The Story—Part One
By Peter Amsterdam
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In this article I want to talk about the story behind the message of the gospel. It’s a story that you are already familiar with, a story which changed your life. While the plot and story line remain the same, there are many ways of telling the story, and I thought that going over a summary might bring to mind details or aspects which perhaps you haven’t thought of for some time; and that this could aid you when you feel the need to tailor the message or relate it in a way those you’re ministering to will understand.
As related in the Old Testament books written by Moses, at the very beginning of time God created the universe and within it the world and all that’s in it. He created human beings in His own image.
The first human beings, Adam and Eve, lived in a world that was very different from the world of today. It was a world in which they did not have to toil for their food, in which they were in harmony with one another, creation, and God. They lived in a beautiful world where everything was “very good.”1 They had no knowledge of evil, and while they had free will as we do, they had the ability to never sin. At some point in time in their idyllic world in the Garden of Eden, they were tempted by Satan to doubt what God had told them, which led them to disobedience and thus sin. Once they had chosen to disobey God, they knew evil.2 Because of this, it was necessary for God to send them out of the garden so they wouldn’t eat of the tree of life and thus live forever in their disobedient state.3
Their disobedience brought a separation between God and them, which is what sin does, as well as altered the relationship they once had with Him. Their world was radically changed. They were no longer innocent; they knew evil, and thus evil entered into humanity. Humanity and creation were altered, the ground was cursed, and death entered the world.4
Because of sin there was a separation between mankind and God, like a gate which man could not open or pass through. God, out of His love for His creation, had a plan that would in time open that gate and lift the curse and defeat death.
In time God chose a man, childless Abraham, and promised that He would make Abraham a great nation, that kings would come from his line of descendants, and that through him all the people of the earth would be blessed.5 Abraham’s descendants through his son Isaac were the children of Israel. God confirmed this covenant to Abraham’s grandson, Jacob (and renamed him Israel).6 From that time God called the descendants of Abraham His people, and had an extraordinary relationship with them.
He protected and prospered the children of Israel, saving them from famine through moving them to Egypt. Over time, the Egyptians enslaved them, but after 400 years God raised up Moses to deliver them from slavery through a series of incredible miracles, including plagues upon the Egyptians, the night of Passover,7 the parting of the Red Sea so that the children of Israel could escape from the Egyptians, and the destruction of the Egyptian army as they attempted to pursue them.
Once the children of Israel started their journey out of Egypt, God’s presence was with them in a pillar of cloud by day and a pillar of fire by night. Soon after this, God’s presence settled upon Mount Sinai, and God instructed Moses to come up into the mountain, where God gave him His words and commandments, which the children of Israel were supposed to obey and live by.
After 40 years in the desert, God brought them to the land of Canaan, which He had promised them as Abraham’s descendants. Before they entered Canaan, Moses spoke to them about God’s laws that they were to obey in the land. He went on to list the blessings they would receive if they kept God’s law and obeyed His commandments, and the curses which would be upon them if they didn’t. One of those curses was that if they disobeyed, they would be taken captive by another nation. Another curse was that their nation would be destroyed and their people scattered. In time this happened.
The children of Israel went into the land and conquered it. Over the centuries, God raised up prophets, judges, and then kings to guide and rule the people. He made a covenant with King David, saying that through his line God would raise up a son who would build a house for God and that David’s throne would be established forever.8 After David’s death, his son Solomon built the first temple, the place where God’s presence would be among the people and where they would come to worship Him.
After Solomon’s death, there was a split that divided the kingdom in two, with the Kingdom of Israel consisting of ten tribes in the north and the Kingdom of Judah consisting of two tribes in the south. No one knows exactly what happened to the ten tribes after Israel was destroyed by ancient Assyria in about 720 BC, but the Kingdom of Judah continued on.
Due to their continued disobedience to God, He repeatedly sent prophets to warn them of impending destruction if they didn’t repent and change. In 587 BC, in accordance with prophecies given, the Babylonian army conquered Judah and destroyed the city and the temple and took the king, his mother, his servants, his officials and mighty men of valor, the craftsmen and the smiths to Babylon. Nebuchadnezzar also took all the treasures from the temple, and eventually also destroyed the temple and the walls of Jerusalem.9 This was known as the Babylonian captivity.
About 50 years later, after the Babylonians were conquered by the Persians, some of the Jews in Babylon were allowed to return to their homeland. Over time, they built the second temple. It was during this time that the last prophets—Haggai, Zechariah, and Malachi—prophesied, and this brought to an end the writings of the Old Testament. Centuries later the second temple was renovated by Herod the Great and became known as Herod’s temple.
During the time between the building of the second temple and the birth of Jesus, Israel was conquered and ruled by the Greeks. More specifically, Israel became part of the Seleucid Empire, which was ruled by one of Alexander the Great’s generals after his death. About a century and a half later, after the Jewish Maccabean revolt, Israel was ruled by the Jewish Hasmonean dynasty. In 64 BC, they were conquered by Rome and were ruled by Jewish-Roman client kings.
The events of the history of the Jewish people always pointed toward the fulfillment of God’s promise—that through the line of Abraham the whole world would be blessed, that through Israel God would bring a blessing to all people. That time came with the birth, life, death, and resurrection of Jesus.
Throughout the Old Testament, promises were made by God that the glory of Israel would be restored; that the enemies of Israel would be defeated; that the king of Israel would rule the world, and that God would dwell with His people.
(To be continued.)
Originally published February 2012. Republished on Anchor August 2016.
Read by Jason Lawrence.
1 Genesis 1:31.
2 Genesis 3:4–7.
3 Genesis 3:22–24.
4 Genesis 3:16–19.
5 Genesis 12:1–3, 17:3–6.
6 Genesis 28:13–15.
7 Exodus 12:22–23.
8 2 Samuel 7:12–13, 16.
9 2 Kings 24:11–14, 25:8–12.