Five Big Picture Themes In The Bible [with audio]
Key Bible Verse
Five Big Picture Themes In The Bible
‘So shall My word be that goes forth from My mouth;
It shall not return to Me void (empty),
But it shall accomplish what I please,
And it shall prosper in the thing ( or purpose) for which I sent it.’
In our previous conversation, we dealt with humankind’s initial closeness with God, the advent of sin and the separation. Following this, we discussed God’s plan for our restoration into a peaceful co-existence with Himself through the work of Jesus Christ at Calvary.
Job, we observed, made an incredible, prophetic statement. He called for an arbitrator—a special type of person who can bridge the chasm of alienation between God and humankind. We also understood that God had preordained His Son, Jesus Christ, to be the ultimate sacrifice for human sins, even before creation. (Revelation 13:8b)
Bible Reading and Meditation
Bible reading can often be confusing when narratives or teachings do not relate to the intended or appropriate context. Random superficial scanning of Scripture further exacerbates the lack of understanding, often leading to spiritual lethargy and, eventually, spiritual entropy.
On Bible reading, I always recall my mentor, the late Pastor Alfred Burman, who taught that we need to read with our eyes and ears—always listening for the Spirit’s prompting. Alfred would often appeal to the congregation to read with their hearts and not only with their heads. Little wonder the Psalmist wrote: ‘Your word I have hidden in my heart, That I might not sin against You.’ (Psalm 119:11). Effectively implying, “The word of God when stored up in the human heart acts as a strong antidote for sin.” (Motyer: 1994:567)
Israel, by far and large, ignored God’s righteous commandments. Leading God to make the following pronouncement through the Prophet Jeremiah:
9 ‘The human heart is the most deceitful of all things and desperately wicked. Who really knows how bad it is? (Jeremiah 17:9) (NLT)
Notwithstanding God’s displeasure with the wickedness of the human heart, His goodness echoes in the following text:
“Listen to what the Lord says:
‘Stop at the crossroads and look around.
Ask for the old, godly way, and walk in it.
Travel its path, and you will find rest for your souls.’
But you reply, ‘No, that’s not the road we want!”
(Jeremiah 6:16) (NLT)
How disappointing when God directed his favoured people (once referred to as the apple of God’s eye) to a godly, narrow, ancient pathway. They rejected it! Judah deserved her destruction! One could almost say, with contempt.
But what of us today? Which path have we chosen? Have we also shamefully rejected the ancient foot-path, God in his goodness and providence beat out for our sole benefit?
God, through his word, implores you and me today:
“Stop at the crossroads and look around. Ask for the old, godly way, and walk in it.
(Jeremiah 6:16a) (NLT)
Jesus made an essential point on reading and hearing the Bible; He was concerned about what we listen to and how we listen. He made the following remarks:
- Then He said to them, “Pay close attention to what you hear. The closer you listen, the more understanding you will be given and you will receive even more.” (Mark 4:24a) (NLT)
- “So pay attention to how you hear. To those who listen to my teaching, more understanding will be given. But for those who are not listening, even what they think they understand will be taken away from them.” (Luke 8:18a) (NLT)
People who listen to the truth of God’s word will not be misled or deceived. The effort or intensity a person devotes will determine whether understanding grows or diminishes. That is why Scripture encourages all followers of Jesus Christ to search (John 5:39, Acts 17:11) and meditate on it day and night (Joshua 1:8a; Psalm 1:2b) and delight in doing so (Psalm 1:2a). More importantly, every Bible reader must try their best to “observe to do according to all that is written in it. For then you will make your way prosperous, and then you will have good success.” (Joshua 1:8b)
Five Big Themes in the Bible
John Beck(a) outlines five big picture themes that every person should familiarise themselves with to read and understand the Bible better.
- There is Only One God
- God is Holy, and He Demands that We be Holy
- God has a Plan to Restore Us to Holiness
- God wants Us to Enjoy Successful Lives on Earth
- God Has a Plan for Our Eternal Happiness
1] There Is Only One God
First, we need to understand the cultural environment in which all forty authors of the Old and New Testaments lived. These cultures traditionally had many gods, one for every convenience. In such an environment, the Prophet Moses wrote, “In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth.” (Genesis 1:1)
Moses did not mention any other deity because none existed, at that time, to participate in the creation process but only the ‘One God’.
It is this ‘One God’ who wrote with His finger on clay tablets:
‘You must not have any other god but me.’
‘You must not make for yourself an idol of any kind. Or an image of anything in the heavens or on the earth or in the sea.’
‘You must not bow down to them or worship them.’
(Exodus 20:3, 4a, 5a)
How shameful! That many people in times past and present, and I guess in the future, will reject these commandments; in fact, many said so, and many will continue to say so, ‘No, that’s not the road we want!” (Jeremiah 6:16d).
Now we begin to understand why Moses placed such emphasis on the Great Shema (Hebrew for “Hear”):
“Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one!” (Deuteronomy 6:4)
These few words were the most important to God’s people in Old Testament times and should be the most important for God’s people today! It does not help defend biblical inerrancy when one is inclined to position God second in one’s life. So it is with those who syncretise the faith by worshipping other entities together with the One God. It never works for ‘You must not have any other god but me.’ (Exodus 20:3)
I trust you will examine the Scripture references above prayerfully and diligently to grow in truth, be blest and be a blessing to others.
2] God is Holy, and He Demands that We be Holy
The book of Job presents a mysterious case of an extremely wealthy man (Job 1:1-3) whom we note God twice pronounced as a righteous person, more honest and moral than any other on earth (Job 1:8, 2:3). Sadly, he is caught up in a cosmic battle, loses his family and every possession, and further suffers the most excruciating experience of affliction, alienation and ridicule. Languishing on the ash heap of contempt, he confesses, “Though he (God) slay me, yet will I trust in him (God)” (Job 13:15). Amazingly, God restores his health, extends his life span and blesses him with a brand new family, with more incredible wealth than he initially possessed (Job 42:12-16). (Leitch 2007:2 in http://www.twopaths.com/).
There is a moral lesson to be learnt in the narrative above. Notwithstanding one’s propensity to sin, it is still possible for one to live to a standard that God recognises as righteous or holy. So what then is holiness?
The Apostle Peter calls Christians to holy living:
13 “So prepare your minds for action and exercise self-control. Put all your hope in the gracious salvation that will come to you when Jesus Christ is revealed to the world. 14 So you must live as God’s obedient children. Don’t slip back into your old ways of living to satisfy your own desires. You didn’t know any better then. 15 But now you must be holy in everything you do, just as God who chose you is holy. 16 For the Scriptures say, “You must be holy because I (God) am holy.” (1 Peter 1:13-16)(NLT)
Peter here is reiterating God’s earlier instructions to his people in Leviticus 11:44 and 45. Holiness may also be defined as separation, being set apart from the world and its compelling inclination to defy God.
Holiness is an essential attribute that God built into humans, given that he created them in his image and likeness (Genesis 1:26 and 27). We also note in the beginning, before Adam and Eve listened to the serpent’s voice that polluted their innocent minds, they were holy and enjoyed close companionship with God. The awful consequence of their ill-considered actions led the entire human race into sin, effectively adopting the spirit of disobedience. (Genesis 2:16-17; 3:1-7).
The Apostle Peter, again, speaks to early Christians and, of course, to posterity concerning holiness:
9 “But you are not like that, for you are a chosen people. You are royal priests,[Greek: priesthood] a holy nation, God’s very own possession. As a result, you can show others the goodness of God, for he called you out of the darkness into his marvellous light (1 Peter 2:9) (NLT)
The subject of holiness is vast. In time I will elucidate on the same in a separate article. Let’s conclude with a text by Paul in his letter to the Corinthians. This text tells us how people prone to sin can reach the state of perfection required for holiness pleasing to God.
“For He (God) made Him (Jesus) who knew no sin to be sin for us, that we might become the righteousness of God in Him.” (2 Corinthians 5:21)
Christ’s death on the Cross makes this possible by imputing to us holiness acceptable to God the Father. One may quite rightly ask, is this sustainable?
Oh yes, it is! Hear this:
‘But our High Priest (Jesus) offered himself to God as a single sacrifice for sins, good for all time. Then he sat down in the place of honour at God’s right hand. 14 For by that one offering he forever made perfect those who are being made holy.” (Hebrews 10:12, 13) (NLT)
Jesus, before his departure, said he would ask the Father to send us another Helper, Counsellor and Comforter :
16 “And I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Advocate, who will never leave you. 17 He is the Holy Spirit, who leads into all truth. The world cannot receive him because it isn’t looking for him and doesn’t recognise him. But you know him because he lives with you now and later will be in you” (John 14:16-17) (NLT).
When Joshua was to assume the leadership of Israel, Moses encouraged the people to be strong and courageous. Always knowing, “He (God) is the One who goes with you. He will not leave you nor forsake you.” (Deuteronomy 31:6c). To stress the point, Moses reiterates these exact words in verse 8a, emphasising God never leaves his people alone. Later we observe God himself speaking directly to Joshua, uttering the same message, “I will be with you”. To what end, some may ask? The answer lies in our key text (Isaiah 55:11). To accomplish God’s purpose!
Post ascension and true to his word, ‘never to leave us alone,’ Jesus and the Father sent us God, the Holy Spirit (Acts 2:1-4). Amazingly the promised Spirit not only is present with us but mysteriously indwells every believer, helping us become more like Christ every moment of every day. Paul writes,
“For you are the temple of the living God. As God has said:
“I will dwell in them
And walk among them.
I will be their God,
And they shall be My people.” (2 Corinthians 6:16b)
3] God Has a Plan to Restore Us to Holiness
This theme is, without doubt, the greatest of the five overarching themes in the Bible. God was furious when Adam and Eve disobeyed the single command he commanded they observe. In his fury, he cursed the land and asked them to leave his presence (Genesis 3:8-19). It was the same when Cain killed his brother Abel without cause. Cain, you will recall, agonised that the punishment God meted out was too much to bear (Genesis 4:13). Scripture tells us that God was obligated to punish those who rebelled and brought the entire human race into sin and depravity. As the human population grew, you will note that sin also increased to the extent that God regretted making man (Genesis 6:5-6). An untenable situation developed, and God decided to drown the entire human race (Genesis 6:7). But for one man, Noah, whom God considered righteous (Genesis 6:8), a remnant was spared to ensure the survival of humankind. Here again, God demonstrates his grace and love for his creation.
The great flood should have taught Noah’s offspring to keep their obligations to their creator; their lives, however, fell far short of perfection. Scripture tells that when the time was right, God decided to come down to earth in the person of Jesus Christ to redeem humankind. In a nutshell, the Apostle John makes two critical points:
- “In the beginning, was the Word (Jesus), and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. 2 He was at the beginning with God. 3 All things were made through Him, and without Him, nothing was made that was made.” (John 1:1-3)(Revelation 19:13)
The first point is crucial to understanding the Gospel of Jesus Christ. Many people still reduce Jesus Christ to a mere man, a good man, a sinless man. The Christian must never forget that Jesus was God coming down to us in human flesh. Hence we speak of the incarnation (John 1:14). It is critical to observe that Christ was there at the outset and integral to the creation process.
- “For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have everlasting life. 17 For God did not send His Son into the world to condemn the world, but that the world through Him might be saved.” (John 3:16, 17)
In great love for people on earth, God gave His Son to die, shedding his blood once for all, the ultimate sacrifice for sin (Hebrews 10:12-14). God’s offer, though, is conditional on believing in Jesus Christ. God now invokes the core principle of substitution he had preordained before creation (Revelation 13:8b; 1 Peter 1:20).
The Prophet Isaiah, some seven hundred years before the advent of Christ, puts it this way:
“All we like sheep have gone astray;
We have turned, everyone, to his own way;
And the Lord has laid on Him (Jesus) the iniquity of us all.” (Isaiah 53:6)
Isaiah further states, the suffering endured by God’s Son Jesus Christ is the only offering that truly saves:
“Surely He has borne our griefs
And carried our sorrows;
Yet we esteemed Him stricken,
Smitten by God and afflicted.
5 But He was wounded for our transgressions,
He was bruised for our iniquities;
The chastisement for our peace was upon Him,
And by His stripes, we are healed.” (Isaiah 53:4, 5)
The Apostle Paul succinctly presents God’s plan to return us to holiness:
“For He (God) made Him (Jesus) who knew no sin to be sin for us, that we might become the righteousness of God in Him.” (2 Corinthians 5:21)
4] God Wants Us to Enjoy Successful Lives on Earth
Success and prosperity are probably the most misconstrued themes in Scripture. Proponents of the so-called ‘prosperity gospel’ exacerbate the situation by encouraging people to seek sufficiency in material goods and self-worth rather than in Christ Jesus. Jesus was quite clear in his sermon on the Mount:
“Therefore do not worry, saying, ‘What shall we eat?’ or ‘What shall we drink?’ or ‘What shall we wear?’ 32 For after all these things the Gentiles seek. For your heavenly Father knows that you need all these things. 33 But seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness, and all these things shall be added to you.” (Matthew 6:31-33) (NIV)
Our Lord is categoric; the hidden ‘Hand of Providence’ will take care of all our needs. However, Jesus sets a rider to this promise, get your priorities in the correct order, that is, put God first; get prepared for the coming kingdom and pursue holiness.
The following words from the sayings of Agur bring out the irony of two extremities. Agur prays that God would keep him from falsehood; in other words, keep him steeped in truth to act acceptably; to honour God in asking and in Christian living.
Agur not only sees obstacles in both extremes of wealth and poverty but identifies a group that lies in between; a group that relies upon God’s hand of provision; a group that prays as Jesus taught, “Give us this day our daily bread.” (Matthew 6:11)
“Keep falsehood and lies far from me;
give me neither poverty nor riches,
but give me only my daily bread.
9 Otherwise, I may have too much and disown you
and say, ‘Who is the Lord?’
Or I may become poor and steal
and so dishonour the name of my God.” (Proverbs 30:8, 9) (NIV)
Human nature is such that it hankers after success, prosperity, good health and financial sufficiency. It is not a sin to desire such things and work sincerely toward their achievement; we should never be oblivious, though, that making material goods our security or placing our confidence in anyone other than Christ would amount to idolatry. Jesus Christ is all-sufficient! Bless his Holy Name!
Although deprived of the basic comforts of life, yet Christ desires that we prosper in all things and, in particular, our souls.
And Jesus said to him, “Foxes have holes and birds of the air have nests, but the Son of Man has
nowhere to lay His head.” (Luke 9:58)
The Apostle John blesses his readers this way:
Beloved, I pray that you may prosper in all things and be in health, just as your soul prospers. (3 John 1:2)
“In the end, the fullest realisation of the happiness we seek will always run up against the cold reality that we are seeking perfection in an imperfect world.” (Beck 2011:51)
5] God Has a Plan for Our Eternal Happiness
The Bible makes comforting and terrifying predictions concerning life and death. The most heartening for believers in Christ Jesus is the promise they will never die. How so? One may ask, given that Christians die every day.
Herein lies the mystery. Jesus speaking to Martha at Lazarus’ resurrection, said, “I am the resurrection and the life. He who believes in Me, though he may die, he shall live. 26 And whoever lives and believes in Me shall never die.” (John 11:25-26).
What was Jesus conveying here?
Jesus predicted before his crucifixion that he would rise from the grave on the third day. And he did!
He appeared to many, eating and holding conversation, subsequently ascending to be with his Father (Luke 24:36-44). Many witnessed his ascension (Luke 24:50-53).
The Apostle Paul warns, “the wages of sin is death but the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.” (Romans 6:23) The redeemed shall experience something reminiscent of Eden in a ‘New Heaven and a New Earth.’ (Revelation 21:1) They shall live forever in a holy relationship with God.
Ponder these final words:
“And now, dear brothers and sisters, we want you to know what will happen to the believers who have died so you will not grieve like people who have no hope. 14 For since we believe that Jesus died and was raised to life again, we also believe that when Jesus returns, God will bring back with him the believers who have died.
15 We tell you this directly from the Lord: We who are still living when the Lord returns will not meet him ahead of those who have died. 16 For the Lord himself will come down from heaven with a commanding shout, with the voice of the archangel, and with the trumpet call of God. First, the believers who have died will rise from their graves. 17 Then, together with them, we who are still alive and remain on the earth will be caught up in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air. Then we will be with the Lord forever. (1 Thessalonians 4:13-17) (NLT)
In the final throes of his ministry, Jesus does something incredible, “He opened their (disciples) understanding that they might comprehend the Scriptures.” (Luke 24:45).
It is my fervent prayer that the Lord may open our understanding, indeed every faculty of our being, to grasp the message intended, for as the Psalmist says: “The entrance of Your (Gods) words gives light; It gives understanding to the simple.” (Psalm 119:130)
I will discuss “A Practical Response by the Church to the Poor“, incorporating “God’s orientation to the Poor” and “The Pastor as a Practical Theologian.”
Don’t miss it!
Note: All Scripture is from the New King James Version of the Holy Bible (NKJV) unless otherwise stated.
(a) John A Beck, “From Understand Your Bible”, Barbour Publishing, Inc., 2011. Used by Permission.
(b) Carson DA, France RT, Motyer JA & Wenham GJ (Eds.), 1994, New Bible Commentary, IVP, Leicester