I. Survey of the New Testament
Goal: Encourage greater use of the Bible
At the Core of the New Testament is Jesus Christ our Savior. He is the Word that, “In the beginning the Word already existed.” John 1:1
- Today we continue with trying to familiarize ourselves with the Bible. The end goal is to encourage frequent, if not daily use of the Scriptures.
- There is a Phenomenal Consistency in the Central Message of the Bible.
- In the Old Testament, we began by reading how the world and humanity came to be. We read how God carved out a peculiar people – the Nation of Israel – and it was through this Nation that God promised to bring the Savior of all humanity. In the Old Testament, we see a steady movement from World, to Nation and finally to the specific prophecies that point us to the coming Messiah – Jesus Christ.
- The New Testament also focuses on Christ, but for a slightly different purpose. We are told that in Christ, God has won forgiveness and salvation for the entire world. And so in the New Testament we have this movement that focuses on what God accomplished on the Cross, and then how that was taken to Jerusalem, Judea, Samaria and to the uttermost parts of the world.
“You will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes upon you. And you will be my witnesses, telling people about me everywhere—in Jerusalem, throughout Judea, in Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.” Acts 1:8
In both the Old and New Testaments, the focus, the central message is Jesus Christ. There was one old man in history who said that there is a Bible within the Bible and that the inner Bible is Christ. In fact, the way that he explained it was by saying that the Bible is the cradle for Christ. That old man was Martin Luther (1483 – 1546). When we look through the lens of Christ, we have a better chance of understanding the Bible.
In saying that the New Testament has a Central Theme – that is to say that it speaks about Christ and his saving work for the entire world – we can look to one verse to serve as a summary of the entire New Testament:
“But these are written so that you may continue to believe that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God, and that by believing in him you will have life by the power of his name.” John 20:31
The original texts – that is the original texts of the books of the Bible – are not available. The extant manuscripts (the ones available to us today) are copies of the originals. But almost every year of history we get closer to the dates of the originals. As of this year the best copy we have is dated around 118 AD and is written in Greek.
The original authors – Many of the authors walked with Jesus during his lifetime. Here is a list of the authors:
Ok, with that brief introduction I’d invite you to open up your Bibles to the New Testament, turn to Matthew 1. We are going to take a quick run through the books of the New Testament to learn about the different classes of writings and their central focus.
II. The Gospels
The First 4 books of the New Testament [Matthew, Mark, Luke and John] are the Gospels. They paint a picture of Jesus with slightly different focuses.
? Each of them were written to give a different perspective on Jesus Christ. It is as if Matthew, Mark, Luke and John are standing at the same intersection, however each one is on a different corner. An event happens and they each describe it from their corner.
- The Gospel of Matthew (59) was written primarily to convince a Jewish audience that Jesus Christ is the promised Messiah. And that Jesus is the King the Jews were looking for! That’s why Matthew spends so much time looking at the genealogies – to show how Jesus was born from the promised lineage. Matthew quotes the Old Testament prophets and repeats the phrase, “God was fulfilling…” or something similar frequently.
- The Gospel of Mark (58) was written to people who were persecuted. Most scholars believe that this Gospel was written to Gentile Christians in Rome who were undergoing intense persecution. He speaks of the power of Christ to deliver from suffering because his readers were under persecution. Mark also writes of the Kindness of Christ. How He draws close to those in need. And so, because the audience was Gentile, Mark takes the time to explain Jewish terms and customs. The Gospel was also written in no-nonsense language to a people who needed a quick, succinct, get to the point type of message. Some call this the Gospel according to Peter because it is believed Mark’s co-author was Peter.
- The Gospel of Luke (62). Dr. Luke was a very educated and prepared man. His picture of Christ’s Love appeals to everyone. With extreme Clarity he tells the Greeks the story of Jesus and His abiding Love.
- If we just look at the first few verses of the second chapter of Luke, we can get a sense for Dr. Luke’s incredible capacity to communicate great detail in very succinct language:
1 At that time the Roman emperor, Augustus, decreed that a census should be taken throughout the Roman Empire. 2 (This was the first census taken when Quirinius was governor of Syria.) 3 All returned to their own ancestral towns to register for this census. 4 And because Joseph was a descendant of King David, he had to go to Bethlehem in Judea, David’s ancient home. He traveled there from the village of Nazareth in Galilee. 5 He took with him Mary, to whom he was engaged, who was now expecting a child. Luke 2: 1-5
- Wow! Did you get the level of detail in that passage? He tells whom was emperor of Rome and governor of Syria – tying the time to a very specific point in time. He spoke of Joseph’s heritage – a very important detail. He spoke of geography describing the journey from Nazareth to Bethlehem and the territories and boundaries that had to be crossed. He spoke of the personal situation of Mary – ready to deliver her baby – great with child. Very few writers could do this so beautifully. But Dr. Luke, under God’s inspiration, did!
- These three Gospels are called “Synoptic Gospels” because they present a sort of eyewitness account to the life of Jesus. They “see together” the events in the life of Christ.
4. The Gospel of John (88) – the fourth Gospel – is quite different. It was written to convince the reader of Jesus’ identity as fully man and fully God. It is a powerful Gospel! This Gospel gives us an “other-worldly” perspective that describes Jesus – the eternal, pre-existent Logos – the Word – becoming human. The first verse in the book sets the tone:
“In the beginning the Word already existed. The Word was with God, and the Word was God.” John 1:1
III. THE HISTORY
There is one history book in the New Testament – and that is the Book of Acts. Dr. Luke also wrote this book and so it is a very careful documentation of the first three or so decades of the Christian Church and History. This is a vital book for understanding the church and its early growth in the World!
- In the OT we have the Father’s work, In the Gospels we have the Son’s work and in Acts we have the Holy Spirit at work.
- Acts starts with the Early Church, Christ and the Spirit (1-2) then moves to the ministry of Peter (2-7) then Philip (8) then the Book moves to the ministry of Paul (9-28).
- A key verse is in the book of Acts is 1:8 – “But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes upon you. And you will be my witnesses, telling people about me everywhere—in Jerusalem, throughout Judea, in Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.””
IV. THE LETTERS
1. Many Letters used the Authors name as the Title:
- James, Brother of Jesus, Head of the Jerusalem church, wrote James.
- Peter, wrote 1 & 2 Peter…the Leader of the movement after Christ.
- John, wrote 1, 2 & 3 John, also wrote down Revelation, dictated by God
- Jude, wrote guess what book, Jude. He was the brother of Jesus.
2. Just 2 authors names are not used as Titles: Paul who wrote 13 books and Apollos, who wrote Hebrews. Apollos was a traveling missionary who establish several churches.
3. Paul’s letters are the Majority of the NT: Rom, I Cor, II Cor, Gal, Eph, Phil, Colo, 1&2 Thes, 1&2Tim, Titus, and Phl.
- 1st book he wrote was Gal, last was 2 TIm, both show an incredible passion for our Lord and His people.
- Paul’s first verse: “This letter is from Paul, an apostle. I was not appointed by any group of people or any human authority, but by Jesus Christ himself and by God the Father, who raised Jesus from the dead.” Galatian 1:1 and his last lines “Do your best to get here before winter…May the Lord be with your spirit. And may his grace be with all of you.” 2 Timothy 4:21-22
- Paul wrote with passion and love. He generally writes the epistles to either a group of believers in a particular locale, such as Romans or the Corinthian letters. Or, Paul directs his letters to individuals – such as his young sons in the faith Timothy and Titus. Paul in very real and practical ways applies the meaning of Jesus’ life, death, resurrection and his teachings to his audience.
4. One of the more lovely epistles in the New Testament is Hebrews. Mostly likely it was written by Apollos, but many believe Paul helped Apollos put the letter together. This letter has a theme that unifies it from beginning to end: “The Supremacy of Christ.” The writer explains how Christ is the fulfillment of the Jewish sacrificial system. He writes about Christ being superior to the angels. He writes about Jesus’ ministry and priesthood being superior to the Aaronic priesthood, calling Jesus the great High Priest who established a new covenant.
V. THE PROPHECY
Finally, the New Testament has one book of prophecy, Revelation. This book is of a special genre of literature referred to as “apocalyptic.” It is highly symbolic and was written to encourage the believers during a time when those who resisted the emperor worship of Rome were being persecuted. The Apostle John, the author, tells them to resist and hang on because in the end, Christians will triumph.
VI. THE CANON
I’d like to share some final thoughts to you about the formation of the Canon. The whole collection of books in the Bible is referred to as the Canon, “a rule or measuring rod”.
There were a number of Church Councils of the Church that determined which books should be canonical. The last of these was the Council of Carthage in 397 AD where the final shape of the New Testament Canon was established. These criteria included:
- Full harmony with the teachings of Christ and his Apostles.
- Christ was the center of the book and the early Church approved it.
- The Book had to be from the Apostolic Age (after Jesus, before John died)
One final thought regarding Scripture. The New Testament is a very unique collection of books that tells us much about the life of early believers and of the early Church. But we need to know that the Bible is not a record of our search for God… Rather, The Bible is a record of how God is attempting to reach people with the saving message of his love and forgiveness!
Dear friends, we are blessed to be living at a time when God’s revelation to us has taken final shape and come to us as the Holy Bible. I hope and pray that the lessons from last week and this will help us to overcome our hesitancy to engage the Bible.
Let us pray: Father, bless us as we learn more and more about your Word. Help us to overcome any hesitancy or fear to engage the Bible. Give us understanding through your Spirit that we may be strengthened in Christ. Amen.