LESSON 6 – NEW TESTAMENT
THE GOSPELS AND ACTS
During the 400 years between the last book of the Old Testament and the New Testament there are historical records of this period of history but they were not included in the canon of Scripture because they were not recognised as inspired. This group of writings, called the Apocrypha, is included in the Roman Catholic Bible.
The story of the Old Testament is the story of God and people:
- His original plan was to create the earth as a suitable place for His family of humans to live together with one another and in harmony with the creation.
- The first pair rebelled and caused God’s plan to go awry.
- God set in motion His pre-determined plan to redeem the world and set it back on course to fulfil His purpose.
- He chose a man, Abraham and through him grew a nation which He would train, through His teachings (Torah) to live His way as a witness to the world of what He is like.
- Through this nation He would bring His Messiah to earth to pay the debt of sin and reconcile all of creation to Himself.
- His chosen nation rebelled and turned away from Him but He continued to show mercy to them by rescuing them from the consequences of their rebellion.
- When the time was right, He sent His Son, Jesus to earth as a human baby to live as a perfect Son, to show His people what the Father is like and to redeem the world from sin through His death on the cross.
The four Gospels and the book of Acts form the historical narrative that picks up the story of God’s people after the 400 silent years. Although God has always been active and involved with His people, He did not inspire a record of His activities during the 400 years between Malachi and Matthew.
The four gospels tell the story of Jesus but they each tell it from a different perspective and for a different purpose. They did not aim to present a chronological record of Jesus’ life but rather to arrange their material to fulfil their unique purpose,
- Matthew was a tax-collector and a disciple of Jesus. His name does not appear in the gospel as the author but the Early Church Fathers, from Papias, a disciple of John, on, “it has been accepted as the work of Matthew” (Halley’s Bible Handbook, Zondervan Publishing House, 23rd Edition, copyright 1962, page 413).
Matthew’s Gospel is the ‘royal’ gospel; he wrote for Jewish readers and presented Jesus as the King of the Jews and the fulfilment of Jewish prophecy.
He traced Jesus’ family line through King David; his birth narrative recorded the visit of the astrologers from the east who came looking for a king according to their interpretation of the position of the stars; the charge above His head read “This is Jesus, King of the Jews.”
He presented Jesus as the promised Messiah by showing that He was the fulfilment of Old Testament messianic prophecy.
One of Matthew’s themes was the kingdom of God. He arranged his material in blocks with narrative in between. Matthew 5-7 deals with the disposition and lifestyle of kingdom citizens; Matthew 13 contains a block of parables on the kingdom of heaven (God) and Matthew 18-22 has parables that deal with issues raised by His disciples and by the scribes and Pharisees who opposed Him.
The last week of Jesus’ life occupies approximately one third of Matthew’s narrative.
- “From the beginning and by unbroken tradition, this Gospel had been regarded as the work of Mark, containing, substantially, the Story of Jesus as told by Peter.” (Halley’s Bible Handbook, page 457).
“The name ‘John Mark’ occurs often in Acts and the Epistles. His mother had a house in Jerusalem where the early church met (Acts 12:12). And he was cousin to Paul’s companion, Barnabas” (The Lion Handbook to the Bible, edited by David and Pat Alexander, Lion Publishing, copyright 1973, page 499).
Mark presented Jesus as the servant, always busy, always serving people. There are no birth narratives – the birth of a servant is unimportant. There is far less teaching and lots of activity in Mark’s story. The word “immediately” occurs frequently. Mark’s account of Jesus’ life was probably Matthew and Luke’s primary source because of the similarities. Peter’s preaching is traditionally regarded as Mark’s source.
This gospel was probably written in Rome, directly from Peter, which accounts for the vividness of the story. Mark often explained Jewish customs, which suggests that he had non-Jewish readers in mind. He told the story roughly as things happened, moving quickly from Jesus” baptism to the cross and resurrection. Within this framework he grouped his material by subject.
The last week of Jesus’ life takes up about one third of Mark’s story.
- “Luke’s name is mentioned only three times in the New Testament: Colossians 4:14, where he is called the “Beloved Physician”, Philemon 24, where he is called Pauls “Fellow Worker”; and 2 Timothy 4:11, indicating that that he was with Paul in the dark hours of approaching martyrdom. In all three passages mention is made also of Mark, indicating that Mark and Luke were companion workers” (Halley’s Bible Handbook, page 484).
Luke presents Jesus as the Son of Man. The Holy Spirit is prominent in Luke’s story: Jesus is conceived by the Holy Spirit; the Holy Spirit drives Him into the wilderness to be tempted; He ministers in the power of the Spirit.
His birth is a very human story, a baby born in a downstairs room to a teenaged mother. His compassion for people shines through, especially His respect for women and the dignity and honour He gave them.
- John begins his narrative of Jesus “In the beginning”, reminding us of Genesis 1. This is the story of God becoming a man, no birth narrative, just the words “The Word became flesh”. His is the story of the Son of God becoming the Son of Man, and living as God in human form in order to reveal the Father and to reconcile and restore fallen humanity to fellowship with the Father.
John records is detail the conflict which Jesus had with the Jewish hierarchy, with heated debates, accusations and counter- accusations which inevitably ended in His assassination because of His alleged “blasphemous” claim to be the Son of God.
He constantly referred to Himself as “the Son”. It was His purpose, as the Son to reveal the Father, and for that reason He drew attention to Himself as the true model of the Father and to invite those who believed in Him to become sons of God as well.
The religious leaders reacted violently to His claim, “Before Abraham was, I AM.” Their resolve was cemented to do away with Him.
John records only seven miracles which he calls “signs”; each miracle had a specific purpose – to reveal the nature of the Son and the reason for His appearance.
Some of the signs are linked with His seven “I AM” sayings: I AM the bread of life followed the miracle of the loaves and fishes (John 6:35); I AM the resurrection and the life was linked to the raising of Lazarus (John 11:25); I AM the light of the world was spoken in the context of the healing of the blind man (John 9:5).
I AM the gate (Jon 10:7) and I Am the good shepherd (John 10:11) were spoken in the presence of the Pharisees who saw themselves as the shepherds of Israel. Jesus challenged that notion because they were acting as hirelings, not true shepherds.
The last two I Am sayings, I AM the way, the truth and the life (John 14:6) and I AM the true vine (John 15:1) were designed to strengthen the disciples’ confidence in Him on the eve of His crucifixion. It was important that they did not lose faith in Him in spite of what lay ahead. The Holy Spirit who was to come would bring back to mind what He had taught them in the days to come after He had returned to the Father.
It was in the second last chapter of the book that John stated his purpose for writing. He could record only a fragment of everything Jesus had done during His earthly life: “But these are written that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life through His name” John 20:31.
Scripture taken from THE HOLY BIBLE, NEW INTERNATIONAL VERSION®, NIV® Copyright © 1973, 1978, 1984, 2011 by Biblica, Inc.® Used by permission. All rights reserved worldwide.
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