Bible Study Basics: The Bible Is NOT About You!
Last Sunday, Pastor Jake completed his sermon series on the Gospel of John. Toward the end of the book, in John 20:31, the author explained his reason for writing. John's purpose is the same reason for which the Holy Spirit inspired all the Scriptures: "These are written so that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in his name." The whole point of the Bible is to show sinners that they should believe in Jesus and, by believing, find salvation in Christ alone.
That's a bold claim, so let's check the testimony of the Scriptures themselves.
The Testimony of Scripture
In Luke 24:27, the resurrected Christ revealed His understanding of the Scriptures to some disciples walking with Him on the road to Emmaus: "And beginning with Moses and all the Prophets, he interpreted to them in all the Scriptures the things concerning himself" (emphasis mine).
In the same chapter, Jesus explicitly told His disciples to find Him in all the Scriptures, Old and New Testaments alike: "Then he said to them, 'These are my words that I spoke to you while I was still with you, that everything written about me in the Law of Moses and the Prophets and the Psalms must be fulfilled'" (Luke 24:44, emphasis mine).
In John's Gospel, Jesus argued with some scribes and lawyers that they misinterpreted the entire point of the Old Testament. Look at His shocking claim in John 5:39, 45:
"You search the Scriptures because you think that in them you have eternal life; and it is they that bear witness about me. . . . For if you believed Moses, you would believe me; for he wrote of me" (emphasis mine).
Lest you think my entire hermeneutic (interpretation strategy) comes only from the Gospels, allow me to submit two more texts into evidence.
In Peter's brilliant sermon from Acts 2:14–36, the apostle preached passages from Amos and the Psalms and claimed them both fulfilled in the person and work of Jesus Christ. In verse 31, Peter left no doubt: "[David] foresaw and spoke about the resurrection of the Christ, that he was not abandoned to Hades, nor did his flesh see corruption." He later concluded his sermon in verse 36 with another bold claim: "Let all the house of Israel therefore know for certain that God has made him both Lord and Christ, this Jesus whom you crucified.”
In Paul's final letter to his protégé, Timothy, he commends the young preacher for remaining committed to the Scriptures. In 2 Timothy 3:14–15, he wrote, "But as for you, continue in what you have learned and have firmly believed, knowing from whom you learned it and how from childhood you have been acquainted with the sacred writings, which are able to make you wise for salvation through faith in Christ Jesus." Paul plainly stated that all the Scriptures are able to bring people to salvation through faith in Jesus.
All this leads me to one important conclusion that should radically impact how you read your Bible:
The Bible is NOT primarily about you!
The Bible is Christ-Centered
In a previous Bible Study Basics article, I referenced this quoted from Vaughan Roberts: "The Bible needs to be understood and read as one book with one ultimate author, God, and one ultimate subject, God's plan of salvation through His Son Jesus." You are not the main character. The Bible is about God and His plan to save sinners (you included).
In the Bible, we read about how God the Father arranged your salvation. The plotline of the Bible reaches its climax when God the Son accomplished your salvation. And every book after the four Gospels explains how God the Holy Spirit applies your salvation.
So, how does this work? How does a Christ-centered hermeneutic change how you read the Scriptures?
Every book of the Bible either predicts, prepares for, reflects, or results from the person and/or work of Jesus Christ.
Let's work this out.
Many of the Old Testament books contain passages that explicitly predict Jesus Christ. The prophets fit this category. So do many Psalms.
Even if there is no obvious messianic prediction, every Old Testament book prepares for Christ. For example, the books of the law (Exodus–Deuteronomy) lay out God's expectation of holiness in His people and reveal the reality that only Jesus Christ could perfectly fulfill these expectations. Therefore, we are prepared to trust in the vicarious righteousness of Christ for our salvation. This is confirmed in New Testament books like Romans, Galatians, and Hebrews.
The four Gospels (Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John) all reflect on the life and ministry of Jesus Christ. By revealing His power and passing along His teachings, the Gospels compel us to believe in the Christ that was promised in the Old Testament. Christopher Wright wrote, "The Old Testament tells the story which Jesus completes." He is the fulfillment of all that was promised in the Old Testament, and the Gospels powerfully and repeatedly prove this point.
Acts and the epistles result from the life and work of Jesus. In Acts, the apostles carry on the ministry of Christ and multitudes believe and have life in His name. In the epistles, we are reminded of Jesus' person and work and we are commanded to live in light of the grace God granted us through Christ. In Revelation, we see the all-powerful, sovereign, resurrected Christ seated on the throne of heaven, ruling and reigning over the universe.
If all this is true, then the Bible is not a series of disconnected stories. It is all one big story, planned in eternity past by God the Father and accomplished in human history by God the Son and God the Holy Spirit. And if this is the case, we must humble ourselves and realize that we are not the point of the Bible.
This Changes Everything
I tend to read in movie clips. When I read a story, I tend to visualize the story with myself as one of the characters. Naturally, because of my sin nature and bent toward pride, I often find myself to be the lead in the imaginary story. But if the Bible is really all about Jesus, then I must approach the Scriptures differently. Suddenly, placing my sinful self in the role of the protagonist is impossible (and dangerous).
If the story of David and Goliath, for example, is about me facing the giants in my life, then what happens when my five smooth stones miss? Because they will. If the protagonist, however, is the sinless Son of Man, Jesus Christ, then the narrative of the entire Bible starts to come together and it finally makes sense.
In his book, Multiply, Francis Chan explained one of the primary reasons the Bible exists.
From beginning to end, God is the subject of the Scriptures. Everything in this book is God centered. Genesis begins with a God who existed alone and then spoke all things into existence. Revelation ends with this same God reigning eternally over all that He created. Every book in between reveals His character and attributes by narrating His sovereign actions throughout history. God in heaven wants us to know certain things about Himself, and He uses the Scriptures to reveal these things. People naturally want to believe in a human-centered world, so God gave us the Bible, which shows that everything revolves around God. (96)
The Bible is about God and His redemptive plan to save sinners. It's not about me. It's not about any of us. It's about Him.
I'll never forget when my favorite professor in seminary put it this way: "Jesus is not under every single rock in the Old Testament. But He is under a LOT of them. And it is our duty as preachers to flip over all these rocks so our people can find their hope in Christ." That'll preach.
Jesus is the point of the story. He is the hero. You are not. And that is the best news I could possibly deliver to you today.
Here is a video from the stellar documentary, American Gospel: Christ Alone, that will hopefully drive home the truth that the Bible is all about Jesus and not us.
As you read your Bible, look for Christ. He is the key that unlocks the meaning of the Scriptures.
For more on Christ-centered interpretation, check out these resources:
4 Ways Your Bible Points to Jesus by Bryan Chappell
According to Plan by Graeme Goldsworthy
God's Big Picture by Vaughan Roberts
Jesus on Every Page by David Murray
Knowing Jesus through the Old Testament by Christopher J. H. Wright
The Prophets Speak of Him by Anthony Selvaggio
The Unfolding Mystery by Edmund Clowney
Other posts in the Bible Study Basics series: