The story of the Bible may not be evident unless you read cover to cover. It helps to have a picture of what the entire story is. The main portions of the Bible story are laid out chronologically here:
2. Early history
3. Creating Israel
4. Kingdom of Israel
5. Israel in Captivity
6. Re-building Israel
7. Time of Christ
8. Era of the Church
God makes the universe with the earth fully in tact and functional. Once the earth is fully prepared He creates man and woman. Mankind is the crux of creation and represents God’s image. Adam and Eve, the first man and woman, failed to adhere to God’s image, thereby forfeiting all rights to life.
God is merciful and forestalls judgement, allowing time for mankind to repent of its selfishness. Each generation continues to fail God’s glory and require salvation. God initiates a plan to save mankind. This plan will come through a child which will suffer at the hands of the ultimate enemy: Satan, but will emerge victorious.
God narrows His promise of a savior through the man Abraham. Abraham is a friend of God by trusting Him. God is pleased with how Abraham trusts and tries to do what is right. God makes a solemn promise to Abraham that his descendants would be numerous, that they would inherit a land to live in, and that one of them would be the key to saving the whole earth from the clutches of sin and Satan.
Three generations after Abraham, twelve brothers and their families have opportunity to move to Egypt to escape famine. These twelve brothers establish twelve tribes. Their father, Israel, became the name-sake for the nation. While in Egypt, the nation of Israel grew quite numerous just as God had promised.
While in Egypt the twelve tribes of Israel grow to be a large nation. So large, that the Egyptians fear they would pose a security threat. The Pharaoh enslaves them to the point of genocide. After four centuries they remember God and pray in desperation. God decides to use Moses to bring them out of Egypt.
God sends Moses to Pharaoh with the demand to let His people go. After each denial, God sends a plague on Egypt. Each plague increases in detriment to match the stubbornness of Pharaoh. By the tenth round, the Israelites are set free and are guided into the wilderness. God brings them to Mt Sinai to officialize a covenant with them. God agrees to bring them into Palestine and protect them if they serve Him only.
God giving His law to Israel is the defining moment of establishing Israel as a nation. “Yahweh” is their God, their King, and their leader. They agree to be His people. The Law defines how to be holy and pure. God spells out certain rituals and sacrifices that would train them to think purely. They are purposed to usher in Abraham’s son of promise. The purpose of Abraham’s nation is to prepare the world for a savior. The purpose of the law is to prepare Israel for that savior.
The initial generation out of Egypt does not fully commit to trusting God and do not enter the land. The subsequent generation enters and drives out the godless inhabitants under the direction of Joshua. Unfortunately, not all evil is removed from the land at this time and, slowly, a poor influence changes the heart of the young nation.
A pattern emerges in every generation where God would send an antagonist nation to compel the people to turn back to the law. After a time of oppression, Israel would indeed cry out to God for help. He would send a judge to free them and turn them back. It gets to the point where this happens almost every generation for three centuries. The people realize they needed a king. But rather than see God as King, they request to be like other nations around them.
The people want a king like the nations around them, so God gives them Saul. Saul is the first king of Israel, but far from a good or even decent leader. He spends most of his reign chasing after his better replacement. God had chosen a man after His own heart to be the true king of Israel and have a lasting dynasty. This man was David. When David ascended the throne officially, he began the golden age of Israel’s entire history.
God is pleased with David like He had been of Abraham. He promises David that his descendant would be a lasting king and would be Abraham’s son of promise. This son would be a long time away, because Israel soon fell into disrepair. Within one generation after David and the Golden age, political unrest splits the country into two. Now, instead of one united Israelite nation, there is a northern kingdom of Israel and a southern kingdom of Judah.
The kings of Israel are all evil, and do not trust or obey God’s law. After hundreds of years, God finally sends the Assyrians to destroy Israel and completely disperse them. Judah sees this, but instead of learning, they become even worse. Only a handful of Judah’s kings remain faithful to God. Each good king is blessed and becomes a shining beacon for the son of promise. Yet once Judah had fallen too far to revive away from God’s law, God sends the Babylonians to carry away Judah.
Judah is captured in several waves, starting with the best and brightest and ending with the complete destruction of Judah’s capitol: Jerusalem. While the Israelites are in captivity they mourn their fall, but start to make new lives. Certain prophets remind them that God hasn’t left them completely. For those who remain faithful even now, God would bring them back into the land and bless them as before.
Judah’s punishment was not as total as Israel’s; God has not forgotten David’s line. Most of Judah is dispersed into captivity. After a generation, a few return to rebuild the lost kingdom. They start with the temple, the symbol of closeness with God. And then, after a generation, they complete Jerusalem’s walls. The last contact God has with his people is focused on getting them to focus their hearts and prepare for Abraham and David’s son: the king.
God intends to leave a period of time without contact before the Messiah comes. During this time, no prophets speak and no scripture is written. For four hundred years the refreshed Israel awaits their king. During this time the world changes. Alexander the Great conquers the known world. The Israelites become divided again between orthodox Judaism and Greek followers. Amidst this cultural shift, the Romans dominate. The Jews earn a reputation of being stubborn and rebellious. They do not take well to Roman authority.
The orthodox Jews anticipate the Messiah more than ever. They begin to interpret the prophecies about him as literal. They want the coming king to defeat the Romans once and for all. They develop an ultra-pious adherence to law and some of the strictest call themselves Pharisees. The Pharisees become teachers of the commoner. The more Greek oriented Jews are willing to adopt foreign culture and think more about politics. The Romans allow these to lead the politics and the temple worship. These become known as Sadducees.
When the story of Jesus begins, Israel is ready for the son of David. The problem is they have radically different expectations than God has. Jesus comes in complete humility and non-glamor. He spends thirty years in His home town of Nazareth as a wood-worker. During this time He doesn’t draw attention to Himself but fits in and waits. Then, the time of the kingdom comes, and He begins to preach.
Jesus speaks a completely new way. He takes command of His teaching and preaches as having authority. His words are spoken as if equal and superior to the Jewish Scriptures. To back up His claims to authority He works signs and miracles. He heals the sick and casts out demons. He knows inner thoughts and commands storms. His preaching and miracles draw thousands upon thousands. Both Jews and gentiles come to Him for healing.
Jesus’ teachings about Himself and the kingdom of God are intentionally ambiguous. He teaches in parables and stories so that those who want to hear will and those who remain skeptical will find reason to doubt. There is ample proof that Jesus is from God. Jesus’ ministry is designed so that we must first submit to His authority. When we allow Jesus to have full authority over us, then everything fits together. Jesus’ primary teaching is about self sacrifice. He anticipates His own sacrifice to forgive the world of its sins, and urges us to give ourselves up too.
While the commoner is focused on the healings and disregard the message, the leaders (Pharisees and Sadducees) take offense at Jesus’ teachings and ignore the signs. The Pharisees could tell that Jesus was not an army general and did not intend to overthrow Rome. In addition, Jesus taught that leaders must be servants. They could not allow this. The Sadducees did not like how Jesus anticipated a new worship and spiritual kingdom. Both Pharisee and Sadducee would be made void by Jesus’ teachings.
In an opportune moment, the Pharisees and Sadducees join together to manipulate a mock trial against Jesus. They railroad Him using mob tactics rather than justice. They stir enough people up in Jerusalem to bring Him before the Roman authorities. The Roman governor Pilate sees nothing wrong with Jesus. They insist on His death. They persist so much that Pilate allows them to crucify Jesus. Rather than objecting to the process, Jesus knows this is the sacrifice that will redeem man from sin. He silently lets it happen.
After the death of Jesus, all His followers lose hope. Not even His own disciples understand His teachings about self sacrifice. They think that His death is final, not understanding that the Messiah, called God with us, mighty God, and only begotten from the Father, could not be contained by death. Jesus rises on the third day after His death. After some convincing, His disciples now understand that this fulfills everything about the plan from the beginning. Jesus is Abraham’s son and David’s heir, and by His sacrifice has opened up the path to salvation for the entire world.
As Jesus goes back to the Father to sit on the throne of heaven, the disciples have work to do. They have the task of speaking Jesus’ words to the world and convincing as many as will hear that Jesus’ resurrection can save souls. Those who hear gather regularly in assemblies to learn and encourage proper behavior. The assembly, or church, exists to praise God and await Jesus’ return when He will bring this world to an end and restore everything. At that final time, those found to be in Jesus’ teachings and in His death will be saved and granted eternal life with God in the new creation. Those found opposing Jesus’ teachings and outside of His death will be given what is due: eternal death away from God’s presence.
The message of salvation spreads like wildfire. Many reject the notion of resurrection. Yet enough receive it so that the message is spread across the known world. The first part of the church’s history is about establishing the truth. The apostles and other chosen men and women work signs and wonders to validate true teachings. The apostles speak for Jesus. What they say is an extension of what Jesus says. Letters are written to various churches and regions in order to help instruct truth.
Once the truth is established, the miracles have completed their purpose. Rather than seeing signs today, we see testimony written in the letters to the churches. These letters and writings about Jesus are gathered together by the early churches and comprise the ‘New Testament’. The church is the body of Jesus, and there is only one body. The plethora of churches are due to various sources of authority. When the words of Jesus and the apostles are understood as the only authority for truth, then God’s church emerges united.
The goal of gathering as a church today is to mirror the example of the apostles. We read their words and the words of Jesus to encourage each other to love and do good and praise God. We bring as many souls as we can to the death and resurrection of Jesus. The church waits through the centuries and millennia until the patience of God has met completion. When the final judgment comes then the church will be united with its savior Jesus the King and with its Father the Almighty God.