People love a story. Stories excite our imaginations and move our hearts. Children of all ages love to hear and read stories. I think the reason people resonate so much with stories is that we want to make sense of the world and our lives. Stories do that for us. The Bible itself is a story. We saw in the first key that unlocks the treasure of the Bible that the Bible has a central message which is Jesus and the salvation that he brings. Now we want to see that the message of the Bible is communicated through the story of the Bible. It may come as a surprise to some that the Bible is one large mega-story, but it is. The unity of the Bible, its central message, is seen clearly through its overarching story. The burden of this article is to unpack the story of the Bible in such a way that it becomes clear to the Bible reader.
Since the Bible is a story, it has a storyline. The Bible is filled with stories. In fact almost half the Bible is comprised of historically true narrative stories. These stories are not independent units, but work together to present a unified story, a metanarrative, with a central message. Each book in the Bible communicates its particular story that fits into the storyline of the whole Bible. If one fails to see the bigger picture of the overarching story, then one will more than likely misunderstand the smaller stories. The individual stories are only properly understood in the larger context of the central story of the Bible.
The story is about God’s beautiful creation that is ruined by the first people he creates. The sons and daughters of the first couple are corrupted as well as all their descendants. Things go from bad to worse until God intervenes by calling a pagan man from a pagan land to enter a relationship with him. God makes promises to this man. Through many struggles of faith the man begins to see the promises of God materialize in embryonic form. God’s relationship with the man becomes a relationship with his family, then the twelve tribes of his family. The tribes become a nation. The relationship is strained many times throughout the years by the rebellion of God’s people. God disciplines his unruly people, but never totally forsakes them. Finally, the nation is focused again on one man through whom all the promises to God’s people are fulfilled. This man is faithful where many others were unfaithful, and expands the promises to the whole world. This epic story becomes everybody’s story. That is, anybody who will enter the story by faith. The story is a true story that is rich and complex. We can begin to better understand the story by seeing the basic storyline in the Bible. It helps to grasp that the basic storyline of the Bible consists of four main parts that lay out the historical flow of the story. The four parts of the basic Bible storyline have been historically called: Creation, Fall, Redemption and Restoration.
Creation (Genesis 1-2) God created all things good.
Fall (Genesis 3) Sin entered the picture and corrupted God’s good creation.
Redemption (Genesis 4–Revelation 20) God’s work to repair his broken world.
Restoration (Revelation 21-22) God’s ultimate goal to make all things new.
Epic Stories – Epic Story
We have made the case that the Bible, though composed of many books and stories, is one overarching story with a storyline. If we look closely at the big picture of the Bible, we will notice that the Bible is actually six epic stories woven together into one amazingly beautiful story that communicates the reality and the development of God’s plan of salvation. Each of these six epic stories revolves around a main character of God’s choosing that moves the story forward, not only in his lifetime, but also before and after his life. That’s why these stories are truly epic. There are many other important characters in each of these stories, but they all relate to the main character in some way. The six main characters in the Bible are: Adam, Abraham, Moses, David, Jesus and Paul. As we’ve already said, Jesus is the central character in the Bible and his story is the central story of which all the other stories are in its gravitational pull. All the other epic stories, while having their own focus, are about the central story and character, Jesus. If you can remember these six men and something of their stories, you have a handle on the flow and meaning of the Bible. The more you know about each man and his story, the more you understand the whole story of the Bible.
The first epic story with its main character is Adam. Adam is the first person to inhabit the earth. God gives him a woman as a suitable helper. They are placed in a garden paradise with two positive commands and one negative command. They were instructed to be fruitful and multiply and to have dominion over the earth. They were also commanded not to eat from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. They were put in a place of perfect opportunity by God, but they let the opportunity slip through their fingers. The woman was deceived by the serpent and ate the fruit and gave some to the man. In their sin and disobedience they fell from their created position and plunged the whole world into corruption. That day they died spiritually and would one day die physically. Sin had entered the world and death by sin because all people were now sinners by nature. The record from Genesis 4-11 is a record of spiraling decent into greater wickedness.
The second epic story is the story of Abraham. In the midst of growing wickedness in the world, God called a pagan man living in a pagan land into a covenant relationship. The upward struggle of redemption begins in earnest with this epic story. God promises Abraham land that will be the environment for the people of God to fulfill the plan of God. God also promises Abraham that he will be the father of many nations and peoples, and that through him all the families of the earth will be blessed. Abraham struggles in his faith to trust God to keep his promises, but grows to become the man of faith. The covenant relationship is renewed with Abraham descendants. The ultimate fulfillment of all the promises to Abraham is the Lord Jesus Christ.
The story of the Bible continues with the third epic story. In this story we find that Moses is the main character. The story begins about 600 years after the time of Abraham. Abraham’s vast descendants are enslaved in Egypt and languish under great affliction. God calls the reluctant Moses to rescue his people. With a mighty hand God delivers them from Egyptian bondage through Moses, showing himself to be the one true God. The Lord leads them to Mount Sinai where he gives them the covenant law to guide their worship and all aspects of their lives before him. As the people move out to enter the promised land, they refuse to go in out of fear for the inhabitants of the land. God brings judgment upon them and they wander in the wilderness for forty years until all the first generation dies off. At last, on the plains of Moab east of the Jordan River, Moses gives instructions on entering and living in the land of promise. After Moses dies Joshua leads the people to possess the land God had so long ago promised to Abraham. After the death of Joshua a loose tribal federation exists. The people time and time again turn away from the Lord. He brought judgment upon them which cause them to cry out to him for mercy. God then raised up a deliverer, a judge, to rescue the people. After the death of the judge the people once again turned away from the Lord. This cycle occurred multiple times creating a downward spiral of growing wickedness.
Years later the fourth epic story blossoms in all its grandeur in the plan of God. The main character in this story is David, second king of Israel. By the grace of God David goes from being a shepherd boy to king of all Israel and builds one of the greatest kingdoms of that time. David’s rise form obscure shepherd boy to mighty king is an amazing story of great intrigue with spellbinding drama. God leads David at every juncture and through every trial to be the king after God’s own heart. Although David is a great king, as a fallen sinner he fails and fails massively. The Lord disciplines him but never leaves him so that the Davidic kingdom navigates through trials and tribulations for 500 years. David’s son, Solomon, inherits the kingdom and begins well but sins against the Lord in idolatry. After his death the Davidic kingdom is split into two kingdoms, Israel in the North comprised of ten tribes, and Judah in the South with two tribes. Both kingdoms often turned away from the Lord so that he sent them into exile, Israel in 722 BC and Judah in 586 BC. Then after over 400 years of exile and return under foreign domination, the Messiah, Jesus Christ, arrives on the scene to inherit and establish the kingdom of his forefather David, the kingdom of God.
The fifth epic story is the central story that fulfills the purpose of all the others. In the previous four stories God made promises to his people and the world concerning his plan of salvation. There would be a redeemer who would come and offer his life as a ransom for the sins of the world, thereby turning back the devastation of sin and the fall. All these promises find their fulfillment in Jesus of Nazareth, the son of David, the son of Abraham. But Jesus was more; he was the Son of God. Jesus was the Word made flash who dwelt among the people, full of grace and truth. Jesus travelled around teaching, healing the sick and casting out demons. The crowds flocked to him, but the religious leaders were jealous of him and had him crucified by the Roman authorities. But through this great wickedness of the people of God in rejecting and murdering their messiah, God was fulfilling his plan of salvation. Jesus was the lamb of God that takes away the sin of the world. God was in Christ reconciling the world to himself. After three days in the tomb, Jesus was bodily raised to life, defeating death, sin and the devil. Salvation has been provided.
The final epic story is the story of Paul and all the apostles of Jesus with all believers proclaiming to all the world the message of salvation in Jesus Christ. Paul, who was known as Saul of Tarsus, was a persecutor and hater of Christ and his church. But the resurrected Jesus met Saul on the road to Damascus as he was going there to seek out and arrest believers in Jesus. In that encounter Jesus called Saul to go to the Gentiles and to kings to be a witness for Jesus and salvation. Paul was faithful to the divine call and travelled the Roman world preaching the gospel of Jesus Christ and planting churches. From that small seed the gospel spread throughout the whole world and multitudes of people from every tribe and language and people and nation became followers of Jesus who will one day gather around the throne of God and praise him for eternity. Jesus promised to build his church. Despite many ups and downs, the forward movement of the Church occurs throughout history. The world grows more wicked over time so that at the end of history Jesus returns in salvation and judgment to consummate the kingdom of God. Thus, God’s plan of redemption is fulfilled and all things are made new.
Grasping the storyline of the Bible is like an epiphany. We see it; we get it. When we see the way the Bible is put together it speaks to our hearts. This key not only unlocks the big picture of the Bible, it also unlocks all the small parts that before didn’t seem to fit. When we see the big picture of the story of the Bible we can better see our story and how we fit into God’s story. It is a critical key to unlock the treasures of the Bible. As we read our Bibles we must use this key so that God will speak to our hearts transforming and empowering us to fulfill his plan for our lives.