(last edited 9/15/13)
THE BIBLE IN A NUTSHELL
Have you ever thought about reading the whole Bible but don't think you can get through it or understand it? Here is the story of the Bible in a nutshell. Well, OK, maybe a little more than a nutshell...but this is a summary of the important events, characters, and ideas. Then you can go back and read the whole Bible for yourself and it will be easier to see how everything fits together and where the story is heading. Hopefully you will embark on a journey of reading through the Bible over and over throughout your life.
Genesis (means "beginning")
The three main characters of the Bible are introduced: God, man and Satan, 1:1, 1:26, and 3:1. The conflict between these characters will play out through the entire Bible, with many plots and sub-plots, themes and sub-themes. It gets worse and worse until it appears all is lost (like any well-written long, complex novel) and culminates in the resolution found at the end, in Revelation.
The story of the Bible opens with a key event: creation, Gen. 1. Everything is described as very good--perfect, 1:31. But in 3:6 sin enters the world. Compare Rom. 3:23. Because of this, there are consequences for Satan, for man, for woman, and for the earth. Man was created perfect, put in a perfect environment, with fellowship with God, and given free will. Man chose to sin and lost fellowship with God. Now all mankind as well as the earth and its creatures will suffer the consequences of sin. Now death has entered the world. How can this dilemma be resolved? The rest of the Bible tells the story.
We have the first prophecy of the promised Messiah in 3:15, where God is speaking to Satan. Satan's seed would be the wicked, John 8:44; the seed of the woman (a hint at the virgin birth) will be the Messiah--Jesus Christ. Satan would give Him a heel wound--not fatal; Christ will give him a head wound--a fatal blow. So here is foretold the spiritual warfare between God and Satan. Satan later "wounds" Christ at the crucifixion, thinking he has defeated Him. But through the resurrection, God brings about Satan's defeat.
The next main character in Genesis is Noah, 6:8. His story involves the worldwide flood, Gen. 6-9. Not long after that, the next key event is the confusing of language at Babel, 11:1-9. These first 11 chapters give us important information about why the world is the way it is.
The next main character is Abraham. God makes him three important promises in 12:1-3: a people (the Israelites), a land (Canaan/Palestine, today known as Israel), and a worldwide blessing through him. 12:3 is another prophecy of Christ: through faith in Him, the whole world can receive the blessing--salvation. The Bible will follow the bloodline that leads to Christ. This Abrahamic Covenant, an unconditional covenant, sets the stage for not only the rest of the Old Testament story, but also future prophetic events. A basic doctrinal fact is first presented in 15:6--righteousness comes by faith in God. Gen. 22 is a picture or type of Christ, the promised Messiah. Compare 22:7-8 and 22:13; God did not provide a lamb that day--not until Jesus Christ, the perfect, sinless Lamb of God, John 1:29, who came to shed His blood as God's required payment for sin.
Abraham's son was Isaac, 22:1-3. His grandsons were Jacob and Esau, 25:25-26, but Jacob's line will lead to Christ. In 32:28, God changes Jacob's name to Israel. Next in his line are twelve sons, Gen. 49:28. 49:10 indicates which of those would be the line leading to Christ--Judah. (Shiloh is a term for the Messiah.)
Exodus (means "going out")
The sons of Israel multiplied (as promised in Gen. 12:2) in Egypt and were made slaves, 1:14. The main character in this book is Moses, 2:10. 12:1-23 pictures Christ in the story of the first Passover: for each one who puts the shed blood of the lamb on their doorpost, 13 and 23, death passes over them. For us, believing in Christ's death for our sin and His resurrection, proving He is God, gives eternal life. Moses will lead the enslaved Israelites out of Egypt, 6:1-8. In 20-31, God gives Moses the Ten Commandments and the rest of the Law.
Leviticus (the Levites are the priestly tribe)
The theme of this book, which describes the many sacrifices required by the Law, is the holiness of God, 10:10 and 20:26.
The 12 tribes are numbered; remember, we will be following the line that leads to Christ--the tribe of Judah. We have more about the Mosaic Law and the 40 years' wandering in the wilderness because of their unbelief, ending up at the Jordan River across from the promised land, Canaan (Gen. 12:1). The generation that received God's Law at Mt. Sinai all died in the wilderness, 26:63-65.
Deuteronomy (means "second law")
Moses teaches the Law to the younger generation before they enter the land. God makes another important covenant in 28-30, the Palestinian Covenant, in which God lays out the conditions under which they will be able to live in their land. Moses dies at the end, 34:4-5, and Joshua takes his place, 34:9. This is the last of the five books written by Moses.
The first of the books of history. Joshua leads the 12 tribes in the conquest of the land of Canaan (Palestine, Israel) that God promised them.
Following the death of Joshua, God raises up a series of judges over the next generations, who did not know God as their fathers had. This book shows a cycle of sin and defeat to their enemies, crying out to God, who raises up a judge, returning to God under that judge, victory, then falling away again, only to repeat the cycle.
The story of the marriage of Ruth and Boaz fits into Gen. 12:3--the line leading to Christ--because their son will be the grandfather of King David, 4:17-22.
Samuel was a judge, a priest, and a prophet. Now we enter the era in which God spoke to His people through prophets. The people are not satisfied with a theocracy, with God as their King; they now want a king, 8:5-7. The first king is Saul, 9:1-2. He disobeys God and loses the kingship, 15:22-23. David will be the next king, 16:11-13. This book follows the conflict between Saul and David until Saul's death.
This book is the biography of David and his reign. In 7:1-16, we find another great covenant, the Davidic Covenant. The word "forever" at the end of 7:13 and 7:16 show that God's promise is speaking of more than just the kingdom of David's son--He is promising that the Messiah will come in David's line, and that His kingdom will last forever.
David's kingdom passes to his son Solomon, 1:30. He is wealthy and wise and builds the temple. God promises his throne to his descendants, 9:4-7, but the promise is conditional: "if/then." Solomon does evil, resulting in a divided kingdom: Israel in the north, and Judah in the south (under Solomon's descendants). The rest of the book deals with the succession of good and bad kings, as well as the prophet Elijah.
Elijah is followed by the prophet Elisha, and we continue to read of the succession of good and bad kings in both kingdoms, causing both kingdoms to be taken out of their land into captivity. Israel is captured by Assyria, 17:23, and Judah is captured by Babylon, 25:21.
I and II Chronicles
Chronicles is a parallel account of the times of the kings, giving another perspective. The lengthy genealogies remind us of the importance of the tribal inheritances and the prophecies of the line leading to Christ.
Following the 70 years' captivity, a faithful remnant of Israelites returned to their land and rebuild the city of Jerusalem, the city walls and the temple. Ezra the scribe returned also, to teach this generation the Law.
Nehemiah was another Jew that, although he had been a cupbearer to the king (now of Persia--the kingdom which conquered and succeeded Babylon), received permission to return to the land. He was instrumental in the rebuilding and served as governor.
Esther was a beautiful Jewish girl taken into the harem of the king of Persia, also in the post-captivity period. Her uncle Mordecai acts boldly to protect her and in the process, foils a plot to destroy the Jews. We see God's providential care for His people.
Ezra, Nehemiah and Esther are the last of the historical books in the Old Testament. The timeline of the Old Testament actually ends here, with the rest of the Old Testament fitting into earlier places on that timeline. The books of the Bible are grouped in sections, not by a strict time-line.
Following these three post-captivity books, there were 400 years of silence from God; He did not speak to His people through any prophets for 400 years, until the New Testament begins. During this period, the empire of the Medes and Persians was taken over by Alexander the Great, resulting in the Greek empire. Shortly before Jesus was born, the Roman empire took over. Next in the biblical timeline are the Gospels, beginning with the angel's announcement of the birth of the promised Messiah.
Job probably takes place before the time of Abraham, possibly not too long after the flood, and is the first of the books of poetry (Hebrew poetry is not rhyming like our poetry, but a stylistic type of writing). Job 1-2 give us insight into the spiritual realm--what goes on "behind the scenes" that makes life so hard for us to understand, not being privy to God's plans and purposes. From the story of righteous Job, we learn about patience, pride and repentance, the purpose of suffering, and God's sovereignty.
Psalms (means "songs")
The Psalms are songs of praise and prayer, written mostly by David. In them, we learn of many attributes of God, how the righteous should live, and much about the coming Messiah and God's future plans for the world. The Psalms contain a great deal of prophecy.
Proverbs are not promises but rather, the wise sayings, observations and generalizations of wise King Solomon. We read about the sowing and reaping of the righteous and the wicked, with many specific examples of each. It is not addressed to Israel so it has universal application. True wisdom comes only from God, 2:6.
Ecclesiastes (means "one who calls together or addresses an assembly; a preacher or teacher")
Solomon's refutation of humanism. This book shows that all man's wisdom and works can't bring knowledge of God, peace with God, or a relationship with God. He concludes that we should not worry about trying to figure out life; it will never make sense from our human perspective. Trust God--He is sovereign. Be diligent, try to please Him, and leave the results to Him. 3:11, 8:17.
Song of Solomon
A love story of the king and his bride. Also a picture or foreshadowing of Christ and the church. KJV uses "spouse" only in this book; it is translated "bride" in the NASB. Compare Eph. 5:25-32 which tells us the bride of Christ is the church.
Isaiah to Malachi
The rest of the Old Testament is made up of the books of prophecy, known as the major prophets (Isaiah, Jeremiah, Ezekiel and Daniel) and the minor prophets (all the rest). These prophesies were given during the times of the kings and up through the three post-captivity books. Most of them tell at the beginning which kings reigned during the ministry of that prophet. Prophecy means speaking God's message in His own words ("thus saith the Lord..."). It also includes foretelling future events, including prophecies of the promised Messiah, and events still future in our day--endtimes events.
Most of these books deal with Israel's sin (particularly that of idolatry) and God's warnings to them of coming judgment. Does that mean these warnings do not apply to us? On the contrary, all are guilty of the sin of idolatry. We may not sacrifice to images, but we are all guilty of putting something before God in our lives. According to Col. 3:5 and Eph. 5:5, greed, or materialism, is idolatry. So we need to see how God feels about idolatry and what He has to say to us about it.
We could make specific comments about each book, but for the purposes of our "nutshell," we'll leave it at that.
Matthew, Mark, Luke and John
The "gospel" is defined in I Cor. 15:1-5. It is the message of salvation from sin through the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ--God in the flesh. The Gospels are four parallel accounts of the birth, life, ministry, crucifixion, resurrection and ascension of Jesus Christ. Each is written to a different audience and so has a different perspective. Matthew is written to the Jews, presenting Jesus as King and Messiah, and says much about how Jesus fulfills Old Testament prophecies. Mark is written to the Romans, and is short and pithy, emphasizing action rather than doctrine. Luke is written to the Greek--the intellectual man--and presents Jesus as the perfect Man. John is written to the early church and presents Jesus as God, as Savior of the world, with much more doctrine, explanation and editorializing than the other three Gospels.
The Old Testament followed the line leading to the Messiah. Luke gives the lineage of Mary--the bloodline traced from Adam, through Abraham, Judah, David, David's son Nathan. Matthew opens with the lineage of Joseph, through David's son Solomon, who, although he was not Jesus' blood father, gave Him His legal right to the kingship of Israel.
Acts (The Acts of the Apostles)
Acts is the one book of history in the New Testament. It begins with Christ's ascension, then the outpouring of the Holy Spirit on the day of Pentecost. We read of the beginnings of the church, the ministries of Peter and Paul, the inclusion of the Gentiles into what was initially a church made up of Jewish Christians, and Paul's three missionary journeys, bringing the gospel to the known world of that day, ending with Paul's imprisonment.
Romans through Jude
Romans is the first of the Epistles (letters), which were addressed to believers--various churches or individuals. Most were penned by Paul, but other authors include Peter, James, John (the author of the Gospel of John) and Jude. These letters were to encourage the believers, remind them of doctrinal truths, and correct doctrinal errors and problems in the early church. This is where we find specific instructions to the church (all believers today). We are taught about the mystery of the indwelling of the Holy Spirit in the believer, and the power He gives--Christ in us.
Some of the problems addressed in the Epistles are the same problems the church has today. Some were not, but we can always find application for believers today by studying the context, the historical setting, and determining what principles are unchanging.
The final book of the Bible is the one book of prophecy in the New Testament. It is a series of visions with much horror, mystery and symbolism. In this book all the plot threads winding through the entire Bible are drawn together and we read the conclusion. We learn about God's great plan for the ages, stretching into the future and eternity. We read of God's justice and the final judgment, of Satan's final rebellion, and the defeat of Satan, Satan's man (the Antichrist) and evil. We read the fulfillment of the prophecy about Satan and the Messiah made in Gen. 3:15. We read of the day of God's wrath (the seven years of tribulation), Christ's second coming and His thousand-year reign on earth--the fulfillment of the promises God made to Abraham about the future of his people, in Gen. 12:3 and in numerous other Old Testament prophecies about Israel's glorious future. We learn of the end of the world, the new heavens and new earth, and the New Jerusalem--the future home of the church--where believers will dwell with God forever in their sinless immortal state.
Copyright 2011 Jan Young
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