Today marks an important day in our reading of the Chronological Bible. After almost nine months of reading, we have come to the end of the Old Testament. What began on January 1 with the words “In the beginning” has now concluded with Joel’s final thought:
“I, the LORD, will make my home in Jerusalem with my people.” (Joel 3:21 NLT)
Let’s pause to consider the journey of the past nine months.
God’s people, the Israelites, found themselves in their homeland after having conquered many different people groups who lived there first. They understood that God gave them this homeland because of his love for them. They knew the stories of how God created the world and formed them as a people, of how God led them into Egypt for their survival and then brought them out of Egypt for their freedom. They celebrated how God secured their land and gave them a thriving kingdom with an active temple life.
And then the Israelites experienced national calamities that resulted in their exile, first to Assyria and then to Babylon. They learned that God’s love is not only amazing but also just: their disobedience to God resulted in the loss of their inheritance, the loss of their homeland, the loss of their temple, even the loss of God’s presence among them.
But the story of God’s love for his people is not over yet. The Israelites (now known as Jews) have returned to Jerusalem, have rebuilt its walls, and have begun rebuilding the temple. The final prophetic words God gives his people – through Micah, Malachi, Joel, and others – have given them a powerful message of hope:
God is, and always will be, with his people.
It is this message of hope that the Jews will carry with them for the next four hundred years. The hope of being in God’s presence will sustain the Jews as they worship the Lord in the Second Temple in Jerusalem. They will wonder, as various political and military conflicts come and go, when God will make his dwelling with his people in a permanent and final way. They will wonder when God’s kingdom will be made complete. They will wonder, and they will wait.
For four centuries.
Do you know how different the world was four hundred years ago? In 1615, there were no slaves in North America. The Pilgrims had not yet landed at Plymouth Rock. Galileo was still alive, but Newton had not yet been born. “Hamlet” was only a decade old, and the story of Pocahontas had just taken place in real life. Four hundred years is a long time in the span of human history.
Four hundred years is a long time to wait for God’s kingdom to arrive. But with a sense of unfulfilled expectation, the Old Testament ends abruptly. Silently. Pausing for four centuries.
And then, just as abruptly, we turn the page to September 24:
“The beginning of the gospel about Jesus Christ, the Son of God.” (Mark 1:1 NIV)
The end becomes a beginning, but it takes several generations for that transition to happen. Buckle up, because the next few months of our reading will be a whirlwind of God’s activity in our midst: the events of the rest of the Bible all take place in the span of a few decades.
I hope you will stand amazed as you read about Jesus Christ, who is the Third Temple, the perfect expression of God’s presence, the final answer to how God will live among his people. In Jesus, God has indeed made his home among us. Rejoice and be glad!