What is the story of Scripture?
As part of the Doctor of Ministry program at Dallas Theological Seminary, there are a significant number of electives I can take. For the Winter 2023 semester, I took a class titled Understanding the Biblical Story. At first I was a little concerned that it would be too much like an introductory “Bible survey” course. I was very pleasantly surprised. Seeing all of Scripture weaved together in one grand unifying story was fascinating to me. For the largest assignment, we had to essentially replicate what was presented in class in the form of a paper. So, with that introduction in place—here it is.
While the Bible, the Word of God, is 66 books, divided into two testaments, written by approximately forty different authors over the course of approximately 1,500 years, it is not 66 disparate or disconnected accounts of the unfolding of God’s plan. Rather, Scripture is one grand, unified story. The books of the Bible are of different genres and are written to distinct audiences, but they all share a role in the presentation and explanation of God’s cohesive plan.
The primary genre of Scripture is narrative. Even the sections of Scripture that are poetic, prophetic, and epistolary are set within a narrative context. Narrative, or storytelling, has been a primary means of communication and education in virtually every culture in world history, and it still is today. It makes sense, then, that God would choose to reveal His plan for humanity through narrative. By utilizing narrative, God can communicate His truth in a way that is relatable and understandable to all of humanity.
In a narrative, there are several key features: setting/prologue, initial conflict, rising action, climax, resolution, and epilogue. While the various features are emphasized differently, virtually every narrative will contain these aspects in its storyline. A good story will give adequate attention to each aspect of the narrative.
The setting is where the main characters and locations are introduced, providing what is needed to understand the plot of the story. The initial conflict, or inciting incident, then introduces the conflict or issue that disrupts the setting. Once the conflict is introduced, the interconnected stories are arranged in such a way that they carry the plotline through the remaining aspects of the narrative.
The rising action section of a narrative, often the largest portion, describes how the hero of the story attempts to solve the problem introduced in the initial conflict. The rising action eventually leads to the climax, in which the resolution of the conflict is achieved, or at least the means of the resolution is discovered.
After the climax comes the resolution, in which the results of the conflict ending are outlined. In the resolution, the benefits of the hero’s victory are put in motion and the consequences for the villain are put into action. Then, at the conclusion of the resolution, the epilogue presents the end results of the hero’s victory, not always a “and they all lived happily ever after,” but generally so.
All of these common aspects of a narrative can be found in the story of Scripture. The grand unfolding of God’s plan plays out as a beautiful storyline. Despite the many difficulties that occur in between the initial conflict and the resolution, the epilogue exceeds the state of the initial setting, which was spectacular in its own right.
The Story of Scripture: The Setting
At first glance, it seems most logical to introduce the setting at the beginning of the Bible, in Genesis chapters 1–2. And while Genesis chapters 1–2 do indeed give us the setting of the story of Scripture, there is a “pre-setting” that is described briefly in other parts of Scripture.
At some point in time before the creation account in Genesis chapters 1–2, or perhaps between “heavens” and “earth” in Genesis 1:1, God created angelic creatures (Job 38:7). The Bible does not give a count of the angelic creatures God created, but their numbers are significant (Matthew 26:53). Among the angelic creatures are cherubim (Genesis 3:24), seraphim (Isaiah 6:2-4), at least one archangel (1 Thessalonians 4:16), and innumerable “general” angels (Hebrews 1:14). The primary purpose of the angelic creatures appears to be to worship God (Isaiah 6:2-4; Revelation 4) and to serve as His messengers (Daniel 10; Luke 1:19).
At some point prior to Genesis chapter 3, one of the cherubim, a being possibly named Lucifer, led a rebellion against God (Isaiah 14:12-15; Ezekiel 28:12-15) that may have included one-third of the angelic creatures (Revelation 12:4). Throughout the story of Scripture, this being, now known as Satan and the Devil (Revelation 12:9), is the antagonist to God’s unfolding plan. Satan seeks to establish an alternate story, a counterfeit, to God’s story. But, whether Satan knows it, or admits it, even his counterfeit story is a part of God’s ultimate story. Beginning in Genesis chapter 3 and ending in Revelation chapter 20, Satan is God’s enemy and adversary, but in no sense is he His equal, or even capable of holding back God’s will and plan. Now with the “pre-setting” established, the setting begins.
In Genesis chapters 1–2, the setting is established and God’s story is put into motion. God creates the heavens and the earth and fills His creation with order, life, and beauty. Prior to God’s filling of creation, it was formless and empty. Genesis chapter 1 describes God creating the heavens and the earth over the course of six days. In the first three days, God addresses the formless issue by separating light from darkness (day 1), sky from water (day 2), and water from dry land (day 3). Then, in days 4–6, God addresses the empty issue. He creates lights for both the day and night (day 4), creatures to fill the sea and sky (day 5), and creatures to cover the dry land (day 6). God then rests on the seventh day, declaring in His rest that His creation is complete.
At the end of day six is the climax of the setting. God creates humanity in His image and likeness (Genesis 1:26-28) and gives them the mandate to rule over creation. Genesis chapter 2 gives a closer look into precisely how God created humanity, male and female, and set them in place as the rulers of His creation. Humanity’s unique status as having been created in the image and likeness of God, and then crowned as God’s ruling representatives, establishes God’s relationship with humanity as the primary story of Scripture.
In His creation, God gave humanity complete freedom and autonomy, except for one restriction. Adam and Eve were free to eat of any tree in the garden of Eden except for one specific tree, the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil (Genesis 2:16-17). The restriction came with a steep penalty as well, “for when you eat from it you will certainly die” (Genesis 2:17). With this restriction, the initial tension in the story of Scripture is established. Will Adam and Eve obey or disobey this command?
Genesis 1:31 is a summary conclusion of God’s creation: “God saw all that he had made, and it was very good.” Creation was complete and finished. The setting was established. God’s intended path forward for humanity was clearly defined. The alternate path, and its consequence, is also introduced. The tension is palpable. The initial conflict is at hand.
The Story of Scripture: The Initial Conflict
In the very next chapter after Genesis 1–2, the initial conflict (inciting incident) occurs. A character, about whom much greater detail will be revealed later in the story, visits the garden of Eden: the serpent. This serpent, who is later identified as Satan (Revelation 12:9), questions the one restriction God gave to Adam and Eve (Genesis 3:1). At first glance, it appears as if Satan only approaches Eve with the challenge of God’s authority. Genesis 3:6, though, reveals that Adam “was with her.” Satan tempts Adam and Eve with a half-truth. He tells the truth in saying, “For God knows that when you eat from it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil” (Genesis 3:5). Satan lies when he says, “You will not certainly die” (Genesis 3:4).
The tension, first hinted at in Genesis 2:16-17, is firmly established here in Genesis 3:5. What are Adam and Eve going to do? Are they going to trust God or are they going to believe the serpent? “When the woman saw that the fruit of the tree was good for food and pleasing to the eye, and also desirable for gaining wisdom, she took some and ate it. She also gave some to her husband, who was with her, and he ate it” (Genesis 3:6).
At first glance, both of the serpent’s claims appear to be true. Adam and Eve do not immediately die. Adam and Eve, demonstrated by their fear of being naked and vulnerable, had gained the knowledge of good and evil (Genesis 3:7). Next, in verses 8-24 of Genesis chapter 3, God confronts Adam, Eve, and the serpent.
God curses the serpent with a humiliated life of having to crawl through the dirt and the ultimate fate of being crushed by the seed of the woman. God curses Eve with pain in childbirth and conflict with Adam. In the curse on the serpent, Eve hears that a deliverer will eventually come from her. In the curse that she receives, Eve hears that even the childbearing process, which will ultimately result in the deliverer, will cause a great amount of pain. Adam is cursed with difficult and frustrating work and is reminded that while death did not come immediately, it is on its way. These curses will extend to the rest of humanity.
The fall of humanity was not just a one-time disobedience of God’s command. It was a reversal of God’s created order. Humanity was intended to have fellowship with God. The fall resulted in humanity being separated from God. Humanity was to live in dependence on God and submission to His Word. In the fall, Adam and Eve rejected God’s Word. In the created order, humanity was to have dominion over all other creatures. In the fall, Adam and Eve chose to submit to the words of a creature.
With the fall, the initial conflict is complete. The primary plot is now set. Humanity had lived in idyllic paradise, free from sin, evil, difficulty, fear, and death. Now they must live in a world filled with those things. It is travesty and tragedy. The question is then introduced: Is it fixable? Can God make things right? Can God save Adam and Eve (and their descendants)? Can God get things back to what they were supposed to be?
Even in the tragedy of the fall, though, God provides hope. God’s mention of the seed of the woman who will crush the head of the serpent is the first hint that the serpent will not have the last laugh. There will eventually be a deliverer. God will one day make things right. But, how is He going to do it? What is His plan? And, does the serpent have an ongoing role?
With the initial conflict complete, the story of Scripture is firmly in motion. God’s plan is in action. Within the grand, over-arching story in motion, God performs an act of merciful and personal grace. Genesis 3:21 records God making garments of skin for Adam and Eve. While it is not specifically stated in the text, the garments of skin likely came from the death of an animal. If so, this is the first, and definitely not the last, example of God sacrificing the innocent for the sake of the guilty.
Further, in Genesis 3:22-24, God banishes Adam and Eve from the garden of Eden. He does not allow them to remain there and eat from the tree of life, which would have enabled them to live forever in their condemned state. As the story of Scripture unfolds, this act, which might at first appear to be cruel, will be shown to be an act of tremendous mercy. God does not desire Adam and Eve (and their descendants) to live forever in a state of sin. Thus God blocks the way that would have enabled them to live forever. He ensures that they would eventually die and, thereby, be freed from life in a world that will increasingly be filled with sin, evil, pain, and suffering.
The Story of Scripture: Rising Action
The next chapters of Genesis dispel any doubt about what the world would become now that sin has entered the picture. Genesis chapter 4 records the first murder, one generation from Adam and Eve. Cain, a son of Adam and Eve, kills Abel, his brother. To make matters worse, Cain is not repentant. He regrets being punished but not the fact that he had murdered his brother (Genesis 4:13). The lineage of Cain, recorded in Genesis 4:17-24, ends with one of his descendants committing murder as well. God replaces Abel with Seth (Genesis 4:25-26) and grants Adam and Eve other sons and daughters (Genesis 5:4). Could any of them be the seed that will crush the head of the serpent?
Genesis 5 records Adam’s lineage all the way to Noah. A pattern repeats itself. A man is born, lives a very long time but eventually dies, fulfilling the promise of Genesis 2:17 and thereby demonstrating that he was not the promised seed. There is some hope in Enoch, as he “walked faithfully with God” (Genesis 5:24), but God took him. Enoch was not the promised seed. There is hope again with Noah. Lamech, Noah’s father, cried out, “He will comfort us in the labor and painful toil of our hands caused by the ground the LORD has cursed” (Genesis 5:29).
Genesis 6 continues confirming the mercy in God’s decision to block humanity from the tree of life. By the days of Noah, “every inclination of the thoughts of the human heart was only evil all the time” (Genesis 6:5). Genesis 6 also potentially gives the second trespass of the angelic beings introduced in the pre-setting. While there are other plausible interpretations of Genesis 6:1-4, it is possible that the text describes the fallen angels (those who had followed Satan in his rebellion against God) taking on physical form and mating with human women, with their offspring being super-human (giants / Nephilim). Why would they do this? Perhaps to prevent the coming of the “seed of the woman” promised in Genesis 3:15. If the human genetic line was corrupted with “demonic DNA,” this would seemingly prevent the birth of a man who would be the seed of the woman. Whatever the case, the all-encompassing corruption of humanity described in Genesis 6 calls for drastic measures by God.
God decides to start over with humanity. In Genesis chapters 6–8, God sends a flood that covers all of the dry land. God instructs Noah to construct an ark, in which God would save the lives of eight people and at least two of every animal. Everything else would be destroyed. Essentially, God gives the earth a bath. After the floodwaters subside, Noah, his family, and the animals depart the ark and start over. God’s instructions to Noah and his family are the same as what He had said to Adam and Eve, “be fruitful and increase in number and fill the earth” (Genesis 9:1). Noah was a comforter and deliverer, but he was not the promised seed of the woman, as demonstrated by his questionable actions, his family’s reaction in Genesis 9, and, ultimately, by the serpent’s head remaining uncrushed at the time of Noah’s death (Genesis 9:29).
Genesis 10 gives an account of how Noah’s descendants multiplied and spread over the earth as separate nations. Genesis 11 points back to a time within the genealogies of Genesis 10 when humanity disobeyed God’s command to fill the earth and instead attempted to build a city and tower to make a name for themselves. God intervenes, confuses their languages, and puts a stop to the Tower of Babel, forcing humanity to spread out as He commanded. Then, in the second section of Genesis 11, another genealogy appears. Just as in Genesis 5, in Genesis 11, God is further clarifying the line through which the promised seed of the woman will come. Yet in this genealogy, the resounding rhythm of death so prevalent in Genesis 5 does not repeat. Genesis 11 ends with a focus on Abram, who plays a major role in the rest of the story of Scripture.
Genesis 12:2-3 lays the framework for most of the rest of the story of Scripture. God promises Abram, “I will make you into a great nation, and I will bless you; I will make your name great, and you will be a blessing. I will bless those who bless you, and whoever curses you I will curse; and all peoples on earth will be blessed through you.” This covenant between God and Abram is repeated in Genesis 13:14-17, officially established in Genesis 15:1-21, and reaffirmed in Genesis 17:1-27, where God also gives Abram the name Abraham and the covenant sign of circumcision.
In this covenant, God clarifies that through the nation God will bring forth from Abraham, the promised seed will come, the one who will bless all peoples on earth (Galatians 3:16). When Abraham has more than one son, God clarifies that the promised line will continue through Isaac, not Ishmael (Genesis 21:12).
Almost immediately after declaring that Isaac’s descendants will be the promised line, God shockingly commands Abraham to sacrifice Isaac as a burnt offering. Almost just as shockingly, Abraham obeys, takes Isaac to the mountain God instructed, and is one knife stroke away from sacrificing Isaac. God, through an angel, stops Abraham, provides a ram as an alternate sacrifice, and again reconfirms the covenant (Genesis 22:15-18). While it isn’t explicitly clear in Genesis 22, the account of Abraham and Isaac amazingly prefigures precisely what the seed of the woman will do to deliver humanity.
In the chapters that follow, God reveals that through Isaac’s son Jacob, not Esau, the promised seed will come (Genesis 25:23; 27:27-29; 28:13-15). When Jacob ends up with twelve sons along with the corresponding family drama, God miraculously uses Jacob’s son Joseph to preserve Jacob (who is also called by the name Israel; his descendants will collectively be known as the nation of Israel) and his family through a devastating famine, with them eventually settling in Egypt. While Joseph was seemingly the worthiest of Jacob’s sons, God unveils that the promised seed will come through another son, Judah (Genesis 49:8-12). While for a time Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, and Joseph all appear to be candidates for the promised seed, none of them are. Even though it has, at this point in the narrative, been about two thousand years, the wait continues.
After approximately four hundred years, the Egyptians forget the leadership role Joseph, an Israelite, had in saving Egypt from the devastating famine. They begin to brutally oppress the Israelites, enslaving them, and forcing them to undertake major building projects. Even under this intense oppression, the Israelites continue to thrive and multiply. Due to a fear that the Israelites would grow too powerful, the Egyptians begin murdering Israelite males shortly after their birth. The people of Israel, the descendants of Abraham and heirs of God’s promises, cry out to God for help, and He answers. This is recorded in the book of Exodus.
God sends Moses, an Israelite raised by the Egyptians, to deliver Israel from slavery in Egypt. God sends Moses to the Egyptian pharaoh with a warning that if he does not release the Israelites, Egypt will suffer terrible plagues. Pharaoh refuses to let Israel go, so the plagues begin. In a series of ten plagues, God demonstrates His superiority over the Egyptians and their false gods and convinces Pharaoh to let the Israelites go. The tenth plague, the plague on the firstborn sons of Egypt, is the ultimate convincer, and at the same time, is judgment on the Egyptians for murdering the sons of Israel. Even in this judgment, God establishes an amazing picture of His mercy and grace in the Passover (Exodus 12). The sacrifice of a lamb and the application of its blood protects the Israelites from the wrath of God that is being poured out around them.
Moses leads the Israelites out of Egypt and begins the journey to the Promised Land of Canaan. Pharaoh changes his mind once again, and God humiliates Pharaoh and the Egyptian army one last time at the miraculous crossing of the Red Sea. In this event, the exodus, God clearly sets apart the Israelites to be His holy people (Exodus 19:5-6; 20:1-2). In the exodus God personally engages with Israel as a nation, delivers them from slavery, and commences the process of shaping them into a nation. After the exodus, Moses and the Israelites are then on their way to Canaan to take possession of the land God promised to them through Abraham.
On the way to Canaan, God leads Israel to Mount Sinai, where the people camp for an extended period of time. At Mount Sinai, God establishes the Mosaic covenant with the nation of Israel (Exodus 19:1–24:18). God had redeemed Israel for Himself (Exodus 19:1-4), would make Israel into a holy nation and a kingdom of priests (Exodus 19:5-6), and would give Israel His commands; their obedience or disobedience to Him would determine whether He blesses or curses them (Exodus 19:5). The people of Israel embrace the covenant (Exodus 19:8), and God proceeds to give Israel the Ten Commandments, which were the heart of the covenant (Exodus 20:1-17; 34:28) as well as many additional commands that clarify and expand upon the Ten Commandments (Exodus 21:1–23:33). The official ratification of the Mosaic/Sinai covenant occurs in Exodus 24:1-18.
It doesn’t take long for Israel to violate the covenant in a significant way. While Moses is receiving the Law from God on Mount Sinai, many of the Israelites engage in blatant idolatry and pagan revelry at the golden calf incident (Exodus 32). God threatens to start over and build a new nation through Moses, just as He gave humanity a fresh start with Noah, but Moses pleads with God, interceding based on the covenant, and God relents. God brings judgment on the people of Israel, again, according to the covenant, but He does not destroy them completely.
After the golden calf incident, the covenant is renewed (Exodus 33:1–34:35) and the tabernacle is constructed (Exodus 35:4–40:33). The glory of the LORD fills the tabernacle and God begins guiding the Israelites by a cloud over the tabernacle, which appears as fire at night; the Israelites travel based on that visible expression of God’s presence (Exodus 40:34-38). The Israelites now have their covenant with God clearly outlined. They know His commands and understand the consequences of disobeying those commands. The tension in this part of the story of Scripture is whether the Israelites will obey. Based on what has occurred in Scripture to this point, the answer to that question is fairly obvious.
The books of Leviticus, Numbers, and Deuteronomy chronicle Israel’s journey through the wilderness toward the Promised Land of Canaan. In Leviticus, God gives the Israelites His commands regarding the sacrificial system, the Aaronic priesthood, ceremonial issues, and personal holiness. Much of Leviticus focuses on how Israel is to be set apart, distinct, from the other nations. Leviticus chapters 1–7 outline the regulations for the sacrificial system in which an animal (or in some occasions produce) is sacrificed as a substitute for the person who sinned. The Day of Atonement, an annual sacrifice for the sins of the nation of Israel, is established in Leviticus 16:1-34 and 23:26-32. Leviticus continues and adds specificity to the biblical theme of substitutionary sacrifice.
After the recording of a census, Numbers begins with the Israelites arriving near the borders of the land that God promised them through Abraham. Rather than rejoicing, the Israelites, by and large, rebel due to a lack of faith, despite all that God has done for them up to that point (Numbers 11–14). As a result of this rebellion, combined with all the previous rebellions, God rejects that generation of Israelites and decides to give the next generation entrance into the Promised Land. The older generation continues to rebel (Numbers 16–17), but God continues to protect and preserve His people, despite their sins (Numbers 20–25). In Numbers 26, God orders a new census, this time of the generation He has chosen to bring into the Promised Land. In Numbers 27–36, God further protects and prepares this generation for what awaits them in Canaan.
The contrast between the two generations could not be more stark. There are repeated acts of rebellion in the old generation and no reported acts of rebellion in the new generation. By the end of Numbers, the old generation is either dead or soon will be. There are no reported deaths among the new generation. The old generation refused to step out in faith and enter the Promised Land. The point of tension at the end of Numbers is: Will the new generation follow God’s leading into the land that He has promised them or will they rebel against God like the previous generation did? Has the new generation learned from the mistakes of the past or will they repeat them?
The book of Deuteronomy is perhaps the most descriptively named book of the Bible. Deuteronomy means “second law,” and that is precisely what the book of Deuteronomy contains: a second giving of the Law. The new generation that exits the book of Numbers is on the cusp of entering the Promised Land. So, God has Moses repeat the Law to the new generation (Deuteronomy 1–15 and then gives them some added commands that will guide them through their experience in the Promised Land (Deuteronomy 16–26).
Deuteronomy concludes with God having the Israelites declare to themselves the curses they will receive if they disobey (Deuteronomy 27) and the blessings they will receive if they obey (Deuteronomy 28). God then renews the covenant with Israel (Deuteronomy 29–30), selects Joshua as Moses’ successor, and predicts Israel’s disobedience (Deuteronomy 31). The book concludes with Moses’ final hymn, followed by his death (Deuteronomy 32). Despite the warning about rebellion and the sadness of Moses’ death, Deuteronomy ends with a hint of optimism about Israel’s future.
That optimism continues throughout most of the Book of Joshua. Despite some limited rebellion (Joshua 7) and unwise treaty-making (Joshua 9), the Israelites are faithful to God, victorious over the Canaanites, and successful in conquering the Promised Land. While the Canaanites are not completely driven out by the end of the book of Joshua, they are soundly defeated to the point that they no longer pose a significant military threat. Nothing should have prevented the Israelites from completing God’s command to completely destroy the Canaanites (Deuteronomy 2:34; 3:6; 20:16-18).
The optimism is completely snuffed out in the book of Judges. Judges 2:10-19 outlines the repeated pattern of the book of Judges: (1) The Israelites forget about God, (2) The Israelites worship other gods and follow the detestable practices of the Canaanites, (3) God curses the Israelites as He promised He would in Deuteronomy 27–28, (4) The Israelites cry out to God, (5) God provides a deliverer to rescue the Israelites, (6) The Israelites turn to God for a time. Repeat. None of the deliverers in the book of Judges are the promised seed. The deliverance they provide lasts for a generation at the most. The book of Judges ends, though, with a nugget of hope contained within a rebuke, “In those days Israel had no king; everyone did as they saw fit” (Judges 21:25). Might a human king be the solution? Might a king from the line of Judah be the promised Messiah (Genesis 49:8-12)? The book of Ruth, a story of hope within the timeframe of the judges, concludes with a genealogy. Might David, the final name in the genealogy, be the promised seed?
One would think that the next aspect of the story after introducing the name David would be to introduce David himself. Instead, 1 Samuel introduces us to Samuel, a judge/priest/prophet. But when Samuel, the de facto leader of Israel, grows old, he appoints his sons to lead Israel. His sons are neither godly men nor good leaders. The people of Israel ask for a king. The Israelites asking for a king was not a violation of God’s Law. God had given Israel instructions regarding a king in Deuteronomy 17:14-17. The problem was the reason why they wanted a king. Israel wanted to have a king so “we will be like all the other nations, with a king to lead us and to go out before us and fight our battles” (1 Samuel 8:20). God Himself exposes the Israelites’ true motivation: “they have rejected me as their king” (1 Samuel 8:7).
Per God’s instructions, Samuel begins the process of finding a king. Surely he is going to find the David mentioned at the end of Ruth. Nope. Instead, Samuel finds Saul, who is exactly the type of king the people wanted (1 Samuel 9:2; 10:23-24). Unsurprisingly, after an initial success in battle, Saul turns into an abject disaster, disobeying key commands of God, resulting in God rejecting Saul’s kingship (1 Samuel 13:14; 15:26). So, Samuel begins the search for a king again. This time, would it be God’s choice instead of the people’s choice?
God finally leads Samuel to David. God looks at the heart (1 Samuel 16:7), and in David, God had found a man after His own heart (Acts 13:22). David is not coronated as king right away. It takes several years of him serving Saul, and then escaping from Saul, before Saul is killed in battle. Even after Saul’s death, David has to contend with one of Saul’s sons before he can become the king over all of Israel. Finally, David is king. Is he the promised seed? Will he crush the head of the serpent?
Sadly, David, despite many successes, repeatedly gives into the serpent’s temptations (2 Samuel 11; 1 Chronicles 21:1). But, just as David fails spectacularly, he also repents spectacularly (Psalm 32; 51). David’s utmost desire was to build a temple for the LORD, but due to David’s previous history as a warrior (1 Chronicles 28:3), God promises David that his son Solomon would build the temple.
In this promise, God establishes a covenant with David: “When your days are over and you go to be with your ancestors, I will raise up your offspring to succeed you, one of your own sons, and I will establish his kingdom. He is the one who will build a house for me, and I will establish his throne forever. I will be his father, and he will be my son. I will never take my love away from him, as I took it away from your predecessor. I will set him over my house and my kingdom forever; his throne will be established forever” (1 Chronicles 17:11-14).
At first glance, it would appear that the son who succeeds David on the throne would be the promised seed, as his throne would be established forever. Solomon is the son who succeeds David, and his reign gets off to a great start (1 King 3:1-15). Solomon builds a glorious temple for the LORD (1 Kings 5–8), and the wisdom God fills him, which causes his fame to spread throughout the world (1 Kings 9–10). Could it be? Could Solomon be the promised seed?
At first read, 1 Kings 10:14–11:1, which describes Solomon’s vast wealth, countless chariots, and many wives, seems like a stamp of God’s approval on Solomon. That is until Deuteronomy 17:16-17 is remembered: “The king, moreover, must not acquire a great number of horses for himself…must not take many wives…must not accumulate large amounts of silver and gold.” Why? Because these things, the wives especially, would lead the king’s heart astray. While Deuteronomy 17:16-17 is not written as prophetic literature, it might as well have been. “As Solomon grew old, his wives turned his heart after other gods...So Solomon did evil in the eyes of the LORD; he did not follow the LORD completely, as David his father had done” (1 Kings 11:4-6). No, Solomon was not the promised seed. The ultimate fulfillment of the Davidic covenant, the son of David whose kingdom would never end, was still to come.
Solomon, perhaps the wisest king in Israel’s history, is succeeded by a son who lacked even the most basic common sense. His foolishness results in the nation of Israel being split into two nations, Israel and Judah, with David’s descendants only retaining lordship over the tribes of Judah and Benjamin (1 Kings 12).
Israel continues on a rapid and perpetual downward slope into increasingly detestable evil after its division into Israel and Judah. God sends prophet after prophet to both Israel and Judah, warning them of what their violation of the covenant would result in (2 Chronicles 36:15-21; Jeremiah 3:3; 5:3, 15-17; Amos 4:6-7). The northern kingdom of Israel is ruled by multiple dynasties of wicked kings over the course of around two hundred years before it is conquered by Assyria and most of the Israelites are deported.
While Judah experiences times of revival during the reigns of Jehoshaphat, Hezekiah, and Josiah, the people never fully turn their hearts to the LORD for more than a generation. The southern kingdom of Judah bounces back and forth between good kings and wicked kings for around three hundred years before it is conquered by Babylon and most of the people of Judah are deported. Just as Adam and Eve had been exiled from the garden of Eden due to their rebellion against God, so were the people of Israel exiled from the Promised Land due to their rebellion against God.
In the midst of their warnings, the prophets also declare signs of hope. Isaiah speaks of a son who would be born of a virgin (Isaiah 7:14), a son who would be a wonderful counselor, mighty God, everlasting father, and prince of peace (Isaiah 9:6), and of a suffering servant who would bear iniquities (Isaiah 52:13–53:12). Micah pinpoints the birthplace of a coming ruler over Israel (Micah 5:2). Daniel calculates the time of the Messiah mysteriously being “cut off” (Daniel 9:24-27, ESV).
But, how could all that the prophets had predicted come to pass? The nation of Israel had failed. The line of Davidic kings had failed. The descendants of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob no longer occupied the Promised Land. Was the Abrahamic covenant still in effect? Had the Mosaic covenant been canceled? Had the Davidic covenant been annulled? Had God completely forsaken Israel? Was there still going to be a promised seed? Was there still going to be a king whose kingdom would never end? The story of Scripture seems bleak at this point.
Then, miraculously, the kings of Persia, who had conquered Assyria and Babylon, allow the Jews to return to the Promised Land, commencing the countdown prophesied by Daniel. In three returns, led by Zerubbabel, Ezra, and Nehemiah, respectively, thousands of Jews return to Israel and begin the rebuilding process. Spurred on by the prophets Haggai, Zechariah, and Malachi, the people build a new temple on the site where Solomon’s temple previously stood.
But then over the course of the next four hundred years, in the intertestamental period, Persia is conquered by Greece, putting Israel under Greece’s control. The Greek empire splits into four regions after the death of Alexander the Great, putting Israel under the control of one of Alexander’s generals and his successors, some of whom persecuted Israel harshly. What is left of the Greek empire is conquered by the Romans, putting Israel under the authority of the Roman Caesars, their governors, and the puppets the Romans allowed to exercise limited rulership over certain regions. In Israel’s case, the puppets were Herod the Great and his successors. Four hundred years pass, and there is still no sign of the Messiah, the seed that will crush the serpent. But, after four hundred years, there isn’t much time left on Daniel’s prophetic countdown. Where is this Messiah, and what does it mean that He will be cut off?
The New Testament begins with four different accounts of the life of Jesus Christ: the gospels of Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John. There is a significant amount of overlapping narrative in the Gospels, especially in Matthew, Mark, and Luke. Each gospel, though, has a different audience and, therefore, a slightly different emphasis. This aspect of the story of Scripture begins in the region of Galilee in northern Israel around 4 BC.
Matthew and Luke contain genealogies in their early chapters, with Matthew tracing one line back to Abraham (Matthew 1:1-17), and with Luke tracing a different line, at least after David, all the way back to Adam (Luke 3:21-38). Who is this Jesus, a descendant of David through adoption on his father’s side and through birth on his mother’s side? He is born in Bethlehem (Micah 5:2; Matthew 2:1). There are all sorts of miraculous events surrounding His birth, including the fact that He was born of a virgin (Isaiah 7:14; Luke 1:34). Angels appear (Luke 2:8-20). Magi arrive from the east (Matthew 2:1-12). Two individuals prophesy over Jesus when He is brought to the temple as an infant (Luke 2:22-38). An angel warns Joseph, His adoptive father, of a plan to kill Jesus, so the family flees to Egypt until the coast is clear (Matthew 2:13-15, 19-23).
Jesus spends the first approximately thirty years of His life serving as a carpenter (see Matthew 13:55; Mark 6:3) in the relatively unknown town of Nazareth in Galilee. It is very strange for there to have been so many miraculous events surrounding His birth only for it to be followed by thirty years of obscurity. Is Jesus the promised seed or not?
John the Baptist arrives on the scene, preaching a message of repentance evidenced by water baptism (Matthew 3:1-10). He also talks of one who would come after him who would “baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire” (Matthew 3:11-12). People begin to stir. What is going on? Then, one day, Jesus comes to John and is baptized by Him (Matthew 3:13-17). Immediately after, God the Father speaks from heaven, and the Holy Spirit descends on Jesus as a dove. God’s words are striking, “This is my Son, whom I love; with him I am well pleased” (Matthew 3:17). This is perhaps the first major clue about Jesus’ full identity. Not only is Jesus the son of man (He is a human being), but He is also the Son of God (He is God, more on that in a bit).
After His baptism, Jesus is victorious over the temptations of the serpent (Matthew 4:1-11; Luke 4:1-13), unlike everyone before Him. Jesus then begins His ministry of teaching, healing, and miracles, largely in and around the region of Galilee (Matthew 4:17-25; 5:1–7:29; 8:1–10:42). He gathers twelve disciples to follow Him and learn from Him. There is a larger group of seventy-two who also follow Him (Luke 10:1-24). At times, massive crowds follow Him (Matthew 8:18; Mark 5:24; Luke 14:25). In obedience to the Law, Jesus traveled to Jerusalem every year for Passover, which nearly always resulted in conflict between Jesus and the religious leaders: the priests, the scribes, the Pharisees, and the Sadducees (John 2:13-25).
Jesus is frequently asked to perform signs to demonstrate His authority, both for His teaching and for some of His actions (Matthew 21:23-27; Mark 11:27-33; Luke 20:1-8; John 2:18). Jesus refuses to perform signs for them but continues His miraculous ministry to the people of Israel. The gospel of John particularly focuses on seven “sign” miracles of Jesus that explicitly identify who He is: changing water into wine (John 2:1-11), healing the official’s son (John 4:46-54), healing the paralytic by the pool (John 5:1-18), feeding the five thousand (John 6:1-14), walking on the water (John 6:15-25), healing a man born blind (John 9:1-41), and raising Lazarus from the dead (John 11:1-46).
In addition to the miracles that point to Jesus’ identity, there are also His specific statements about Himself. The gospel of John records seven “I am” statements by Jesus, pointing back to God’s statement in Exodus 3:14. Jesus declared, “I am the bread of life” (John 6:35, 41, 48, 51), “I am the light of the world” (John 8:12; 9:5), “I am the door” (John 10:7, 9, ESV), “I am the good shepherd” (John 10:11, 14), “I am the resurrection and the life” (John 11:25), “I am the way and the truth and the life” (John 14:6), and “I am the true vine” (John 15:1, 5).
There are two additional statements by Jesus in the gospel of John that reveal His identity. First, there is Jesus’ statement that “before Abraham was born, I am,” in John 8:58. Second, there is Jesus’ statement that “I and the Father are one” in John 10:30. After both statements, the Jewish leaders attempt to stone Jesus for heresy, for claiming to be God. Here in these verses, and throughout the gospel of John, Jesus declares that He is far more than the seed of the woman. He is far more than the Messiah. He is God in the flesh (John 1:1, 14). As the climax of the story of Scripture approaches, we now know the full identity of the hero. There are hints of it throughout Scripture, but in the gospel of John His precise identity is revealed. So, now that we know who He is, how is He going to solve the problem of sin and rescue humanity?
The Story of Scripture: The Climax
The conflict between Jesus and the religious leaders of the Jews comes to a head during Jesus’ final Passover trip to Jerusalem. The Jewish leaders have Jesus arrested, falsely accused, and illegitimately condemned in their religious court (John 18:19-24; Matthew 26:57-68). He is then sent to Pilate, who sends Him to Herod (Luke 23:7), who sends Him back to Pilate, the Roman governor, who, after much convincing by the Jews, condemns Him to death (Luke 23:11-25). Jesus is then brutally tortured, crucified, and buried (Matthew 27; Mark 15; Luke 23; John 19). The ticking of the prophet Daniel’s countdown comes to an end as the Messiah is cut off (Daniel 9:24-27). The disciples are shocked and dismayed. The Jewish leaders are smugly satisfied. The serpent is likely laughing (see Luke 4:13). Our reaction to this part of the story of Scripture is expected to be something similar to what John the Baptist sent his disciples to ask Jesus, “Are you the one who is to come, or should we expect someone else?” (Matthew 11:3).
On at least two occasions, in response to the Jewish leaders demanding a sign from Him, Jesus predicts something dramatic occurring after three days (Matthew 12:38-41; John 2:19-22). At the time, no one understood what Jesus meant. Yet, three days after His death, something dramatic occurs. Jesus comes back to life (Matthew 28; Mark 16; Luke 24; John 20–21). Jesus comes out of the tomb, appears to His disciples (and many others), and, in multiple ways, demonstrates that His resurrection is true and bodily. Jesus was victorious over death. The grave could not hold Him. At the death and resurrection of Jesus, the rising action reaches its climax. There has been a decisive victory in the conflict. The narrative has reached its turning point. But, how? How has Jesus’ death and resurrection rescued humanity from death?
The Story of Scripture: The Resolution
After His resurrection, Jesus teaches the disciples for forty days before He is taken up into heaven (Acts 1:1-11). Before His ascension, Jesus gives His disciples the following commission: “Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age” (Matthew 28:19-20). Acts 1:8 clarifies how this great commission will be accomplished: “But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.” The remainder of the book of Acts records how the disciples accomplish the mission.
Following the outline of Acts 1:8, Acts 2 records how the disciples are filled and empowered by the Holy Spirit. Acts 3–7 describes how the disciples were Jesus’ witnesses in Jerusalem. Acts 8–12 focuses on the gospel going to Judea and Samaria, with glimpses of it spreading to the ends of the earth. Because the Jews continue, for the most part, rejecting the gospel, the focus of evangelism shifts to the Gentiles. The rest of the book of Acts, chapters 13–28, describes the mission to the ends of the earth. The disciples, empowered by the Holy Spirit, were successful in fulfilling Jesus’ great commission. Thousands of people became followers of Jesus. Jesus’ Church, the “body” comprised of those who trust in Him, begins to spread throughout the world. But, the question remains, how exactly does Jesus’ death and resurrection solve the problem of sin and how it separates us from God?
In Acts chapter 9, a Pharisee named Saul was a severe persecutor of Jesus’ followers. Jesus intervenes and calls Saul to be one of His followers. Saul believes and submits to Jesus’ call on His life. Then, beginning in Acts 13, the book of Acts largely shifts its focus from Jesus’ original twelve disciples to this one new disciple, who eventually became known as Paul.
Primarily through the apostle Paul, God explains how Jesus’ death and resurrection solve the problem. Paul wrote the New Testament epistles Romans through Philemon (and possibly Hebrews). In those letters Jesus’ victory is explained and clarified. Additional letters were written by other disciples/followers of Jesus (James through Jude). But it is in the Pauline Epistles that the climax and resolution of the story of Scripture are made clear. Further, it is one of Paul’s epistles, the book of Romans, that most clearly and thoroughly explains the gospel.
In the first three chapters of Romans, Paul demonstrates and explains that everyone in the history of the world is justly condemned by God because of their sin. We are sinners by birth, by inheritance, by imputation, and by choice (Romans 3:10-23). Because of our sin, we are worthy of death, not just the physical death mentioned in Genesis 2:17, not just outside of the garden of Eden, not just outside of the Promised Land, but permanent banishment from God’s presence. “The wages of sin is death” (Romans 6:23). The penalty is death. The penalty must be paid.
“But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us” (Romans 5:8). Jesus died for our sins (1 Corinthians 15:3). Jesus took our place. He was our substitute (2 Corinthians 5:21; 1 Peter 2:24; 3:18). Jesus paid the penalty in full (John 19:30). Our condemnation was nailed to the cross (Colossians 2:13-14). Jesus gave His life to cover us. Jesus was our Passover Lamb (1 Corinthians 5:7). Jesus was our atoning sacrifice (1 John 2:2).
All that is required of us to receive this perfect payment on our behalf is faith (John 3:16; Acts 16:31; Ephesians 2:8-9; Romans 10:9-10). When we receive Jesus Christ by faith, we are saved, forgiven, justified (Romans 3:21-26), have peace with God (Romans 5:1), will never be condemned by God (Romans 8:1), and are given the tools we need for victory over sin (Romans 6–8). Further, we are plugged into the body of Christ, through whom we can receive love, fellowship, encouragement, edification, exhortation, teaching, discipleship, and, when necessary, rebuke—all to help us grow closer to Jesus (Romans 12–16).
While the book of Romans demonstrates how God solves the sin problem through Jesus, there is still the question of the promises God made to Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Moses, and David. If God is primarily working through the Gentiles in His Church, does that mean He has turned His back on the people of Israel? Romans chapters 9–11 answer this question with a resounding no. In summary, God set aside Israel for the sin of unbelief (Romans 9:1–10:21). God’s plan of salvation is available to Jews throughout the time period in which the Gentiles are the primary recipients of His salvation (Romans 11:1-24). Yet Israel will not be set aside forever. God will fulfill all of His promises (Romans 11:25-32).
The other New Testament epistles, Pauline and non-Pauline, touch on vitally important issues as well. The books of Galatians and Colossians have a focus on the Christian’s relationship to the Law. The book of Hebrews strongly declares Christ’s superiority over anything the old covenant had to offer. First and Second Corinthians give their attention more to the inner-workings of the church and practical Christian living. First and Second Timothy and Titus focus on church leadership. First John exclaims the vital need for Christians to love one another. Second Peter and Jude are sharp rebukes of false teaching (and teachers). The New Testament epistles teach God’s truth and explain how we are to put that truth into practice.
The Story of Scripture: The Epilogue
When we arrive at the book of Revelation, Jesus Christ, the hero of the story of Scripture, has won the victory. He has provided for the salvation of humanity, rescuing us from death (1 Corinthians 15:55-57). In His Word and through the Spirit, He has given His followers everything they need to know in order to live a God-honoring and abundant life (John 10:10; 2 Timothy 3:16-17; 2 Peter 1:3). Yet, in terms of the original promise of Genesis 3:15, the head of the serpent still appears to be uncrushed. In addition, there are Old Testament prophecies about the Messiah that remain unfulfilled (Jeremiah 30:18; 32:44; 33:11, 26; Joel 3:1; Amos 9:11-15; Zechariah 9:14-15; 12:10-14; 13:1; 14:1-9). The idyllic state described in Genesis chapters 1–2 has not been restored. Humanity is still living in a world plagued with sin, evil, and death. How does the story of Scripture end? How will God ultimately apply His victory?
The book of Revelation describes the serpent’s final attempt to overthrow God’s kingdom and establish his own. Satan, the serpent-dragon (Revelation 12:9), enthrones His antichrist and proceeds to use him to lead all of humanity into destroying Christ’s followers and the nation of Israel. Humanity descends into a level of wickedness that seems to exceed even that of the time before the flood in Noah’s day (Genesis 6:5; Revelation 9:20-21). For a time, the serpent seems to be the one doing the crushing.
Then, in a series of devastating plagues reminiscent of the judgments He sent on Egypt in the time of Moses, God pours out His wrath on the serpent and his kingdom. After seven seals, seven trumpets, and seven bowls, over half of the world’s population is dead and there isn’t much left of the Earth. Still, Satan is able to mount one more attempt to destroy Israel, only to be utterly defeated, and everyone following him destroyed, at the Second Coming of Jesus Christ (Revelation 19:11-21). Satan is then bound for one thousand years (Revelation 20:1-3).
In this one-thousand-year period, Jesus reigns as the perfect Davidic king, fulfilling the Davidic covenant. Israel possesses all the land God promised, fulfilling the Abrahamic covenant. Humanity gets to experience a perfect benevolent ruler for one thousand years. The Earth is restored to peaceful beauty. Even the animals live at peace with one another (Isaiah 65:25). Surely this “heaven on earth” experience will result in humanity fully submitting and willingly worshiping God. Nope.
At the end of the one thousand years, Satan is released, and it does not take him long to build an army of people willing to engage in warfare against God (Revelation 20:7-9). Satan is soundly defeated, one final time, and then thrown into the lake of fire where he will spend eternity (Revelation 20:10) with all those who chose his kingdom instead of God’s (Revelation 20:11-15). It is over. The serpent is crushed. Jesus’ victory is fully applied.
Revelation chapters 21–22 describe, in great and amazing detail, the new heavens and new earth God will create after the destruction of the serpent, the full application of Christ’s victory, and the complete eradication of sin and evil. It is a new Eden, but even better. “‘He will wipe every tear from their eyes. There will be no more death’ or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away. He who was seated on the throne said, ‘I am making everything new!’ Then he said, ‘Write this down, for these words are trustworthy and true’” (Revelation 21:4-5).
How will the new creation surpass the garden of Eden? The new creation will be filled with people who have been redeemed. It will be filled with people who, even if given the opportunity to sin, would choose not to, because they have experienced it and know its emptiness, its ugliness, its destruction. The new heavens and the new earth will be filled with people who would choose to worship God even if given the choice of anything else. There is no Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil on the new earth because everyone will already know. There is only the Tree of Life (Revelation 22:2). There is no more curse (Revelation 22:3). There is no more night (Revelation 22:5). There is only the One who is the Alpha and Omega (Revelation 22:13). “Amen. Come Lord Jesus” (Revelation 22:20).
The Story of Scripture: My Purpose in Life
My life exists in the resolution section of the story of Scripture. Jesus’ death and resurrection has secured the salvation of all those who trust in Him, by grace through faith. Jesus has equipped the Church, His body, with everything it needs to fulfill His great commission. Yet, the epilogue has not arrived. Spiritual warfare with the serpent is still ongoing. We still live in a sin-plagued and sin-scarred world. We currently exist in a perpetual state of already but not yet. God’s complete victory is guaranteed, but it has not yet been fully implemented.
My purpose in life, then, is to participate in the fulfillment of the great commission. I am, in the power of the Holy Spirit, to proclaim the gospel; teach God’s Word; be involved in the ministries of Christ’s Church; seek to encourage, edify, and equip my brothers and sisters in Christ; and love the Lord my God with all of my heart, soul, mind, and strength (Mark 12:30). I am to act justly, love mercy, and walk humbly with my God (Micah 6:8). I am to worship the Lord in the splendor of His holiness (Psalm 96:9).
Practically speaking, one of my specific purposes in life, in fulfilling the above, is to serve God through Got Questions Ministries. We are an evangelical Christian internet ministry that focuses on providing biblically-based answers to spiritually-related questions. From hundreds of questions personally answered each day, to thousands of FAQs read online every day by hundreds of thousands of people in over two hundred languages, to hundreds of videos watched tens of thousands of times each day—God is using Got Questions Ministries in amazing ways. I praise and thank God every day for the privilege He has given me to serve Him in this way.
Yet, I am still just a servant of Christ, living in the resolution while longing for the epilogue.
S. Michael Houdmann
What is the story of Scripture?