Tuesday, September 30, 2014

The New Testament: A Ten Minute Overview

The New Testament is the consummation of the Old Testament. It is a continuation of God’s grand story of redemption for His people. The story of the OT moves from Creation to Fall to Promise and ends with the promise unfulfilled.  At the end of the Old Testament we are left waiting on the fulfillment of God’s promise to redeem His people from their sin.

It is here that we encounter the story of God’s plan to enter bodily into the story through His Son Jesus, the Messiah, and through His life, death, and resurrection redeems His people. In the New Testament we see the staggering claim God’s people are not only the people of Israel, but includes every other race as well, the Gentiles.[1] This is good news for all sinners, both Jew and Gentile alike.

While the OT can be classified in large part as historical narrative, the NT narrative is complex. The following framework is a helpful map to understanding the progression of the NT as a literary whole.

The movement of the NT surrounds God redeeming His people from sin through the Messiah. It is the story of a covenant, a promise from God to His people that is fulfilled in Jesus Christ. Therefore we can divide the NT into three narrative portions: 1) Messianic Fulfillment primarily in the Gospel accounts of Jesus’ life, ministry, and redeeming death, 2) Messianic News recorded for us in the creation of the early church in Acts, and 3) Messianic Implications for mankind in the epistles. If we view the NT through this lens we can easily see the storyline of the text surrounding the Messiah, moving from the fulfillment of God’s promise, to the sharing of this good news, to the radial implications the Messiah brings to all human life.

What Composes the New Testament?

The New Testament was written between AD 40-96, the earliest being the Epistle of James attributed between AD 40-45[2] and the latest being John’s Revelation attributed between AD 95-96.[3] It includes 27 books covering two different genres:

History: Matthew, Mark, Luke, John, Acts.

Letters: Romans, 1-2 Corinthians, Galatians, Ephesians, Philippians, Colossians, 1-2 Thessalonians, 1-2 Timothy, Titus, Philemon, Hebrews, James, 1-2 Peter, 1-3 John, Jude, Revelation.[4]

The New Testament was written primarily in common Greek (Koine Greek), widely understood in Palestine at the time. A few portions were also written in Aramaic.[5]

The New Testament is of infinite value to the reader. Why? Because of the life-altering message of good news it shares for both Jews and Gentiles. It holds staggering implications for every area of life including most importantly our eternal purpose, either glorifying God in heaven or glorifying self in Hell. Let’s look now at the conclusion of the OT, the staggering story of grace in the NT.

1) The Messianic Fulfillment

The New Testament is a continuation of the Old, an awesome conclusion to the cliffhanger that separates the Old and New Testaments, God’s promise of salvation. The NT fulfills the glaring problem of sin and our separation from God by revealing to us the completion of His covenant with David:

“Moreover, the Lord declares to you that the Lord will make you a house…I will raise up your offspring after you…I will establish the throne of his kingdom forever. I will be to him a father and he shall be to me a son” (2 Samuel 7:11-14).

But the promise throughout the OT of a Savior for God’s people is not simply this promise to David. The promise of a Messiah is fills God’s revelation in the OT:

“Surely he has borne our griefs and carried our sorrows; yet we esteemed him stricken, smitten by God, and afflicted. But he was wounded for our transgressions; he was crushed for our iniquities; upon him was the chastisement that brought us peace, and with his stripes we are healed. All we like sheep have gone astray; we have turned—every one—to his own way; and the Lord has laid on him the iniquity of us all.” (Isaiah 53:4-6) 

“Rejoice greatly, O daughter of Zion! Shout aloud, O daughter of Jerusalem! Behold, your king is coming to you; righteous and having salvation is he, humble and mounted on a donkey, on a colt, the foal of a donkey.” (Zechariah 9:9)

“For to us a child is born, to us a son is given; and the government shall be upon his shoulder, and his name shall be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace. Of the increase of his government and of peace there will be no end, and on the throne of David and over his kingdom, to establish it and to uphold it with justice and with righteousness from this time forth and forevermore.” (Isaiah 9:6-7)[6]

The OT paints a robust picture of the salvation of God’s people through a Messiah. As the completion of this promise, the Gospel accounts of Jesus’ life emphatically paints the picture that Jesus is the Christ—the Messiah—the “Son of David.” Through His life and death Jesus is the fulfillment of God’s promise to David of an eternal King who redeems His people.

“He will be great and will be called the Son of the Most High. And the Lord God will give to him the throne of his father David, and he will reign over the house of Jacob forever, and of his kingdom there will be no end.” (Luke 1:32-33)[7]

“Blessed be the Lord God of Israel, for he has visited and redeemed his people and has raised up a horn of salvation for us in the house of his servant David, as he spoke by the mouth of his holy prophets from of old…to show the mercy promised to our fathers and to remember his holy covenant.” (Luke 1:68-70, 72)

How did the Gospels record this Messianic fulfillment for us? Let’s look at the biographical sketch that the Gospels give us of Jesus as the Messiah fulfilled.

The Life of Jesus in the Gospels

The story of Jesus of Nazareth begins prior to His birth, which most likely would have been between December of 5 BC and January of 4 BC. [8] Before His birth, an angel of the Lord brings good news to Mary that she will give birth to the eternal King, Son of David, Son of God, (Luke 1:32-33). This is the first emphasis of Jesus as the Messiah in Luke. In the City of David, Bethlehem, Mary gives birth to Jesus (Luke 2:1-7) and He grows up nearby in Nazareth.

The earliest account of his life occurs as a boy teaching in the Temple in Jerusalem where His wisdom was already on display to the people (Luke 2:49).

Jesus’ public ministry then began with his baptism. Jesus had now left his work as a carpenter to devote himself to the public ministry of good news for all the people. After His baptism, the declaration of His public ministry, Jesus entered the wilderness to be tempted by Satan. No temptation swayed Him. He did not sin. Nothing would hinder Jesus from His mission to “seek and to save the lost” by living a perfectly righteous life to be substituted one day for the sin of others, thus fulfilling His purpose as the Messiah.

Jesus spent three years ministering all over Israel, Judea, Galilee, Samaria. He raised up twelve disciples whom He called to the task of being His witnesses to the ends of the earth. He performed miracles, He healed the sick, He spent early mornings in prayer, He preached repentance and grace, He glorified His father, He was tempted in every way we are but never sinned, He spoke with authority, He was the Son of David, the Son of God.

Jesus’ life and ministry all moved to one place, the Roman torture device: the cross. His mission was not simply to teach and live a righteous life; it was intended all along to take Him to His death so that by His death many who by their sins have been condemned to death might have life. Without the cross there is no salvation. Without the cross Jesus is not the Messiah, the savior of God’s people, “For it was by his death, and not by his resurrection, that our sins were dealt with.”[9]  Therefore, “According to the generally accepted chronology, Jesus died late Friday afternoon, April 7, A.D. 30.[10] Three days later, on a Sunday morning (why Christians now worship on Sunday rather than the Jewish Sabbath of Saturday), the tomb was empty. Jesus rose from the dead and appeared to hundreds in His risen bodily form. Forty days after Jesus’ resurrection, he ascended into heaven leaving behind disciples and witnesses to carry on the ministry of the Gospel, the declaration of the good news of Jesus as the Messiah, Jesus the Christ.

Each of the Gospels vary in their written style and audience. Matthew, Mark, and Luke comprise the Synoptic Gospels, Matthew and Luke believed to have been written with some uniform knowledge of Mark. Scholars attribute their uniformity in events to this possible theory. Matthew was a Jewish tax collector who wrote the account of the Messiah for a Jewish audience. Mark was a Jew whose primary audience was Gentiles. Luke was a doctor whose primary audience was Gentiles as well. Roughly 90% of John’s material is unique to John. He wrote primarily to Gentiles to show that Jesus was God, a call for them to have faith in Him for their salvation.

2) The Messianic News

The Gospels recorded the events of the Messiah’s life, death, and resurrection, thereby emphatically claiming Jesus to be the messianic fulfillment as the Son of God. Luke, the author of the Gospel in his name, also wrote another work detailing the spread of the news of Jesus as the Messiah in the early church: the Acts of the Apostles. In the Gospels Jesus’ fulfillment is dropped like a rock into a still lake, it records the splash. In Acts we see the ripple effect of that splash recorded for us in vivid detail. Where Jesus is witnessed in the Gospels, it is here in Acts that the news spreads and the church comes into being.

In Acts the good news spreads, over the 30 years following Jesus’ ascension, with such power that it brings salvation to many, creating churches all over the Mediterranean, from Jerusalem to Rome. In the opening chapter Jesus ascends into heaven where He now intercedes for us at the Father’s right hand (Acts 1:6-11). Quickly after this the promised Helper, the Holy Spirit is given at Pentecost.

Acts can be divided from the lens of a flyover generally between the witness of two apostles, Peter and Paul. Peter acts as a witness to the Jewish people, preaching at Pentecost, in the Temple square, before the Jewish council, and in many other locations. His emphasis is on Jesus as the good news of Messianic fulfillment for the Jews, claiming exclusive salvation through Jesus: “And there is salvation in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given among men by which we must be saved” (Acts 4:12).

It is here in the beginning of Acts that we also witness the first martyr for the Gospel. Stephen was arrested for performing great signs and wonders in the name of Christ by some who “could not withstand the wisdom and the Spirit with which he was speaking” (Acts 6:10). He was brought before the Sanhedrin where he preached the fulfillment of the promised Messiah in Jesus had come. They were enraged, cast him out of the city, and stoned him in the midst of a man named Saul.

This man Saul was a devout Jew with a hunger for persecuting Christians. He ravaged “the church…entering house after house, he dragged off men and women and committed them to prison” (Acts 8:3). Yet in this vilest of opposition to Christ, God made the greatest evangelist. Jesus met him on the Damascus road and blinded him, telling him to travel to Ananias who would lay hands on him enabling him to see again. Ananias questions the evil Saul has done and the Lord reveals Saul is to “carry [His] name before the Gentiles” (Acts 9:15a). Saul regains his sight, by faith changes his name to Paul, and is catapulted by the will of God to share the Messianic news to the Gentiles, where Peter was sent to the Jews.

Paul travels with Barnabas on his first missionary journey to share this news to the Gentiles. The first journey takes them through the island of Cyprus, to Perga, and Galatia. Paul returns then to Jerusalem over an issue that had arisen, the question of the Gentiles obedience to the Law. Some had said that you must be circumcised to be saved (Acts 15:1). Paul took the matter to the Jerusalem council. Here James, the brother of Jesus, proposes a solution. Circumcision is not required for salvation (Acts 15:19). The council encourages Paul in his mission to the Gentiles.

Paul then travels with Timothy on his second missionary journey to share the Messianic news. Paul travels again through Galatia starting again in Antioch. He makes his way through Asia, to Philippi, Thessalonica, Athens, Corinth and back to Jerusalem by way of Ephesus. The church is being born in the midst of these travels as the good news of Jesus is irresistible to those who are given the gift of faith.

Paul’s third missionary journey takes place in nearly the same places as his second, revisiting Ephesus, Philippi, Thessalonica, and Corinth. However upon returning to Jerusalem he is arrested for preaching and having brought Gentiles into the temple. In his arrest he appeals to Caesar, as a Roman citizen had the right to do, and journeys to Rome, by way of a shipwreck on Malta. There he lived for two years (Acts 28:30) preaching the good news of Jesus as savior, Jesus as Messiah. We do not have record of the remaining years of Paul’s life.

The news of Jesus spread through the apostles, through those who were direct witnesses to the good news of Christ. They took the news to places that the Lord by His Spirit opened up to them. The birth of the church happened through traveling evangelists, heralding and proclaiming the good news of salvation by grace alone through faith alone in Jesus Christ.

3) The Messianic Implications

While the Gospels reveal Jesus as the Christ, and Acts reveals the spread of the good news and subsequent birth of the church, the letters in the NT are written to churches and individuals regarding the implications of Jesus as the Christ for their lives.

Paul wrote most of the volume of the NT. Romans is his first letter we encounter in the NT. It is the King of the Epistles. If the Gospels are an account of Jesus as the Messiah, then Romans is an account of human history, Jew and Gentile, and the theological implications that Jesus brings for the Christians in Rome. Salvation in Christ is both for Jews and Gentiles. It is the most concise letter summarizing the theology of the Gospel that the church possesses.

Paul wrote to the church at Corinth that he spent time with on his second and third missionary journeys. In his first letter Paul addresses the need for unity in the church for the purpose of advancing the good news of the Gospel. In his second letter he defends his apostolic authority and mission to the Gentiles highlighting the witness of his suffering for the Gospel.

Paul then wrote to a few other individual churches that he came into contact with on his missionary journeys. He wrote to the Galatians exhorting them that circumcision, i.e. fulfilling the law, was not required for salvation. To the Ephesians he wrote to encourage them that salvation is by faith alone because Christ has conquered sin. To the Philippians Paul wrote to commend them for their faithfulness and encourage them in the midst of their suffering. To the Colossians he wrote warning them against false doctrine and stressed the absolute supremacy of Christ. To the Thessalonians Paul wrote two letters, the first encouraging them that those who have already died will be raised at the second coming and the second letter correcting a false teaching that the second coming of Christ had already taken place.

Paul also wrote four letters to individuals, Timothy, Titus, and Philemon. In Paul’s first letter to Timothy he writes indicting false teachers and encouraging Timothy to confront them, that the true Gospel will always lead to godly living. In the second letter to Timothy, Paul encourages him to remain loyal to Christ and the message of the Gospel. To Titus he sends instructions for how to order the churches of Crete. To Philemon he wrote securing forgiveness for a slave named Onesimus, thereby exhibiting how the Gospel transforms lives and relationships.

Hebrews, whose author is widely disputed, is a word of exhortation sent to encourage the faithful perseverance of persecuted Christians. The author emphasizes that Christ is infinitely greater than any angel, priest, or old covenant institution.

James writes a letter to the Jewish Christians, who are dispersed far from Jerusalem, to primarily encourage them to live their lives as a witness to the good news of the Gospel. They are to be doers and not just hearers; they are to live out their faith as witnesses to the implications the Messiah brings.

Peter writes two letters. In his first he writes to Christians who are suffering, instructing them to respond to their persecutors by suffering as Jesus did. In his second letter he urges growth and perseverance in light of false teachers who deny the second coming of Christ and instead use it as a license to act immorally.

John writes three short letters. In his first letter John calls believers back to three basics, 1) true doctrine, 2) obedient living, and 3) fervent devotion to Christ. In his second letter John writes to encourage his readers to love each other and to beware false teachers who deny the incarnation of Christ, that He wasn’t really human. In his third letter John writes to Gaius commending the hospitality of Demetrius.

Jude, one of the brothers of James and Jesus, writes to a congregation of Jewish Christians exhorting them to look out for false teachers who have slipped in and used grace as a license to sin.

Finally, John concludes the NT with his apocalyptic letter, Revelation. He writes to persecuted Christians encouraging them that God indeed is in control. He wins the cosmic story through His Son, the Christ. Revelation is an apocalyptic prophecy revealing the unseen spiritual war and cosmic conflict dealing with the salvation for God’s people from their sin and His wrath. Ultimately Revelation acts a shot in the arm to fortify the church to endure suffering and stay pure.


The NT is the consummation of the OT. In it we see the fulfillment of God’s promise of salvation. In the Gospels the Messianic promise is fulfilled. In Acts the Messianic good news spreads from Jerusalem to Rome creating the church. And in the Epistles, we see the implications of Jesus as savior. With the conclusion of the NT we have the conclusion of God’s revelation in Scripture for our flourishing and His glory. It is a testament to the grace and love of our God in spite of all the rebellion we can muster against Him.

[1] Israel can clearly be classified as God’s people in the OT. However books like Jonah reveal that God’s grace is also meant for other Gentile nations like the Ninevites. Jonah is a precursor to the inclusion of Gentiles as God’s people in the NT.
[2] Douglas Moo, The Letter of James (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2000), 25-26.
[3] Alan Johnson, The Expositors Bible Commentary (Grand Rapids: Zondervan), 581-582.
[4] Revelation is sometimes classified in it’s own genre as “Apocalypse,” but begins as a letter to seven churches so many have also included it in the category of Epistle.
[5] Aramaic was a Semitic language, similar to that of Hebrew. The Assyrians made Aramaic a common language during the Jewish exile in the sixth century BC. For many of the Jews in Palestine, this was the prominent language.
[6] See also Jeremiah 23:5-6
[7] See also Mark 10:47-48 and Matthew 3:17
[8] Bruce M. Metzger, The New Testament: Its Background, Growth, and Content (Nashville: Abingdon Press, 2003), 124. Most scholars attribute this dating for the birth of Jesus, though there are many differing views as well.
[9] John Stott, The Cross of Christ (Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press, 2006), 233.
[10] Bruce M. Metzger, The New Testament, 149. Though many argue as well for His death to have occurred in AD 33.

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