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Written by Dr Rowland S. Ward   
Tuesday, 24 June 2008 14:23

What God is on about

A quick overview of the Bible’s big picture

 

The People of God

God - Father, Son and Holy Spirit - created the world in his holy and loving purpose, with humans made to relate to him in love, and with a blessed future of eternal fellowship in view.


The tragedy in the beginning of our race is simply described in the Bible, but it is a profound reality. Wilful abuse of human freedom brings alienation from God and from others. That’s how it is now from the time we come into the world. Our nature is corrupted and individual sins grow out of it. God’s judgement is against us. Death and condemnation are our lot – apart from God reaching out to us in his power and love.


Only as we recognise how bad we are, that we deserve nothing, will we appreciate how good God is in providing the way back to himself in the Gospel of Christ, first announced in Genesis 3:15.



Abraham and the covenant promise

In the Old Testament we see God’s preparation for the coming of the Saviour. Around 2000 BC God called Abraham from the city of Ur of the Chaldeans. God promised to be his God, make him a great nation, give him the land of Canaan and bless the whole world through him. Abraham's descendants did indeed increase in number while they were living in Egypt. However, they still did not have a land of their own, and Pharaoh, King of Egypt made them slaves.


Moses, the exodus and the law

Through his servant Moses God led the Israelites out of Egypt. He gave them his law at Mt Sinai so that they might, in response to his mercy, live for his glory as a holy nation in the promised land of Canaan. As well as the Ten Commandments, God gave various rituals and laws of sacrifice to prepare the people for the promised Saviour.

 

David and the kingdom

Around 1000 BC God gave the Israelites a king called David and promised that one of his descendants would rule over God’s people forever (2 Samuel 7:12; Psalm 89:1-4). The temple built by Solomon, David’s son, replaced the earlier tabernacle (portable tent sanctuary). However, the immediate successors of David, whether good or bad, did not fulfil the promise.


The ten tribes in the north rejected David’s grandson (Rehoboam) and set up a rival kingdom with capital at Samaria. This kingdom went from bad to worse and was overthrown by the Assyrians in 722 BC, despite the ministry of prophets like Elijah.



 

The southern kingdom of Judah had some good and some bad kings. The prophet Isaiah announced that God would keep his promises by raising up one born of a virgin who would be called 'Immanuel', which means 'God with us', and that he would rule forever over the house of David for ever (Isaiah 7:14 compare 9:6-7). Isaiah also said Judah would go into captivity in Babylon. This occurred in several stages under king Nebuchadnezzar, particularly with the destruction of Jerusalem in 586 BC, when many were deported to Babylon.


The Babylonian Chronicle recording events of Nebuchadnezzar’s reign  The monument to Cyrus erected in Olympic Park, Sydney 1994 

 


Cyrus and another exodus

When Cyrus the Great conquered the Babylonian empire in 539 BC, he allowed the exiles in Babylon to return to Judah and rebuild the city and the temple. (It was completed in 516 BC, Ezra 6:15). In this Cyrus foreshadowed the Saviour and so he is called God’s Anointed or Messiah, although he was not a believer (Isaiah 45:1ff). However, the people of Judah had no king of their own, and were ruled by the Persians, then the Greeks and finally by the Romans. But God’s promise would not be broken.


Jesus, the true exodus and the royal law

When the time was right God sent his Son into the world. To his Divine person God’s Son took our nature, so that he is both God and man in two distinct natures and one person forever. Jesus came to fulfil the promises God had made, just as was the plan agreed in eternity between the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit.


A model of the temple at Jerusalem before its destruction by the Romans in AD 70



While even the best of God’s people in the past had failed in one way or another, Jesus did not fail in any way. He is the true Messiah and deliverer. In his life of full obedience, and in his death in the place of others, he met every obligation for those the Father had given him. The Father exalted him to the highest place by raising him from the dead. Jesus now appears in heaven for us as our great High Priest. He has been given ‘all authority in heaven and on earth.’ (Matthew 28:18-20). By his word and Spirit he gathers and leads his people.

 

Jesus delivers his people from the slavery of sin. Those who were spiritually dead God makes alive (Ephesians 2:1) uniting them to Christ through the Spirit. He sets them free so that they might now obey the royal law of love to God and neighbour out of a grateful heart because of his mercy. In every area of life they are to seek the glory of God.

 

Believers form a spiritual temple (Ephesians 2:20-21; 1 Peter 2:4-6). They are part of the city of God, the new Jerusalem which will come down from heaven to earth at the last day (Revelation 21). God’s good world remade as an everlasting home of righteousness will come (2 Peter 3:13), ‘and so we shall be with the Lord forever’ (1 Thessalonians 4:17). The goal of creation realised!


Israel and the Church

Jesus Christ has not only removed the alienation between God and man by his sacrifice, but also has abolished the division between Jews and Gentiles (Ephesians 2:14ff). The special laws and theocratic institutions of Israel fall away: they were just shadows of the reality which has come in Jesus.

 

Sign placed on the walls of the outer court of the temple at Jerusalem warning that the death penalty would follow if a Gentile entered the inner court.

 

The true Israel has always been the remnant within the nation with a faith like Abraham (Romans 9:6-7). Now believing Gentiles are joined with the true Israel in one body. There is thus a fundamental unity between believers in the old covenant time and believers today. When the full number of Jewish and Gentile converts are grafted in to God’s olive tree (Romans 11), Christ will return to climax history in the resurrection of the dead.

 

God wants his people of whatever background to live together in real community, and to be light to a world divided by hatreds and ethnic tensions. The church is to give people a glimpse of the future God is preparing when Christ comes to receive his bride.


The church so often does not live according to her calling in Christ. Jesus as Head of the church is forgotten, and our human ideas and thoughts are brought in instead. There are many people who have been hurt by churches. Cold formality and self-righteousness are hardly attractive, nor is superficial self-centred ‘froth and bubble’ worship and teaching ultimately satisfying. Similarly, the detailed supervision of people’s lives by church leaders found in some cultic-like groups, is contrary to the freedom we have in Christ, and the servant role of leaders. It is understandable that some stand back from even attending church or taking up church membership.


However, we cannot live as private Christians or forsake gathering together as some were criticised for doing in the apostles’ day (Hebrews 10:25). Church is family, and we must not let occasional small disagreements cause divisions. On the other hand, if the Head of the family is despised and his word rejected, we are in the wrong place, and it is not safe to stay there. Not all churches are true churches.


So go now to the article on Believing and Belonging to learn what we believe about the church.

Last Updated on Monday, 21 July 2008 11:04