In the first installment to this three-part series, I began to sketch the broad contours of God’s story in the Bible, focusing on Creation and Fall. In the second, I noted how, in the OT, God calls forth a new humanity (Israel) to serve as his special people and as conduits of God’s blessings to the nations. In the context of idolatry and unfaithfulness, the OT prophets call God’s people to realign with their God-given mission of reflecting God’s character to, for, and in the world. Their writings then function as a natural bridge to the arrival of Jesus and his gospel of the kingdom.
The NT opens with Jesus announcing the arrival of the kingdom of God. This is the beginning of the new age of salvation envisioned by the prophets. The NT continually references and alludes to the OT to make it clear that God’s new work in Jesus is an extension and fulfillment of the OT. Jesus proclaims, teaches, and embodies the kingdom through his words and deeds. Jesus challenges the status quo understanding of God’s kingdom of his contemporaries by emphasizing its openness to the marginalized among God’s people and even to foreigners. Jesus dies a sacrificial death by crucifixion for the sins, injustices, and suffering of the world. He dies as Israel’s messiah who lays down his life for the sake of others. The cross is God’s answer to the brokenness, shame, and lostness of humanity and all creation. God vindicates Jesus’ life and death by raising him from the dead on the third day. Jesus’ resurrection announces God’s victory and ushers in the age of the church in anticipation of New Creation.
Following his resurrection, Jesus sends the church into the world to live as God’s missional community that reflects God’s character to, for, and in the nations. The church goes out in the power of the Holy Spirit. God’s people serve as witnesses and clues to the reality of the kingdom of God. They proclaim the good news of God’s salvation and healing.
The books of the NT teach the earliest Christians how to live as God’s people with the goal of extending God’s salvation to the world through witness and testimony of their words and lives. Each book offers reflection and instruction for living as God’s holy and missional people. The dominant ethic of the early church was a commitment to reaching the other. Each church in the fledgling Christ following movement was a kingdom outpost surrounded on all sides by competing religions and ideologies.
The apostle Paul’s writings by sheer number dominate the second half of the NT, following the four Gospels and Acts. Paul is a central actor in the book of Acts. He epitomizes the “go to” ethos of the NT. Through the faithfulness of Paul and Paul’s companions, God propels the gospel across much of the Roman Empire of Paul’s day. Paul plants churches and moves on to the next place where the true God is not yet known. The writings of the NT take seriously the challenges of living as God’s people in a world that does not share or encourage the values of the gospel.
The NT ends with a vision of a secure future in God’s new creation. All creation returns to its relational wholeness. The NT does not lay out a precise roadmap or timeline to this future. The NT’s visions of the future are not couched in some code that we can decipher today, nor are they intended to give us a play-by-play description. They exist to encourage believers to remain faithful witnesses in the present in the full confidence that God’s desired future is secure and will be wonderful.
Most of the NT books address the future in some way, but God’s good future dominates the overall vision of Revelation, the final book of the Bible. Just as the first two chapters of Genesis begin the Bible by describing a very good creation, the final two chapters of Revelation bring the biblical story to a conclusion by describing the new creation in terms of the language of new heavens and new earth. The abundance, goodness, peace, and justice of the original creation return with God once again enthroned and recognized as Lord of creation while dwelling forever with God’s people. Creation is as God intended it and humanity serves forever as God’s missional community that reflects God’s glory.