Thursday, February 7, 2013

Thoughts on God's Big Picture by Vaughn Roberts

Context is king.  That is a great point to keep in mind when reading anything.  The context that something is written in is crucial to a good understanding of what is written.  This is especially true of the Bible.  To acknowledge the context of a passage is critical to not misunderstanding and misapplying the passage being studied.  Most heresies and popular misunderstandings of Scripture owe their existence to poor exegesis, particularly in this area.  As a professor I had would always say, "A text out of context is a pretext!"  And he is quite right.  It is incredibly important to see the immediate context of a statement.  What are the surrounding sentences and paragraphs addressing?  It is equally important to see the context of the document as a whole.  Who is the author addressing?  What is his stated/implied purpose?

Sometimes we will forget to take into account the greater context of the author and the document.  The cultural context of the author and the time period the document was composed in are both crucially important to the proper understanding of a document.  All of these factors, even when addressed, will still leave us wanting for a proper understanding of Scripture if we do not address the fact that God's revelation is not a hodgepodge collection of randomness, but rather an unfolding of truth from Genesis to Revelation.  If we do not see the passage in its proper context within the Canon of Scripture, we can easily miss key points and misunderstand the passage, the book, or even the entirety of Scripture.

Vaughn Roberts writes in order that the reader will see the greater context of Scripture and understand the overall theme of God's revelation to man.  He writes:
Scholars have debated for years whether or not it is possible to point to a unifying theme that binds the whole Bible together. Many have argued that the search for such a theme is fruitless: it is better just to accept that Scripture contains a number of different threads and then look at them individually without trying to unite them. They warn of the danger of squeezing all parts of the Bible into a mould rather than letting them speak individually in their rich variety. That is an important warning that must be heard. Any unifying theme that is used to help us to see how the Bible fits together must arise out of Scripture itself, rather than being imposed upon it; and it must be broad enough to allow each part to make its own distinct contribution. The theme of the kingdom of God satisfies both requirements. God’s kingdom was the dominant theme in Jesus’ teaching. He began his public ministry by proclaiming, ‘The time has come...The kingdom of God is near’ (Mark 1:15). He taught that his mission was to introduce the kingdom in fulfilment of the prophecies of the Old Testament.
And he continues:
The kingdom of God can be defined as ‘God’s people in God’s place under God’s rule’ (Figure 5). 2 That may sound like an overly simplistic definition for such a significant theme in Scripture, but the simple words contain great depth. God longs for human beings to enjoy an intimate relationship with him in his presence. As he is a perfect, holy God, that is possible only as we submit to his loving rule and do not sin. That is life at its best; life as it was designed to be lived. To live under God’s rule means to enjoy God’s blessing; the two go together. That is what we see at the creation in the garden of Eden until the fall. But then human beings disobey God and forgo his blessing. The consequences are devastating not just for humanity but for the whole creation; everything is spoilt. But in his great love God promises to put things right again and re-establish his kingdom on earth. The rest of the Bible tells the story of the fulfilment of that promise: partially in Israel’s history in the Old Testament period, and then perfectly through Jesus Christ. So the Bible is about God’s plan of salvation: his promise to restore his kingdom, and then the fulfilment of that promise through his Son Jesus.
While the Bible is diverse and dynamic, it is not disunified.  While there are many voices found in the pages of Scripture, there is one voice that speaks throughout.  While there are many subjects covered in Scripture, there is one subject that is above all and found throughout.  While there are many people recorded in the pages of these 66 books, there is one person that this Book is actually about.  To see that the Bible is about a king and his kingdom, about The King and His Kingdom, is imperative to understanding the whos, whys and whats of Scripture.  Robert's book is a tremendous introduction to this topic.  It is best seen in how he interprets Scripture in light of the theme of Kingdom.

The Old Testament
1. The pattern of the kingdom. In the garden of Eden we see the world as God designed it to be. God’s people, Adam and Eve, live in God’s place, the garden, under his rule as they submit to his word. And to be under God’s rule in the Bible is always to enjoy his blessing; it is the best way to live. God’s original creation shows us a model of his kingdom as it was meant to be.

2. The perished kingdom. Sadly, Adam and Eve think life would be better if they lived independently of God. The results are disastrous. They are no longer God’s people. They turn away from him and he responds by turning away from them. They are no longer in God’s place; he banishes them from the garden. And they are not under God’s rule, so they do not enjoy his blessing. Instead, they face his curse and are under his judgment. The situation is very gloomy. But God, in his great love, is determined to restore his kingdom.

3. The promised kingdom. God calls Abraham and makes some unconditional promises to him: through Abraham’s descendants he will re-establish his kingdom. They will be his people, living in his land and enjoying his blessing, and through them all peoples on earth will be blessed. That promise is the gospel. It is partially fulfilled in the history of Israel,but is only finally fulfilled through Jesus Christ.

4. The partial kingdom. The Bible records how God’s promises to Abraham are partially fulfilled in the history of Israel. Through the exodus from Egypt, God makes Abraham’s descendants his very own people. At Mount Sinai he gives them his law so that they might live under his rule and enjoy his blessing, as Adam and Eve had done before they sinned. The blessing is marked chiefly by God’s presence with his people in the tabernacle. Under Joshua they enter the land and, by the time of Kings David and Solomon, they enjoy peace and prosperity there. That was the high point of the history of Israel. They were God’s people in God’s place, the land of Canaan, under God’s rule and therefore enjoying his blessing.

But the promises to Abraham had still not been completely fulfilled. The problem was sin, the continual disobedience of the people of Israel. That was soon to lead to the dismantling of the partial kingdom as Israel fell apart.
5. The prophesied kingdom. After the death of King Solomon civil war broke out and the kingdom of Israel split into two parts: Israel in the north and Judah in the south. Neither was strong. After 200 years of separate existence, the northern kingdom of Israel was destroyed by the Assyrians. The southern kingdom struggled on for another century, but then it too was conquered and its inhabitants were taken into exile in Babylon. During this depressing period in their history God spoke to the people of Israel and Judah through some prophets. He explained that they were being punished for their sin but still offered hope for the future. The prophets pointed forward to a time when God would act decisively through his King, the Messiah, to fulfil all his promises. The people of Judah must have thought that that time had come when they were allowed to return from exile, but God made it clear that the great time of salvation was still in the future. That is where the Old Testament ends: waiting for God’s King to appear to introduce his kingdom.
The New Testament

6. The present kingdom. Four hundred years passed after the completion of the Old Testament before Jesus began his public ministry with the words, ‘The time has come...The kingdom of God is near’ (Mark 1:15). The waiting was over; God’s king had come to establish God’s kingdom. His life, teaching and miracles all proved that he was who he said he was: God himself in human form. He had the power to put everything right again, and he chose a very surprising way of doing it: by dying in weakness on a cross. It was by his death that Jesus dealt with the problem of sin and made it possible for human beings to come back into relationship with his Father. The resurrection proved the success of Jesus’ rescue mission on the cross and announced that there is hope for our world. Those who trust in Christ can look forward to eternal life with him.

7. The proclaimed kingdom. By his death and resurrection Jesus did all that was necessary to put everything right again and completely restore God’s kingdom. But he did not finish the job when he was first on earth. He ascended into heaven and made it clear that there would be a delay before he returned. The delay is to enable more people to hear about the good news of Christ so they can put their trust in him and be ready for him when he comes. We live during this period, which the Bible calls ‘the last days’. It began on the Day of Pentecost when God sent the Spirit to equip his church to tell the whole world about Christ.
8. The perfected kingdom. One day Christ will return. There will be a great division. His enemies will be separated from his presence in hell, but his people will join him in a perfect new creation. Then at last the gospel promises will be completely fulfilled. The book of Revelation describes a fully restored kingdom: God’s people, Christians from all nations, in God’s place, the new creation (heaven), under God’s rule and therefore enjoying his blessing. And nothing can spoil this happy ending. It is no fairy story; they really will all live happily ever after.
The Bible is a story about a King, His Kingdom and His Subjects. It includes the story of a people who rebelled, subjected themselves to a lesser King and were rescued by a greater King who's heroism not only redeemed a people but fully and finally exalted this King above all else. The Bible is about the eternal rule and reign of God and the permanent rescue and redemption of God's people. Every passage of Scripture must be read in light of the whole, not just noticing the historical and cultural context of the event, document and author, but the canonical context as well. All Scripture must be read with the question in mind of “How does this pertain to the rule and reign of King Jesus and His redemptive work of rescuing and raising His people?"  The Big Story by Vaughn Roberts is a tremendous introduction to this crucial issue.  It is a great read!