How would you describe the Bible to someone who has never heard of it?
Do you like a good mystery? The best are the ones you can try to solve as you read along. Slowly the author unveils pieces of the puzzle. At first, the pieces on their own don’t tell much, but over time a picture starts to form. All along the author knows the end, but as the reader, we are strategically introduced to the clues.
In some way, this is how the Bible unfolds. God knew from the beginning how it would end and how our redemption and restoration would come to pass, but the story is slowly revealed to us in the lives of His people over time. We get glimpses and shadows and hints and representations of what is to come.
God’s story is unfolding, but it has not yet been fully revealed or executed. We are further along in God’s great story than our Biblical ancestors, but we are not yet at the end when everything is fully restored.
The prophets foretold about the coming Messiah, but until Jesus entered the scene, only God knew what the Messiah would look like and do to save us. In our time in history, we know that Jesus is the salvation and restoration plan. We live on this side of the resurrection of Jesus and can see what He has done for us. But even today, some things remain hidden from us.
Revelation provides additional clues as to what is to come, but still we wait for the full story to unfold. We can read the promises included in the end, but we aren’t yet living in the time when it has all come to fulfillment and we aren’t privy to how it will specifically take place. We still live in a fallen world with the effects of sin and await full restoration. But we wait with hope and anticipation because we know it ends in victory.
Let's back up to the very beginning and recap some of what we uncover in the Old Testament with a little Q & A…
How would you describe things in the beginning of the Bible?
In the beginning, it is good. God creates everything with His Word…speaking it into existence. It is pure and perfect. God walks among His creation.
What is significant and different about the creation of man?
God says, “let US create man in OUR image and OUR likeness.” Everyone we see, including ourselves, are created in God’s image.
Who is with God? Who is the “us”?
The book of John tells us that in the beginning was the Word and the Word was God and the Word was with God. The Word is Jesus. God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit have always been. God is about community; God is community. We aren’t meant to be alone and do this life alone.
What is the only thing off limits to man?
Everything dwells in perfect harmony. God walks among His creation. The land is flowing with beautiful good food. Nothing is off limits except one tree – the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. That’s it! This choice gives us free will…without a choice we have no free will.
Who comes on to the scene to mess things up?
Then comes Satan. His first approach at temptation is the same he uses throughout history, including tempting Jesus and tempting us. He really only has one playbook. But he is masterful at executing it. And unfortunately, we fall for it time and time again.
What tricks does Satan use? How does he tempt Eve?
He says to Eve, “did God actually say…”? He plants doubt, he dangles things that look good and pleasing to the eye, he dangles power…making a name for ourselves and being better, smarter, more powerful than others. Doubt, coveting, power and pride. He weaves lies into truths to deceive us.
What is the result of their actions?
Because Adam and Eve fall for this temptation and disobey God, sin enters the world and we see the first sacrifice. Now with their eyes open to good and evil, Adam and Eve realize they are naked and feel shame. They try to cover it with leaves and hiding, but nothing is hidden from God. And fig leaves don’t do much as a covering. God provides clothing from skins. The first sacrifice to cover sin.
What is the significance of the sin? What is an early way we see sin impacting Adam and Eve’s family through their children?
Sin has entered the world and it continues to rear its ugly head. Sin separates us from God. God is a good and just God and sin has consequences; sin must be paid for. The children of Adam and Even bring offerings to God. Both bring sacrifices. From the outside observer, they look the same. But God is pleased with Able’s offering and not Cain’s. Whay? God sees into our hearts. Cain brings what is left over, but Able brings the firstborn. God wants our first and best. Our all. Cain burns with anger over God being more pleased with Able’s offering. He kills his brother. One generation away from God’s first creation. Sin is powerful and destructive.
What does God say is “crying out to him from the ground” when Cain kills Able?
God says, “the voice of your brother’s blood is crying out to me from the ground.”
Blood and sacrifice are a bit part of the Old Testament stories. What is the significance of blood?
Blood is huge in the Bible. Blood represents life, and sacrifice and death.
Things get worse. So bad that God decides to do what?
So bad that God says every intention of the thoughts and hears of man was only evil continually. He plans to wipe it out. All of it. People, animals, landmarks, buildings…all of it. But Noah found favor in the eyes of God. You know the story…Noah builds and ark (over nearly 70 years…talk about faith and obedience!), bringing with him his family and two of every animal. As God promised, it rains and destroys everything.
What is the first thing Noah does when he exits the ark?
When Noah finally exits the ark (after nearly 200 days), the first thing he does is offer a sacrifice. God promises to never do that again. A rainbow is given to represent that promise.
Time passes and the human population grows. Everyone speaks the same language. Until what happens to change that?
The lure of making a name for ourselves, of being like God, is too much again. The people want to build a tower to reach God. God confuses their language and disperses them. No more unity in language or location.
About ten generations from Noah, Abraham is born. Father Abraham! A beginning of a new covenant between God and His people. What does God tell Abraham he will do?
God speaks to Abraham and tells him He will make a great nation from his many (as numerous as the stars) descendants. But Abraham and his wife are old and have no children. Still God promises and Abraham believes.
How many years pass between God’s promise and the birth of Isaac? What does this tell us about God’s timing?
Twenty-five years after God’s initial promise, Abraham gives birth to Isaac. God’s timing is certainly not our own.
What does God tell Abraham to do to Isaac?
After several years, God tells Abraham to sacrifice Isaac. His firstborn son with Sarah. The promised heir to the many descendants of the great nation God promised. But Abraham trusts God and has faith.
What happens as Abraham is about to sacrifice Isaac? How can we see a glimpse of Jesus here?
As Abraham is about to sacrifice – kill – his long awaited, beloved son, an angel appears and instructs him to stop. Just then a ram appears to be the sacrifice. God provides a substitutionary sacrifice. A beautiful picture of the sacrifice God will provide as a substitution for us via His only Son. And Abraham now knows that he knows that he knows he trusts God with his everything.
What are the names of Isaac’s twin sons?
Isaac eventually marries and has twins – Jacob and Esau. Esau, the firstborn, should have gotten the extra inheritance and the family blessing to basically be the new head of the household. But Jacob, through trickery and deception, obtains both for himself. Naturally Esau isn’t happy, so Jacob must flee.
How many kids does Jacob have? What do they ultimately become?
Jacob (with four bickering women!) and has 12 children – the twelve tribes of Israel. Jacob receives visions from God confirming His promise to make a great nation of his people.
What does God change Jacobs name to?
God changes Jacob’s name to Israel (where we get the name for the Jewish people/land). It is a mess of a family though. Jealousy, anger, fighting.
Which son does Jacob favor? What happens as a result?
As if the family wasn’t dysfunctional enough, Jacob loves one of his sons more…Joseph, one of the younger sons from his favorite wife, Rachel. The other brothers hate Joseph. It doesn’t help that Joseph has dreams that he will rule over them all…and he tells them! The brothers sell Joseph to some men who sell him to an official in Egypt.
What happens to Joseph in Egypt?
Joseph has ups and downs (in charge of the household, accused of rape, put in prison, etc). He remains faithful, and full of integrity. He eventually interprets dreams for Pharaoh and ultimately becomes second in charge of Egypt. His dreams paved the way for storing up food during times of plenty to have it available during a long stretch of famine.
What brings Joseph’s family to Egypt?
Because of the famine, Joseph’s family (hid dad, Jacob, and brothers) come to Egypt to buy some of the food. He eventually reveals himself to them and moves the family to Egypt. They are well taken care of and flourish there.
What eventually happens to the Israelites?
New leadership comes in power over time and feels threatened by the large numbers of Israelites. The Israelite people become slaves in Egypt. They tell the midwives to kill all baby boys.
What Israelite boy survives and how?
One baby boy survives. The Pharaoh’s daughter finds him and raises him as her own. Moses. An Israelite raised among Egyptian royalty.
What causes Moses to leave Egypt?
But is angered by the treatment of his people and kills an Egyptian mistreating them. He is discovered and has to flee. Moses starts a new life in Midian.
What happens while Moses is away?
Life is good and uneventful. Until God appears to him in a burning bush. He has an assignment. To free the Jewish people from the slavery and oppression they are facing in Egypt.
How does God help Moses convince the Pharaoh to let the Israelites go?
God provides a series of plagues to convince Pharaoh to let the Israelites go. But they are stubborn. They don’t want to lose their slaves, their fee labor. The tenth plague does the trick…the firstborn male child and livestock all killed.
What does God tell the Israelites to do to avoid the 10th plague?
But first God tells the Israelites to kill a spotless lamb and paint the blood over their doorposts. Houses with the lamb’s blood covering them will be spared.
What happens to the Israelites? How do you see a glimpse of Jesus here?
The angel of death “passed over” the Jewish households and spares their children. The Israelites are free to go. On to the promised land. Passover becomes an annual celebration to remember this day and how God released them from slavery and bondage.
What happens as the Israelites journey to the promised land as they reach the border to enter the first time?
They are finally on their way to the promised land. God is with them providing miracle after miracle – parting the Red Sea for them to walk through and then engulfing all the Egyptians that were chasing them. Providing food and water. Protecting and guiding them. They reach the border of this new land. They send spies – 12, one for each of the tribes - in to check it out. It is good, as God said. But they are terrified of the people and fortified walls there.
Out of the 12 spies, how may suggest they enter and what are their names?
The people chose to follow the advice of the 10 who say they just can’t defeat them instead of Caleb and Joshua, who says they should trust God and enter.
What do the Israelites decide to do and what is the result?
Because of their disobedience and lack of trust, they wander in the desert 40 years. No one over 20 except Caleb and Joshua will enter the promised land.
During their wandering, what do they received from God to Moses (and to them)?
During this time, they receive the commandments and laws from God through Moses.
What are they instructed to build and what takes place there? Where do we see glimpse of Jesus here?
They are also instructed to build a portable tabernacle where they will worship God. One day each year the high priest will walk through the large curtain into the holy of holies to make a sacrifice on behalf of the people for their sins. No one else can enter. The high priest intercedes for the people with much ceremony and strict instructions. God is holy. It is a matter of life or death. Sin is a big deal to a just and holy God. There must be a sacrifice.
Under whose leadership do they finally enter the promised land?
Finally, under the leadership of Joshua, they enter the promised land.
What is the pattern of the people in this new land?
The people repeat the ongoing cycle of obedience, blessings, disobedience, oppression, calling out to God, blessings, repeat.
What types of people does God originally raise up to be their leaders?
God raises up judges to be their leader.
What type of leader do the Israelites demand and why?
The Israelites ultimately demand a king to be like the other nations.
Who is the first king?
Saul is the first king.
Who is the next king? What is significant about this king?
Saul is followed by David. David, the shepherd boy who defeats Goliath. A man after God’s heart. Israel is united and strong. Israel prospers under his leadership. He gets complacent and sin creeps in. But he is repentant and loves God.
Who becomes the next king? What big thing is erected under his leadership? What is significant about his reign?
David’s son, Solomon, is the last king of a united Israel. Under his leadership Israel remains strong and a permanent temple is built in Jerusalem.
What takes place in the temple? Where do we see glimpse of Jesus?
Sacrifices continue to atone for sin. Lots of blood. Solomon ultimately lets temptation take over as well. He marries many wives and their pagan practices become widespread. Same story…doubt, earthy pleasures, power, pride. Things go downhill from there. We need a Savior. Who can save us?
What happens to Israel after Solomon’s reign?
After Solomon there are series of mostly evil kings. Israel is divided into a northern and southern kingdom.
Who does God speak through during this time? What do they speak of? Where do we see Jesus here?
There are prophets who God speaks through and it is mostly a time of sin and unrest. They speak of coming back to God, obeying His commands, putting Him first. They also speak of one who is to come that will be their Savior…Messiah. A king who will make all things right and renew the glory of God’s people.
Who is the last prophet? What does he proclaim?
Malachi, the last prophet, speaks for the Lord saying, “I will send my messenger to prepare the way for me.”
How many years pass between Malachi and the New Testament?
400 years pass of silence.
This is where we pick up in the New Testament.
John’s Gospel account tells us the Word that was with God and was God from the beginning becomes flesh and makes His dwelling among us. God in the flesh is coming to earth.
An angel appears to Mary. She will have a child, who will be the Savior of the world. The long-awaited Messiah. Immanuel…God with us. She visits her cousin who is also pregnant with John the Baptist, who flutters in her womb upon Mary’s entrance. He knows even then that Jesus is the king.
Magi, upon seeing the sky and recognizing the sign, come and worship Him. They know a powerful king is born. But the Jewish people and religious leaders (who the wise men have to consult to find His location)…they don’t go. They study scripture and are awaiting the Messiah, but they have it pretty good with all of their power and prestige and comfortable livings. They are being deceived. Doubt, earthly pleasures, power, pride.
John the Baptist becomes the messenger, as told by the last prophet Malachi. His message: Repent for the kingdom of God is at hand. When Jesus is around 30, He is baptized by John. God speaks…this is His Son. After fasting 40 days, Jesus is tempted by the devil. Same story. Planting doubt, dangling earthly pleasures, promising kingdoms and power. Jesus quotes scripture to defeat him.
Jesus begins his ministry with the same words as John, “Repent for the kingdom of God is at hand.”
His first miracle – His introduction to ministry – turning water into wine. Water that cleanses, but never enough. You have to keep washing over and over again. Turned into wine, symbolizing the blood of a sacrifice that will wipe away sins once for all time. A hint of what is to come.
Jesus spend His time teaching and healing and casting out demons and training up His disciples. He criticizes the religious leaders and welcomes the sinners. The blind see, the dead brought to life, the cripple walk, sinners set free…loved, accepted, forgiven. A taste of heaven.
The spirits – the workers of the devil - recognize who Jesus is and fear Him. They know He is the Son of God. They know now that He has entered the scene, their time is limited. But the religious leaders mock Him, criticize Him, try to arrest Him. He is disrupting their power base. He is not the Messiah they had in mind.
And Jesus teaches us to pray that God’s kingdom come, His will be done, on EARTH as in heaven. Yes, the kingdom of God is for all time, but it is also for here and now. He wants us to get that. We are part of the kingdom NOW. And we have work to do.
He teaches what this kingdom of heaven is like, often through parables. So valuable you would trade anything for it. Like a mustard seed and yeast, small, but powerful and life changing…taking time to do its work. We should seek first the kingdom, and everything else will follow. The humble are called great in the kingdom. We should seek the kingdom as children…full of trust and obedience. In the present the good and bad grow up together in the kingdom like wheat and weeds, but will eventually be separated for eternity. Workers in the kingdom must be single minded in devotion to the things of God. We must be born again to be in the kingdom – shed the old earthly ways, and put on the ways of God. It is hard for the rich – the self reliant – to enter the kingdom…we must recognize complete dependence on God.
This is our charge as Christians. To fully enter and live in the kingdom of God…on earth as it is in heaven. Here and now!
Jesus knows His time on earth is drawing to a close. He has a last meal with His disciples before He is crucified. A Passover meal. The meal to celebrate and remember when death passed over the Jewish people who had the lambs blood on their doorpost. Amid the ceremony and scripts, Jesus changes it up a bit. He tells them the bread is His body, broken for them. The cup is His blood, shed for them. He will be the ultimate thing that will cause death to pass over them. While our bodies on earth will die, by believing in Him and His sacrifice, we will live forever.
Jesus dies on a cross. He says, “It is finished.” The moment He takes His last breath, the earth quakes. The curtain in the temple that represents the separation of the people from God’s dwelling place, is torn in two from top to bottom. No longer is a high priest needed to sacrifice for our sins. The ultimate sacrifice to atone for our sins – to make us right with God - was in Jesus. It is finished.
As promised, Jesus rises from the dead on the third day. As followers we are given a charge to go and make disciples. As believers, we are living in the kingdom of God and Jesus gave us instructions on how to do so.
Jesus didn’t just take our sins, He substituted them with His righteousness. As believers, we are not only forgiven (washed clean by His blood sacrifice), but we are made righteous and holy. Worthy to do His work here on earth as in heaven. Worthy to go out and make disciples. Worthy to be, and share the Good News. We are free from having to do it all on our own, to be good enough or smart enough or talented enough – we aren’t, but He is, and we were given His power. We just have to go. We still have free will.
So HERE WE ARE in God’s story. Jesus has come and died for our sins. We have work to do here on earth in this life and body and generation He placed us in. But we also await His final return and defeat of death once and for all. We are in the midst of the Bible story. The book of Revelation tells of what is to come. As the Israelites waited with anticipation for the coming of the Messiah, Jesus. We too wait for Him to come again.
In Romans, Paul puts it into words for us…”creation waits with eager longing for the revealing of the sons of God” when “creation itself will be set free from its bondage to corruption and obtain the freedom of the glory of the children of God.”
In Revelation, the last book of the Bible – God’s story to us, we hear the question, “who is worthy to open the scroll and break its seals?” The Lion of Judah. The Root of David. The slain lamb.
We wait for that time when everything is made right again. A new heaven and a new earth. No more tears or mourning or pain or death. No sin. No temptations from Satan, for he is defeated for all time.
But in our waiting, we can’t ever forget that there is much work to be done here. We are uniquely created in this time for a purpose. We anticipate Jesus’ return, but we also anticipate and prepare ourselves for the work God has called and created us to do here.
For His kingdom to come, on earth as it is in heaven.
The end of Revelation – the end of the Bible – we hear Jesus say, “Surely I am coming soon.” We join John, the disciple and receiver/writer of the Revelation, in saying, “Amen. Come, Lord Jesus.”
Amen. Come, Lord Jesus.
We live in the kingdom of God, with all of our instructions and charges to love and make disciples. But we also wait in anticipation for Jesus to come again.