Tracing Key Redemptive Themes
Another way of reading each passage of Scripture in light of the whole biblical story is finding and tracing key redemptive themes. These themes are like threads that run throughout the Bible, showing up at pivotal moments.
Below you will find a list of key redemptive themes. It is neither comprehensive nor exhaustive; nevertheless, it does highlight some of the more prominent redemptive themes that run throughout Scripture, along with a very brief description of each one. But be sure to remember as you trace it to and through the person and work of Jesus Christ, since in him all the promises of God are yes (2 Cor. 1:20). These are not intended to as strict "formulas" but are provided to jumpstart your thinking.
Character/Names of God - The various attributes of God can often provide you with
links that reveal the significance of how God reveals himself throughout the Biblical story.
Pay attention to the names of God used, since they may shed light on a particular aspect of
his character that is particularly important for that passage (see, for example, Genesis 16:1-
Creation & new creation - The Bible is a story that runs from creation in Genesis to new creation in Revelation. And in between God promises to make things new in connection with his promise of redemption (see, e.g., Isa 46:8-10; 65:17-19; 2 Cor 5:17; Gal 6:15). Related to this theme would also be the themes of new life and resurrection.
Covenants - God's relationship to his people can be understood as a series of covenants (Noahic, Abrahamic, Mosaic, Davidic, etc). Something to consider when you read a passage of Scripture is which of the covenants have already been given and which have not. Does this passage give evidence of fulfilling (even if partially) something promised in a covenant? Keep in mind too that all of the covenants in some way point forward to Christ, who in his person and work fulfills the covenants.
Promises to Abraham - In Genesis 12:1-3, God promised to Abraham land (Geography) and descendants (Genealogy). From this promise God forms the nation of Israel and eventually brings forth Christ, THE descendant of Abraham (cf. Gal 3:16). Does this passage in some fashion "move this promise along" towards its fulfillment in Christ?
Israel/Church/People of God - Regardless of how you understand the relationship between the nation of Israel and the church, it is legitimate to look for connections between how Israel as the people of God responds (or fails to respond) to God and how the church is to do so (see, e.g., 1 Cor 10:1-13, where Paul draws key lessons from Israel's wilderness experiences).
Israel the son of God / Jesus the Son of God - Israel is referred to as God's first-born son (Exod 4:22-23), but a son that proves disobedient. The Gospels present Jesus as God's eternal Son who obeys where Israel failed (cf. Matt 3:13-4:9).
Exodus/New Exodus - In the Exodus, God redeemed for himself a people to serve and worship him (Exod 12-15). But when Israel rebelled against God, he warned of judgment. But through the prophets God promised a new and greater Exodus in which he would redeem his people from their sin (Isa 51:1-16). The NT indicates that Jesus accomplished that New Exodus in his work on the cross (Gal 4:1-7).
Redemption/Salvation - All throughout the OT God redeems (rescues) or saves his people from their enemies, often through a divinely appointed leader (Ps 18). These various events point forward to God redeeming/saving his people from their greatest enemies sin and death through Christ (Luke 1:68-79).
Tabernacle/Temple - God created Adam and Eve to dwell with him in the garden, but sin brought separation. Eventually God dwelled with his people through the tabernacle and then the temple. Jesus is the ultimate fulfillment of God dwelling with us (Matt 1:23; John 1:14) and that we will experience the fullness of this promise in the new creation (Rev 21:3)
Sacrifices/Atonement - From as early as Gen 3, sacrifices were offered in connection with sin. God eventually gave the sacrificial system to Israel. As the book of Hebrews makes clear, these sacrifices were pointing forward to the one great sacrifice of Christ on the cross.
Feasts/Festivals - The various feasts and festivals were given to mark specific occasions in the life of Israel. As such they are often indicators to larger redemptive themes. Several times in the gospels Jesus links his own actions to the celebration of particular Jewish feasts such as Passover, the Feast of Booths, etc. (e.g., John 7:1-44).
Promised Land/Inheritance - The promise of land to Israel from the OT is connected by NT authors to the spiritual inheritance of believers won through the death of Christ (cf. Heb 3-4).
Prophet/Priest/King - Throughout the OT God raised up prophets, priests and kings to forward his redemptive plan in their activities. The NT presents Jesus as the fulfillment of these roles. Jesus is the long-awaited King (Heb 1:5-14), the great High Priest (Heb 8:1-13), and the prophet like Moses (Acts 3:22-26). So when you see the actions of prophets, priests, or kings, ask whether they in some way point forward to the Christ as the fulfillment of those roles. Here to you may note that sometimes the connection to Christ is the opposite of what the OT prophet/priest/king; in other words, where they fail, Christ obeys and embodies perfectly.
Idolatry - When you recognize that idolatry is placing anyone or anything in the rightful place of God in our lives, it is evident that idolatry begins in Gen 3 and runs throughout the Bible, including thoughts, behaviors, attitudes, relationships, etc. By contrast, Jesus is the perfect worshiper of God who never gave in to the temptation to place anyone or anything above the Father (cf. Matt 4:8-10).
Day of the Lord - From the beginning God warned that disobedience to him would result
in judgment. As the OT develops this concept of judgment was linked to the phrase "Day of
the Lord," which referred to the day on which God would bring judgment for sin (Joel 2:1-
32). Throughout the OT God would pour out measured judgment on Israel for its sin (destruction of the northern and southern kingdoms), but these were only partial anticipations of the great and final Day of the Lord. At the cross, Jesus experiences the "Day of the Lord" on our behalf (Matt 27:45-54) so that when the final Day of the Lord comes at his return (Rev 19:6-21), believers will be rescued but unbelievers judged.
Exile/Return from Exile - As punishment for Adam and Eve's rebellion, they were exiled from the Garden (Gen 3:24). Because Israel broke their covenant with God they were exiled from the Promised Land (2 Chr 36:17-21). These experiences of exile point to the greater reality of humanity's exile from God because our sin (Isa 52:1-53:12). In his death Jesus experienced the exile of separation from God so that he might bring us out of our exile caused by sinful rebellion into God's presence as full heirs (Gal 4:1-7).
Remnant - As early as Adam and Eve's sons, God chooses some and not others (e.g. Abel not Cain; Isaac not Ishmael; Jacob not Esau; etc.). Even within the nation of Israel God makes it clear that not every single Israelite is in a right relationship with him. As the rebellion of Israel grew, God made it progressively clearer that his purposes would be accomplished through a remnant of the nation from which Messiah would come (Isa 10:22). This concept is picked up in the NT when Jesus chooses the 12 apostles to represent the restoration of Israel through a remnant identified with him (Matt 10:1-4).
Key Figures - God works through key individuals (Noah, Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Joseph, Moses, Joshua, the Judges, Samuel, David, Solomon, Elijah, Servant of the Lord, etc.) to move his plan of redemption forward. Our inclination when reading their stories is to identify ourselves with them to see how we should live. But the exemplary actions of these characters more directly point forward to Jesus himself, who perfectly embodied these exemplary actions and characteristics. When we see these characters fail, it reveals our need for a greater and better Abraham, Isaac, Moses, David, etc.
Kingdom of God - One of the major themes spanning both testaments is the "kingdom of God." Vaughn Roberts book God's Big Picture is built around the unfolding of this theme. He talks about the pattern of the kingdom, the perished kingdom, the promised kingdom, the partial kingdom, the present kingdom and the perfected kingdom.