Four hundred years of silence followed Malachi’s message in the Old Testament . . . No written or spoken revelation from God . . . And then suddenly, out of the silence . . .
Matthew records an angelic proclamation that the Messiah would be born to a virgin in Bethlehem, just as the prophets foretold, and continues on to tell, from his unique perspective as one of Jesus’ disciples, of the birth of Jesus, the Messiah, his life, his baptism, his earthly ministry, his miracles, his crucifixion, his resurrection, and his final charge to his disciples (followers).
“Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age” (Matthew 28:19-20).
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All four of the Gospels (Matthew, Mark, Luke and John) record events from Jesus’ earthly life and ministry, but Mark, or John Mark as he is called in the book of Acts, omits Jesus’ ancestry and birth and starts his record with Jesus’ baptism and ministry, focusing more so on Christ’s humanity.
“Then he called the crowd to him along with his disciples and said: ‘Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me. For whoever wants to save their life will lose it, but whoever loses their life for me and for the gospel will save it” (Mark 8:34-35).
Luke, a medical doctor, a gentile, and the author of both this gospel and the book of Acts, focused largely on Jesus’ healing ministry in his account of Jesus’ life, and his two-volume set of Luke and Acts (written for Theophilus) gives us an overview of Christ, the origins of Christianity, and the birth of the Church!
“Many have undertaken to draw up an account of the things that have been fulfilled among us, just as they were handed down to us by those who from the first were eyewitnesses and servants of the word. With this in mind, since I myself have carefully investigated everything from the beginning, I too decided to write an orderly account for you, most excellent Theophilus, so that you may know the certainty of the things you have been taught” (Luke 1:1-4).
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John, one of Jesus’ 12 disciples, and one of the “sons of thunder” along with his brother, James, wrote his gospel after the other three were written and focused his eyewitness account on supplying supplemental information, perspective and details complementary to the other gospels.
“For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life” (John 3:16).
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Luke’s second volume written for Theophilus, more aptly named, “The Acts of the Holy Spirit through the Apostles,” starts with Jesus’ ascension into heaven and last instructions to his disciples (followers), followed by a description of how, through the power of the Holy Spirit, the apostles (messengers) spread the good news (gospel) about the resurrected Savior and birthed the Church!
“But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth” (Acts 1:8).
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The Apostle Paul, a Roman citizen and a Pharisee, whose miraculous conversion was recorded in the book of Acts, was largely responsible for the spread of the gospel throughout the Roman Empire and wrote a total of thirteen books of the New Testament in the form of letters, known as the Pauline Epistles, Romans being Paul’s letter to the early church in Rome (a church founded by Paul and Peter), focused primarily on the righteousness that comes only from God.
“For I am not ashamed of the gospel, because it is the power of God that brings salvation to everyone who believes: first to the Jew, then to the Gentile. For in the gospel the righteousness of God is revealed – a righteousness that is by faith from first to last, just as it is written: ‘The righteous will live by faith’” (Romans 1:16-17).
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This letter, known to us as 1 Corinthians, Paul’s second epistle to the church in Corinth (the first having been lost) and a reply to a letter the church had written to him asking for clarification on several issues, contained mainly corrective instruction for the Corinthian believers on matters including carnality, sin, worship, righteousness and spiritual gifts.
“Or do you not know that wrongdoers will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived: Neither the sexually immoral nor idolaters nor adulterers nor men who have sex with men nor thieves nor the greedy nor drunkards nor slanderers nor swindlers will inherit the kingdom of God. And that is what some of you were. But you were washed, you were sanctified, you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and by the Spirit of our God” (1 Corinthians 6:9-11).
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Paul’s fourth epistle to the church in Corinth (the first and third not included in Scripture), was written after Paul received troubling news that the church was being deceived by false apostles who were also maligning Paul’s character and slandering his ministry, prompting this intensely personal letter defending his divinely-appointed apostleship.
“Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, the new creation has come: The old has gone, the new is here!” (2 Corinthians 5:17).
The only one of Paul’s epistles written to more than one church (likely the churches in Antioch, Iconium, Lystra and Derbe), was written to counter false teaching and heresy undermining the doctrine of justification by faith.
“I have been crucified with Christ and I no longer live, but Christ lives in me. The life I now live in the body, I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me. I do not set aside the grace of God, for if righteousness could be gained through the law, Christ died for nothing!” (Galatians 2:20-21).
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Paul’s letter to the church in Ephesus, one of the four “Prison Epistles” (letters written by Paul from prison), was written to a church started by Priscilla and Aquila, to encourage and remind the Ephesian believers of the immense love God had for them and to challenge them to walk in a manner worthy of that love.
“And I pray that you, being rooted and established in love, may have power, together with all the Lord's holy people, to grasp how wide and long and high and deep is the love of Christ, and to know this love that surpasses knowledge – that you may be filled to the measure of all the fullness of God” (Ephesians 3:17b-19).
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Another of the four “Prison Epistles,” Paul reminded the church in Philippi to rejoice in the midst of tribulation and suffering, and to seek to know Christ and be found in him, which is greater by far than any other pursuit or gain!
“…I consider everything a loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord, for whose sake I have lost all things. I consider them garbage, that I may gain Christ and be found in him, not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but that which is through faith in Christ – the righteousness that comes from God on the basis of faith” (Philippians 3:8-9).
Another “Prison Epistle,” this letter, written to the church in Colosse (a church founded by Epaphras), was a reminder to get back to the basics of Christianity; namely that Christ alone (and not intellectualism or higher spiritual knowledge) is sufficient for salvation.
“See to it that no one takes you captive through hollow and deceptive philosophy, which depends on human tradition and the elemental spiritual forces of this world rather than on Christ” (Colossians 2:8).
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Nine of the thirteen Pauline epistles are full of wisdom from the heart of a shepherd to a flock (or flocks), and Paul’s letters to the church in Thessalonica focus on encouraging them for their faith, love, and endurance, as well as challenging them in regards to purity, temptation, holiness, and hope.
“May God himself, the God of peace, sanctify you through and through. May your whole spirit, soul and body be kept blameless at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ. The one who calls you is faithful, and he will do it” (1 Thessalonians 5:23-24).
In this second letter, Paul wrote the church in Thessalonica to encourage them in the face of persecution and amidst confusion due to false teaching, providing spiritual comfort, correction/discipline, and caution.
“So then, brothers and sisters, stand firm and hold fast to the teachings we passed on to you, whether by word of mouth or by letter. May our Lord Jesus Christ himself and God our Father, who loved us and by his grace gave us eternal encouragement and good hope, encourage your hearts and strengthen you in every good deed and word” (2 Thessalonians 2:15-17).
This letter is one of four that Paul wrote to special individuals in his life, 1 and 2 Timothy being written to Timothy, Paul’s son in the faith, entrusting Timothy with the leadership of the church in Ephesus and encouraging him in his ministry.
“Timothy, my son, I am giving you this command in keeping with the prophecies once made about you, so that by recalling them you may fight the battle well, holding on to faith and a good conscience, which some have rejected and so have suffered shipwreck with regard to the faith” (1 Timothy 1:18-19).
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2 Timothy, written from a Roman prison, was the final epistle Paul wrote before he was executed, urging Timothy to visit him before he died and imparting final encouragement, wisdom and love, passing the metaphorical ministry mantle on to the next generation.
“I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith. Now there is in store for me the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous Judge, will award to me on that day---and not only to me, but also to all who have longed for his appearing” (2 Timothy 4:7-8).
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In this personal letter to another young man named Titus, a spiritual son and co-laborer in the gospel, Paul encourages, equips and counsels Titus in his ministry on the Mediterranean island of Crete.
“For the grace of God has appeared that offers salvation to all people. It teaches us to say “No” to ungodliness and worldly passions, and to live self-controlled, upright and godly lives in this present age, while we wait for the blessed hope – the appearing of the glory of our great God and Savior, Jesus Christ…” (Titus 2:11-13).
Philemon, a member of the church in Colosse and a slave owner, was the recipient of a brief letter from Paul regarding his slave, Onesimus, who had run away, met Paul in Rome, received the message of the gospel from Paul, converted to Christianity, and was returning to Philemon a changed man.
“It is as none other than Paul – an old man and now also a prisoner of Christ Jesus – that I appeal to you for my son Onesimus, who became my son while I was in chains. Formerly he was useless to you, but now he has become useful both to you and to me” (Philemon 1:9b-11).
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Written to Jewish Christians, the author is contested but the message is clear: Jesus is superior and sufficient, better than the angels, than Moses, than any other priest, covenant, or sacrifice.
“The Son is the radiance of God's glory and the exact representation of his being, sustaining all things by his powerful word. After he had provided purification for sins, he sat down at the right hand of the Majesty in heaven” (Hebrews 1:3).
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Another letter written to Jewish Christians, Jesus’ half brother, James, wrote this practical discourse on the topics of wisdom and true, living faith, almost like a compact, New Testament book of proverbs.
“Suppose a brother or a sister is without clothes and daily food. If one of you says to them, ‘Go in peace; keep warm and well fed,’ but does nothing about their physical needs, what good is it? In the same way, faith by itself, if it is not accompanied by action, is dead” (James 2:15-17).
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Paul wrote the majority of the epistles, but two of the letters in the New Testament were written by Peter to Jewish Christians who had been persecuted for their faith in Christ, encouraging them to live victoriously in the face of suffering.
“However, if you suffer as a Christian, do not be ashamed, but praise God that you bear that name. . . . So then, those who suffer according to God's will should commit themselves to their faithful Creator and continue to do good” (1 Peter 4:16, 19).
Whereas 1 Peter was written to encourage persecuted Christians, Peter, at the very end of his life, wrote 2 Peter to confront and expose false teachers and give instruction to Jewish believers on defending themselves against heresy and deception.
“Therefore, dear friends, since you have been forewarned, be on your guard so that you may not be carried away by the error of the lawless and fall from your secure position. But grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. To him be glory both now and forever! Amen” (2 Peter 3:17-18).
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1, 2 and 3 John were, in a sense, love letters written by the Apostle John, the last remaining apostle (who also wrote the Gospel of John and the book of Revelation) to churches and believers under his influence; 1 John presents the confidence believers can have in eternal life if obedience and love exist as evidences of true faith.
“I write these things to you who believe in the name of the Son of God so that you may know that you have eternal life” (1 John 5:13).
John wrote the very brief epistle of 2 John to “the lady chosen by God and to her children,” which may have indicated a church body or an actual sister in the faith but whatever the case, John exhorts her to have spiritual discernment in regards to itinerant false teachers (“deceivers”).
“Anyone who runs ahead and does not continue in the teaching of Christ does not have God; whoever continues in the teaching has both the Father and the Son” (2 John 1:9).
John’s third letter was a personal greeting to Gaius, a dear friend of John’s in the truth to whom John commended for his exemplary faith and faithfulness, starkly contrasted with another man named Diotrephes, mentioned toward the end of the letter who was not to be imitated.
“It gave me great joy when some believers came and testified about your faithfulness to the truth, telling how you continue to walk in it. I have no greater joy than to hear that my children are walking in the truth” (3 John 1:3-4).
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Warnings against false teaching were present in many of the New Testament books, indicating that it was a serious threat to the early church, and Jude, another of Jesus’ half brothers, deals primarily with the issue of apostasy in his short epistle, calling the church to contend for the faith and the truth.
“To him who is able to keep you from stumbling and to present you before his glorious presence without fault and with great joy – to the only God our Savior be glory, majesty, power and authority, through Jesus Christ our Lord, before all ages, now and forevermore! Amen” (Jude 1:24-25).
The 66 books of the Bible tell one cohesive story of redemption, beginning with the creation of the world and mankind, and concluding with a graphic, prophetical vision and depiction of the end times (written by the Apostle John), culminating in the eternal reign of the King of Kings and Lord of Lords, promising the reward of eternal life and joy for those who trusted in Him and eternal separation from God for those who rejected Him.
“Look, I am coming soon! My reward is with me, and I will give to each person according to what they have done. I am the Alpha and the Omega, the First and the Last, the Beginning and the End” (Revelation 22:12-13).
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To read our one-sentence summary of all the books of the Old Testament, click here!
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Originally published Thursday, 26 January 2023.