How does one grasp the essence of the New Testament? Simply put, the New Testament is about promises fulfilled in Jesus.
Jesus himself understands the out-working of his ministry as the fulfillment of Israel’s promises concerning the Messiah (Luke 24:27). The New Testament is an entire Testament written to fulfill the promises left unfulfilled in the Old Testament. Thus, the New Testament forms the second part of the Christian Scriptures. One should be careful when reading the New Testament to see how many quotations and allusions there are to the Old Testament. The New Testament was not written in isolation from the Old Testament. The message of the New Testament is the fulfillment of the Old Testament promises concerning Jesus.
It is also important to think through the various sections of the New Testament and their unique perspective and emphasis on Jesus. Each section points in a unique way to show how Jesus fulfills God’s promises.
The Gospels tell the story of the earthly ministry of Jesus. The Gospels tell about his birth, ministry, death and resurrection. In regards to Jesus’s birth, he is revealed as one who comes within the same genealogical line of the great men and women of the Old Testament (Matt 1:1–17; Luke 3:23–38).The Gospel of Matthew records five quotations of the Old Testament within the first two chapters to show how Jesus’s birth is the fulfillment of Old Testament promises (Matt 1:22–23; 2:5–6; 2:15; 2:17–18; 2:23). In the Gospel of Luke there are faithful people within Israel who see his coming as the promised redemption of Israel (Luke 2:25–38).
The book of Acts narrates the continuation of the ministry of Jesus through the person and work of the Holy Spirit (Acts 1:1–3). The book of Acts begins with the ascension of Jesus into heaven and the coming of the Holy Spirit. These two events are described in Peter’s sermon (Acts 2:17–36). The book of Acts reveals that Jesus, the crucified Messiah, is now enthroned in heaven at God’s right hand having full authority (Acts 2:32–36). In the power of the Holy Spirit, the ministry of Jesus is extended to all peoples and all nations. The book of Acts gives us a unique insight into the early preaching of the church (Acts 3:12–36; 4:8–12; 5:29–32; 7:1–53; 8:26–35). As the gospel is preached in a Jewish context the early messages were to reveal that Jesus was indeed Israel’s Messiah. God had validated him through the resurrection and the sending of the Holy Spirit. After the conversion of Saul (later named Paul) the early missionary activity of the church reveals how Jesus’s ministry fulfilled the promises that all the nations would be blessed through the Messiah. The three missionary journeys of Paul show the gospel extending to the ends of the earth. The book of Acts closes with Paul under Roman imprisonment while the gospel is still flourishing. The disciples of Jesus must walk Jesus’s road of suffering and gospel proclamation before God vindicates their faithfulness through their future resurrection.
The Pauline epistles give unique insight into how Paul, a persecutor of the church, has been transformed into an evangelist proclaiming the gospel in multiple cultures. Paul who denied that Jesus was Israel’s Messiah is transformed into one of Jesus’s most passionate converts. Paul envisioned a Redeemer that would deliver the nation of Israel from foreign oppression, but was reoriented to see Jesus, the risen and exalted Messiah, as indeed Lord of heaven and earth. Paul believed that the person who trusts in Jesus experiences this divine resurrection life. Paul believed that the church has been constituted and empowered as the new people of God for this age. This group has been chosen, called and justified in Christ and empowered by the Holy Spirit as the body of Christ on earth.
Paul’s letters deal with church issues while reiterating the message about Jesus. There are many Christological statements made throughout these letters that give us insight into Paul’s understanding of Jesus (Phil 2:6–11; Col 1:15–20; 1 Tim 2:5–6; 1 Tim 3:16). These show both the deity, humility, exaltation and present lordship of Jesus. Paul’s pastoral desire for the church, the new community, is to embody Christ’s life in them (Gal 2:19–21; Col 3:1–4). At the same time, misappropriation or misunderstanding of how to experience Jesus’s life is corrected throughout Paul’s letters.
The general epistles include Hebrews, James, 1 & 2 Peter, 1, 2, & 3 John and Jude. The general epistles generally have a more Jewish background. In each book the deity of Jesus is assumed and his fulfillment of Old Testament promises are elaborated. The book of Hebrews reveals how Jesus is the fulfillment of all that the priesthood and its functions foreshadowed (Heb 5–8). Jesus himself was the perfect sacrifice that was able to conquer sin once and for all (Heb 10:10). Jesus enacts a new covenant that will enable greater accessibility to God (Heb 8:7–9:28). The book of James primarily uses Old Testament images to set forth instruction for Christian living. 1 & 2 Peter use many Old Testament titles to disclose spiritual realities made possible through Jesus. 1, 2, & 3 John give assurance of one’s salvation and encourage the church to continue in the truthfulness of Jesus’s message. Finally, Jude uses many Old Testament images to encourage the church to contend for the faith.
The book of Revelation gives a vision of the risen Jesus ready to come, judge and redeem the world. The New Testament ends with hopeful anticipation of the future. Jesus will return to his earth and bring to fulfillment all that is yet promised for the Christian. The vision of this reigning Jesus is not unique to Revelation. His rule has been understood since the book of Acts. However, the book of Revelation states that Jesus will one day visibly, bodily return to his earth to both judge and redeem his world (Rev 22:12–13).
It is important to understand that while the message of the New Testament is a unified message, it is not uniform. God has chosen various writers with different personalities in diverse situations to communicate the richness of the person and work of Christ. Thus, one should be able to appreciate the diversity of witnesses to the person of Jesus while embracing the central message each of these witnesses gives. While the New Testament does possess a variety of voices, all of these voices point to the same Jesus. He is the one in whom Israel’s promises are fulfilled and all humanity can find life in him! He is the Savior who calls all people to believe in him as the Lord of life. It is the personal encounter of faith that responds to his call, “Come follow Me.”
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