The Bible in brief

Our world is made by God

Genesis 1-2

God is revealed as a good creator. All matter and every law that lies behind it is made, sustained, and governed by his word of command.

Man and woman are made to enjoy a special relationship with God and commissioned by him to fill and subdue the world in a manner that is good. If they remain faithful to God they will enjoy the blessings of everlasting life in an Eden-like paradise. If they sin by doubting and so disobeying him, they will endure the curse of a reality shut off from this blessing and handed over to the death of moral and physical decay.

Sin is a universal problem

Genesis 3-5

Tempted by the devil, Adam and Eve sin and are shut out of Eden. God is true to his word: Physical decay is evident in the pain of childbirth, the fracturing of the natural order, and ultimately in the aging and death of the first couple’s descendants. Moral decay is evident in the violence of Cain, Lamech and the wider world. Humankind are dead in sin.

Sin is an internal problem

Genesis 6-11

As punishment, all bar Noah’s family are wiped out by God in a flood. Noah’s family are then re-commissioned in words echoing the commissioning of the first human pair.

However the expectation that sin may have been eradicated by the flood is short lived. Noah and sons sin first, and then their descendants, showing that sin cannot be eradicated by merely external means.

Hope for our world is found in God

Genesis 12-50: 2100-1805BC[1]

God chooses Abraham and makes an agreement known as a covenant with him. He promises that Abraham will become a great nation which will inherit a special land, be blessed by God, and bring his blessing to the world. So hope is finally given that God’s curse may be dealt with.

Abraham believes God and is therefore counted as righteous even though one of sinful humanity. So the means of dealing with the curse is also hinted at.

God’s promise begins to be fulfilled as Abraham’s descendants multiply and prosper under God’s protection.

We need a priest

Exodus-Deuteronomy: 1805-1406BC

(With Genesis called The Books of Moses)

Abraham’s descendants, now known as Israel, find themselves oppressed in Egypt. But God’s promise to Abraham is still fulfilled: He punishes the Egyptians for their sin by causing every firstborn man or animal to die. And he protects Israel by allowing a lamb to die instead of their firstborn. The Egyptians therefore witness that the LORD is the one true God, and are forced to release his people.

Moses leads Israel to the land promised to Abraham. God then makes a covenant with them, promising to be Israel’s God, and have Israel as his people. The one stipulation is that they obey his law.

Moses gives Israel this law to highlight God’s holiness and restrain their sin so that they are fit to have God especially present with them. However, their sin means they cannot keep it and deserve death just like Adam and Eve. God therefore mercifully institutes a system through which animals sacrificed by priests bear the punishment of death on Israel’s behalf.

The Israelites can therefore be forgiven if they remain faithful to God, and so enjoy the blessings of security and prosperity in the land promised to Abraham. But if they doubt and so disobey him, their sacrifices will prove futile, and they will endure the curse of being shut out from the land and oppressed by other nations.

The constant need of sacrifices shows that animals can never properly pay the penalty for sin. A priest who can offer a sufficient sacrifice is needed.

We need a king

Joshua-Song of Songs: 1406-430BC

(The History Books and Wisdom Literature)

Israel are led into the promised land by Joshua. They are ruled by a series of judges and then kings. God’s promises to Israel are fulfilled: Whenever they disobey they find their security and prosperity threatened. Whenever they repent and seek God, a judge or king delivers them and re-establishes God’s rule.

The highpoint for Israel comes during the reigns of David and his son Solomon. They govern wisely, write books reflecting on life in the light of God word, and even compose psalms for use in worship. Under these faithful kings the people are enabled to remain faithful. And God makes a covenant agreement with David, promising that one of his descendents will always rule God’s people.

Yet even David and Solomon sin. Their kingdom is subsequently sent into turmoil and divided into a northern kingdom of ten tribes and a southern kingdom of two.

Eventually Israel’s persistent disobedience and the unfaithfulness of her kings provoke God to exile her from the land. The northern and then southern kingdoms are conquered by Assyria and Babylon respectively, the temple which symbolised God’s presence is destroyed, and many are deported.

Later God graciously brings those of the southern kingdom back to the land. Yet they still fail to fully obey him and so never see the kingdom fully restored. A king who can perfectly maintain God’s rule is needed.

We need a prophet

Isaiah-Malachi: 855-430BC

(The Prophets)

Time and again during this period God sends Israel prophets to call them back to live by his word and warn them of the judgement they face if they fail to do so. However Israel’s repentance is only ever temporary. A prophet who can guarantee repentance is needed.

Fortunately the prophets also promise that God will send a special servant king or Messiah who will be given all authority to bring order to the chaos of the world so racked by sin. This king will judge all nations and destroy all evil. Yet he will also somehow experience the punishment for sin laid upon him and dispense the Spirit so that people can truly know God. By this means the Messiah will establish God’s kingdom in full glory and blessing and God’s promise to David will be fulfilled.

The Old Testament ends, and four hundred years pass as God’s people wait for this to happen.

The messiah revealed

Matthew-John: 6BC-30AD

(The Gospels)

God’s promises through the prophets are fulfilled: Jesus grows up and begins a ministry in Israel proclaiming that God’s kingdom, the promised restoration of his people in faithfulness, security and prosperity is near.

Jesus calls the Jews to repent and believe in the light of this, healing and forgiving those who do so, and speaking of a new covenant instituted by his blood.

His authority is testified to by his teaching and miracles, yet both his teaching and miracles suggest he is more than merely a man; he is himself divine.

Jesus is rejected by the Jewish leaders and people, who persuade the Romans to allow his execution. Yet having died, Jesus is raised to life. Death, the penalty for sin has somehow been overcome. The problem of sin has been dealt with.

The messiah proclaimed

Acts: 30-62AD

Jesus’ apostles who witnessed his ministry and resurrection lay the foundations of the church. They pass on his message, showing and teaching that it is a message for Gentiles as well as Jews. The church is to preach that same message, in the power of the Spirit and despite persecution, until Jesus returns.

The messiah explained

Romans-Jude: 51-67AD

(The Letters or Epistles)

Jesus is both God’s Son and Messiah. As a perfect priest he offers himself as the perfect sacrifice, bearing the punishment for sin in his death in order to reconcile us to God. So we can be counted righteous as Abraham was by faith. And this justification is the root of all our blessings: Treated as blameless by God we can be forgiven, adopted as his children, and receive his Spirit to renew our hearts into obedience, and eventually renew our bodies when Jesus returns.

Jesus’ resurrection declares him to be Lord of life and death, and so judge. He gives the Spirit to his people, enabling them to understand, accept, and obey God’s word, writing God’s law on their hearts, and equipping them to serve God’s purposes. He is the means by which Jesus currently acts as prophet in bringing his truth home to us, and as King in ruling us as his subjects. We must therefore reject false teaching and remain faithful to him.

So Jesus’ new covenant replaces the old, providing full rather than partial forgiveness, and enabling people to obey where they once would have sinned. Indeed, all God’s covenants and promises are fulfilled in him: As Adam and Israel’s greatest descendent, he obeys perfectly on behalf of those who don’t. As Abraham’s greatest descendent, he brings blessing to the world by enabling anyone to receive forgiveness by faith and then enter the ultimate Promised Land. And as David’s greatest descendent he will rule them forever, ensuring their faithfulness to God.

The messiah awaited

Revelation: 95AD-the end

(The Apocalypse)

Jesus’ kingdom will be finally established when he returns in judgement, consigning the devil and all who are evil to hell, and perfecting and raising the great multitude who have trusted him to forever live in a new heaven and earth, free from evil and pain. God will then have fulfilled his grand purpose: The Eden-like vision of humanity filling and subduing the earth and living in faithfulness to God will finally be a reality.

Until that day, the world will endure God’s wrath in being handed over to immorality and hardship, yet many will still refuse to repent. Meanwhile the church will bear witness, although continually suffer persecution. And those who remain in Christ to the end will be saved.

Conclusion

Our maker is supremely holy and good, fearfully just, yet graciously merciful. His word is always to be obeyed, and his promises – whether of blessing or curse - are always fulfilled.

Sin is an internal and universal problem, yet God has provided an internal and universal solution: The Lord Jesus, God’s Son, has paid the penalty for sin in his death on the cross, overcome death in his resurrection, and now reigns with his Father, renewing human hearts by his Spirit and word.

When he returns we will be fully cleansed from both the guilt of sin and its grip on our lives. With the devil no longer free to tempt us, we will then enjoy paradise forever in resurrection bodies. Yet this will be different from Eden not just because of the numbers there, but because each of us will have experienced God’s amazing grace, and so will praise him all the more.

[1] All dates refer to the historical period covered by the books, not the dates of the books themselves. They are approximate and taken from The NIV study bible, (London, Hodder & Stoughton, 1987)