Bible "Cliff Notes": The New Testament

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The New Testament

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Bible "Cliff Notes": The New Testament

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In ancient times, before the birth of Jesus Christ, God selected a family out of which to build a nation. This people, known as the nation of Israel, was given the law of God and was to serve as a model for other nations. They failed in this task when they succumbed to their corrupted human nature. Their kingdom was conquered and their people scattered. Only a small remnant of the original people were able to return. Earlier in this Bible “Cliff Notes” series, we covered this basic history of the people of God in the Old Testament (OT), as well as the time between Testaments. Now, let’s look at the turning point of world history—the birth of Jesus Christ and the founding of His Church—as it is recorded in the books of the New Testament (NT).

As we have seen with the rest of the Bible, the NT books are not typically arranged in chronological order. They are sorted into three main categories: the Gospels, the letters (epistles), and the apocalyptic book of Revelation. The authors of the books of the NT were Jesus' disciples and apostles, and they wrote in Greek between the 40s and mid-90s A.D. Several books in the NT, including three of the Gospels about Jesus Christ (Matthew, Mark and Luke) were written sometime in the middle of the first century—30-40 years after the death of Jesus Christ in A.D. 31. That is a comparatively short time when we consider that Alexander the Great did not have a biography written about his life until more than 400 years after his death (Lee Strobel, The Case for Christ, p. 41)! 

The Gospels

The first section of the NT comprises the gospel accounts of Matthew, Mark, Luke and John. The gospels are accounts of the life and teachings of Jesus Christ on earth. They take place in Judea while it was part of the Roman Empire. It's important to remember the Gospels were not written like biographies we might write today. The stories might be arranged out of order and by topic. The main focus was to teach about the major events and teachings of Jesus Christ. So when reading the gospels, remember that if Mark's account places an event sooner or later in a text than Luke's account, it’s not that the writers disagreed on the account. They just arranged the significant events in Jesus’ life differently (ESV Study Bible, “Reading the Gospels and Acts,” page 1,811).

Jesus Christ—the Son of God—was born out of the tribe of Judah, just as the OT books had prophesied. As a young child, Jesus actively participated in the synagogues and understood more about the Scriptures than the wisest teachers of his day. At the age of 30 He began His ministry, and He selected 12 men to be his disciples (Luke 6:12-16 Luke 6:12-16 [12] And it came to pass in those days, that he went out into a mountain to pray, and continued all night in prayer to God. [13] And when it was day, he called to him his disciples: and of them he chose twelve, whom also he named apostles; [14] Simon, (whom he also named Peter,) and Andrew his brother, James and John, Philip and Bartholomew, [15] Matthew and Thomas, James the son of Alphaeus, and Simon called Zelotes, [16] And Judas the brother of James, and Judas Iscariot, which also was the traitor.
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). His ministry lasted three years before He was killed, and the gospels record His teaching. His primary message was the pronouncement of the coming Kingdom of God to earth (Mark 1:14-15 Mark 1:14-15 [14] Now after that John was put in prison, Jesus came into Galilee, preaching the gospel of the kingdom of God, [15] And saying, The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand: repent you, and believe the gospel.
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) and the redemption of mankind from its sinful nature (John 3:16 John 3:16For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish, but have everlasting life.
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). Jesus validated His claim of being the Son of God through the fulfillment of hundreds of prophecies, divine miracles and ultimately through His sacrificial death and resurrection (for more information, read our study aid Jesus Christ: The Real Story). 

Jesus corrected many of the religious leaders in Judea (the scribes, Pharisees, Sadducees and others) who had distorted the way of life that God had instructed the Israelite people of God to live in the OT (1 Corinthians 10:4 1 Corinthians 10:4And did all drink the same spiritual drink: for they drank of that spiritual Rock that followed them: and that Rock was Christ.
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). These leaders and teachers added numerous regulations to God’s laws, which distorted the true intent (spirit) of the law, and created impossible standards to live by. Their regulations and traditions were an attempt to keep people from sinning against God outwardly, yet turned the leaders and their followers into hypocrites inwardly (Matthew 23:1-39 Matthew 23:1-39 [1] Then spoke Jesus to the multitude, and to his disciples, [2] Saying The scribes and the Pharisees sit in Moses' seat: [3] All therefore whatever they bid you observe, that observe and do; but do not you after their works: for they say, and do not. [4] For they bind heavy burdens and grievous to be borne, and lay them on men's shoulders; but they themselves will not move them with one of their fingers. [5] But all their works they do for to be seen of men: they make broad their phylacteries, and enlarge the borders of their garments, [6] And love the uppermost rooms at feasts, and the chief seats in the synagogues, [7] And greetings in the markets, and to be called of men, Rabbi, Rabbi. [8] But be not you called Rabbi: for one is your Master, even Christ; and all you are brothers. [9] And call no man your father on the earth: for one is your Father, which is in heaven. [10] Neither be you called masters: for one is your Master, even Christ. [11] But he that is greatest among you shall be your servant. [12] And whoever shall exalt himself shall be abased; and he that shall humble himself shall be exalted. [13] But woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! for you shut up the kingdom of heaven against men: for you neither go in yourselves, neither suffer you them that are entering to go in. [14] Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! for you devour widows' houses, and for a pretense make long prayer: therefore you shall receive the greater damnation. [15] Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! for you compass sea and land to make one proselyte, and when he is made, you make him twofold more the child of hell than yourselves. [16] Woe to you, you blind guides, which say, Whoever shall swear by the temple, it is nothing; but whoever shall swear by the gold of the temple, he is a debtor! [17] You fools and blind: for whether is greater, the gold, or the temple that sanctifies the gold? [18] And, Whoever shall swear by the altar, it is nothing; but whoever swears by the gift that is on it, he is guilty. [19] You fools and blind: for whether is greater, the gift, or the altar that sanctifies the gift? [20] Whoever therefore shall swear by the altar, swears by it, and by all things thereon. [21] And whoever shall swear by the temple, swears by it, and by him that dwells therein. [22] And he that shall swear by heaven, swears by the throne of God, and by him that sits thereon. [23] Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! for you pay tithe of mint and anise and cummin, and have omitted the weightier matters of the law, judgment, mercy, and faith: these ought you to have done, and not to leave the other undone. [24] You blind guides, which strain at a gnat, and swallow a camel. [25] Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! for you make clean the outside of the cup and of the platter, but within they are full of extortion and excess. [26] You blind Pharisee, cleanse first that which is within the cup and platter, that the outside of them may be clean also. [27] Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! for you are like to white washed sepulchers, which indeed appear beautiful outward, but are within full of dead men's bones, and of all uncleanness. [28] Even so you also outwardly appear righteous to men, but within you are full of hypocrisy and iniquity. [29] Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! because you build the tombs of the prophets, and garnish the sepulchers of the righteous, [30] And say, If we had been in the days of our fathers, we would not have been partakers with them in the blood of the prophets. [31] Why you be witnesses to yourselves, that you are the children of them which killed the prophets. [32] Fill you up then the measure of your fathers. [33] You serpents, you generation of vipers, how can you escape the damnation of hell? [34] Why, behold, I send to you prophets, and wise men, and scribes: and some of them you shall kill and crucify; and some of them shall you whip in your synagogues, and persecute them from city to city: [35] That on you may come all the righteous blood shed on the earth, from the blood of righteous Abel to the blood of Zacharias son of Barachias, whom you slew between the temple and the altar. [36] Truly I say to you, All these things shall come on this generation. [37] O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, you that kill the prophets, and stone them which are sent to you, how often would I have gathered your children together, even as a hen gathers her chickens under her wings, and you would not! [38] Behold, your house is left to you desolate. [39] For I say to you, You shall not see me from now on, till you shall say, Blessed is he that comes in the name of the Lord.
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). So as Jesus led His ministry on the earth, He taught His followers the true intent, application and purpose of God’s law (Matthew 5:17-20 Matthew 5:17-20 [17] Think not that I am come to destroy the law, or the prophets: I am not come to destroy, but to fulfill. [18] For truly I say to you, Till heaven and earth pass, one stroke or one pronunciation mark shall in no wise pass from the law, till all be fulfilled. [19] Whoever therefore shall break one of these least commandments, and shall teach men so, he shall be called the least in the kingdom of heaven: but whoever shall do and teach them, the same shall be called great in the kingdom of heaven. [20] For I say to you, That except your righteousness shall exceed the righteousness of the scribes and Pharisees, you shall in no case enter into the kingdom of heaven.
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).

Not included in the gospels is the book of Acts—which is not a letter but a historical account of the time immediately after the resurrection of Jesus Christ. It was written by Luke, who also wrote his namesake Gospel account. It is a continuation of Jesus’ story after His death, beginning with His interactions with His followers right before ascending into heaven after His miraculous resurrection. It then records the founding of the Church of God and the story of how the apostles spread the gospel to the nations around them through preaching, miracles and the power of the Holy Spirit. They publicly proclaimed Jesus Christ’ fulfillment of prophecies about Him in the OT, as well as the salvation that was now being offered to all of mankind. So not only was Jesus Christ’s death and resurrection a turning point for the Israelite people, but also a new beginning for the rest of mankind. The book of Acts provides context for the next section of the NT, the letters or epistles.

The Epistles (or letters)

The second section of NT—the Epistles—makes up the largest portion of the NT, comprising 21 of its 27 books. Epistle means letter, and each book was a personal letter from the author to a person or congregation of the early Church. These books were written between A.D. 30 and 93, primarily by the apostles (Paul, Peter, John, James and others). They are addressed to the followers, ministers and congregations of the newly established Church of God (1 Corinthians 1:2 1 Corinthians 1:2To the church of God which is at Corinth, to them that are sanctified in Christ Jesus, called to be saints, with all that in every place call on the name of Jesus Christ our Lord, both their's and our's:
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). They included messages about the gospel, as well as insight for understanding the OT teachings in light of Jesus' ministry on earth. They also addressed specific situations that the churches were facing, including false teachings and immoral behavior among believers. And they include salutations to many sincere believers alive at the time.

The majority of the letters to the Church of God were written by the apostle Paul. Some of Paul's letters were written while he was in prison for preaching about Jesus Christ, and are fittingly known as the Prison Epistles. They include the books of Ephesians, Colossians, Philippians and Philemon. Paul's imprisonment at different times is mentioned in the book of Acts. Others of his letters are referred to as the Pastoral Epistles, which were letters he wrote to two ministers who served God’s Church, Timothy and Titus. The book of Hebrews is also considered by many to have been written by Paul, but his authorship is debated among scholarly circles.

The book of Revelation

The last section of the New Testament is referred to as the book of Revelation. It is classified as apocalyptic literature because it describes a vision of the spiritual realities at play in world history and in coming events. The book is a dramatic vision given by Jesus Christ to the apostle John in the 90s A.D. It begins with messages from Jesus to seven congregations of the Church of God that existed at that time. It then describes John's vision of Christ's return to earth to establish the Kingdom of God (Revelation 1:7 Revelation 1:7Behold, he comes with clouds; and every eye shall see him, and they also which pierced him: and all kindreds of the earth shall wail because of him. Even so, Amen.
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; Revelation 7:9-10 Revelation 7:9-10 [9] After this I beheld, and, see, a great multitude, which no man could number, of all nations, and kindreds, and people, and tongues, stood before the throne, and before the Lamb, clothed with white robes, and palms in their hands; [10] And cried with a loud voice, saying, Salvation to our God which sits on the throne, and to the Lamb.
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; Revelation 11:15 Revelation 11:15And the seventh angel sounded; and there were great voices in heaven, saying, The kingdoms of this world are become the kingdoms of our Lord, and of his Christ; and he shall reign for ever and ever.
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). It speaks of a time in the future when Jesus Himself will reign on earth with His resurrected saints (Revelation 20:4-6 Revelation 20:4-6 [4] And I saw thrones, and they sat on them, and judgment was given to them: and I saw the souls of them that were beheaded for the witness of Jesus, and for the word of God, and which had not worshipped the beast, neither his image, neither had received his mark on their foreheads, or in their hands; and they lived and reigned with Christ a thousand years. [5] But the rest of the dead lived not again until the thousand years were finished. This is the first resurrection. [6] Blessed and holy is he that has part in the first resurrection: on such the second death has no power, but they shall be priests of God and of Christ, and shall reign with him a thousand years.
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). After a thousand years, there is to be another resurrection of all people who have ever lived (Revelation 20:5 Revelation 20:5But the rest of the dead lived not again until the thousand years were finished. This is the first resurrection.
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). Everyone will be given an opportunity to know and believe in Jesus Christ. And after the judgment before God's Great White Throne, God the Father will restore all of heaven and earth and will dwell with mankind for all eternity (Revelation 21:3-5 Revelation 21:3-5 [3] And I heard a great voice out of heaven saying, Behold, the tabernacle of God is with men, and he will dwell with them, and they shall be his people, and God himself shall be with them, and be their God. [4] And God shall wipe away all tears from their eyes; and there shall be no more death, neither sorrow, nor crying, neither shall there be any more pain: for the former things are passed away. [5] And he that sat on the throne said, Behold, I make all things new. And he said to me, Write: for these words are true and faithful.
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). It’s a sobering yet captivating book that gives hope for humanity by explaining how God will set things right on this earth and how all people will be God’s people (to dig deeper in the book of Revelation, read The Book of Revelation Unveiled).

The Bible is not only a miraculous account of God’s intervention in human history, but it is a singularly life-giving work inspired by God. Its pages are meant to be explored. I hope this series has provided you with a tool to begin searching for the treasures that are found in the Word of God.

Sources:

  • "ESV Study Bible: English Standard Version." Wheaton, IL: Crossway, 2011. Print.
  • Strobel, Lee. "The Case for Christ." N.p: Zondervan Pub. House, 1998. Print.