As a pastor and disciple-maker, one of my goals is to help people learn how to read and study the Bible for themselves. I believe one of the best ways to enhance people’s ability to understand and study Scripture is to step back with them and look at the big picture message of the entire Bible. The reason this is helpful is because having a good understanding of the Bible’s big story helps us see how all the smaller parts of the Bible’s story fit together. Ultimately, every verse, passage, chapter, and book of the Bible fits into the one big story that God tells from Genesis to Revelation. Here is how I explain the big story of the Bible.
God’s plan for this world is to have his people, in his place, under his blessing. And the Bible tells the story of how that plan unfolds from creation and the fall into sin, to redemption, and ultimately the new creation. Let’s look at each of these stages in the story of the Bible and notice how God’s plan unfolds through each of them.
“In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth” (Genesis 1:1). That’s how God’s story begins. The first two chapters of the Bible (Genesis 1 and 2) show us God’s plan for history. God’s plan is to have his people (starting with Adam, Eve), in his place (the Garden of Eden), under his blessing. We are told that God intends for his people to grow as Adam and Eve have descendants (Genesis 1:28, “be fruitful and multiply”), and that they are to spread out over the entire earth (Genesis 1:28, “fill the earth and subdue it”) cultivating and keeping it until multitudes of people all over the world are enjoying life under the blessing of God. There is only one condition that God’s people must meet to remain his people, in his place, under his blessing: they must obey him. Specifically, they must obey the one command God gave them, which was not to eat from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil (Genesis 2:17).
Of course, in Genesis 3 we learn that, tragically, Adam and Eve fell to Satan’s temptations and ate from the tree in direct defiance of God’s command. As a result, God placed a curse upon Adam and Even, as well as the ground they were to subdue (Genesis 3:14-19). By sinning against God, and thereby bringing upon themselves God’s curse, every aspect of God’s plan was affected. Now, Adam and Eve were separated from God because of their sin, which means that without redemption they were no longer his people. Adam and Eve were also driven from God’s place (the Garden of Eden). And Adam and Eve were no longer under God’s blessing; rather, they were under God’s curse. This “fall” into sin presents a conflict in the Bible’s story that leaves one wondering how the conflict will be resolved and whether God’s plan to have his people, in his place, under his blessing will be able to be fulfilled.
Right in the middle of the passage where God’s curse is given, there is a glimmer of hope—a hope that God will redeem his people from the curse brought on by their sin. In Genesis 3:15, God promises that one day one of Eve’s descendants will come and crush the head of the serpent that tempted them and got them into this mess in the first place. As early as Genesis 3:15, then, we learn that God’s story will go on. His plan will be fulfilled. And so from this point on, the Bible tells the story of how God will redeem the world from sin and the curse so that one day he will indeed have his people, in his place, under his blessing as he planned all along.
As we read through the Bible’s story, we learn that there are two major phases of redemption: (1) God’s redemption of old covenant Israel, and (2) God’s redemption of the new covenant church. From the call of Abraham in Genesis 12 to the end of the Old Testament, the Bible’s story tells us how God began to redeem a people for himself. Abraham’s descendant’s (the nation of Israel) were God’s people. He redeemed them and forgave them of their sins. He allowed them to live in the Promised Land flowing with milk and honey. Out of all the nations on the earth, Israel experienced life under God’s blessing. They were his people, in his place, under his blessing. But, in order to maintain this, Israel (like Adam and Eve before them) had to meet a condition: they had to obey God’s law. By the time we get to the end of the Old Testament, we learn that Israel failed to obey God’s law, and as a result they were no longer God’s people, they were driven far from his place (in exile), and they were placed under his curse.
The second phase in the “redemption” stage of the Bible’s story is the new covenant church. At the beginning of the New Testament, Jesus (the hero of God’s story) steps onto the scene. Through his life, death, and resurrection Jesus establishes a new covenant relationship with God in which sinners from all nations can be redeemed from the curse of sin so that they can become God’s people, can have the promise of one day inheriting God’s place (the new creation), and can experience life under God’s blessing forever. This is our experience as the church of Jesus Christ. We are currently living in this phase of God’s story. And our job as characters in this part of the story is to tell as many people as possible how they can be redeemed from the curse of sin through Christ.
4. New Creation
But our present experience of redemption in Christ is not the end of the Bible’s story. The Bible teaches that one day Jesus will come again, and on that day he will finish the work of redemption that he started at his first coming. Satan will finally be crushed, sin will be eradicated, the curse and its devastating effects will be totally lifted, and God will make all things new. The bodies of believers will be raised from the dead and glorified, and creation will be renewed (Romans 8:19ff; Revelation 21-22). And in that new creation, all the redeemed of all the ages will experience God’s plan coming to fruition: we will be his people, in his place (the new heavens and new earth), under his blessing for eternity. Creation → Fall → Redemption → New Creation. Ultimately, all the individual stories of Scripture tie together to tell this one big story of the Bible.