In the preface to the ESV Story of Redemption Bible, Greg Gilbert says:
It is no exaggeration to say that the Bible is the most sweeping and engrossing and enthralling epic ever written. It spans the entire history of humanity, from Adam’s first breath in the garden of Eden to the final song of the redeemed in eternity.
It tells of kings crowned and deposed, nations created and destroyed, dynasties raised up and brought to the ground. Armies clash, cities rise and fall, priests sing and sacrifice, and prophets point to the future.
And through it all—through the triumphs, the defeats, the rejoicing and weeping of ordinary men and women—God is carrying out, step by step, his mind-blowing plan to save mankind from destruction.
Follow the timeline below to read about how God redeemed mankind through Jesus.
- The Fall
- Flood/Rescue of Noah
- Era of Patriarchs
- Israel in Egypt
- Exodus Wilderness Wanderings
- Conquest Era of Judges
- United Monarchy: Saul, David, Solomon
- Divided Monarchy: Israel and Judah
- Fall of Israel
- Fall and Exile of Judah
- Exiles Begin to Return/Rebuild
- Intertestamental Period
- Birth of Christ
- Ministry of Christ
- Death/Resurrection/Ascension of Christ
- Early Apostolic Era
- Death of John, End of NT Era
- Christ’s Return
- New Heavens and a New Earth
The whole history of the universe begins right here in the book known as Genesis. The word genesis literally means “origin” or “beginning.” The Bible begins with the assertion that everything in the universe had its beginning with God. In fact, the very first sentence asserts in no uncertain terms, “In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth.” It is not as if God simply gave order to some kind of material that already existed in a chaotic form. No, what you see in the first chapter is that he created the universe out of nothing. He simply called things into being, and they were. Right from the very beginning, the Bible plants its flag: This is no mere tribal god or who can be safely ignored. This is the Almighty Creator, the Sovereign God of all the universe.
—Genesis 3: 6-7
Satan’s strategy is insidiously brilliant. He approaches Eve by asking her a question, trying to get her to doubt God’s goodness and care for her. “Did God actually say, ‘You shall not eat of any tree in the garden’?” he asks. Of course, God had said no such thing! In fact, he had told Adam and Eve in Genesis 2:16 that they could from every tree in the garden except one. Satan’s strategy is to get Eve to start thinking of God as stingy, selfish, and unloving.
Sadly, it worked. Adam and Eve disobey God, cast off his authority, and throw themselves and the world into open rebellion by their sin, blame-shifting when God shows up and asks them what they have done. And just as God had warned them, the results are catastrophic as the High King begins to pronounce sentence against the rebels, beginning with Satan himself.
This is a huge occasion. God reestablishes his covenant with Noah as the new representative of mankind. Humanity is to have a new start. God even promises that he will never again destroy the world with a flood, giving Noah a sign to remind him of that promise—a bow in the heavens whose arrow would be pointed not at the earth but into heaven itself, at God’s own heart. The true importance of that symbol will not become clear for a long time, but with some hindsight it is clear: the judgement humanity deserves for sin will finally one day be fired into the heart of God himself.
These are some of the most important verses in the entire Bible, as we will see this promise of God show up again and again. God promises Abram that he will make him a great nation and that ultimately all the families of the earth will be blessed because of him. Exactly what this means is not clear, but it is undeniably good news. What fallen humanity deserves is judgment and wrath, but what God promises is blessing.
The eternal Word of God, the Son of God himself, has once and for all come to dwell—that is, to “tabernacle”—among sinful human beings.
Ultimately, the reason God rescues his people from Egypt is so that the whole world may know that he is God alone. It is not accident that it is Egypt who has held the Israelites captive. Egypt is at this time the most powerful nation on the earth, and the assumption therefore would be that her gods are the most powerful, including the incarnate god Pharaoh himself. What we see in Exodus, then, is God’s declaration of war against all of the false gods of Egypt. One by one he defeats and humiliates each of them, including Pharaoh himself, and proves that he and he alone is to be worshipped.
So the victory is won, and it is total. The people of Israel are free, Egypt is utterly defeated, and just as God promised earlier, Israel has even plundered the Egyptians as they left. But it is not time for celebration just yet. God takes steps to make sure his people will never forget, from generation to generation, what he has done to save them.
This is the pattern we see recurring in [the book of Judges] again and again. Israel sins, God hands them over to oppression by their enemies, Israel repents and cries out to God, and God raises up a judge (that is, a leader, usually a military one) to rescue them, but after a period of victory Israel falls again into sin and idolatry. Again and again, around and around, this is the downward spiraling pattern of the book, and with each cycle the people find themselves at a darker and more awful level of depravity.
—1 Samuel 13:13–14
The kingdom will be stripped from Saul and given to another. And why? Because Saul is precisely the kind of king the people thought they wanted—one who looked the part—and yet his heart is far from God, and desires to reign independently of God’s authority. It is worth noticing that Saul’s ill-fated reign is a strange kind of grace that God shows his people. After all, he could have simply rejected their foolish demand for a “king to judge us like all the nations.” Or he could have let Saul’s selfish, godless reign end in the destruction of the nation. Instead, God uses Saul’s kingship to teach the people what a king should really be and to prepare them for the coming of a king after his own heart.
—2 Kings 17:6
This judgment has been a long time coming for the northern kingdom of Israel King after king has disobeyed the Lord’s word, worshipped idols even to the point of sacrificing their own children, and led the entire nation into the same kinds of sin This—the author of Kings wants us to know—is why this judgment fails.
The Assyrian conquest of Israel is total. Not content to simply retain the kingdom as a vassal state, Assyria deports the people and resettles the land on their own. Unsurprisingly, the Assyrians in the lands of Israel never adopt the exclusive worship of the one true God but rather continue worshipping their own false gods alongside him.
Through all of this, the question begins to arise, “What about Assyria’s own idolatry?” Yes, God uses them as his instrument of judgment against Israel, but will they themselves not fall under judgment for their wickedness? That is the question asked by one of the most famous prophets in the Bible, Jonah.
—2 Kings 25: 21
There is nothing here but devastation. The temple is destroyed, its implements and tools carried off as trophies to Babylon. The rich and powerful of the land have been carried into exile in Babylon, and even the left-behind poor flee en masse to Egypt, so that the land is empty. The royal palace is burned, Jehoiachin is taken to Babylon to die, and worst of all, the last king in the line of David watches as his sons are slaughtered before him. Then his eyes are put out so that the last thing he ever sees is the death of his line, the end of the dynasty of David, and therefore the failure of God’s promises, or so it seems.
Ezra and Nehemiah were originally combined as one book and intended to be read as a single narrative. Together they tell the story of the returned exiles—how they strive to reestablish the capital city of Jerusalem, rebuild and purify its temple, and raise its wall from ruin. At every step of the way, though, they face difficulty not only from the outside but also from their own sin, fear, and lethargy. Theologically, the books make a couple of important points. First and most immediately, they show how God is sovereignly orchestrating these events to help the exiles accomplish their goals. But there is another point, too, at a deeper level: although the exiles do in fact rebuild the temple and the city walls, and although God is with them in those endeavors, this is not the glorious restoration for which many of them might have hoped after listening to the prophets. At the end of the book of Ezra, the temple is small and unremarkable, the nation remains under the thumb of a foreign power, and the people are plainly still subject to all the temptations toward sin that resulted in their exile in the first place.
From the very first chapters of Genesis, the whole story of the Bible—from the expulsion of Adam and Eve from the garden, to the presence of God in the tabernacle, to the dramatic departure of God’s presence from the temple, to the disappointed hopes of the people as they stared at the second temple and waited for God to fill it again—has resolved around the question of how a righteous and holy God could live among sinful people. Even more, the answer the prophets gave to that question, with increasing clarity, was that somehow God would one day not just send Israel a king but would actually be her king. Here John takes up all of these threads of Old Testament hope and brings them together. The eternal Word of God, the Son of God himself, has once and for all come to dwell—that is, to “tabernacle”—among sinful human beings. All the promises, expectations, and hopes of the Old Testament, John says, are finally coming to fruition.
Jesus performed miracles throughout chapter 9. Jesus here points John to the Old Testament prophecies about the Messiah and to his own miracles in order to say, “Yes, I am the one.”
John could not be more straightforward about his reasons for writing this book. He wants his readers—he wants us—to believe that Jesus is the Christ, the King, the Son of God, the Suffering Servant. He wants us to have eternal life through the work Jesus has done on our behalf. To read a book like this is to be brought to a point of stark decision. Do we believe in Jesus or not? Do we believe he is who he claims to be? Do we believe he died as a sacrifice so that sinners might be forgiven of their sin? Do we believe he rose from the dead? These are questions we cannot simply ignore or avoid. Why? Because to ignore the question is to answer it—it is to admit that we now know of Jesus, we think it is safe to turn away and do nothing.
The disciples still do not quite understand the full universal implications of what Jesus accomplished through his life, death, and resurrection from the dead. The great promise of the gospel—the “good news”—was not just that the Messiah would restore the kingdom of God to Israel but also that the kingdom would be offered to all of the nations of the world. So Jesus tells the disciples that, yes, they will be his witnesses in Jerusalem and Judea, but also in Samaria and even to the end of the earth. This reality—that through Jesus even the Gentiles will reap the benefits of God’s promises to Israel—will become a critical point of tension throughout the rest of the story.
Jesus’ words here also provide a high-level structure for the whole story of Acts. The places Jesus mentions here are, roughly speaking, a set of concentric, widening circles—that is, from the city of Jerusalem to the region of Judea, across a hostile border into Samaria, and then to the very end of the earth. The whole story of Acts is really the story of the gospel breaking into each of those circles until at the end it has reached the very pinnacle of Roman society, the city of Rome itself, and Paul the missionary seems to have every intention of preaching even in Spain—which was, to the Roman mind, the “end of the earth.”
Jesus reveals these things to the apostle John, who in turn reveals them to Jesus’ people. John writes in about AD 95, during the reign of the Emperor Domitian, who has launched a general persecution of Christians. During this time, John himself has been exiled to the prison island of Patmos because of his preaching about Jesus.
The picture painted here is nothing short of glorious. It is a restoration of Eden, but it is also so much more. Now the tree of life is not one tree but a whole orchard giving its fruit to all the nations of the world. And even more, the people of God do not merely walk with God in the garden; they see his face, and his name is on their foreheads, sealing them as his people forever and ever.
For a hard-pressed and persecuted people, this is a vision of enormous hope and strength, and John underlines it again in the last verses of his book. Jesus has promised to come again and rescue his people, and he will not fail to keep that promise.
Chapters 21-22 are the final great vision of the book of Revelation, and they ambiguously catapult us into the future, to the time after the final judgment when the earth and heaven itself are remade and Christ is all in all. The symbolism is rich, and we will recognize much of it from the Old Testament prophets. All of it points to the absolute security and unending joy of God’s people.
This article is adapted from the ESV Story of Redemption Bible with commentary by Greg Gilbert.
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