactic end to any good story, and the Bible delivers. Before God’s kingdom can be established, one more obstacle needs to be removed... the kingdom of Satan.
Just prior to the return of Christ, the Bible describes a seven year period of political turmoil, war, and conflict, a time dominated by a dynamic, Satanically-empowered leader called the “Antichrist.” Acting as Satan’s agent, the antichrist will set up a government and rule the world for a while. This period of time is called the “Tribulation.”
Do you remember Daniel’s prediction (see Dan. 2:44) that when God’s kingdom arrived at the end of history, it would smash all of the kingdoms that came before it? This is how it will be when Christ comes back: he will defeat Satan and the Antichrist; he will vanquish all of his enemies and set up his kingdom on Earth. (For more on this period of history and these events, check out unit 1, week 9.)
The apostle John describes what it will be like after Jesus returns in Revelation 5:5,9,10.
(vs. 5 read) Notice that this passage is about the messiah, the “root” or descendant of David, the promised king in 2 Samuel 7 and Isaiah 9, Jesus Christ.
(vs. 9 read) Jesus is described as...
- ... a sacrifice for human sin - “slain”, “purchased with your blood.”
- ...someone who blesses all the world - - “every tribe, tongue, people, and nation” - every “mishpaha,” every “ethnoi,” every people group as God once promised Abraham!
- Problem 1 is resolved. What a beautiful summary of God’s solution. There’s no more separation. God is together again with his people.
(vs. 10 read)
- Notice how lost dominion is restored not just to God, but to us. John says, “they will reign upon the Earth.”
- Problem 2 is resolved. The restoration of dominion once lost.
God’s promises to Abraham and David, despite all of the obstacles along the way, despite our own inability to fix the problems that we created – God’s covenants are fulfilled.
The New Heaven and the New Earth
Revelation 22 provides a picture of our final state with God in the new heavens and new earth. As we read this, think of all of the different loose ends in the big story of the Bible that John is tying together in this passage.
(vs. 1 read)
- “The throne of God” - the reigning God who has dominion
- “and of the lamb” - the atoning sacrifice for our sin
(vs. 2 read)
- “... the healing of the nations” - the ‘ethnoi’, the people groups
- “on either side of the river was the tree of life” - Where else in the Bible do we read about the tree of life? It was one of the trees Adam and Eve were allowed to eat in the garden. It was the tree that they were banished from when God expelled them from the garden. Here, their access to the tree of life is restored.
(vs. 3 read)
- “...no longer be any curse” - the original curse that resulted from the fall is removed
- “...the throne of God and of the lamb” – the messiah-king who restores dominion and the lamb who dies for sin and removes our separation from God!
When you read a story like this, and you think of the complex themes, the imagery, the foreshadowing – all of this developing as the story unfolds and all of it so neatly tied together at the end – you have to wonder, who wrote this book? If God didn’t oversee the recording of this story, how did this happen? How could a book with so many authors who are so different from each other ever achieve this?
God wrote this story and I think it’s beautiful. That’s why I want to spend the rest of my life learning and doing what it says. I hope this overview whets your appetite for further Bible study over the next few weeks. I also hope that having the big picture (the broader context) will enable you to see richness of individual passages that we study.