Have you ever began studying the Bible with good intentions and enthusiasm—only to become confused and discouraged; wondering how what you read fits into the "Big Picture”; feeling overwhelmed with how you will ever grasp the concept of God's Plan; wanting to give up because you feel the task of understanding Scriptures is just too much for you? You are not alone! Most people today don't have a "working knowledge" of Scriptures or how they fit together! But the sad part is: because they reflect the very thoughts and heart of God, they are unreachable in their depth...You can learn forever! YET, God HAS made His Plan of Redemption easy enough for every person to understand; most of us just don’t want to take the time! Some people can give great detail in every twist, turn, event, and character of television, book and movie series but can't seem to fit two Books of the Bible together and make sense of them.
If you believe this is God’s Word, then you will make the effort to learn what pleases God. And what your life is suppose to be all about! As you grow in your knowledge, and you see the incredible way God's Word fits together, and you see the awesome story it tells, as you see God's personality, power and plans revealed, you will not have any more trouble staying in Its pages. Biblical illiteracy hurts our understanding of who God really is, who we really are; it allows us to be misled by others and it greatly handicaps our ability to share Christ with the world.
The Bible is God's entire revealed Plan for: Who He is. How we all got here. What He wants from us. Where this world is heading. How it will all end. What waits after the end! It was written miraculously, over a time span of 1600 years, by 40 different people of all walks of life, in three languages, on three continents, but with an awesome, consistent, unified message. It is made up of 66 different Books, but these are not full-sized books as you would compare to those on a book shelf...Reading the entire Bible, front to back is about the word equivalence of reading seven or eight novels... Not sixty-six! (Similar to Narnia, Harry Potter, etc.) So, in reality it is easily readable and understandable!
The first place to begin our study of the Big Picture, is in understanding the main division of Scriptures: Old and New Testaments. (39 Books OT / 27 Books NT) Some may wonder why there is a division at all. Some may question why we even read the Old Testament, thinking it's not for us. Some often ask why God seems totally different in the Old and New Testaments. In order to understand, we must first understand the word "Testament": (Greek word #1242- diatheke (dee-ath-ay'-kay): Meaning a contract or covenant, especially a will.) There are a total of seven different Covenants between God and men in the Bible... But, we have these two MAIN Covenants or contracts as the basis for the division of Scriptures Old and New.
The Old Testament was centered around the Hebrew people, and the Covenant God made with them: God gave the Ten Commandments to Moses in Exodus 20, and in the next three chapters of Exodus, other rules and regulations were given to the Hebrews to go along with them, telling how they would live, worship, and conduct themselves in order to separate themselves from the world and live as God wanted. When they would break these commands, God had a system of sacrifice and atonement for them to follow, so their sins could be covered. Exodus 24:3,6-8
Notice God sprinkled half the blood of the sacrifice on the altar (representing Himself), and half on the people... Why? Because, a Covenant could not go into effect until the death of the One who made it. This blood was a symbol of what God already saw coming on Calvary.(Hebrews 9:17) And, this showed that both parties were joined steadfast to this Covenant under the penalty of blood, or death, if broken. (What a foreshadowing!) Think back on the articles placed in the Tabernacle, and later, the Temple, The Ark placed in the Tabernacle was called “The Ark of the Covenant; the Ten Commandments placed into that Ark were called "The Tablets of the Covenant." God's entire relationship with the Hebrew people in the Old Testament centered around this Covenant.
Jeremiah 11:1-4 Basically this Old Covenant said: "You are my creation, and my people…Listen and obey what I tell you, and you will continue to be blessed as my children, and I will continue to be your God...Rebel against Me and My Commandments, and the penalty must be death..." Now, in the greater scheme of things, we have to ask, ‘What purpose did the Old Covenant serve?’1)It separated these people from the rest of the world, and made them especially devoted to Him, because it was in His plans to build a nation from these people, and from that nation, to bring a Savior into the world. Genesis 18:17-18 2)It showed God's Holiness, and His standard of perfect love for one another and for Himself that we are called to live by. Repeatedly God tells the Israelites in Leviticus to, "Be Holy, because I am Holy!" (Leviticus 11, 20) 3)It revealed the true state of men's hearts and minds, showing our inability to love as commanded, and revealing our truly self-centered and evil hearts! Romans 7:7-12 4)It gave a physical, outward form of Law and restraint; until the heart could be cleansed, and the choice for Holiness and love could be natural. Galatians 3:19, 23-25 The Law was "added" because of sin; to give direction until Christ could take that sin away. (the Greek word for "tutor" here is paidagogos (pahee-dag-o-gos), meaning a servant whose job it was to take children to school, protecting and keeping them in line until they are mature) Until we inherited Christ, the Law would be our schoolmaster: keeping us in line and teaching us how we were to act until we were mature enough in mind and heart to act right by choice. The Old Covenant between God and His people, which was punished by death if broken showed our rebellion against God, and proved why we could never be with Him, because we broke that Covenant, meaning death and separation. But the New Testament, or the New Covenant started with Jesus Christ! This is why, and when, the New Testament divided from the Old. Luke 22:20
Jesus says the New Covenant will be brought with His Blood! Think back to what we just read in the sealing of the Old Covenant with the people; they sealed it with the sprinkling of blood to show that if broken, the penalty would be the shedding of Blood, or death; and because Covenants were established at a person's death. See how the two Covenants, or Testaments, fit beautifully together; God knew we would choose to defy Him, because He knew our hearts even before He gave the Law; but, He gave the Law anyway, because His justice and Holiness required it; because We couldn't be near Him without it (We would only hurt and destroy perfection); and, because He had to show us how fallen and depraved we were. But He would never accept that He'd lost us to sin. He already had the ultimate Plan: if it required death and Blood to fulfill the penalty for our behavior, then that is what would be given: HIS! But get the whole, beautiful picture: God did not make a New Covenant by changing the rules; He started a New Covenant by fulfilling the requirements of the rules. Hebrews 9:13-15 Matthew 5:17-22 Jesus fulfilled His own requirements for punishment because He loved us so much! And here was the result: Romans 7:1-4
Are you getting this?!Christ died in our place, so legally we are dead; since we died, the Law cannot punish us anymore, and we are free to be with Christ! Not a doing away with the Law, but a meeting of Its requirements!
So the New Covenant says: I (God) have let my Son die to make a way for you to escape the requirements of the Old Covenant, now, just tell me that you want me, and that you accept that death as your own, and I will see you as Holy and sinless as if untouched by sin, like my Son who died for you; and, even more than that, since you are now dead to the Law, any sins you may slip into from here on out will not be held against you! (How awesome and amazing is our God?)
So if Old Testament Scriptures don't apply today, why is it so important to study and learn them? Because the Old Testament tells of our origin, and what God's perfect plan was for mankind; because the OT gave the entire story of Jesus coming to seek and save us, with personal feelings and heart of Jesus revealed (Psalm 22, etc.) showing the certainty of God's existence through the prophecy fulfillment in supernatural ways. Remember, the disciples only had the OT, and Jesus showed them all of the proofs for who He was from the Scriptures of their day! Luke 24:44-48 The OT gives continued prophecies about Jesus, which have not occurred yet, concerning His return and His Kingdom here on earth! And if all those prophecies of His first coming came true. The OT has foreshadowed every major event that happened in God's Plan so far, through God's Feasts given to His people; even occurring on the same dates flawlessly. (Passover, Unleavened Bread, First Fruits, Pentecost...) What about the last three to come? (Feast of Trumpets, Atonement, and Tabernacles!?) Every story of the OT shows God's heart, His priorities, His power, and His character, helping to build our faith and understanding of Him. So... OT Scriptures give the Promise of the Messiah, the foundation for understanding the Messiah, the proof of the Messiah, and the clues to His return. Comparison: The OT starts with perfection & harmony between God and men taken away; the NT ends with perfection & harmony between God and men restored. The OT shows our hopelessness in sin through the Law; the NT shows our hopefulness from sin through Grace and Mercy. The OT tells of the Messiah to come; the NT tells the story of His coming.
Many people feel that the God represented in the OT is completely different from the God of the NT because He shows such wrath against other groups of people opposing the Israelites; because there are moments of destruction and war commanded by God Himself; and then, in the NT, we see a God of grace and mercy. At first glance, you may seem to have a case for these thoughts; but, when you examine Scriptures closely, you find the same God throughout It's pages! The OT and the NT represent different moments within God's Plan.What changed? The circumstances which required the actions. God has the same heart throughout, just different circumstances.
And, if you read closely, in the times circumstances ARE the same in the Old & New Testaments, God reacts the same, such as: God had to destroy entire groups of people due to their sinfulness and evil as a nation in the OT, and we say we don't see God acting that way in the NT, but when Jesus rode into Jerusalem a week before His crucifixion, why did He cry uncontrollably before entering? Luke 19:41-44 Jesus just predicted that God would level Jerusalem, and kill the men, women and children there because of their rejection of His Son. 1)Is that not the same God of the OT, doing the same thing? 2)Is the God of the NT not going to have to do the same thing to whole nations that rebel in the last days on earth? 3)Can we not see the complete and utter heartbreak that Jesus had over the situation (Their rejection and their punishment) Jesus' attitude towards having to destroy Jerusalem, is a clear picture of how God feels when He does have to do these things! Old or New Testament. Some think God showed no mercy, or love, especially for non-Jewish people of the OT, but look at these facts: God was willing to spare Sodom and Gomorrah, in all their sin, if only 10 righteous people could be found; (Gen. 18:32) God saved just one gentile prostitute and her family because she showed faith in Him, when He had to destroy the entire city. (Joshua 6:25) God made Abraham and his people wait to attack the wicked people of Canaan (until four generations later), because there was still some good left, and He didn't want to destroy them until necessary. (Gen. 15:16) And one of the worst, most fierce and idolatrous people of Biblical times, the Assyrians (Ninevites): God told Jonah to spare (see why Jonah protested), because God saw that many would repent if given a chance—and He did not want to kill the people or animals unnecessarily. (Jonah 4) God had to do these things out of love and desperation. If God did not remove the nations that were overpowering and overpopulating the earth in rebellion against Him, His plan and His people would have been lost.
We already see some very important Truths about His Plan for mankind! And some very important Truths about His character and compassion! Next week, we will literally walk through the entire Story Plot of the Bible from beginning to end in one session so you can see the flow and consistency of Scriptures throughout It's pages; so, you can get His entire Plan in one picture; so you can see how each smaller story, and section of the Bible, fits the big picture. Can you not already see the incredible pattern and Story, in a Book that took 1600 years to write?! Can you not see the trouble and heartbreak God has gone through to get us back?! Can you not see that God, since the beginning of this earth has been hesitant and saddened by every act of wrath He has had to perform. But in His Holiness, He will perform them. This is the only Story that's real! And the only God worth following!