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KNOWING GOD THROUGH THE NEW TESTAMENT

Written by: De Haan, Richard    Posted on: 05/12/2003

Category: Bible Studies

Source: CCN

                  KNOWING GOD THROUGH THE NEW TESTAMENT

    What makes the New Testament new?  What does it tell us that the Old Testament does not?  Why is it so controversial?  Why is the New Testament still able to speak so forcefully after almost 2,000 years of circulation? Where do we begin so that we can grasp its purpose and place in the world and in our own lives?

    This booklet was written by David Egner to help you understand the New Testament, its purpose, its people, its times, and its places.  But most important, the purpose of this booklet is to give you a better understanding of God and yourself through the greatest book ever written -- the Bible.

                          A BOOK LOVED AND HATED

    The New Testament completes the story begun in the Old Testament.  It tells about the coming of Jesus Christ, the long-awaited Jewish Messiah. Even though He didn't write a word of it, the New Testament is His book. It records His teachings and the story of His life, death, and resurrection.  His followers claimed to write and speak with an authority granted by God.  This book has had a more profound and controversial impact on the world than any other book ever written.

    Millions have loved it.  Down through the centuries, people imprisoned by sin have found life and freedom through faith in the One the New Testament was written to proclaim.  Those who have been held captive by bars and walls, such as Fyodor Dostoevski in Siberia and the inmates of concentration camps, have found freedom of mind, heart, and soul through its words.  People enchained in broken bodies, or shackled by physical suffering, or tortured by the unseen enemy, or enslaved in spiritual darkness, or bound by relentless legalism, or crippled by a fearsome self- doubt have responded by faith to its message of freedom.  They have stepped into the light of God's liberating, never-changing love, as expressed in the New Testament.

    Millions have hated it.  Emperors like Nero and Diocletian tried to destroy the New Testament.  Philosophers like Voltaire have proclaimed it to be a dead book of lies.  Social scientists have scoffed at the solutions to man's problems set forth by the humble Galilean.  modernists and futurists have labeled its morals as hopelessly outdated and proclaimed it to be a book for the past -- a book without the power to make an impact on the world at the close of the 20th century. 

    Even so, the New Testament lives on.  The same burning message that conquered the Roman world, lit the fires of the Reformation, and ignited the great revivals of the 19th century continues to burn with liberating brightness.  In our day, the message of the New Testament has sparked great revivals that have swept through Indonesia and Korea.  Current reports are that 27,000 Chinese per day are placing their trust in Christ.  Romania is spiritually alive.  And even the Soviet Union must grudgingly admit that despite its atheism and its stern efforts to quench the church, the number of Christians within its borders continues to grow.

    Why is this collection of 27 books written in the last half of the first century by a few zealous followers of the Jewish Messiah having such an impact?  Because it is part of the Bible, the one book in all the world that can bring us to God.  The gospel of Jesus Christ has the power to break every chain that binds us.  Yes, the New Testament brings God to us and it can bring us to Him.  Through it, we can know Him in a personal, liberating, growing way.

                    THE BACKGROUND OF THE NEW TESTAMENT

    God had been silent for 400 years.  The devout of Israel had waited in vain for God to speak again and for their anticipated Messiah to come.  But nothing had been revealed since the prophet Malachi put down his pen, finishing the Old Testament.  Then in sudden, bold, broad-sweeping strokes, God revealed Himself in two ways:  (1) through the coming of Jesus Christ, His Son, and (2) through the writing of the New Testament.

    The world had changed greatly during those 400 years of silence. Palestine itself was vastly different from those struggling days when Jewish zealots returned from Babylon to reconstruct their temple and rebuild the walls of Jerusalem.

    To understand the impact of Christ's coming and the background of the New Testament, we need to acquaint ourselves with political, social, economic, and religious forces that were alive in the world into which the Lord Jesus was born.

    The Roman World.  Rome was the dominant force in the first-century world.  Its armies had marched with power and precision across Europe, the Middle East, and Africa, bringing nation after nation under its control. Palestine had fallen to General Pompey in 63 BC.  Though taxed heavily, Israel benefited from Roman rule:

    *    Peace.  The world was at peace in the days of the New Testament.     *    Government.  The emperor had the power to force reigning           governors to rule well.  In many cases, this kept them from           amassing great private wealth at the expense of the people.     *    Travel.  Because of the Roman peace, people could travel freely           from country to country.     *    Communication.  The flow of information was the best the world           had ever known.

Because of these factors, Christianity got a firm foothold and grew rapidly under Roman rule.

    Greek Influence.  Although the Greek Empire had collapsed before New Testament days, it was still a powerful world influence in the following ways:

    Language.  Alexander the Great's lightning-fast conquests (331-322 BC)     made Greek the dominant language of the civilized world.  When the     Romans conquered territory, they encouraged its continued use.  This     benefited Christianity because: (1) a common language made the spread     of the gospel easier, and (2) the New Testament was written in Greek     and could be understood by everyone.

    Culture.  The Greek mind confronted basic questions about man, life,     and the supernatural.  The Greek poets, dramatists, and philosophers     had thereby prepared the way for the satisfying answers Christianity     brought to a searching and dissatisfied world.

    Jewish Background.  The Jewish background of the New Testament was     important because:  (1) Christianity was born in a Jewish environment,     and (2) Christianity was rooted in what God had already made known to     His people through the Old Testament.

          When Christ was alive, Judea was governed by officials appointed     by Rome.  Even so, the Jews were left to run their own internal     affairs.  They did so through the Sanhedrin, a ruling body of 70 whose     leader was the high priest.

          The religious life of Israel was centered in two institutions.     The first was the temple, which had recently been rebuilt by Herod the     Great.  It was a magnificent structure, constructed to appease the     Jews.  Old Testament rituals were elaborately carried out by devout     Jews from all walks of life.  The second, the synagogues, were centers     of worship and instruction scattered throughout the land.  Their     services were simple, consisting of prayer, Scripture reading, and     explanation.  Jewish boys were educated in synagogues, and their     learning was primarily religious.  It was into this combination of     Roman rule, Greek thought and Jewish tradition that Jesus was born and     Christianity took root.



                  KNOWING GOD THROUGH THE NEW TESTAMENT

    The New Testament is a collection of smaller books.  The 27 books in this "library" were written over a span of 50 years (AD 45-95) by eight known authors (Matthew, Mark, Luke, John, Peter, Paul, James, Jude) and one unidentified author (Hebrews).

    The history of the Old Testament covers thousands of years; the New, about a century.  Yet that century was the most important in the history of man.  It was during those years that Jesus Christ was born, conducted His public ministry, was crucified, and was resurrected.  messianic prophecy was fulfilled and God's plan of salvation was accomplished.  The birth, the establishment, and the initial expansion of the church also occurred in that century.

    The books of the New Testament are not arranged in the order in which they were written.  Rather, they are placed in four literary groupings:

    1.  Gospels:  Four biographies of Jesus Christ.     2.  Acts:  The history of the early church.     3.  Letters:  Twenty-one letters that define Christian belief and           practice.     4.  Revelation:  A vision of the endtimes.

The word testament means "covenant" or "agreement".  The New Testament, then, tells of a new relationship between God and man -- a new way of knowing God.  The old covenant was based on the Mosaic Law and was made with the Jewish nation.  The new (1 Cor. 11:25) was made with people of every nation who accepted by faith the salvation offered through Jesus Christ.

    The 27 books of the New Testament are filled with intense drama, inspired teaching, and practical instruction.  According to the New Testament itself, they originated in the mind of God, came to us by diving inspiration, and were kept from error through the ministry of the Holy Spirit (2 Tim. 3:16).

    God became a man and dwelt among us (John 1:14), revealing Himself more fully.  The New Testament records the life, teaching, and impact of this God-man, the Lord Jesus Christ.  That's why an understanding of the New Testament is essential if we are to know God better.

                          1.  Gospels:  Biography

    The New Testament story begins with the cry of a newborn baby.  In Bethlehem of Judea, a son was born to Joseph of Nazareth and his young wife Mary.  But this was no ordinary birth.  It was a virgin birth, prophesied in the Old Testament, announced by angels, and made possible by a miracle.

    Jesus' Birth.  An angel appeared to Mary, a devout Jewish girl, to tell her three astounding things:  (1) She was to be the mother of the "Son of the Highest" who would be given "the throne of His father David".  (2) He would be miraculously conceived by the Holy Spirit.  (3) Her aged cousin Elizabeth was pregnant.

    Joseph, Mary's husband-to-be was troubled when he learned that she was pregnant.  But he was told by an angel that the baby conceived in her was from the Holy Spirit, that he should marry her, and that this child would "save His people from their sins."

    When it came time for Mary to deliver, she and Joseph were in Bethlehem, "the city of David", miles away from home because Rome had demanded that everyone in Palestine enroll for the tax in the city of their lineage.  This fulfilled a prophecy of Micah.

    Angels heralded Jesus' birth to shepherds on a Judean hillside. Eastern astrologers followed the leading of a star to worship Him.  Joseph was warned by an angel in a dream to flee to Egypt, saving the child from a massacre by the jealous and cruel King Herod.

    Jesus' Inauguration.  The child born to Elizabeth was John the Baptizer.  He began to preach, calling the Jews to repentance in preparation for the kingdom of God.  Those who purified their hearts testified to their act of preparation by being baptized.

    One day, while John was baptizing in the Jordan River, Jesus came and insisted on being baptized.  While He was in the water, the Holy Spirit descended on Him like a dove and the Father in heaven voiced His approval. John's words, "Behold! The Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world!" introduced Jesus to the world as its Messiah-Savior.  The next day, Jesus was led by the Holy Spirit into the wilderness where He was tempted by Satan.  Jesus thwarted His enemy's attack by quoting from the Old Testament.

    Jesus' Public Ministry.  After His temptation in the wilderness, Jesus began to make Himself known to the people.  His 3 years of public life were marked by 3 major activities:  teaching, performing miracles, and training His apostles.

    The Sermon on the Mount was Jesus' first great teaching session.  In it He presented principles for living in His kingdom.  His relationship to the Law, and instruction in prayer.  He taught in ways the common people understood:  parables, epigrams, and object lessons.  Yet He taught with authority.

    His teaching was accompanied by miracles.  He demonstrated that His claim to be the Son of God was true by showing His power over nature, demons, disease, and even death.

    Jesus chose 12 men to be His apostles.  During the last 2 years of His public ministry, these men were with Him nearly all the time.  This was important because the responsibility of carrying out His plan would fall squarely on their shoulders when He was gone.

    Crowds flocked to Jesus.  It seemed that wherever He went, He was surrounded by throngs.  The common people accepted Him and He soon became popular.  The religious leaders of Israel, however, hated Him.  They resented His popularity and they despised His claims.  To them He was an imposter and a blasphemer, so they began plotting His death.

    As His ministry drew to a close, even the crowds forsook Him.  His enemies grew more bold.  Finally, one of His own apostles conspired to betray Him.

    Jesus' Death.  Each of the four gospel writers closed his book with an account of the last few days of Jesus' life.  In Matthew, it covers 9 chapters; in Mark 6; in Luke, 4 1/2 long chapters; and in John, 10.  This should not surprise us, for Jesus had made it clear from the beginning that He had come to give His life.  Seven times He had told His disciples that He must go to Jerusalem and die.

    Jesus traveled to Jerusalem at Passover, the annual commemoration of Israel's rescue from the slaying of the firstborn of Egypt.  When He came into the city of Zion in a triumphal entry, He was celebrated by the common people.  The next day, He threw the moneychangers out of the temple.

    His enemies, masterminded by Caiaphas the high priest, planned Jesus' death.  He met with His disciples one last time in an upper room, and while they were assembled Judas left to betray Him.  Jesus initiated the communion service before making His was to the Garden of Gethsemane to pray.  There He was arrested by a mob and then given an illegal trial before the Sanhedrin, declared guilty, and brought before Pilate.  When the Roman proconsul could not persuade the mob to release Him, he turned Him over to them.  Jesus was led to Calvary, where He was crucified with two criminals.  When He died, His body was claimed by two of His followers and placed in a new tomb.

    All seemed lost for Jesus' disciples.  But 3 days later, He rose from the dead.  He appeared privately to His disciples on several occasions, and was also seen by hundreds of others.  He had conquered death!  The last sight of Him was His ascension into heaven 40 days after His resurrection.

                                Seeing God

    Because Jesus was God in the flesh, and because the gospels tell His story, they tell us volumes about God.  Here are some examples of what Christ's life, death, and resurrection tell us about God.

1.  In Jesus' birth, we see the mercy of God as He humbled Himself to come     to our rescue (Matt. 1:21-23). 2.  In Jesus' teaching, we see the wisdom and goodness of God as He tells     us what to believe and how to live (John 12:49,50). 3.  In Jesus' miracles, we see the unlimited power of God to control     nature, disease, and death (Mark 4:35-41; Luke 7:11-18; 9:37-42). 4.  In Jesus' training of the Twelve, we see God's desire to work through     His people (John 14:12). 5.  In Jesus' death, we see how far God would go to redeem us from our     sins (John 3:16). 6.  In Jesus' resurrection, we see the supernatural power of God to     conquer death (Mark 16:1-8).

                              Your Response

    What does the story recorded in the gospels mean to us today?  To focus your response, look up the references and answer these questions:

1.  Read Matthew 1:18-25 and Luke 1:26-38; 2:1-20.  What does Christ's     coming to earth mean to you? 2.  Read John 1:29.  What is your response to the words, "Behold! The Lamb     of God!" 3.  When Jesus called His disciples, He said, "Follow Me!"  In what ways     do these words apply to you in this 20th century? 4.  Read Luke 23:44-49; 24:1-8.  If you had been living, how would you     have felt at Jesus' crucifixion?  At the news of His resurrection? 5.  Now read John 14:7-11.  In what ways should Jesus' life influence your     life?



                            2.  Acts:  History

    The hopes of Jesus' disciples were crushed when Jesus died.  His crucifixion had left them scattered and disillusioned.  The news of His resurrection, however, brought them hope, and His appearance transformed them.  Form that little band of men, the church grew rapidly to worldwide dimensions.  The book of Acts tells the story of the beginnings of the church.  We will look at it under four headings:  power, proclamation, persecution, and Paul.

    Power (Acts 1 - 2:13).  Before Jesus ascended to the Father, He told His disciples to wait in Jerusalem until the coming of the Holy Spirit. Ten days later, as the disciples were gathered on the Day of Pentecost, the Holy Spirit came.

    Now when the Day of Pentecost had fully come, they were all with     one accord in one place.  And suddenly there came a sound from     heaven, as of a rushing mighty wind, and it filled the whole     house where they were sitting.  Then there appeared to them     divided tongues, as of fire, and one sat upon each of them.  And     they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak with     other tongues, as the Spirit gave them utterance (Acts 2:1-4).

This marked the beginning of the church, the "called out ones" of all generations who compose the body of Christ.  What appeared to be flames rested on each of the disciples, and they began to speak in foreign languages they had never learned.  A sound like a howling wind caused a crowd to gather, and people from many countries heard the disciples speaking in their native dialects.  That great institution for this age, the church, had begun.

    Proclamation (2:14 - 3:26).  Jesus had said that the disciples would receive power to become His witnesses.  The very day they received that power, they began to proclaim Christ.  Peter stood and addressed the crowd with great courage.  The theme of his sermon was this:  you crucified you long-awaited Messiah, but God raised Him from the dead.  When the people asked what they should do, Peter replied:

    Repent, and let every one of you be baptized in the name of Jesus     Christ for the remission of sins; and you shall receive the gift     of the Holy Spirit (2:38).

That day about 3,000 people trusted in Christ, and the church began to grow.  Peter and John preached again in Solomon's portico, and many more believed in the saving message of the gospel.

    Persecution (Acts 4:1 - 8:3).  With growth came opposition.  Peter and John were arrested for preaching, threatened, and ordered to stop.  But they refused to obey the order and prayed for even more boldness to preach. The Sadducees were jealous of the apostles popularity, so they had them arrested and imprisoned.  After they were freed by an angel, the apostles were recaptured and brought before the Jewish council, where they were beaten and commanded not to preach.  They told the council that they would obey God rather than men, and they continued daily in their preaching and teaching.

    The religious leaders hatred of the Christians finally focused on Stephen.  When he was brought before the high priest, Stephen preached with tremendous power, concluding his address with these strong words of condemnation:

    You stiffnecked and uncircumcised in heart and ears!  You always     resist the Holy Spirit; as your fathers did, so do you.  Which of     the prophets did your fathers not persecute?  And they killed     those who foretold the coming of the Just One, of whom you now     have become the betrayers and murderers, who have received the     law by the direction of angels and have not kept it. (Acts 7:51-     53).

The crowd was furious.  Stirred up by the religious leaders, they stoned Stephen to death.  A man in that crowd named Saul held the garments of those who threw the rocks.  He then took the lead in persecuting Christians, going from house to house and imprisoning men and women alike. The followers of Jesus fled Jerusalem, and wherever they scattered they took the gospel with them.  Some went to Damascus, and Saul got permission to go and arrest them.

    Paul (Acts 9:1 - 28:31).  As Saul was traveling to Damascus, a brilliant light stopped him and forced him to the ground.  A voice spoke to him from the light.  When Saul asked who was speaking, Jesus identified Himself.  In an instant Saul was converted.  He said, "Lord, what do you want me to do?"  Blinded, he was led to the house of Ananias in Damascus, where his sight was restored.

    What a transformation!  The persecutor became a follower; the antagonist became a believer.  He would become the great missionary to the Gentiles -- the one who would break the European barrier and take the gospel to the very heart of Rome itself.

    Paul was called to carry the gospel to the Gentiles.  Accompanied by Barnabas, Silas, or Timothy, he went into city after city to proclaim Christ.  His method was to go to the synagogue and teach as a rabbi. Usually the Jews would resist him, but he would still gather a following. He would then stay in the city, meet with the believers in homes, and continue to preach and teach as long as it was safe.  Sometimes it would take beatings, scourgings, or imprisonment to make him move on.  Thousands believed and churches were established in private homes.  After Paul moved on, he often wrote to the churches to confirm the believers in the faith, to correct their doctrine, or instruct them in Christian behavior.

    The day came when Paul could no longer avoid imprisonment.  He was arrested in jerusalem, where he appealed to his Roman citizenship.  He was transported at night to Caesarea, before being sent to Rome, where he remained under house arrest for 2 years.  But he was still able to preach and teach and correspond with the churches he had planted.

    The initial work was done.  The church, firmly established in Jerusalem, had spread throughout the Roman world.  Many thousands of people from all walks of life had believed.  And the flame that was ignited on pentecost still burns brightly today.

                                Seeing God

    We can know God better through the history of the church recorded in Acts.  Consider the following:

1.  In the coming of the Comforter, we see that God does not leave His     people without help (Acts 2). 2.  In the establishment and growth of the church, we see that God has     provided for the spiritual and personal needs of believers (Acts 2:40-     47). 3.  In the boldness of the disciples, we see the power of the Holy Spirit     available to us today (Acts 4:33). 4.  In the persecution of the Christians, we see the way God turns     adversity into opportunity and accomplishment (Acts 8:4). 5.  In the missionary journeys, we see how God backs up His commission     with His help (Acts 16:20-26).

                              Your Response

    The historical account of Acts should cause us to ask some probing questions of ourselves.  Read and answer the following passages and questions:

1.  Read Acts 4:33.  When was the last time you spoke boldly for Christ in     the power of the Holy Spirit? 2.  Read Acts 5:40,40; 7:59,60; 16:20-25.  Have you ever been persecuted     for your faith in Christ?  What was your response? 3.  Read Acts 20:17-28.  How are you supporting the church's effort to     meet the world's need? 4.  Read Acts 20:31-38.  What kind of influence are you having on people? 5.  Read Acts 28:30,31.  In what specific ways are you letting Christ use     you to build up His church?

                        3.  Letters:  Instruction

    In the city of Corinth, a group of people responded to Paul's preaching, became Christians, and formed a church.  But they were involved in immorality, division, and strife.  In Philippi, a discouraged group of believers needed lifting up.  In Rome, a loyal band of Christ's followers needed to clarify their beliefs about righteousness, the Law, and sanctification.  They had questions about the Christian's everyday life. The believers at Thessalonica needed to know about Christ's return and the last days.  In Ephesus, the leaders needed instruction about their position in Christ.  Elsewhere, Christains were suffering and didn't understand why. False teachers were infiltrating churches and threatening to undermine the work.  A pastor at Crete needed encouragement.

    What was the best way to meet the needs of the growing church?  The apostles couldn't be everywhere at once.  So they sent letters (also known as epistles) to explain Christian teaching, to inspire God's people to holiness, and to tell them how to live.

    The churches or individuals who received these letters were no doubt overjoyed when they arrived.  They were read aloud to the congregation and passed around from church to church.  Copies were made with meticulous care for other churches.  Believers began to collect them.  All in all, 21 such letters were judged to be inspired, and they became a major portion of the New Testament.

    Although there is some history and some biography in these letters, they were primarily written to amplify the teaching of Jesus Christ.  Most of them were written either to local bodies of believers (such as those at Corinth or Rome) or to pastors (Timothy and Titus).  The age that began at Pentecost is known as the church age, and these letters talk about church life.  Among other things, they give instruction regarding:

    *    The unity of the church (Eph. 2:11-22).     *    The worship of the church (1 Cor. 14:26-40).     *    The leaders of the church (1 Tim. 3; Titus 1).     *    The discipline of the church (1 Tim. 6:3-5).     *    The ordinances of the church (1 Cor. 11:23-30).     *    The preaching of the church (2 Tim. 4:2).

    Although the epistles were church-centered, they were also useful for individuals.  A person with the opportunity to read them would learn the principles to govern his conduct with his fellow believers and before the world.  Here's a sample:

    *    We are to love one another (Rom. 12:10).     *    We are to submit to government (Rom. 13:1).     *    We are to imitate Christ (Eph. 5:1).     *    We are to care for one another (1 Cor. 16:1).     *    We are not to speak evil of anyone (Titus 3:2).     *    We are to confess our sins (1 John 1:9).

    These 21 letters were also written to define and clarify the basic beliefs of Christianity.  For example:

    *    Jesus Christ is God (Col. 1:13-19).     *    The Holy Spirit indwells every believer (1 Cor.

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