Having just gone over the presentation of the Bible as a story, the program guide for that story, and the process by which that story will be presented to us—and, since we are rapidly approaching the first of the fourteen stages upon which our story will be presented—let’s use the few minutes we have before we arrive there to try and solidify in our minds the overall concept behind the production that we are about to witness. The best way I know to do that is to draw upon what may seem like a rather unusual resource for instruction in Bible study, and that is the works of William Shakespeare.
It may come as something of a surprise to learn that there are two things that we can appropriate from Shakespeare’s works that will greatly aid us in our understanding of the Bible. The first of these is Shakespeare’s view of or observation on life; something he makes known to us through the words spoken by Jaques, one of his characters in the comedy, “As You Like It.” Jaques is the somewhat melancholy and philosophical traveler who pops up here and there in the forest of Arden, where much of the action of the story takes place. On one such occasion, we find Jaques in the company of his lord, Duke Senior, a nobleman who is living in exile in the forest, and someone who—after meeting a hungry young man named Orlando—comments to his forlorn companion:
Thou seest we are not all alone unhappy. This wide and universal theater presents more woeful pageants than the scene wherein we play.
It is in response to this statement that Jaques waxes his most philosophical, and mouths the now famous, and probably the most often quoted, of Shakespeare’s lines:
All the world’s a stage, and all the men and women merely players; they have their exits and their entrances, and one man in his time plays many parts…
Jaques then goes on to elaborate on these “many parts” by describing, in the monologue which follows, the roles in life that men (generically speaking) play as they go from birth to old age.
When these words were spoken, I am not sure if Jaques—that is, Shakespeare—knew of the real implication or importance of his remarks. Certainly, being the student of human nature that he was, he was well aware that each of us, upon birth, makes an entrance into life on a small, very limited stage, where we play a variety of roles—those of son, daughter, sister, brother, grandchild, niece, nephew, or friend—only to have these roles reversed with the passage of time, until we find ourselves acting out the roles of father, mother, grandparent, aunt, or uncle to the next generation of players who are rising to take their places on their very own stages in life. But, was it to these smaller stages and roles in life that Shakespeare was referring; or was he really aware of, and speaking about, the larger cosmic or heavenly stage upon which we all, at various times, play a contributing part? While we may never know for sure the answer to that question, what we can be certain of is this: that when we learn to view the world of the Bible as an earthly stage, upon which the people within its pages become very real human actors, the Bible will suddenly begin to make sense to us in ways that we never thought possible.
As for the other thing that we can borrow from Shakespeare’s works, it is his often-used theatrical device of a “play-within-a-play,” or a “story-within-a-story.” Although this device isn’t something that originated with Shakespeare, it was a tool that he used to great effect in many of his plays, including “A Midsummer Night’s Dream,” “Love’s Labour’s Lost,” “The Taming of the Shrew,” and “Hamlet.” Sometimes, he used the scheme of inner plays and stories for the sole purpose of entertaining his audiences; and, at other times, he used it to provide his characters with examples or object lessons about life. In still other instances, the play-within-a-play motif was used to convict consciences, or as a commentary on the many inconsistencies in life. What we will find, as we apply this device to our study of the Bible, is that the very human story that is being acted out upon the earthly stage of the Bible is the tool that will be used by God to reveal the greater cosmic drama—that is, the very real, beautiful, but often unseen story of love and redemption—which is simultaneously being acted out on the heavenly stage above and behind the earthly one that we are viewing.
These concepts will be much easier for us to understand if we will try to remember that, at each of the fourteen stages which we will be visiting on this Rocking and Rolling trip through the Land of Revelation Knowledge—the stages where the Two Acts, Twelve Scenes, One Intermission, and One Epilogue will be presented to us—this is what we will actually be viewing:
At Stage #1 – The Celestial Suitor
On the earthly stage, as we are witnessing the major events taking place in Genesis 1-11;
On the heavenly stage, we will be seeing God, as the Celestial Suitor, getting the stage ready for the entrance of Israel, His Beloved and future Bride;
At Stage #2 – Israel, the Beloved of God
On the earthly stage, as we are witnessing the major events taking place in Genesis 12-50;
On the heavenly stage, we will be seeing God’s negotiation and covenant with Israel’s father, Abraham, for his future offspring’s hand in marriage;
At Stage #3 – Long Engagement, Short Honeymoon
On the earthly stage, as we are witnessing the major events taking place in Exodus – Deuteronomy;
On the heavenly stage, we will be seeing Israel as she is whisked away to her wedding, only to see her violate her wedding vows immediately afterward;
At Stage #4 – The Wayward Wife
On the earthly stage, as we are witnessing the major events taking place in Joshua – 2 Chronicles;
On the heavenly stage, we will be seeing the sad spectacle of Israel’s long and unfaithful relationship with her Husband;
At Stage #5 – Words of Warning and Woo
On the earthly stage, as we are witnessing the major events taking place in Isaiah – Zephaniah;
On the heavenly stage, we will be seeing God’s repeated efforts at trying to warn and win back His unfaithful wife;
At Stage #6 – Separation and Reconciliation
On the earthly stage, as we are witnessing the major events taking place in Ezra, Nehemiah, Esther, and Haggai – Malachi;
On the heavenly stage, we will be seeing the inevitable separation taking place between God and Israel, brought about by her many adulteries; later witnessing their eventual reconciliation;
At Stage #7 – The Intermission
On the earthly stage, as we are witnessing the major cultural, political, and religious events taking place from Malachi to Matthew;
On the heavenly stage, we will be seeing the stage as it is being redressed in preparation for the imminent entrance of God’s Son;
At Stage #8 – The Righteous Redeemer
On the earthly stage, as we are witnessing the major events taking place in Matthew – John;
on the heavenly stage, we will be seeing Jesus, the Righteous Redeemer, as He comes to earth, finds a Bride for Himself, enters into a marriage covenant with her, and then pays the “dowry” or Bride price for her. Sadly, in the process, we also see Him rejected by His “mother,” Israel—a rejection which results in another, even longer, period of estrangement between her and God;
At Stage #9 – The Bride in the World
On the earthly stage, as we are witnessing the major events taking place in Acts;
On the heavenly stage, we will be seeing Jesus, the Bridegroom, going back to His Father’s house to begin preparing a home for His Bride—leaving her, the Church, on earth to begin the long process of preparing for their wedding;
At Stage #10 – Long Engagement, Rapturous Wedding
On the earthly stage, as we are witnessing the major events taking place in Romans – Revelation 4;
On the heavenly stage, we will be seeing the Church, the Bride of Christ, getting ready and waiting for the appearance of Her Bridegroom—Who, at the time appointed by His Father, returns and whisks His Bride away to their Marriage Supper in Heaven;
At Stage #11 – Israel and the Impostor
On the earthly stage, as we are witnessing the major events taking place in Revelation 5-18;
On the heavenly stage, we will be seeing Israel duped by her Husband’s long-time enemy into believing that he is her long-lost “Son.” We will also witness his eventual betrayal of her, and the horrific consequences of that betrayal;
At Stage #12 – Reconciliation and Righteousness Restored
On the earthly stage, as we are witnessing the major events taking place in Revelation 19-20;
On the heavenly stage, we will be seeing Israel’s true Son, Jesus, return to the earth with His Bride, the Church, where He defeats His Father’s enemies, rescues His “mother,” and restores her relationship with Him and His Father. He also establishes a kingdom of righteousness on the earth, over which He rules for 1000 years—the time, after which, when those who have been His enemies will finally be judged and punished.
At Stage #13 – Happily Ever After
On the earthly stage, as we are witnessing the major events taking place in Revelation 21-22;
On the heavenly stage, we will be seeing God and His family taking up residence in their new home, a paradise where they will live together in righteousness and peace—happily ever after!
At Stage #14 – The Epilogue
On the earthly stage, as we are reviewing the parts we each are currently playing in this Cosmic Drama;
On the heavenly stage, it is my hope that we will be seeing all those who have yet to make Jesus their Bridegroom, come to Him in faith, and be united with Him in love, forever. I can think of no better way for us to end this play!
Secret Garden and “Did I Not Love You?”