As you recall, Act One is all about the set-up. We’re introduced to the characters and what drives them and we get a first glimpse of the bad guy because a problem arises that forces the protagonist into action. He may waver a little at first, but by the end of Act One, he’s committed to a plan of action that he’ll carry to completion.
In the Bible, Act One is about God’s loving relationship with his human creatures going awry when they disobey his one rule and choose to believe a lie that they can live independent of him. God wants to win them back and we get a glimpse of his plan when he calls Abraham out of his polytheistic culture and promises to bless all the nations of the earth through his offspring.
Act Two is all about the obstacles to this plan of action. Over and over again, we see covert enemy forces trying to destroy this people and their fragile relationship with God. There are many obstacles, but I’m going to focus on three big ones before we get to the surprising Mid-Point Twist.
OBSTACLE 1- ENSLAVEMENT: To survive a terrible, seven-year famine, the descendants of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob have had to leave the country promised to Abraham and move to Egypt. They prosper there for a while, but soon fall victim to the changing political climate and are gradually reduced to slaves for generations of pharaohs. How are they ever going to get back to the Promised Land? Has God forgotten the covenant he made with Abraham? Surely slavery isn’t the way they are going to be a blessing to the nations, is it? Resolution to this problem comes in the form of Moses, who leads the children of Israel out of Egypt and (almost) back to the land promised to Abraham, though it’s a circuitous, forty-year journey in the end.
The next 480 years or so are a long series of hurts for God because, despite knowing exactly what to do to experience prosperity and protection, his people routinely flout his law, giving him no choice but to impose the consequences he has already warned them about and which his justice demands.
OBSTACLE 2- DIVISION: You know how it goes. The characters achieve some degree of stability, everyone breathes a sigh of relief, but you know it’s only the calm before the storm. After the Golden Age of the reigns of David and Solomon, where the people are more faithful to God than ever before, worshiping him in the newly-constructed temple in Jerusalem, it’s not completely unexpected that things go pear-shaped. Solomon’s son Rehoboam is not the peace-loving king his father was. Civil war ensues, dividing the kingdom into northern Israel (9 tribes) and southern Judah (3 tribes). Israel is immediately unfaithful to God and resorts to Baal worship. Eventually, they are exiled by the Assyrians and lose their territory. Wait, this is terrible, how will God restore the Promised Land to his people?
The Judahites that stay loyal to the Davidic dynasty have an up-and-down relationship to God over the next 480 years, with alternating faithful kings and unfaithful kings. In the end, however, they, too, have tried God’s patience to the limit.
OBSTACLE 3- EXILE: One of the consequences of disobedience laid out by God under Moses was: “The Lord will bring you and your king whom you set over you to a nation that neither you nor your fathers have known” (Deuteronomy 28:36). True to his word, God sends Nebuchadnezzar to raze the temple and carry off the majority of the Judahites to Babylon.
Now we are at a very low point. The promise to Abraham is looking pretty shaky. The land has been taken by two foreign conquerors and Abraham’s descendants, no longer as numerous as the stars, are scattered all over the Middle East. There’s a small ray of hope when Cyrus of Persia sends some of the exiled Judahites back because the temple is rebuilt, Jerusalem’s wall is restored and the Law is rediscovered, but for the next 500 years or so there’s radio silence until the Mid-Point Twist.
MID-POINT TWIST: If we’ve been paying attention to the non-historical books (Psalms, Prophecy…), we’ve got a few clues that something big is coming down the pipe. In fact, anticipation has been building about the arrival of a new character called God’s Anointed, or Messiah. Prophecy predicts he will be the one to restore Israel in accordance with God’s promise to Abraham. If we look very closely, we can piece together that he’ll be born in Bethlehem, of a virgin (!), in David’s bloodline, and will be the ruler of his people Israel. (See Micah 5:2, Isaiah 9:6-7.) This is where things start to get exciting.
Messiah does come. He is born of a virgin named Mary, of David’s bloodline on both his mother’s and adoptive father’s sides, grows up in Egypt—checking off prophecies left, right and centre. In fact, Satan, who has been acting largely undercover for the last four thousand years, can’t help but get stirred up. He makes an unusual appearance, confronting Jesus at the end of his forty-day fast, and his demons possess people, only to find themselves cast out by Jesus. But this Messiah is not political. He’s not routing the Romans who have taken control of the Promised Land. He’s is an itinerant miracle-working preacher, not a king. People are very confused. Some acknowledge he’s the Messiah, others want to see him killed for claiming to be God.
And just when it seems that majority opinion is on his side, the movers and shakers conspire to get him executed by crucifixion as a political threat to the Roman Empire.
Messiah is dead? What is going on? How are all nations of the earth going to be blessed by the offspring of Abraham if he’s dead?
Calm down. It’s all part of the plan. At the Cross, God is dealing with the inner problem of his unrequited love for an unfaithful people. The Letter to the Hebrews explains in detail just how Jesus mediates a new covenant through his blood, enabling anyone to come to God through his perfect sacrifice. Now we finally understand how God can satisfy the just demands of his holiness and gather his beloved creatures to himself. Though our disobedience deserved death, God’s obedient Son took the punishment in our place. His resurrection means God accepted the sacrifice. Not only that, but God gives believers his own Holy Spirit to indwell them, sealing their hearts to his forever.
Now that is one Mid-Point Twist no one saw coming.
But if this is only the mid-point, does that mean there are more obstacles? You betcha.
OBSTACLE 4- PERSECUTION & DESTRUCTION: The Acts of the Apostles is all about the sea change that occurs in the early Church. As it becomes increasingly obvious that the majority of Jews don’t want anything to do with Messiah, we begin to see at last what God meant by blessing all the nations of the earth through Abraham’s offspring. The Apostle Paul begins to take the message of Jesus Christ to non-Jews and travels all around the Mediterranean preaching and planting churches. It catches on like wild fire and soon there are more Gentile believers than Jewish ones.
But let’s not get too excited. First of all, since Christians don’t acknowledge the divinity of the Roman emperor, they come under heavy persecution through imprisonment, confiscation of property and execution. Ironically, this doesn’t quell the movement, but only causes it to spread further and deeper into Roman society, eventually becoming the state religion under Constantine (c. A.D. 312).
And the Temple in Jerusalem? Well, since there was no more need for it (Messiah gave his life as the once-for-all sacrifice), and since the Jews didn’t accept this fact, the Temple was destroyed in A.D. 70.
Now here is where we take a giant leap forward in time, to the future. The second half of Act Two takes us to events that have not yet taken place and can only be partially perceived through prophecy. Nevertheless, just as there were around 350 prophecies about Messiah, so there are over a hundred prophecies about the important events of the end of world history. I realize we don’t all agree on the chronology of these events, but I invite you to search the Scriptures for yourself.
Back to the plot. We’ve got two problems still. First, while God has provided a way for Abraham’s children to be faithful to him through faith in Messiah, the majority of Jews today haven’t accepted that Jesus of Nazareth is the promised one. Second, there are still major disputes about the land promised to Abraham in Genesis 15:18-21. The present State of Israel does not occupy all of this territory.
Act Two, both in fiction and in the Bible, is the longest, so I’m going to divide this post into two and let you ponder those two issues for a second before taking you to the exciting show-down culminating in the Climax of Act Two.