Knowing God

Some individuals seem to know a lot of people. They have a gift for making friends. It’s a great gift to have if the friendships are more than superficial. But the really important thing is not how many people you know, but who you know, and how deep that knowledge is. God is the greatest possible person in the universe and knowing him is the greatest possible knowledge you can have. But how can we be sure we really know God? Different people see him and understand him in so many different ways. Could our knowledge of God just be a case of mistaken identity?

Mistaken identity happens all the time. It’s often of little consequence, but at times it can be a serious matter. What if, for example, someone mistakes the identity of a criminal for a police officer? That could be very serious. Or what about a butcher for a brain surgeon? You get the idea. Mistaken identity can be a very serious thing.

The greatest case of mistaken identity in all of human history occurred when Jesus Christ, very God himself, was mistaken for a blasphemer. This was a tragedy of immeasurable proportions, Yet, this unimaginable mistake happens every day when people see Jesus as merely a great teacher or a just good man or a mythic figure. Many people see him in these ways. But even Christians mistake the real Jesus for one they have fabricated out of popular traditions or false expectations they have of him. How cold such a mistaken identity ever actually happen?

When you love someone you think about that person. They are in your thoughts. So, when you think about that person you are thinking about them in terms of their attributes in some way. This largely goes on without our notice. But what do we mean by an attribute? An attribute is a quality or a feature regarded as characteristic of someone or something. When you think about someone you love, you are thinking about that person as being funny, or smart, or kind, or some other attribute that holds them in your heart.

Likewise, when we think about God we think about him in terms of his attributes. But when we think about God and ascribe to him some attribute he does not have , or distort some attribute he does have, we are not thinking about the true God, but one of our own creation. We are involved in the greatest possible case of mistaken identity. We really have to be careful how we perceive God and the sources of that perception. We want to perceive him correctly, though no one perceives him perfectly nor fully. We want to be in touch in our hearts with the true Jesus, the real Jesus. How can we be sure this happens?

We see the attributes of God revealed in Scripture. They’re not always easy to discern. It takes a commitment to spending time in the word. As we learn these attributes displayed in the real lives of real people in the Bible and apply them to the circumstances of our lives, we come to know the true God. Knowing God does not happen overnight, it takes time and work. Relationships alway take time and work.

We read in Colossians 1:9-10, “We have not stopped praying for you asking that you may be filled with the knowledge of his will in all spiritual wisdom and understanding, so that you may walk in a manner worthy of the Lord, fully pleasing to him, bearing fruit in every good work and increasing in the knowledge of God.”

It’s important that we never stop praying for ourselves and others that we grow in our knowledge of God. We pray for many important things as we pray for others, but few things can be as important as this prayer. Paul prays this prayer for the believers in Colossae, but we can and should pray this prayer ourselves. The prayer itself is that the ones we are praying for are filled with the knowledge of God’s will in all spiritual wisdom and understanding or discernment. Knowing the will of another person means that they either explicitly tell us their will or that we know them so throughly that we intuitively know their will without them telling us. God tells us a lot of his will in the Bible, but some things are not spelled out for us, thus we need spiritual wisdom and understanding. We get that by spending time with God in his word and in prayer.

Paul goes on to give us the purpose for being filled with knowledge of God’s will. And that purpose is, “so that” we may walk in a manner worthy of the Lord, fully pleasing him, bearing fruit in every good work and increasing in the knowledge of God. There are four dimensions to the one purpose in being filled with the knowledge of God’s will. When we know God’s will we have the potential of walking (living our lives) in a manner worthy of the Lord. What does it mean to live in a manner worthy of the Lord? It means living in a way that is consistent with his will. When we live in a manner worthy of him, he is fully pleased with us. We can stop and think, “Is my life fully pleasing to the Lord?” If it’s not, does that diminish his love for us? No way! He always loves us! But if we love him, we want to please him.

Paul goes on to say that we will then bear fruit in every good work. You can see how this develops. We first take the time and effort to know God through his word , praying to him and being filled with his Holy Spirit. That results in us being filled with the knowledge of his will in all spiritual wisdom and understanding. This results in us living in a manner worthy of him and therefore pleasing him and bearing fruit in every good work. But there is one more dimension to being filled with the knowledge of his will. We increase or grow in the knowledge of God. This is where we began, by knowing God. Now we know him more and more, better and better, deeper and deeper. When this happens our love for him grows and our joy in him grows.

Knowing God as he truly is, we humbly submit to his will. He is glorified and we are blessed. There is no mistaken identity. God overtakes us and reorients our hearts and lives to his person. Praise be to his name!

The Book of Proverbs: The Wisdom of the Lord

The book of Proverbs is at the heart of the wisdom literature of the Bible. Its central theme and focus is wisdom. But the wisdom the book promotes is not worldly wisdom but divine wisdom, the wisdom of God. Divine wisdom gives one insight into the complexities and nuances of living in a fallen, sinful world. The book spares no effort to encourage, even demand, that people get wisdom at all costs. It is a biblical book with which most people are familiar. Many have read some of it, but how many have read it so as to digest it? If ones reads through their Bible every year, they have read the book of Proverbs. But the book requires a deeper reading. It must be read slowly and thoughtfully because it is deceptively simple. It is designed that way.

Since the focus of the book of Proverbs is wisdom, we might ask, “What is wisdom?” Wisdom, simply stated, is the fear of the Lord. Wisdom from God is the skill for living life according to the will of God. In fact, wisdom reveals God’s will. The writers of the proverbs want to communicate that living by wisdom is truly a blessed life. But the reality is, wisdom must be pursued. It does not come automatically or easily. Yet, the glorious truth is that wisdom is available to all.

Proverbs are of various types. There are longer sayings, but most of the proverbs are short pithy statements that bring home a powerful truth. They seem simple, but are very deep and require meditation rather than a brief reading. Most of these short sayings are of two parts. The two parts of each individual proverb draws either a comparison or a contrast. Sometimes, but not always, the comparison is made by the word “and” and the contrast by the word “but”. It is also important to understand that proverbs are general principles not necessarily promises, though some can be understood that way. These principles often hold true but are not certain. Life is complex. Unexpected things happen. The Lord is in control. This leads the wise person to be humble even in their wisdom.

Solomon is the writer of most of the proverbs. The Bible states that Solomon was the wisest man of his time. He humbly asked the Lord for wisdom and the Lord blessed him richly. Solomon followed the wisdom path for many years, but in his old age his many foreign wives turned his heart from the Lord. Wisdom has its limitations. We need redemption from our sins. There will be another Son of David in whom all the treasure of wisdom and knowledge resides (Colossians 2:3). He will provide redemption for his people.

The book is structured to promote the pursuit of wisdom. It is not a random ordering of proverbial sayings, but a well thought out plan to promote and provide wisdom. The structure of this amazing and beautiful book is found below.

                           1. The Introduction & Purpose of Proverbs (1;1-7)

                           2. Invitation to Wisdom (1:8-9:18)

                           3. The Proverbs of Solomon (10:1-22:16)

                           4. Thirty Sayings of the Wise (22:17-24:22)

                           5. More Sayings of the Wise (24:23-34)

                           6. Hezekiah’s Collection of Solomon’s Proverbs (25-29)

                           7. Sayings of Agur (30)

                           8. Sayings of King Lemuel (31:1-9)

                           9. The Godly (Wise) Wife (31:10-31)

Major Themes in Proverbs:

The book of Proverbs is filled with many recurring wisdom themes. But the foundation underneath all these themes is the two major themes of wisdom itself and the fear of the Lord. These two hold all the various ideas in Proverbs together.

Wisdom: The central message in the book of Proverbs is, “Get Wisdom! And God is the only source for it.” God has true wisdom and he desires to share it with people. Wisdom is something that resides inside a person, yet enables that person to live externally in a way that brings glory to God and good to the person and others. Wisdom does not shield people from hardship, but gives them the capacity to see life from a divine perspective. Wisdom protects one from the foolishness that can destroy ones life. The wisdom in Proverbs challenges conventional wisdom with a realistic understanding of the way life is in a fallen world. But wisdom does not come easily. The person who desires wisdom must be a diligent and vigilant seeker. God promises to give wisdom to the honest seeker. Wisdom and the Torah (the Law) are closely related in the Old Testament. In Proverbs Torah is not a major theme, but the connection is made (Proverbs 28:4-9). A heart for the Torah is what it means to live wisely. The wisdom of Proverbs guides the believer to faithful Torah living.

The Fear of the Lord: The fear of the Lord is a common phrase in wisdom literature, especially in Proverbs. The phrase is found 14 times in the book (1:7, 29; 2:5; 8:13; 9:10; 10:27; 14:26, 27; 15:16, 33; 16:6; 19:23; 22:4; 23:17), which shows the deeply God-centered nature of wisdom in Proverbs. Fear for the Lord is the humble response to the covenant responsibilities, as well as, to the presence of the Lord with his people. The fear of the Lord is to be understood as deep reverence for the holy God and not a paralyzing fear of an unknown threat. Rather than repelling, the fear of the Lord draws the worshipper to the Lord, but keeps the familiarity from becoming frivolous. The relationship between the fear of the Lord and wisdom is close. “The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom” is Solomon’s admonition (9:10). Any wisdom without the fear of the Lord is worldly wisdom. Worldly wisdom may have some utility, but has no salving benefit. The proverbs are designed to help the person who fears and follows the Lord to live a blessed life that brings glory to the Lord.


The book of Proverbs is precious and rich reading for the follower of Jesus Christ. Read slowly and meditatively the book can give the believer great insight into navigating this life successfully. I encourage everyone to read the book of Proverbs often. Take your time and soak in all the wisdom it has to offer. You will find deep waters of inexhaustible truth to bless the patient reader.

Jesus Came Teaching

In his day, Jesus was primarily known as a teacher. His disciples, the crowds and even his enemies called him teacher. He came to Israel with a message of salvation. He was a Spirit anointed teacher who penetrated the hearts of all who heard him. His disciples were transformed by his teaching so that in the end they worshipped him and were willing to lay down their lives for him. The crowds heard him gladly and were deeply moved by him. The religious leaders were cut to the heart by his teaching but rejected and hated him, and ultimately killed him. Jesus was a teacher like no other. His teaching changed the world. But Jesus’ teaching was explanatory in that it was a commentary on his person and his work of salvation, his death on the cross for sin and his resurrection from the dead.

The teaching of Jesus is thick throughout all four gospels. Even when he is dealing with questions or healing someone he is teaching. But the main focus of the teaching of Jesus is found in large blocks of teaching that are found predominantly in Matthew and John. Luke has a great deal of teaching but usually in smaller units. Matthew has five large teaching units, chapters 5-7; 10; 13; 18; 24-25, the most famous of which is the first, The Sermon on the Mount. The major teaching units in John are found in chapters 5-10 and 14-17.

In surveying the teaching of Jesus we will focus on six aspects of his teaching. First, we will look at Jesus’ teaching on the kingdom of God, then we will look at Jesus’ use of parables. Next we will observe his call to radical discipleship and his teaching on the end times. Lastly, we will emphasize two final teaching units: (1) the last instructions to his disciples, the upper room discourse, which he gave the night before he was crucified, and (2) the resurrected Lord Jesus sending out his disciples on their mission, the Great Commission. 

The Kingdom of God

The central message of Jesus’ teaching was the kingdom of God. Everything focused on that. Jesus’ teaching on the kingdom of God had an intimate connection to the Old Testament teaching of the kingdom of God through the covenants, especially the Davidic covenant.

The Old Testament teachings about the kingdom has two perspectives. One can be called the universal kingdom of God. God is king over all things even though some angels and all people rebel against his lordship. He is still king. And from this perspective we see the second sense of the kingdom of God in the Old Testament, the redemptive kingdom of God.

Some refer to this as the mediatorial kingdom. In the redemptive/mediatorial kingdom, God calls his covenant people to mediate his redemptive work to the world. The basic storyline of the Bible is, Creation – Fall – Redemption – Restoration. In the redemption phase of the storyline God works through covenants. In this way God is bringing about his plan of redemption to the world.

The kingdom of God in Jesus’ teaching exhibit several tensions. First, there is the “when” tension. Is the kingdom of God in the present with the coming of Jesus, or is it in the future? This tension in the teaching of Jesus about the kingdom of God is resolved by saying that the kingdom is already here in the coming and ministry, and specially the passion of the king, but it is not yet fully consummated. It will be consummated in his second coming. This can be seen in the teaching of Jesus and in his parables.

The second tension in the teaching of Jesus concerning the kingdom of God is a “where” tension. Where is the kingdom of God? Is there some physical place the kingdom resides, or is it just in the hearts of Jesus’ followers? This is a reign vs realm question. Again, the tension is resolved by understanding Jesus’ kingdom is not of this world and is now among us, but will one day in its consummation be gloriously global.

The third, and final, tension is a “who” tension. By who, I mean who is in the kingdom of God? Is the kingdom personal and individual, or is it communal and social? Jesus said that one must enter the kingdom. The kingdom is entered by personal faith, so in that sense the kingdom is individual. But when a person enters the kingdom they enter the community of the redeemed. They have a relationship with the king, but also with all others in the kingdom. The kingdom has a wonderful communal aspect that cannot be neglected.

In Jesus’ teaching on the kingdom of God he presented himself as the king who came to establish the kingdom. The kingdom Jesus offered would be counter intuitive to what most expected, but it would be the perfect fulfillment of the promise of God in the Old Testament. Entrance into the kingdom turned on surrender to Jesus as king and Lord.


Jesus’ teaching was colorful, penetrating, and dynamic. People were astonished and amazed by his teaching and remarked that no one else taught as he did. One of the main features of Jesus’ teaching was his profuse use of parables. Parables were short stories, illustrations and even metaphors. Jesus had the amazing ability  to get to the heart of an issue with a simple, brief and picturesque parable. He took something everyday and understandable and used it to unravel complicated spiritual truths.

It’s unclear exactly how many parables are in the synoptic gospels (Matthew, Mark and Luke). People count them in different ways as to what they think constitutes a parable. There are probably as least 40 parables in Matthew, Mark and Luke. Matthew gives 24 parables, while Mark only has 9. Luke records the most at 28. Some of the parables are repeated in two or all three synoptics. Matthew has 11 unique parables and Mark only 1. Luke has the most with 15 unique parables. Some of the most beloved parables are unique to Luke, such as the Good Samaritan and the Prodigal Son.

Biblical scholar Craig Blomberg believes the parables have one, two or three points depending on the number of main characters. Main characters do not have to be people. For example, in the parable of the Sower, the three main characters are the sower, the unfruitful seed and the fruitful seed. Each character in the parable has a point to make in the scope of the meaning of the parable itself. This makes a lot of sense and gives a richer and deeper meaning to the parables of Jesus. It is an interesting note that while some parables are given to reveal a spiritual truth, many are intended to hide it (Matthew 13:13)! 

All the parables of Jesus are related in some way to the central message of the kingdom of God. Many begin with the phrase, “The kingdom of God/heaven is like …” or “To what shall I compare to the kingdom of God.” The parables fleshed out the kingdom of God for the people. For some it was life, for others it was death.

Jesus’ Call to Radical Discipleship

Jesus demanded total commitment and surrender to himself as Savior and Lord. His disciples are to love him and follow him with such joy and delight that they are willing to lay down their lives for the kingdom of God. Those not willing to make such a commitment cannot enter the kingdom or be a disciple (Matthew 10:37-39; Mark 8:31-38; Luke 14:25-27). The call to radical discipleship is not a call to the bold and committed Christian, while other less committed Christians are saved but not serious. The call to radical discipleship is what it means to be a Christian. Jesus called those who would go make disciples. He loved and discipled them with that view in mind. Discipleship was, and is, Jesus’ master plan to redeem and transform the world. Every disciple/believer has a unique and strategic role to play in the mission of Jesus.

Jesus’ Teaching on the Judgment of Israel and the End Times

As we have seen, the focus of Jesus’ teaching was the kingdom of God. Related to that emphasis is Jesus’ teaching on eschatology (end times). This teaching appears throughout the synoptics in his general teachings and the parables but especially in what is called the Olivet Discourse. This teaching of Jesus is found in Matthew 24 (followed by related parables in chapter 25), Mark 13 and Luke 21.

This teaching of Jesus in the Olivet Discourse looks forward to two events: (1) The judgment of God on Israel (2) The coming of Jesus in the end times. The difference between these two events and where one stops and the other begins in the text is difficult to fully understand. Biblical scholars disagree on these issues.This is not to say that we should not work hard to understand these passages, we should. They are very important. We must be humble and teachable in our interpretation of these texts.

Most agree that the first part of the discourses deals with God’s judgement on Israel in AD 70 when the Romans defeated and destroyed Jerusalem and the temple. This would happen 40 years after Jesus gives this prophecy. It would be a difficult time for the people living in Israel and for the church there. They had rejected and murdered their Messiah. It was unthinkable.

The second part of the discourse deals with the coming of Jesus in the last days. Here is where the difficulty comes in clearly understanding what part of the text refers to AD 70 and what part refers to the last days. Some scholars believe that these time frames go back and forth at points. What is clear, nonetheless, is that there will be a dreadful time of judgment in the near future and then, sometime future to that, the end will come. Some believe that everything prophesied by Jesus in the discourse was fulfilled in AD 70 with war of the Romans. Most scholars, however, believe that part of this teaching looks forward to a time of intense judgment form God just before Jesus returns.

The Upper Room Discourse

John chapters 13-17 comprise the largest body of Jesus’ teaching in the New Testament. All the words of Jesus have a unique quality and power, but along with the Sermon on the Mount these words are the most profound. This teaching is often called the Upper Room Discourse. This section begins with the Last Supper and continues through that night. This is the night before Jesus is crucified.

Jesus is preparing his disciples for the shock of his death. What will transpire in the next twenty-four hours will rock their world and threaten to shake them loose form their faith. He has much to say in comfort, but much more to say regarding their mission. Believers who read these chapters must do so with deep meditation and prayer.

Chapter thirteen deals with events during and immediately after the Last Supper. After the supper Jesus washes his disciples feet. Washing feet was a task reserved for the lowest servant. Jesus takes on the role of a servant to teach his disciples the attitude they must have towards one another and the people they will serve in their mission. The foot washing was also a picture of the cross.

After Jesus reveals that one of them will betray him, Judas leaves to do this deed. Jesus then issues the command to his disciples to love one another just as he had loved them. This would be their defining mark of a true disciple.

The first extended discourse is in chapter fourteen. This chapter is framed at the beginning (14:1-3) and the end (14:28-31) with comfort. Between the two words of comfort Jesus reinforces his disciples hearts with truth about who he is and his promise of the Holy Spirit who will lead and empower them in their mission.

At the end of chapter fourteen Jesus and the disciples leave the upper room where they have celebrated the Passover meal. Somewhere along their way Jesus relates to them the parable of the vine and branches (15:1-11). This moving picture of the relationship between Jesus and his followers is designed to encourage them to remain in him, in vital connection to him. It would serve the reader to meditate on the connection with Jesus. The chapter ends with Jesus’ honest warning that since the world hates him the world will also hate them. The chapter explores three relationships believers experience: (1) relationship with Jesus (15:1-11), (2) relationship with one another (15:12-17), (3) relationship with the world (15:18-27).

The discourse continues in chapter sixteen with three very meaningful promises of Jesus to his disciples. First, Jesus promises them the Holy Spirit (16:1-15). Second, Jesus promises his disciples that though they will experience great distress in the short tern, they will have great joy no one can take away (16:16-24). Third, Jesus promises his followers victory over the world. Because they believe in Jesus the Father loves them and though they will have struggles in this world Jesus will give them peace because he has overcome the world (16:25-33).

Chapter seventeen is often called the High Priestly prayer of Jesus. This is the longest prayer of Jesus we have in the NT. The prayer is shaped in three parts. Jesus prays for himself (17:1-5), for his disciples (17:6-19) and for all who will believe through his disciples message (17:20-26). He prays for himself that the Father would glorify him in his work. He prays for his disciples that the Father will protect & sanctify them. And he prays for future believer that they will unified.

The Great Commission 

The Great Commission is given by the resurrected Jesus in Matthew 28:16-20 and in Luke 24:36-53. The Great commission is the command of Jesus to all disciples to go make disciples who go make disciples. Jesus had spent over three years training his disciples for this mission. The Great Commission characterizes Jesus’ teaching as giving commands to be obeyed and instructs his disciples to teach future disciples to obey them all. Jesus promises the Holy Spirit will come upon them since his power will be necessary to fulfill the mission Jesus gives them. Jesus’ personal presence through the Holy Spirit will be with his people until the end of the age when he returns.


Jesus’ teaching in the Bible is widespread, profound and transformative. It speaks to our deepest needs and the longings of our hearts. Jesus’ teaching also challenges us with regard to our sin and lack of commitment. Every believer in Jesus Christ must spend serious time in study and meditation on the teaching of Jesus. He calls all believers to know him, love him and serve him. It is impossible to fulfill that call without growing in an intimate and personal knowledge, and an honest application of his teaching. Those who truly love him deeply desire to know him more. And he desires to speak into our hearts and lives. A commitment to carefully read through the four gospels will bear great fruit in our lives

The Sermon on the Mount

Jesus came as a teacher. He was known as a teacher. He devoted himself to teaching the truth of the word of God. It was of central importance to him. His teaching amazed the people of his day and had a profound impact on their lives. It has had the same impact on people down through the centuries. While the teaching of Jesus is a big focus in all four Gospels, it is especially so in Matthew. In the book of Matthew we find five teaching units. The first teaching unit is almost universally known as the Sermon on the Mount (Matthew chapters5-7). It is famously known, but infamously unknown. We might say that this teaching is Jesus’ kingdom manifesto. Jesus came teaching that the kingdom of God had arrived in his person and work. The sermon explains Jesus’ kingdom vision and mission. Parts of the sermon are well known by many people even if they don’t know where they come from. Most people know of the iconic passages like the Beatitudes, the Lord’s Prayer and the Golden Rule, but perhaps many do not realize that they are all part of the SOM. The sermon is filled with passages that inspire, inform and convict.

Interpretations of the Sermon are legion. Several things are important to keep in mind. First, Jesus was speaking to the people living at that time and place. He was calling the people of Israel to himself as Messiah, inaugurating the promised and long awaited kingdom of God. It is important to remember that Scripture was not written to us but for us. In every passage there is the descriptive and the prescriptive. Each passage describes what God was doing in a certain time and place in the flow of redemptive history. Each passage also prescribes what we should do in light of what God has done. Understanding these two polarities is key to understanding any text.

Second, Jesus was speaking to his disciples. He was speaking to all his disciples, but especially to the twelve. He had not yet chosen and appointed the twelve as apostles, nonetheless, he was speaking to them as those in training for the leadership for which they would soon be responsible. After the resurrection and ascension of Jesus the apostles will carry the mission of the kingdom forward. The SOM is important for that mission.

Finally, Jesus was casting a vision for a kingdom lifestyle. What does it mean to be in the kingdom? What are the values of the kingdom? Jesus called people to follow him. What did that look like? Life in a broken, fallen and sinful world is complex. How does one navigate the complexities of the world in a Christ honoring way?

A key theme in the Sermon on the Mount is righteousness. Be righteous and live righteously. The way of righteousness that Jesus calls for is very different from what most people assume. It is a humble hunger for God. It is the recognition that one is not righteous apart from God’s grace. It is following the narrow way of Jesus. The sermon is necessary for the growth of any follower of Jesus. One can learn profound truths for living from these words of Jesus.

After a brief introduction of the setting of the SOM (5:1-2), the sermon begins with the Beatitudes (5:3-12). These are eight short statements of the blessedness of those in the kingdom of heaven. Each beatitude has the same form. They begin with a pronouncement of blessing (“Blessed”) followed by those to whom the blessing is given (for example, “poor in spirit”) and ending with the results of this state of blessedness (for example, “for theirs is the kingdom of heaven”). The eight beatitudes express the dependence and devotion of Jesus’ disciples to him. The first four (poor in spirit, mourners, meek and hunger & thirst for righteousness) show the disciples’ dependence on Jesus, while the last four (merciful, pure in heart, peacemakers and persecuted) show the disciples’ devotion to Jesus. The beatitudes end with an expansion of the last beatitude to the persecuted (5:11-12). This reveals what it means to be persecuted and the joy a follower of Jesus should experience in persecution.

Jesus then teaches his disciples the ramifications of their life in the kingdom as followers of Jesus (5:13-16). They are the salt of the earth and the light of the world. Their lives have impact in the world as they live out the practical implication of following Jesus.

Jesus now gets into the body of his message by explaining why he has come and calling for a greater righteousness (5:17-20). Jesus wants no confusion as to why he has come into the world. He has not come to abolish the Law or the Prophets (the Old Testament), but to fulfill it. There is close continuity between the mission of Jesus and the message of the Old Testament. The Old Testament promises the Messiah and the Kingdom of God he brings, while Jesus fulfills these promises. In fact, those who say and teach otherwise are the least in the kingdom of heaven. This leads to Jesus’ call for greater righteousness. One’s righteousness must exceed that of the scribes and Pharisees to even enter the kingdom of heaven. The righteousness of the scribes and Pharisees was and external self-righteousness. The greater righteousness Jesus calls for is an internal, transformational, God-centered, humble righteousness.

The call for greater righteousness leads to the next section of the SOM (5:21-48). This is often called the six antitheses. They contrast six popular, but false, understandings of Old Testament teachings promoted by the Pharisees, with Jesus’ kingdom teaching. The six are: anger, lust, divorce, oaths, retaliation and love. Jesus’ demands are high, but love for him leads to obedience. The way of God is the way of holiness and happiness. These must not be misconstrued as the way to earn salvation, but the way of life that flows out of the grace of salvation.

Next we see Jesus’ warning on practicing righteousness from an improper motive (6:1-18). Jesus demonstrates how the three main forms of piety in his day can be done in hypocritical ways to be noticed by others. A fundamental human desire is to seek praise from others. He talks about giving alms for the needy, prayer and fasting. One must be careful to do these things out of love for God and neighbor and not for personal praise. These are important practices, but must be done for the right reasons. In the section on prayer (6:5-15) we find Jesus’ model prayer (The Lord’s Prayer, 5:9-13). This is a profound prayer and must be meditated on and practiced.

This is followed by Jesus’ teaching on work and worry (6:19-34). A key question in life is, “Where is your treasure? What is most important to you?” Jesus says, “Where your treasure is there your heart will be also.” A person cannot serve things and money and God at the same time. They both demand to be master. An inordinate focus on things and money can lead to anxious worry. We are distracted from the really important things of life. Jesus says the antidote to this is to seek the kingdom of God and his righteousness as the first and highest priority.

Jesus rounds out his message on greater righteousness with a call not to be judgmental but discerning (7:1-6), an intense God-centered prayer life (7:7-11) and the Golden Rule, “Do unto others as you would have then do unto you.”

Jesus concludes the Sermon on the Mount with the teaching on the two ways (7:13-27). This is a warning to hear and heed the teaching of Jesus. Nothing could be more important than following Jesus. One’s eternal destiny hangs in the balance. One way leads to destruction, the other way leads to life. Living by the SOM is not a works salvation, but the outflow of a life following Jesus. No one lives the demands of Jesus perfectly, but those who claim to follow Jesus but disregard his teaching show that they are not true disciples of Jesus.

The Sermon on the Mount is a very important teaching of Jesus. It must not be overlooked or treated lightly. It puts am emphasis on both grace and truth. We are saved by grace and truth and we live the Christian life by grace and truth. It provides for the believer in Jesus Christ a way of life that can have impact on others and bring glory to God.

The Sweet Gift of Prayer

There is a difference between having a prayer life and living a praying life. Many of the biblical saints and many of the saints throughout the history of the church have lived such a praying life. Those who find praying a necessity for living are the ones who live a praying life. They’re not always the most spiritual, but they do recognize their own weakness and needs. And in reaching out to God in desperation they discover his strength and, often much to their surprise, they discover a sweet fellowship that keeps them coming back.This is the place where prayer becomes a conversation with the Almighty.

There are many kinds of prayer, but the basic mode of prayer is that of asking God for needs. The classic text for this fundamental prayer impulse is Hebrews 4:16. “Let us then draw near with confidence to the throne of grace that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need.” To explore the deep riches of prayer we will consider five dimensions of this divine promise.


The context of this call to prayer is that of a discussion the writer of the book of Hebrews is having on the high priesthood of Jesus Christ. It begins here but carries on for several chapters. Jesus is the high priest of the new covenant. He intercedes with God for us with his own blood rather than the blood of animals. His blood is the only efficient payment for our sins.

In the previous verse we are told that we have a high priest who can sympathize with our weaknesses because he has been tempted in every way as we are, yet without sin. Because Jesus understands our struggles and loves us enough to give his life for us, he is ready and willing to hear our prayers. It is a function of his high priesthood to compassionately hear and answer our honest prayers in the face of our burdens.

Draw Near

Because Jesus is our high priest who is eager to hears our prayers, we are encouraged to draw near to him. If we had a small glimpse, as Isaiah did, of God’s awesome glory and holiness, we would be fearful to approach him in any way. But the wonderful and beautiful thing is that we are urged by him to come near. Nearness to God is the place of blessing for those whom he calls to himself.

But not only are we called to draw near, we are to come near with confidence. Who would dare to approach God with confidence? Only those who are redeemed and justified by the blood of Christ can rightly have such confidence. They know they are forgiven and adopted into the family of God. They come not in their own names, but in the name of Jesus.

The Throne of Grace

We are summonsed into the presence of God and present our prayers at the throne of Grace. The throne of God is the place of his power and authority. God is sovereign over all the universe, yet he gives us his ear. In Isaiah’s vision of Isaiah chapter six he saw the Lord sitting on a throne, high and lifted up; and the train of his robe filled the temple. Isaiah received a vision of God’s awesome majesty. The Lord had something significant to communicate to Isaiah, but first he impressed on him the glory of the one in whose presence Isaiah stood. In prayer we stand in the presence of God.

But we needn’t fear to enter the presence of God because his throne is a throne of grace. God extends his gracious love to us in Christ so that we may enter his presence with our prayers. Grace is the undeserved favor of God to us through Christ. His grace heals our broken lives and makes us fit for his presence. His grace is an expression of his amazing love.

Mercy and Grace

When we enter the presence of God at his throne of grace with our prayers we experience his mercy and grace. The Bible says here that we receive his mercy. We receive the gift of God’s mercy. Mercy is a gift. Mercy is not something we earn. In fact, the need of mercy reveals our weakness and sin. In mercy God holds back what we rightly deserve. When we come to God with our prayers he looks on us with mercy. He is moved by our brokenness.

As we receive the gift of mercy we discover grace. God’s hand of judgment is held back and mercy is given. In the gift of mercy we discover the blessing of grace. Grace gives above and beyond what we might expect. Grace is extravagant. It flows in abundance.

Help in Need

We human beings are a bundle of needs. We are needy. Many people don’t like to hear that, but its true. We have all kinds of needs in which we must have help or the need will only grow. God comes to give help as we pray. When we humbly seek his help to meet our need, he will respond according his good plan.

We can take our prayer to God for our own needs and for the needs of others. He hears them all. We find we have five kinds of need in which we seek God’s blessing. We might use the acronym, BLESS to direct our prayer toward these five needs we all have. I discovered this acronym several decades ago in a small pamphlet on prayer. The “B” stand for body or health needs. Health needs are a big struggle for so many. The “L” stands for labor, which are needs we have in our jobs or finances. The “E” stands for emotional needs. Anyone can struggle with four main negative emotions: anger, depression, anxiety and shame. The first “S” stands for social or relational needs. We all struggle in relationships. The second “S” stands for spiritual needs. This is the greatest area of need we have, but is often the least prayed for. We may not know the needs others have, but we know they have needs. We can pray for these five kinds of need knowing we have touched on some need they have even though we may not know the exact need.

Intercessory prayer is a great ministry. You can be confident that God hears and answers your prayers. We have the promise of Hebrews 4:16. It takes commitment to stick with this prayer ministry and faith to trust that God will answer our prayer though we may never see the answer. Prayer is indeed a sweet gift from God. He has given it to us to use. If you use this great gift you will be blessed in you prayers and those you pray for will be blessed in the help they receive from God.

Seven Keys to Unlock the Treasure of the Bible: Key Seven – Meditating on Scripture

The seventh, and final key to unlock the treasure of the Bible brings together all the other keys to fulfill their purpose, namely, reading the Bible. The keys only unlock the treasure of the Bible as we actually read the Bible with each key in mind. The Bible is a book; books are meant to be read. It is an amazing thing that God has given us a book. He meant for us to read his book. God speaks to his people in his written word, the holy Scriptures. But reading the Bible is not easy for most people. Many who have tried it were not successful. Some parts of the Bible seem fairly easy to navigate, but other parts seem almost incomprehensible to many people. Reading the Bible profitably requires help from God and takes effort and discipline on our part. The purpose of the seventh key is to help us in that endeavor.

Receiving a blessing from reading the Bible requires a plan. Just reading randomly will not prove fruitful. There are many ways one can approach reading the Bible. I always encourage people to read the Bible in two basic ways, deep and wide. I believe it is imperative to read the Bible widely by reading large amounts of text. Reading through a book of the Bible in one sitting, or large portions of bigger books is great. Some people read through the entire Bible every year, or at least one or more times in their lifetime. Some read through the Bible in a longer or shorter time. The important thing is to read and be exposed to all the Bible. Since the Bible is a story, we want to read the whole story to understand it better. But we must do more. It is not enough to simply read the Bible, it must be studied. We must take small texts and dig deep into them by meditating on them. Biblical meditation is the seventh key to unlock the treasure of the Bible.

The Bible commands us to meditate on Scripture (Joshua 1:8; Psalm 63:6; 77:6, 12; 119:15, 23, 27, 48, 78; 143:5; 145:5). We see this so clearly and in such a powerful way in Psalm 1:1-2. Here we find the stark contrast between the wicked and the righteous by the focus of their hearts. “Blessed is the man who walks not in the counsel of the wicked, nor stands in the way of sinners, nor sits in the seat of scoffers; but his delight is in the law of the Lord, and on his law he meditates day and night.” The person who is blessed by God is not one who follows after the wicked, but makes the focus of life meditating on the word of God. The righteous meditate on the word of God so that they can obey it.

There are many ways to meditate on and study the Bible that are profitable. I believe the best way to study the Bible is by a method called inductive Bible study. Inductive Bible study has as its goal to engage the text with as few presuppositions as possible and discover what the Bible says for itself. Inductive Bible study is usually composed of three stages: observation, interpretation and application. Observation of a biblical text asks the question, “What does the text say?” Interpretation involves asking the question, “What does the text mean?” And finally, application asks, “How does this text apply to my life?”

Biblical meditation differs greatly from eastern meditation in that eastern meditation seeks to empty the mind, while biblical meditation seeks to fill the mind with the word of God and the person of God. Biblical meditation is a slow, patient process. We may spend a great deal of time meditating on a few verses. Biblical meditation requires thinking about every word in every sentence of a text to understand fully what God is saying in his word. Paul exhorts Timothy in 2 Timothy 2:7, “Think over what I say, for the Lord will give you understanding in everything.” What Paul says is the word of God in the letter he is writing Timothy. Timothy’s responsibility is to think over (meditate) what Paul writes (Scripture). The Lord’s promise is that he will give understanding.

The activity of meditating on Scripture involves a number of steps or stages. In this sense it is a process, but it is not a technique one uses to extract meaning or the message of a text from the Bible. It is an ongoing deep and dynamic relationship with God. It happens prayerfully by the power of the Holy Spirit.

The first thing that should, but may not happen in the meditation of Scripture is prayer. Since meditation is a spiritual activity and it is God who gives the understanding, it is unwise and unprofitable to begin without prayer. This is what we see in the Bible. Psalm 119 is a meditation and a prayer about the beauty, the power and the necessity of the word of God. We find the psalmist there praying seven times for the Lord to teach him his word (Psalm 119:12, 26, 33, 64, 66, 68, 124). And five times he prays for understanding (Psalm 119: 27, 34, 73, 125, 169). He also prays in verse 18, “Open. My eyes, that I may behold wondrous things in you law.” And then in verse 36 the psalmist prays, “Incline my heart to your testimonies, and not to selfish gain.” It is absolute necessary, therefore, to seek God in prayer for profitable meditation on his word.

The second thing we can do as we meditate on Scripture is to read over the text several times asking six important questions: who, what, when, where, why and how. These questions will help us begin to get a sense of what’s happening in the text and what God is saying in the text. Then we go back over the text several more times reading very slowly thinking about every word and phrase considering the meaning they convey in the passage. At this point we can realize some great insights into what God is saying in his word. It is probably a good thing to write down some of our findings so we can go back over them later. As we’re slowly thinking over a passage word by word it is profitable to ask ourselves what the text is telling us about God and what it is telling us about people. We need and desire the truth of God.

The next thing we can do in biblical meditation is think about how the text applies to our lives. If we stop before this point, we will probably not have much that is beneficial to life. The word of God has transformational power. It can deeply change us. It will do so only as we apply it to our lives. We can think of attitudes and actions that the principles of the text call for in everyday life. There is usually some negative and positive application from any text. What things is my text calling me to do, and what things is my text calling me to not do? Making application from the text requires that we make it personal. As we apply God’s word to our lives, God will encourage us and give us great peace, but he will also reprove and correct us. In this way real change can happen in our hearts.

The last thing we can do is the first thing we did. We can pray. As we gain some understanding about what the Bible is saying, and what it means, we can ask God to empower us to be obedient to the truths we’ve discovered. We can also praise him and thank him for all the rich blessings he daily pours on us.

As we meditate on Scripture it opens to us the heart of God. We gain a renewed sense of his love and grace that reveals to us his plan of salvation. The Bible is necessary and a blessing for every season of life, but especially so for the dark and painful times. When we cherish God’s word enough to spend quality and quantity time meditating on it, we realize a deeper appreciation of who God is and all he’s done for us, as well as the blessing of experiencing his presence with us. Therefore we bring God glory and blessing for ourselves by utilizing each of the seven keys to unlock the treasure of the Bible.

Seven Keys to Unlock the Treasure of the Bible: Key Six – The Plan of God

We humans have the capacity to make plans. Sometimes our plans work out just as we planned, but at other times they fall through. We may have to adjust our plans or just give up on them altogether. The problem is exacerbated in that our plans frequently collide with the plans of other people. Life can get messy. But it is a comfort to know that though life often seems random, unordered and unplanned, God does have a plan. His plan was from the foundation of the world. God always acts according to his plan. His plan will come to reality. The plan of God is spoken about explicitly in many places in the Bible, but is also implicitly part of the fabric of the entire story. It is the assumption of the message of every biblical writer. Everything happens by the plan of God. So, when we are reading any passage in the Bible it is important to consider how it relates to the plan of God. If we bring together all the biblical teaching about the plan of God we will see that God’s plan consists of three phases and five great truths.

Three Phases

The three phases of the plan of God stretch out over the entire Bible and over all its history. The three phases relate to God’s plan and work to save a people for himself. The three phases of God’s plan are: (1) Salvation Promised (Genesis – Malachi), (2) Salvation Provided (Matthew – John), (3) Salvation Proclaimed (Acts – Revelation).

The Old Testament (OT) deals with the promises of God to provide salvation for his people. The promises of God for salvation come through the covenants. God first promises Abraham a land, seed and blessing. The land is the environment in which God works out his promises for the salvation for his people. The Lord also promised Abraham seed, descendants that would be vast in number. He would be the father of a multitude of nations. The primary people, though, would be the covenant nation Israel. From the covenant people Israel would come the single seed Christ (Galatians 3:16). Finally, the Lord promised Abraham blessing. He promised that in him, Abraham, all the families of the earth shall be blessed (Genesis 12:3). This promise of blessing finds its fulfillment in Jesus Christ (Acts 3:25; Galatians 3:8). The rest of the OT works out the partial fulfillment of these promises with a great expectation of a future complete fulfillment in the promised Messiah.

The second phase of God’s plan is salvation provided. All the promises of God in the OT are finally focused in the NT gospels on one person, Jesus Christ. The promise of God is that he would provide salvation for his people. He kept all his promises in the provision of Jesus Christ. Jesus is the promised Messiah, the Christ who will save his people from their sins (Matthew 1:21-23). The tension in the story of the Bible was growing throughout the OT. The promises of God concerning Messiah were increasing. When will the promises be realized in the Promised One? This pent-up expectation was finally released in the coming of Jesus as recorded in Matthew, Mark, Luke and John. One can feel the dam-burst of emotion as the people rush out to John the Baptist and then to Jesus in vast numbers. The Messiah is here! Salvation is provided! But the provision of salvation is not just in the Messiah coming, but in his perfect life, his death on the cross for the atonement of sin and his resurrection from the dead. Salvation is provided! 

Once the promised salvation is provided through the person and work of Jesus Christ, the third phase of God’s plan comes into play. This is salvation proclaimed. The mission of the Church to proclaim the gospel is center stage throughout the rest of the NT. God has provided salvation, so it is imperative that the message of the gospel of salvation be proclaimed. The resurrected Jesus commissioned his disciples to go make disciples of all nations (Matthew 28:19-20). They are to take the gospel in the power of the Holy Spirit from Jerusalem to the ends of the earth (Acts 1:8). Jesus promised that when the gospel of the kingdom was proclaimed throughout the whole world as a testimony to all nations, then the end will come (Matthew 24:14). The plan of God will be complete.

Five Great Truths

The plan of God in its three phases is worked out in five great truths. The Bible is filled with many wonderful truths about God, people and the salvation God provides. If we gather all those truths together to understand the central message of the Bible we will find five great truths that reveal God’s amazing love for broken, fallen sinners.

(1) God’s eternal plan is the redemption of his people through the person and work of Jesus Christ. This plan, as we’ve seen, is worked out through the three phases of the plan. The focus of the plan of God is on the person and work of Jesus Christ. The eternal Word of God, the second member of the holy Trinity, became a human person. God was born into a poor Jewish family. He lived a perfectly righteous life. He loved God and people with a profound and unprecedented love. He loved people so much that he told them the uncompromising truth. He loved the Father with a total commitment to his plan of salvation. For these things he was crucified by the Jewish and Roman authorities. But this was the way God provided salvation for the world. Three days later Jesus rose from the dead.  

(2) God is working out all things according to his eternal plan and for his glory. Before Jesus was born God was working all of human history toward the fulfillment of his plan in the coming of the Messiah-Savior (Acts 2:23-24; 4: 27-28). After the life of Jesus in which salvation was provided, God is working all human history toward the consummation of his plan in the second coming of Jesus (Ephesians 1:7-12). Everything that happens is ultimately working together for the good of God’s people (Romans 8:28). 

(3) There is a spiritual conflict that rages between the devil and his angels and the people of God throughout human history. The devil seeks to destroy or distort the plan of God. Though it often looks as though he were winning, his defeat was rendered sure through the cross and resurrection of Jesus. Though the victory is sure, believers in Jesus Christ must engage in the battle every day. Daily victory is secured by the truth of the word of God, a growing prayer relationship with God and the power of the Holy Spirit.

(4) God calls all believers to be on mission with him in the work of redemption. God’s plan of salvation includes the message of salvation coming to people through other people who have already embraced the message. The message is the gospel. The gospel is the love of God expressed in the life, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. The message must be widely disseminated.

(5) Believers are on mission with God by following Jesus and growing in grace. The way God’s people are faithful in their mission is by following their Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Jesus was faithful in the mission the Father gave him. Followers of Jesus must be faithful in the mission Jesus has given them. Spiritual growth leads to faithfulness. Spiritual growth is more like oak trees than weeds. The growth takes longer, but the plant is stronger. Every believer has a vital part to play in God’s eternal plan.

Together, the two parts of the plan of God, its three phases and its five great truths, form another vital key in unlocking the treasures of the Bible. One cannot understand the meaning of life without seeing it through the lens of the plan of God. It pays to think long and hard about this important biblical key. The effort will be richly rewarded with insight and intimacy with God.

Seven Keys to Unlock the Treasure of the Bible: Key Five – The Layout of the Bible

The Bible is one book with one main message and one basic storyline, and at the same time a library of 66 books written by about 40 authors over approximately 1500 years. The Bible is a beautiful book. But it is not a random collection of books. It is an orderly and purposeful collection. Most people who read their Bibles are familiar with the general layout of the Bible but give very little thought as to how and why it was put together the way it was. The layout of the Bible is more than a curiosity. It is a key to unlock the treasure inside.

The most basic layout of the Bible is in two unequal parts, the Old Testament (OT) with 39 book and the New Testament (NT) with 27 books. The two testaments can be further divided to reveal their message. The really interesting thing is that the OT has two different and meaningful ways in which the books are ordered.

The Dual Layout of the Old Testament

When most people open their Bibles they find the first book is Genesis and the last book in the OT is Malachi. This is the traditional order of the OT books. In this layout there are four divisions of the books.  

(1) The Torah or the Pentateuch, which are the first five books (Genesis – Deuteronomy)

(2) The Historical books that tell the history of God’s people Israel (Joshua – Esther)  

(3) The Wisdom & Poetic books (Job – Song of Songs) 

(4) The Prophets, the Major Prophets (Isaiah – Daniel) and the Minor Prophets (Hosea – Malachi)

The traditional order of the OT comes from the Greek translation of the OT in about the third century before Christ. This translation is called the Septuagint and is abbreviated LXX. Greek was the lingua franca (common language) of the Greco-Roman world just as English is the common language today. Jews were spread out all over the Roman Empire and needed a Scripture translation that all the people could read. Later, Jerome, the fourth century AD Church Father, translated the Bible into Latin and used the order of the LXX for the OT.

The second way the OT is ordered is that of the Hebrew Bible.The modern Jewish Bible and the Hebrew Scriptures in the time of Jesus and the Apostles was different from the traditional OT most of us are familiar with. Though the Apostles primarily used the LXX after the resurrection of Jesus, they also had the Hebrew Scriptures. The Scriptures at the time of Jesus (our OT) was comprised of three sections which Jesus called, the Law of Moses and the Prophets and the Psalms (Luke 24:44-45). In Luke 11:51 Jesus referred to the blood of Abel from the first part of the first book in his Bible, Genesis, and the blood of Zechariah from the last part of the last book in his Bible, Chronicles. Today the Hebrew Bible is referred to as the TaNaK, using the first letter of each of the three sections. The three sections of the Hebrew OT are:

(1) The Torah (Law), Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers and Deuteronomy 

(2) The Neviim (Prophets) which is comprised of two sub-sections

   1) Former Prophets = Joshua, Judges, Samuel and Kings

   2) Latter Prophets = Isaiah, Jeremiah, Ezekiel and the Book of the Twelve (Hosea –    


(3) The Ketuvim (Writings) which have three sub-sections 

   1) The Book of Truth = Psalms, Proverbs and Job 

   2) The Megilloth (Five Scrolls) = Song of Songs, Ruth, Lamentations, Ecclesiastes and 


  3) Other Sacred Writings = Daniel, Ezra – Nehemiah (which is one book) and Chronicles.

God allowed these two ways of ordering the OT for a reason. Both emphasize the general chronology of the OT, they both prioritize the Law of God, and they both reveal that the OT is incomplete. The traditional layout ends with Malachi 4:5-6 where the Lord promises to send Elijah the prophet before the great and awesome day of the Lord. This refers to John the Baptist before Jesus comes on the scene. The Hebrew OT ends with Chronicles 36:22-23 and the proclamation of Cyrus the Persian authorizing the Jews to return to the land. This ended the OT with the Jews in the land but none of the promises of the Messiah fulfilled. After 400 years of prophetic silence Jesus appears to fulfill all the promises of God.

The Layout of the New Testament

While the OT is the promise of redemption, the NT is the fulfillment of that promise. The NT tells that story in three sections.

(1) First we see the birth, ministry and passion of Jesus the Messiah (Matthew, Mark, Luke and John). 

(2) Then we have the Church (Acts, the Letters of Paul (Romans – Philemon) and the General Letters (Hebrews – Jude)). 

(3) The final section is the future consummation of all things in the book of Revelation.

The layout of the NT is just as significant as the OT. It begins with the coming of Jesus after the long wait for the Messiah. A new and fresh work in the plan of God bursts on the scene in the person of Jesus of Nazareth. He overturns all the old ways of looking at the things of God and brings salvation to the world. After the resurrected Jesus Christ returns to heaven the Church comes into being and grows and spreads as Jesus promised. Now the NT brings completion to the Bible in the book of Revelation. When the work of the gospel is done on earth Jesus returns to establish the Kingdom of God. The new heaven and the new earth come and with them the eternal state. Sin, death and Satan are defeated. The plan of God is finally consummated in Jesus Christ when all things are made new.

The layout of the Bible may seem like an unimportant issue, but getting a good handle on the layout of the Bible is important in understanding what God is saying to us as well as navigating the many stories and books we find in the Bible. It becomes, therefore, a crucial key we must not overlook in unlocking the treasures of the Bible.

Seven Keys to Unlock the Treasure of the Bible: Key Four – The Kingdom of God

The Bible is a big complex book. There is no doubt about it. People struggle to understand it. They find it hard to put all the pieces together. The Bible can seem like a thousand piece puzzle spread on the table before us. Struggle as we may we just can’t seem to make all the pieces fit. We need some help. All puzzle lovers know that there is help in putting together large and complex puzzles. There is the box top. The seven keys to unlock the treasure of the Bible is like the box top in putting together all the pieces of the Bible. Without them we can get some of the pieces to fit, but not nearly all. We can never put all the pieces of the Bible together perfectly, but we can come a lot closer with these seven keys. This article explores the fourth key.

In the unfolding story of redemption in the Bible we find many important themes that thread their way through the whole Bible forming the great tapestry of God’s plan of salvation. These themes put the meat on the bones of the story of the Bible. They also give us the application of the biblical story to our own story. Each book of the Bible has numerous themes, but just a few major themes. Some of these major themes are: sin, sacrifice, love, judgment, temple, grace, hope, and many others. But the central theme of the Bible is the Kingdom of God.

All the Bible’s many themes relate in some way to this central theme of the kingdom of God. This was the main focus of everything Jesus taught (Matthew 4:17; Mark 1:14-15; Luke 4:43; 8:1; John 3:3). As Jesus expressed the meaning of the Old Testament and the fulfillment of all its promises in him, he did so in terms of the kingdom of God. It helps to understand the biblical teaching of the kingdom of God in two ways. First, we see the universal kingdom of God. God is sovereign over all things. As the late theologian, R. C. Sproul said, “There are no rogue molecules in the universe.” We see this in Psalm103:19, “The Lord has established his throne in the heavens, and his kingdom rules over all.” The second way we see the kingdom of God in the Bible is God’s rule in the hearts and lives of people. This is where the struggle of the kingdom of God is seen. While all the universe obeys the will of God, people do not submit to the rule of God in their lives. We are all cosmic rebels. So God is working in the world and throughput history to establish his kingdom among people. The ups and downs of the kingdom of God is the plot line of the story of the whole Bible. God set up his kingdom on earth in creation with humanity as its stewards. God blessed them and gave them dominion over all the earth (Genesis 1:28). The kingdom fell into ruin when the man and the woman rebelled against God’s one command (Genesis 3). The struggle throughout the Old Testament is to re-establish the kingdom of God, which is his sovereign reign in the hearts of his people. But the people of the earth continue to rebel against the rule of God. God called his chosen people, Israel, to be the instrument through which he would establish his kingdom. The Messiah, the Savior of the world would come through Israel. But even his chosen people would rebel against him time and time again.

Finally, in accordance with God’s eternal plan and the prophecy of the Old Testament, Jesus comes to re-establish the kingdom of God and set all things right. According to God’s eternal plan the kingdom of God after Jesus has two phases. The first phase is the kingdom already here through Jesus’ first coming, but not yet fully complete. Believers in Jesus Christ living today and since the time of Jesus are in the kingdom of God and look forward to its full completion. The second phase of the kingdom of God begins at Jesus’ return, which brings in the fully consummated kingdom of God. We see how this works out through the teaching of Jesus and the rest of the New Testament.

The kingdom of God in Jesus’ teaching exhibit several tensions. First, there is the “when” tension. Is the kingdom of God in the present with the coming of Jesus, or is it in the future? This tension in the teaching of Jesus about the kingdom of God is resolved by saying that the kingdom is already here in the coming and ministry (and specially the passion) of the king, but it is not yet fully consummated. It will be consummated in his second coming. This can be seen in the teaching of Jesus and in his parables.

The second tension in the teaching of Jesus concerning the kingdom of God is a “where” tension. Where is the kingdom of God? Is there some physical place the kingdom resides, or is it just in the hearts of Jesus’ followers? This is a reign vs realm question. Again, the tension is resolved by understanding Jesus’ kingdom is not of this world and is now among us, but will one day in its consummation be gloriously global.

The third, and final, tension is a “who” tension. By who, I mean who is in the kingdom of God? Is the kingdom personal and individual, or is it communal and social? Jesus said that one must enter the kingdom. The kingdom is entered by personal faith, so in that sense the kingdom is individual. But when a person enters the kingdom they enter the community of the redeemed, the people of God. They have a relationship with the king, but also with all others in the kingdom. The kingdom ethic is to love God supremely and love our neighbor as our self. The kingdom has a wonderful communal aspect that cannot be neglected. So the kingdom of God is the central theme upon which all the Bible turns. In the Old Testament the kingdom of God was promised through the king Messiah, In the New testament we find Jesus coming as the long awaited Messiah who brings in the glorious kingdom of God.

We’ve noted that all the themes the Bible explores are related to the central theme of the kingdom of God. But there are three other important themes that are more closely related to the kingdom of God. They are the themes of atonement, mission and spiritual conflict. Atonement is the work of God (Father, Son and Holy Spirit) to bring fallen and sinful humanity into a right relationship with himself. Our sin is the problem that keeps us out of the kingdom of God. We are fallen, so we cannot, and we are sinful, so we will not submit to the rule of God. God provides a sacrifice to pay for our sins, thus reconciling us to himself. The old covenant sacrificial system was a foreshadowing of the true and ultimate sacrifice, the cross of Jesus Christ. We can now enter and live in the kingdom by repentance and faith in Jesus. 

The message of atonement, the gospel of Jesus Christ must now be communicated to the world. This is the mission of the Church. The kingdom of God is re-established by the mission of God. God is on mission to fulfill his plan and he uses his people to accomplish that mission by calling them to be on mission with him. God’s plan is to redeem people so that they may enter his kingdom. Throughout the Old Testament God called his people to be on mission with him leading to the coming of the Messiah. When Jesus comes as the Messiah, Christ, he is totally committed and dedicated to the mission of God to save sinners that is centered in himself.  In the great commission (Matthew 28:19-20), the resurrected Jesus gives his disciples their mission orders. They are to go make disciples of all nations. The book of Acts and the letters of the New Testament show how that mission happens.

Since the first man and woman surrendered the kingdom to the Tempter (Satan) in the garden, there is a battle, a spiritual conflict in the mission of bringing the kingdom of God into the world. The spiritual battle rages throughout human history and is always a factor, even if in the background. We see it in the Old Testament as Israel is continually being drawn into idolatry. In the life of Jesus the spiritual conflict is focused on Jesus and his disciples. After the ascension of Jesus to heaven we see the spiritual battle being waged against the Church. We see the spiritual conflict most clearly and movingly in the book of Revelation. Satan does all he can to defeat or frustrate the plan of God. But God is victorious. The devil is defeated and the new heavens and the new earth come into reality. God’s kingdom is completely realized through Jesus Christ!

Therefore, the central theme of the kingdom of God gives shape to the story of the Bible and meaning to it message. We must keep our focus on the central theme of the kingdom of God as we read and apply the Bible to our lives.  If we overlook this key to unlock the Bible’s treasures we will fail to grasp the full picture of God’s plan for the world or for our own lives. God is doing something fantastic and miraculous in the world. He is bringing to reality his eternal kingdom, in which all believers are called to enter and live.

Seven Keys to Unlock the Treasure of the Bible: Key Three – The Covenants

This is the third installment in a series of seven articles called, “Seven Keys to Unlock the Treasure of the Bible.” There can hardly be a greater endeavor in all of life than to do the work of unlocking the amazing treasures found in the Bible, God’s word. These keys are critical to help us do just that. They bring the real and deep understanding of the Bible into the grasp of every believer in Jesus Christ.

We saw in the second key that the Bible is a story. Since the Bible is a story, it probably has a structure. Most good stories have some kind of discernible structure that moves the story along. The Bible is such a story. For the Bible that structure is the covenants. The message of the Bible, that God brings salvation through Jesus, is told through the story of the Bible, which unfolds in four parts: creation, fall, redemption and restoration, and that story is developed through its structure in the covenants. The Bible’s storyline is built on four main redemptive covenants that God makes with his people. There are other covenants mentioned in the Bible, but these four are the redemptive covenants that drive the plan of God. This plan of God is to rescue the world from its plight of alienation from him through their sin. Because of the disobedience and rebellion of the first people, God’s good creation was corrupted. God’s creation that he declared good is no longer good. It is fallen. God’s redemptive plan is to restore his creation and reconcile his people to himself.  

These covenants form the framework or skeletal structure of the Bible’s story. Each covenant takes center stage in its part of the story and each new covenant builds on the previous ones. The covenants provide the tension that drives the story forward to its resolution. Biblical redemptive history is seen through the lens of the covenants. One cannot fully appreciate the story until they understand the covenants. 

A covenant is a special relationship of grace between God and his people that involve promises and responsibilities. People enter into all kinds of relationships with other people that involve promises. One of these is the marriage relationship. There are promises made to one another and responsibilities ensue. The covenants that God makes with people are like these human covenants. God initiates each covenant with individuals and groups. He calls people to come into a relationship with him. In the relationship God makes promises he will fulfill and he gives his covenant partners responsibilities to fulfill to maintain the relationship. God reveals his plan of redemption and brings it to fruition through the covenants. The four main redemptive covenants are: the Abrahamic covenant, the Mosaic covenant, the Davidic covenant and the New covenant. These covenants also form a timeline throughout the history of the Bible.

     The Abrahamic Covenant

The redemptive covenants begin with the Abrahamic Covenant. God entered a relationship with one man, Abram, later to be renamed by God as Abraham. That special relationship with God was passed on to his son and grandson. In this relationship with Abraham the Lord made promises of seed, land and blessing that would be not only for Abraham’s descendants, but ultimately for the whole world. The promises of the covenant with Abraham are enumerated in Genesis 12:1-9; 15:1-21 and 17:1-14. The Abrahamic covenant lays the groundwork for all future covenants. They are built upon the foundation of its promises. The children of Abraham will be the people of God through whom he brings his plan of salvation to fulfillment. The story of the Abrahamic covenant is told in Genesis 12-50. The ultimate fulfillment of the promises in the Abrahamic covenant is realized in Jesus Christ. He is the seed that is the blessing for all the world.

     The Mosaic Covenant

The Mosaic Covenant is a covenant with Israel, Abraham’s descendants, made through Moses. The Mosaic covenant is a continuation and partial fulfillment of the Abrahamic covenant. This covenant is called the Torah, or law and are instructions for holy covenant living. God is holy and his people must be holy. The word holy means to be separate or set apart for God. The law God gave through Moses explains how that happens and is maintained. God redeemed his people from bondage to Egypt and called them to live for him as a testimony to the world. The Mosaic law contained many moral, legal and ritual stipulations for the people of God to fulfill their part of the plan of God. The Mosaic covenant is found in the books of Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, Deuteronomy, Joshua, Judges and Ruth. The Mosaic covenant was in force throughout the Old Testament until the coming of Jesus Christ who fulfilled all its commands, stipulation and rituals in order to provide salvation to the world.

   The Davidic Covenant

The third redemptive covenant is the Davidic Covenant. The Davidic covenant narrows the focus of the covenants given to Abraham and Moses. In this covenant, God enters a relationship with David and makes promises to him. The Davidic covenant is a covenant about a kingdom. David was promised an eternal kingdom. This kingdom would someday be the everlasting, universal kingdom of God with a descendant of David on the throne. The prophets spoke eloquently of the Messiah who would be the son of David, sit on his throne and rule the nations.  But the kingdom was divided and went into exile, Israel in 722 BC to Assyria, and Judah in 586 BC to Babylon. When the children of Israel returned to the land there was no Davidic king to fulfill the Davidic covenant. It looked as though the covenant promise to David would not be fulfilled. But in the perfect timing of God’s plan the covenant finds its fulfillment in Jesus Christ, the son of David. The historical development of the Davidic covenant is found in 1 & 2 Samuel, 1 & 2 Kings, 1 & 2 Chronicles, Ezra, Nehemiah and Esther. Further development of the covenant is found in Psalms, Proverbs and the Prophets. The kingdom of God through Jesus Christ is the reign and rule of God in the hearts of his people and ultimately throughout the whole world.

     The New Covenant

The New Covenant fulfills all the previous covenants in Jesus Christ. Jesus, being the central message of the Bible, is the central focus of the redemptive covenants. He fulfills them all through his birth, life, death and resurrection. The tragedy of the Fall is redeemed through the person and work of Jesus Christ. He fulfills the Abrahamic covenant by being the promised seed who blesses all the families of the earth. Jesus fulfills the Mosaic covenant by perfectly keeping the law of God, and by becoming the sacrifice for sin the law demands. He also fulfills the Davidic covenant by being the son of David and the Son of God who establishes the eternal kingdom of God. The New Covenant is prophesied throughout the OT, especially in the Prophets. It comes to fulfillment in the NT gospels, Matthew, Mark, Luke and John. The impact of the New Covenant on the plan of God and the redemption of the world is seen in the books of Acts and the Epistles culminating with the book of Revelation. We live under he New covenant and enjoy all the promises of God provided by the person and work of Jesus Christ.

When we understand how the covenants work and how they progressively unfold the plan of God, we hold in our hands another important key to unlock the rich treasures of the Bible. Without this understanding the Bible remains, in some measure, locked to us. But as we see the plan of salvation developed through the redemptive covenants, we not only understand the Bible better, we also experience our relationship with God in deeper and richer way.