The Message of the Bible
What is the central message of the Bible? This book was written by many different men over a period of more than a thousand years; is there a central message at all? Why is this book, completed almost two thousand years ago, revered and followed today by so many people?
If you wonder about such questions, this brief study is for you. In six lessons, we survey the central message of the Bible. We see what the Bible says about the creation of the universe, the creation of mankind, the disobedience of the first man, and the terrible results that follow. We see how God from the beginning devised a plan to cause good to come from those terrible results – and how this plan reached its fulfillment in the person of Jesus Christ.
So please join us. No prior beliefs are assumed, and questions from any perspective are welcome. If you’ve ever wanted to know more about what the Bible says, if you’ve ever been curious about the person of Jesus, this study is for you.
(A note to leaders: The questions below for weeks 2 to 6 are intended to be handed out the prior week, with participants encouraged to read the text and answer the questions. It is helpful also to hand out Bibles to participants. There is no handout for week 1; those questions are here to assist you as a leader, and for those who do this study on line.)
1) According to Genesis 1:1, did God have a beginning? Does God have existence apart from the physical creation?
2) Verse 2 says the earth was initially “formless and empty.” Look over the remainder of chapter 1; in which verses does God add form or structure to the earth? In which verses does He fill its emptiness?
3) What doe verses 3, 6, 9, 11, 14, 20, 24, and 26 have in common? What is the response to God’s word of command?
4) What do verses 4, 10, 12, 18, 21, 25, and 31 have in common? Is there evil in this creation? How does this description change after the creation of man?
5) The book of Genesis was written in the Hebrew language. In Hebrew, there are no comparative and superlative forms (“good, better, best”); instead, a word is repeated to put it in superlative form. For example, see Isaiah 6:3 where God is called “holy, holy, holy.” Similarly, in Hebrew a phrase will be repeated for emphasis two or three times, frequently with a slight variation in word order or words used, both for emphasis and for bringing out important aspects of the statement. Consider verses 26 and 27 with these thoughts in mind. These verses emphasize that God made us “in His image.” What clues do these verses contain about the meaning of that phrase?
6) How is the task God gives to man in verses 26 and 28 similar to the actions of God we considered in question 2?
7) Genesis 2:4-25 elaborates on 1:26-30, providing more details about the creation of the first man and woman. God makes the first man out of what? What task does He give the first man?
8) In Genesis 2:16-17, does God give the first man freedom to eat from the garden? Is there sufficient food for him? Why does God tell the man not to eat from one particular tree? What will happen to the man if he eats from it? Will eating from the tree be good for him?
9) God makes the first woman out of what? What is God’s purpose in making her?
10) How would you describe the life of the first man and woman at the end of chapter 2? What is the quality of their relationship to God? What is the quality of their relationship to each other? Do they have sufficient food? Do they have rewarding work?
Week 2: Man’s Disobedience and God’s Punishment
During next week’s session, we will read Genesis chapter 3; it would be helpful if you could read that section ahead of time, either in your Bible or on the internet:
Consider these questions:
1) Recall from last week: At the end of chapter 2, what if anything do the first man and woman lack in the garden?
2) In 3:1-5, how does the serpent twist the truth? What does he challenge concerning Eve's conception of God? Why is this important?
3) In 3:6, what 3 things does Eve see concerning the tree? How many of those, if any, are true?
4) Why did Eve and Adam eat the fruit from this tree? How had their conception of God changed?
5) What was the first impact of their eating the fruit (3:7 -- compare to 2:24-25)? What was the second (3:8-10 -- compare to 2:15-22)?
6) As a result of their disobedience, what happens to Adam and Eve? Are they cursed? What happens to the ground?
7) Who was behind the serpent's temptation? In what sense is 3:15 a promise to Adam and Eve?
This week we will cover a lot of ground, with just a few verses from each passage, to give you an overview of how God reiterates and elaborates on His promise to use a descendant of Eve to crush the serpent's head. To help matters, I will print the key verses below, though you may want to look at a Bible to see more of the context of each passage. These questions are solely for your benefit -- you are very welcome to join us even if you do not read these passages and answer the questions ahead of time. You will get more out of our time together, however, if you look at this ahead of time, since we probably won't have time to look at all these passages together.
1) In our first session, recall that we said God created everything for a purpose -- to show His character, to display His glory. But last week we saw that man's disobedience led to the creation no longer serving this purpose. God could have destroyed it all -- but He didn't. Look (again for those of you who attended last week) at Genesis 3, describing the sin of Adam and Eve. Look especially at Genesis 3:15. In what way is this verse a promise?
Genesis 3:15 And I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your offspring and hers; he will crush your head, and you will strike his heel."
2) Around 2000BC, God called a man to be the ancestor of the One who will crush the serpent's head. Look carefully at Genesis 12:1-3. What does God promise to Abram? Who will benefit because of God's blessing Abraham? Think about your answer to this last question: Does that include your people?
Genesis 12:1 The LORD had said to Abram, "Leave your country, your people and your father's household and go to the land I will show you. 2 "I will make you into a great nation and I will bless you; I will make your name great, and you will be a blessing. 3 I will bless those who bless you, and whoever curses you I will curse; and all peoples on earth will be blessed through you."
3) Years later, Abram still does not have a son; he wonders how God can fulfill this promise. Genesis 15:1-6 tells what then happens. Read these verses. Look particularly at verse 6. How did Abram become righteous before God? Did he perform any ritual? What did he do? How is this different from the actions of Adam and Eve in the Garden?
Genesis 15:1 After this, the word of the LORD came to Abram in a vision: "Do not be afraid, Abram. I am your shield, your very great reward." 2 But Abram said, "O Sovereign LORD, what can you give me since I remain childless and the one who will inherit my estate is Eliezer of Damascus?" 3 And Abram said, "You have given me no children; so a servant in my household will be my heir." 4 Then the word of the LORD came to him: "This man will not be your heir, but a son coming from your own body will be your heir." 5 He took him outside and said, "Look up at the heavens and count the stars-- if indeed you can count them." Then he said to him, "So shall your offspring be." 6 Abram believed the LORD, and he credited it to him as righteousness.
4. God changes Abram's name (meaning "exalted father") to Abraham (meaning "father of a multitude") -- before granting him any children! Indeed, Abraham grows close to 100 years old and his wife is 90, and they have no children. But God miraculously gives them a son, Isaac. When Isaac is about 13, God tells Abraham to sacrifice him on top of a mountain. Abraham obeys -- but at the last second God tells him to stop. Genesis 22:17-18 follow (you may want to read verses 1-16 also). Who will be blessed because of the descendants of Abraham and Isaac?
Genesis 22:17 I will surely bless you and make your descendants as numerous as the stars in the sky and as the sand on the seashore. Your descendants will take possession of the cities of their enemies, 18 and through your offspring all nations on earth will be blessed, because you have obeyed me."
5. In later chapters, God confirms His promise to Isaac and Isaac's son, Jacob. How do these promises add to what God has already told Abraham? Why is it important for God to reiterate His promise? What does God say to all three? Why is this so important?
(To Isaac) Genesis 26:3 Stay in this land for a while, and I will be with you and will bless you. For to you and your descendants I will give all these lands and will confirm the oath I swore to your father Abraham. 4 I will make your descendants as numerous as the stars in the sky and will give them all these lands, and through your offspring all nations on earth will be blessed,
(To Jacob) Genesis 28:13 There above it stood the LORD, and he said: "I am the LORD, the God of your father Abraham and the God of Isaac. I will give you and your descendants the land on which you are lying. 14 Your descendants will be like the dust of the earth, and you will spread out to the west and to the east, to the north and to the south. All peoples on earth will be blessed through you and your offspring.
6. God miraculously leads Jacob (whose name He changed to Israel -- thus his descendants are called Israelites) and his sons into Egypt, where they stay for 400 years. While they are honored at first, they eventually become slaves. God takes them out of slavery and brings them back to the country He gave to Abraham (called Israel today) by His mighty hand. Through His servant Moses, God sets up an elaborate system of animal sacrifices, picturing how He will cover their sinfulness, so that they can be His people. Read Leviticus 17:11. What must happen for any sin to be forgiven? Why is this the case?
Leviticus 17:11 For the life of a creature is in the blood, and I have given it to you to make atonement for yourselves on the altar; it is the blood that makes atonement for one's life.
7. Right before they enter this promised land, Moses speaks to the people. The following interesting verses are part of his speech. Why did God choose the nation of Israel? What attracted Him to this people? What is the purpose of God choosing Israel? What do we learn about God's character in these verses?
Deuteronomy 7:6 For you are a people holy to the LORD your God. The LORD your God has chosen you out of all the peoples on the face of the earth to be his people, his treasured possession. 7 The LORD did not set his affection on you and choose you because you were more numerous than other peoples, for you were the fewest of all peoples. 8 But it was because the LORD loved you and kept the oath he swore to your forefathers that he brought you out with a mighty hand and redeemed you from the land of slavery, from the power of Pharaoh king of Egypt. 9 Know therefore that the LORD your God is God; he is the faithful God, keeping his covenant of love to a thousand generations of those who love him and keep his commands. 10 But those who hate him he will repay to their face by destruction; he will not be slow to repay to their face those who hate him.
7. About 400 years later God raises up a king of Israel named David. These verses consist of God's words to David (spoken through a prophet) after he proposed building a temple, and David’s response. How is 2 Samuel 7:8 similar to the passage from Deuteronomy above? Why did God choose David? What does God promise David? How does this differ from what was promised to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob? According to David, what purpose does God serve by keeping His promise? How is this related to God's purpose in creating the world?
2 Samuel 7:8 "Now then, tell my servant David, 'This is what the LORD Almighty says: I took you from the pasture and from following the flock to be ruler over my people Israel. . . . 16 Your house and your kingdom will endure forever before me; your throne will be established forever.'"
(David's reply) 25 "And now, LORD God, keep forever the promise you have made concerning your servant and his house. Do as you promised, 26 so that your name will be great forever. Then men will say, 'The LORD Almighty is God over Israel!' And the house of your servant David will be established before you.
8. David wrote many Psalms, or poems praising God. Several of these look forward to a descendant of David who will fulfill the promises made over the centuries. Psalm 22 is a clear prophecy concerning a coming king who will suffer. Verses 1-18 (not printed here) relate his sufferings, describing crucifixion centuries before it was invented. Look at verse 27. How is this similar to the other promises you have seen? How is it different?
Psalm 22:27 All the ends of the earth will remember and turn to the LORD, and all the families of the nations will bow down before him,
9. Finally, the prophet Isaiah lived about 300 years after David (around 700 BC). He prophesies about a coming, suffering servant who will pay for the sins of the people. If you read Psalm 22:1-18, what is similar about this passage and that one? Are they talking about the same person? In Isaiah, how do the people react to the servant? Are the people righteous? What happens to the punishment of the people's sins? If the system of animal sacrifice covered the people's sins, why does God put the sins of the people on this servant? Who crushes the servant? To what end?
Isaiah 53:4 Surely he took up our infirmities and carried our sorrows, yet we considered him stricken by God, smitten by him, and afflicted. 5 But he was pierced for our transgressions, he was crushed for our iniquities; the punishment that brought us peace was upon him, and by his wounds we are healed. 6 We all, like sheep, have gone astray, each of us has turned to his own way; and the LORD has laid on him the iniquity of us all. . . . 10 Yet it was the LORD's will to crush him and cause him to suffer, and though the LORD makes his life a guilt offering, he will see his offspring and prolong his days, and the will of the LORD will prosper in his hand. 11 After the suffering of his soul, he will see the light of life and be satisfied; by his knowledge my righteous servant will justify many, and he will bear their iniquities. 12 Therefore I will give him a portion among the great, and he will divide the spoils with the strong, because he poured out his life unto death, and was numbered with the transgressors. For he bore the sin of many, and made intercession for the transgressors.
Week 4: Jesus and New Birth
This week we begin looking at the life of Jesus. We will read about two incidents in his life: an interaction with a man named Nicodemus (John 3:1-21), and a situation in which he is asked to decide what to do with a woman caught in the act of adultery (John 8:2-11). Click on the Scripture reference to see the passage.
Read both passages, then consider these questions:
1) The man Nicodemus, we are told, is a Pharisee. The Pharisees were very strict observers of the Jewish laws, and believed that their obeying the law made them right with God. The word "Rabbi" in verse 2 means teacher. Given what he says in verse 2, what does Nicodemus think about Jesus? Who does he think Jesus is? Does Nicodemus consider his statement in verse 2 a compliment to Jesus?
2) In verses 3 to 7, how does Jesus react to Nicodemus' statement? Do Jesus' words have any relation to what Nicodemus says in verse 2? How does Nicodemus react in verse 4? Does Jesus believe that Nicodemus is right with God? How can you tell from these verses?
3) Look at verse 10 carefully. Are these kind words to say? Why do you think Jesus speaks this way?
4) In verses 13 and 14, Jesus uses the term "Son of Man," referring to Himself. In verse 14, He refers to an incident during Moses' life. The Israelites had disobeyed God, and God sent poisonous snakes among them. God commanded Moses to make a bronze snake and lift it high; anyone who was bitten by one of the snakes would live if he looked at the bronze snake. If he did not look, he would die. How is this story related to verses 15 and 16?
5) According to verses 16-21, who will have eternal life? Who will perish? How is this related to our discussion of Abraham last week? (Remember Genesis 15:6)
6) Now look at John 8:2-11. Recall that the Pharisees and scribes are Jesus' enemies. Why do they bring this woman to Him? What are they hoping to accomplish?
7) According to the Jewish law, this woman (and the man caught with her) deserve to die. What does Jesus say? Does He say she does not deserve to die?
8) Contrast Jesus' words to this woman with His words to Nicodemus. Why is He so harsh with Nicodemus? Why is He so gentle with this woman? What does Nicodemus need more than anything?
This week we will look at Jesus' arrest, trial, and execution, as told in the gospel of John. It is an amazing story; I hope you can be there. Because of our time constraints, we will not read the entire story while we are together, but will focus on John 18:1-12, 28-40, and 19:1-35.
Read the passage, then consider these questions:
1) In John 18:1-12, who is in control? Is Jesus surprised by what happens? Is Jesus arrested against His will? Does He regret that his disciples do not fight for Him? What impact does He have on those who come to arrest Him? Who is in control of the situation?
2) Consider Jesus' statement in 18:11. What does Jesus mean by "the cup"? Who is "the Father"? Why would the Father give Him this cup? You may want to look back at Isaiah 53:4-6 and 10-12, which we read a few weeks ago. How long had Jesus' death been planned? Who planned it?
3) Remember that the Jews are ruled by the Romans at this time. While the Jews have some autonomy, they do not have authority to execute anyone. This is why the Jewish leaders bring Jesus before the Roman governor, Pilate. During Pilate's interactions with Jesus (18:33-19:16), what is Pilate's objective? What does He believe about Jesus? Why does He agree to execute Him? Does Jesus try to defend Himself -- does He try to stop Pilate from condemning Him to death?
4) The prophecy fulfilled in 19:24 -- that they would cast lots (like throwing dice) for his clothing -- was made in Psalm 22, which we looked at briefly a few weeks ago. This was written about 1000 years before Jesus was born. Why does the author remind us here and in verse 28 that prophecies are fulfilled at the crucifixion?
5) In verse 30, what is finished? The words "he gave up His spirit" were not a normal way of talking about someone's death at that time. What does the expression imply?
6) Most of those crucified died from suffocation -- their lungs fill with fluid, and they cannot push themselves high enough to get even a shallow breath. Breaking the legs of the victims would hasten the process of suffocation, since then all their weight would be on the nails in their hands. Why do the soldiers not break Jesus' legs? What do you think would happen to a soldier who mistakenly thought someone was dead, and didn't kill him? From this account, how can we be sure that Jesus died?
This week we will look at Jesus' resurrection from the dead, as recorded in John chapter 20. Once again, this is an amazing story, the culmination of God's plan for the Deliverer first promised to Eve in the Garden of Eden. I hope you can join us.
Read the entire passage, John 20:1-31, then consider these questions:
1) In the first two verses, what does Mary Magdelene assume has happened to the body of Jesus?
2) Who is the first person to enter the tomb? What does he see? Read verses 6 and 7 carefully. If someone had stolen the body, what would have happened to the linen strips and facecloth?
3) In verses 8 and 9, what does the other disciple (John himself, the author of the book) believe after entering the tomb?
4) Who is the first person to see Jesus alive? What is unusual about this?
5) In verse 19, what is the condition of the ten disciples? What is their state of mind? How does that change after Jesus appears?
6) What is Thomas' reaction when he hears of Jesus' appearance? Why do you think he says this? You might want to look at John 11:16. What does Jesus eventually do for Thomas? Does Thomas put his hand in Jesus' side? Does he believe?
7) In verses 30 and 31, what is the reason John has written this book? What is the impact of believing that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God? Look back at John 3:16.
8) Why does God raise Jesus from the dead? If Jesus really died for the sins of all believers (as prophesied in Isaiah 53), why is it important for God to raise Him? Wouldn't the penalty for sin still be paid?
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