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 –    

       Malachi) 

(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 

       Esther 

  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.

Seven Keys to Unlock the Treasure of the Bible: Key Two – The Bible as Story

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. 

Seven Keys to Unlock the Treasure of the Bible: Key One – The Message of the Bible

The Bible is the all time best selling book. Nothing else comes close. It might also be the least read book. Various studies and reports have been published bemoaning the lack of biblical literacy. While a large majority of American homes own a Bible and many believe it is inspired, only a small percentage read it daily.

There are many reasons why the Bible is not read more, but one of the main reasons is that it is a difficult book to read. It is an ancient book about an ancient culture with many strange practices that seem bizarre to modern readers. It is also a very long book.

Consequently, many people just do not read it much. It doesn’t seem relevant. What does a book thousands of years old have to do with twenty-first century life? People ask these kinds of questions and find the Bible outdated and unrelated to the struggles they face. But the reality is that the Bible is relevant to life in any age because it is the Word of God. And we desperately need God’s message for life. Therefore, reading and understanding the Bible becomes crucial. Can we treat the book from God as any other book? Can we let the difficulty we find in reading it keep us from devoting ourselves to that arduous task? What’s at stake in neglecting the Bible?

Surely, the most important thing in life is knowing God. If God is real, and I believe deeply that he is, then nothing can be more important than knowing him. The only problem is that we can’t know God truly unless he reveals himself to us. Thankfully he has made himself known.

God reveals himself in two ways, first in nature, his created world, but most fully in the Bible. This is often called General Revelation (nature) and Special Revelation (the Bible). We can see this wonderful and beautiful truth in Psalm 19 as well as Romans 1:18-20; 2 Timothy 3:16; Hebrews 1:1-2; 2 Peter 1:20-21, to name a few.

If knowing God is the most important thing in life, and God most fully makes himself known in the Bible, then it is critical that we read and understand our Bibles. It follows that as we come to know and understand our Bibles we come to know and understand God. But this is the struggle for many people who want to know God in the Bible. Try as they may, they can’t seem to understand it. It seems to be a closed book, a locked book. The truth is that the Bible is an open book, but there are certain keys that unlock its treasures for the one willing to do the hard work to obtain them. Therefore, we will provide seven keys to unlock the treasures of the Bible. This will be the first of seven articles on important keys that help us better understand the Bible and God’s plan found in the Bible.

The first key is the message of the Bible. One of the wonderful things about the Bible is its unity and diversity. The Bible is a richly diverse book. It is actually a library of books. There are 66 books in the Bible by about 40 authors written over a period of around 1500 years, yet the Bible has one overarching storyline and one overarching message God wants to communicate to the world. The Bible displays a rich diversity but also an amazing unity that reveals its divine origin. 

The unity of the Bible is seen in its overarching message. The Bible fits together. All of its many and complex parts fit together beautifully. It is truly amazing that such a diverse book is so unified in its message. So, what is the overarching message of the Bible? What is the Bible trying to say to people through its many documents, authors and literary types? Jesus himself tells us the message of the Bible. The message of the Bible is the glory of God in the person and work of Jesus Christ accomplishing the plan of salvation that comes through him. We see this so clearly in Luke chapter 24. The resurrected Jesus encounters two discouraged disciples walking from Jerusalem to the small village of Emmaus on resurrection Sunday. As Jesus began to walk with them, they did not recognize him. They were discouraged because they thought Jesus was the Jewish Messiah, but he has just been crucified and put in a tomb. Jesus rebukes them for not knowing that the Messiah had to suffer first and then enter his glory. He then shows the two disciples from the whole Old Testament (“beginning at Moses and all the Prophets”) what was said about him. Jesus is the message of the Bible!

When the two disciples recognized Jesus, he vanished from their sight. They excitingly said to each other, “Did not our hearts burn within us while he spoke to us on the road, as he opened up to us the Scripture?” These disciples experienced burning hearts as Jesus opened up the Scriptures to them. Disciples today can experience the same burning hearts as they discover the message of Jesus and salvation in all the pages of the Bible. 

We see similar things in many other places in the Bible, such as, Luke 24:44-49; John 5:39; Acts 28:23-24; Romans 1:1-6 and Galatians 4:4-6. If we were to we work through the Old Testament we would see Jesus and the salvation he brings time and time again. We see Jesus in messianic prophecies like Psalms 22; Isaiah 9:6-7; 11:1-5; 52:13-53:12; Ezekiel 34:23-24 and Micah5:2 as well as many other places. We also see Jesus in the sacrificial system of the law of Moses. He is the lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world. The Old Testament is filled with the promises of the coming Messiah-Redeemer, while the New Testament is the fulfillment of his coming. The whole message of the Bible, therefore, is about Jesus and the salvation he brings.

It is important to know the central message of any book but especially the Bible. This first key is indispensable in unlocking the treasures of the Bible. Without it the rest of the keys do not hold the power they otherwise would. The Bible is about Jesus. Without understanding that one cannot grasp what God is saying in any part of holy Scripture.

Since the first key to unlock the treasures of the Bible is that the message of the Bible is Jesus, let us look for that message as we read every part of God’s word. Many passages mention Jesus specifically while many others do not. Yet we can find Jesus in some way everywhere we read. If we do that we will grasp the meaning of the Bible and like those early disciples, we will experience burning hearts.

The Book of 1 John

The writings of John the Apostle (The Gospel of John, 1,2,3 John and Revelation) are, on the one hand, simple in vocabulary, but on the other hand, they are complex and deep theologically, and profound and transformative spiritually. Because of this it is easy to miss their powerful meaning. The first letter of John is especially this way. It has a cadence to it as you read and a certain pious charm that can touch the heart. But it is more. In it we find deep waters of spiritual truth. Don’t go there if you don’t want to be changed. Because of its subtleties it may take a few readings before you begin to find your way beneath the surface. But what you find there is worth many readings. For the patient reader, each reading yields greater understanding and perception.

Many have noted the difficulty in finding a clear structure to 1 John. This is why the outlines of the book look so different. John has a tendency in all his writings to begin with one theme, move on to another, and then circle back around to the first. This idiosyncrasy, I think, is purposeful. By structuring his writings in this way, John is providing us with layers of truth. He is taking us way beneath the surface. But the basic flow of John’s message is this: (1) A prologue on the Word of Life (1:1-4), (2) An introduction (1:5-10), (3) The message of assurance of salvation (2:1-5:21).

John’s purpose in the book is to provide his readers with a clear path to the assurance of their salvation. He uses his unique style and other literary devices to do this. So, the outline of the book and the exposition of it will be somewhat different from other books. But I believe we will see things in 1 John that will help us better see God’s plan and even experience his presence.

The Word of Life (1:1-4)

The first four verses of the letter of 1 John are often called the prologue. They are very different from the beginning of most of the letters in the New Testament, but similar to the prologue of John’s gospel. The letter of 1 John is more like a sermon than a letter. In fact, it is just that to the church(s) he sends it to. 

John begins his message by reminding his readers that he was an eyewitness to the most amazing events in all human history. These amazing events were actually a person, the Word of Life, Jesus Christ. John’s stated purpose in the prologue is that his readers may, like John, have fellowship with God the Father and his Son Jesus Christ.

Walking in the Light (1:5-10)

John’s purpose in the book is to give his readers an assurance of salvation. But he doesn’t do that immediately after the prologue. He gives a short introduction to the rest of the book which will be an assurance of salvation. To introduce his subject John uses the theme of light and darkness. This theme refers to the polar opposites of truth and lies, and righteousness and sin. This lays the groundwork for the development of his message on assurance.

In the introduction John uses five conditional statements using the word “if.” We find every verse in 1:6-10 beginning with the word. Each conditional statement further reveals the sharp contrast between light and darkness. Again, the idea of fellowship is key here. People are far from God. They are in darkness and can have no fellowship with him while in the darkness. It is only as they enter the light by the blood of Jesus, God’s Son, that they have fellowship with God.

Assurance of Salvation (2:1-5:21)

In the third and final section of the book of 1 John we get into the meat of the book and the purpose for which it was written. As we’ve stated, John wrote the book to provide an assurance of salvation to his readers. He does this by giving them four ways they can know they are truly saved. These four ways are: (1) practicing righteousness, (2) loving the brotherhood, (3) having true faith in Jesus Christ, and (4) having the Holy Spirit. John weaves these four ways of assurance throughout the rest of the book in three parts of this final section (2:1-27; 2:28-4:6; 4:7-5:21).

John also uses other ways to communicate his message of assurance of salvation. First, John uses the phrase, “by this” some eleven times (2:3, 5; 3:10, 16, 19, 24; 4:2, 6, 13, 17; 5:2)  to introduce ways we can know we are true believers in Jesus Christ. Often the word “know” is used in connection with this phrase to show that this is a sure way we can have knowledge of our standing with God.

 John also used terms of endearment like, little children, children or beloved (2:1, 7, 12, 13, 18, 28; 3:7, 21; 4:1, 4, 7; 5:21) to connect with his readers and assure them of their love relationship with God as his dearly loved children.

The first of the three subsections where John is emphasizing the four ways of assurance of salvation is 2:1-27. He begins with a focus on practicing righteousness as a way to have assurance in 2:1-6. Here John acknowledges that we are all sinners, but that obedience to Christ is a mark of a true believer. While we fail occasionally, we desire to obey and by the Spirit of God our obedience is real. Next, in 2:7-14 the focus is on loving the brotherhood. Light and darkness are contrasted. Loving one’s brother is walking in light, while hating one’s brother is walking in darkness. At the end of this passage (2:12-14) John refers to his readers as children, fathers and young men as a way of encouraging them. The short passage of 2:15-17 John returns to the idea of practicing righteousness with an admonishment to not love the world. One cannot love the world and the Father at the same time. What we love will show itself in our lives and reveal our relationship with God. And finally, in 2:18-27 John emphasizes having true faith in Jesus and having the Holy Spirit as two ways to have assurance. He does this by warning them of false teachers he calls antichrists. These false teachers deny the Lord and therefore do not have true faith in him. John assures his readers that they have been anointed by the Holy One and have all knowledge. This is a reference to the Holy Spirit. They have the Holy Spirit living in them to protect them from the false teachers.

The second passage where the four ways of having assurance is 2:28-4:6. He begins again with a focus on practicing righteousness (2:28-3:10) as a way of knowing we are children of God. In this passage John emphasizes the family relationship of God as Father and believers as his children. Those born of God are his children practice righteousness as their heavenly Father is righteous. Next, in 3:11-24 we find John focusing on loving one another as the way to know we are God’s children. This love of the brothers and sisters is an active love that has a tangible expression in daily life. At the end of this passage we find John bringing all four ways of assurance into focus (3:21-24). Finally, in 4:1-6 John returns to true faith in Jesus and the Holy Spirit as ways of having assurance of salvation. The believer is to test the spirits, which refers to those who claim to speak the word of God by the Holy Spirit. Those who do speak from the Holy Spirit will confess that Jesus has come in the flesh. John was combating a false teaching in his day that claimed Jesus only seemed to come in the flesh. False teachers will deny something true about Jesus Christ and his word. The true believer who has the Spirit will be led into the truth by the Spirit.

The final passage of this large section of the book is 4:7-5:21. Here again John returns to all four ways of assurance. He begins with love for the brotherhood in 4:7-21. In this passage John returns to the foundation of all the ways of assurance. He first mentioned it in 2:2 and now again in 4:10. It is that God’s love comes to us through the death of Jesus for our sins. The Father sent his Son, Jesus, to be a propitiation for our sins. This means that the death of Jesus satisfies God’s righteous anger for our sins. It is the Father’s love that sends the Son and is therefore just and the justifier of believers (Romans 3:23-26). Then, in 5:1-5 we see true faith in Jesus Christ as a way of assurance. Those with true faith in Jesus obey God’s commandments. But in 5:6-12 John combines The Holy Spirit and faith as evidence of a person’s salvation. In the final passage of this section and the book (5:13-21) John returns to true faith in Christ and practicing righteousness as ways to know one is born of God. In the last three verses of the book (5:19-21) John concludes his letter with the fact that we can know that we are saved despite the constant powerful activity of the devil. Our God is more powerful than he.

In all the book John gives his readers ample insight into full assurance of salvation and also ways to discern the lack of true faith. Few things in all of life can be more important than knowing for sure that one is truly saved and going to heaven. Readers of this short biblical book can find the assurance they need and help other believers find assurance. The sweet reality of fellowship with God is all the sweeter when one has the peace of their eternal destiny.

Deep and Wide: Reading the Bible for Transformation

One of the many amazing things God has done for us is that he has given us a book. That book is the Bible. Books are meant to be read. God 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. Many who have tried it were not successful. Reading the Bible profitably takes effort and discipline. The purpose of this article is to help 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 fully. 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 and studying them. In fact, you can do both together. You can read straight through a biblical book several times to get a feel for it and then dig deep into successive texts through the book.

Inductive Bible Study

There are many ways to 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 can also be called discovery Bible study because it helps you discover the meaning of the Bible for yourself. 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. This may sound a bit technical, but this is actually the way we all read anything without really thinking much about it. We just want to do it intentionally when we read the Bible. The method we will describe here could be greatly expanded, but this approach we’re suggesting will be sufficient to get you started. Each stage of observation, interpretation and application can be used as tools to understand God’s message in each passage and apply them to your life. You can use this method with any passage in the Bible, but I’ve found that studying books of the Bible are most fruitful. Hearing God in his word and obeying his voice is the ultimate goal of reading the Bible deeply. It can change our lives.

The first stage is called observation and is meant to be exactly that. At this first stage we trying to discover what the Bible is actually saying. We do not want to read into the Bible what it is not saying, but read out what it is really saying. This stage will almost always be the most time consuming, but if observation is not throughly done the other stages will often yield erroneous or shallow results. It has been my experience that most people do not have a highly developed sense of observation. If we are serious about reading the Bible deeply, we must hone our powers of observation. It is a skill and an art we need that requires patient refining over the years, but is well worth the effort.

In the observation stage we read the text over and over again asking questions about the text. We want to ask those six critical questions: who, what, when, where, why and how. One of the key things at this point is understanding how the passage is put together, its structure. What God is really saying in any Bible passage is communicated through its structure. The only way to discover the structure of any passage is to read it multiple times thinking deeply about what God is saying in each word of the text.

The second stage is called interpretation. It deals with meaning. From what we’ve discovered in the observation stage, we now seek to understand the meaning of the text. At this point we’re not asking what this text means to me, but what this text means to anybody at any time or place. We’re looking for the timeless truths communicated by God through the text he inspired. 

Some things to think about in the interpretation stage are: (1) Discover the biblical writer’s intended meaning. What was he trying to say to the people he was writing to? Why did he write this to this people? Why did they need to hear it? (2) Texts must be understood by their common meaning, which includes literary devices like metaphor and symbolism. We must resist spiritualizing or moralizing a passage beyond its basic literal meaning. (3) Context is critical to discovering a text’s meaning. What is the Bible saying in the sentences and paragraphs before our passage? Where in biblical history is this passage set? (4) Texts must be interpreted according to their literary genre or type. We cannot interpret law, history, poetry and prophecy exactly the same. Each kind of literature has its own way of communicating. That will usually be pretty clear from the text. (5) The progress of revelation is important to keep in mind. God reveals his plan of redemption progressively throughout the Bible. We cannot give a text an interpretation that has not yet been revealed in the flow of redemptive-history. (6) Our interpretation must be Christ-centered without forcing Christ into passages in a way he is not being revealed. (7) In understanding the meaning of any passage we’re looking for the main point. Everything else revolves around that. (8) And finally, we can ask the text what it is saying about God and about people. Every passage will say something about God and people. This is where rich and deep understanding can happen.

The final stage is called application. It is the goal of all our effort in Bible study. It is interesting to know certain things we learn in observation and even beneficial to know the principle and truths of interpretation, but application is our destination. We want to know what God is saying to us and how that fits into our daily lives. It’s important to persevere in our study to arrive at the point of application so that we can be confident in applying God’s word to life. But we must not skip over the previous stages or do them half-hearted just to get to application.

In applying the text we can take the principles and truths we discovered in the interpretation stage and ask how they apply to people in our modern world. These principles were designed to be timeless so that they apply to the biblical world and any other world including our own. We can think of attitudes and action the principles of our text call for in our lives. There is usually negative and positive application from any text. What things is my text calling me to not do, and what things is my text calling me to do? Making application from the Bible requires that we make it personal. This personal application may bring joy or peace, but it may also be very challenging. One of the great blessings of the Bible is that it reproves and corrects us. God loves us and is transforming us to be more Christ-like. Studying the Bible bears this powerful fruit. This is where we must be sensitive to the Spirit without inventing application. We can trust God to lead us into his truth.

Conclusion: We are blessed with many great resources to help us read and study the Bible. None the less, it is still an arduous task. But you can do it with the help of the Holy Spirit. God wants you to connect with him through his word. That is why he gave it to you. But we must see the need and the reward. We must feel it deep in our hearts. If we don’t really want to know God intimately through his word, we will not persevere. If we do, there will be joy and peace and grace beyond our imaginations awaiting us. So, pick a small book of the Bible and jump in. You’ll be glad you did!

The Book of Revelation

Many books in the Bible deserve the title epic, none more than Revelation. The book of Revelation brings to a close the great epic story of God’s redemption and restoration of his fallen creation. All that has transpired in God’s amazing story is for the praise of his glory. He is the central actor, the main character and the great director in the drama of redemption. In the final book of the Bible we find God bringing together all the loose ends of his plan to its complete consummation. All his promises are fulfilled and his eternal purposes fully realized in Christ. In this fitting end of the story, God’s glory is fully displayed for all to see and marvel. The brokenness of the world is made new and the eternal state is experienced according to the perfect will of God.

The book of Revelation is a difficult book for most people to read and understand. It’s easy to see why.The literary style and symbolism of the book is so foreign to most modern readers. John is known for his nonlinear structure, and it is especially so in Revelation. There are a variety of interpretations of the book even among scholars. It is hard to find many things in the book on which most people can agree. Yet with careful study one can understand the powerful message the book means to convey. When reading the Bible, and especially in the book of Revelation, it is important to understand what the Bible actually says, not what someone may claim it says. We want to know the truth of God’s word.

Genre

What kind of a book is Revelation? It seems pretty clear from the introduction (1:1-8) that the book combines three genres (types of writing): letter, prophecy and apocalypse. In 1:4 we find the standard structure of a letter at the time of the book’s writing, “John to the seven churches that are in Asia; grace and peace to you from . . .”  Revelation is, first of all, a letter from the Lord Jesus through his messenger John to seven churches in the Roman province of Asia (modern day Western Turkey). It is also pretty clear that the letter is for all the Church, even though it is addressed to these seven churches. The book also contains seven particular letters to each of the seven churches in chapters two and three.

The book is also prophecy in the full biblical meaning of that word. We know this because 1:3 reads: “Blessed is the one who reads aloud the words of this prophecy and blessed are those who hear, and who keep what is written in it, for the time is near.” Being prophecy, the book is filled with predictions about the future as well as many prophetic oracles of judgment. These prophecies are revelatory in keeping with the true nature of biblical prophecy.

And finally, the book of Revelation is an apocalypse. The very first verse of the book states, “The revelation of Jesus Christ, which God gave him to show to his servant John.” In this verse the word revelation is the Greek word, apokalupsis. This word means revelation, manifestation or appearance and is the basis for a special kind of Jewish literature in the ancient world.  Apocalyptic writing is unfamiliar to most people, and therefore the main reason it is hard to read. Biblical apocalyptic literature is a special type of literature. It is seen in parts of some Old Testament books like Daniel, Zechariah, Isaiah, Jeremiah and Ezekiel and also in many intertestamental non-canonical books. These books written between the Old & New Testaments that are helpful but not inspired by God or authoritative.  Apocalyptic literature has certain distinct characteristics that make it so unique and powerful. 

Characteristics of Apocalyptic Literature:

First, they have a high degree of symbolism. Many things in apocalypse cannot be taken literally or they become nonsensical. Most recognize that there is a lot of symbolism in Revelation, but the question remains as to how to interpret the symbols. The key to interpreting the symbolism in Revelation is not modern counterparts to the symbols (those are always changing), but their Old Testament usage. The OT in general is very important in understanding the book of Revelation. The book is saturated with OT allusions and references while having no actual quotes from the OT. But with reference to the symbols, the key to understanding them is found in how the OT uses the symbol. A symbol that is used more than any other is the number seven, which is used 55 times. If you want to know the message from God in Revelation it is imperative you understand the symbols.

The second characteristic of apocalyptic literature is that it presents an epic battle between good and evil. This battle is depicted in terms of a sharp dualism between good and evil. In this battle it often looks as though evil is winning, but good will ultimately win because God has sovereign control over the outcome of the fight for good. This is for the purpose of his glory. The call is always to join the side of good so as to be part of the victory.

A third characteristic of apocalyptic literature is that it is always looking to the end times. This focus comes out of the epic battle between good and evil. The great battle culminates in the end of time, which is orchestrated by God. It must always be born in mind that all apocalyptic literature is highly eschatological (end times). To loose sight of this feature is to grossly misunderstand its message. The point is that God is moving history and the epic battle of history to this climax of the end that ushers in the heavenly ideal paradise of the eternal messianic kingdom. Wherever one is in the history of this epic battle he/she is to look to the end with its final victory. This orientation brings comfort and strength in the battle.

The fourth and final characteristic of apocalyptic literature is that it is highly visionary. The one who communicates the revelation here is John who receives visions from God mediated through angels. The book of Revelation is almost totally visionary, which is seen in the repeated phrase, “I saw.” Jesus commands John to write the visions he received for the benefit of the Church. These visions, because they are visions, are highly picturesque and symbolic depicting events that will unfold in the plan of God with the ultimate end of bringing in the eternal kingdom of God.

The Structure of Revelation

At first glance the book of Revelation seems a bit random, but in fact it is highly structured. As with all biblical books, the structure is to communicate its message. The book has an introduction (1:1-8) and a conclusion (22:7-21) with three main sections (1:9-3:22; 4-16; 17-22:6). Each of the main sections has two parts. The two parts are related in that the second flows out of the first. In the first main section (1:9-3:22) the two parts are: Vision of Jesus Christ (1:9-20), and Letters to the Seven Churches (2-3). The letters flow out of the vision. The two parts of the second main section are: Throne Room Vision (4-5), and Three Cycles of Judgment (6-16). Again, the three cycles flow out of the Throne Room Vision. And finally, the two parts of the third section are: The Last Battle (17-20), and the New Creation (21:1-22:6). The book of Revelation can get complicated and confusing. If it starts to seem that way to you remember to return to the simple outline below.

Revelation at a Glance

                     1. Introduction (1:1-8)

                     2. Vision of Jesus Christ & Letters to Seven Churches (1:9-3:22)

                     3. Throne Room Vision & Three Cycles of Judgment (4:1-16:21)

                     4. The Last Battle & The New Creation (17:1-22:6)

                     5. Conclusion (22:7-21)

  1. Introduction (1:1-8)

Outline of the Introduction

  1. Prologue (1:1-3)
  2. Greeting (1:4-5a)
  3. Doxology (1:5b-8)

The book of Revelation begins with what is often called the prologue in the first three verses. These initial verses set the stage for everything that follows. In it we learn that this book is a revelation of Jesus Christ. This probably has a double meaning of a revelation from Jesus and a revelation about Jesus. This revelation was given to Jesus by God so that the servants of God, Christians, can know what will happen in the future. The church was under persecution and from a human perspective its future might look uncertain. This revelation will give them insight and encouragement.

John received this revelation by an angel of God who was sent to make it known to him. The words “make known” means to signify or even symbolize and shows the nature of the revelation John received. John was faithful to the revelation and bore witness to all he saw. At the end of the prologue John pronounces a blessing on the one who reads and those who hear and obey this prophecy.

The second part of the introduction is a greeting (1:4-5a) very typical of a letter at that time. This greeting has a trinitarian structure. Grace and peace are sent from God the Father (the One who is  and who was and who is to come), from the Holy Spirit ( the seven spirits before the throne) and from Jesus Christ (the faithful witness, the firstborn from the dead, and the ruler of the kings of the earth). Each of these three descriptive titles of Jesus is very significant. He is the faithful witness because he said and did all the Father sent him to say and do. Followers of Jesus must do the same. He is the firstborn from the dead guaranteeing a resurrection to all his followers. And he is the ruler of the kings of the earth, not just in the future but he is sovereign over all history to the fulfillment of his eternal plan.

And finally, we have a doxology (1:5b-8). This is a praise giving glory to Jesus because out of his amazing love for us he released us from our sins by his sacrifice on the cross and he made us a kingdom, priest to his God and Father. This is a testimony to the total grace of God to believers in the plan of redemption. Everything we have and are we owe to God, Father, Son and Holy Spirit.

2. Vision of Jesus Christ & Letters to Seven Churches (1:9-3:22)

Outline of Vision of Jesus Christ & Letters to Seven Churches

  1. Vision of Jesus Christ (1:9-20)

   1) Call to Write (1:9-11)

   2) The Glorious Vision of Jesus (1:12-16)

   3) Call to Write (1:17-20)

2. Letters to Seven Churches (2:1-3:22)

   1) Letter to Ephesus (2:1-7)

   2) Letter to Smyrna (2:8-11)

   3) Letter to Pergamum (2:12-17)

   4) Letter to Thyatira (2:18-29)

   5) Letter to Sardis (3:1-6)

   6) Letter to Philadelphia (3:7-13)

   7) Letter to Laodicea (3:14-22)

This is the first of three main sections in the book. As stated earlier, each section has two parts. In each section the second part flows out of the first. So, in this first section, the first part is the vision of Jesus Christ. Flowing out of this amazing vision of Jesus is the letters to the seven churches. As we will see, the letters are intimately shaped by the vision.

Each of the seven letters have the following structure: 

  1. Description of Jesus from chapter one Vision, 
  2. Praise for Faithfulness, 
  3. Rebuke for Unfaithfulness, 
  4. Call to Repent, 
  5. Consequence of Rejection 
  6. Promise to the Overcomers 
  7. Call to Hear what the Spirit says. 

There is no rebuke for Smyrna & Philadelphia and no praise for Sardis Laodicea. Also, elements 6 & 7 are reversed for the first three churches.

3. Throne Room Vision & Three Cycles of Judgment (4:1-16:21)

Outline of Throne Room Vision & Three Cycles of Judgment 

  1. Throne Room Vision (4:1-5:14)

   1) Glory to the One Sitting on the Throne (4:1-11)

   2) Glory to the Lamb Who was Slain to receive the Scroll (5:1-14)

2. Three Cycles of Judgment (6:1-16:21)

   1) Cycle One: Seven Seals (6:1-7:17)

   2) Cycle Two: Seven Trumpets (8:1-11:19)

   3) Break: Redemptive History (12:1-14:20)

   4) Cycle Three: Seven Bowls (15:1-16:21)

The second main section of chapters 4-16 is the Throne Room Vision (ch. 4-5) and Three Cycles of Judgment (ch. 6-16). Again the throne room vision serves as the foundation and fountainhead of what transpires in the three cycles of judgment. The judgment on the world throughout history comes from the throne and the Lamb. This central section forms the bulk of the book and the heart of its teaching.

Break: Redemptive History

Just as there was a break between the sixth and seventh seals and trumpets, there is also a break between the second cycle of judgments (trumpets) and the third cycle of judgments (bowls). The break is a symbolic representation of all of redemptive history (12:1-15:4). There are seven parts to this section: 

  1. The Spiritual Conflict (12:1-17), 
  2. The Beast from the Sea (13:1-10), 
  3. The Beast from the Land (13:11-18), 
  4. The Lamb & the 144,000 (14:1-5), 
  5. The Message of the Three Angels (14:6-13), 
  6. The Son of Man Harvest (14:14-20), 
  7. The Saint’s Victory (15:1-4). 

These visions cover all of redemptive history from the covenant to Abraham with the promise of a seed (Christ) through the time of Jesus’ life, death and resurrection on to the final judgment and the eternal state of blessedness.

4.The Last Battle & The New Creation (17:1-22:6)

Outline of the Last Battle & The New Creation

  1. The Last Battle (17:1-20:15)

   1) Babylon the Great Prostitute (17:1-18:24)

   2) Return of Christ (19:1-21)

   3) The Millennium, The Rebellion & The Great White Throne (20:1-15)

2. The New Creation (21:1-22:6)

   1) New Heavens & New Earth and New Jerusalem (21:1-8)

   2) New Jerusalem Described (21:9-27)

   3) The River of Life (22:1-6)

The third and final main section of the book of Revelation is The Last Battle & The New Creation (17:1-22:6). This last section brings closure to the book and the story of the Bible. God redeems his people and judges the world. He brings his plan of redemption to its fulfillment. All the promises of the Bible funnel down to the events of this section. As with the previous two main sections there are two parts with the second part flowing from the first. The New Creation flows out of the Last Battle that culminates human history.

5. Conclusion (22:7-21)

Outline of the Conclusion

  1. Call to Obedience & Promise of Blessing (22:7-9)
  2. Prohibition on Sealing the Book & Blessing on the Cleansed (22:10-15)
  3. Invitation to Come, Curse on Altering the Book & Final Promising of Coming (22:16-21)

The book of Revelation and the holy Scriptures end with three words from Jesus, the Lord of the Church. The first word is a blessing on those who keep and obey the words of the prophecy of the book of Revelation (22:7-9). He prefaces this blessing with encouraging words of his imminent return. The first recipients of the book were under heavy suffering for their faith, as many since have been. These words are of immense comfort. Jesus is coming soon and in the meantime he is with his people. They will be blessed as they keep, guard and treasure, the word of God in their lives.

The second word form the Lord Jesus is a word of warning and promise (22:10-15). Jesus is coming soon to execute justice on the world. Therefore, John is not to seal up the words of the prophecy of the book. The words of the book are to be known and understood. Another blessing is pronounced on those who wash their robes, which means to be holy by keeping the words of the book and thus remain undefiled by the world that turns away from the truth of the Lord. The judgments of the book are directed towards those who are rebellious and unbelieving.

The final word from Jesus is a word of encouragement to live in the expectation of his return. Jesus extends an invitation to all who will come. If anyone is longing in spiritual thirst, they can come to the water of life without price. The grace of God in Jesus Christ is available to all who will answer the invitation.

A final warning is given. If anyone adds to the book, God will add to them the plagues of the book. And if anyone takes away from the book, God will take away from them a share in the tree of life and the holy city.

The book of Revelation is an amazing and awe inspiring message from God and conclusion to the Bible. Everything the Bible communicates comes together here in Revelation. God completes his plan of redemption and restores his creation to his original purposes. In all this God displays the greatness of his glory and grace.

The book of Revelation and the Bible ends with Jesus promising that he is coming soon. “Amen. Come Lord Jesus!”

Promises Promises

A promise is like a cool breeze on a hot day. We joyfully welcome it, but are cautiously concerned it will not deliver what we expect. We want to believe every promise made to us, but experience whispers in the ear to be careful. Being burned and hurt too many times can numb the heart to the power of a promise. And besides the personal experiences of a broken promise made to us, there is, in our honest moments, the knowledge we too have broken many promises we’ve made to others.

Despite the painful memories of broken promises we should take promises seriously. Promises are the stuff of life. Just as we cannot live without air, we cannot live without promises. This is because promises bring hope, and life without hope is not life but mere existence. Promises come to us whether we like it or not. They find their way into every corner and crevice of our lives. People make legal contractual promises. People make relational promises. And people make everyday promises they think little about, like the promise to come back from the store. It is good and necessary to take promises seriously.

God makes promises too. He take his promises very seriously. God created life to be built on promises because he created life to be built on trust. Promises and trust are inseparably woven together in the fabric of life. Promises work on trust as life works on trust. We need to trust each other even though sometimes it’s hard and we fail. More importantly we need to trust God. He is trustworthy and his promises never fail.

God is a lavish and liberal promise maker. The Bible is filled to overflowing with the promises of God. You just have to be looking for them. But God does not throw out promises just for the sake of their abundance. Each promise God makes is purposeful and potentially dynamic in the life of any believer. His promises have real power. They can change a person’s life if that person will utilize the latent energy packed into each promise.

The real power of God’s promises is God himself. God keeps his promises perfectly and to the last detail. While others may waver at times, or even often, with the follow-through to their promises, God is always faithful. It always comes back to trust, trusting the one who has shown himself time and time again to be a promise keeper.

Trusting the God of the promise is usually not an easy endeavor. We often struggle mightily to tame the fear and doubt that threatens to take over our hearts. It is in these moments that we go back to the promises and the God of the promises time and time again. They will calm the storms that rage. We must trust God. If we know the promise and stake our claim on the promise, but fail to trust the one who makes the promise, then we fail to realize God’s great purpose for the promise in our life. The Bible encourages us in Hebrews 6:12.,”So that you may not be sluggish, but imitators of those who through faith and patience inherit the promises.” Know the promises. Trust the promises. God is with you.

God is Able

Most people like to feel self-sufficient. We don’t want a lot of help from other people unless we really need it. We want to believe that we can take care of ourselves. This attitude of independence is understandable because it means that we take responsibility for our own lives. Good people do that; they take responsibility for their own. But we all know that there are times, especially as we get older, when we need help from others. It’s not easy to take sometimes, but it’s necessary. We hate to ask, but God teaches us humility.

There is one person from whom we all need help. He is always there for us. He really cares about our lives. That person is God. He comes to us when we ask, but he often comes to our aid when we don’t ask. God visits his people in their need. It is true that God visits us in the extraordinary events of our lives. We praise him that when we are in great need he is present! But it is in the most ordinary events of our lives that God shows up unexpectedly. He is always with us. God is able to care for us in every way. I want to share with you seven ways God is able to help us when we really need him.

God is able to save completely (Hebrews 7:25). Jesus is our high priest who intercedes for us by offering himself to God as a sacrifice for our sins. We cannot pay for our sins by any means available to us. We need someone else to come and pay for them. They stand between us and God. Jesus is able to pay for them as the perfect lamb of God. He is willing to do so because he loves the Father and he loves us. Our salvation is complete in Jesus. We have the assurance of his love and grace. The cross and the resurrection are the proof. God is able to save us completely!

God is able to supply every need (2 Corinthians 9:8). We all need so many things to make life work. God is able to supply them all. But the supply of God is not only for the needs of life, but more so for the needs of the ministry he has called us to do. God’s supply is his grace providing us all sufficiency in all things at all times, so that we may overflow in every good work. We never lack what we need to do what God calls us to do. God gives so that we can give to him and others for his glory.

God is able to help those who are tempted (Hebrews 2:18). We are all tempted in many ways at many times. Jesus was tempted, the Bible tells us, in every way as we are, yet without sin (Hebrews 4:15). He who has experienced temptation and overcome it is able to help his people overcome their temptations. Temptation is a deep and daily problem we all face. We cannot defeat it on our own strength. Jesus is able to help. Jesus wants to help. When we carry the burden of our temptations to him he is able to provide sufficient strength to defeat them.

God is able to sustain us in weakness (Romans 14:4). Weaknesses of all kinds assail the believer every day. We like to see ourselves as strong, but our strength comes form the Lord. Others may judge us for our weaknesses, but our Lord will help us stand. The Bible tells us that his power is made perfect in our weaknesses because his grace is sufficient (2 Corinthians 12:9). Recognizing our weaknesses and crying out to the Lord is the path to divine strength.

God is able to keep us from stumbling (Jude 24). We all are prone to stumble in our Christian walk. We battle the world, the flesh and the devil every day. Sin is a snare. False teachers are always present. We would stumble on our own. Thankfully, God is with us as we face these enemies of our faith. None of us would make it to the end of our lives with our faith intact without the grace of God. He has promised to bring us safely home to heaven.

God is able to do more than we can imagine (Ephesians 3:20). We all ask God for many things and he supplies all we need, but we hardly ask him for all he is willing to do for us in his plan. If we could dream big and ask God for unimaginable things for his kingdom, he would give them to us for his glory. Our problem is that we often see too small. Our God is a big God and does big things. As we join him on mission he calls us to see big things, ask big things and do big things by his grace and his power for his kingdom.

God is able to give us a resurrection (Philippians 3:21). The bodily resurrection of Jesus Christ is one of the central truths in the Christian faith. It is our faith that when the resurrected Lord Jesus Christ returns he will transform our frail earthly bodies into a glorious resurrection body like his. We long for and look to that day. It will be a day that will transform our lives and our world eternally. Our heavenly Father and our Lord Jesus Christ by the Holy Spirit will deliver us through every trial and temptation to that day. God is able! We can trust him!