The Eternal Purpose
In any given profession there are expectations. An accountant is expected to know math, a computer technician knows hardware, and an educator, teaching strategies. The same holds true for personal pursuits. If we enjoy basketball, we should know the rules of the game, chess, the game pieces, and driving, the rules of the road. Similarly, Christians are expected to know Scripture. Many believers, however, avoid reading difficult Biblical books and passages. The reason is simple: they don’t understand them. This is justifiable. How can we enjoy reading something if we can’t comprehend it?
As a result, many believers limit their reading to the parts of Scripture they can grasp. If this is something you struggle with, be encouraged. Above are a few key guidelines that can help clarify the structure of Scripture making it easier to read and enjoy.
The Old Testament is Essential Reading
For believers, many parts of the Old Testament can be quite difficult to comprehend, but that doesn’t mean it should be avoided. Reading only the books of Scripture you prefer is like reading random chapters of a novel. You may understand some of the story and its characters, but you will never fully grasp and appreciate everything that story has to offer unless you know it from beginning to end. The books of Scripture were not randomly selected to form the Bible. Each one tells a part of the story of why we are here, our life’s purpose, where we are going, and what is to come.
To Understand the Story, Start at the Beginning
Genesis is the starting point to understanding God’s Word. Think back to the novel example. How can we understand and appreciate a novel or even a movie unless we know how it begins? Above is a timeline with descriptions that shows a summary layout of Scripture from its first book (Genesis) to its last (Revelation).
Genesis Chapters 1 and 2: Creation
The first chapter of Genesis tells us how God created the earth and the universe in perfect order and beauty. Humans had direct communication with their Creator and they lacked nothing. God is often criticized for creating a suffering world, but the beginning of Scripture tells us that was never His intention…it was ours.
Genesis Chapter 3: Paradise Lost
The third chapter of Genesis describes the rebellion of Adam and Eve after they were tempted by Satan. This was what truly caused the beginning of misery and suffering in the world.
In verse 15 of this third chapter, God announces the very first prophecy in Scripture. His first action after the rebellion was to find a way to repair the damage. He promises a Savior from the family of Adam and Eve. The Savior will return humanity to Paradise and destroy the Devil.
The entire Bible is based upon this prophecy of restoration through a savior. There are three things about this prophecy that will make our Scripture reading easier (they are outlined in the next three points): the Bible is about one family, one person, and one conflict.
A Family Story
The Bible is the story of one man’s family and anyone that comes into contact with them. Throughout the Old Testament we follow the family of Adam, generation after generation. We read about the Jews as they wander in foreign lands and reach the promise land. We read of their rebellion, exile, and return to their land. Why does the Bible focus on the history of this one family and nation? Because this is the family that the Messiah will come from to restore us to Paradise.
The Promised Messiah
The one great subject that runs through the Word of God is Christ. “Search the Scriptures,” Jesus told the Pharisees, “They testify of Me”.1 This is the most important key in understanding God’s Word. Apart from Jesus Christ all Scripture is meaningless. Every book of Scripture tells of Him and points to His Coming. Everything was created by Him and without Him Paradise cannot be restored.
As we read about the family of Christ throughout the Old Testament we are given prophecies and examples of what the coming Messiah will be to His people. There are numerous illustrations that can be found in every Old Testament book, but here are just examples to help in understanding:
The Book of Leviticus shows us, in the sin offerings, a view of the Messiah’s sacrificial death.
The Book of Numbers foreshadows the Son of Man that will be, “lifted up.”2 The Book of Deuteronomy alludes to the coming “Prophet” who will be the Rock and Salvation of His people.3
The Book of Joshua tell of “the Captain of the Lord’s army” who will triumph over all His enemies; the description of the woman Rahab in this book with her scarlet cord foreshadows Christ’s sufferings and precious blood which will shelter and preserve His people in the coming day of war when He restores the earth and overthrows His enemies.4
The Great Conflict
The Devil was present (in Genesis 3:15) when God promised a Messiah that would destroy him and restore humankind to Paradise. Throughout the Bible, Satan worked to annihilate the Messiah’s family knowing that if he succeeded, the Messiah would never be born and he would never be destroyed.
Throughout the history of Christ’s family, from the Old Testament and into the New, there are numerous attacks on the Messiah’s lineage. Some of the most notable ones were:
- The murder of Adam and Eve’s son Abel.5
- The attempt by Pharaoh to wipe out the Jews.6
- The attempt by King Herod to kill the Christ child.7
In the course of time, the cross was reached, the Messiah crucified, His tomb sealed, and the watchmen set. But God raised Him to life showing His power over death. In spite of His glorious triumph Satan continues in his hatred to oppress God’s people. This will continue until the day when Christ returns and destroys the Evil One.
In all four Gospels, John the Baptist encouraged the nation of Israel to repent because the kingdom of God was at hand.8 Jesus Christ presented Himself as the king and showed his glory and authority. He healed the sick, preached the good news, silenced the most learned men, expelled demons, walked on water, and calmed storms. He showed His power over men, spirits, nature, and death.9 Yet during His ministry the message to accept the King and the Kingdom was rejected. Jesus never spoke about His death until the middle of the Gospels.10 It was only after the rejection from the people that He revealed He would go up to Jerusalem to suffer.
The Kingdom Reoffered
Right after the Gospels, comes the book of Acts. Filled with the Holy Spirit the Apostle Peter proclaimed to the Jews how they rejected the long-awaited Messiah and how God raised Him from the dead. The Jews were again encouraged to repent and accept the Messiah. Some of them actually did, but the nation as a whole didn’t. In Acts chapter 28, the Apostle Paul exclaimed that the nation of Israel was filled with hardhearted people and that they themselves would be rejected for a time, lose their land and be scattered among the nations while the message of the Messiah and His Kingdom would be preached to the rest of the world.
The Kingdom Proclaimed to the World
Shortly after the second rejection, the Romans crushed a Jewish revolt and the Hebrew peoples were scattered throughout the earth. The message of the Kingdom was taken to the rest of the world and to this day continues to be preached to all nations, but to date, the Good News of the Gospel has not yet reached all peoples. It has been translated into 2,500 languages with approximately 4,500 more to go! Missionaries continue to travel and share the good news.
The End of the World and Paradise Restored
What happens when the Gospel finally reaches every tribe, language, peoples, and nations? Scripture tells us:
"The gospel of the kingdom shall be preached in the whole world as a testimony to all the nations, and then the end will come.”11
The events leading up to the end of the world include God restoring the Jews to their homeland12 and a final attempt by Satan to annihilate the people of God in the person of the Antichrist.13
This attempt ultimately fails when Jesus Christ returns, destroys Satan, establishes His Kingdom on earth, and restores Paradise. At that time we will once again have direct communion with God. The story of the Bible and of our redemption will have come full circle. Genesis and Revelation complement each other in many ways helping us to see how things started and how they end. In summary:
- The book of the beginning
- The entrance of sin
- The earth cursed
- The entrance of death
- The entrance of suffering
- The doom of Satan pronounced
- Man driven out of Paradise
- The book of the end
- The end of sin
- The curse removed
- No more death
- No more suffering
- The doom of Satan executed
- Man restored to Paradise
The Book of Revelation tells us that the earth is restored to the restful Paradise that God had always intended. We are given a few descriptions about what eternity will be like in the last two chapters of Revelation, but there is much to look forward to that cannot be expressed in words. The Bible tells us, “No eye has seen, no ear has heard, and no human mind has conceived—the things God has prepared for those who love Him.”14
I’ve always found a description in C.S. Lewis’ work exciting and fitting for what awaits us in the eternity to come. I think of it often during the times when living the Christian life is challenging and it helps me press on…I hope it does the same for you:
“All their life in this world and all their adventures had only been the cover and the title page: now at last they were beginning Chapter One of the Great Story which no one on earth has read: which goes on forever: in which every chapter is better than the one before.”15
1 The Gospel of John 5:39
2 Numbers 21:9 compared with The Gospel of John 3:14-15
3 Deuteronomy 18:15 compared with Acts 7:23-26
4 Joshua 5:13-15 compared with Hebrews 2:10 and 12:2
5 Genesis 4:8 compared with 1 John 3:12
6 Exodus 14
7 The Gospel of Matthew 2:13
8 The Gospel of Matthew 3:1
9 The Gospel of Luke 7:22 and The Gospel of Matthew 8:27
10 The Gospel of Matthew 16:21
11 The Gospel of Matthew 24:14
12 Ezekiel 20:34
13 2 Thessalonians 2:1-9
14 1st Corinthians 2:9
15 C.S. Lewis, The Last Battle