For many, the Bible is read and studied from its beginning in the Book of Genesis to the end with the Book of Revelation. God’s revelation is positioned historically and chronologically in a succession of events that occur in time beginning with the creation of the world with everything coming to its fulfillment with the end of the world. This method of reading and studying is not incorrect, but it can also be limiting and can often miss the peculiar and interesting way the Church reads and studies the Bible, which is not simply from beginning to end, but really, from the end backwards to the beginning, with the “end” not being, as some think, the destruction of the planet, but the revelation of God in Christ coming to its absolute fulfillment.
In order to understand the Bible one must have the means by which the Bible can be understood and this means is the means that God gives to us and the means is the revelation of God in Christ, and without this revelation of God in Christ in mind the Bible will not yield up its purpose or its meaning.
Thus it is knowing Christ that we come to know the Bible- it is the end of the Bible that makes sense of its beginning, and indeed, everything that is in between.
I know this might sound perplexing, but consider, for example, the manner in which the Church reads and interprets the Old Testament, which she considers, not just to be a history book which recounts events from long ago, but a kind of description of Christ and the Church.
The Church understands the Old Testament as presenting types and forms that help us to understand Christ and his Church. Today’s reading from the Old Testament is an example. The Church presents to us the story of Samson, the legendary hero, strongman and defender of the Israelites. The description of the circumstances of Samson’s birth are interesting and the story of his life that follows is one of the most memorable in the Bible, but its significance for the Church is that Samson prefigures or foreshadows a man integral to the revelation of God in Christ- John the Baptist.
In a sense, Samson prepares the way for John the Baptist as John would prepare the way for Christ.
Both Samson and John, consecrated to God from even before their birth, were men of strength and action who would live and die in opposition to the enemies of the Israelites. God created in Samson an outline and then in John he filled in that outline with all the details.
Thus the Church recalls the story of Samson, not just because it’s a compelling story, but also because it directs our attention to the story of John the Baptist, who directs our attention to Christ.
For the Christian, the Bible is not just an interesting historical and literary text of important cultural significance, it is the story of the Lord Jesus, a story that begins with creation, that is expressed in the story of the Israelites, and continues in the Church. All the great persons of the Bible- Adam, Abraham, Moses, David, and all the great events described in the Bible, the creation, the exodus from Egypt, the story of the temple and the kingdom, are all parts of the story of the Lord Jesus and the Church recalls all this so that we can better understand him.
Christ who is revealed at the end of the Bible is the means by which to understand the beginning of the Bible and everything in between.
Many Christians don’t get this. Impatient to find meaning in the Bible that is first and foremost directly related to their own particular concerns, the Bible becomes tiresome and irrelevant. Sadly, they do not accept that in terms of the Bible, first and foremost, you must discover how the Bible is directly related to Christ, and then and only then, will you come to understand how what the Bible has to tell you about Christ is directly related to you.
The season of Advent is rapidly drawing to its conclusion. The prayers and scriptural readings of Advent have all in their own unique ways been about the Lord Jesus. Christ desires a relationship with us, but this relationship will not be what Christ intends for it to be if we know little or nothing about him.
Advent is intended to prepare the faithful for the revelation of God in Christ, so that when Christ comes to us we will know him as he wants to be known through the means which he gives to us and the Bible is a privileged means that the Church has for coming to know Christ.
If we turn our attention away from ourselves and towards his revelation and come to know Christ as the fulfillment of the scriptures then we can know him as his disciples and he will know us as his friends.