Over the last few months, we have read each book of the Old Testament in a single day, so we could grasp the big picture and major themes of each book. Now, before we move on to the section of sacred writings we call the New Testament, we need to pause for a moment and recap what we have covered so far. I believe our ability to comprehend who Jesus is and what he accomplished hinges largely on how well we grasp the story of God and Israel prior to Jesus’ birth. But don’t worry, it’s not as complicated as we often make it.
Paradise and Exile
The story of the Bible begins with humanity in paradise, living in peace with God and all of creation. God, man, woman, animals, plants, and even the land itself are without enmity. Everything is in perfect harmonious relationship with everything else.
But when the serpent deceives Eve, she and Adam rebel against God, doing what he warned them not to do. They are cursed and banished from paradise. They no longer have access to the tree of life and are sentenced to die in a land of conflict. From this point forward, everything is out of harmony. God, man, woman, the animals, and the land, there is conflict between them all.
The story of Israel repeats this same narrative on a different scale. Abraham’s descendants are brought back from an exile in Egypt and brought into a paradise. The paradise is described as a land flowing with milk and honey. But Abraham’s descendants, just like their father Adam, did what God warned them not to do and were exiled from paradise.
The Old Testament story ends with Abraham’s descendants having returned to the place of paradise, but not the condition of paradise. They had returned to Jerusalem, but the exile had not ended. Peace had not come. Conflict continued. They lived in the land, but it wasn’t flowing with milk and honey. It was still, in many ways, “desolate and waste.” The curse and stench of death remained.
Kingdoms of God and Kingdoms of Man
Another theme is that of kingdom. When we think of a “kingdom,” we typically think of a realm where a king rules. However, in the biblical story, the theme is much more about the invisible rule of a king. When men rule, there is always corruption, oppression, and injustice. It is only when men humbly surrender to God’s rule, that there is righteousness, peace, and justice.
Israel had the opportunity to live under God’s rule. Or, to put it another way, Israel had the opportunity to live in the kingdom of God. But instead of living in the kingdom of God, Israel continually chose to return to living under man’s rule.
- In the wilderness, after being delivered from Egypt, they longed to go back and live under Pharaoh’s rule.
- During the period of the Judges, their rebellion led them to be oppressed by both Israelite and Gentile rulers.
- They begged Samuel to appoint for them a king like the other nations.
There is an undeniable desire humans have for wanting a strong military and economic leader to shepherd them. Humans feel weak and vulnerable without a king. Israel should have realized, of course, they didn’t need a king of flesh because they had God as their king.
But because Israel would not be content to live in God’s kingdom, the Old Testament part of the story ends the way it began. God’s people are once again slaves to a foreign king. The king of Persia became, in a sense, the new Pharaoh. And after the Persian kings, there would be Greeks, and then there would be Romans. Israel would be slaves to them all.
Even though the Jews were living in Jerusalem, they were not in God’s kingdom. They were in the kingdom of man. They were ruled by a king of flesh. They awaited the son of David, a human king who would establish God’s kingdom, God’s rule, once and for all.
The most important theme of the Bible is that God can be trusted. He always keeps his promises. He is slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love. If his people would just wait faithfully, they would experience his deliverance and forgiveness.
In spite of the fact that the Jews had broken their covenant with God, their lack of faithfulness would not nullify his abundance of faithfulness. God would keep his promises to a remnant of them in spite of their rebellion.
And what were his promises? He promised to lift the curse and give his people the land. He promised to make his people into a multitude, like the stars in the sky. And finally, he promised to bless all nations of the earth through Abraham’s seed. God’s promises never changed from the time he made them to Abraham. He promised over and over again through the prophets that he had not changed his mind about the covenant.
At some point, a new generation would come along with whom God would renew his covenant. He would make final atonement for their sins and change their hearts, so they would sincerely do his will. To these, God would fulfill all the promises he had made. They would be the heirs of all of his Abrahamic promises.
The Story Doesn’t Change
Please understand what I’m saying. I’m saying you cannot read these books of the Bible and think they are about the afterlife, how to live a good life and go to heaven someday. Nothing in these books gives the indication that “going to heaven” is the theme.
If we are going to understand the final era of the biblical story, the era of Jesus, we have to understand that Jesus didn’t come to change the story, he came to fulfill the story. He didn’t come to change the promises, he came to fulfill the promises. He didn’t come to destroy the hopes of God’s people, he came to fulfill their hopes. If Jesus really is the Messiah, the son of Abraham, the son of David, the son of God, then his followers will literally inherit all the promises God has made.
That, my friends, is what the next set of books is all about.
I love you and God loves you,
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