History is old news to many. Bible history is even worse for some who would say it’s boring and irrelevant. Actually Jesus had a very high expectation of our understanding of history. ◊
So you think you know your history? When was the American Revolutionary War? When were the Middle Ages? The Reformation? When did Julius Caesar live? Plato? When did King Tut live? When were the Crusades? When did King David live? Alexander the Great? How about Muhammad? Confucius? Buddha?
The good news for us today is that this kind of information and answers to questions of historical dates are only a search click or two away. But it’s one thing to know dates or even general eras; it’s another thing to understand historical events, their context and impact.
And what about the Bible and historical people, places and occurrences? Should one even bother to know and understand who came when and where and who ruled what and how and who said this or that? Is this really even relevant anymore?
Actually Jesus had a very clear expectation about our understanding of history.
What If Jesus Was Your History Teacher?
There’s a fascinating passage in the Gospel of Luke in which Jesus takes the role of Bible history teacher and schools a couple of men while expressing some pretty high expectations of historical Scriptural knowledge. It occurs on the very day of Jesus’ resurrection, while walking with two men on a road outside of Jerusalem leading to the small village of Emmaus about 7 miles away. After expressing surprise at the ignorance of the stranger (Jesus) about all that had just happened in Jerusalem, the men sadly tell Jesus (“…they were kept from recognizing Him”) all the tragic events that had occurred in recent days culminating in the crucifixion of Jesus and now the mysteriously empty tomb and stories of angelic appearances. Here’s how Jesus responds:
He said to them, “How foolish you are, and how slow to believe all that the prophets have spoken! Did not the Messiah have to suffer these things and then enter His glory?”And beginning with Moses and all the Prophets, He explained to them what was said in all the Scriptures concerning Himself. (Luke 24:25-27)
Interestingly enough, Jesus links belief with historical knowledge of the Bible and what God has revealed through the written word of the prophets documented in the Scriptures. He strongly expects that these two men should and ought to have known the Old Testament. A pretty high bar, but yes, they should have been better prepared for Easter Sunday morning!
Doesn’t leave us a lot of room for excuses about our own lacking in historical Biblical knowledge and context.
Historical Wake-Up Call
I didn’t always care or know about this stuff. In my 30’s I took an inductive Bible study class that awakened me to Bible history. Weekly homework forced me to look up cross-references in the Old and New Testament and study timelines and sequences of kings and kingdoms and books of the Bible. My ambivalence toward history turned to heightened fascination as I recognized the implications of Scriptural truth if these timelines and historical figures and periods, cities and empires were actually proven to be accurate and accepted by even secular historians.
For me, when the Bible was studied in the context of real human history, it came alive as a document to be reckoned with and appreciated. I now understood that when Jesus references the Old Testament, He’s not making things up.
A Summary Bible History Lesson
I’ll restate here what is my summary of Bible history: Adam lived and from him all were descended. His descendants are delineated in Genesis 3-12. Abraham then emerges, chosen out of a lineage of men “to be a blessing for all the nations.” This was a prediction of the rescue of the human condition from Adam’s original sin through the saving death of Jesus Christ on the cross as atonement for all mankind. Abraham lived circa 2000 BC. He fathered Isaac, the promised heir, who had Jacob (later renamed Israel) who himself had 12 sons (the eventual tribes of Israel). Joseph was one of these sons who became second in command of Egypt (Genesis 37-50). Centuries later (c. 1500 BC) Moses rescued the Hebrews (Jews) from Egyptian slavery (see Exodus). The Law was handed down, not just The Ten Commandments, but many instructions for a people (Hebrews) living a nomadic life in a pagan culture that did not know the One True God. The Law was given for them specifically to keep pure and separate as God had a restoration plan with a bloodline that would lead to the perfect sacrificial lamb, Jesus Christ. (That’s why detailed Jewish laws do not apply to modern-day Christians, yet “Judeo-Christian” moral values do apply today to healthy societal living.)
From Judges to Prophets to Kings and Nations
From the desert of the Sinai peninsula to Joshua’s leading into the “Promised Land” (today’s Middle East), the Hebrews were then directed by various judges (including Deborah, Gideon, Samson, Eli and Samuel) before being led by Israel’s Kings Saul, David (c. 1000 BC) and Solomon (who built the first Temple in Jerusalem in 960 BC). Then dividing factions and disobedience led to the separate Kingdoms of 10 tribes to the north (called Israel, with Samaria as capital), and 2 tribes to the south (called Judah, with Jerusalem as capital).
Though major prophets like Isaiah, Jeremiah, Ezekiel and several minor ones are used by God as warning sirens to a sinful and drifting Hebrew people, the kingdoms are ultimately allowed to be brutally destroyed by their enemies – the north by the Assyrians in 722 BC, the south by the Babylonians in 586 BC. In his prophecy, Daniel foresees the succeeding world nations beyond Babylon, the Medo-Persians (559-337 BC), the Greeks (336-63 BC, read of Alexander the Great in Daniel 8:5-8), and the Roman Empire (60 BC-476 AD). Below is a visual summary timeline.
2000 Years of Christianity
God’s redemptive final solution culminates with the birth, life, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ (c. 33 AD). Christianity was launched and explained to the world by the apostles and Paul in his letters to the growing Church. Within 3 centuries it became the standard across the Roman Empire and beyond. Christ’s restorative offering became a fulfillment of the promise to Abraham to be a blessing to all the nations of the world.
That the entire world has not fully accepted that blessing (30% of the today’s 6 billion people profess Christianity) is not a statement of the veracity and truth of Christianity but a reflection of disregard and disobedience. Likewise that man-driven war and cruelty over the centuries since Christ, even in the name of Christ (Crusades, Inquisition, etc.), does not discount the deed of Christ at Calvary and the work of the Holy Spirit today and into the future.
No, history is not just a thing of the past. And Christianity is not just a religion – it’s a documented passion play over the course of human history which we all should understand. Jesus would not expect anything less.
Do you understand Bible history?
Then I said, ‘Here I am—it is written about me in the scroll—I have come to do your will, my God.’ – Hebrews 10:7
Categories: Abundant Living, Archaeology, Devotion, Discipleship, Easter, Evidence, Faith, Jesus, Old Testament, Parenting, Prophecy, Purpose
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