Lesson 16: Major Bible Themes Of ScriptureRelated Media
There are many repeated themes in Scripture, but only a few that flow continuously from Genesis to Revelation. We will consider some of those here.
Genesis 1:1 says, “In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth.” From the beginning of Scripture to its end, God continually makes himself known. Scripture teaches his person, character, works, plans, and his standards. Theologians refer to God making himself known as “revelation.” The reason this is called revelation is that we cannot know God unless he reveals himself to us.
As mentioned, God reveals himself by creating the heavens and earth, including people. In fact, Scripture says that humanity was made in the very image of God (Gen 1:27). This tells us that by studying humanity, we can learn a lot about God (and vice versa). God demonstrates many aspects of human personality—joy, wrath, jealously, love—with one exception: God’s person is perfect and ours is flawed.
At times, God reveals himself by speaking. He spoke to Adam and Eve, Noah, Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, and Moses, among others. At times, he revealed himself through dreams and visions, as seen in the story of Joseph and Daniel. God revealed himself through angels, prophets, and apostles, who spoke for him.
Obviously, God revealed himself specifically through the writing of Scripture and its teachings. God wrote the Ten Commandments with his finger. Then he commanded Moses, Joshua, and others, to write down his Words and teach them to others. These writings remain for all people to read in Scripture.
God revealed himself through the person of Jesus Christ, his Son, who lived on the earth 2000 years ago. John 1:1-3, and 14 says this:
In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was fully God. The Word was with God in the beginning. All things were created by him, and apart from him not one thing was created that has been created… Now the Word became flesh and took up residence among us. We saw his glory—the glory of the one and only, full of grace and truth, who came from the Father.
Jesus is not only the Son of God, but he is also the Word of God—symbolizing how he is the very communication of God. Therefore, as we study Christ’s actions and teachings, we learn more about God.
Finally, God also reveals himself through biblical history. For example, in 1 Corinthians 10:6-11, Paul said this about God’s judgment of Israel during their wilderness wanderings:
These things happened as examples for us, so that we will not crave evil things as they did. So do not be idolaters, as some of them were. As it is written, “The people sat down to eat and drink and rose up to play.” And let us not be immoral, as some of them were, and twenty-three thousand died in a single day. And let us not put Christ to the test, as some of them did, and were destroyed by snakes. And do not complain, as some of them did, and were killed by the destroying angel. These things happened to them as examples and were written for our instruction, on whom the ends of the ages have come.
As holy and righteous, God judged Israel for their complaining, idolatry, and sexual immorality, and these stories are included in Scripture as warnings to us against committing the same sins.
The historical accounts and events recorded throughout Scripture serve to illustrate and remind us of who God is. Therefore, biblical history is God’s story—meant to teach and reveal God’s ways to people. This teaches us how God is sovereign and in control of all events, using them for his purposes. Ephesians 1:11 says that “God works all things according to the counsel of his will” (paraphrase). Likewise, Romans 8:28 tells us that “God works all things for the good of his saints” (paraphrase). Biblical history (and all history) reveals God, since he is in total control of it—both the good and bad—using it all to reveal himself, teach his ways, and fulfill his plans.
One of the major themes of Scripture is the self-revelation of God. Scripture begins with the account of God’s creation of the heavens and the earth and all that is within them. After, it continues to reveal his person, character, works, and plans throughout the entirety of the Bible.
What are other major themes of Scripture?
“There are 1,189 chapters in the Bible. Only four of them don’t involve a fallen world: the first two and the last two—before the Fall and after the creation of the new heaven and new earth. The rest is the chronicle of the tragedy of sin.”1 This theme is repeated over and over again. In the Garden of Eden, Adam and Eve disobeyed God by eating of the forbidden tree. When this happened, God revealed to them the negative results of sin: there would be enmity between the devil and the woman, friction in marriage (and all relationships), pain in birth, difficulty in work, and ultimately death. Then, God removed them from the garden.
After the fall, sin and its consequences continued. Cain, the older of Adam’s first two sons, murdered Abel. Lamech, Cain’s son, murdered another man. Genesis 5 lists the first genealogy which documents the effects of sin, as people experienced physical death: “So and so lived and then died, so and so lived and then died” (paraphrase).
Genesis 6 details how sinful and corrupted the world had become and God’s ensuing consequences. Since sin so ravaged humanity, God decided to destroy everybody except for Noah, his family, and some animals, in a world-wide flood. God is holy and cannot accept sin.
After renewing the earth through the flood, God started over with Noah and his family; however, eventually humanity rebelled against God again at the Tower of Babel. In Genesis 11, after God had called for people to multiply and spread throughout the earth, they chose to disobey him and instead remain in one place and build a tower, so as to make their names great. In response, God judged all people by confusing their language, which forced them to relocate and spread throughout the earth.
What are other examples of sin and its consequences? After judging the world at Babel, God decided to bless the family of Abraham. From this family all the nations would be blessed and come to know the true God. From Abraham came the nation of Israel—designated to be a nation of priests who would be a light to the world. However, they continually rebelled against God and received his judgment. Initially God called Israel to judge the sinful Canaanites by wiping them out and taking possession of their land. But Israel never completely destroyed the Canaanites and instead was influenced by them to practice evil—idolatry, sexual immorality, and even sacrificing their children to false gods. Therefore, because of Israel’s disobedience, God judged Israel through other nations and eventually exiled them from the land of Canaan for a season.
After God brought Israel back to Canaan, he sent Jesus, the Son of God, to be Israel’s king and save them from sin. However, Israel rejected Christ and crucified him on the cross, with the help of Romans. Decades later, God would judge Israel through the Romans—destroying their capital city, the temple, and exiling Israel from the land again.
The book of Acts shares how God formed the church through both Jews and Gentiles. Christ’s apostles taught the gospel in Jerusalem, but because of persecution from Jews, believers spread to other parts of the world and taught the gospel there. Even in those parts of the world, Christians were still persecuted both by Jews and pagans. The history of the early church is essentially how God used bad for good, as persecution itself led the church to spread its message throughout the world.
Finally, the book of Revelation shares God’s wrath outpoured on the whole world for their sin and rejection of Christ. There will be earthquakes, meteor showers, wars, poverty, famine, disease, and eternal damnation for the lost when Christ returns to rule on the earth. Revelation 6:16-17 says, “They said to the mountains and to the rocks, ‘Fall on us and hide us from the face of the one who is seated on the throne and from the wrath of the Lamb, because the great day of their wrath has come, and who is able to withstand it?’”
One of the major themes of the Bible is sin and its consequences. Sin is absolutely destructive; therefore, God sent his Son to redeem people from the power, penalty, and presence of sin. Those who reject Christ will suffer both present and eternal consequences for their sins.
What other themes do we find in Scripture?
Scripture repeatedly gives examples of God rewarding those who practice faith and obedience in contrast to those who persist in disobedience and unbelief and disobedience. A powerful evidence of this is the story of Enoch. In Genesis 5, we read a genealogy detailing who lived and died, but in the midst of this genealogy is recorded the fact that Enoch ‘walked with God’: his death is not recorded because Enoch did not die. Genesis 5:24 says: “Enoch walked with God, and then he disappeared because God took him away.” Moses, the author, gave the secret to blessing in the midst of experiencing the curse—an obedient and faithful relationship with God. Enoch was taken to heaven without ever dying. Hebrews 11:5 says this about Enoch: “By faith Enoch was taken up so that he did not see death, and he was not to be found because God took him up. For before his removal he had been commended as having pleased God.”
Likewise, Noah was obedient and faithful, a righteous man who walked with God. Genesis 6:9 says, “…Noah was a godly man; he was blameless among his contemporaries. He walked with God.” When the world was destroyed because of disobedience by a world-wide flood, Noah and his family were spared because of his faithfulness.
In addition, in Genesis 12:1-3, God promised to bless Abraham and make him a great nation if he left his family to journey to a land which God would show him. From Abraham, God brought forth Israel and eventually Christ, who would die for the sins of the world. God blesses those who trust and obey his Word.
In fact, in the law God gave Israel, he said this:
You shall not bow down to them or serve them, for I, the Lord, your God, am a jealous God, responding to the transgression of fathers by dealing with children to the third and fourth generations of those who reject me, and showing covenant faithfulness to a thousand generations of those who love me and keep my commandments.
In this verse, God promised to not only bless Abraham’s lineage for faithfulness but anybody who loved God and kept his commandments. Scripture is full of such promises:
Blessed is the one who does not walk in step with the wicked or stand in the way that sinners take or sit in the company of mockers, but whose delight is in the law of the Lord, and who meditates on his law day and night. That person is like a tree planted by streams of water, which yields its fruit in season and whose leaf does not wither—whatever they do prospers.
Psalm 1:1-3 (NIV)
God blesses and prospers those who stay away from wickedness and instead choose to delight in and meditate on God’s Word. He prospers everything that they do. Second Chronicles 16:9 (NIV) says: “For the eyes of the Lord range throughout the earth to strengthen those whose hearts are fully committed to him.” God is searching for such people because he desires to bless and use them greatly!
Likewise, Scripture tells of many heroes who experienced God’s favor because of their faith and obedience. God called a young boy named Samuel to be a priest, prophet, and judge, in contrast with the older priests who were corrupt and soon to be judged. He used a young boy named David to defeat the hero of the Philistines, while all the trained, battle-seasoned soldiers were demoralized and afraid. He blessed a young boy named Daniel and his Jewish friends who, in Babylonian exile, refused to compromise their faith by eating defiled meat. Because of their faith in him, God made them ten times wiser than all the wisemen in Babylon and promoted them to high places in the Babylonian government.
These promises and examples are not exclusive to the Old Testament; the theme of rewards for faith and obedience is found in the New Testament as well. Throughout the New Testament, Scripture says God rewards those with faith. Hebrews 11:6 says, “Now without faith it is impossible to please him, for the one who approaches God must believe that he exists and that he rewards those who seek him.” In fact, nobody can be saved apart from faith. John 3:16 says, “For this is the way God loved the world: He gave his one and only Son, so that everyone who believes in him will not perish but have eternal life.” Being delivered from eternal damnation—separation from God’s blessing—and being given eternal life comes from faith in Christ.
In addition, God abundantly blesses his children who, by faith, obey him. John 15:7 says, “If you remain in me and my words remain in you, ask whatever you want, and it will be done for you.” Living in God’s Word and obeying it leads to a powerful prayer life. James 5:16 says, “So confess your sins to one another and pray for one another so that you may be healed. The prayer of a righteous person has great effectiveness.” One reason God continually gives examples and exhortations demonstrating his blessings for faithfulness and obedience is because he desires many to choose this path instead of the path of the wicked (cf. Ps 1:1-3). Which path will you choose?
Election is God’s right to choose some for special blessings, based on no merit of their own but simply because of his sovereign right to choose. This is seen throughout the Scripture and without an understanding of this theme, many become confused or consider God as being unfair. How is election presented throughout the Old and New Testament?
- God elected Abraham.
When reading through Genesis 1-11, it is clear God chose Enoch for blessing because he walked with God, as did Noah. But why did God choose Abraham? Unlike Enoch’s and Noah’s narrative, the text never says, “Abraham walked with God,” yet God chose him for special blessing. In fact, Scripture seems to indicate that Abraham came from a family of idolaters and that he was an idolater himself. Joshua 24:2 says, “…Here is what the Lord God of Israel says: ‘In the distant past your ancestors lived beyond the Euphrates River, including Terah the father of Abraham and Nahor. They worshiped other gods.”
Why, then, did God choose Abraham? Election. God simply chose Abraham based on God’s sovereignty. In addition to choosing Abraham, God gave him a conditional promise that eventually became unconditional. By faith, Abraham had to leave his land and family and go to the land that God would reveal to him. If he did that, God would bless him and use him to be a blessing to the nations. Abraham obeyed God’s call to leave his homeland, and God blessed Abraham and his seed. Christ ultimately came through Abraham’s lineage to bless the nations. Abraham’s call demonstrates election—God elected Abraham based on nothing he had done, in order to bless the world.
How else is God’s election seen in Scripture?
- God elected Jacob.
Abraham’s son, Isaac, had twins—the older was Esau and the younger was Jacob. In that culture, the eldest son would receive both the monetary inheritance and the spiritual blessing, which in this case included God’s promise to Abraham to bless the world. Esau should have received the blessing; however, Scripture says God chose Jacob instead. Why? Romans 9:10-13 says:
Not only that, but when Rebekah had conceived children by one man, our ancestor Isaac—even before they were born or had done anything good or bad (so that God’s purpose in election would stand, not by works but by his calling)—it was said to her, “The older will serve the younger,” just as it is written: “Jacob I loved, but Esau I hated.”
God chose Jacob over Esau, even before they were born, so that “God’s purpose in election might stand: not by works but by him who calls.”
In what other ways do we see election in Scripture?
- God elected Israel.
Out of all the nations on earth, Israel was called to write all but two of the books of the Bible (Luke and Acts); they were called to have God’s presence dwell among them in the tabernacle and later in the temple. They were called to witness to the Gentiles about the true God. Finally, the messiah came through their lineage.
But why did God choose Israel? Were they more qualified than other nations? In Deuteronomy 7:6-8, Moses said:
For you are a people holy to the Lord your God. He has chosen you to be his people, prized above all others on the face of the earth. It is not because you were more numerous than all the other peoples that the Lord favored and chose you—for in fact you were the least numerous of all peoples. Rather it is because of his love for you and his faithfulness to the promise he solemnly vowed to your ancestors that the Lord brought you out with great power, redeeming you from the place of slavery, from the power of Pharaoh king of Egypt.
God chose them simply because he chose to set his affection on them and because of his oath to the patriarchs, who were also elected.
- God elected Jeremiah.
In Jeremiah 1:5, God said, “Before I formed you in your mother’s womb I chose you. Before you were born I set you apart. I appointed you to be a prophet to the nations.” Since this happened before Jeremiah was born, it had nothing to do with his personal merit. It had all to do with God’s sovereign right to choose to use him in a special way.
Where else do we see God’s theme of election?
- God elected Paul.
Though Paul was a persecutor of Christians, God chose him to be an apostle. Paul saw the resurrected Christ, founded many churches throughout the Gentile world, and eventually wrote almost half of the New Testament. Acts 9:13-16 describes how God called Paul to apostleship through a man named Ananias:
But Ananias replied, “Lord, I have heard from many people about this man, how much harm he has done to your saints in Jerusalem, and here he has authority from the chief priests to imprison all who call on your name!” But the Lord said to him, “Go, because this man is my chosen instrument to carry my name before Gentiles and kings and the people of Israel. For I will show him how much he must suffer for the sake of my name.”
In God’s electing purposes, Paul was a chosen vessel to spread Christ’s name before Gentiles, kings, and Israel, even though he had previously persecuted Christians. Where else do we see evidences of God’s election?
- God elects Believers.
Scripture teaches that believers were chosen even before time to salvation and also for a special use. Consider the following verses:
For he chose us in Christ before the foundation of the world that we may be holy and unblemished in his sight in love. He did this by predestining us to adoption as his sons through Jesus Christ, according to the pleasure of his will—to the praise of the glory of his grace that he has freely bestowed on us in his dearly loved Son.
For we are his workmanship, having been created in Christ Jesus for good works that God prepared beforehand so we may do them.
How can God choose people for salvation and special works even before they are born? Some might say, “Isn’t that unfair?” Certainly, this is not an unexpected question. In Romans 9:14-21, Paul anticipated it as he taught about election. Consider what he said:
What shall we say then? Is there injustice with God? Absolutely not! For he says to Moses: “I will have mercy on whom I have mercy, and I will have compassion on whom I have compassion.” So then, it does not depend on human desire or exertion, but on God who shows mercy. For the scripture says to Pharaoh: “For this very purpose I have raised you up, that I may demonstrate my power in you, and that my name may be proclaimed in all the earth.” So then, God has mercy on whom he chooses to have mercy, and he hardens whom he chooses to harden. You will say to me then, “Why does he still find fault? For who has ever resisted his will?” But who indeed are you—a mere human being—to talk back to God? Does what is molded say to the molder, “Why have you made me like this?” Has the potter no right to make from the same lump of clay one vessel for special use and another for ordinary use?
Paul doesn’t really answer the question. He simply says, “God is God!” As potter, he can make one pot for this purpose and another for that purpose. It is a mystery. However, it’s a mystery that is illustrated throughout Scripture from Abraham, to Jacob, to Israel, to Jeremiah, to Paul, to believers, and even to angels (1 Tim 5:21).
Now, there is obviously controversy over the topic of election. However, the controversy does not revolve around whether God elects. Scripture is very clear that he does. The question is, “Why does God elect?” Does he elect based on some foreknown faith or goodness in others? Or is it simply out of his right to as God? In Romans 9, Paul clearly makes the argument that God chooses based on his sovereignty alone and nothing inherent in people.
The theme of election is runs throughout the Bible. It may seem unfair or hard to accept, but it is continually repeated in various ways throughout Scripture.
The Christocentric nature of Scripture is taught throughout the Bible. Consider the following verses:
You study the scriptures thoroughly because you think in them you possess eternal life, and it is these same scriptures that testify about me
Then he said to them, “These are my words that I spoke to you while I was still with you, that everything written about me in the law of Moses and the prophets and the psalms must be fulfilled.” Then he opened their minds so they could understand the scriptures
Jesus said the Scriptures taught about him. Though “Scriptures” in that context referred to the Old Testament, it can be rightly applied to all of Scripture. In what ways is this true?
1. Jesus Christ Is Taught Throughout Scripture In The Giving And Fulfilment Of Prophecy.
As mentioned previously, there are over 300 Old Testament prophecies fulfilled in Christ’s first coming. This includes such things as Christ’s genealogic record, birth, life, death, and resurrection. The first prophecy was proclaimed immediately after the fall. Genesis 3:15 (NIV) says: “And I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your offspring a and hers; he will crush your head, and you will strike his heel.” Christ came to undo the works of the devil in the world, including the curse.
2. Jesus Christ Is Taught Throughout Scripture In Pictures And Types.
We find foreshadows of Christ throughout Scripture. Colossians 2:16-17 says: “Therefore do not let anyone judge you with respect to food or drink, or in the matter of a feast, new moon, or Sabbath days—these are only the shadow of the things to come, but the reality is Christ!” The food laws, holy days, and festivals were all just pictures foreshadowing Christ himself.
Adam was a type, a foreshadow of Christ. Romans 5:14 calls him “a type of the coming one.” Romans 5:17 says, “For if, by the transgression of the one man, death reigned through the one, how much more will those who receive the abundance of grace and of the gift of righteousness reign in life through the one, Jesus Christ!” By the same principle that Adam’s sin brought death to all, Christ’s righteousness brings life to all who accept him by faith.
In addition, Christ was always pictured in the sacrificial lamb in the Old Testament. In John 1:29, when John saw Jesus, he said: “Look, the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world!” Also, the prophet Moses was a type of Christ. In Deuteronomy 18:15, Moses said, “The Lord your God will raise up for you a prophet like me from among you—from your fellow Israelites; you must listen to him.” In the same way that Moses instituted the Old Covenant with the blood of animals, Christ instituted the New Covenant with his own blood. Christ said, “for this is my blood, the blood of the covenant, that is poured out for many for the forgiveness of sins” (Matt 26:28).
Christ’s burial and resurrection are foreshadowed in the story of Jonah’s three days in the belly of a fish. In Matthew 12:40, Christ said, “For just as Jonah was in the belly of the huge fish for three days and three nights, so the Son of Man will be in the heart of the earth for three days and three nights.”
Furthermore, the Old Testament tabernacle and temple were pictures of Christ. In the same way that the glory of God inhabited the tabernacle and temple, Christ was the glory of God manifested in human flesh. In John 1:14, John said this about Christ: “Now the Word became flesh and took up residence among us. We saw his glory—the glory of the one and only, full of grace and truth, who came from the Father.” “Residence” can also be translated “tabernacled.” Christ is the tabernacle of God. Colossians 2:9 says, “For in him all the fullness of deity lives in bodily form.”
Christ is the theme of Scripture. The Old Testament veils Christ in prophecies and types, while the New Testament reveals Christ. His story is told in the Gospels and the advance of his church is told in Acts. His teaching through the apostles is revealed in the epistles, and finally, his wrath over sin and eternal kingdom is revealed in Revelation.
- In the reading, which covenant stood out most to you and why?
- In what ways do the themes of sin and God’s judgment challenge or encourage you?
- In what ways does God’s promise of reward for those with faith and obedience challenge or encourage you?
- Why is the Scriptural theme of election so controversial in the church? How should believers respond to the theme of election according to Scripture (Matt 11:25-27, Rom 11:33-36, 1 Pet 1:1-2)?
- What other questions or applications do you have from the reading?
Copyright © 2020 Gregory Brown
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1 MacArthur, John (2003-08-21). The MacArthur Bible Handbook (Kindle Locations 301-303). Thomas Nelson. Kindle Edition.