The Bible can be an overwhelming book. But there are a handful of chapters that shape the entire book’s theology and world-view and if you grasp these few chapters they will drastically alter the way you see and understand the world. Here they are in chronological order in the Bible:
This is a foundational chapter for understanding why there is good and evil and why we need God. The Fall of Adam and Eve introduces sin, conflict, and brokenness into an otherwise perfect world. This single act of rebellion set humanity on the path of separation and judgment from God. Yet in the midst of expelling them from the Garden, God introduces the hope of redemption in 3:15, which begins a historic plan of God to redeem fallen humanity.
In this chapter, we learn about Abraham, the man whose faith becomes the prototype for every believer who follows. Before there was the nation of Israel, the Ten Commandments or even the Law, there was Abraham and his faith. He demonstrates obedience and sacrificial service. God makes a covenant with Abraham in which God promises to bless the entire world. The key verse is found in 15:6.
The nation of Israel (who are the descendants of Abraham) has long been established and the Exodus is a faded memory. They have been sacrificing and living by the statutes of the Law for centuries, but theirs is a tragic tale. Their inability to purge themselves of idols and disobedience demonstrates that we cannot work our way into favour with God, even though they were given every privilege. In this chapter the prophet Isaiah predicts the coming of the Suffering Servant, the Messianic figure who will become the culmination of the sacrificial system and the agent of salvation. That through his death the promise of God blessing the entire world will now come to fruition.
Jesus is now grown and in the midst of his ministry. In this chapter he encounters a high-ranking Jewish official and the matters of life and death, heaven and hell, salvation and condemnation are clearly spelled out. Even this man, a religiously pious Jew, is in need of being born again. The contrast of light over darkness, remnants of the Fall, are given to further amplify the need to come to Christ in faith. The chapter concludes with a teaching from John the Baptist that reinforces the first part of the chapter. All this in anticipation of Jesus’ crucifixion as predicted in Isaiah 53 as the once for all sacrifice for the world.
Every Gospel writer recounts the crucifixion and the resurrection. My preference for the resurrection is John’s account in this chapter. It moves from Mary Magdalene finding the tomb empty and her running to give the news to Peter and John. When they leave Jesus appears to Mary and John unfolds the remainder of the chapter with the appearances of Jesus, starting from the least doubter (Mary) to the ultimate doubter Thomas. Upon seeing Jesus, Thomas gives the ultimate proclamation of Jesus as “My Lord and my God!” This is the place that every human needs to come in order to become spiritually alive and whole and to be reconciled again to God. Without the resurrection, Christianity would fail as a faith, yet it is true beyond argument.
The Apostle Paul crafts one of the most theologically profound chapters in the entire Bible, contrasting living life in the Spirit versus living it by your sinful desires. We are essentially a slave to something, whether we like to acknowledge it. To live by the sinful self is a life that leads to death while one of faith leads to eternal life, filled with hope and glory. In the midst of these contrasts are the reminders by Paul of the damage of the Fall on the entire creation, and the depth of God’s love to send his son in order to rescue us from it.
Just as God created Paradise in Genesis 1 and 2, we are once again re-introduced to it in this chapter. What was marred by the Fall has now been renewed in the New Heavens and New Earth. The plan of God throughout history has been slowly moving toward this reality. Humanity has been given every opportunity to see Jesus as the only means of becoming right with God.
These 7 chapters certainly do not exhaust the Bible’s teaching, but they are critical to understanding the over-arching narrative and primary message that makes up the Bible.
Thanks Phil for your thoughtful comments. Especially in regards to Romans 8 (including a Peter Kreeft quote-nice touch!). There is a lifetime and more of truths to discover in the pages of Scripture so I was trying to break it into broad historical and theological sweeps in order to give the grand picture. I was so intrigued by this post myself that it is now a sermon series beginning on September 15. Rather than 7 I’ve expanded it to 10 chapters so it will be an interesting series for this Fall. Thanks again for the input.
PhiLiP s. SchMidT
Hey Pastor Jon.
Thank you for this way-cool Biblical overview. I appreciate being able to conceptualize ‘the big picture’ of our Master’s plan for us. I was especially struck by what you wrote regarding Romans 8:
“The Apostle Paul crafts one of the most theologically profound chapters in the entire Bible, contrasting living life in the Spirit versus living it by your sinful desires…..
To live by the sinful self is a life that leads to death while one of faith leads to eternal life, filled with hope and glory.”
Romans 8:28 is, of course, the ‘skeleton key’ verse that unlocks the doors of our minds to the mysteries within this remarkable chapter. But here’s the thing, Pastor Jon:
Despite that fact…..
Despite the sheer magnitude of scholarly and pastoral commentary that has been expressed concerning this verse, both in books and from pulpits…..
It has remained one of the toughest truths in all of Scripture for me to brazen out, especially when I’m up against crushing losses and bitter disappointments.
And then I read an article by Dr. Peter Kreeft, professor of philosophy at Boston College, entitled ‘The Three Most Profound Ideas I Have Ever Had.’ In particular, his third ‘most profound idea’ – ‘In Everything God Works for Good With Those Who Love Him’ – unhinged my head from my shoulders, for it deals with the juggernaut of Romans 8:28 as it is lived out in our fallen world:
“‘In everything God works for good with those who love Him.’ This is surely the most astonishing verse in the Bible, for it certainly doesn’t look as if all things work for good. What awful things our lives contain! But if God, the all-powerful Creator and Designer and Provider of our lives, is 100 percent love, then it necessarily follows, as the night the day, that everything in His world, from birth to death, from kisses to slaps, from candy to cancer, comes to us out of God’s active or permissive love.
“It is incredibly simple and perfectly reasonable. It is only our adult complexity that makes it look murky. As G.K. Chesterton says, ‘Life is always complicated – for someone without principles.’ Here is the shining simplicity:
“If God is total love, then everything He wills for me must come from His love and be for my good. For that is what love is, the willing of the beloved’s good. And if this God of sheer love is also omnipotent and can do anything He wills, then it follows that all things must work together for my ultimate good.
“Not necessarily for my immediate good, for short-range harm may be the necessary road to long-range good. And not necessarily for my apparent good, for appearances may be deceiving. Thus suffering does not seem good. But it can always work for my real and ultimate good. Even the bad things I and others do, though they do not come from God, are allowed by God because they are included in His plan. You can’t checkmate, corner, surprise, or beat Him. ‘He’s got the whole world in His hands,’ as the old gospel chorus tells us. And He’s got my whole life in his hands, too. He could take away any evil – natural, human, or demonic – like swatting a fly. He allows it only because it works out for our greater good in the end, just as it did with Job.
“In fact, every atom in the universe moves exactly as it does only because omnipotent Love designed it so. Dante was right: it is ‘The love that moves the sun and all the stars.’ This is not poetic fancy but sober, logical fact. Therefore, the most profound thing you can say really is this simple children’s grace for meals: ‘God is great and God is good; let us thank him for our food. Amen!’ I had always believed in God’s love and God’s omnipotence. But once I put the two ideas together, saw the unavoidable logical conclusion (Romans 8:28), and applied this truth to my life, I could never again see the world the same way. If God is great (omnipotent) and God is good (loving), then everything that happens is our spiritual food; and we can and should thank Him for it. Yet how often we fail to recognize and appreciate this simple but profound truth.”
At last, Pastor Jon, I understand. And I think that the implications of Romans 8 must be thought through carefully and worked out if we Christians are to fully appreciate the scope of your 7th and final pivotal Bible chapter – Revelation 21. As you so duly note, ‘What was marred by the Fall has now been renewed in the New Heavens and New Earth. The plan of God throughout history has been slowly moving toward this reality.’
And that reality is being shaped in the here and now, by each and every moral choice we make. That alone should give us pause. It certainly gives me pause.
I am grateful to you, Pastor Jon, for this installment of ‘Pastor’s Corner’. Your ‘overview’ is, in fact, an invitation to immerse myself in entire sweep of the Biblical narrative. Dare I turn down such an invitation?
Yours in the Keeper of the Fire and the Wind,