In this series, we are looking at Scripture as Story. Ultimately, we are going to look at various ways in which the biblical authors use literary techniques to reveal truth about God, but before we get into that, in this post, we want to look at the grand, overarching story that the Bible is telling, the “Big Picture” if you will.
Before we launch into that, I think it’s worth spending a little bit of time discussing why it is important for us to know and understand the Big Picture of the Bible.
First, have you ever had someone ask you what you believe, or what Christianity or the Bible is about, and you’re not really sure where to begin? Well, knowing the Big Picture of Scripture gives you a perfect answer: you can tell the story of God as Scripture tells it, and you can share your faith with confidence.
Second, have you ever studied a story or a book of the Bible in detail, but aren’t sure how it fits into the big picture? This is something I have noticed a lot in teaching teenagers: they might be able to talk about Joseph’s coat of many colors, Saul of Tarsus being struck down by a bright light, Daniel in the lions’ den, or all sorts of things about Jesus, but they’re not really sure how everything fits together. And, honestly, I think that is true of a lot of us. One of the advantages of knowing the Big Picture of the Bible is that it provides a framework upon which we can hang all of the details that we learn about various sections of Scripture.
Finally, have you ever struggled with the question, “What does God want for my life? How do I fit into God’s plan?” Perhaps the most important thing about knowing the Big Picture of the Bible is that it helps us to see how our own individual stories fit into God’s universal Story.
Now that we have talked about why the Big Picture is important, let’s launch into the Story itself. We will look at the story in six difference chapters.
The story, of course, starts at the beginning:
In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth. The earth was formless and void and darkness was over the surface of the deep and the Spirit of God was moving over the surface of the waters. Then God said, “Let there be light” and there was light. God saw that the light was good and God separated light from darkness. God called the light day and the darkness he called night. And there was evening and morning, one day.
God’s Story begins with His creation of all that is: everything we see and experience. He raised up the mountains, dug the valleys, and filled the seas. He set the stars in the sky, and placed the planets in their orbits.
He filled the waters and sky with fish and birds and brought forth vegetation on the earth. He created animals to walk upon the earth. His crowning point of creation was humanity: God breathed His Spirit into our flesh and made us in His likeness: “In the image of God, he created him. Male and female he created them” (Genesis 1.27).
Over and over again, as God creates one thing and then another, God declared it to be good. There was order and harmony, interdependence and diversity. And there was glory: “The heavens declare the glory of God and the firmament shows his handiwork” (Psalm 19.1).
God blessed His creation and wanted it to flourish. He wanted humans to rule over and take care of creation. He wanted the heavens and earth to continue to declare His glory. He wanted to dwell with His creation in an intimate, relational way.
But something tragic happened to ruin this goal. The Apostle Paul describes it in this way:
Therefore just as through one man sin entered into the world, and death through sin, and so death spread to all men, because all sinned.
Here Paul refers to a story that happened long before his time, but is a story we know well. In fact, it occurs very early in the Bible, immediately after the story of Creation.
God placed the first humans, Adam and Eve, in the garden of Eden.
In that garden, there was a tree of knowledge of good and evil. God explicitly commanded them to not eat of that tree. For Adam and Eve, the tree represented much more than fruit: it was the choice to either live dependent on God, trusting fully in Him, or independent of Him, relying upon themselves to figure out what life was about. The tree represented freedom—or so they thought.
Under the influence of the deceiving serpent, Eve took the fruit and ate of it, and shared it with her husband. Through this act of disobedience, Adam and Eve asserted their independence, telling God that they didn’t need Him. They could figure out life on their own and make their own decisions.
Immediately problems arose. Adam and Eve felt separation from God and they literally tried to hide from Him. They felt separation from one another and they blamed each other. They felt separation from the goodness God bestowed upon them in creation and they felt shame and tried to cover their nakedness. They felt separation from creation as the ground became cursed. The good world God had created broke.
Things just got worse and worse. Cain, Adam and Eve’s son, committed the first murder, killing his own brother. Death spread to the human race. The curse of sin escalated to the point that every inclination of the heart became full of evil all the time, the Bible says. All that God had made good was beginning to unravel.
How can this be fixed? What can be done to mend what is breaking? What can help creation declare God’s glory again?
The next chapter of the story begins in Genesis 12:
Now the Lord said to Abram, “Go forth from your country and from your relatives and from your father’s house to the land which I will show you; and I will make you into a great nation, and I will bless you, I will make your name great and you will be a blessing. I will bless those who bless you and the one who curses you I will curse. And in you all the families of the earth will be blessed.”
God began fixing his broken world by calling a man named Abraham. He called Abraham to go to a different land so He could make him into a great nation. The purpose of this was not to make Abraham great, but for all the earth to be blessed and restored through Abraham.
Abraham’s son was Isaac, Isaac had Jacob, Jacob had 12 sons, and these sons turned into the twelve tribes of Israel. They would also become enslaved in Egypt, but God, through His mighty power, rescued them. No longer was it a small family, but a people: Israel. God took Israel to Sinai and made a covenant with them, teaching them how to live through the giving of His law.
God told them, “You are to be a kingdom of priests and a holy nation” (Exodus 19.6). Again, as with Abraham, God’s blessing of Israel was never about Israel: they were to be a light to the nations. Through them, God was going to fill the earth with His glory. Blessing and redemption were supposed to come. Israel was supposed to be good news for the world, but most of the time, it wasn’t.
This becomes painfully apparent almost immediately, as Israel struggles to keep their covenant. By the time Moses comes down from the mountain with the Ten Commandments, the people are already breaking them, worshiping an idol, a golden calf. God is angry, but He is also patient, and doesn’t give up on them. Instead, He tries to teach them by sending them leaders, prophets, and judges. He gives them land, a king (reluctantly), a city, and a temple. He heaps blessing upon them.
But the people keep straying from God’s covenant. They worship idols. They neglect and oppress the poor. They put their trust in military might and foreign nations rather than God. They don’t act as a kingdom of priests or a holy nation: instead of being a light to the nations, they are a part of the darkness.
Finally, God says, “Enough!” He sends Israel people into exile. He brings judgement upon His own people. They lose their land, their temple, their capital, and their king.
But even in the midst of despair and devastation, God makes a promise. Someday…God would bring a new covenant. Someday…He would send a new King who would lead the people in the right way. Someday…He would give his people a new heart and spirit. God would use them to be a light to the world. But how was this going to happen?
And this is where a Story which has largely been sad to this point, suddenly takes a good turn. The Gospel of John describes it this way:
In the beginning was the Word and the Word was with God and the Word was God. He was with God in the beginning. All things were made through Him and without Him nothing was made that has been made. In Him was life and that life was the light of men…The Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we have seen His glory, the glory as of the one and only coming down from the Father, full of grace and truth.
(John 1.1-4, 14)
In a small town, while no one was watching, God broke into our world in the form of a tiny baby named Jesus, who was also called the Christ. He grew up in Nazareth and began His ministry in Galilee. He launched His ministry when He read a passage from Isaiah 61, which talks about the Spirit anointing Him to preach good news to the poor, recovery of sight to the blind, release for the captives, freedom for the oppressed, and to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor (Luke 4.18-19).
After reading that, he said, “Today this is fulfilled in your hearing” (Luke 4.21). What Jesus means is that now is the time when God was going to restore His people and begin the process of fulfilling the promise to Abraham of bringing blessing and healing to a broken world.
A new King was here! And this is better than the kings that Israel had before; this was good news. This new king went about teaching, preaching, and healing. He taught about what it looks like when God is King: it means loving God with all of your heart, soul, mind, and strength. It means loving your neighbor as yourself.
He told people how to live as citizens of His kingdom. He talked abut repentance, and called people to deny themselves and take up their cross and follow Him. He said if you want to be great, you have to become a servant. He introduced a new way of life, one of love, faithfulness, and mercy.
And He healed. He showed that the brokenness of our world, the curse of sin, was not a permanent condition—it was being reversed, undone. The lame began to walk, the poor were blessed, the lepers were cleansed, and the dead were raised.
Then, Jesus suffered. He took the sin and brokenness of the world upon Himself by being beaten, ridiculed, and eventually dying on a cross. In that act, the guilt and power of sin began to be broken.
Three days later, God raised Jesus by His power from the dead declaring Him Lord over the world. Jesus appeared to disciples proving that He was alive and He sent them to be witnesses of this new life and to invite others to partake of it.
What a wonderful chapter this is, but it ends with Jesus ascending back to heaven to be with His Father. What would happen next? Who would carry on the work of Jesus?
We get the answer to those questions at the beginning of the Book of Acts:
When the day of Pentecost had come, they were all together in one place. And suddenly there came from heaven, a noise like a violent rushing wind, and it filled the whole house where they were sitting. And there appeared to them tongues as of fire distributing themselves and they rested on each one of them. And they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak with other tongues, as the Spirit was giving them utterance.
The Holy Spirit was poured out on the apostles of Jesus. It empowered them to be the witnesses Christ had called them to be of His life, death, and resurrection. Peter preached that in his first sermon and it convicted the listeners. They cried out, “What shall we do?”
Peter replied, “Repent and be baptized everyone of you in the name of Jesus and your sins will be forgiven and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit” (Acts 2.38). Three thousand people responded and were baptized, and with this, what we call the church was born.
But really, God was simply fulfilling what He had promised long before: Israel was being restored. God’s people were receiving a new covenant in Christ Jesus. A new heart and spirit were being given to them. Now, they were empowered by the Spirit of God to fulfill what God promised to Abraham: to be a blessing to the rest of the world.
Now, being a part of God’s people (Israel) was no longer based on ethnic background, but rather, on relationship with Jesus. It did not matter whether you were Jew or Gentile, slave or free, male or female. All were now welcomed in Christ Jesus. Also, God’s people were not simply passive lights revealing a different way to live; they were actively sent throughout the world to proclaim the good news about Christ. So this is exactly what they did: Paul, Barnabas, Timothy, Titus and many others traveled all over the Roman Empire declaring the good news of what God was doing.
They carried on this great work, emboldened by God’s Spirit, and energized by a promise that infused their teaching and preaching, which brings us to the last chapter.
That promise is described beautifully in John’s Revelation:
Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth; for the first heaven and the first earth passed away and there is no longer any sea. And I saw the holy city, new Jerusalem coming down out of heaven from God, made ready as a bride adorned for her husband. And I heard a loud voice from the throne, saying, “Behold the tabernacle of God is among men, and He will dwell among them and they shall be His people and God Himself will be among them. And He will wipe away every tear from their eyes; and there will no longer be any death; there will no longer be any mourning, or crying, or pain; the first things have passed away.” And He who sits on the throne said, “Behold I am making all things new.”
The promise was that Someday, God was going to fully finish what He had started through Jesus. Jesus is going to come back and this time, He won’t be rejected. He won’t be killed.
This time, every knee will bow and every tongue will confess Jesus Christ as Lord. All that is evil, all that is rebellious, and all that is broken will be removed. Those that do not want the healing and forgiveness found in Christ will receive that wish, and be separated from God.
God will make all things new. The curse of sin will no longer be present and God will be with His creation completely. All of creation—or in the words of John, the new heaven and new earth—will fully declare God’s glory. We will live with Him and serve Him forever.
This is the Story, the Big Picture of Scripture. It is what Christians believe. It is a story of good news (gospel) that we have to offer to the world. A story that Jesus is Lord, and that through His death and resurrection and the pouring out of the Holy Spirit, God is putting our broken world back together again.
There are numerous problems in our world that cause untold heartache—racial strife, political turmoil, poverty, crime, immorality, and more. But the Story of Scripture is that there is an answer to these and all other problems, and His name is Jesus. Through His death and resurrection, sin is broken.
This also gives us an answer to the question regarding the purpose of our own lives. Knowing the Big Picture of the Bible helps us to see how we connect our story to The Story, by joining in God’s Mission. First, we do this by responding in the same way that Peter’s audience did in the Book of Acts: we receive the good news of what Jesus has done, is doing, and will do into our own lives by repenting of sin and being baptized. And then, we let Jesus begin to put our broken lives back together by the power of the Spirit. Second, we are to join with Jesus and His people to be a light to the nations and bring the message of the healing of Jesus to rest of the broken world.
This is the Story that Scripture tells, the Big Picture of the Bible. It is the Story that changes everything.
These chapter divisions and much of the content that follows comes from Steve Cloer, “What Is The Gospel?” in Gospel: Good News For A Desperate World, ed. Luke Dockery (Fayetteville, AR: Deeper Youth Ministry, 2017), 10-19. This essay was the manuscript version of a presentation that Steve made at the 2016 Deeper Youth Conference, and again, what follows relies heavily upon his outstanding work.
If you are a fan of alliteration, you could alternatively call these chapters Creation, Curse, Covenant, Christ, Church, and (New) Creation. I prefer “Israel” and “Jesus” over “Covenant” and “Christ” for reasons that are probably not worth going into here.