The Bible is the story of God’s salvation, and can be surveyed in fifteen parts. Once we understand the Bible’s big story, the little stories within it make more sense. All dates are approximate.
1. The Creation: In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth (Genesis 1:1), and all they contain. Then he made Adam and Eve in his image to have a relationship with them. The first couple enjoyed walking with God in the Garden of Eden when everything was good. This stage is difficult to date, and believing scholars disagree.
2. The Fall: Adam and Eve were free to eat from every tree in the garden, except the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. Tragically, the devil convinced them to eat the forbidden fruit, and this brought God’s curse on the world. As a result, their offspring are born with a sinful nature, and everyone dies eventually. This is the problem the Bible is most concerned about.
3. The Patriarchs: God called Abraham (2091 BC) and promised to bless the world through him (Genesis 12:2-3). Most of the Bible is the story of this man’s family. Abraham had a son named Isaac, Isaac had a son named Jacob, and Jacob had twelve sons. God changed Jacob’s name to Israel, and his sons’ families became the twelve tribes of the nation of Israel.
4. The Exodus: Jacob’s son, Joseph, was sold by his brothers into slavery in Egypt (1898 BC). God was with him, however, and he rose to a high position. When the family of Israel numbered about seventy, Joseph brought them down to Egypt and cared for them. The family grew dramatically, and generations later, they were forced into slavery. They were cruelly oppressed until Moses led them out of Egypt, through the Red Sea (1446 BC).
5. The Desert: After leaving Egypt, the Israelites camped at Mount Sinai, where God gave them Ten Commandments and many other laws. A year or so later, they arrived at Canaan—the land God promised to Abraham (Genesis 13:15). God told his people to take the land, but they refused because they feared the people who lived there, and did not trust God to defeat them. As a result, God made them wander in the desert for forty years until most of the adults, including Moses, had died.
6. The Conquest: Joshua led the next generation of Israelites into the Promised Land (1406 BC). As Moses led them through the Red Sea (Exodus 14:29), Joshua led them across the Jordan River on dry ground (Joshua 3:17). With God’s help, they took most of the land, but not all of it. The presence of enemy occupants remained a serious problem for hundreds of years.
7. The Judges: Once they were in the Promised Land, the Israelites turned away from God; but when life became difficult, they turned back to God for help. God faithfully helped his people by raising up leaders (called Judges) to defeat their enemies. Then they turned away from God again, until life became difficult again. This cycle repeated itself for centuries.
8. The United Kingdom: Even though God was their king, Israel wanted an earthly king, so they could be like other nations. Saul became the first king of Israel (1043 BC), and although he started well, he finished badly. David was Israel’s second king, and also its greatest, because he defeated their enemies and led them to worship God. David’s son, Solomon, was the third king of Israel, and brought the nation to its greatest height. But Solomon turned away from God, and most of the people followed him. Then the nation broke apart due to his unfaithfulness.
9. The Divided Kingdom: After Solomon’s death (931 BC) the nation divided north and south. The ten tribes to the north kept the name Israel. They adopted a false religion, and a couple centuries later, fell to the Assyrians (722 BC). The tribes to the south were called Judah and were later known as the Jews. They served God occasionally, but not faithfully, and were conquered by the Babylonians (586 BC).
10. The Exile: The Babylonians deported the conquered Jews to Babylon. As Adam and Eve were expelled from the Garden of Eden, because of their sin, the Jews were expelled from the Promised Land, because of their disobedience. This was a very dark time, but due to God’s promise, they were not without hope. Even if you have been banished to the most distant land under the heavens, from there the Lord your God will gather you and bring you back (Deuteronomy 30:4), wrote Moses.
11. The Restoration: When the king of Persia defeated Babylon, he allowed the Jews to return home (539 BC), just as God had said. Many stayed behind, but those who went back rebuilt the temple and tried to follow God. They were a tiny fraction of what they had been, and they struggled in many ways. God sent a few prophets to encourage them, but then the prophetic voice ceased (430 BC).
12. The Silent Years: Like a dramatic pause, the Bible is silent for hundreds of years before the arrival of Christ. God’s people were back in the Promised Land, but they were under Persian rule. Then they were ruled by the Greeks. Then they won their independence for about a hundred years. But by the time of Christ they were under Roman rule, and longed to be free again.
13. The Christ: For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life (John 3:16). Jesus lived a sinless life, but was crucified by his enemies (AD 30). He was laid in a tomb, but rose from the dead three days later. Through his life, death and resurrection, Jesus reversed the curse of sin and death for all who believe in him.
14. The Church: After Jesus rose from the dead, he told his followers to make disciples of all nations (Matthew 28:19). The Apostle Peter preached on the day of Pentecost, and three thousand believed (Acts 2:41). The Apostle Paul started numerous churches, and took the gospel all the way to Rome (Acts 28:16). The church continues to preach the gospel, and today, nearly a third of all people are professing Christians.
15. The Return: Jesus will return at an undisclosed time to judge the living and the dead (1 Peter 4:5). To some he will say, Come, you who are blessed by my Father; take your inheritance, the kingdom prepared for you since the creation of the world (Matthew 25:34). To the rest he will say, Depart from me, you who are cursed, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels (Matthew 25:41). This is the most amazing story ever told, and it just happens to be true.