Reading the bible is not easy. How many of us have started out with the intention of reading the whole bible in a year only to find ourselves defeated the tenth time we read about ‘the long lobe of the liver’ in Leviticus! Others of us read devotionally every day, but if we’re honest, we have little sense of how the different promises and passages hang together as a whole. Too often we only read in these two dimensions. Either trying to read enormous swathes of Scripture in one sitting, quickly losing focus as we do, or else zooming in to a verse or two for the day without considering the wider context. To get the most out of the bible we have to read it in three dimensions.
The third dimension is Jesus. Remember when you read the bible, Jesus is on every page. Dig down and find him.
There are a number of ways this works out in practice. You might want to look out for different themes and tensions that cut across the whole of Scripture and find their resolution in Jesus. Themes such as the kingdom and it’s coming king, the covenants that climax in Jesus the obedient covenant partner, the presence of God, lost in the garden, tasted in the wilderness, rooted in the temple, relocated in Jesus and redefined as the living stones of the church.
You might want to think of the bible as one great drama with a single plotline you can trace. Have a model in mind. Where does your passage fit? Does creation, de-creation or re-creation work for you? What about creation, fall, Israel, Jesus, Church? Locating your text will allow you to maximise its significance. You can even insert the story you are reading into the larger story of salvation. Is it a story of victory through defeat, or life through death. Is it a grace story like Namaan and his slave girl, or Esther or Ruth?
Is he the second Adam who resists temptation, the true Abel whose blood declares innocence not guilt, or the better Abraham who keeps the covenant to bless the nations? Every prophet, priest or King in the Old Testament points to Jesus one way or another. Even the history of Israel as a nation signposts Jesus. Matthew presents Jesus as the new Israel, escaping Egypt with his parents, crossing the Red Sea in his baptism, wandering in the wilderness for 40 days and giving a new Law on the mount. Pay attention to symbols in the bible. The Passover lamb, the bronze snake in the wilderness, the water from the rock, even the Sabbath itself, all consciously point to the coming Messiah. Jesus is written into the very structure of Scripture.