How To Read And Understand The Bible.
To understand the Bible, Every author owes it to the reading public to explain himself as he thought fit to swell the torrent of books especially religious books which pours from the world’s printing presses every day. Let me at least tell you frankly the kind of people I have had in mind while writing. They fall into two categories;
First, the new Christian. With the spread of secularism in our day, an increasing number of people, arc being added to Christ and His Church who have no religious background whatever. Here, for example, is a young man from a non-Christian family. The Christian instruction he received at school was minimal, and possibly misleading, in any case, the fashion was to pay no attention to it. He did not go on Sunday. School as a kid, and he has seldom if ever been to church. out now he has found Christ or rather been found by Him. He is told he must read the Bible daily if he is to grow- into spiritual maturity. Bible is a closed book to him, however an unexplored, uncharted territory. Who wrote it, he asks, and when, where and why? What is its message? What is the foundation for its claim to be a ‘holy’ or special book, the book of God? And how is it to be read and interpreted? These are proper questions to ask, and some answers must be given to them before the new Christian can derive maximum benefit from his Bible reading.
Then, secondly, there is the Christian of several years’ standing. In the main, he has been a conscientious Bible reader. He has read his portion faithfully every day. But somehow it has become a stale habit. The years have
passed, and he himself has changed and matured as a person. Yet he has not developed as a Christian in any comparable way. A sign (and cause) of this is that he still reads the Bible as he did when he was a child or a new convert. Now he is tired of his superficiality, his immaturity, and not a little ashamed, lie longs to become an adult, integrated Christian, who knows and pleases God, fulfils himself in serving others and ran commends the gospel in meaningful terms to a lost, bewildered generation.
Understand The Bible.
My desire is to assure such a Christian that the secrets of Christian maturity arc ready to be found in Scripture by all who seek them. There is a breadth to God’s Word that few of us ever encompass, a depth which we seldom plumb.
In particular, our Christianity is mean because our Christ is mean. We impoverish ourselves by our low and paltry views of Him. Some speak of Him today as if He were a kind of syringe to be carried about m our pocket so that when we are feeling depressed we can give ourselves a fix and take a trip into fantasy. But Christ cannot be used or manipulated like that. The contemporary Church seems to have little understanding of the greatness of Jesus Christ as Lord of creation and lord of the Church, before whom our place is on our faces in the dust. Nor do we seem to see His victory as the New Testament portrays it, with all things under His feet, so that if we are joined to Christ, all things are under our feet as well.
It seems to me that our greatest need today is an enlarged vision of Jesus Christ. We need to see Him as the One in whom alone the fullness of God dwells and in whom alone we can come to fullness of life.
There is only one way to gain clear, true, fresh, lofty views of Christ, and that is through the Bible. The Bible is the prism by which the light of Jesus Christ is broken
into its many beautiful colours. The Bible is the portrait of Jesus Christ. We need to gaze upon Him with such intensity of desire that by the gracious work of the Holy Spirit. He comes alive to us, meets with us, and tills us with Himself.
In order to apprehend Jesus Christ in His fullness, it is essential to understand the setting within which God offers Him to us. God gave Christ to the world in a specific geographical, historical and theological context. More simply. He sent Him to a particular place Palestine), at a particular time (the climax of centuries of Jewish history) and within a particular framework of truth (progressively revealed and permanently recorded in the Bible). So the following chapters are concerned with the geography, history, theology, authority and interpretation of the Bible. Their objective is to present the setting within which God once revealed and now offers Christ, so that we may better grasp (or ourselves and share with others the glorious fullness of Jesus Christ Himself.
Sec Col. 1,19; 2.9, 10
THE PURPOSE OF THE BIBLE
The choice of a book to read and the way in which we read it are determined largely by the author’s purpose in writing it. Is it a textbook of science or history intended to inform, or a novel meant purely to entertain? Is it a piece of serious prose or poetry in which the writer reflects on life and stimulates the reader to think about it too? Does it speak in any meaningful way to the contemporary world’.’ Or is it perhaps a controversial work in which he deliberately sets out to argue his point of view? Moreover, is the author qualified to write on his subject? It is questions like these which are in our minds when we ask ‘Is it worth reading?’
Most books supply the prospective reader with the information he wants about who wrote them and why. Either the author tells us candidly in a Preface about himself and his object in writing, or the publisher does so in the ‘blurb’ on the dust cover. Most readers spend time
examining these before committing themselves to buy, borrow or read the book.
It is a great pity that readers of the Bible do not always pursue the same enquiries. Many appear to pick it up and begin their reading at random. Or they start at Genesis and get stuck in Leviticus. Or they may doggedly per-severe from a sense of duty, even reading the whole Bible section by section in five years, but without deriving much benefit from their study because they lack understanding of the book’s overall purpose. Or indeed they may give up Bible reading, or never start it, because they cannot see how the tale of a far-away people in a far-away age could have any relevance for them today.
In any case, how can the Bible, which in fact not a book but a library of sixty-six books, possibly be said to have a ‘purpose”? Was it not compiled by different authors at different times with different objectives? Yes and no. There is indeed a wide variety of human authors and themes. Yet behind these, Christians believe, there is a single divine Author with a single unifying theme.
What this theme is the Bible itself declares. It is stated several times in several places, but perhaps nowhere more succinctly than by the Apostle Paul to Timothy:
‘From childhood, you have been acquainted with the sacred writings which are able to instruct you for salvation through faith in Christ Jesus. All Scripture is inspired by God and profitable for teaching, reproof, correction, and for training in righteousness, that the man of God may be complete, equipped for every good work.
Here the apostle brings together both the origin and the object of Scripture, where it comes from and what it is intended for. Its origin: ‘inspired by God’, Its object: ‘profitable’ for men. Indeed, it is profitable for men only because it is inspired by God. The subject of Biblical
inspiration I must leave to a later chapter; in this chapter, I want to investigate the nature of the Bible’s profitability. For this, I will take up three words which Paul used— ‘salvation’, ‘Christ’ and ‘faith’.
A Book of Salvation
Perhaps no Biblical word has suffered more from misuse and misunderstanding than the word ‘salvation’. Some of us Christians are to blame for the caricature of it that we have presented to the world. As a result; ‘salvation’ has become for many a source of embarrassment, even an object of ridicule. We need to rescue it from the narrow concept to which we have often debased it. For ‘salvation’ is a big and noble word, as i shall soon elaborate. Salvation is freedom. Yes, and renewal too; ultimately the renewal of the whole cosmos.
Now the supreme purpose of the Bible, Paul writes to Timothy, is to instruct its readers for salvation. This immediately indicates that Scripture has a practical purpose and that this purpose is moral rather than intellectual. Or rather its intellectual instruction (its ‘wisdom’, as the Greek word implies) is given with a view to the moral experience called ‘salvation’.
In order to grasp more firmly this positive purpose of Scripture, it may be helpful to contrast it with some negatives.
First, the purpose of the Bible is not scientific. This is not to say that the teaching of Scripture and of science are in conflict with one another for when we keep each to its proper sphere, they are not. Indeed, if the God of truth is the author of both, they could not be. Nor is it to say that the two spheres never overlap and that nothing in the Bible partakes of the nature of science, for the Bible does contain statements of fact which can be (and m many cases have been) scientifically verified. For example,
a number of historical facts are recorded, such as that Nebuchadrezzar King of Babylon besieged, took and virtually destroyed Jerusalem, and that Jesus of Nazareth was born when Augustus was Emperor of Rome. What I am rather asserting is that, though the Bible may contain some science, the purpose of the Bible is not scientific.
Science (or at least natural science! is a body Of knowledge painstakingly acquired by observation, experiment and induction. The purpose of God through Scripture, however, has been to disclose truths which could not be discovered, by this empirical, method, but would have remained unknown and undiscovered if lie had not revealed them. For instance, science may be able to tell us something about man’s physical origins (even this is an open question); only the Bible reveals man’s nature, both his unique nobility as a creature made in the Creator’s image and his degradation as a self-centred sinner in revolt against his Creator.
Next, the purpose of the Bible is not literary. Some years ago a book was published entitled The Bible Designed to be Read as Literature. It was beautifully produced. Versification was abandoned. And the layout indicated plainly what was poetry and what prose. All this was helpful. Further, no one can deny, whatever his beliefs or disbeliefs, that the Bible docs contain noble; literature. It treats the great themes of human life and destiny and handles them with simplicity, insight and imagination. So fine is the translation in some countries that the Bible has become part of the nation’s literary heritage. Nevertheless, God did not design the Bible as great literature. It contains some glaring stylistic weaknesses. The New Testament was largely written in koine Greek, the everyday language of market and office, and much of it lacks literary polish, even grammatical accuracy. The purpose of the Bible is to be found in its message, not its style.
Thirdly, the purpose of the Bible is not philosophical Of course Scripture contains profound wisdom, in fact, the wisdom of God. But some of the great themes with which philosophers have always wrestled arc not been given a thorough treatment in Scripture. Take the great problems of suffering and evil. As phenomena of human experience, they figure prominently throughout the Bible. On almost every page men sin and men suffer. And some light is thrown supremely by the cross—on both problems. But no ultimate solution to cither is offered, nor are the way of God justified in relation to them. Even in the Book of Job, which concentrates on the problem of suffering, Job in the end humbles himself before God without understanding God’s providence. I think the reason is simply that the Bible is more practical than a theoretical book, It is more concerned to tell us how to bear suffering and overcome evil than it is to philosophize about their origin and purpose.
So the Bible is primarily a book neither of science, nor literature, nor philosophy, but of salvation.
In saving this we must give the word ‘salvation’ its broadest possible meaning. Salvation is far more than the forgiveness of sins. It includes the whole sweep of God’s purpose to redeem and restore mankind, and indeed all creation. What we claim for the Bible is that it unfolds God’s total plan.
It begins with the creation, so that we may know the divine likeness in which we were made, the obligations which we have repudiated and the heights from which we have fallen. We can understand neither what we are in sin nor what we may be by grace until we know what we once were by creation.
The Bible goes on to tell us how sin entered the world, and death is a result of sin. It emphasizes the gravity of sin as a revolt against the authority of God our Creator and Lord, and the justice of His judgment upon it. There are many salutary warnings in Scripture about the perils of disobedience.
But the main thrust of the Biblical message is will be elaborated in chapter 5, is that God loves the very rebels who deserve nothing at His hand but judgment. Before time began, Scripture says, His plan of salvation took shape. It originated in His grace, His free and unmerited mercy. He made with Abraham a covenant of grace, promising through his posterity to bless all the families of the earth. The rest of the Old Testament is devoted to an account of His gracious dealings with Abraham’s posterity, the people of Israel. In spite of their obstinate rejection of His word, as it came to them through Jaw and prophets, He never cast their oil. They broke the covenant, not He.
The historical coming of Jesus Christ was in fulfilment of His covenant:
‘Blessed be the Lord God of Israel, for He has visited and redeemed His people, and has raised up a horn of salvation for us in the house of His servant David, as He spoke by the mouth of His holy prophets from of old,
that we should be saved from our enemies,
and from the hand of all who hate us;
to perform the mercy promised to our fathers,
and to remember His holy covenant,
the oath which He swore to our father Abraham, to grant us
that we, being delivered from the hand of our enemies, might serve Him without fear,
in holiness and righteousness before Him all the days of our life.
It is important to observe that the promised ‘salvation’ from ‘our enemies’ is understood in terms of ‘holiness
and righteousness’ and – later in the Benedictus-of ‘the forgiveness of their sins through the tender mere, of our God’.
So the New Testament concentrates on the outworking of this salvation, on the way of ‘forgiveness’ and of ‘holiness’ through Jesus Christ’s death, resurrection and gift of the Spirit. The apostles emphasize that forgiveness is possible only through the sin-bearing death of Christ, and a new birth leads to a new life only through the Spirit of Christ. Then the epistles are full of practical ethical instruction. As the M.B renders 2 Timothy 3:16, Scripture is profitable not only ‘for teaching the truth and refuting error’ but ‘for reformation of manners and disciplines in right living. It also portrays Christ’s Church as the society of the saved, who are called to a life of sacrificial service and witness in the world.
finally, the New Testament authors insist that although God’s people have ahead in one sense been saved. in another their salvation to still in the future. We are given the promise that one day our bodies will be redeemed. ‘In this hope, we were saved. And in this final redemption, the whole creation will somehow be involved. If we are to be clothed with new bodies, there is also going to be a new heaven and new earth pervaded by righteousness alone. Then and only then, with no sin cither in our nature or m our soviet), will God’s salvation be complete. The glorious liberty of God’s children will be the freedom to serve. God will be everything to everybody.
Such is the comprehensive salvation set forth in Scripture. Conceived in a past eternity, achieved at a point in time and historically worked out in human experience, it will reach its consummation in the eternity of the future. The Bible is unique in its claim to instruct us for ‘such a great salvation.
Christ in the Law
The salvation for which the Bible instructs us is available ‘through faith in Christ Jesus’. Therefore, since Scripture concerns salvation and salvation is through Christ, Scripture is full of Christ.
Jesus, Himself thus understood the nature and function of the Bible. ‘The Scriptures/ He said, ‘bear witness to Me.’6 Again, walking with two disciples after the Resurrection from Jerusalem to Emmaus, He rebuked them for their folly and unbelief, due to their ignorance of Scripture. Luke who tells the story adds:
‘And beginning with Moses and all the prophets. He interpreted to them scriptures all the things concerning Himself.
A little while later the risen Lord said to a wider group of His followers:
‘These are My words which I spoke to you, while I was still with you, that everything is written about Me in the Jaw of Moses and the prophets and the psalms must be fulfilled.*s
Christ’s assertion was, then, not only that the Scriptures bore witness to Him in a general way but that in each of the three divisions of Old Testament Scripture—the law, the prophets and the psalms (or, writings}–there were things concerning Him, and chat all these things must be fulfilled.
The fundamental relation between the Old Testament and the New Testament, according to Christ, is that between promise and fulfilment. The very first word Jesus uttered in His public ministry (in the Greek text of the Gospel of Mark) indicates this, it was the word ‘fulfilled’:
The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand; repent, and believe in the gospel.
Jesus Christ was deeply convinced that the long centuries of expectation were over and that He Himself had ushered in the days of fulfilment. So He could say to His apostles:
‘Blessed are your eyes, for they see and your ears, for the hearing. Truly, I say to you, many prophets and righteous men longed to see what you see, and did not hear, and what you hear and did not hear
In the light of this claim, we shall look first at the Old Testament in its three divisions, then at the New Testament, and try to sec how our Saviour Jesus Christ Himself (in terms of promise and fulfilment) is Scripture’s uniting theme.
In the ‘law’ was meant the Pentateuch, the first five books of the Old Testament, Can we really find Christ in them” Yes indeed.
To begin with, they contain some foundation prophecies of God’s salvation through Christ, which underlie the rest of the Bible. God promised first that the seed of Eve would bruise the serpent’s head, next to that through Abraham’s posterity He would bless all the families of the earth, and later that ‘the sceptre shall not depart from Judah until He comes to whom it belongs’, whom the people will obey.11 Thus it was revealed—already in the first book of the Bible—that the Messiah would be human (descended from Eve) and Jewish (descended from Abraham and of the tribe of Judah), and that He would crush Satan, bless the world and rule as king forever.
Another important prophecy of Christ in the law represents Him as being Himself the perfect Prophet; Moses said to the people:
The Lord your God will raise up for you a Prophet like me from among you, from your brethren—Him you shall heed—… and I will put My words in His mouth, and He shall speak to them all that I command Him\u
It was not only by direct prophecies that (the law pointed forward to Christ, but also by more indirect pictures. In it, the Messiah was foreshadowed as well as foretold. Indeed, God’s dealings with Israel in choosing them, redeeming them, establishing His covenant with them, making atonement for their sins through sacrifice, and causing them to inherit the land of Canaan all set forth in limited and” national terms what would one day be available to all men through Christ. Christians can say today; that God has chosen us in Christ and made us a people for His own possession. Christ shed His blood to atone for our sins and ratify the new covenant. He has redeemed us not from Egyptian bondage but from the bondage of sin. He is our great high priest who offered Himself on the cross, as one sacrifice for sins forever, and all priesthood and sacrifice arc fulfilled in Him. Further, by His resurrection, we have been born again to a living hope, ‘to an inheritance which is imperishable, undefiled and unfading’ and is reserved in heaven for us. u These great Christian words, which portray various aspects of our salvation through Christ—election, atonement, covenant, redemption, sacrifice, inheritance—all began to be used in the Old Testament of God’s grace towards Israel
There is yet a third way in which the law bears witness to Christ. It is elaborated by the apostle Paul in his Galatian letter:
Now before faith came, we were confined under the Jaw, kept under restraint until faith should be revealed. So that the law was our custodian until Christ came, that we might be justified by faith.
The law is vividly portrayed by the Greek words Paul used as a military garrison hemming us in (‘confined’), a gaoler keeping us under lock and key (‘under restraint’) and a tutor charged with the discipline of minors (“our custodian’). All this is because the moral law condemned the lawbreaker without itself offering any remedy. In this way, it pointed to Christ. Its very condemnation made Christ necessary. It held us in bondage ‘until Christ came’, who alone could set us free. We are condemned by the law but justified through faith in Christ.
Christ In the Prophets
As we turn now from the law to the prophets, we need to remember that the Old Testament division known as ‘the prophets included the history books (Joshua, Judges, Samuel and Kings) as ‘the former prophets’ because the authors were judged to have written prophetic or sacred history, as well as “the latter prophets’ whom we call the major and minor prophets.
Many readers of the Bible have found the history of Israel extremely tedious and cannot imagine how all those drear.’ kings could have anything to do with Christ! When we remember, however, that Christ’s first words about ‘the time are fulfilled’ immediately led on to ‘the kingdom of God has drawn near, we have in the word ‘kingdom’ the clue we need. Israel began as a ‘theocracy’, a nation under the direct rule of God. Even when the people rejected the divine rule by demanding a king like the other nations and God granted their request, they knew that ultimately He continued to be their King, for they continued to be His people, and that their kings reigned as it were as His viceroys.
Nevertheless, the rule of the kings, of both the northern^ kingdom of Israel and the southern kingdom of Judah, left much to be desired. The monarchy was marred now externally by foreign wars, now internally by injustice and oppression. Both kingdoms also had the instability of all human institutions, as kings acceded to the throne and prospered and died. And sometimes they shrank to tiny territories as their land was overrun by invading armies until in the end both capitals were taken and both nations suffered a humiliating exile. It is not surprising that God used their experience of the unsatisfactoriness of human rule to clarify their understanding of the perfections of the future Messianic kingdom and to strengthen their longing for it.
Already God had made a covenant with King David to build him a house and through his posterity to establish his throne forever. Now the prophets began to describe what kind of king this ‘son of David’ would be. They were clear that He would embody the ideals of kingship that the kings of Israel and Judah, and even David himself, so imperfectly foreshadowed. In His kingdom oppression would give place to justice, and war to peace. And there would be no limit to either its extent or its duration. For His dominion would stretch from sea to sea, even to the ends of the earth, and would last forever. These four characteristics of the kingdom of the Messiah —peace, justice, universality and eternity—are brought together in one of Isaiah’s most famous prophecies:
For unto us a child is born, to us a son is given; and the government will be upon His shoulder, and His name will be called “Wonderful Counsellor, Mighty God, Everlasting
Father, Prince of Peace.” Of the increase of his government and of peace there will be no end, upon the throne of David, and over His kingdom, to establish it, and to uphold it with justice and with righteousness from this time forth and forevermore The zeal of the Lord of hosts will do this, If the prophets foretold the glory of the Messiah, they foretold His sufferings also. The best-known such prophecy, obviously definitive for our Lord’s own understanding of Hb ministry, is that of the suffering servant in Isaiah 53. He would be ‘despised and rejected of men, a man of sorrows, and acquainted with grief. Above all, He would bear his people’s sins; He was wounded for our transgressions, He was bruised for our iniquities; upon Him was the chastisement that made us whole, and with His stripes, we are healed.
All we like sheep have gone astray;
we have turned everyone to his own way, and the Lord has laid on Him the iniquity of us all.
Christ in the Writings
The third division of the Old Testament was ‘the writings’, sometimes called ‘the psalms’ because the Psalter was the chief book of this section. Several psalms are applied to Jesus Christ in the New Testament, psalms which include references to His deity, humanity, suffering and exaltation. Thus the words ‘You are My son, today I have begotten You were used (at least in part) by God the Father in direct address to His Son at both. His baptism and His transfiguration. The allusions in Psalm S to man as ‘made a little lower than the angels and ‘crowned with glory and honour are applied to Christ by the author of the Letter to the Hebrews. Jesus Himself quoted Ps. 22.1 from the cross ‘My God, My God, why hast Thou forsook Me?’, claiming that He had personally experienced and fulfilled the terrible God-forsakenness that the psalmist expressed. He also quoted David’s saying in Ps. 110.1 ‘The Lord says to my Lord: “Sit at My right hand, till I make Your enemies Your footstool”‘, and asked His critics how m they’re viewed the Messiah could be both David’s Lord and David’s son. ‘The writings* contain, in addition, what is often called the wisdom literature of the Old Testament. The “wise men* appear to have become a distinct group in Israel during the later period of the monarchy, alongside the prophets and the priests. 7*hcy knew that the beginning of Wisdom was to fear God and depart from evil. Often they extolled wisdom in glowing terms, as more precious than gold, silver and jewels, and occasionally they appeared even to personify wisdom as the agent of God’s creation:
‘When He established the heavens, I was there, when fie drew a circle on the (ace of the deep, when He assigned to the sea its limit so that the waters might not transgress His command when He marked out the foundations of the earth, then I was beside Him, like a master workman; and I was daily His delight, rejoicing before Him always, rejoicing in His inhabited world and delighting in the sons of men.
Christians have no difficulty in recognizing that this wisdom of God is uniquely incorporated in Jesus Christ, the personal ‘Word’ who was at the beginning with God and through whom all things were made of
The Old Testament expectation of Christ—in the law, the prophets and the writings— is seen to have been extremely diverse. Jesus Himself summed it up in the comprehensive expression that ‘the Christ should suffer . . . and enter into His glory. The apostle Peter took up the phrase, conceding that the prophets did not fully understand ‘what person or time was indicated by the Spirit of Christ within them when predicting the sufferings of Christ and the subsequent glory. But this double strand of prophecy was there, representing Him as the priest who would offer Himself as a sacrifice for sin and the king whose glorious reign would know no end. In fact, another way of summing up the Old Testament witness to Christ is to say that it depicts Him as a prophet greater than Moses, a priest greater than Aaron and a king greater than David. That is to say, He will perfectly reveal God to man. reconcile man to God and rule over a man for God. in Him the Old Testament ideals of prophesy priesthood and kingship will find their final fulfilment.
Christ In the New Testament
If the idea of discovering Christ in the Old Testament seems, at first sight, strange, there is no similar difficulty in finding Him in the New. The gospels tell the story from different points of view, as we shall see more fully in chapter 5, of the birth, life, death and resurrection of Jesus, and supply a sample of His words and works.
These ‘memoirs of the apostles, as they used to be called in the early church, came rightly to be known as ‘Gospels’, for each evangelist tells his story as ‘gospel’ or good news of Christ and His salvation. They do not present Him as a biographer might. For the arc essentially witnesses, directing their readers’ attention to one they believed to be the God-man, born to save His people from their sins, whose words were words of eternal life, whose works dramatized the glory of His kingdom, who died as a ransom for sinners and rose m triumph to be Lord of all.
You might suppose that the Acts of the Apostles, which tells the story of the early days of Christianity, is more about the church than about Christ. Yet this would grievously misrepresent its nature. Luke is the author of a different persuasion. In introducing his work to Theophilus (tor whom he is writing) he describes his first book (the Gospel of Luke) as containing all that Jesus began both to do and teach. The implication is that the Acts story will contain all that Jesus continued to do and teach through His apostles. So in the Acts listens to Christ as He was still speaking to men, though not through the great sermons of the apostles Peter and Paul which Luke records. We also sec the miracles which He did through them, “for ‘many wonders and signs were done through the apostles by Christ. And we watch Christ building His own church by adding converts to it:
‘And the Lord added to their number day by day those who were being saved.
The specifics extend the New Testament’s witness to Christ by unfolding further the glory of His divine human person and saving work, and by relating the life of the Christian and of the church to Him. the apostles exalt Christ as the one in whom ‘all the fullness of God was pleased to dwell’ and through whom we ourselves come to ‘fullness of life In Christ Cod has ‘biassed us . . . with every spiritual blessing’, they say so that we can do all things through Him who inwardly strengthens us. The Christ that the apostles present is an all-sufficient Christ, who is able to save to the uttermost and for all time ‘those who draw near to God through Him.
The Bible’s disclosure of Christ reaches its climax in the Revelation of John. He is portrayed in the vivid imagery which characterizes this book. First He appears as a glorified man In the midst of the lampstands. These represent the churches, which the risen Christ is seen to patrol and superintend so that He is able to say to each 4I know your works. Then the scene changes from earth to heaven, and Jesus Christ appears in the guise of a Lamb…. as though it had been slain’. The countless international crowd of the redeemed are even said to have ‘washed their robes and made them which in the blood of the Lamb’, which means that they owe their righteousness to Christ crucified alone. Then towards the end of the book, Christ is seen as a majestic rider on a white horse, going forth to judgment, with His name inscribed upon him ‘King of kings and Lord of lords. Finally, we are introduced to Him as the Heavenly Bridegroom. We are told, the marriage of the Lamb has come, and his Bride has made herself ready. His bride is the glorified Church which is then seen ‘coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband”. Almost the last words of the Revelation are ‘The Spirit and the Bride say, “Come”. And let him who hears say, “Come” . . . Come, Lord Jesus'”.
There is a great diversity of content, style and purpose among the bocks of the Bible, and in some books, the witness to Christ is indirect, even oblique. But this brief survey of the Old and New- Testaments should be enough to demonstrate that ‘the testimony of Jesus is the spirit of prophecy if we want to know Christ and His salvation, it is to the Bible we must turn. The Bible is God’s own portrait of Christ. We can never know Him otherwise. As Jerome put a in the fourth century A.D., ‘Ignorance of the Scriptures is ignorance of Christ”.
Just as in a children’s treasure hunt, one is sometimes fortunate enough to stumble immediately upon the treasure but usually has to follow laboriously from clue to clue until at last the treasure is found, so it is with Bible reading. Some verses point one direct to Christ. Others are remote clues. But a painstaking pursuit of the clues will ultimately lead every reader to that treasure whose worth is beyond price.
The Scriptures are able to instruct us for salvation, the apostle Paul wrote, ‘through faith in Christ Jesus’. Since their purpose (or the purpose of the divine author through them) is to bring us to salvation, and since salvation is in Christ, they point us to Christ, as we have seen. But their object in pointing us to Christ is not simply that we should know about Him and understand Him, nor even that we should admire Him, but that we should put our trust in Him. Scripture bears witness to Christ not in order to satisfy our curiosity but in order to elicit our faith.
There is much misunderstanding about faith. It is commonly supposed to be a leap in the dark, totally incompatible with reason. This is not so. True faith is never unreasonable because its object is always trustworthy. When we human beings trust one another, the reasonableness of our trust depends on the relative trustworthiness of the people concerned. But the Bible bears witness to Jesus Christ as absolutely trustworthy. It tells us who He is and what He has done, and the evidence it supplies for His unique person and work is extremely compelling. As we expose ourselves to the biblical witness to this Christ and as we feel its impact-profound yet simple, varied yet unanimous—God creates faith within us. We receive the testimony. We believe.
This is what Paul meant when he wrote:
‘So faith comes from what is heard, and what is heard comes by the preaching of Christ’.
We have seen that God’s purpose in and through the Bible is severely practical. He has ordained it as His chief instrument for bringing men to ‘salvation’, understood in its widest and fullest sense. The whole Bible is a gospel of salvation, and the gospel is ‘the power of God for salvation to everyone who has faith. So it points its many fingers unerringly to Christ so that its readers will see Him, believe in Him and be saved.
The apostle John writes something very similar at the end of his Gospel. He has recorded only a selection of the signs of Jesus, he says, for Jesus performed many others. He goes on:
‘But these are written that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that believing you
may have life in His name.
John sees the ultimate purpose of Scripture (what is written’) just as Paul sees it. John calls a ‘life’, Paul ‘salvation’, but the words are virtually synonymous. Both apostles arc further agreed that this life or salvation is in Christ and that to receive it we must believe in Him. The sequence. Scripture—Christ—-faith—salvation, is exactly the same. Scripture testifies to Christi in order to evoke faith in Christ, in order to bring life to the believer. The conclusion is simple. Whenever we read the Bible, we must look for Christ. And we must go on looking until we sec and so believe. Only as we continue to appropriate by faith the riches of Christ which are disclosed to us in Scripture shall we grow into spiritual maturity, and become men and women of God who are ‘complete, equipped forever)- good work’.
For Further Reading
The Lion Handbook to the Bible (Lion Publishing 1973, 680 pages). A comprehensive guide to all the books of the Bible, together with 437 pictures, 68 maps, 20 charts and 60 specialist articles. An exciting reference book, written by trustworthy scholars, which will prove a continuing mine of helpful information.
Every Man a Bible Student by J. E, Church (Paternoster 1976, 126 pages). An elementary handbook for basting Bible Study for those who want to live their faith as well as learn about it. The author, a doctor and missionary intimately connected with the East African revival, handles 47 subjects including the main biblical doctrines and such practical matters as temptation, compromise, apostasy and the problem of pain.
1 2 Tim. 3.15-17 23 Acts-14-3-
2 Luke I.6S-75 24 Acts 2.47
3 Rom. 8.24 25 Col. 1.19; 19, 10
4 Rom. 8.21; 1 Cor. 15.28 26 Eph. U
5. Heb 13 27 Phil. 4.3 3
6 John 5.39 28 Heb. 7.25
7 Lk. 24.27 29 Rev. 1-3
8 Lk. 24.44 30 Rev. 5.6; 7.14
9 Mk, 1.15 31 Rev. 19.11-16
10 Ml. 13.16, 17 32 sec Rev. 19.7-9; 21.2
11 Gen. 3.15; 12.3; 49.10 33 Rev. 22.17, 20
12 Deut. 18.15. 18b 34 Rev. 19.10
13 1 Pet 1.3,4 35 In the prologue to his
14 Gal 3.23, 24 commentaries on Isaiah,
15 2 Sam. 7.8-17 J quoted in Vatican IPs
16 Is. 9.6, 7 Dogmatic Constitution on
17 Is. 53.5. 6 Divine Revelation, para.
IS Ps. 2.7 25
19 Prov. 8.27-31 36 Rom. 10.17
20 see Jn. 1.1-3; Col. 13 37 Rom. 1.16
21 Lk. 24.26 38 Jn. 20.31
22 1 Pet. 1.11
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