Most churches preach from the Bible, and believe the Bible is God’s Word. But if this is the case, why are there so many different opinions as to what the Bible actually means? Why are there so many drastically different interpretations, often leading to church divisions?
Just because the entire Bible is God’s Word, this does not mean we can simply reach in … grab a passage … and make it apply to our present situation. God is always the same; but this does not mean He always works in the same way in all eras. He once worked thru the Law of the Old Testament. In Galatians Paul announces freedom from the Law.God works progressively.
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To properly understand what the Bible is revealing to us for our present day, we must take great care when reading it. We must always ask, “Who specifically is this being written to? Is it the Jew, or the present-day church? Or all mankind? And does this situation being described apply in the same way today?”
As we read the Bible from beginning to end we can see God working systematically through the ages, and we see Him revealing to mankind His plan in bits and pieces. Some information He revealed to the patriarchs in the Old Testament. Some things He revealed through His prophets. Some things He revealed through Christ Jesus. But some things were concealed until God was ready to reveal them through His servant Paul, after the Jews had been set aside so that the complement of Gentiles could be incorporated into the fold.
Studying individual portions of God’s Word is like analyzing a tree, and we can learn many marvelous things about the tree in this way. But sometimes we must step back to look at the entire forest, to see how all of the trees fit together to comprise the forest.
The Garden of Eden
Genesis describes the beginning of mankind in the Garden of Eden. It is interesting that despite this being a Paradise where Adam and Eve lived in the presence of God, and where there would be no death, evil existed even in this place. The serpent lived in their midst, and had access to Adam and Eve so as to tempt them. This was not a neutral setting, where Adam and Eve would simply live in obedience to God. The evil one lived among them, and tempted them.
What an interesting parallel to Jesus who was led by God to the wilderness to be tempted by the Adversary. (Matthew 4:1) Adam and Eve are “led” by God to the Garden of Eden to be tempted by the serpent. The difference is the outcome. Adam and Eve succumb to the temptation, and death enters the world. Jesus overcomes the temptation, and defeats death. Paul later makes the same comparison, and reveals to us the impact of these events. As in Adam all are dying, thus also in Christ will all live. (1 Corinthians 15:22)
Once expelled from the Garden, mankind follows a steady course of self-destruction. Cain kills Abel. Evil runs rampant. In Genesis 6 we start over, with the wicked being destroyed and only the righteous Noah and his family surviving. But we read on, and mankind continues to show no promise. At Babel (Genesis 11) God finds it necessary to confuse the tongues of mankind, and scatter them.
God Chooses One Man, to Bless ALL People
From all of mankind God chooses one man, Abram (later Abraham), promising to bless all people on the earth through him. (Genesis 12:3) We see here God’s purpose or intent: To bless all people upon the earth. His method at this point is to choose one man, Abram, as His instrument (or channel) to bless all people. Later God chooses a descendant of Abraham, Jacob. He repeats His promise to bless all people through Jacob. (Genesis 28:14) God later re-names Jacob “Israel.” (Genesis 32)
God’s Purposes Prevail
Joseph becomes the central figure in Genesis 37. He is sold into slavery, framed by Potiphar’s wife, thrown into jail, and forgotten. But God continues to raise Joseph up, and he eventually becomes the second most powerful man in Egypt, directly beneath Pharoah. At the end of Genesis Joseph’s brothers stand before him after their father had died, and they fear what Joseph might do to them. They remember how they had plotted against Joseph and sold him into slavery years before. Joseph says to them, “You intended to harm me, but God intended it for good, to accomplish what is now being done, the saving of many lives.” (Genesis 50:19) God had purposed to “save many lives,” knowing that famine was coming to the land. He accomplished his purpose through Joseph. Nothing that was done to Joseph by his brothers, by Potiphar’s wife, or by any in Egypt ... could prevent God’s purpose from being accomplished.
God Chooses a Nation
In Exodus 1:6 we read that the descendents of Jacob (Israel) are now “The Israelites.” Through the remainder of the Old Testament God will use the Israelites, His people, to accomplish His purposes. Remember God’s promise to Jacob; to bless all people through him. Now Jacob’s descendents will be used for this purpose. God does not choose Israel to show favoritism, or even because the Israelites are better than the non-Israelites. As God’s plan continues to unfold we will see how He uses Israel, the nation, as His instrument to ultimately bless all nations.
In 2 Samuel the Israelites become a powerful nation under David’s reign, and the success of the nation continues under the reign of his son, Solomon. But at Solomon’s death the nation divides. The northern kingdom (Israel) and the southern kingdom (Judah) have a series of kings as reported in 1 & 2 Kings and 1 & 2 Chronicles. Some kings are wicked, instituting or condoning the worship of idols and other evil practices. Other kings are good, bringing reform and a return to the ways of God.
The prophets of God warn the people that if they do not turn from their wicked ways and return to God, their land will be taken from them. Israel is more wicked than Judah, and is the first to be taken from the land. (2 Kings 17) Judah goes on a bit longer, but is later defeated and taken away into exile. (2 Kings 25) Sin and disobedience have resulted in exile. As Adam and Eve were once expelled from the Garden because of their disobedience, so also the nation of Israel suffers the same fate.
While in exile, a common message of the prophets is, “Return to God.” There are promises brought by the prophets to the exiled nation. The scattered people will one day be returned to their land. (see Ezekiel 28:25) After a season of punishment, Israel will be restored. We see this “restoration” promised in Joel 2:18; Hosea 14; Amos 9:11; and Zephaniah 3:9. Habakkuk 2:14 points to a day in the future when the earth will be filled with the knowledge of the glory of the Lord. Daniel promises a new kingdom in the future; one that will come from heaven and be more powerful than all earthly kingdoms. (Daniel 2:44)
Return to the Land
As promised, the scattered Israelites are returned to the land. We read in Ezra of the Temple being re-built. Nehemiah tells of the rebuilding of the walls of Jerusalem.
Awaiting the Messiah
As the New Testament opens, the people are back in the land, but they are under Roman rule. While a part of the promise of the prophets has been fulfilled, more is to come. The people are awaiting the Messiah, the Son of God. They are looking for the days of David and Solomon to return, when the kingdom was strong and the people safe. The Old Testament prophets had foretold that a kingdom like this would be coming, so the people waited.
Punishment For Sin in the Old Testament
In Genesis we learned that the penalty for sin was death. Throughout the Old Testament we witness this time and again. Destruction (death) is the lot of the wicked. Ultimately since all sin, death is the lot of all. It is interesting that throughout all of the Old Testament we read of death and destruction, but never “eternal hell” as a punishment for those who sin. The sole penalty for sin is death.
The Kingdom is Near
As the people await the Messiah and the kingdom, how wonderful it is to hear from John the Baptist, “Near is the kingdom of the heavens.” (Matthew 3:1) Remember the prophets of old had said to the people, “Return to God, and He will restore you.” Now John is saying the same thing: “Repent, for near is the kingdom of the heavens.” But the Jewish leaders are skeptical of John, or perhaps they feel that no repentance is necessary on their part. When Jesus begins preaching, he proclaims the same message: “Repent, for near is the kingdom of the heavens.” (Matthew 4:17) Multitudes follow Jesus, and as He talks of the coming kingdom His message is accompanied by many signs and wonders. But the Jewish leaders reject Jesus, and ultimately crucify Him.
The Kingdom is Preached in Acts
The “kingdom message” is re-introduced in Acts, with Peter now the central figure. Jesus had promised that the keys to the kingdom would be given to Peter (Matthew 16:19) and this happens in Acts, as signs and wonders accompany Peter’s proclamation of the coming kingdom. And, as was the case with the preaching of Jesus, the “kingdom message” is going to the Jews, not the Gentiles. Peter proclaims to the Jews,
“Repent, then, and turn about for the erasure of your sins, so that seasons of refreshing should be coming from the face of the Lord, and He should dispatch the One fixed upon before you, Christ Jesus, Whom heaven must indeed receive until the times of restoration of all which God speaks through the mouth of His holy prophets who are from the eon.” Acts 3:19-21
This message is very similar to that of John the Baptist and of Jesus Himself. Repentance is called for. But Peter is tying the return of the kingdom to this repentance. “Repent,” he says, “so that Christ Jesus comes, and seasons of refreshing will come.”
In response to Peter’s proclamation, had the “sheep of Israel” repented, Christ Jesus would have come and the kingdom would have been established. But throughout Acts, while the kingdom message is received by some, it is rejected by others. As the kingdom is continually rejected, God begins to move among the Gentiles. Peter is hesitant, but eventually goes as prompted by God to Cornelius, a God fearing Gentile. (Acts 10) Peter and his Jewish companions are “amazed” when the holy spirit falls on those Gentiles hearing the word. (Acts 10:44) They are not expecting God to work among the Gentiles as He had among the Jews. They had forgotten that God’s plan is to bless all people through the Jews, who are acting as God’s instruments to accomplish this purpose.
NEXT: We will read about the unique calling of the apostle Paul; and how God began to do a new thing thru Paul, revealing truths that had not been previously revealed.