Much of the Bible is written in narrative form. It tells a story – a true story, but a story nonetheless. There is a lot of information in the Bible to digest, and it’s easy to get lost in the details and miss the big picture. So how does one put it all together? What is the essence of the Biblical story? What is the basic story line from Genesis to Revelation? Various attempts have been to condense the major themes and events in the Bible into a coherent, terse story line. Here is my attempt to arrange the puzzle pieces into a clear picture, such as it is. I hope it will tie together some loose ends that may exist in your mind and offer you a bird’s-eye view of the greatest story ever told:
The Story of Christianity from Beginning to End
Before the universe existed, God existed alone – eternal and unchanging. But God desired to reveal His glory and share His love with creatures who could enjoy Him forever, so He created a universe to be inhabited by His greatest creation of all, humankind. Of all the things God made, only humans were made in God’s likeness. He endowed them with moral and rational capacities so they could have fellowship with Him and responsibly govern the new creation as His regents.
Humans were created perfect and sinless, but God gifted them with a will that was free to choose fellowship with their Creator or reject Him. Tragically, humans misused their free will to reject God’s loving rulership and moral authority, proclaiming themselves as the new sovereigns over the earth. Their act of defiance introduced evil, pain, suffering, and death into the human race, and broke the perfect fellowship they had with God. Evil polluted the human will, predisposing them toward evil rather than the good (a sin nature).
To justify their moral rebellion against God’s moral laws, many humans denied the existence of the moral law giver Himself, erecting false gods in His place whose rules are more to our liking. To address this human tendency, God provided all humans with subtle but striking reminders of His existence: God is revealed through the glory of His natural creation and the moral law written on our hearts (known as the conscience).
Most humans suppressed this knowledge of God, so evil continued to increase each generation until the world became so full of evil that God determined to destroy the human race by a flood. Noah and his family found grace in God’s sight, however, and were spared from death by an ark. Not long after, however, men rebelled against God again and returned to their evil and idolatrous ways. Rather than destroying humankind again, God determined to redeem us. He chose to do so through one faithful man: Abraham.
God promised Abraham a land to dwell in and numerous descendants, one of which would be the savior of mankind. Abraham’s descendants did grow, but became slaves in Egypt for 400 years. God miraculously delivered them from Egypt through the leadership of Moses, gave them a set of laws to obey, and led them to the land He promised Abraham. There, they grew into a mighty nation.
At about this time, God began to reveal Himself more explicitly and more fully by declaring His will to specific individuals whom He charged to pass the information on to others in written form. These written records of divine revelation have been collected in what we call the Bible. It includes vital information about God including His character, how He has acted in history to redeem mankind, how we ought to live, and His future plans for us.
While some people responded positively to this additional revelation from God, due to our sin nature, most rebelled against it just as they had rebelled against His more subtle revelation. God’s people living in God’s promised land continued to sin and worshipped false gods. After centuries of extending grace to this rebellious people, God allowed them to be defeated by foreign armies and carried away to foreign lands in hopes that they would repent.
Some of Abraham’s descendants did repent, and eventually returned to the land. It was clear, however, that even a written revelation from God was not sufficient to mend mankind’s relationship with God. An even greater revelation of God would be needed. It was time to reveal the ultimate descendent promised to Abraham: Jesus Christ.
Jesus was conceived by God in the womb of Mary, a virgin. He was no ordinary man or prophet, but God Himself in human existence – both fully God and fully man. Through the miracle of the incarnation, God Himself came to personally exist as and experience life as a genuine human being. While God had previously revealed Himself to humankind through creation, conscience, and sacred writings, now God could reveal Himself to us as one of us.
God became a human so He could reverse the damage humans wrought in the beginning and restore the fellowship we once enjoyed with God. Jesus’ mission was to pay the penalty for our moral rebellion – death – by dying on the cross, and then defeat death itself by rising again three days later.
The penalty for sin is death. We deserve death because we have sinned, but Jesus was sinless, and thus had no need to die. He chose to die on a cross, however, not to pay for His own sins, but to pay for ours. Because God was man, He could experience death. And because Jesus was divine, His sacrifice was of infinite value and thus sufficient to pay the sin debt of all human beings.
He did not stay dead, however. To confirm His divine identity and the truthfulness of His teachings, He rose again from the dead on the third day, overcoming death on behalf of all mankind, and securing eternal life. This historical event is the very basis for the Christian faith, and sets Jesus apart and above all other religious figures. Before Jesus ascended bodily into heaven, He promised to return to earth again one day and raise our bodies from the dead in the same way His body was raised from the dead. We will dwell with God in this renewed body in a renewed creation, enjoying fellowship with Him forever.
Until that time, however, He has commissioned us to tell everyone about the good news of His death and resurrection, and that through Him, we can be forgiven and enjoy eternal life with God. He has enabled us for the task by filling us with His Spirit, empowering us to preach Jesus’ message with boldness and confirm it with miraculous signs.
Left to ourselves, we have no hope. Death and eternal separation from God in hell is our just punishment for our sin. But Jesus brings hope. If we put our trust in Jesus (believing that He paid the penalty for our sins in His death and defeated death in His resurrection), and if we make a decision to submit to Christ’s moral authority, and if we identify with Jesus’ death and burial through water baptism, and if we receive the gift of His Holy Spirit, our fellowship with God will be restored and we will enjoy eternal life with Him.