reading the Bible

Biblical Illiteracy in the Church Today, Part 2

Last week we published part 1 of Dr. Carl Laney’s article, “Biblical Illiteracy in the Church Today.” This article was originally published in the Spring 2016 edition of “Western Magazine.”

The Kingdom Theme

One of the great themes of the Bible is the Kingdom of God. The Hebrew Scriptures predicted it; Jesus announced it; Paul wrote about it; and John envisioned it. This theme is highlighted in Psalm 10:16, “The Lord is king forever and ever!” The Bible teaches that God’s kingdom is eternal. Jeremiah declares, “But the Lord is the true God; He is the living God and the everlasting King” (Jer. 10:10). We also learn from Scripture that God’s kingdom is universal. The psalmist writes, “His sovereignty rules over all” (Psa. 103:19). Many texts of Scripture reveal that God possesses absolute authority and rules as the eternal King over all creation. The essential elements in the kingdom theme of Scripture are God’s people, in God’s place, under God’s rule.1

The Bible records that sometime in antiquity past, God’s universal kingdom was challenged by a created being known as “Satan” or “the Devil.” Scripture reveals very little about Satan’s fall, but his sin constituted an act of rebellion against the sovereign authority of God. At his fall, Satan instituted a counterfeit kingdom to parallel God’s kingdom and challenge His authority. Satan is a usurper, claiming kingship and seeking to exercise his authority over this earth. Paul refers to him as “the god of this age” (2 Cor. 4:4) and the “prince of the power of the air” (Eph. 2:2). Every ruler needs subjects and Satan is no different. In order to gain a following, Satan tempted the first human couple and successfully carried out his scheme to bring about their fall. The world, under Satan’s sway, stands in open rebellion against God.
A sovereign God cannot let His kingly authority be successfully challenged. To do so would indicate that the king is not really sovereign. So God established a plan to reclaim His kingdom and to reassert His sovereign authority on this earth—the place where it was challenged. We can trace the steps of God’s reclaiming His kingdom from Genesis through Revelation. A major junction in this journey occurred when John the Baptizer announced, “Repent, the kingdom of heaven is at hand” (Matt. 3:2). John introduced King Jesus to the people of Israel with the words, “Behold the Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world” (John 1:29). Although King Jesus was rejected by Israel, the Bible traces this narrative through to Revelation where we read of the return of the king and the establishment of His kingdom (Rev. 19–20). God is in the process of reclaiming His kingdom; this is the story of the Bible. The incidents that occur along the way are simply episodes of this great kingdom theme.

The Redemption Theme

The redemptive theme of Scripture is often more familiar. A central narrative of the great story of the Bible is God’s plan to redeem fallen humanity through the promised “seed,” the Messiah Jesus. Genesis records how God provided Adam and Eve with a lovely place where they could thrive and enjoy His blessing. There was just one prohibition, “From the tree of the knowledge of good and evil you shall not eat” (Gen. 3:17). God warned Adam that violation of this one command would result in death. Well, you know the story. Adam and Eve succumbed to temptation, disobeyed, and they and their descendants became subject to physical death and spiritual separation from God (Rom. 5:12). What a sad chapter in the story of the Bible. Yet because of His infinite grace and sacrificial love, God chose to redeem fallen humanity and provide a way of deliverance from the fate of spiritual death.
The narrative of redemption begins in Genesis 3:15 and continues through the pages of Scripture to the last chapter of Revelation where what Adam and Eve lost in Eden—the tree of life—is restored in the New Jerusalem (Rev. 22:2). And in every step along the way, the means of salvation is always by grace, through faith, based on blood. Abraham was saved by grace, through faith in the sacrifice that Jesus would make on the cross (Gen. 15:6, 22:8, John 1:29, Rom. 4:1–3). This is the same means of salvation presented by Paul (Eph. 1:7, 2:8–9).

The Judgment Theme

Having reclaimed His kingdom and redeemed fallen humanity, one might conclude that the story is over. But not quite; a holy God can’t ignore sin. Rebellion against God has deadly consequences. While God’s plan for salvation provides deliverance from this judgment, those who reject His provision are subjects of His wrath (Eph. 2:3). God’s judgment is presently and progressively taking place (John 3:18–19) and has an eschatological culmination.
Scripture tells of a future judgment on the first rebel and enemy of God’s people. Jesus spoke of the “eternal fire which has been prepared for the devil and his angels” (Matt. 25:41). The judgment on Satan began at the cross (John 12:31). His wicked activities are further restricted during the millennium (Rev. 20:2) after which he will be confined to the lake of fire forever (Rev. 20:10). His followers—those who have rejected Christ and His provision of salvation—will be raised and judged, joining Satan in the lake of fire after the millennium. The final judgment will involve the purging of the earth to remove the effects of sin and fall in preparation for the New Heavens and Earth (Isa. 65:17–25, 2 Pet. 3:10).

Conclusion

The Bible is more than a collection of thrilling stories or a library of inspired books. The Bible is one book that tells one great story of how God has reached out from eternity into time to give us a place in His story. As you read the Bible, look for the themes that reflect and propel this story. Like a sparkling diamond, the story of the Bible has many facets. But it is one story! It is the story of a great king who offers His love and forgiveness to a sin alienated people. It is the story of the end of a curse and the restoration of blessing.

 

Endnotes

  1. Graeme Goldsworthy, “Gospel and Kingdom: A Christian Interpretation of the Old Testament,” Exeter: The Paternoster Press, 1981.

About J. Carl Laney

J. Carl Laney teaches Biblical Literature at Western Seminary and is an instructor for Western's Israel Study Program. Carl has authored numerous books, including most recently, “Discipleship: Training from the Master Disciple Maker” (2018).