The Bible's Story, part 1
Jesus: The God Who Saves
What is the Bible about and why? The Bible is about how Jesus brings sinners into a relationship with God that will never end. This is the Bible's story. It is a story that can be given different titles. It can be called the story of reconciliation because Jesus reconciles those who are alienated from God back to Him (2 Corinthians 5:18-19). He makes peace between a Holy God and sinful rebels. It can be called the story of salvation because Jesus saves those who are destined for destruction from what is coming to them (Acts 4:12). It can be called the story of redemption because God purchases and frees those who are shackled in bondage under the power of sin and death (Ephesians 1:7-10). Deliverance, restoration, and re-creation are some other options.
All possible titles for the Bible's story have something in common. They all summarize the story of how Jesus brings sinners into a relationship with God that will never end. They highlight different aspects of what Jesus does. They look at what Jesus does from a different angle. But they are looking at the same Jesus and the same story from the same book. The name Jesus means, "The Lord saves," or, "The Lord is salvation" (Matthew 1:21). Jesus is the Lord, and Jesus saves sinners. He brings them, by His grace and power not theirs, into an unending relationship with God. This is the Bible's story, the story of redemption in Christ.
Eternal Life: God's Gift
A relationship with God that never ends is the gift of eternal life (Romans 6:23). This is another way to summarize the Bible's story. It is the story of God giving people eternal life through Jesus. The Bible is one large book made up of 66 small books. The Bible's 66 small books are divided into two testaments, the Old Testament (39 books) and the New Testament (27 books). The Old Testament spans from creation to about 400 years before Jesus. It promises, predicts, and prefigures Christ in various ways. The New Testament begins events surrounding the births and ministries of John the Baptist and Jesus and ends with the sure expectation of Jesus' return in the future. It chronicles the fulfillment and realization of what the Old Testaments promised, predicted, and prefigured, namely, Christ and the redemption that He accomplishes.
The 39 books of the Old Testament have different kinds of writings arranged in four sections: the Pentateuch (the first five books), the historical books (the next twelve), books of wisdom and poetry (the next five), and the Prophets (the final 17). The 27 books of the New Testament contain four gospels (theological and historical biographies of Jesus), one book of history (Acts of the Apostles), 21 letters (also called epistles), and the Book of Revelation (a unique blend of letters and prophecy). Both testaments, every section, and each individual book are vital parts of one overarching story, the story of God giving people eternal life through Jesus.
This answers what the Bible is about. But why is the Bible about this? Why is the Bible about how Jesus brings sinners into a relationship with God that will never end (i.e., eternal life)? There are two answers to this question because why can be asked in different ways. The answers are distinct but inseparably related. First, we want to know the origin of this story. Why does it exist? Where does it come from? Second, we want to know the goal of this story. Where is it going? What will it accomplish? One answer looks back and the other answer looks forward. Both answers tell us about the nature and significance of the Bible's story, the story of redemption in Christ Jesus.
Looking Back: God's Eternal Purpose
Why is the Bible about redemption in Christ? Because redemption in Christ was and is God's eternal purpose. We look back, therefore, to God himself and his eternal purpose to understand why the things in the Bible exist and happen. God chose what he wanted to do based solely on His wisdom, desires, and unchanging character. He did not consult anyone or call a meeting. He did not take a survey of popular opinion. There was no one else. There was nothing else. There was only God dwelling in eternity-this is beyond comprehension since we live in time and think according to temporal succession-in the blissful perfection of divine joy, peace, freedom, holiness, delight, and infinite love of Father, Son, and Holy Spirit (Ephesians 1:3-14; 3:7-13). "Before the mountains were brought forth, or ever you had formed the earth and the world, from everlasting to everlasting you are God" (Psalm 90:2).
God determined what he wanted to do. He determined to create and oversee a world where he would give people eternal life through Jesus, who is God the Son become a man. He is the Savior of the story of salvation, the Redeemer of the story of redemption, the giver of eternal life to all who believe. He is the Christ, the anointed King who conquers God's enemies, delivers God's people, and rules over all things in justice, righteousness, mercy, and gracious love and faithfulness; whose kingdom will have no end.
Why is the Bible about redemption in Christ? God determined that His world would be about it; and the Bible simply tells us what the world is about. Ours is a world where Jesus, through the power of the Holy Spirit and the liberating message of redemption, is actively bringing sinners into a relationship with God that will never end. The Bible tells us so.
Looking Forward: God with His People in Glory
Why is the Bible about redemption in Christ? Because it explains where the world is headed and how it will get there. The redeemed of God look forward, that is, to dwelling with God forever in resurrection glory (Romans 8:18-25; 1 Corinthians 15:42-58; Revelation 21:1-4). We anticipate a grand display of God's radiant glory where we will be living and holy reflections of his character who see Him and sing of Him in a proper way. The Bible is the story of how Christ makes this happen. He attains resurrection glory; he shares resurrection glory with others (Hebrews 2:10). We look forward to this end-goal of all things.
This is why the Bible is about redemption in Christ: God is going to dwell with a redeemed people forever in glory, and redemption in Christ is how he does it. This is where the story is headed. This is what Jesus is accomplishing. This is what history is moving toward. This is the hope of Christians everywhere. This is the gift and the message the church shares with the world in with genuine compassion and strong conviction. It is inevitable because it is linked to God's eternal purpose. God is creating a people holy unto himself in Christ. Come! Join the festal gathering and worship your Lord and Maker through faith in His Son, Jesus Christ. "Come, everyone who thirsts, come to the waters; and he who has no money, come, buy and eat! Come, buy wine and milk without money and without price" (Isaiah 55:1).
As we look back to God's eternal purpose, we must look forward to the end-goal that His purpose had in mind. The Bible's story connects the two. The story of redemption is birthed in God and his eternal purpose. The story of redemption is completed when God, at the end of the ages, dwells with his redeemed people forever in glory.
Think of two dots connected by a line. One dot is God's eternal purpose that He freely determined in eternity past without consulting any outside source. The other dot is the future and grand display of God's glory where He shares personal fellowship with a large group of people who reflect Him, love Him, and sing His praises. The line that connects that dots is history. We know about the dots and the line because God has told us about them in the Bible. The Bible's story, therefore, is about how God purposed redemption, how God accomplishes redemption, and how God completes and consummates redemption. It is all done in Christ. It is all part of one story that is from God, for God, and unto God (Romans 11:36). There is a simple scheme to things:
- Before Creation: God purposed redemption in Christ in eternity past
- In Creation: God accomplishes redemption in Christ in time and history
- A New Creation: God completes and consummates redemption in Christ to close out this age
The Plotline: Christ's Suffering and Glory
What is Bible study? Bible study is learning from God about the line that connects His eternal purpose to the completion of that purpose at the end of time as we know it. Bible study is the Spiritual act of seeing more clearly and grasping more deeply the plotline of God's story of redemption in Christ. The story is not static, but dynamic. It is not monolithic, but multifaceted. It moves. It develops. It has stages like a seed to sprout to sapling to shade treed. There is always unity in what God is doing, but there is also diversity along the way. The more we grasp this plotline, the more we will grasp God's will for our lives. As we grasp His will for our lives more and more, we, by faith and the Spirit's power, are empowered to live for Him more and more. First we must hear God's Word. Then we can live according to God's Word. Both the hearing and living come from Christ. Both are gifts to be enjoyed by grace through faith.
Think of a novel with one main point or a play about one major event. The chapters are not all the same. The acts and scenes differ from each other. But all the diversity does not do away with the story's unity. The diverse steps and scenes, rather, serve the story's unity. They explain the one main story in an unfolding way. They move in a meaningful and purposeful way toward a conclusion. The Bible's story works this way also. There are different eras, or epochs of redemptive history. From era to era, God moves closer and closer, with purpose and careful design, to fulfilling his eternal purpose and dwelling with his people forever. The eras are distinct but related one to another.
Jesus helps us begin to think about these eras in a simple way. He used two simple concepts, two "steps" to summarize the Bible's story at the most basic level. Jesus summarized the Bible's plotline as the story of His suffering and glory. This is a good place to begin. The story of redemption in Christ unfolds in a story about Christ's suffering unto glory. In the Old Testament, it is promised, predicted, and prefigured. In the New Testament, it is fulfilled and realized.
What does the Bible say? It says about Jesus' teaching, "'Was it not necessary that the Christ should suffer these things and enter into his glory?' 27And beginning with Moses and all the Prophets, he interpreted to them in all the Scriptures the things concerning himself" (Luke 24:26-27; cf. Luke 24:44-47). Peter likewise explained how the Prophets, "predicted the sufferings of Christ and the subsequent glories" (1 Peter 1:11; n.b. 10-12; cf. Acts 3:13-18). The author of Hebrews uses the same framework to summarize Christ's work. "For it was fitting that he, for whom and by whom all things exist, in bringing many sons to glory, should make the founder of their salvation perfect through suffering" (Hebrews 2:10; cf. Hebrews 5:8-9; 9:24-26). Finally, John sees a symbolic vision that communicates the same thing. He "saw a Lamb standing, as though it had been slain" (Revelation 5:6), that symbolizes "the Lion of the tribe of Judah, the Root of David, [who] has conquered, so that he can open the scroll and its seven seals." He saw, in other words, the One who suffered unto glory to accomplish God's purpose of redemption. These are but the clearest examples.
Christ Jesus suffered unto glory to save sinners. This summarizes the two most basic concepts, or "steps" in the Bible's plotline. This is how the story unfolds. This is how redemption in Christ is accomplished.
Step one, Jesus endured suffering on earth.
Step two, Jesus entered glory in heaven.
This gives us a good footing for further Bible study. This is how Jesus summarizes the plotline that connects God's eternal purpose with the end of time as we know it.
Remember that the Bible tells the story of redemption. We think about Jesus' suffering and glory, therefore, as redemptive in nature. Jesus experienced redemptive suffering. Second, Jesus experienced (and still experiences) redemptive glory. This means that his suffering and glory are the very things that achieve God's purposed redemption. They fulfill God's purpose. They save sinners. They bring the end of the world as we know to our doorstep. Jesus suffered and was glorified for the glory of God and the salvation of sinners.
Where does eternal life come from? Eternal life comes from Jesus sharing his glory with undeserving sinners. It is the glory of resurrection life. It is Jesus giving you and I that which he earned. Ineffable mercy! To say this gift is profound does not scratch the surface. It is immeasurably undeserved and immeasurably wonderful. Thank you, Jesus (Ephesians 2:7; 3:18-19)!
Now, there is one word from the Bible that summarizes all of this. To this word we turn next.