“The Big Picture of God’s Mission”, a Concise Overview of the Entire Bible by Dr. Abner Chou
Adapted from this excellent lecture by Dr. Abner Chou, given in the Spring of 2012.
In revealing the truth of the grand story of the world, the Bible is the only authority for all of life. As such, Christians cannot read the Bible selfishly, attempting to apply everything in the Bible to their lives to promote personal change and godliness. While the Scripture is capable of accomplishing that, for sure, the focus of the entire Bible is on God alone, not man. Coming to the Bible under the paradigm of the supremacy of humanity will not yield true interpretations but will render the text useful only to the life of the reader. In reading the Bible selfishly, Christ is completely removed from the text, thereby emaciating the passages from the glory they inherently possess.
A new paradigm for Bible study is therefore necessary. This paradigm looks like suicide, but like the paradoxical truth which Jesus taught in Matthew 10:39, “He who saves his life shall lose it,” the person who casts his anxieties and faults on the Lord for His care, and pursues Him as He desires will receive grace that will facilitate change on a much grander scale.
To understand the Bible one must come to it with its full message in view. The goal of this essay is to teach the reader the full message of the Bible in a concise, comprehensive way which will facilitate a selfless, God-centered interpretation of His Holy Word so the reader will be able to coach himself through the true meaning of Scripture, slowly stifling the human urge to humanize the text.
The story of the Bible begins with the book of Job. Job functions like a prologue to the drama of the Bible. It establishes a fundamental question, which is, “Is God right?” In this book, the topic that is most debated is “who is the enemy?” The answer, however, is very easy to see, for Job’s name itself means “enemy.” The meat of the book is taken up by the eloquent dissertations of Job’s friends on the meaning of life—none of whom understand anything about life even though they are exceedingly wise. They (their worldly philosophies) could not figure it out. It is upon the paradigm of the human condition being as enemy of God that the story of the Bible is cast.
The Bible can be divided into three main sections which will aid in remembering the totality of such a complex literary work: God begins, God wars, and God wins.
1. God Begins
In the first section of history God begins all things starting with nothingness and creating a world with intricate detail and mind-blowing intentionality. This intentionality is what makes science absolute, or laws of nature actual laws. in God’s creation of water molecules and properties, he allowed for the future in which He would completely destroy the world with this life-giving substance. God alone created the world. Man was nowhere in the picture. It is all about God. He repeats his name ~40x times in the creation story alone denoting his absolute supremacy over the created order.
God also creates man in His image with the intention for man to rule and govern the creation as the stewards of the created order. However, in Genesis 3 a major paradigm shift occurs which shapes all of ancient and contemporary history. In one simple act the supernatural uses the natural to overthrow the entire created order. Satan uses a snake, who was the lowest of the created order, to seduce the second in command, Eve. Adam, as king, should have marked the authority threat and put it down (as any king would do). However, Adam stands right next to his wife and sins with her, choosing to believe a lie in place of the truth—placing a higher priority on the words of the creation than the Word of the Creator. At that point the created order was completely distorted, subverted and perverted.
In the midst of the newly fallen world, God immediately makes a promise to Adam and Eve, promising them restoration and hope (salvation, purification, rest, joy, etc.). In Genesis 3:15 God promises a seed that will come from Eve and will reverse the curse, restoring the paradigm of perfection. God will not allow Satan to take over. He will preserve a line through unbelievable circumstances, showing Himself to be the only one worthy of the title “Faithful.” In this first gospel given to Adam and Eve the primary element missing is the promise to man. Noticeably missing is man’s benefit of eternal life, or redemption from sin. These are important elements in the lives of mankind, but in the eyes of God, they are a by-product of a much greater plan and purpose that revolves solely around (actions vindicating) His (supreme, authentic) glory.
2. God Wars
Amidst the utter chaos of the young creation, God preserves His plan and accomplishes His predestined purposes through what would appear to be a failure. The failure of this new creation would warrant extreme action by God in the same way a failed painting would warrant extreme action by the master painter. God had every right and ability to scrap the creation, even the entire universe, and restart His created perfection. However, in doing so He would have to admit failure. In scrapping a failed painting, the painter is admitting failure and defeat. In scrapping the world, God would be admitting failure and defeat. Neither of which are a reality for a perfect God. Therefore, God embarks on an ironic mission of showing Himself capable of reversing the fall of man, restoring perfection, and defeating Satan, effectively putting Himself on display as the ultimate source of power and perfection.
In God’s plan to restore perfection, He reveals Himself through long, ironic narratives which contain His historical and supernatural presence. God is interested in the vindication of His righteousness over all things. The way He deals with mankind reflects His righteousness and perfection. He even uses certain specific experiences and happenings to directly mimic the occurrences in the garden of Eden with Adam, Eve, and Satan. All of history is shaped by the dramatic, ironic flow of events as orchestrated by a God concerned with revealing Himself as the only supreme God from whom all goodness, truth, and beauty flows.
God begins to shape history through covenants (powerful cosmic promises) which He alone makes with the people whom He chooses. These people are in no way deserving of God’s grace and love, but in choosing them God shows even more so that it is He alone who drives the destiny of men. God alone has the power to reverse the curse and defeat sin.
The Noahic Covenant
The first major exposition of the power of God on the earth after creation was the flood. The flood was judgment on mankind and deliverance of the righteous, moving God’s redemptive plan forward in its trajectory of perfection. In destroying the earth, God essentially recreates all of existence to start over. He preserves a single line of people—the family of Noah. God enters into a covenant with Noah, forming the first major covenant with mankind. God promises to save Noah and his family from His wrath, and ultimately promises rest. Noah receives the favor of God and begins settling and populating this renewed creation. God keeps His covenant with Noah and blesses his offspring, allowing him to prosper and multiply over the face of the earth, creating a new world.
The Abrahamic Covenant
As history progresses, God enters into another covenant with a common Gentile man from Mesopotamia—Abraham. God chooses an old man and promises to make the greatest nation in history out of his descendants. God chooses yet again the most ironic choice of a man to make the greatest promise in history. Against all odds God gives Abraham and his elderly wife a child, showing His control over every single aspect of the creation, displaying His power and faithfulness. In one covenant God gives the power to reverse the curse to one unlikely, broken family. The nation that God promised to make out of Abraham’s seed became the nation of Israel which means “God fights.” The purpose of Israel was to be a platform to show the world God’s campaign against sin and the fall, to be the spearhead of his war on sin and the curse. In Exodus 7 God delivers His people from slavery in Egypt by sending ten plagues upon the Egyptian people, directly attacking each of the Egyptian pantheon, showing Himself as the only true God who is supremely all-powerful.
As God leads His people through the wilderness to the promised land where He promised them rest and blessing, God has Israel make a tabernacle which they place in the center of their camp. In everything they did, God always resided in the middle of their camp as their King. This weirdly monotheistic-theocratic nation stood out from the Ancient Near Eastern culture of polytheistic monarchy like a sore thumb. God uses Israel to fight—and to make a statement doing it!—to make the creation His own.
The Mosaic Covenant
In Exodus 19 God makes a covenant with Moses which defines Israel’s position and plot in history. Their job is to make an international impact. God gives His nation His Law which is perfect and holy. In keeping this Law, Israel will be witnesses to teach the world of who God is. The word “Law” means “instruction.” Even the definition of the Law shows its purpose: to teach and point to God Himself. When Israel keeps His Law, He promised blessings on them. These blessings show the world that God can and will turn the world around. The Mosaic Covenant establishes how Israel will dwell in the world.
The Davidic Covenant
Once the nation of Israel enters into the Promised Land and begins to make an international impact from their homeland under the blessing and rule of God Himself, the people begin to rebel. They become so callous to God they reject Him as King and choose their own king. God removes this king and places David, His choice of a king, into power. In 2 Samuel 7, God makes a covenant with David, the earthly king of Israel. He promises to make a great nation from David and bless him and his descendants. In chapter 8, David begins conquering everything, expanding the kingdom of Israel exponentially. However, David is not capable of wielding the power of the Davidic Covenant, so all the blessings come to an end. The King who will wield this Covenant must be perfect but every king in Israel is under the fall and completely incapable of fulfilling these stipulations, even David, who was God’s choice of king and the man whom God declared as being the “man after His own heart” (1 Samuel 13:14).
David’s son, Solomon showed great promise of being the Covenant-wielding king, and even had wisdom from God Himself; however, he too fell short and failed miserably. Every single king of Israel failed, so all the other Covenants go unfulfilled because they all find fulfillment in the Davidic Covenant which acts as the covenantal lynch pin.
Due to Israel’s complete failure, they were sent into exile and placed under the curse of God because of their disobedience. They were exiled in Babylon, which is the land of the Chaldeans in Mesopotamia (which, ironically, is where Abraham was originally from). When they are taken to exile, God is essentially starting over with the nation. The prophet Micah lived in this time and recorded that “the glory of Israel will enter Adullam” (1:15). This is a reference back to David when he began his wilderness years running from Saul in a cave in Adullam. Everything about the nation of Israel goes back to zero.
The Prophecy of The True King
With so much cursing, it is obvious to Israel that God is judging them for their sin and unfaithfulness. However, He reminds them through various prophets that He has not lost. The prophets prophesy of a King who will come and be able to save the day and fulfill the Covenants. God makes the scene even darker so that the glory of the Son - The Messiah, The Great King - looks even brighter, so His Son can be the ultimate hero.
The Hope of Israel
The Old Testament is filled with texts about this King who will fulfill all of history. In Psalm 72 Solomon writes about the King who will rule in all righteousness. He obviously does not fulfill this, so he is looking forward to One who can. Psalm 110 sets the precedent for the King who will also be priest and will rule in righteousness. The prophet Isaiah declares that the Hope of Israel will be born of a virgin (Isaiah 7:14), and the government will be upon His shoulders because He will be a king and will reign (Isaiah 9). The prophets show that all is not lost for there will be a King to fulfill everything. Prophets like Isaiah, Ezekiel, Daniel, etc. will have multiple visions which give them hope for the future.
The New Covenant
Ezekiel 34 speaks of a Shepherd who will come in and make a New Covenant with the people, because He is the only one who can do that—He makes all things new by virtue of his death and resurrection. He bore sin and started a New Covenant which works better than before because it changes people. The older Covenants promised things to happen to people or the earth, but in the New Covenant the fall itself is directly attacked. If all the effects of the fall are reversed then the perfection which was at the beginning is restored, effectively reversing it.
Malachi speaks of a Messenger who will launch all this redemption and introduce the New Covenant by introducing the Seed which was promised to Eve in Genesis 3:15 and Abraham in Genesis 15:6. Christ will kick off the new beginning after Adullam (the exile), and will be born in the same place as David, restarting the paradigm. Christ begins rebuilding the fallen Davidic dynasty.
This parallel is clearly seen in the many ironic replay of events that happen in Christ’s life starting with His childhood. Pharaoh in Egypt killed the Israelite male babies, and Herod killed the male babies of Bethlehem. Both were afraid. God will do the same thing with Jesus that He did with Israel. Jesus will bring the nation home. Christ was even brought “out of Egypt” (Matt. 2:15) just like Israel was brought out of Egypt (Hosea 11:1). Jesus is the replacement for Israel. Both are called the “son of God.” In Luke 2, Christ is born into rejection from all sides. Jesus is born into the shame of the exile in order to turn it around.
After his baptism, the first action Jesus takes is to go into the wilderness—the place where they all left off, to be tested for forty days…and pass the test no king has passed. It is all about Jesus. In His ministry, everyone (the Sadducees, Pharisees, Herod, etc) clashes with Him because He is the true Authority. Jesus begins and does most of His ministry in Galilee (Northern Israel) because strategically, the way to defeat Israel is to come from the North (just like Assyria in 722BC). His coming and ministry was an action of conquest. He was baptized in the Jordan, then enters the land conquering for God, again.
Jesus proves that He can undo the fall. He is perfect in every way and has the power of God Himself. One of the most important miracles Jesus performed on this earth was making the blind see (John 9). Jesus has the ability to reverse the curse physically and spiritually, opening people’s eyes physically and spiritually so people can see anew.
The culmination to Jesus’ time on earth was His death on the cross. He dies by being hung on a tree, fulfilling the law of Deuteronomy 21:22-23, taking the corporate punishment for His people, because that is what Kings do. In that death the wrath of God was poured out on Christ, and the darkness exploded. In that instant God cursed Jesus, putting Him in a position of absolute, perfect hatred. God hated Him and desired to make Him nothing (Matthew 27). The first glimpse the reader has of this new created order under the kingship of Christ is in the response of the Roman centurion at the foot of the cross. Matthew 27:52 records this salvation that is for both Jew and Gentile. The Roman centurion’s heart had been changed from within, changing his view and opinion of circumstances. He no longer called Caesar the “son of god,” but saw Christ as the true “Son of God” and the “Caesar” of the new creation and new order.
After Christ’s death, He is buried but rises again on the third day, on a Sunday. He is raised on the first day of the week because there is a new paradigm for life with a new creation. Now the paradigm for life is “life—>death—>life,” not “life—>death.” In the garden, where Jesus was buried, He meets Mary who mistakes Him for the gardner. This is a picture back to Genesis 3. The woman (picture of Eve) has the curse reversed in a garden (picture of Eden) by the new Gardner, ie: the new “Adam”. God has come full circle, finally, after thousands of years of drawing the plot to completion. The ironic climax to such an intricate transcendent story is incredible!
By resurrecting from the dead, Jesus makes a new creation which is called His Church. The Church’s job in the world is much like Israel’s purpose in the world. The church is to glorify God by showing others His power to reverse the curse. However, in the church now, the people can give the world a taste of what is to come. Things have not yet been finished, but it has been started. When the church struggles against sin it is for the glory of God. That is what shapes the significance of the modern believer’s life.
3. God Wins
In Isaiah 6 the visions point to Revelation 4 and 5 which tell the final story of what will finally happen. Now, the complete plan of God is revealed to the believer. Christ takes the Covenant that should have been fulfilled and fulfills it. The ramifications for the judgment of the world is yet to come. The judgments over the world and creation match God’s original order in creation because God wins over all creation. In Zechariah 14 every king passes over the Mount of Olives, but when Christ comes, the Mount is split in two. There will be no escape, only victory.
The millennial kingdom, which is yet to come, proves that Christ can reign and will be successful. The new Adam wins which inaugurates the final new creation (Revelation 21-22) where God will be glorified perfectly for eternity.
This story which spans all of time, impacts all mankind, and gives reason and understanding for every single purpose and achievement in life is the only context which a person can live in and truly feel content. In this paradigm of truth, one can live and be blessed by God through the Covenant which has been fulfilled in His Son. In this new creation, believers are given a “new heart” which has the ability to love God purely and keep the “heart of the law” (Deut. 6:4). God has instated a new way of life which begins in the transformation of the heart that believes in Him and His Son. One illustration of this transformation that modern people do not understand is the example of marriage. Marriage is a recapitulation of the Gospel. The reason that children obey their parents is because their obedience represents the obedience of Christ to God. So, all the small things become huge because the mundane activities of life declare a theology of God, pointing to Him as Sovereign King.
God is glorious.