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Bible Gateway “Holy Week” Infographic Published in Newsweek

Newsweek presents Jesus: His Life After Death
“Holy Week” is the name given to identify the final days leading to Jesus’ arrest, crucifixion, and resurrection. As Holy Week unfolds, a large cast of characters play out a powerful emotional drama. But the story’s depth makes it somewhat complex. To help you track the people, places, and events of Holy Week day-by-day, Bible Gateway has prepared an infographic that visualizes each of the different strands of the Easter story as they lead to Easter Sunday.

Bible Gateway's Infographic Holy Week Day-by-Day
(Click the image above for a full-size version. It’s also available in PDF.)

Each line in the chart represents a different person or faction that played a major role in the Easter story. Follow the lines to see how these individuals and groups interacted with each other during the events of Holy Week; read the Bible passages associated with each major event to learn about them. See this post for more information about how to read this timeline and what it does and doesn’t show. (And please note that this chart is an interpretation, drawn from the different Gospel accounts. There’s room for some interpretation in the timing of some of these events.)

We encourage you to project the above infographic during your church services and to print copies of the above PDF version to distribute them to people at your church. Please include the following information: Copyright ©2013 Bible Gateway, part of HarperCollins Christian Publishing, Inc. Released under a Creative Commons-Attribution-Noncommercial license. Visit www.BibleGateway.com to freely search, read, and share the Bible.

The special magazine edition, Newsweek presents Jesus: His Life After Death, includes the Bible Gateway Holy Week Infographic (See the magazine pages [pdf]). Here is the magazine’s description:

It’s the greatest story ever told, and now, Newsweek Special Editions presents a 100-page celebration of the last days of Jesus Christ and the inspiring, world-changing events that ensued. This Newsweek collector’s edition takes you behind the scenes of Jesus’s Passion—from Palm Sunday to crucifixion to resurrection and beyond—with original commentary from noted scholars and historians including Reza Aslan, bestselling author of Zealot: The Life and Times of Jesus of Nazareth, as well as insight into the story after Christ’s resurrection with NBC’s A.D. executive producers Mark Burnett and Roma Downey. It’s an all-angles look at the people and places involved in one of the world’s most transformative events: the death and resurrection of Jesus of Nazareth.

“Knowing Him” Easter Devotional Begins This Sunday

knowinghim

Our Lent devotionals have been underway for several weeks now (perhaps you’ve signed up for one of them!), and we hope they’re helping you keep focused on Jesus as Easter approaches.

If you’ve been enjoying those devotionals (or if you missed out on them), we have some good news: Another major Lent devotional experience begins this Sunday, March 15. It’s Knowing Him, written by Mel Lawrenz. Sign up here.

You may recognize Mel as the pastor and author who writes the How to Understand the Bible weekly series, and whose work appears regularly here on the Bible Gateway blog. Knowing Him is a daily email devotional centered on the premise of Philippians 3:10: “I want to know Christ and the power of his resurrection and the fellowship of sharing in his sufferings, becoming like him in his death, and so, somehow, to attain to the resurrection of the dead.” Here’s how Mel describes it:

The readings will get into the story of Jesus’ last week, including the trial, crucifixion, and resurrection. We will also explore the meaning of forgiveness, atonement, redemption, and other things Jesus accomplished for us.

So if you’re looking for a thoughtful, reflective devotional to walk you up to Easter Sunday (or if you missed out on the earlier Easter devotionals), this is a great option. Visit our Newsletters page to sign up.

What Are the Gospels?

howtounderstandthebible

As we turn to the New Testament, the first question is, “what are the Gospels?” Reading the story of Jesus well is the foundation of faith. For devotional thoughts leading up to Easter, see Knowing Him.


Believers do not sit passively waiting to hear the voice of God. They long to hear it. They believe God has not left humanity in silence, but has spoken loudly and clearly through “the Word” that is Holy Scripture and “the Word” that is Jesus the Christ. The opening words of the book of Hebrews confirms that this is true:

“In the past God spoke to our ancestors through the prophets at many times and in various ways, but in these last days he has spoken to us by his Son, whom he appointed heir of all things, and through whom also he made the universe. The Son is the radiance of God’s glory and the exact representation of his being, sustaining all things by his powerful word. After he had provided purification for sins, he sat down at the right hand of the Majesty in heaven.” (Heb. 1:1-3)

The_Supper_at_Emmaus_by_Rembrandt

[Jesus is the center of the four Gospels. Rembrandt’s “Supper at Emmaus” (1628) shows the astonishment of disciples who realize who Jesus really is, after the resurrection.]

This is the big picture. God did not leave humanity in desperate silence. He spoke through men called prophets, and then he decisively spoke to humanity through his Son, Jesus the Messiah. Jesus is not just the word of God, but is also the embodiment of God’s glory and very being. Jesus the Christ is the central theme of all of Scripture because his life, death, and resurrection provided a way of redemption.

Jesus takes the stage in the four biblical documents called “the Gospels.” Nothing could be more important in our reading of Scripture than understanding the meaning and message of Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John. It would be easy to think these books are historical narratives because they tell the events of Jesus’ life. But they are more than that. The Gospels are also more than biography—the telling of one person’s story. The Gospels are a unique kind of literature because their purpose is to proclaim the truth that the Son of God appeared in Judea and Galilee, was authenticated by great miracles, was killed, and rose from death in final victory over sin, Satan, and death itself.

The Gospels are proclamation. Their authors are evangelists. So they do not read like modern historical accounts. Their authors were true believers, not just historians. Given the emphasis on truth in their writings, they can be taken as honest and truthful witnesses.

The first time I read through the New Testament, I remember being somewhat puzzled about why there are four Gospels. The simple answer is that four different people had their own reasons to write the true story of Jesus. Mark’s Gospel was written first, and much of his content appears in Matthew and Luke. Matthew tells more of the story and has a special interest in explaining the story of Jesus to first-century Jews. Luke, on the other hand, is trying to help a Gentile audience, and he says right at the start that he wants to offer “an orderly account” in order to bolster certainty in the faith.

John’s Gospel includes many actions not reported in the other Gospels. It also includes more of Jesus’ teaching, much of it in long discourses. The opening prologue of the Gospel gives a cosmic perspective:

“In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was with God in the beginning. Through him all things were made; without him nothing was made that has been made. In him was life, and that life was the light of all mankind” (John 1:1-4).

New Testament scholar Leon Morris said the Gospel of John is shallow enough for a child to wade in, yet deep enough for an elephant to swim in. All the Gospels, not just John, require deep reflection and study over a lifetime to appreciate their meaning. Be careful if you think you understand “I am the way and the truth and the life” (John 14:6), or “Whoever does not take up their cross and follow me is not worthy of me” (Matt. 10:38), or “your kingdom come, your will be done” (Matt. 6:10). We may understand at one level, but the impact of the sayings of Jesus will always have greater impact on us the longer we study them. They take a lifetime to comprehend and apply. The greatness and the grace of Jesus’ teachings expand toward every horizon of life.

One last point: It is very easy to read the words of Jesus as if he were speaking directly to us, yet there is some risk in doing that. His teaching certainly is for us, and its meaning will transform our lives. But we still need to understand his teaching in its original context, as the Jewish Messiah speaking to his varied audience—disciples, followers, the curious, and enemies. And then we can explore how his truth applies to us.


Get the whole book version of How to Understand the Bible here. Not yet signed up to receive “How to Understand the Bible” via email? You can follow along here at the blog, but we recommend signing up for email updates here. “How to Understand the Bible” is available as a print book at WordWay.org.

Mel Lawrenz is Director of The Brook Network and creator of The Influence Project. He’s the author of thirteen books, most recently Spiritual Influence: the Hidden Power Behind Leadership.

A Guide for Bible Skeptics: An Interview with John Dickson

Dr. John DicksonThe Bible continues to be the world’s bestselling book. Doubters, skeptics, and critics have attempted to discredit it, ignore it, and ban it. Yet the Bible has outlived them all. What is it about the Bible that is so compelling for countless generations? And how can you communicate to skeptics the Bible’s validity?

Bible Gateway interviewed Dr. John Dickson (@johnpauldickson), about his book A Doubter’s Guide to the Bible: Inside History’s Bestseller for Believers and Skeptics (Zondervan, 2014).

[Also see the guest blogpost by Dr. Dickson, Challenge for Skeptics: Read 100 Pages of the Bible.]

How do you find common ground with a skeptic who doesn’t believe in the validity of the Bible?

Dr. Dickson: It really depends what their doubts are. If they have historical questions, I try to tackle those. If philosophical, I do walk down that path. Ultimately, I want skeptics to actually read the Bible, because many of the criticisms thrown at Christians today are ‘secondhand’ one-liners out of the atheist playbook. There’s nothing like confronting the Book itself, personally, to really feel its force. I often say, give the Bible 100 pages, slowly, with some technical assistance, just like you would some other major classic of Western literature.

Click to buy your copy of A Doubter's Guide to the Bible in the Bible Gateway StoreIf I were a skeptic, where would you tell me to start an investigation of the Bible?

Dr. Dickson: No doubt, a Gospel. Eusebius tells us that the first evangelists of the post-apostolic era preached Christ where he was not known “and passed on the writing of the divine Gospels.” So this is an ancient form of engagement! One of the most enjoyable things I do in ministry is conduct short courses on the Gospel of Luke in my lounge room with a small group of skeptics and inquirers. Leading them through the life of Jesus raises all the usual questions—the existence of God, the problem of suffering, other religions, and so on—but keeps the conversation connected to the Bible’s center, Jesus Christ. In fact, the week I get back home from the US I will be running another of these courses. It is a privilege.

How do you sum up the “basic framework” of the Bible?

Dr. Dickson: The Bible recounts the interaction of God with his people. It is split into two sections, the Old Testament (OT) and the New Testament (NT). The Old Testament is the record of God’s dealings with his chosen people, Israel, and covers the time period from the “Beginning”—whenever that was—to roughly 500 BC. The New Testament begins with the birth of Jesus (shortly before the AD 1 mark), tells of his life, teaching, death, and resurrection, and includes numerous texts written to the first generation or two of Christian believers, up to the end of the first century. A key thing to remember about how Christians read this big book is that they have always insisted on two simple things: first, that the Old Testament points forward to what Jesus would do in the New Testament; and, second, that we must therefore read the Old Testament through the lens of the New Testament. The Bible is a story that stretches from creation to eternity, giving everything in between a particular shape and substance. In Bible-speak, this is called “salvation history” or “biblical theology,” an account of how God planned, revealed, and executed his purposes for the world.

It seems that most people don’t see how the Old and New Testaments reflect the same message. But you do?

Dr. Dickson: Yes, I do. The shape of both the Old and New Testaments is vertical and horizontal, partly about love for God and partly about love for neighbor. The Ten Commandments, which introduce all of Israel’s laws, consist of four commandments about what one does for God, followed by six commandments about the treatment of others. The rest of the Bible, this vast story, concerns God’s remedy—in biblical speak, “redemption.” Redemption in the Bible is not just a spiritual rescue. It involves three dimensions: God intends to redeem our relationship with him, our connections with one another, and our enjoyment of creation itself. The Bible’s redemptive plan is not just about putting souls into heaven. God wants to redeem all things, whether things on earth or things in heaven—which doesn’t leave much else!

The story of Adam and Eve points to our humanity, our sinfulness. But rather than mourning our brokenness, you say this understanding brings us to peace?

Dr. Dickson: The story of Adam and Eve, or the principle of human sinfulness that springs from it, is a key way that Christians make sense of the evil and darkness in the world. It’s an idea that shapes everything, including Christian anthropology. The expectation is that people, all of us, are sinful. This might seem depressing, as Nietzsche certainly suggested, but there is also a liberating realism in believing we are fundamentally glorious and fundamentally wretched at the same time. I have often thought it would be a terrible burden to think we are good through-and-through. How could we live with the perpetual disappointment of daily evidence to the contrary? But a doctrine of sin liberates us from these expectations. I am “Adam;” you are “Adam.” This is not to say that Christians become comfortable with their sins, but they do begin to see through the fantasy of imagining we are deeply and inherently good. And that realization brings a peace.

How did Abraham’s covenant with God set up our understanding of grace, and in turn, differentiate Christianity from other world religions?

Dr. Dickson: God’s calling of Abraham and his covenant with him do not depend on a believer’s behavior but on the Almighty’s trustworthiness. Abraham did obey God, but his actions were a response to divine favor, not the means of securing it. Abraham is the paradigmatic sinner startled by grace—lost but sought and saved. This is exactly how relationships with God are structured in Christianity, from the first book (Genesis) to the last book (Revelation). They are entirely grace-based and have nothing to do with merit or the particular goodness or badness of someone. The structure of relationship with God in a typical religious framework is: obedience first, favor second. The structure of relationship with God, found in the call of Abraham and then throughout the Bible, is: favor first, obedience second.

In what way is Revelation a grand bookend to the Genesis story?

Dr. Dickson: Well, it is very striking that the last two chapters of the Bible (Rev. 21-22) are replete with references to the first two chapters of the Bible (Gen. 1-2). The ‘good’ of Genesis 1 is recovered and surpassed in the glory of the new creation. The ‘tree of life,’ from which humanity was banished in Genesis, reappears in Revelation as the pledge of eternal life for God’s people. All three relationships which fell apart after Genesis 1-2 are recovered in Revelation 21-22: our social interactions with one another are restored in a new city, ‘Jerusalem;’ our connection with the physical environment itself is renewed with a ‘new earth;’ and, above all, the presence of God among his people in Eden is reclaimed in the words of Rev 21, “God himself will be with them.” The picture of salvation in Revelation is nothing less than the reconciliation of all things in Christ.

As your book concludes, you talk about how nearly every culture we know about has made three questions a core part of its philosophical curiosity. What are those questions?

Dr. Dickson: The questions are: How do we connect with our Source? How do we get along with one another? How will the pain of material existence be resolved? It seems that these are the universal questions, and I aimed to show throughout this new book that the Bible offers a deliberate and comprehensive set of answers. From Genesis to Revelation—the bookends of the Bible—Christian Scripture says the Creator has disclosed how we can be reconciled to him, how human communities can flourish, and how creation itself will be restored. That is the story of the Bible. And it satisfies our deepest longings. It’s water for our thirst.

Which part of the Bible speaks most effectively to the way Christians should be living their daily lives?

Dr. Dickson: I can’t do better than repeat the answer of one of my old New Testament instructors and the former Archbishop of Sydney Donald Robinson: the Gospel and the Apostle. In his stunning, but little known, book, Faith’s Framework, Robinson argues that the ‘structure’ of New Testament theology is precisely the foundation of Christ in the four Gospels and the explication of Christ in the New Testament epistles. That’s how I think about how the Bible addresses our daily lives. We look to the teaching of Christ first. We hear him calling on us to love our enemies, refuse to judge, shun the adulteries of the heart, practice mercy like the Samaritan, and so on. Then we turn to the apostolic letters to learn how this gospel-ethic plays out in the messiness of the non-Christian world. This is no mere moralism, for the apostles will always lay their theological foundation, the saving work of Jesus Christ, before outlining how the way of Christ is to be lived out from day to day. It is Gospel and Apostle, always.

Bio: John Dickson (PhD, Macquarie University, Sydney) is a senior research fellow of the Department of Ancient History, Macquarie University; co-director of the Centre for Public Christianity; and senior minister at St. Andrew’s Roseville. The author of more than a dozen books, he is the host of two major historical documentaries for Australian television and is a busy public speaker in corporations, universities, churches, and conferences.

What Should We Understand About the World of the New Testament?

howtounderstandthebible

This is part of Mel Lawrenz’ “How to Understand the Bible” series. If you know someone or a group who would like to follow along on this journey through Scripture, they can get more info and sign up to receive these essays via email here.


When we turn the page from Malachi to Matthew, from the Old Testament to the New Testament, from Ezra the scribe and Haggai the prophet to John the Baptist and Jesus of Nazareth, we enter an entirely different world—and we must understand it. The gap between the testaments, known as the intertestamental period, is 400 years, but what happened during those centuries set the stage upon which everything in the life of Jesus and the expansive mission of his followers would take place.

Galatians 4:4-5 says: “When the set time had fully come, God sent his Son, born of a woman, born under the law, to redeem those under the law, that we might receive adoption to sonship.” Other translations use the phrase “in the fullness of time.” We’re told that the life of Jesus, the coming of Messiah, occurred just when God intended. And what a time it was.

StPaulsTravels

Read just a few chapters in one of the Gospels and you’ll encounter Romans and Herodians, Jews and Gentiles, Pharisees and Sadducees, teachers of the law and ordinary country folk, and many others. We need to understand who these people were in order to understand the role they played in the great drama that is the New Testament. Turning to a good one-volume Bible dictionary is an excellent way to quickly look up a name, a group, a movement, a place, or anything else. Reading one article on “The Pharisees” will greatly help you understand the Gospels.

The world of the New Testament includes the land of Israel, of course, but the book of Acts and the letters of Paul launch us out into the wider Greco-Roman world surrounding the Mediterranean Sea. Jesus’ entire life and ministry took place in the tight geographical stretch from the hills of Judea to the fertile plains and lakeside villages of Galilee. When he was in Jerusalem, Jesus had tense encounters with Jewish religious officials and Roman authorities. When he was in Galilee, near his hometown, his interactions were with ordinary people. The apostle Paul, on the other hand, traveled by boat and caravan and on foot into Syria, Asia Minor, Crete, Greece, and Italy. The epic story of his life included chains, prison, and trials in front of magistrates that turned into sermons.

The world of the New Testament was a clashing and blending of Jewish, Greek, and Roman cultures.

The exiles who returned from captivity in Babylonia in the days of Ezra and Nehemiah gradually rebuilt Judea, a much smaller entity than what Israel was at its zenith. In 330 B.C., 200 years after the start of the return, Alexander the Great rolled across Judea with his formidable army and began a long and decisive domination of the Jews. Greek (or Hellenistic) culture was hard to resist. The Greek language was dominant, and that is why all the books of the New Testament were originally written in Greek. More than two centuries before Jesus’ birth, the Old Testament had been translated into Greek (the Septuagint). This “Greek Old Testament” was used by many of the New Testament authors and of generations of Christians thereafter who did not know a bit of Hebrew.

Alexander’s successors split his empire, and the division known as the Seleucids were the next power to dominate Judea. One of their kings, Antiochus Epiphanes (who reigned from 175–164 B.C.), decided to defile the temple of the Jews and to establish an idolatrous religion there. This outrage led eventually to a heroic Jewish revolt under the Maccabees, and eventually Jewish independence that lasted for about 100 years, starting in 166 B.C.

Then came the Romans. General Pompey conquered Jerusalem in 63 B.C., and in 37 B.C. Herod the Great was made king of the Jews by the Roman Senate. But the Romans dominated Judea, occupying it with its army and taxing everyone they could. In the Gospel accounts, many times Jesus’ detractors tried to get him to make politically risky comments, as when they asked him whether it was right to pay taxes to Caesar. Most people who were looking for the Messiah were expecting a strong leader who would repel the Romans from Judea.

In the world of the New Testament, particularly the Gospels, we run into two important religious sects or orders, the Pharisees and Sadducees. These were social movements going back to the days of Jewish independence a century and a half before Jesus. Their original purpose was noble: to preserve Jewish identity, including its spiritual integrity, by faithful obedience to the law and the rites. By the time of Jesus, however, far too many Pharisees had become misshapen by the diseases of self-righteousness, legalism, and spiritual blindness.

“When the set time had fully come, God sent his Son” (Gal. 4:4a). The world of the New Testament is a varied and confusing mass of religions, philosophies, political parties, religious groups, and ethnicities. There were many gods in the Greco-Roman world; but, as always, people were waiting for a truth that rose above all of that—which is exactly what they found in the gospel of Jesus.


Get the whole book version of How to Understand the Bible here. Not yet signed up to receive “How to Understand the Bible” via email? You can follow along here at the blog, but we recommend signing up for email updates here. “How to Understand the Bible” is available as a print book at WordWay.org.

Mel Lawrenz is Director of The Brook Network and creator of The Influence Project. He’s the author of thirteen books, most recently Spiritual Influence: the Hidden Power Behind Leadership.

Fathers & Faith: New Poll on Struggles with Dads and God

This story was written by author and apologist Lee Strobel. It appears in the latest issue of his email newsletter, Investigating Faith with Lee Strobel. You can sign up to receive Investigating Faith here.

Two findings emerged in a new national poll that I commissioned on fatherhood and faith: the younger the generation, the more people report having difficult relationships with their fathers. At the same time, the younger generation reports the highest percentage of people who are struggling with belief in God.

I’m wondering: are these findings related?

The poll itself can’t prove or disprove a direct correlation between those findings. Certainly, there are a lot of factors that influence a person’s belief in God. But in my case — and in many others I’ve seen through the years — a person’s relationship with their earthly father can influence whether they’ll be receptive to a heavenly Father.

caseforgraceI commissioned the Barna Group to conduct the poll in conjunction with my new book, The Case for Grace, in which themes of faith and fatherhood are intertwined. In the book, which came out this week, I describe my own rocky relationship with my dad, which was one of the factors that moved me toward spiritual skepticism. I was an atheist for much of his life, until a nearly two-year investigation of the evidence for Christianity prompted me to become a Christian in 1981.

Among the findings of the poll:

• The younger the responder, the more likely they are to report difficulties in their relationship with their fathers. Among the Elder generation (ages 69 and up), 15 percent said they had a poor or below average relationship with their dad while growing up. For Baby Boomers (ages 50-68), the number was 17 percent; for Gen X (ages 31-49), it was 22 percent. And for Millennials (ages 18-30), the number grew to 26 percent — or one in four.

• More than one-third of Millennials are struggling with belief in God, compared with one-quarter of Gen X and one-fifth of Baby Boomers and Elders. Put another way, 62 percent of Millennials are certain God exists, compared with 74 percent of Gen X, 82 percent of Boomers, and 79 percent of Elders.

So two findings can be identified. First, a higher percentage of Millennials report having subpar relationships with their fathers than previous generations. And second, a higher percentage of Millennials are uncertain or doubtful that God exists, compared to older Americans. While this particular survey can’t establish for sure whether there’s a correlation, I think these findings are definitely worth further exploration.

Some findings by other researchers are also relevant:

• In his book Faith of the Fatherless, psychologist Paul Vitz of New York University showed that many well-known atheists through history — including Friedrich Nietzsche, David Hume, Bertrand Russell, Jean-Paul Sartre, Albert Camus, Arthur Schopenhauser, Ludwig Feuerbach, Baron D’Holbach, Volatire, H.G. Wells, Madalyn Murray O’Hair, and others — felt abandoned or deeply disappointed with their fathers.

“That a child’s psychological representation of his father is intimately connected to his understanding of God was assumed by Freud and has been rather well developed by a number of psychologists, especially psychoanalysts,” said Vitz. “In other words, an atheist’s disappointment in and resentment of his own father unconsciously justifies his rejection of God.”

• In the 2014 book Families and Faith: How Religion Is Passed Down Across Generations, published by Oxford University Press, Vern L. Bengtson and his coauthors found that for religious transmission through generations, “fervent faith cannot compensate for a distant dad.” He found that “a father who is an exemplar, a pillar of the church, but doesn’t provide warmth and affirmation to his kid does not have kids who follow him in his faith.”

leestrobelWhile my dad provided for our family and was a good father in many respects, we never really connected emotionally. In our case, there was always a distance between us.

In fact, The Case for Grace opens with a confrontation in which my dad finally declared, “I don’t have enough love for you to fill my little finger.” At the age of 18, I stormed out of the house, intending never to return — and unwittingly launching a life-long quest for grace.

My new book puts together the puzzle pieces of grace. I traveled thousands of miles to capture the inspiring stories of people whose lives have been radically transformed by God, with each story shining light on a different facet of grace. Included are prodigal sons, addicts, and even murderers who have found new hope and purpose. It’s my hope that readers will see how God’s grace can revolutionize their own eternity and relationships.

The poll included 1,001 telephone interviews conducted among a representative, nationwide sample of adults ages 18 and older. The interviews were conducted from August 25 through September 10, 2014. The sampling error is plus or minus 3.1 percentage points at the 95 percent confidence level. The cooperation rate was 78 percent.

This post has been slightly edited from its original published form.

What Do We Learn From the Exile and Return?

howtounderstandthebible

This is part of Mel Lawrenz’ “How to Understand the Bible” series. If you know someone or a group who would like to follow along on this journey through Scripture, they can get more info and sign up to receive these essays via email here.


The grand narrative of Scripture speaks to the most urgent needs all people have, including the needs to be connected and grounded, to be protected and to belong, to know who you are and where you fit in. The Bible contains the stories of the people of God when they lost all of that. People torn away from their land, torn up as a people, and torn down by humiliating loss. This is the meaning of the exile in the last sections of the Old Testament in which Israel in the north is destroyed by the Assyrian empire, and Judah in the south is taken into exile by the Babylonians.

It is a heart-rending and poignant part of the old covenant narrative. Remember that the land which the two kingdoms of Israel and Judah occupied is located precariously between the various empires of Mesopotamia to the northeast (Assyria, Babylonia, Persia), and Egypt to the southwest. The ruthless Assyrians waged war with Israel in the north, defeating the tribes in 722 B.C. Prophetic warnings about the Assyrian raids were sounded loudly and clearly by the prophets Amos, Hosea, Joel, Isaiah, and others. The Assyrians resettled their captured lands with other people groups, resulting in a mixed population. This is where we get the Samaritans in the New Testament.

Destruction_of_Jerusalem

The Babylonian empire under Nebuchadnezzar assaulted Judah in the south. This is when the unthinkable happened. Jerusalem, the City of David, Zion, the site of the temple, was put under siege in 597 B.C. The walls were eventually breached, and the Babylonian army took all of the educated and skilled members of the community into exile, hundreds of miles away, into Babylon. The prophet Ezekiel was among them.

But even though God’s people were displaced from their land, their homes, and their temple, God was still present with them: “While I was among the exiles by the Kebar River, the heavens were opened and I saw visions of God” (Ezek. 1:1). And what visions they were! Four fantastic living creatures, chariot-like wheels covered in eyes careening through the sky, a valley of dry bones, and on and on. The prophets Jeremiah, Habakkuk, and Ezekiel also spoke about the impending exile.

I remember when I first read these parts of the Old Testament thinking I had no clue how to understand them. There were people and places and images that were a bit familiar to me, but the big question was how to put it all together. I also remember being put off by teachers, authors, and preachers who seemed to be connecting details of the oracles of the prophets with events in my own time in an arbitrary way. They seemed to be reading Ezekiel as if it were written just about us, and their interpretations seemed stretched, to say the least.

Remember, the meaning of the text of Scripture for us is grounded in what it meant for its original audience. So the prophetic predictions of war and exile and eventual return are primarily about the real history of God’s people six and seven centuries before Jesus. It is a compelling story, full of insight about human nature and the nature of this world, which we must apply fully to our lives today. But we must use all means to understand what these oracles meant back then. Here is where excellent commentaries and Bible dictionaries and encyclopedias are indispensable. We must still read these late texts of the Old Testament in an uncluttered and unfiltered manner, letting all the images and pronouncements impact us. But then we ought to avail ourselves of the best tools to understand the details.

The exile is tragedy, but it is matched by the hopeful story of the return of God’s people to the land described in Ezra and Nehemiah, and in the last three books of the Old Testament, the prophets Haggai, Zechariah, and Malachi. Even before the destruction of Israel and the exile of Judah happened, the prophets spoke of eventual restoration.

Indeed, some 70 years after Jerusalem was emptied and the temple was destroyed, the leader of a new dominant empire, Cyrus of Persia, decreed that Jews be allowed to return to their land and begin a process of reconstruction. The book of Nehemiah documents reconstruction of the city; the book of Ezra, the reconstruction of the spiritual life of the people. This is different from most history. In the story of the return of the Jews, we see the central importance of worship as the people begin sacrificing again on the site of the old temple, the importance of the word of God as Ezra reads the book of the Law in the hearing of all the people, the importance of moral leadership.

We also see in the return the unchanging covenant of God, the central theme of the Old Testament. Through Ezra and others, the people rediscover the Book of God, and through it they remember the God of creation, of the covenant with Abram, of the deliverance in the exodus, of the land. And all of this in spite of the disobedience and unfaithfulness of the people. This is God then, and God now.


Get the whole book version of How to Understand the Bible here. Not yet signed up to receive “How to Understand the Bible” via email? You can follow along here at the blog, but we recommend signing up for email updates here. “How to Understand the Bible” is available as a print book at WordWay.org.

Mel Lawrenz is Director of The Brook Network and creator of The Influence Project. He’s the author of thirteen books, most recently Spiritual Influence: the Hidden Power Behind Leadership.

The Whole Story of the Bible in 16 Verses: An Interview with Chris Bruno

Chris BrunoEven though the Bible is the world’s bestselling book, it can be intimidating for new, as well as seasoned, readers to know where to begin reading it and how to best understand it.

Dr. Chris Bruno (@chrisbruno1) has written The Whole Story of the Bible in 16 Verses (Crossway, 2015) to help readers grasp the overarching story line of the Bible through concise key scriptures that serve as “turning points” in the Bible narrative, highlighting God’s sovereignty, glory, and grace throughout his Word.

In the video above, Dr. Bruno discusses his book with Justin Taylor, senior vice president and publisher for books at Crossway. Video interview timestamps are as follows:

Click to buy your copy of The Whole Story of the Bible in 16 Verses in the Bible Gateway Store

  • 00:00 – How can you cover the whole story of the Bible in just 16 verses?
  • 01:14 – Can you give us some examples from the book of how you do this?
  • 04:22 – What is biblical theology and why is it important?
  • 08:08 – How did your identity as a pastor, husband, and dad help you write this book?
  • 12:15 – What do you hope the Lord accomplishes through this book?

The Whole Story of the Bible in 16 Verses highlights 16 key Bible passages that are pivotal in the Bible’s story line—enabling readers to see God’s incredible plan to redeem his people and glorify his name from Genesis to Revelation:

Part 1: The Time Is Coming
1. Creation (Genesis 1:31)
2. Human Beings (Genesis 1:26-27)
3. The Fall (Genesis 3:6-7)
4. Redemption Promised (Genesis 3:15)
5. Abraham (Genesis 12:2-3)
6. Judah the King (Genesis 49:10)
7. The Passover Lamb (Exodus 12:23)
8. King David (2 Samuel 7:12-13)
9. The Suffering Servant (Isaiah 53:6)
10. Resurrection Promised (Ezekiel 37:3-5)
11. New Creation (Isaiah 65:17)

Part 2: The Time Has Come
12. Fulfillment! (Mark 1:14-15)
13. The Cross (John 19:30)
14. Resurrection (Romans 1:3-4)
15. Justification (Romans 3:21-26)
16. Glory (Revelation 21:1-4)

Bio: Chris Bruno (PhD, Wheaton College) is the executive director of the Antioch School Hawai’i and pastor for discipleship and training at Harbor Church. He spends most of his time leading a church partnership for theological education and church planting. He has written numerous articles and reviews. Along with being the author of The Whole Story of the Bible in 16 Verses, he’s the coauthor (with Matt Dirks) of Churches Partnering Together (Crossway, 2014).

Journey to Easter with Bible Gateway’s Lent Devotionals

lastsupperLent is the 40-day part of the church liturgical calender leading to Easter, and millions of Christians around the world mark this season with prayer, Scripture reading, and acts of self-denial—all aimed at drawing closer to Christ by reflecting on the message of Easter.

Every year, we put together a series of special email devotionals and reading plans during Lent, and this year is no exception. With Lent here, now’s the perfect time to visit our Newsletters page and sign up for one or more of these:

  • Bible Gateway’s Lent Devotions: An eclectic mix of Scripture passages and reflections to help you think through and apply the message of Easter.
  • Readings for Lent and Easter: A Bible Reading Plan for Lent: Read a daily Scripture passage chosen to focus your heart and mind on the message of Easter. (This reading plan takes full advantage of our new and improved Bible reading plan functionality—visit the reading plans page to learn more.)
  • On the Road to Calvary (by Max Lucado): Discover the true meaning of Easter with this week-long daily devotional written by beloved author Max Lucado.
  • 40 Day Journey with Dietrich Bonhoeffer: A devotional journey with WW2 pastor and martyr Dietrich Bonhoeffer that will both challenge and encourage you throughout the Lenten season. One of our most popular devotionals, and very appropriate for Easter.
  • Knowing Him: Journey to Easter with 22 short, daily inspirational reflections from pastor and author Mel Lawrenz. (Begins March 15.)

In addition to these, we’ll also be unveiling some interesting new devotionals in the days ahead!

You can sign up for any of these on our Newsletters page—just check the box next to the devotional(s) you want, and fill out the subscription information box on the right side of the page.

Whether or not you plan to observe Lent in any special way this year, we encourage you to try one or more of these and see what a difference it makes to begin each day with a devotional message from Scripture.

What is Important About the Era of the Kings?

howtounderstandthebible

This week is the beginning of Lent. See Knowing Him: Devotional Readings for the Easter Season for a new way to draw closer to Christ. You can also sign up for the email version of Knowing Him.


I remember when I first read the Old Testament books that recount the stories of the kings of Israel and Judah. David’s and Solomon’s reigns are epic. But then begins the long and oftentimes sordid story of about 40 successive kings, most of whom were “evil.” I remember thinking: This is hardly encouraging reading! Yet buried in the history is the story of God, and we must understand it.

In the middle of the story of the Old Testament is an era spanning five centuries in which we hear about the checkered history of the kings of Judah and Israel, the high points and low points of the people of God, and many lessons about integrity and faithfulness, sin and destruction. This is the era of the kings, a complicated narrative that is an important part of the word of God because it describes the crooked pathway that eventually led to the coming of the Messiah.

The era of the kings began with the people saying it wasn’t enough for God to be their king—they wanted a man to rule them, just like all the other nations. They did indeed become like all the other nations—but not for the good.

The era of the kings stretches from the reign of Saul, a thousand years before Christ, to the destruction of Judah and the exile of the last king in 586 B.C.

Before there was a king, the Israelite tribes lived in scattered, small settlements with judges like Gideon, Deborah, and Jephthah providing a degree of leadership. Then the period of the kings, as told in the books of 1 and 2 Samuel, 1 and 2 Kings, and 1 and 2 Chronicles, is divided into two parts. The first three kings—Saul, David, and Solomon—spanned more than 100 years in what is sometimes called the “golden age” or “the united monarchy.” After Solomon there was civil war, and the 12 tribes of Israel divided themselves into a northern kingdom, called “Israel,” which included 10 of the tribes, and a southern kingdom made up of the remaining two tribes, called “Judah.”

KingDavid

After the disappointing narrative of the reign of Saul, the mostly optimistic accounts of the golden era under David and his son Solomon describe Israel as a rapidly expanding empire that eventually enjoyed a period of peace and stability. David established Jerusalem as the capital, and the center point of the spiritual life of the nation. Solomon advanced that with the building of the temple.

But faithfulness to God is a fragile thing. After Solomon’s reign, civil war split the kingdom in two, and for hundreds of years the bitter fruit of unfaithfulness shaped life in Israel and Judah. As we read the books of Kings and 2 Chronicles, we are struck with almost monotonous patterns: bad kings, good kings who become bad kings, a few good kings who kept their integrity and even introduced reform and revival to the people.

We also learn about the spiritual dynamics behind these movements. Those kings who “did evil in the sight of the Lord” and brought bad times on the people were guilty of the worship of foreign gods, of sacrificing outside the rules defined in the law, and sometimes of stooping to the low level of the foreign religions, including human sacrifice. Whole generations lived in complete violation of the Ten Commandments. They forgot their heritage and their God, and they didn’t even know there were Scriptures that had defined them as a people.

So the stories of revival and reform under kings like Hezekiah and Josiah are like sunbursts breaking through a heavy overcast sky. Josiah smashed the sites of idolatrous worship and removed the illegal shrines and priests, mediums, and spiritists. He removed pagan statues that previous kings had put at the entrance to the temple, of all places. And he reinstituted the celebration of Passover for all the people of Judah, which had been neglected for centuries.

Here is the sum of it:

“Neither before nor after Josiah was there a king like him who turned to the Lord as he did—with all his heart and with all his soul and with all his strength, in accordance with all the Law of Moses.” (2 Kings 23:25)

And in this narrative we have one more proof of the power of the word of God in Holy Scripture: Josiah’s revival began after his officials discovered the long-lost and forgotten Book of the Law while carrying out Josiah’s orders to repair the temple of the Lord. This was the turning point. When Josiah heard the words read to him, everything suddenly made sense. Generations of corruption. Spiritual confusion. Aimlessness. Josiah tore his robes in repentance. This is one more example of the power of the written word to release people from longstanding spiritual paralysis. It is a lesson for us.

So how should we understand the era of the kings? We must read these books as history, but not just political history. These narratives show us spiritual movements downward and upward. Most of the prophets fit into this story by interpreting how God’s people could sink low, but also where there was restoration.

We must not artificially lift verses out of context and claim them as our own. These are the stories of real people in a real place. History does offer lessons. History tells us what happened in the past so we can understand what happens in our world, because human nature remains a constant, for good and for ill.


Get the whole book version of How to Understand the Bible here. Not yet signed up to receive “How to Understand the Bible” via email? You can follow along here at the blog, but we recommend signing up for email updates here. “How to Understand the Bible” is available as a print book at WordWay.org.

Mel Lawrenz is Director of The Brook Network and creator of The Influence Project. He’s the author of thirteen books, most recently Spiritual Influence: the Hidden Power Behind Leadership.