It seems appropriate that in trying to unpack the Bible’s story-line, my Bible overview course should have its own refrain similar to that found in the early chapters of Genesis: “and then he copied … and then he copied … and then he copied ...” There is very little that you are about to read that I have not copied from others - although most of the brilliant diagrams are mine - and I am very grateful for their work which prevented much of my own. In particular I relied on Vaughan Roberts’ God’s Big Picture (IVP, 2003) which took its cue from Graeme Goldsworthy’s Gospel and Kingdom (Paternoster, 1981). It’s not that these books just surface in my material, they are my material, and all I can say is that I have no capital assets so save the legal fees. I am aware of the overview’s faults and could have made it better had I had more time to copy more material. If this copied course can be better copied by others so that others can better understand the Bible and better know Christ then I’ll feel a lot better.
The overview is online here in the form of the full script notes that I spoke from - what you’re about to read is meant to be said not read. It was presented in 4 sessions of approximately 50mins, with each session containing time for discussion and questions. This actually isn’t a lot of time for getting through material so some sections here are very thin: develop at will!
WEEK 1: THE PATTERN OF THE KINGDOM and THE PERISHED KINGDOM
Thank you for braving a course trying to do an overview of the whole Bible in 4 weeks! Quite a few of you have actually said to me ‘how on earth are you going to do the whole Bible in 4 sessions?’ Well if you think 4 weeks is pushing it, as I was preparing I came across the whole Bible in 50 words on the internet. Here it is:
God made, Adam ate, Noah built, Abraham split, Joseph ruled, Jacob fooled, bush talked, Moses balked, Pharaoh plagued, people walked, sea divided, tablets guided, land entered, Saul freaked, David peeked, prophets warned, Jesus born, God walked, love talked, anger crucified, hope died, Jesus rose, Spirit flamed, Word spread, God remained
Now I thought that was actually quite useful because it’s a really good example of how NOT to do a Bible overview. Obviously it’s a trivial example, but the key problem with that sort of overview is that it does not explain whether there is any connection between one episode and the next - it’s simply this happened, this happened, this happened, the end. The key problem is that that overview does not tell you what the Bible’s storyline is.
To develop this a bit, this means that in these 4 weeks what I am NOT going to be doing is looking at Genesis then Exodus then Leviticus then Numbers right through to Revelation as if that is what a Bible overview is all about. If we did it like that I think a) we’d all get lost in the details, we wouldn’t see the wood for the trees and b) I would bore you with the Bible. Bible boredom is a common phenomenon isn’t it and I think it happens precisely because we open our Bibles to read and we have no idea of where we are in the big picture of the Bible’s storyline.
You see imagine I told you that I had just read the “Lord of the Rings” trilogy and you asked me to tell you what it’s all about … it would test our friendship if I said to you, “Well, on page 1 we’re introduced to middle earth and then on pg 2 we learn a bit more about middle earth and then on pg 3 we’re .. then on pg 4” - well, I would bore you and massacre Lord of the Rings. And the reason is simply that to tell you what the Lord of Rings is about I need to tell you the story and I can condense it while still being faithful to the overall plotline. And the Bible is like that - if we went book by book by book we wouldn’t necessarily get the big picture.
So if that’s how not to do it, how should we do it? Well, what we’re going to do in these 4 weeks is take our cue from the Bible itself about what the whole Bible is about. So to see this, let’s turn to Mark 1:14, 15 - READ.
Now, firstly, if you look at v15, literally this verse reads “The time has been fulfilled. The kingdom of God is near”. Now this is very significant - it means that at the time of Jesus God’s people were waiting for something to be fulfilled. All their hopes and expectations - their hopes for the Messiah, their hopes to get their land back free of the Romans, their hopes for the new covenant that had been promised in Jeremiah - all these hopes came under the umbrella of the kingdom of God. The Jews believed that when God’s kingdom finally arrived they would get their Messiah, their King; they’d get their land back; they’d have the new covenant. Jesus arrives on the scene and says the time of waiting is over, God’s kingdom is about to arrive.
And this means that as we read the Old Testament, those books that make all the promises, that create all the expectations and hopes of fulfilment, we need to see the OT as being fundamentally about the kingdom of God. The kingdom of God is what the Bible is all about. Notice that Jesus mentions it here right at the start of his ministry and we know what happens from here on in the gospels - Jesus teaches about is the kingdom, doesn’t he? So we get all the parables, “The kingdom of God / kingdom of heaven is like …” The kingdom of God is what the Bible is all about.
Now of course the big question is this: what actually is the kingdom of God? Well what we’re going to see in these 4 weeks is that there are basically 3 main aspects to the kingdom of God - I’m taking it for granted that God is the king, that’s our starting point, but after this there are 3 main things which make up the kingdom of God.
Firstly there is a people who are ruled by the king; secondly there is a place where the king’s rule is recognized; thirdly there is the actual way in which the king rules. So three main aspects - people, place and rule. And what I’m going to be suggesting over these weeks is that the key to grasping the storyline of the Bible is to read the whole Bible as being fundamentally about God’s people, in God’s place, under God’s rule. That is what the Bible is about because that is what the kingdom of God is about.
But there’s another thing to grasp and that’s the Bible is all about Jesus - turn to Luke 24 with me. Now these three areas in v44, Law of Moses, Prophets and the Psalms are the three sections of the Hebrew Bible - it’s a way of saying that all 3 parts of the Old Testament write about Jesus. And this is massively significant for us as we read the OT - somehow, in some way, all the areas of the OT that we read are telling us about Jesus, pointing us to him. Now, the ways in which the OT does speak about Jesus will become clear as we do the overview.
I’ve tried to sum up these two points - the Bible is about the kingdom of God and the Bible is about Jesus - in Figure 1 on the inside of your handouts …
I wonder where you would go in the Bible to see the kingdom of God at work - where is the first place in the Bible that we discover what the kingdom of God is like? Well the answer is Genesis.
Genesis 1-2 gives us the pattern of the kingdom - Eden is God’s Garden kingdom, this is the first place we see God’s people, in God’s place, under God’s rule. The first 2 chapters of the Bible actually establish the pattern for the whole rest of the Bible in terms of what it’s going to be about.
Now, maybe you’re thinking - hang on, this is all about too neat and tidy, we’ve created a grid of people, place and rule and we’re already beginning to just impose this on the whole Bible. It’s a bit forced or contrived. Gen 1- 2 doesn’t even mention ‘the kingdom of God’ so how can we say that the creation story is all about the pattern of the kingdom? Maybe you’ve never heard of this before, it’s not how you’ve read Genesis 1-2 …
Well these are good questions to ask - we must be very wary of imposing any sort of grid on the texts that makes them say what they are not saying. But I think those sorts of fears here really aren’t necessary and the reason I say that is because we need to interpret the creation account the way the rest of the Bible actually interprets it - and the rest of the Bible interprets creation in kingdom ways. So you’ll see on your sheets I’ve put:
Do you see what the Psalmist is arguing here? How do you know God is the King? Well look at the world - he made it. He made the lowest points of the earth, the highest points, the wet bits, the dry bits - he made it all. This is Genesis 1 and 2 interpreted isn’t it, to tell us God is king. And this means that when we get inside the Bible’s own way of interpreting the Bible we now go back to Genesis 1 and 2 and we read it knowing that it is proving not just an abstract doctrine of creation - it’s proving that God is king.
So in groups now I’d like us to look at other aspects of God’s kingly rule in creation:
In Genesis 3 we see the kingdom perishing - God’s idyllic garden kingdom is wrecked by the fall. What happens in the fall is what I’ve put on your sheets there:
The created beings reject the rule of the Creator King, they try and make God subject to them, and yet they themselves are actually now subject to the created order, obeying a snake. It was meant to be God rules people who rule the creation … but Genesis 3 is creation ruling people trying to rule God, the entire order is inverted: that’s sin. It’s why in Romans 1 we repeatedly get the fall described as humanity ‘exchanging’ - taking what should be and exchanging it for the upside down back to front version.
And so now from Genesis 3-11 we get a fracturing, a disruption to all three of the elements of the kingdom:
Two main things now happen to God’s people - they die and they’re divided. Again and again in Gen 3 -11 we get his phrase ‘and then he died … and then he died … and then he died. And also God’s original people of Adam and Eve become divided into a godly line and a godless line and this will now run through the whole Bible - from Adam we get Seth’s line which will lead to Noah and then Abraham … but the godly line that comes through Noah splits again into a godless line with his son Ham, and a godly line with Shem which will lead to Abraham. This a key way to read Genesis 3-11 - as we read it we should be asking, who is going to be God’s people again, who is going to get right what Adam and Eve got wrong?
God’s place is gone, Adam and Eve banished from the garden and:
is seen now particularly in cursing and judgment - God curses the earth, sends judgment in the flood and with the Tower of Babel scattering mankind all over the earth.
So by chapter 11, things are in a pretty sorry state - the pattern of the kingdom has been destroyed by sin: the patterned kingdom has become the perished kingdom.
GOD'S BIG PICTURE
The pattern of the kingdom
Adam & Eve
The perished kingdom
Curse & judgement