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Understanding the Big Picture of the Bible

How can a person make sense of the Bible? After all, it was composed by some forty authors at different times in different countries, and it covers thousands of years. What is it trying to say? What’s the story? What is God doing with humanity?

Many people who look to the Bible for answers become confused by it because they see only disconnected pieces. They know a story here, a verse there. And they don’t know how all the pieces fit together. It’s as if they had ten, twenty, or fifty pieces of a thousand-piece jigsaw puzzle and were trying to make sense of it. The Bible, like much of life, is just another puzzle that can’t be solved.

I believe there is a solution, and it is similar to solving a jigsaw puzzle. It starts with having the whole picture of what you’re trying to put together. If you were given a thousand-piece puzzle, how would you put it together without the picture of the finished puzzle on the box top? If you didn’t have any idea of what the complete picture looks like, it would be difficult, if not impossible, to put it together.

The Big Picture of What God is Doing in this World

The Bible does have a single big picture, a context into which everything fits. Though the Bible consists of many pieces, all of those pieces tell one story—God’s big story of interaction with us, the human race. It is the big picture of what God is doing in this world. It’s the story of not only all the people who have come before us, it is also our story, and the story of everyone who will come after us. It tells what God is doing on earth, and once you see it, you’ll wonder why you had never noticed it before.

God’s Big Story will enable you to make sense of how you got here, why you are here, and where you are going. It communicates that God put you here on purpose and for a purpose. It’s one storyline that threads from the beginning (from Genesis, the first book of the Bible) to the end (to Revelation, the last book of the Bible). And it will help you to make sense of all the pieces.

The entirety of the Bible’s big story can be summarized in a mirror-image drawing that looks like an isosceles triangle with a vertical line dividing it in half. The story has two main parts, and there are five major events in each half. The events on the left-hand side of the mirror image occur in the Old Testament. The events on the right-hand side occur in the New Testament and parallel the five Old  Testament events. The remarkable symmetry of these events is no accident, and they point to the person at the apex of the triangle: Jesus Christ. Altogether, the mirror image encompasses the entire story  of humankind, and when you see it laid out, all of our history makes sense.

The left side line going up contains the first half of the story of humanity from the beginning of creation to Jesus. The events occur in the Old Testament. Another word for testament is contract. The left side of the mirror image tells the story of the contract God draws up with humankind through a man named Abraham. His descendants eventually became the nation of Israel.

The right side going down contains the second half of humanity’s story, from Jesus  to the end of the world. These events can be found in the New Testament, which describes the story of the new contract God offers through Jesus. This contract is offered by God to everyone on earth.

To understand the big picture, you need to understand both the Old and New Testaments. I’m no lawyer, but if I were reading a contract, and it kept referring to the previous contract it replaced, I would want to read that older contract, wouldn’t you? Likewise, when trying to understand the Bible, you need to understand the old contract for the new contract to make sense.

In the Bible, the old contract sets up the new contract, and everything in the old contract points to the need for Jesus and for his arrival. Everything in the new contract points to what God did before, making the new contract possible.

Old Testament Times

If you look at the mirror image, you see that the Old Testament starts with God creating the heavens and earth along with righteous people without sin or guilt, whom God places with him in the Garden of Eden. That’s the first major event in Scripture. The next major event occurs when Satan and sin enter the world, turning people against God. When God has had enough of seeing people harm one another and dishonor him, the third major event occurs: God destroys the world by flood.

The good news is that people bounce back; the bad news is that they return to their wicked ways. All of humankind works together in a unified effort to build the Tower of Babel in their desire to elevate themselves and declare their self- sufficiency away from God. Their actions precipitate the fourth major event: God confuses people’s languages, and he scatters them across the earth.

Fortunately, God’s love for people will not be thwarted, and he chooses to make a contract with Abraham. God promises Abraham that he will have many descendants, including the Messiah, who will provide all of humankind with a way back to him. Abraham’s descendants become the twelve tribes that make up the nation of Israel, and the rest of the Old Testament recounts their story.

New Testament Times

The turning point in God’s big story is Jesus, the promised Messiah. This is the event upon which all of mankind’s history with God hinges. That’s why his arrival is the apex of the mirror image triangle. Jesus is God in human flesh, and he offers mankind a new contract and fulfills God’s part in it. That is the start of the New Testament.

Jesus’s most trusted followers are the twelve disciples. These men in the New Testament parallel the twelve tribes of Israel in the Old Testament. Just as the twelve tribes found Israel, the twelve disciples found the church. Most of the New Testament tells the story of beginning of the era of the church. You and I are currently living in this era.

The remainder of God’s big story with humankind is still in the future and is described in the last book of the Bible, Revelation. The events unfold in reverse order to the major events in the Old Testament. The people of the world will again unite. They will form a one-world government. After that God will again cause the destruction of the world, this time by fire instead of flood. Just as Satan entered the world bringing sin with him, he will be forced to exit the world along with sin, once and for all. And the story ends with people with God in paradise once again.

Life to the Full

Why is it important to understand the big story contained in the mirror image? Because understanding Scripture is the starting point for real maturity. Growth in Christ and the full life Jesus promises in John 10:10 come as the result of engaging three areas:

The mind, which grows in maturity with biblical knowledge;
The heart, which grows in maturity with spiritual intimacy; and
The will, which grows in maturity with holy obedience.

Understanding the context of God’s big story helps you to better understand everything you read in the Bible. Understanding the Bible helps facilitate spiritual intimacy with God, and that heart engagement with God inspires our willingness to obey him.

If we neglect any of these three areas, we will not become spiritually mature. If we elevate one at the expense of the other two, we develop blind spots that hinder our life in Christ, because:

Biblical knowledge without spiritual intimacy and holy obedience becomes intellectualism.
Spiritual intimacy without biblical knowledge and holy obedience becomes emotionalism.
Holy obedience without biblical knowledge and spiritual intimacy becomes legalism

With an ever-growing knowledge of God’s Word, you will begin to understand him more. Your desire and ability to experience spiritual intimacy with him will grow. And your desire to obey what he is asking of you will increase. So will your ability to follow through. As these things happen, you will grow in spiritual maturity, and your life will begin to change for the better. And so will your ability to help and serve others.

By Kevin A. Myers. Drawn from the NIV Maxwell Leadership Bible.


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