God and His People
The story of the Bible can rightly be seen as the story of the relationship between God and His people. From beginning to end the Bible describes how God has worked for and through His people.
In the beginning, when God made the heavens and the earth, He made man and woman in His image (Genesis 1:26-27). The first man and woman enjoyed unbroken association with God until they sinned and were cast out from the Garden of Eden (Genesis 2:4-3:23). Yet God did not give up on His people: He tried to steer Cain away from sin (Genesis 4:6-7), and Enoch and Noah walked with God (Genesis 5:24, 6:9).
When God called Abraham out of Ur mankind was separated from God, alienated from one another, and without hope in the world (Genesis 11:1-32). God promised Abraham that he would be blessed if he trusted in God, and not only him, but all who blessed him, and ultimately, all the nations of the earth (Genesis 12:1-3, 22:18). God intended to provide blessings to the world through His chosen people: Abraham, Isaac, and then Jacob and the nation of Israel who proceeded from him (Genesis 26:3-4, 28:13-14).
God, having brought the Israelites out of Egypt, intended for Israel to be a holy nation, a people set apart for His purposes, to glorify His name and proclaim His righteousness throughout the earth (Exodus 19:5-6, Deuteronomy 7:6). To this end God gave to Israel the Law, the good and right way for them to go (Exodus 20:1-17, Psalm 119:1-176). Yet Israel proved rebellious from beginning to end: they served other gods, they put their trust everywhere but in God, and even when they sought to trust in God, they ended up trusting more in their demands and expectations of God than God Himself (Zechariah 1:2-6, Romans 2:1-29).
God would have been in the right to forsake His people, and yet He did no such thing. He would allow foreigners to oppress them for a time but always provided deliverance (Judges 1:1-21:25). He sent His prophets to warn His people Israel about the severe consequences of their sinfulness, urging them to repent. Yet even though most Israelites did not heed those prophets, God also spoke through those same prophets about not only the impending judgments on all the other nations who derided, dispossessed, or otherwise oppressed Israel, but also the hope of restoration and reconciliation in the future (e.g. Isaiah, Jeremiah, Ezekiel, Amos, Nahum).
When God became flesh as Jesus of Nazareth, He came as an Israelite and as the fulfillment of all those promises of restoration and reconciliation (Matthew 1:1-25, Luke 1:1-2:52). Throughout His ministry Jesus spoke of the Kingdom of God which was coming and how life would work in that Kingdom (e.g. Matthew 4:17, 23, 5:1-7:28). In His life, death, and resurrection, Jesus embodied the story of Israel and God’s intention to restore and reconcile all things to Himself (Romans 5:12-18, 8:1-15); in His ascension and lordship, Jesus is able to continue the story of God’s people in the spiritual Israel, those who share in the faith of Abraham and thus inherit God’s promise (Galatians 3:1-5:5, 6:16).
Thus, in Christ, all are able to become God’s people (Acts 10:1-11:18, 1 Timothy 2:4). God’s promise to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, that through their seed all the nations of the earth would be blessed, is fully realized in Jesus (Galatians 3:15-16). Through Jesus all can become part of the Israel of God; all can participate in His Kingdom and follow Him (Galatians 6:16, Philippians 3:20-21).
Jesus’ Apostles went around the Mediterranean world proclaiming this good news, or Gospel, of reconciliation, restoration, and salvation in Jesus, with a view of establishing local communities of God’s people everywhere they went (Acts 2:14-28:31). The preaching of the Gospel was empowered through the Spirit’s message and only possible through Jesus’ authority, and yet God always worked through His people to communicate the message (e.g. Acts 10:1-48; Romans 10:14-17). God in Christ expected His people in Christ’s Kingdom, the church, to encourage one another, build one another up, assist one another, and exemplify Christ through their own lives (Matthew 25:31-46, Romans 12:3-8, 1 Corinthians 12:12-28, 14:26, Galatians 6:10, Hebrews 10:24-25). Those people were reckoned the light of the world, doing good works, giving reason for even pagans to give thanks to the Father in Heaven (Matthew 5:13-16). The Apostles expected these Christians to work together, to strive for unity, in essence, to share in life together (Acts 2:42-48, Philippians 1:27, 2:1-4, 1 Peter 4:9-11).
At the very end of the New Testament Jesus reveals a vision to John to send to seven churches of God’s people (Revelation 1:1-3:21). In that vision God’s people are spoken of in terms of the holy nation Israel and its constituent tribes (Revelation 7:4-17) and ultimately as the heavenly city Jerusalem, the Bride of Christ, glorified beyond imagination, back in unbroken association with God in Christ, dwelling together and with God for eternity (Revelation 21:1-22:6).
The Bible’s witness is clear: God works on behalf of and through His people. If God works through His people, then His people must get to work! If God’s people will find shared unity in the faith it is because they have worked for it, dependent on God’s love and strength. If the Gospel of Christ is proclaimed, it is because the people of God have taken the message out; if it is given credence, it is because God is working through those people and the witness they provide in word and deed (Romans 10:15-17). Let us obey the Lord Jesus, become the people of God, and then work together as God’s people to accomplish God’s purposes to His honor and glory!
Ethan R. Longhenry