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People who first read the Bible may view it as an accumulation of stories and religious teachings collected with little or no theme or overall plan. As a result, many people are confused or uncertain about the overall purpose of Scripture. It is like putting together a picture puzzle – a jumble of pieces – without having the picture on the box!
More than just a collection of miscellaneous stories and teachings, the Scriptures reveal that, before the world began, God determined a plan for man’s salvation. The Bible reveals that plan, and every event and every teaching in Scripture relates directly or indirectly to the overall plan. Our study of the Bible should help us see the whole forest, not just the individual trees.
Acts 15:18 – Known to God from eternity are all His works. (See verses 17,18.)
No one passage completely states God’s purpose, but a number of passages refer to it. To understand the purpose, we must put together the pattern revealed in various passages.
Here are few of the major themes in God’s eternal plan:
(Ephesians 3:11; Proverbs 8:22,23; Hebrews 6:17)
According to Ephesians 1 God did the following:
Ephesians 1:4 – He chose us in Him [Christ] before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and without blame before Him in love.
Ephesians 1:7 – In Him we have redemption through His blood, the forgiveness of sins, according to the riches of His grace.
Ephesians 1:9 – Having made known to us the mystery of His will, according to His good pleasure which He purposed in Himself.
Ephesians 1:11 – In Him also we have obtained an inheritance, being predestined according to the purpose of Him who works all things according to the counsel of His will (verse 10)
This eternal plan does not refer to Calvinistic unconditional choice of individuals to eternal life or eternal punishment. Nevertheless, God had a plan from eternity for man’s forgiveness of sins through Christ.
This eternal plan required Jesus to come and live on earth as a man, give His life as a sacrifice for our sins, and then be raised from the dead.
Acts 2:23 – Peter told the Jews on Pentecost that Him [Jesus], being delivered by the determined purpose and foreknowledge of God, you have taken by lawless hands, have crucified, and put to death.
Acts 4:27,28 – For truly against Your holy Servant Jesus, whom You anointed, both Herod and Pontius Pilate, with the Gentiles and the people of Israel, were gathered together to do whatever Your hand and Your purpose determined before to be done.
1 Peter 1:18-20 – We were redeemed with the precious blood of Christ, as of a lamb without blemish and without spot. He was foreordained before the foundation of the world, but was manifest in these last times.
Some teachers believe that Jesus came to earth to establish His earthly kingdom, but that plan failed because the Jews unexpectedly rejected Jesus and killed Him. However, that the Scriptures teach that the death of Jesus was an essential part of God’s plan from before the foundation of the world. However, the fullness of this plan was not clearly revealed until the proper time.
(Revelation 13:8; Acts 3:18; Luke 22:22)
Paul describes the mystery of the gospel. His purpose in preaching included the following:
Ephesians 3:9-11 – To make all see what is the fellowship of the mystery, which from the beginning of the ages has been hidden in God who created all things through Jesus Christ; to the intent that now the manifold wisdom of God might be made known by the church to the principalities and powers in the heavenly places, according to the eternal purpose which He accomplished in Christ Jesus our Lord.
Some teach that the church was never part of God’s eternal plan. They say God sent Jesus to establish His earthly kingdom; but that plan failed, so Jesus established the church instead.
However, the Scriptures actually say that the church was always a part of God’s eternal plan. From the beginning of the ages it was hidden in God but was then made known to the gospel by inspired men in the first century.
Acts 17:31 – God has appointed a day on which He will judge the world in righteousness by the Man whom He has ordained. He has given assurance of this by raising Him from the dead.
Matthew 25:34 – Jesus described that judgment: “Then the King will say to those on His right hand, ‘Come, you blessed of My Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world’” In contrast, verse 41 says the wicked will go into the everlasting fire prepared for the devil and his angels.
So, God’s eternal plan from the foundation of the world also included judgment of all men at which each person’s eternal destiny will be declared. Some will receive the eternal kingdom prepared for them from the foundation of the world. Others will receive eternal punishment.
(Titus 1:2,3; 1 Peter 2:8)
2 Timothy 1:9,10 – God saved us and called us according to His own purpose and grace which was given to us in Christ Jesus before time began, but has now been revealed by the appearing of our Savior Jesus Christ, who brought life and immortality to light through the gospel.
So God had a purpose determined before the world began. That purpose involved a plan whereby men could be forgiven of their sins. It required Jesus to come to earth, die on the cross for our sins and be raised from the dead. It included the church to include the redeemed of all ages. And it includes the judgment of all men and their sentence to eternal rewards.
All this was planned before the world began. But it was only gradually revealed through the centuries as God developed and unfolded His purpose.
(Isaiah 14:24,27; 46:10,11; Numbers 23:19; Romans 11:33-36; Matthew 13:35; 2 Thessalonians 2:13; Proverbs 8:23)
Every event recorded in the history of Scripture relates to God’s plan either directly or indirectly. Consider some major events throughout the Bible and their role in God’s plan.
Genesis 1 reveals the creation of the earth and everything on it, including the people. Obviously people needed to exist in order to receive God’s blessings.
Sin is disobedience to God (1 John 3:4).
God placed the first man and woman in ideal conditions in the Garden of Eden. But He commanded them not to eat of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. Genesis 3 records how the serpent tempted Eve. Eve sinned and led Adam into sin with her.
Genesis 3:15 – Immediately after that first sin, God predicted enmity between the offspring of the serpent and the offspring of the woman. “He shall bruise your head, and you shall bruise His heel.” Satan inflicted a temporary injury to the offspring of the woman by crucifying Jesus. But Jesus then dealt a death blow to Satan: His death and resurrection became the means of overcoming sin and death.
The meaning is understood only in light of the rest of the Bible story, but the record of the very first sin reveals that God had a plan to deal with the consequences of sin. The rest of the Bible story is the unfolding of that plan.
Genesis 12 – Because of his faithfulness, God gave Abraham a great promise including three major parts:
Verse 2 – I will make you a great nation.
Verse 3 – In you all the families of the earth shall be blessed.
Verse 7 – To your descendants I will give this land (Canaan).
God repeated this promise to Abraham’s son Isaac and his son Jacob (Genesis 22:17,18; 26:3,4). This promise then became the basis of God’s development of his eternal purpose throughout the whole rest of the Old Testament.
Israel became the great nation descended from Abraham. So the Old Testament traces the history of this nation. Every reference to Israel relates to the theme of the Bible.
Acts 3:25,26 – The blessing promised to come upon all nations through Abraham’s descendants was not clearly stated to Abraham. But when it was fulfilled, that blessing was redemption from sin through Jesus Christ. God’s eternal plan was being fulfilled through Christ who would come as a promised descendant of Abraham.
The promise to Abraham and his descendants is not always obvious on the surface of the events, but it is always there underlying all of God’s dealings throughout the Old Testament.
The nation of Israel became a great nation in Egypt, but they were enslaved by the Egyptians. God sent Moses to deliver them from slavery. Through Moses, several important aspects of God’s eternal purpose were developed.
Moses predicted the coming of a prophet like he was. That prophet was Jesus (Acts 3:22,23).
The law was our tutor to bring us to Christ, that we might be justified by faith. But after faith has come, we are no longer under a tutor.
The law was never intended to be the means by which God would give salvation to mankind. It was simply a temporary measure to prepare the people for the coming of Jesus and His gospel. Now that the gospel has come, the law has been removed because it completed its purpose.
Every reference to the Old Law relates to the theme of the Bible.
Under the law God ordained a special priesthood through whom the people worshiped God. The high priest was a symbol of Jesus who today is our High Priest (Hebrews 8:1).
Many other symbols under the law foreshadowed various aspects of the gospel, including the sacrifices, the Passover, and many aspects of the tabernacle. But all of it involves God developing His plan to eventually bring Christ into the world for our salvation.
Joshua 21:43-45; 23:14 – Joshua led the nation of Israel into Canaan and gave them all the land promised to Abraham and the patriarchs.
Having entered the promised land, the people of Israel were first led by judges. They often committed iniquity, so God brought other nations to oppress them as punishment till they repented. It might seem the stories are unrelated to the theme of the Bible. But consider:
Ruth (Ruth 4:13-22) – During this period God was still working to bring about the third and final part of the promise to Abraham: the blessing on all nation. Ruth’s child was an ancestor of Jesus (Matthew 1:5).
Following the judges, Israel was led by kings. Again, many of the stories may seem as they have no relationship to God’s eternal plan. However:
David (2 Samuel 7:12-16) – God promised David that he would have a descendant to rule on his throne. That descendant was Jesus who rules on David’s throne as result of His death and resurrection (Acts 2:30).
Through much of the history of Israel, God sent prophets to warn the people to repent of their sins. But the prophets also continued to predict the coming of the Messiah who would save the people from their sins.
Isaiah 53 describes very specifically the sacrifice of Christ for sin.
Jeremiah 31:31-34 predicts the coming of a new covenant different from the one made with Israel at Mount Sinai. This was fulfilled in the gospel.
Daniel chapter 2 predicts the beginning of God’s kingdom during the Roman Empire. This is fulfilled in the spiritual kingdom, the church, over which Christ reigns.
Acts 3:24 – Peter said all the prophets had foretold these days, referring to Jesus and the fulfillment of the blessing on all nations promised to Abraham.
All of these events, promises, preparations, and predictions finally came to a fulfillment in the life, death, burial, and resurrection of Jesus. As we have seen, this was the eternal purpose of God for our redemption from sin through Christ.
While it may seem at times that there is very little plan or purpose to the Old Testament, yet throughout it always looks forward to the coming of the One who would fulfill God’s plan.
Since Scripture is the record of God’s dealing with man, it follows that this eternal purpose of God should be revealed in Scripture. However, it was revealed gradually over the centuries.
Romans 16:25,26 – Him who is able to establish you according to my gospel and the preaching of Jesus Christ, according to the revelation of the mystery kept secret since the world began but now has been made manifest, and by the prophetic Scriptures has been made known to all nations, according to the commandment of the everlasting God, for obedience to the faith.
1 Corinthians 2:7 – We speak the wisdom of God in a mystery, the hidden wisdom which God ordained before the ages for our glory. These things were revealed to inspired men through the Holy Spirit, so that they spoke them to others (verses 10,13). So the mystery of God, which had been ordained before the ages but was hidden, has now been revealed and taught by inspired men.
Titus 1:2,3 – In hope of eternal life which God, who cannot lie, promised before time began, but has in due time manifested His word through preaching.
1 Peter 1:10-12 – The prophets prophesied the coming of Christ and the blessings involved. They sought to understand the meaning, but were told that the fulfillment of the message was for those who came later. That fulfillment has now been preached in the gospel.
(Ephesians 1:9; 3:3-5; Acts 20:27; Matthew 13:35; Romans 8:28)
God was working out His plan in history in His dealings with people.
Even angels and the prophets did not understand the message. Each inspired writer may not fully see the rest of God’s plan or even his own role in the plan. But God saw the overall plan and gave each message to help develop that plan.
We now have the full message completely revealed in Scripture so we can see the whole picture. This helps us see how the Scriptures fit together. Then you see the picture and how the pieces fit together.
Rather than seeing a pile of miscellaneous stories, we see one eternal plan with each part fitting the overall plan.
Stephen in Acts 7 and Paul in Acts 13 did exactly what we have described. Stephen reviewed Old Testament history beginning with Abraham, and Paul did the same beginning with Israel’s release from slavery in Egypt. They gave the overview of the Old Testament showing how it all led to Christ as the solution to the problem of sin.
Rather than telling numerous unrelated stories, the Scriptures ultimately tell one story: the story of God’s plan to save men from sin through Jesus Christ. Every specific story directly or indirectly relates to the one main story.
As we study Scripture, we should seek to understand and teach how the overall picture fits together. And we should emphasize the lesson of salvation through Jesus.
Psalm 33:11 – The counsel of the Lord stands forever, The plans of His heart to all generations.
Do you truly understand and appreciate the purpose of God in Christ as revealed in Scripture? Have you received the salvation of your sins through Christ?
(c) Copyright David E. Pratte, 2020
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Scripture quotations are generally from the New King James Version (NKJV), copyright 1982, 1988 by Thomas Nelson, Inc. used by permission. All rights reserved.