March 14, 2004
The Bible is one book with one author and one subject: Jesus Christ and His saving work. In this initial overview of the full biblical narrative, Alistair Begg helps us to see Scripture with fresh eyes, explaining the significance of each major section, from creation to consummation. When we approach God’s Word, Alistair teaches, we must do so with the proper framework, examining its context and taking each individual part into account.
Sermon Transcript: Print
We’re going to read from the Bible in the Old Testament in the Psalms—in Psalm 19, the nineteenth Psalm:
The heavens declare the glory of God;
the skies proclaim the work of his hands.
Day after day they pour forth speech;
night after night they display knowledge.
There is no speech or language
where their voice is not heard.
Their voice goes out into all the earth,
their words to the ends of the world.
In the heavens he has pitched a tent for the sun,
which is like a bridegroom coming forth from his pavilion,
like a champion rejoicing to run his course.
It rises at one end of the heavens
and makes its circuit to the other;
nothing is hidden from its heat.
The law of the Lord is perfect,
reviving the soul.
The statutes of the Lord are trustworthy,
making wise the simple.
The precepts of the Lord are right,
giving joy to the heart.
The commands of the Lord are radiant,
giving light to the eyes.
The fear of the Lord is pure,
The ordinances of the Lord are sure
and altogether righteous.
They are more precious than gold,
than much pure gold;
they are sweeter than honey,
than honey from the comb.
By them is your servant warned;
in keeping them there is great reward.
Who can discern his errors?
Forgive my hidden faults.
Keep your servant also from willful sins;
may they not rule over me.
Then will I be blameless,
innocent of great transgression.
May the words of my mouth and the meditation of my heart
be pleasing in your sight,
O Lord, my Rock and my Redeemer.
Let’s pray together, shall we? Let us all pray:
Our gracious God and loving Father, we thank you for this evening hour when we are able to come and gather in this place and for the express purpose of giving to you the glory that is due your name. We thank you for the privilege of being able to gather in the presence of your Son, the risen Lord Jesus Christ. We thank you that the head that had previously been crowned with thorns is now crowned with glory. We thank you that in the Lord Jesus Christ we have a great High Priest, whose once-and-for-all finished work, opens the way of access to you, the Living God, as we come in repentance and in faith.
And on this first Sunday evening of a new week, we earnestly seek to repent of our sin, to recognize that we are those who have transgressed your law, who have willfully disobeyed your commands, and who in more ways than we’re perhaps even prepared to acknowledge, have lived contrary to your express plan and purpose for us. And were it not for your great grace, which is greater than all our sin, were it not for that work of Christ, were it not for the fact that he kept the law in all of its perfection and did so as our very righteousness, then we would be unable to come before you.
But we thank you tonight that the Lord Jesus Christ is everything to us: that he is our life and our hope; that he is a friend who sticks closer than a brother; that he is our guide; that by the Holy Spirit, he is our companion through the journey of our lives. And it is with a great sense of expectation that we share this time. We pray, O God, that you will meet with us in personal, private ways that don’t need to be of any public import at all: in the singing of songs, in the hearing of these testimonies, and in sharing in these baptisms, in standing and casting our gaze over the whole of the Bible. We pray that we might be drawn afresh to say with the psalmist all these wonderful things concerning the truth of your Word. And as we prepare for all that this new week will bring, we thank you that all of our coming and all of our going is under your care, that all the days of our lives were written in your book before one of them came to be.
And so we pray that we may trust in you—the Lord—with all of our heart, and not rely on our own insight. Grant that in all of our ways we might acknowledge you and discover afresh that you delight to direct our paths. Hear our prayers, and let our cries come unto you. For Jesus’ sake we ask it. Amen.
It was jokingly said of Christopher Columbus that when he set out on his voyage of discovery, he didn’t know where he was going; that when he arrived, he didn’t know where he was; and that when he got home, he didn’t know where he’d been. Sadly, that is perhaps just too apt a description of the average Christian’s attempt to make their journey through the pages of the Bible.
For many of us, much of the Bible is actually uncharted territory. We have our favorite passages; we have the stories with which we’re familiar. But even the parts that we know—and we may know them very well—we’re unable to fit together with the other parts. And if someone were to ask us, “Well, how does the book of Leviticus and all of that rather strange-to-our-eyes-and-ears material fit within the whole idea of who Jesus is and why he came?” we probably would be daunted by the challenge of answering. And because of that and because I made a promise—an unguarded promise—a few weeks ago in the course of preaching, without thinking about it, we’re going in a series of Sunday evenings to try and take a quick run, as it were, through the Bible, and this evening actually to fly over the Bible at about 30,000 feet, to fly over the territory that we’re going to walk through. So, if you immediately find yourself frustrated within a sentence or two of beginning and say, “Oh dear, I’m already lost. I’m not sure I’m going to be able to follow this,” then I don’t want you to feel that way for a moment, because you’re supposed to not really worry about this at all. Just stay with me—stay, as it were, in the plane. Don’t jump out. And when we come back to it on subsequent Sunday evenings, hopefully all of the things that we have seen from the vantage point of 30,000 feet, when we get down on ground level will become obvious and apparent to us.
This series takes me distinctly out of my comfort zone for a variety of reasons. It’s a series that I want to begin and finish as quickly as I possibly can. And it’s important that you understand that since it is not biblical exposition, that I am not defaulting on my commitment to expound the text of Scripture. No one should read into this that there is some change in the way that we’re going to do things or Sunday evenings are going to be different or he’s decided not to work his way through verses of the Bible anymore. No, nothing could be further from the truth. We’re doing this not by default, but by design: this is a deviation from our course—it is a purposeful deviation—and we will be back on course as soon as we can.
If you take your Bible and open it to the index, which many of us have looked at in wonder; if you take the Bible and open it to the contents—the table of contents—you see there that it is broken into the Old and the New Testament. Incidentally, I make no apology for being as simple as I possibly can. And what we discover is that the Bible is a diverse collection of different writings. Between Genesis and Esther, we essentially have history; between Job and Song of Solomon’s—or Song of Songs—we have poetry books; and from Isaiah then through to Malachi, you have prophecy. When you go into the New Testament, you can see that it is broken up in terms of first the four gospels, and then the history book of the church—the Acts of the Apostles, or the Acts of the Holy Spirit. There then follows all of these letters, the most of them being written by Paul, and then finally John’s vision from God, which is of course the Revelation. And when you put all of these pieces together, you discover that these books were penned by forty authors or so over a period of some 2,000 years.
But if we were wanting to encapsulate in three simple statements what the Bible is, we would say this: first of all, the Bible is one book—it is one book. I know I said a few weeks ago when we studied, when we did our little study on “Why Bother with the Bible,” I said that it was a library. I was making a different point in saying that than what I want to make now—namely, that as opposed to a collection, for example, of Charles Dickens, where you have David Copperfield and Oliver Twist and A Tale of Two Cities, etc., and you may read each of these books without reference to the other books. In fact, there is no reference between them to one another; you can have just a great collection of individual books on your shelves. The Bible is not like that, because it is essentially one book comprising these individual parts. And each individual part needs to be considered in light of all of the other parts and in light of what this particular book contributes to the big picture.
So, it’s one book. It’s written also by one author. Now, we know that there are a variety of human authors—we’ve said that—we noted that there are some forty or so. We saw again in that previous study, or we heard the quote from B. B. Warfield, that when God wanted to write letters such as the Apostle Paul would write, he picked up a person called the Apostle Paul, and he encouraged him to write as he did. In other words, God is the ultimate author of the Bible. God was ensuring that everything that the human authors penned was exactly as he intended it to be. Hence, in 2 Timothy 3:16: “All Scripture is” theopneustos; it is “God-breathed.” It is breathed out by God. And in 2 Peter 1, the familiar verse concerning the way in which people were swept along, moved by the Holy Spirit as God gave them utterance.
So, what about the Bible? Well, it is one book, and it has one author, and it has one subject—one book, one author, one subject. And what is the subject? Jesus Christ and the salvation that God provides through him —Jesus Christ and the salvation that God provides through him. Now, that is not something that is true simply of the New Testament; it is true also of the Old Testament. And I’m not going to bear you down with a whole succession of cross-references inviting you to turn to them because I want to be true to my 30,000-feet flyover plan. But for example, when Jesus in John 5 refers to the Old Testament Scriptures, he says, “These are the Scriptures that testify about me.” And he is speaking of all that the Old Testament has to say concerning him. We’ve seen the same as we came to the end of Luke’s gospel—chapter 24. We referred to it again this morning: “This is what I told you, and this is what was previously written.” And what you essentially find then is that the story that unfolds in one book, by one author, about one subject is a story that moves from promise to fulfillment—from promise to fulfillment. What is promised in one part is fulfilled in another, and supremely so: what is promised in the Old Testament finds its fulfillment in the New. God promises that his Messiah will come in the Old Testament, and God proclaims that his Messiah has come in the person of Jesus in the New. So, what you have in the Old Testament is a story without an ending, and what you have in the New Testament is a story that needs a beginning. And by referring to the promise of the Old, we find significance in the fulfillment in the New.
Now, that should be enough to make sure that none of us, then, are tempted to read the Bible as just a compendium of quotations—a compendium of little bits and pieces and things to which we can go to find helpful little things. Not that we can’t, but really that we shouldn’t. And if the one thing that is necessary in real estate is location, then the one thing that is necessary in understanding the Bible is context—context. And so, when we read the Bible, we have to read it in light of the verse in the surrounding verses and so on. And we’ll say more about that as time goes on. Alright, so it will be helpful then for us to think of one book, by one ultimate author, on one ultimate subject—namely, God’s plan of salvation through his Son, Jesus.
Now, having said that, we still haven’t found any way to unlock the mysteries of the Bible. Is there a mechanism that we can use? Is there a key? Is there a helpful framework that might be employed? Well, of course, there are many helpful frameworks, and if you read theological texts at all, if you’re familiar with materials that you can find in our bookstore, you’ll find that there are all kinds of suggestions as to ways in which we might unlock the Scriptures. And some people are very, very vociferous in the way in which they demand our attention to their particular framework. For a framework to be of any use to us at all—or, if you like, a theme or an idea to be any use to us at all—two things need to be true of it: one, it must arise from the Bible itself rather than being pressed onto the Bible; and two, it must be broad enough to allow each part that fits into it to make its own distinctive contribution. And the framework that I have found most helpful in dealing with this is not unique to me; indeed, what we ought to have been singing before this study—and we’ll sing it every Sunday night all the way through—is: “I get by with a little help from my friends.” Actually, I get by with a tremendous amount of help from my friends. And eventually when this series is over, I’ll give you all of my source material and you say, “Oh, but I see where you got all of that.” And I’ll say, “Exactly. That is right.” I already plan a disclaimer on the tape, which says something like, “If any of this is helpful, please refer to the manse—or the minister’s house—in Carseview Gardens, in such-and-such a place in Oxford, England.” But anyway, the framework that we’re going to use is a framework of the kingdom of God—the kingdom of God. And what I want to show you is simply that while this is not the be-all and end-all of things, and while the expression the kingdom of God does not appear in the Old Testament, the concept is in the Old Testament, and it appears clearly in the New Testament.
Now, for those of you who are in the know, some people would say, “Well, doesn’t this whole idea find itself in opposition to an approach which would view the unlocking of the Bible under the framework of the covenant?” They’re not in opposition to one another, because essentially God’s covenant promises are his kingdom promises. And they’re not in opposition to one another. Graeme Goldsworthy—and you’ll get to know his name very well in the course of the next few Sunday evenings—Graeme Goldsworthy defines the kingdom of God in this way—and in subsequent weeks, I’ll give you this material, I think probably on the screen, so again you needn’t worry unduly about it. He describes the kingdom of God—he defines the kingdom of God—in terms of “God’s people, in God’s place, under God’s rule and blessing.” Now that’s going to be very, very important. What then is the kingdom of God when we discover it? Well, it is “God’s people, in God’s place, under God’s rule, enjoying God’s blessing.” That does not say everything that is essential to say concerning the kingdom of God, but it says enough to allow us to use it as a framework for understanding how the Bible fits together.
Now, if you are still with me, I’ll proceed. Let me just draw the line all the way from Genesis to Revelation—this is gonna make a mad dash for the book of Revelation, all right? First of all, the pattern of the kingdom is seen from the very outset of the Bible in the arden of Eden. In the garden of Eden, we have the world as God intended it to be. Who’s in the garden of Eden? God’s people: Adam and Eve. Where are they? In God’s place: the garden. And what are they doing? Listening to what God has to say. And what’s happening? They are enjoying the accompanying blessing of God. To be under God’s rule in the Bible is always to enjoy his blessing. But that pattern is very quickly spoiled. We only go a couple of chapters—we’re into Genesis 3—and Adam and Eve decide that life would be better if they live independently of God. They turn their back on God. They disobey God, and the results which follow are disastrous. They’re no longer God’s people; they turn from him, and he turns from them. And when we go back and study it, we’ll discover that they are banished from God’s place. Remember? They are driven out, and there is protection and armaments placed with flaming swords; they guard the entry back into the garden. They are banished from God’s place. They no longer live under God’s rule, and they therefore do not enjoy God’s blessing. Actually, what happens to them is that they face his curse, they’re under his judgment, and frankly the whole thing is a dreadfully gloomy picture. But God in his great love is determined to restore his kingdom.
So, the pattern of the kingdom becomes the spoiled kingdom, and as you turn the pages of your Bible, you discover then that the kingdom is once again promised to his people. That would be a third heading: promised. And you find this—and we made reference to it this morning—in God’s call of Abraham. God calls Abraham, and he makes unconditional promises to him. “Through Abraham’s descendants,” he says, “there will be the reestablishing of his kingdom.” What is going to happen? Well, they’re going to be his people, they’re going to live in his land, and they’re going to enjoy his blessing. That’s the plan: “I’m going to put together a people, I’m going to put them in my place, and I’m going to have them live under my rule, and I’m going to bless them on account of that.” And as a result of that, through them, all the peoples on the earth will be blessed. And as we noted this morning, that promise is essentially the gospel. It’s partially fulfilled in the history of Israel; it is only finally fulfilled in the person of Jesus.
The fourth heading, or the fourth word, would be partial—partial. The period that we’re dealing with now if we were to look down, if we could see …. And sometimes when you’re flying on the plane, I ask the stewardess, I say, “Where in the world are we?” And I like that when the thing comes down and tells you where you are on the plane—where you have that little map. (I’m such an inquisitive soul.) But anyway, I often say, “Where are we? What are those mountains?” I like to find out. And if you look down under the heading “partial” and you say, “Where are we?” the answer is we’re between the book of Numbers and 1 and 2 Kings. But I’ll tell you more about that later, okay? Just so you can get your bearings.
God’s promises to Abraham are partially fulfilled in the history of Israel. When we go through it, we’ll see that through the exodus—remember, from Egypt—God makes Abraham’s descendants his very own people. He takes them to Mount Sinai and he gives them his law—his rules—so that they might be his people, in his place, under his rule, and enjoying his blessing in the same way that Adam and Eve had enjoyed the blessing before they sinned. And this blessing is marked by the presence of God. And the presence of God at this period is symbolized in the tabernacle stories, which some of us remember from Sunday school and many of us haven’t got a clue what that’s all about. The tabernacle was symbolizing the presence of God amongst his people. And under the leadership of Joshua, after Moses has gone, they enter the land—you remember that—and Joshua fought the battle of Jericho and so on. And by the time of David and Solomon, they’re enjoying peace and prosperity there.
So, what do we have? You drop down to 30,000 feet, you look down: well, you have God’s people in God’s place. Where? The land of Canaan. Doing what? Living under his rule. And experiencing what? Experiencing his blessings. But again, the promises made to Abraham are only partially fulfilled. And the reason is because the people of God continue to be disobedient. And as a result of their disobedience, it leads to the dismantling of this partial kingdom, because Israel itself falls apart. And in that period of time the story of the kingdom is a story that is then prophesied. And we will get to it, but after the death of Solomon, you have a civil war. And Israel splits apart: you have Israel in the northern kingdom; you have Judah in the south. This is eighth century BC or so. After 200 years of separate existence, the northern kingdom is vanquished by the Assyrians. The southern kingdom hangs on for another century, and then it’s destroyed. It’s conquered; its inhabitants dragged them away into exile in Babylon.
And during this period, God is speaking to his people in Israel and in Judah through his prophets. And the prophets are essentially coming to them and saying, “Come on now. You’re supposed to be God’s people, living in God’s place, under God’s rule, and enjoying God’s blessing.” And Isaiah and Micah are the ones who go to the southern kingdom, and Amos and Hosea are up there in the north causing—I was going to say causing trouble, but actually doing what they were asked to do. And essentially the prophets explained that they were being punished—the people of God were being punished for their sin—but they were still offering hope for the future. The prophets were pointing to a time when God would act decisively through his king, the Messiah, who would come and fulfill all of his promises.
The people of Judah probably thought that that time had come when they were restored after the exile, but actually it hadn’t come, and the great time of salvation was still in the future. The prophet stands and says, “Who has believed our report? And to whom is the arm of the Lord been revealed? For he grew up before us like a tender plant, like a shoot out of a dry ground. He had no form or comeliness, he had no beauty that we would be attracted to him. He was a man of sorrows and acquainted with grief.” And the people nudged one another and said, “Who’s this? Who is he talking about?” Well, he was talking, they were talking, about the Messiah who was to come. And the Old Testament ends—Malachi—ends at this point: waiting for God’s king to appear in his fullness and establish his kingdom. And the Old Testament ends, and then you have 400 years of silence.
And after the 400 years of silence, Jesus steps onto the stage in Mark chapter 1, and he breaks the silence with a statement that fits entirely. What does he say? “The time has come … The kingdom of God is near.” And what we now have, as we get into the pages of the New Testament, is we have the now and the not yet. How is it, then, that Jesus can speak about the kingdom in present terms, and yet he still speaks about the kingdom in coming terms? Well, that we will come to. But Jesus is essentially saying, “The waiting is over. I have arrived, and I have arrived to establish my kingdom.” His life, his teaching, his miracles, and finally his resurrection confirm the fact that he is the God-man: he possesses in himself the power to put everything right. But of course, as you know, he chooses a surprising way of doing it, doesn’t he? He chooses to do it by dying in weakness on a cross. That, you see, was a great concern, as we’ve noted through Luke’s gospel: If he was really a king, why would he be riding on a donkey, on the foal of a donkey? If he was really a king with a kingdom, why doesn’t he overturn these people? Why doesn’t he establish justice and righteousness? Why doesn’t he end all of this stuff? And by his resurrection, he declares the success of his rescue mission, and he further offers hope to those who believe.
Now, we’ll leave that there, but Jesus goes and then what happens? Well, the kingdom is proclaimed—the kingdom is then proclaimed. Jesus did all that was necessary by his death and his resurrection, and his ascension, as we’ve seen, signaled the end of the beginning. He has not yet returned. Why not? ’Cause he’s looking for kids for his kingdom. It’s as simple as that. Hence Paul says to the Jewish believers of his day, “Don’t you realize that God’s kindness would lead you to repentance?” So the king awaits the moment of his final and ultimate enthronement in order that those, who by grace have been made members of his kingdom may live their lives in the last days—the period between his coming and his returning—may live our lives in the last days to see unbelieving people become the committed followers of Jesus Christ, to see people who are not God’s people become God’s people, live in God’s presence under God’s rule, and enjoy God’s blessing. And here in the moment in time between time and eternity in the period that we are privileged to live, we have the responsibility to encourage people to put their trust in the king, to be ready to meet the king. And the king has equipped his children with everything that is necessary to tell the whole world about him.
So, what is left? Well, only the perfected kingdom: the king in his perfection of rule. One day Christ will return. That will bring division. His enemies will be separated from his presence in hell. His people will join him in a perfect new creation. At last, all of the gospel promises will be finally fulfilled. And the book of Revelation is the story of a fully restored kingdom. God’s people. Who are they? Christians from every nation, tribe, language, and tongue—God’s people. Where? In God’s place. Where is that? Heaven. Doing what? Submitting to his kingship and enjoying his blessing. So, that the thing that was so dreadfully marred—where in the garden of Eden, all of the perfection of God’s intended purposes for relationships are there with God’s people, in God’s place, under God’s rule, and sin enters in the world. And as a result of that, all of the story of how the kingdom will come and is coming and is prophesied and is partial and is stopping and starting and moving and going finally reaches its great conclusion. And there’s no doubt about it: no tears, no pain, no sorrow, no parting—no kidding! You could summarize it in four words, and I’ve done this before: the good, the bad, the new, the perfect. The garden of Eden is the good—creation in perfection as God has made it; the bad, as sin enters into the world; the new, as a result of redemption in Christ. But it is not perfect. That awaits the day when his kingdom will finally come. It’s not a fairy story. But actually, we will all live happily ever after. It’s the story of from one garden to another garden.
Well, that’s more than enough. You all look like deer trapped in the headlights. I can only hope it’ll get better, but I can’t promise it.
Father God, we thank you that your Word is a lamp to our feet. We thank you that Noah found grace in the eyes of the Lord. We thank you that you’re true to your promise that you’d never flood the world again; and every time we see a rainbow, we’re reminded of your promise. When we think about the mess, we know it’s only your grace and your love that holds open the day of opportunity so that there may be more kids in the kingdom when the king arrives. And we pray that on these Sunday evenings as we try and get a handle on how all of the parts of the Bible fit together, that we might do so in a way that is not simply academic, but in a way that is soul stirring and life changing and in a way that helps us, in turn, to share with others from this one book, by one author, on one subject the salvation, Father, that you have provided for us in your Son, the Lord Jesus Christ. We offer our lives to you, and we bring our gifts to you, as we pray in Jesus’ name. Amen.
 Psalm 139:16 (paraphrased).
 Benjamin B. Warfield, “Inspiration,” in The International Standard Bible Encyclopedia, vol. 3, ed. James Orr (Chicago: Howard-Severance, 1915), 1480.
 2 Peter 1:21 (paraphrased).
 John 5:39 (NIV 1984).
 Luke 24:44 (paraphrased).
 John Lennon and Paul McCartney, “With a Little Help from My Friends” (1967).
 Graeme Goldsworthy, Gospel and Kingdom (Exeter, UK: Paternoster, 1981), 47.
 See Genesis 12–17.
 Genesis 12:3 (paraphrased).
 Isaiah 53:1–3 (paraphrased).
 Mark 1:15 (NIV 1984).
 Romans 2:4 (paraphrased).
 Psalm 119:105 (paraphrased).
 Genesis 6:8 (paraphrased).
 See Genesis 9:12–17 (paraphrased).
Copyright © 2024, Alistair Begg. Used by permission. All rights reserved.
Unless otherwise indicated, all Scripture quotations for sermons preached on or after November 6, 2011 are taken from The ESV® Bible (The Holy Bible, English Standard Version®), copyright © 2001 by Crossway, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers. Used by permission. All rights reserved.
For sermons preached before November 6, 2011, unless otherwise indicated, all Scripture quotations are taken from The Holy Bible, New International Version® (NIV®), copyright © 1973 1978 1984 by Biblica, Inc.TM Used by permission. All rights reserved worldwide.