In one sense, the Bible is a book…because it has a theme: Jesus Christ. In another sense, however, it is a collection of books, 66 of them, divided into two testaments. This second sense (a collection of books) is very important because, if understood properly, it will lead to capturing the meaning of the Bible in the first sense (a book) as well. What I mean by this is that there is a key to understanding the Old Testament, and that key is the New Testament. Understand this part of the collection first, and then you will understand the whole.
The New Testament’s 27 books comprise the teaching of the apostles of Jesus – those who knew Him and lived with Him. What we call the Old Testament was all the Bible they had. They learned that Jesus of Nazareth, risen from the dead, was the focal point of fulfilling all that had been promised in those Scriptures. Thus the apostles declared the truth about Jesus because it unlocked all the truth of their Bible (again, what we call the Old Testament).
If you decide to read the Bible from left to right, in the way you would a conventional book, there are many opportunities to get bogged down in the Old Testament because the promises of a coming Messiah, while plentiful, were sometimes obscure and often confusing. For this reason, the apostles often spoke of the “mysteries” or “hidden things” of God being revealed through Jesus Christ. Once His life was lived, it was possible to understand how the many diverse Old Testament promises all applied. Better then, to read and understand the New Testament first. Since the apostles often quote the Old Testament, it becomes easier to see the Old Testament through their eyes – which are the eyes that count since they were commissioned personally by the Messiah Himself when He rose from the dead.
It is possible to read the Old Testament without reference to Jesus and receive value from the effort. People do it all the time. But the full benefit of the Old Testament is reserved for those who find its greatest meaning in the Messiah Himself, Jesus Christ.
If the New Testament is the key to the Old Testament, someone may ask, is there a key to the New Testament? Yes, there is. The key is this: everything that the New Testament looks forward to has occurred. Nothing of what it prophesied or promised remains unfulfilled. This complete fulfillment reveals that the Messiah (i.e. Christ) it preaches was – and is – God Himself.
The prophets of the Old Testament said that their prophecies and promises were meant for a far future time (centuries away). The apostles (who believed in all that the prophets had written) reported that the time had come and the fulfillment was to be in the near future (no more than decades away). You can’t accept the Bible’s prophecies while stripping them of their time frame – the time frame is an essential aspect of the promise. Thus, if you would believe the Old and New Testaments, you have to believe that their prophecies and promises were fulfilled in the time frame promised. This would place their fulfillment no later than the late 1st Century A.D. Jesus Himself said that the generation in which He lived would not pass away until all these things took place.
Again, therefore, the key to fully understanding the New Testament is to acknowledge that we are now living – and have been for a long time – in the days it prophesied: that is, the days of the kingdom of God, the day of the Lord, the day of Yahweh, the day of judgment. These, and others, are the various terms used by the prophets and apostles to describe the everlasting age which would follow the ancient age of the writing of the two testaments. You now have the keys to each of those testaments. Those two testaments, which are really one eternal covenant, will stand forever to explain the world in which we now find ourselves.
These two keys will open the fullness of the Bible’s treasures to you. There is, however, really only one key to the Bible. His name is Jesus Christ. And in Him are hidden all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge. Great as it is, the Scripture is only a representative sampling of those treasures.