When you don’t know the full story, the Bible can feel like a jumbled puzzle.
The entire Bible is one story: the story of God’s love for the world, centred on the person of Jesus Christ. Knowing the story will help you understand and apply the Bible to your life. Here is a very brief summary.
In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth (Genesis 1:1). He created everything there is, including his masterpiece, human beings (Genesis 1:26-27). Then he rested.
God placed the first people, Adam and Eve, in a garden which provided all their needs. One day, a talking snake convinced Adam and Eve to eat fruit from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil (Genesis 3). In doing so, they disobeyed God’s command and their relationship with God was spoilt. God drove them out of the garden as he didn’t want them to eat from the tree of life and live forever.
Adam and Eve had children (Genesis 4:1-2) and as the population grew, God saw that human hearts and thoughts were constantly filled with evil (Genesis 6:5). God was sorry he had made humans and decided to start again. He found one man, Noah, who pleased him and so he told Noah to build a large boat, an ark (Genesis 6:9).
Noah filled the ark with every kind of animal and God flooded the world, destroying all humans, land animals and birds, except those in the ark. After the flood the population grew again, but pride led people to build a tower at Babel with its top reaching to the sky (Genesis 11:1-4). After frustrating their efforts, God dispersed people across the earth.
Again God chose one man, Abraham and his wife Sarah, to start an entire nation of people through whom a wonderful blessing would come to the whole world (Genesis 12:1-3). God promised them a special land to live in. One of their grandsons, Jacob, had twelve sons who became the fathers of the 12 tribes of Israel.
One of the 12 sons, Joseph, was sold into slavery in Egypt by his brothers (Genesis 37:27). God gave Joseph the ability to interpret dreams, and so Pharaoh, king of Egypt, put him in charge over all of Egypt. At Joseph’s advice, Pharaoh stored up food for a coming famine. When the famine came, Jacob’s other sons had to go to Egypt to buy food.
Joseph forgave his brothers and they and their father Jacob, whose other name was Israel, moved to Egypt to live with Joseph (Genesis 50:20).
The Israelites grew in number in Egypt and were forced into slavery. After 430 years in Egypt, God chose one man, Moses, to lead them to freedom (Exodus 3:10). Pharaoh eventually let the Israelites go and they travelled to Mount Sinai where God gave Moses the Ten Commandments (Exodus 20:1-17) and many other laws to govern the life of a new nation, including their religious sacrifices and festivals. They camped at Mount Sinai for almost a year. God then told Moses to send some spies to scout Canaan (the Promised Land), but the spies brought back a frightening report and the Israelites refused to enter it (Numbers 13:27-28). God sentenced his people to wander in the desert until an entire generation of unbelieving adults had died (Numbers 14:22-23).
After 40 years in the desert, Moses died and Joshua led the Israelites into the Promised Land. The land was divided among the 12 tribes. After Joshua died, the Israelites had no formal leadership. In times of need God raised up leaders called judges, who freed the people from outside enemies. But the judges were limited in their influence, and had no continuity. So the Israelites eventually asked God for a king (1 Samuel 8:5).
God granted them their wish and Saul became the first king of Israel. After Saul, David became king. He was a man who pleased God, and God promised that there would always be a king in his line. Solomon, David’s son, built a magnificent temple for the worship of God, but later became proud and autocratic. After he died, the kingdom of Israel erupted into civil war and divided into two parts: Judah in the south and Israel in the north. Both nations quickly abandoned their loyalty to God and his just laws. God sent prophets who challenged them to return to God, and to order their society by God’s standards of justice. But, with only a few exceptions, they would not listen, and God determined to punish them. Israel lasted only 200 years before being defeated by the Assyrians (2 Kings 17:18) and many of its people were exiled. Judah lasted 350 years before the Babylonians destroyed Jerusalem and God’s temple that Solomon had built. Many citizens of Judah were taken away to Babylon (1 Chronicles 6:15).
After Persia defeated Babylon, the exiled Israelites (now called Jews), were allowed to go back to their homeland and rebuild the temple (Ezra 6:15). During this time more prophets again challenged the Jews to be faithful to God. This is the end of the Old Testament.
During the time between the Old Testament and the New Testament, the region where the Jews lived was controlled first by the Greeks and then the Romans. The Romans appointed King Herod to rule over the province of Judea where many of the Jews were living. Jesus was born under Herod’s rule to a young virgin woman named Mary and her fiancé Joseph (Luke 2:1-21), who was a descendent of King David. At about the age of 30 he was baptised by John (Matthew 3:16) and began to announce that the kingdom of God was near. Jesus showed God’s love by doing many miracles of healing and provision. People began following him and he chose 12 of them to be his closest followers (disciples). Jesus challenged people to turn from their sin and to align themselves with God’s coming kingdom (Mark 1:15).
However, the religious leaders arrested him for claiming to be God’s chosen king and for rejecting their ritualistic implementation of God’s Law. Jesus was tried before Pilate and Herod and crucified (Matthew 27:33-38). On the third day he rose from the dead (Matthew 28:6). Jesus was God’s chosen king, the one through whom God would restore all human beings, and the whole world, to himself.
After he rose from the dead, Jesus appeared to many people over several weeks before he ascended to be with God the Father. Ten days later, the Holy Spirit was sent by God to the followers of Jesus (Acts 2:4). Many people believed in Jesus as God’s chosen king and joined the community of his followers, who soon became known as Christians (Acts 11:26). Missionaries like Paul travelled around the Roman world establishing churches and helping them grow by writing letters to them. The Bible ends with a prophetic letter, challenging Christians to give faithful witness to Jesus in a hostile society, even if it costs them their lives, and assuring them that God would complete his plan through Jesus to establish a new heaven and a new earth.
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