In his commentary on the book of Hebrews for the Evangelical Biblical Theology Commentary published by Lexham, Tom Schreiner provides a good summary of the entire Old Testament storyline, reprinted below with permission. [I’ve added headings.]
The Scriptures open in Genesis with God as the sovereign King creating the world and everything in it.
Adam and Eve
Human beings are made in the image of God and appointed to rule the world for God (Gen 1:26–27). They are mandated to rule the world under God’s lordship and for his glory.
Instead of trusting and obeying God, Adam and Eve defied him and refused to submit to him (Genesis 3). Because of their transgression incited by the words of the serpent, they were spiritually separated from God and introduced death into the world.
Nevertheless, death is not the final word, for God promises that the offspring of the woman will crush the serpent (Gen 3:15).
The initial optimism engendered by the promise collapses, for human beings are radically evil. Cain was the offspring of the serpent and murdered Abel. (All the offspring of Adam and Eve come into the world as the offspring of the serpent, and hence those who belong to God are the recipients of his grace.) The offspring of the serpent were triumphing over the offspring of the woman, though God granted Seth to Adam and Eve to continue the lineage through which the promise would be fulfilled (Gen 4:25).
Because the corruption was so great, because the offspring of the serpent were spreading so rapidly, God had to destroy them with the flood, showing that he rules and reigns even when evil seems to have the upper hand. God established a covenant with Noah, pledging to preserve the world until he accomplished redemption (Genesis 6–9).
Tower of Babel
Still, the story of the tower of Babel reveals that human beings had not changed (Gen 11:1–9); they were still inclined toward evil and lived to make a name for themselves instead of living for the glory and honor and praise of the one true God.
Genesis 1–11 unveils the depth of human evil so that readers will grasp that victory over the serpent is a massive undertaking. The evil in human beings is no trivial matter. A demonic rejection of God and an embrace of evil afflict human beings.
Despite human evil, which defies the imagination, God is gracious. He chose one man through whom he would fulfill the promise made to the woman. He promises Abraham that he will have:
- land (Canaan),
- offspring (Isaac), and
- universal blessing (Gen 12:1–3).
Still the story rolls on slowly. Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob never possessed the land, and Abraham found it agonizingly difficult to have even one child! The Lord teaches him through the birth of Isaac that the promise will only be fulfilled through God himself, that human beings can’t contribute to the promise’s fulfillment.
Isaac and Jacob learned the same lesson so that, when Genesis ends, Israel was in the wrong land (Egypt), there were only about 70 Israelites (when God promised they would be as many as the stars of the sky), and there was certainly not universal blessing. What is said here could be misunderstood, for there could scarcely be countless descendants in three generations, and Joseph as Pharaoh’s right-hand man did bless the nations.
When Exodus opens, the promise of offspring for Israel is being fulfilled, for their population was exploding, which terrified the Egyptians. The Lord intended to show Israel again and again that salvation is his work, not theirs. Hence, he freed Israel from Egypt through Moses with great signs and wonders (Exodus 1–18). The Lord crushed the offspring of the serpent (Pharaoh), who attempted to annihilate the people from whom the offspring of the woman would come (Gen 3:15).
Covenant with Israel
Israel recognized that the Lord had redeemed them, fulfilling his promise to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. Israel was adopted as God’s son (Exod 4:22), becoming his special possession and a kingdom of priests if they followed the Lord’s instructions (Exod 19:5–6). The redemption from Egypt becomes a type and anticipation of the redemption that would be accomplished in Jesus Christ.
The Lord entered into a covenant with Israel, choosing them as his special people (cf. Exodus 19–24). If Israel obeyed the covenant stipulations, they would be blessed; but if they transgressed what the Lord commanded, they would experience the curses of the covenant (Leviticus 26, Deuteronomy 26–28). The Lord didn’t demand perfection to remain in the covenant, for sacrifices were instituted to grant forgiveness for Israel’s transgressions (Leviticus 1–7, 16).
The Lord also impressed on Israel his holiness. He dwelt with his people in the tabernacle (Exodus 25–40), but those who treated the Lord with contempt would be destroyed (Leviticus 10), as the thunderstorm which gripped Mount Sinai clearly taught the people.
Ultimately, the old covenant was a failure. The sacrifices didn’t cleanse the conscience of sin and provide free access to God, nor did the old covenant inscribe the law on the heart. But we are getting ahead of the story here!
The Land of Canaan
The next element of the promise of Abraham was ready to be fulfilled. Israel was about to take possession of Canaan. We read in Numbers how the people failed to follow the Lord’s instructions. After seeing the Lord’s signs and wonders that routed the Egyptians, Israel, amazingly enough, didn’t believe the Lord could bring them into the land, and hence they disobeyed his instructions.
The story wasn’t over, however, for under Joshua Israel possessed the land of Canaan, though the story clarifies that they didn’t possess the entirety of the land. Israel’s triumphs are the Lord’s work, for they win impossible victories over foes that are far stronger than they are. Joshua concludes by saying that the Lord has given rest to Israel (21:4; 22:4; 23:1). The rest under Joshua was a type and anticipation of a greater rest to come.
Upon opening Judges, we might think that paradise is around the corner. Two elements of the promise to Abraham are fulfilled: Israel
- had a large population and
- now inhabited the land of Canaan.
Hundreds of years had passed since the promise was made to Abraham, but Israel now seemed to be on the cusp of blessing.
It is rather stunning to see where the story goes next. Instead of moving forward, Israel slipped backward. They were in that sense like Adam in paradise. Instead of trusting and obeying the Lord, they turned toward idols so that the Lord unleashed their enemies upon them. Israel repeated a cycle of sin, defeat before enemies, repentance, and deliverance. Judges concludes with a story that echoes what happened to Lot in Sodom (Judges 20; Genesis 19). Israel was in the land, but they were not submitting to Yahweh’s lordship. Instead of blessing the nations, they were being corrupted by the nations.
When 1 Samuel opens, Israel had a corrupt priesthood and was teetering toward collapse. Still the Lord was gracious, raising up Samuel to bring the nation back to him. The kingship was instituted under Samuel when Saul was installed as the first king.
If we read perceptively, the theme of kingship is actually in the narrative from the beginning. The Lord promises that kings will come from Abraham and Jacob (17:6, 16; 35:11). Indeed, the scepter will belong to Judah, and the peoples of the world (universal blessing!) will obey him (Gen 49:10). Balaam prophesies that a star and scepter from Israel will crush (cf. Gen 3:15) the enemies of the Lord (Num 24:17–19). The offspring of the woman who will destroy the serpent will come from a king in Israel.
The narrative poses an implicit question: is Saul that king? On first taking the reins of power, it looked as if he might be. But Saul turned out like Adam in the garden and like Israel after possessing Canaan. Instead of trusting and obeying the Lord, he followed his own desires, and hence the Lord pledges that there will not be a Saulide dynasty.
Covenant with King David
David was anointed as king instead of Saul, and Saul became David’s mortal enemy, following the footsteps of Pharaoh (the offspring of the serpent!) who tried to destroy the chosen of the Lord. David was persecuted and on the run, but he trusted in the Lord to exalt him instead of wresting the kingdom from Saul. Finally, the Philistines killed Saul in battle, and David as king reigned over all Israel.
David’s kingship was marked by his trust and obedience to the Lord. Indeed, the Lord made a covenant with David that is central to the scriptural story line. The offspring of the woman who would triumph over the serpent would come from David’s line. He would be a Davidic king, for the Lord promised David a perpetual dynasty (2 Samuel 7). This promise finds its fulfillment in Jesus the Messiah.
Despite all of David’s virtues, he was not the one who would crush the serpent, for he too was a sinner needing forgiveness since he violated the covenant with the Lord by committing adultery with Bathsheba and murdering Uriah (2 Samuel 11).
Still, when David’s son Solomon ascended to the throne, it seemed that paradise was around the corner. Israel was at peace. Solomon was a wise and judicious king, and a marvelous temple was erected to worship the Lord. Could universal blessing be far behind?
But Solomon recapitulated the story we have seen over and over again. He followed the pattern of Adam in the garden, Israel in Canaan, and Saul as king. He ceased to trust in the Lord and turned to idols.
The kingdom, after Solomon’s day and as a result of his sin, was divided between the north and the south, with Israel in the north and Judah in the south.
Every single king in Israel followed the pattern of the first king, Jeroboam son of Nebat, and worshiped idols. The kings of Judah had a more mixed record, for some were faithful to the Lord, though even the best of them failed to do all the Lord commanded.
At the end of the day, though, both Israel and Judah gave themselves over to sin, and thus both kingdoms experienced the curses of the covenant:
- Israel was exiled to Assyria in 722 BC and
- Judah was exile to Babylon in 586 BC.
The new covenant is better than the old. Such a judgment is verified by the history of Israel. The kingdom was not realized through the old covenant since both Israel and Judah did not and could not keep the prescriptions of the covenant.
The prophets came to center stage after the kingdom was instituted in Israel, warning both Israel and Judah that exile would come unless they repented and turned to the Lord. The Day of the Lord will come, and it will not be a day of salvation but a day of judgment for disobedient Israel.
The prophets, however, did not only proclaim a message of judgment. Israel would go into exile, but there would be a new exodus. Israel, by the grace of God, would return to the land. There would be a new start for the people of God, and the kingdom would come with the arrival of the new exodus.
And that is not all. There will be a new covenant (Jer 31:31–34; Ezek 36:26–27) in which Israel’s sins will be finally and fully forgiven. The Lord will write the law on Israel’s heart by giving them the Holy Spirit, and so they will desire to do what the Lord says. The Lord will pour out his Spirit on his people, and a new age of salvation will arise (cf. Isa 32:15; 44:3; Joel 2:28). Creation will be renewed, and there will be a new exodus, a new covenant, and a new creation.
The kingdom God promised has not been withdrawn. It will come, and a new David will reign on the throne (Hos 3:5; Mic 5:2–4; Isa 9:1–7; 11:1–10; 55:3; Jer 23:5–6; 30:9; 33:15–17; Ezek 34:23–24; 37:24–25; Zech 9:9). The new creation, the new exodus, and the new covenant will be fulfilled through a king! The serpent will be defeated, and the kingdom will come.
Return from Exile
Israel returned from exile in 536 BC, and yet the promises of a new covenant, a new creation, and the coming kingdom were not realized. It seems that the prophecies found in the prophets only had an already-but-not-yet fulfillment. Remarkably Israel, by and large, did not surrender their faith. They continued to believe that the Lord would fulfill his promises to them.
Schreiner goes on to provide a brief summary of the culmination of this story in the Gospels and the book of Acts:
When the NT opens, there are a variety of opinions and sects in Israel, but there was a common belief that the Lord would keep his kingdom promises. Most believed that the great promises would be realized only if Israel was obedient to the Torah. The events in the Gospels took place before Hebrews was written and hence are part of the theological backdrop of the letter. We can hardly do justice to the message of the Gospels here, but certain themes stand out.
First, Jesus is the new David promised by the prophets. He is the one through whom the blessing promised to Abraham and David would be fulfilled.
Second, Jesus teaches that the kingdom has arrived in his ministry. The kingdom has come because the king has come!
Third, Jesus clearly teaches that he is the one who will give the Spirit to his people (cf. Matt 3:11–12 par.; John 14–16); the promises of return from exile, a new covenant, and a new creation would come to pass through God’s Spirit.
Fourth, Jesus is the Son of Man who will receive the kingdom (cf. Dan 7:9–14). He is the Son of God who is Immanuel, God with us (Matt 1:23). He is the Word of God (John 1:1–18) who is fully divine (cf. John 5:23). He existed before Abraham was born (John 8:58). He is the Bread of the Life, the Light of the World, the Good Shepherd, the Resurrection and the Life, the Way and the Truth and the Life, and the True Vine.
Fifth, at the Last Supper Jesus teaches that the new covenant is instituted with his death (Matt 26:26–29 par.). Jesus is the Servant of the Lord (cf. Isaiah 53) who took upon himself the sins of his people. The Gospels have been called passion narratives with an extended introduction, for the climax of the story comes with Jesus’ death and resurrection, and all the Gospels teach that through Jesus’ death and resurrection forgiveness is granted (e.g., Matt 1:21; 20:28; Mark 10:45; Luke 22:19–20; John 1:29; 6:51; 11:49–52).
Much more could be said. What is striking in the story of the Gospels is that the people of Israel, except for a few disciples, failed to see what was right before their eyes. The problem that plagued Israel throughout its history still persisted. They continued to resist God’s revelation. Jesus wasn’t embraced as Israel’s deliverer. He was despised as a messianic pretender, especially since they thought his teaching didn’t accord with the law. Hence, instead of crowning Jesus as the king, they crucified him on the cross.
They didn’t realize that Jesus was the Passover Lamb, the Son of Man, the Son of God, the Word of God, and the Servant of the Lord of Isaiah 53.
They didn’t understand that through Jesus’ death on the cross the new covenant was instituted as he taught at the Last Supper.
They didn’t realize that the forgiveness that the new covenant promised (Jer 31:34) was accomplished through Jesus’ death.
Death was not the end of the story. God vindicated Jesus by raising him from the dead. The resurrection (Isa 26:19; Ezekiel 37; Dan 12:2) signaled the arrival of the new creation and age to come.
In Jesus the return from exile (which is the coming of the kingdom) had arrived, though it won’t be consummated until the second coming.
The new covenant was inaugurated with his death and the gift of the Spirit.
The new creation had come with his resurrection, and he was most certainly the new David.
The prophecies of the OT were all fulfilled in him.
And yet there was a proviso. The new creation, the new covenant, and the new exodus were inaugurated but not consummated. The kingdom had come but not in its fullness. All nations would be blessed through him, so that there was an opportunity for salvation for all peoples before the final day.
We see in the Acts of the Apostles the gift of the Holy Spirit given to the church (Acts 2), signaling that the eschaton had arrived. The new covenant is the age of the Holy Spirit, which came at Pentecost. In Acts the good news about Jesus Christ is proclaimed to both Jews and Gentiles, so that the promise given to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob of worldwide blessing began to be realized.