The Bible is the true story of all that exists, from first creation to new creation. It shows us who God is, what He likes and dislikes, what He thinks and feels, and what He plans and does, by telling how He interacts with people and events in the past, the present and the future.
And our lives – our personal stories – are redeemed from insignificance and futility by being reattached to God's big story and His strategic plan for the renewal of the world and the implementation of His permanent reign of justice, peace and joy.
The biblical story is an enthralling, but long and complicated, epic with numerous twists, turns and sub-plots. This bird's-eye view of its main 'plot line' should help you to see the big picture and keep the sub-plots – many of the Bible stories you already know – in the context of God's overall redemptive plan and action. All smaller stories gain significance through being in connection with – and sometimes in tension with – the overarching narrative or 'plot line' of biblical history.
Jesus is the hub and the climax of that history. Without the Old Testament we cannot really understand Jesus. We need the entire Old Testament story in order to clearly see who Jesus is.
At the heart of the Bible's epic story are five major covenants – solemn pledges, usually sealed in blood (death) – by which God expresses His loving commitment to save the world He has made.
They are called the 'covenants of promise' in Ephesians 2:12, and they are referred to over forty times in the New Testament simply as the 'promise' (eg Acts 26:6). These covenants are part of the Bible's five main stories which help us to grasp and interpret the Bible's 'plot':
1. The Flood story: the Noahic Covenant preserves the earth for God's future redemption.
2. The story of Abraham: the Abrahamic Covenant sets in motion the promise-plan of God by guaranteeing a people, located at the crossroads of the world, through whom God will bless all nations.
3. The Exodus from Egypt: the Mosaic Covenant creates God's covenant 'son' Israel, to enlighten the world.
4. The Kingdom established: the Davidic Covenant guarantees a dynasty, a throne and a kingdom that will last forever (called a covenant in Psalm 89:3–4).
5. The story of Jesus: the New Covenant brings God's promise-plan to fulfilment.
These five covenant stories carry the main narrative forward to its intended conclusion. There is a cumulative effect as each of these major stories gathers up and enlarges upon earlier ones, and every covenantal connection eventually leads to Jesus. The first four 'covenants of promise' point the way to – and climax in – Jesus the Messiah (King) and His New Covenant which fulfils the promises and expectations of the previous four covenants.
It also becomes the launch pad for worldwide blessing and the eventual renewal of creation, the final Kingdom (reign) of God.
Where the action is
The events of the Old Testament can be summarised as the birth, death and resurrection of Israel, the people of God. Israel develops from being a family, to a tribe, to a people (in Egypt) to a nation (under Moses), and finally to being a kingdom (under David).
God's unfolding plan and covenantal promises then narrow to concentrate in the person of the king and the capital city of Jerusalem, where God's Temple was located.
The kings of Israel (and their subjects) repeatedly broke God's covenant, and eventually God punished the nation – first with the splitting of the kingdom into two kingdoms, then the destruction of both kingdoms, culminating in deportation (exile) to a foreign land (2 Chronicles 36:14–21).
Some Jews eventually returned to Jerusalem and rebuilt the Temple, but the Jews never saw the Davidic kingdom restored. Thus the condition of 'exile' persisted long after the return to the promised land, and at the time of Christ (Messiah), the Jews were still exiles, 'sheep without a shepherd', awaiting a new king and a new covenant.
That previous national history was re-enacted by the Messiah who is both a new Moses and a new David. As God's Son-King, He redefines Israel, expounds the spirit of Israel's Law, rescinds its dietary restrictions (Mark 7:19) and expands the boundaries of the covenant to include the marginalised and (eventually) the Gentiles. He also gathers Israel around Himself, appointing twelve new leaders (His disciples) and He reconstitutes Israel in Himself.
In a startling reversal of the usual covenantal arrangements, the covenant maker (God, in Christ) dies for the covenant breaker (Israel). Jesus' Messianic claims to son-kingship are vindicated through His resurrection (Romans 1:4). He then ascends to heaven where He is enthroned as King of all kings and Lord of all lords.
Jesus' New Covenant 'in His blood' is an individual covenant, not an ethnic or national one. It bestows on Jesus' loyal subjects forgiveness of sins, spiritual regeneration, eternal life and even adoption. It will ultimately lead to a whole new creation (Isaiah 65:17).
It is sealed by the gift of the promised Holy Spirit (Acts 2:33; Ephesians 1:13) who restores the image of God in humankind, sharing with them God's own nature (2 Peter 1:4), empowering them to obey the royal law of love (James 2:8) and preparing them to reign with Messiah.
Forgiven and filled with God's Spirit, the members of the New Covenant community become participants in, and examples of, the coming new creation. They expand Messiah's realm by announcing the good news (1 Corinthians 15:3–8) as they await His return from heaven (1 Thessalonians 1:10) and the public revelation and manifestation of His kingdom (Revelation 1:7) which ultimately ushers in a whole new creation (Isaiah 65:17; Revelation 21:1–5) where humanity lives in the immediate presence of God.