A Devil’s Gospel: What Surprised Me Most About The Bible (Spoilers Ahead)
In my post on March 10, I promised to share with you what I thought was the most surprising thing about the Bible through a lengthy excerpt from A Devil’s Gospel. Throughout my life I’ve read the Bible many times over, often starting at Genesis and reading straight through to Revelation (because I’m a bit OCD that way), sometimes reading different books as the mood struck me. But it was only in reading the Bible through very carefully, trying to keep the entire narrative in mind while writing this novel, that I realized how amazingly well the story fits together, like a glorious puzzle put together one piece at a time over thousands of years by hundreds of different hands.
In the post from last month, I talked about how Christ’s shadow falls on almost every page of the Old Testament; in the excerpt below from near the end of the novel, the protagonist begins to see some of those surprising connections. It would’ve been tedious in a novel to list all the pre-figurements, but it really is incredible to read the Old Testament books in the light of Christ, and realize how those stories, written thousands of years before, so beautifully prefigure His life, death, and resurrection.
As with my post this past Wednesday, this post comes with the warning that it contains heavy spoilers for the novel. So I’ll repeat that if you’re planning to read the book and would like to preserve the experience untainted, you may want to bookmark this page and return to it later. Now, without further delay, here is the excerpt:
Before King David conquered Jerusalem and made it his capital, I thought, as I watched Jesus drag His cross through its dusty streets, a man was called by God and given a promise and then a test. He was told to travel to this place and to sacrifice his beloved child, his son of promise.
Almost two thousand years earlier, I’d watched that son walk up the mountain in obedience to his father, carrying himself the wood on which he would be sacrificed. Abraham had told his son what at the time I took to be a lie, that God Himself would provide a lamb. And yet here is that Lamb, I thought, bruised and bleeding, the wood of Its sacrifice weighing It down.
“Behold the Lamb of God,” the Baptist had said, “who takes away the sins of the world.”
Why hadn’t those words meant anything to me before? Why hadn’t I connected them to the words of Isaiah, written hundreds of years earlier, about the Lamb who would be led to the slaughter, the Man who would take on Himself humanity’s sins, the Righteous One whose bruises would heal the world?
Satan and Cain couldn’t understand what Abel was doing, I remembered, when he offered to God the life of an innocent lamb. To be truthful, none of us understood the point of all the sacrifices, why the blood of countless animals was poured out on the altar and enough grain to feed the populations of the world a hundred times over burned up. The point was to point to You, wasn’t it? I thought, looking at Him. Nor could we understand why God’s people had to give up the best of what they had, but that answer now seemed as obvious as the first.
The Lamb of God, I went on thinking, who said more than once, “My body is truly food and My blood is truly drink.” The Passover Lamb slaughtered so that the people of God could eat His flesh and place His blood on their lips, the doors of their bodies.
Before Aaron was priest, Melchizedek was priest; and before Saul was king, Melchizedek was king. A thousand years before Jesus was born, another king, David, wrote down these words of the Lord: “You are a priest forever according to the order of Melchizedek.” And two thousand years before Christ, Melchizedek the Priest-King offered to God a sacrifice of bread and wine.
More passages and scenes from scripture returned to me, and I saw them in a new light, the light of Christ, and I finally understood them.
What was once lost through disobedience in the Garden of Eden was regained through obedience in the Garden of Gethsemane.
Out of one tree humanity through Adam had plucked the fruit of sin and corruption; out of the tree of the cross, I was certain, humanity through Christ would pluck the fruit of redemption and restoration. The first was the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil, which brought death, but the second was the Tree of Life, which would bring everlasting life to anyone who ate of its fruit, as Jesus Himself had said.
Isaac rode a donkey for three days, not knowing that he was supposed to be sacrificed when he reached his destination. Jesus rode a donkey to the same place, but He knew exactly what awaited Him in Jerusalem. “For three days you’ve been dead, Isaac,” Abraham told his son, “but today the Lord has brought you back to life.” Jesus is going to die, I thought; but He isn’t going to stay dead.
Joseph was sold for silver by his own brothers; Jesus was sold for silver by one of His Twelve. Joseph was handed over to foreigners and bound and led away, and so had Jesus been, only the night before.
But that wasn’t the end of the story, of course, and even as I watched Jesus cough blood and almost collapse, I knew it wasn’t the end of His story either. “From the depths of the dungeons I was lifted up to the right hand of the king,” Joseph once told me, “and people all over the world are saved from starvation because I was sold into slavery.”
Before then, though, Joseph interpreted the dreams of two of his fellow prisoners, Pharaoh’s baker and his butler. The first dreamt of bread, the other of wine; the first meant death, the other meant a release from imprisonment and a restoration in as many days—in three days. The Son of Man, Jesus had said, will be handed over to be killed, but He will rise again on the third day.
The chief priests, the elders, the Pharisees, and the scribes thought they were being clever: if they stoned Jesus to death, He might be remembered and revered as a martyr, and might have been just as problematic for them in death as He had been in life. But who would continue to honor the name of a Man who’d been executed by Roman crucifixion? The shame would force even His greatest supporters to distance themselves from Him. Isn’t their thinking reasonable? I thought. Isn’t their strategy wise? Hadn’t Peter—Peter, mighty Apostle; Peter, who had told Jesus he’d follow Him anywhere, even unto death—on the very night he made that promise, even before Jesus was handed over to the Romans, hadn’t Peter denied so much as knowing his Master?
Their thinking was reasonable and their strategy was wise indeed. But they should have remembered the words of Isaiah on what God does to the wisdom of the wise and those who take council in secret and work in the dark.
Because it was in death by crucifixion that Jesus would carry the wood of His sacrifice up the mountain, as Isaac had done. It was in crucifixion that He would be lifted up and all who looked at him would have to look up at Him, as if in worship. It was in crucifixion that His arms would be stretched out to either end of the cross beam so that even as He died He would hold His arms open in welcome to the whole world.
It was with outstretched arms that He could clear the way to salvation, just as Moses had stretched out his hands to part the Red Sea; and it was with outstretched arms that He could conquer, just as his army had conquered because Moses stretched out his arms.
Words and images from scripture continued to flash in my mind like shooting stars lighting up the night sky. Here was the meaning of the rock Moses had struck with his staff, from which water had flowed to quench the thirst of the Israelites; here the meaning of the bitter water made sweet when Moses dipped a tree into it; and here was the copper snake placed on a stick, so that whoever was bitten and looked up at it would survive, as Jesus Himself had said.
And, of course, I thought of the words that had terrified Satan since the beginning. For who else was the seed of the woman except the One born of a Virgin Mother? Delight in His crucifixion while you can, Satan, I thought. You’ve bruised His heel, but He will crush your head. Because Jesus was indeed the Passover Lamb, but the story didn’t end there. After the Passover came the Exodus, when the people of God were led to freedom from the tyrant’s rule.
While I had these thoughts, Satan didn’t cease from jeering and laughing. Sometimes he’d scream in Jesus’ ears and sometimes in mine, alternating between us when he saw he wasn’t getting anywhere with either one.
“Do you see, Enoch?” he said at one point, when Jesus fell on His way to Golgotha. “This so-called Son of God isn’t strong enough to carry His cross by Himself, but needs the help of another!”
Lost in thoughts that delighted me as much as Jesus’ suffering delighted Satan, I hardly heard what he was saying.
Did God have this planned all along? That was the question that had tortured me since the beginning, but now I could answer it at last: Yes! Most gloriously: Yes!
And with that I end my Lenten series of blog posts for A Devil’s Gospel. Thanks to everyone who joined along for the ride!
The novel officially releases this Palm Sunday (April 9). You can also pre-order it anytime before then.