THE BIBLE AIN’T A BUNCH OF DISCONNECTED TALES
*Note: This is an excerpt from an extra chapter of Reintroducing Jesus—"Okay, Boomer (Part 2) Does Jesus Fulfill Old Testament Prophecy?"—posted elsewhere on this site. It's helpful info to know, so I wanted to make it available without reading the longer post.
When I taught high school English, a big idea I tried to get across to my students was that the key to understanding any writing is understanding it in context. Before we can understand Jesus, we first need to understand the big story of the Bible.
When I was growing up, my mom brought us to Sunday School. I learned all the standard Bible tales taught to kids: Adam and Eve, Noah’s ark, Joseph and his colorful coat, David versus the massive Goliath, the mighty Samson, Jonah and the whale (or was it a big fish?), and of course, Jesus and his miracles. Yet, I never learned how they were all connected. I never learned the big story of the Bible—the grand narrative.
Similarly, I’ve met adults who have left the church who will criticize the Bible in one way or another, yet I find they have a poor understanding of it because they never got past a child’s Sunday School understanding of the Bible.
First, let me point out that these stories aren’t children’s stories! The Bible contains accounts involving beheadings, mass death, rape, human trafficking, as well as one instance of a tent spike being hammered through a human head. Much of the Bible is closer to Game of Thrones than any G-rated Disney classic. For instance, think about all the coloring books and children’s playsets portraying Noah’s ark as an adorable floating zoo. Now, consider the actual story. It’s about humankind’s utter depravity and God’s justice, where God uses water to wipe out much of life on earth. Bloated carcasses would’ve been floating in the water surrounding Noah’s merry ark! Despite your Sunday School teacher’s best efforts, the Bible isn’t a collection of children’s fables.
Secondly, in Sunday School, I was never taught the big picture of the Bible. All of these stories were presented as stand-alone tales; I saw no connection between them other than God being somehow involved. But once you understand the grand narrative—the ongoing story running from Genesis to Revelation—things make much more sense. The Bible isn’t a collection of disconnected morality tales. To put it another way, the Bible isn’t a bunch of stand-alone mini-movies, but instead an extended TV series with several seasons.
Many theologians break the overall story of the Bible into four major eras. Christians believe these define all of history from the beginning of time to the present, as well as the future. These four eras are marked by four key events:
Creation – Fall – Redemption – Restoration
Here’s the super-quick breakdown:
Creation – God created all things and created them good.
Fall – But mankind fell into sin by rebelling against God, plunging the creation into chaos.
Redemption – Then, Jesus came and died on the cross for humankind’s sin to redeem everyone who puts their trust in him.
Restoration – Finally, Jesus will return at a future date to restore all of creation.
Yet, man and woman—because they were given freewill (which is also good and essential for being an image-bearer of God)—did something bad. Man and woman rebelled against God; they sinned (Genesis 3). When sin entered creation, this is called the Fall. In short, “sin” is Christianese for evil, but sin isn’t just immorality. There is a relational aspect to it; “sin” stresses that this immorality damages our relationship with God. Sin is not only disobedience of God, but also living out of whack with God’s purposes for creating us. The Greek word for sin captures this idea because it means “to miss the mark”—as an archer missing his target. Our sin forever alienates us from our good, holy Creator.
A lot of bad things were introduced into the world by those appointed to be God’s representatives. This includes not just moral evil, but also natural suffering like droughts, tsunamis, coronavirus, and death. The actions of God’s image-bearers are so closely linked to creation, their moral corruption warped the physical creation as well. Because of the Fall, all of creation is corrupted by sin.
Now, some will protest, saying, The consequences for the first man and woman disobeying God are too extreme! God gave them one little, silly command—not to eat from a certain tree—and all Adam and Eve did was disobey it once! But, I believe, that’s exactly the point. God gave the first man and woman everything, and everything he gave them was good. But he also gave them one little rule, and they couldn’t even follow that. Let me point out, the oldest son of the first man and woman became the first murderer (Genesis 4:8). People often mock slippery slope arguments, but the message of the earliest chapters of the Bible is clear: once we turn from God, the slope is slick.
All of creation was affected by the Fall, and death and suffering were introduced into God’s good creation. The apostle Paul writes that all people sin and “fall short of the glory of God” (Romans 3:23). So, sinful humankind is separated from our perfectly good Creator. With this, the “whole of creation” is in “bondage to corruption” and groaning under the weight of this fracture from God (Romans 8:20–21). Because of this, humanity will never find rest or satisfaction, because how we choose to live isn’t how God created us to be. In other words, we’re all lousy archers who miss the mark.
This is why only someone who’s both God and man could win the Redemption of humanity and heal this fracture. The New Testament teaches that Jesus of Nazareth was fully God and fully man. He perfectly obeyed God the Father, never missing the mark, and therefore he was undeserving of any punishment. Yet, he willingly faced torture and execution on the cross to heal the broken relationship between God and humankind. In the Redemption, Jesus won forgiveness for those who will put their trust in him and follow him. They’ll no longer be separated from God in this life or the next.
Finally, Jesus’ mission wasn’t just to save individuals from the consequences of their rebellion, but the full Restoration of all of God’s creation. So, he’ll return at a future date to finish what he started. This is often referred to as his Second Coming. When he returns, all people will be judged for the wrongs they’ve done, and those who have not trusted Jesus for the redemption of their sin will be separated from God’s people. Those who are his people will remain forever with him in the new creation.
So there you have it—the mega-narrative of the Bible. Now, to be clear, I don’t have a problem with any of that, but I do think we can improve on it.
TWEAKING THE TIMELINE: “COMPLETION”
First, I would tweak the Restoration part. Biblically, I think the Restoration isn’t wholly a future event, but also a present event. The Restoration began the moment Jesus died on the cross. The Redemption of sins is the first critical step in restoring creation, and Jesus’ resurrection from the dead was the “firstfruits” of the Restoration (1 Corinthians 15:23). Jesus’ resurrection was the first of what is to come: the resurrection of the dead to life, as well as the resuscitation of all of the fallen creation.
As the good news of the Redemption spreads throughout the world, Jesus’ followers—empowered by the Holy Spirit—are taking an active part in the Restoration of creation. Jesus’ followers are called to be part of the solution of healing this fallen world.
Yet, Jesus’ followers will never succeed on their own. Jesus will return and complete this work, where he’ll put an end to evil, sickness, and death and usher in a new era where his people will live for eternity with him. This is what I call the Completion, because all of Jesus’ work of Redemption and Restoration will be finished.
So, I propose this revision:
Creation – Fall – Redemption – Restoration – Completion
So, according to my version of the timeline, we are living between the Redemption and the Completion in the era of Restoration.
How successful God’s people will be in restoring creation before Jesus’ return is up for debate. If you tend to be a pessimist when it comes to humanity, your hope is that Jesus will return sooner rather than later! Yet, some Christian schools of thought have a more hopeful optimism of what Jesus’ people will accomplish.
Regardless, Christians must remember that this is also the era of the Holy Spirit (John 14:26; 15:26; 16:7–15; Acts 1:4–8; 2:1–12). This is the time when the Holy Spirit is doing his primary work, so Jesus’ people must depend on him to accomplish their work.
The phrase Already/Not Yet is often used to speak of the period we currently live in. Jesus has already started the Restoration, but the Completion of the Restoration has not yet arrived.
TWEAKING THE TIMELINE: “PREPARATION”
But, wait! There’s more!
Really, my big issue with the Creation–Fall–Redemption–Restoration model is this: The Creation and Fall take place in the first three chapters of the Bible, and the Redemption doesn’t take place until the Gospels of the New Testament. What are we missing? Almost the entire Old Testament! If we jump from Fall to Redemption, then what’s the purpose of the vast majority of the Old Testament? Does it hold any significance? Can we just skip it? I don’t think so.
I call all of the Old Testament after the Fall the Preparation because that’s exactly what it is. Preparation for what? The Redemption. So, this is what I propose:
Creation – Fall – Preparation – Redemption – Restoration – Completion
(Or to illustrate it another way...)
The vast majority of the Old Testament (covering over 2,000 years of history) is preparing the world for the coming of the Messiah, the Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, and his redemptive work.
So, this is the grand narrative of the Bible. Knowing this information is important because it helps with interpretation and understanding when reading your Bible. It also moves us past a child's understanding of the Bible into the study of mature biblical theology.