New Testament: A Bird’s-Eye Tour of the Bible

THE GOSPELS

Skipping about four hundred years of silence which lie between the testaments we enter the New Testament and meet Matthew, Mark, Luke and John. They give us four independent narratives of the life of Jesus Christ.

Though independent, they are in agreement as to the facts of history. Christ was born at Bethlehem, as Micah said. After about thirty years He came into His ministry. His forerunner, John the Baptist, who was about six months older than He, proclaimed that Jesus was coming. When John the Baptist saw Jesus approaching him he introduced Him with a significant statement in John 1:29:

  • The next day John seeth Jesus coming unto him, and saith, Behold the Lamb of God, which taketh away the sin of the world.

John, trained in the Jewish law, was thinking of that chain of sacrificial lambs whose blood stained the sands of the Old Testament. He saw that those lambs predicted this Lamb who would fulfill Isaiah’s prophecy of finally suffering for sin. Men call Jesus the great physician, the master teacher, and the prince of peace; but John saw that his great purpose was to be the Lamb of God Who would take away the sin of the world.

The four Gospels begin their stories in different ways. Matthew and Luke give birth narratives of Christ. Mark and John do not. However, all four narratives end in the same way, with the crucifixion, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. The crucifixion and the resurrection are the core and climax of the way of salvation God provided for man. Christ came to be the Lamb of God who would die on the cross bearing the penalty for our sin. Isaiah predicted it. John the Baptist understood it. The Gospels bear testimony to the fact that Christ accomplished what He came to do. The resurrection was the ultimate stamp of God’s approval on the finished work of Christ.

Before we leave the Gospels let me say a word about heaven and hell. On the night before His death Jesus spoke to his disciples about heaven by saying,

  • In my Father’s house are many mansions: if it were not so, I would have told you. I go to prepare a place for you. And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again, and receive you unto myself; that where I am, there ye may be also. (John 14:2-3 KJV)

He taught that heaven is a place in God’s universe, just as your hometown is a place. He taught that it is the place where God dwells, the place from which He came, and the place where He now resides. The New Testament speaks of heaven as a place prepared for those who have trusted Christ’s work. It is a place of rest, of perfect spiritual knowledge, of the presence of God, of light, of worship, and of service. Unrighteousness, pain, sorrow, and tears are absent from it.

The opposite side of the coin is that hell is also a place. Jesus Christ taught that too. It exists because of the wrath of a holy God upon sin. You may not like to think of God’s wrath; but, John 3:36, the last verse of that chapter in which Jesus declared that, “God so loved the world, “ says,

  • He that believeth on the Son hath everlasting life: and he that believeth not the Son shall not see life; but the wrath of God abideth on him.

According to Christ’s instruction hell is a place of eternal darkness, of pain and sorrow, of fire and brimestone and of separation from God. Man would like to eliminate that thought from the future, but Jesus said in Luke 12:4:

  • And I say unto you my friends, Be not afraid of them that kill the body, and after that have no more that they can do. But I will forewarn you whom ye shall fear: Fear him, which after he hath killed hath power to cast into hell; yea, I say unto you, Fear him.

 

NEW TESTAMENT HISTORY

We had that title for twelve books in the Old Testament. In the New Testament it covers a single book, the Book of Acts. Acts gives us the history of what happened after Christ had been crucified, resurrected and ascended to heaven. God sent the gift of the Holy Spirit on the believers as Christ had promised.

Empowered in that way, the previously timid disciples began to preach the Gospel to a lost world. As they preached men believed in Jesus Christ. Those who believed associated in local groups called churches with a government by their own elders.

One of the most notable converts was Saul of Tarsus. After his conversion he became known as Paul and was the great missionary to the Gentiles. His ministry left churches in places like Galatia, Philippi, Thessalonica, Corinth and Ephesus. Those key cities of the Roman Empire became centers from which the message of salvation radiated over the countryside. Much of the Book of Acts is devoted to Paul’s ministry.

 

THE EPISTLES

The largest section of the New Testament consists of twenty one epistles. Epistle is a fancy word for a letter. At least thirteen of these letters were written by Paul, with others by Peter, John, James and Jude. Most of them were written to first century churches like Rome, Corinth or Thessalonica. Others were written to men like Timothy and Titus who were pastoring churches. Some were written specifically to Hebrew Christians.

In the epistles we find the doctrine and practice of Christianity laid out in finished form for the guidance of the infant churches. Truth is given and error is corrected. I would like to comment on two passages from the epistles because they clear up two modern problems that folks have with Christianity.

First, read the words of I Corinthians 15:1-4:

  • Moreover, brethren, I declare unto you the gospel which I preached unto you, which also ye have received, and wherein ye stand; By which also ye are saved, if ye keep in memory what I preached unto you, unless ye have believed in vain. For I delivered unto you first of all that which I also received, how that Christ died for our sins according to the scriptures; And that he was buried, and that he rose again the third day according to the scriptures:

If you were to ask many people today (even preachers), “What is the gospel?” they would give a wrong answer. They might say, “The gospel is loving your neighbor and doing good.” Such a vague definition is not from Scripture. These verses make it very plain that the gospel is the message that Jesus Christ died on the cross for our sins, was buried and rose from the grave. Modernism has dishonestly redefined the gospel as a message of toleration, integration and socialization. That is false. The gospel is a message of salvation for men who are guilty before a holy God.

Second, consider a list which is given in Galatians 5:19-21:

  • Now the works of the flesh are manifest, which are these; Adultery, fornication, uncleanness, lasciviousness, Idolatry, witchcraft, hatred, variance, emulations, wrath, strife, seditions, heresies, Envyings, murders, drunkenness, revellings, and such like: of the which I tell you before, as I have also told you in time past, that they which do such things shall not inherit the kingdom of God.

The title of this list is, “the works of the flesh.” You may read the list and say, “I haven’t done all those things.” I hope you haven’t; but that list describes your flesh and mine. It tells the sin of which we are capable if we let ourselves go. It is a lurid description of our sinful nature. A holy God cannot defile heaven with such people.

Now look at the following verses in Galatians 5:22-23:

  • But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, longsuffering, gentleness, goodness, faith, meekness, temperance: against such there is no law.

The title of this list is, “the fruit of the Spirit.” Spirit is correctly capitalized as it is talking about the Holy Spirit whom God places in a man’s heart when he is saved. You will notice that these good things are not the things we do but the good fruit which the Spirit produces when He is in us.

A number of years ago my father presented the gospel to two wealthy women who had attended his church. He went through the plan of salvation with them. Both saw that they were guilty before God. Both understood that Christ died for them; but neither of them were ready to receive Christ as Savior. One of the women gave the reason. She explained that, in their niche in society, there was a lot of drinking and sinful conduct which followed. She confessed that she liked that part of her life. She did not want to give that up. My father’s advice to her was unusual. He advised her to come to Christ and then to drink as much as she wanted. Both ladies cast themselves on Christ that day. A week later the speaker of the two called my father and told him that she wanted him to know that she had been saved a whole week and had not had a single drink. My father opined that she was not following his advice. Whereupon she replied, “Since I have been a Christian I have lost my taste for all that stuff.” Then she added, “You knew that would happen.”

I don’t retell this incident to tell a happy story. Rather, I tell it to point out that salvation is not remaking yourself by dealing with your sinful habits. No, it is accepting God’s sacrifice for your sin, receiving the Holy Spirit, and allowing Him to deal with your sinful life and to produce in you the fruit of the Spirit.


NEW TESTAMENT PROPHECY

This is the final division of the New Testament. In the Old Testament there were seventeen books of prophecy. Here there is only one, Revelation. It is not my purpose to study Revelation. Revelation brings us to the end of all things in God’s program. We have the rapture of the saints with the resurrection of their bodies, a time of great tribulation when this sinful world has a one world government presided over by the Antichrist, a triumphant return of Jesus Christ to rule and reign, a millenial kingdom set up by Him, and a perfect heaven realized and enjoyed.

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