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Come, follow Jesus! (the real Jesus)
online edition of the book by David A. Reed
The Gospel in simple terms for nonbelievers and new believers.
How to become a follower of Jesus Christ, and live as Jesus commanded

Home  |   Jesus said, "Come, follow me."  |   How can you follow Jesus?  |   "But I'm a sinful person, not fit to be a follower of Jesus!"  |   Your new life as a follower of Jesus  |   Find fellowship with other followers of Jesus  |   Your prayer life  |   Know your Bible  |   Your service to God  |   "Jezebel" in the churches  |   "If we deliberately keep on sinning . . ."  |   Why believe the Bible?  |   Who is Jesus?  |   What did Jesus teach?  |   What is life really all about  |   Angels and demons  |   Gray areas, mysteries and religious authorities  |   What Jesus revealed about life after death  |   'But my relatives won't like it if I follow Jesus!'  |   Watching for Christ's return  |   How I came to follow Jesus: the testimony of David A. Reed  |   Why this book?  |   Dedication, copyright, ISBN & Scripture references

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Know your Bible

If you wish to follow Jesus, the best way to learn how to do it is to prayerfully read the Bible.  In his first letter to a young Christian leader named Timothy (a letter that became part of the Bible’s New Testament) the Apostle Paul encouraged him to

devote yourself to the public reading of Scripture” —1 Timothy 4:13 NIV


And Paul’s second letter to Timothy added this explanation:

“All Scripture is inspired by God and is useful to teach us what is true and to make us realize what is wrong in our lives.  It straightens us out and teaches us to do what is right.  It is God's way of preparing us in every way, fully equipped for every good thing God wants us to do.” —2 Timothy 3:16-17 NLT


Reading the Bible may seem like an overwhelming task.  After all, it is a big thick book filled with strange-sounding names and places. But it is well worth the effort.  Reading while taking my daily walk on a treadmill, it takes me a little longer than a year to read the whole Bible, cover to cover.  Having done this for years, I can no longer count how many times I’ve read it.  Each time, I notice things I had not noticed before, learn new things and grow stronger in faith. 


Each time I read through the Bible from cover to cover, I use a different translation.  You may want to start out with a translation like the New Century Version (NCV) that renders the original Hebrew and Greek into simple English that is easy to understand.


Can an ordinary person really read the Bible and understand it?  Well, there are plenty of preachers who will tell you No—either directly or subtly telling you that you need professional help to understand the Bible.  They will gladly encourage you to listen to them instead of reading the Bible on your own.  In fact, there were times in European history when church leaders and clergymen actively prevented people from reading Scripture, and even made doing so punishable by death.  Lovers of the Bible like William Tyndale and John Huss were burned at the stake in the early 1500’s for translating the Scriptures into their local language so that ordinary people could read the Bible.  Corrupt church leaders at that time, eager to hold on to power and money, jealously guarded their position as the official interpreters of God’s written Word. 


Actually, one of the biggest lies told about the Bible is the claim that theologians and professional clergy are needed to explain and interpret it to the common man.  That is a lie, because the Bible was written for the average man and woman to understand.  It was written for dock workers and farm hands, housewives and laborers—not for intellectual professionals.  As an author, I know it is easy to write a book that only educated intellectuals will understand;  an author can accomplish this by using extremely complex sentence structure and technical jargon that the average person is unfamiliar with.  But how can someone write a book that ordinary people can understand, while hiding its truths from well-educated intellectuals?  That would be impossible for a human author.  But God knows how to do this.  In fact, that is what Jesus said to his heavenly Father in prayer concerning the Gospel message:

“Jesus said, ‘I praise you, Father, Lord of heaven and earth, because you have hidden these things from the wise and learned, and revealed them to little children. Yes, Father, for this is what you were pleased to do.’”                                                                               —Matthew 11:25-26 NIV


Simple, uneducated people can grasp the Gospel message when prayerfully reading the Bible, while highly-educated professionals often miss the point despite their scholarly study.


The Apostle Paul expressed a similar thought when he wrote this about the sort of people who grasp and respond to the message about Christ:

“It is written in the Scriptures:  ‘I will cause the wise to lose their wisdom;  I will make the wise unable to understand.’  [Isaiah 29:14]  Where is the wise person? Where is the educated person?  Where is the skilled talker of this world? . . . Brothers and sisters, look at what you were when God called you. Not many of you were wise in the way the world judges wisdom. . . . God chose the foolish things of the world to shame the wise . . .”                                                         —1 Corinthians 1:19-27 NCV


So, don’t ever feel that you are unqualified to read the Bible on your own.  Pray for understanding, and God will open up the meaning of the Scriptures to you as you read.


If you are reading the Bible for the first time, you may find it helpful to begin with the New Testament, starting in the Gospel of Matthew—so that you will be introduced right away to Jesus and his teachings.  Then afterwards follow up by reading the Old Testament which provides the background that will give you a deeper understanding of the Christian message.


The first part of the Bible, the Old Testament, records the history of God’s dealings with mankind from the creation of the first humans until around 2500 years ago.  It explains how the first humans became separated from God through their own disobedience—and how their offspring spread out over the surface of the earth, multiplied rapidly and developed societies, cultures and religions devoid of any knowledge of the true God.


Eventually, God re-introduced himself to twelve tribes of slaves in Egypt, led them out of captivity, and established them as the nation of Israel, governed by laws God dictated to the prophet Moses.  The first five books of the Bible—Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers and Deuteronomy—contain those laws.  And the rest of the Old Testament tells how the people of Israel broke those laws over the following centuries.  Meanwhile, the rest of the human race stumbled in darkness, guided by man-made philosophies and religions that barely reflected any recollection of the Creator their ancestors had abandoned thousands of years earlier.


The Old Testament also predicts a time when God would send his Messiah or Christ (meaning appointed leader) to bring people back to God—not just the Jews but people of all nations.  At God’s appointed time, he stepped in by sending his Son to earth—born as a human child to a carpenter’s virgin wife in the town of Bethlehem, not far from Jerusalem.


The Bible’s New Testament begins with four accounts of Jesus’ life and teachings.  These Gospels of Matthew, Mark, Luke and John all tell how Jesus called the Jewish people back to God and assigned his followers the work of taking his message to all races and nations around the world.  They also tell how Jesus gave his life sacrificially—through a horribly painful death on a Roman execution cross—to ransom the rest of us from sin and death.  Yes, he died in our place, so that we might have the hope of eternal life.  More than that, he rose from the dead on the third day, was seen by hundreds of eye witnesses, and now lives at the right hand of God the Father in heaven.  He is the living Savior of all who turn to him in faith and obedience.


The Acts of the Apostles follows the four Gospels in our Bibles.  Written by a medical doctor named Luke, a traveling companion of the Apostle Paul, who also wrote the Gospel of Luke, the book of Acts details the spread of Christianity into Europe and Asia Minor.


The rest of the New Testament consists mainly of letters written by Paul, the Apostles Peter and John, and early disciples James and Jude.  These letters address issues that troubled the early churches, and they provide guidance for everyone who wants to follow Jesus. 


Our Bibles conclude with the book of Revelation, a prophetic vision the risen Christ gave to the Apostle John while John was in prison for preaching the Gospel. 


A collection of sixty-six books and letters by dozens of different writers, the Bible was written over a span of roughly 1600 years.  The books and letters are arranged partly according to chronology, but are also grouped together according to whether they are histories, letters, prophetic writings or poetic, so they are not found in a strictly chronological order.


Here is a more detailed introduction to the various books of the Bible:



OLD TESTAMENT


Genesis


The first of the five Books of Moses, Genesis tells the history of mankind from the very beginning.  It recounts how God created the first human pair and how they rebelled against God’s commands and thus brought sin into the world and passed on a sinful nature—an inborn tendency to sin—to their offspring.  The world of Adam and Eve’s offspring eventually became so corrupt that God sent a flood to wipe mankind off the face of the earth, except for four married couples who were preserved in a huge floating box or ark. 


Genesis then goes on to record how the planet was repopulated from these four couples.  After several generations their descendents forgot about God and became technologically advanced enough to build a city and begin working on a skyscraper, but God intervened by causing different family groups to speak different languages, so they could not understand each other any longer and had to abandon the project.  Those family groups then separated and spread abroad on the earth. Genesis details how their offspring became the ancestors of the races and nations we know today.


Mankind in general took up worshiping idols made of wood, stone or metal, but a few individuals remained faithful to the true God, the Creator.  The Genesis account tells the history of one of these individuals, Abraham, who became the ancestor of the nations that eventually inhabited the areas now covered by Israel, Jordan, Syria and Lebanon.  God made a covenant (formal agreement) with Abraham to make him a father of nations and to give the land of Canaan to his offspring.  Abraham questioned God about his plan to destroy the wicked men of Sodom and Gomorrah—an episode that is referred back to in other books of the Bible as a warning example.


Abraham’s grandson Jacob was renamed Israel, and became the father of the Jewish people.  So, Genesis then begins the story of the Jews, who were selected by the Creator to preserve this early history, to receive and preserve God’s written laws by writing the Bible, and to suffer many things over the centuries as instructive examples for the rest of mankind.. 


Exodus


Although they had immigrated to Egypt originally as honored guests, Israel’s descendents were later forced into slavery to the Egyptians.  Exodus records how God intervened to remind a new generation who he is, and to free that generation of Israelites from slavery and lead them out of Egypt.


It tells the life story of Moses, who is credited with writing the first five books of the Bible.  These five books—Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers and Deuteronomy—set out more than six hundred laws given by God to the Jewish people.  These laws were part of a formal agreement or covenant between God and the people of Israel. 


As you read the laws promulgated in the books of Moses, keep in mind that they fall into different groups. 


Some were laws designed to keep the Jewish people separate and apart from their neighbors, so that they could preserve intact their identity as a separate people to serve a unique purpose down through the centuries, and not eventually blend in with the rest of mankind.  (Regulations requiring the Jews to eat special food, and to dress and groom in peculiar ways, were among the laws given to keep them separate from their neighbors.) 


Others were ceremonial laws detailing how God wanted the Israelites to worship him—through rituals and animal sacrifices that symbolically foreshadowed the sacrificial death of the Messiah to come.  These laws regarding worship also taught general principles that apply to all mankind in our relationship with God.


And other laws taught the Jews how God wanted them to behave in all aspects of their lives.  These laws, too, shed light on how God wants all of us to behave.   For example, some regulated business dealings:  “Don’t cheat hired servants who are poor and needy, whether they are fellow Israelites or foreigners living in one of your towns.”  (Deut. 24:14 NCV)  Other regulations required kindness to animals:  “When an ox is working in the grain, do not cover its mouth to keep it from eating.”  (Deut. 25:4 NCV)  Others set standards for sanitation:  “When you are camped in time of war . . .  Choose a place outside the camp where people may go to relieve themselves.  Carry a tent peg with you, and when you relieve yourself, dig a hole and cover up your dung.”  (Deut. 23:9-13 NCV)  Many laws required the Jews to treat people fairly and kindly:  “If an escaped slave comes to you, do not hand over the slave to his master.  Let the slave live with you anywhere he likes, in any town he chooses.  Do not mistreat him.”  (Deut. 23:15-16 NCV)  Although these laws strictly applied only to those under their jurisdiction—the Jewish people—they give us insight into how God wants people to treat one another in matters involving property, business dealings, marriage, sexual morality, and daily life.. 


Leviticus


This Bible book takes its name from Levi, one of Israel’s twelve sons whose offspring were selected to serve as priests, temple workers and teachers of God’s law to the nation descended from Israel.  Leviticus continues to spell out these laws in detail.  It also begins to enumerate the punishments God would bring on the Jewish nation if they failed to keep God’s laws.  Eventually, if they persisted in breaking his laws and refused to repent, God said, “I will scatter you among the nations and will draw out my sword and pursue you. Your land will be laid waste, and your cities will lie in ruins.”—Lev. 26:33 NIV


Numbers


This book of Moses takes its name from the fact that it begins with a census numbering “all the men in Israel twenty years old or more who are able to serve in the army.”  (Num. 1:3 NIV)  It details the wanderings of the twelve tribes of Israel through wilderness and desert lands, and records events that give insight into God’s ways of dealing with mankind.


Deuteronomy


The last of the five books of Moses, Deuteronomy summarizes and repeats some of the material of the other four, restating the Ten Commandments and various laws as well as retelling some of the history of the Israelites from shortly after their departure from Egypt until the death of Moses across the Jordan River from the Promised Land. 


A number of chapters in Deuteronomy are devoted to outlining the blessings that would come to the Jewish people if they kept God’s laws and the curses that would come upon them if they broke God’s laws.  Ultimately, if they failed to keep their agreement with God, he would drive them out of the Promised Land.  Moreover, he told them, “You will become a thing of horror and an object of scorn and ridicule to all the nations where the LORD will drive you.     . . . the LORD will scatter you among all nations, from one end of the earth to the other.”  (Deut. 28:37, 64 NIV)  This prophecy was fulfilled hundreds of years later, and its fulfillment continued even thousands of years later, into modern times.  The worldwide “scorn and ridicule” against the Jews came to be called “anti-Semitism,” and the Jewish people were scattered among all the nations until the rebirth of the nation of Israel in 1948. 


Moses completed the writing of the first five books of the Bible before his death some time around 1500 years before the birth of Christ, and the books of Moses are referred to and quoted from in many of the later books of the Bible.


Joshua


Moses died at the edge of the Promised Land, leaving the people under the command of Joshua who had been his lieutenant.  The book of Joshua documents the Israelites’ miraculous crossing of the Jordan River into the land of Canaan, and their conquest of the land, eventually dividing it among their tribes.


Judges


Instructed by God to annihilate the wicked inhabitants of Canaan, the Israelites failed to do so completely.  As a result they were repeatedly ensnared by the false gods and idols worshipped by those people, and God punished them by allowing nearby enemies to harass and dominate them.  Then God would raise up a “judge” or liberator to defeat the oppressors.  This book takes its name from those judges.


Far from being saintly, perfect figures, the Bible reveals the humanity, frailty and sinfulness even of such heroic personages—this candid honesty serving as evidence of the divine inspiration of the Scriptures in an age when leaders of pagan nations were usually painted in glowing terms.


Ruth


During a time of famine a couple from Bethlehem took refuge in the nearby land of Moab, together with their two sons.  The husband died, and the two sons married Moabite women.  Then the sons died as well, leaving the Israelite woman and her two daughters-in-law, one of whom was named Ruth.  Since the famine was over, the Israelite woman decided to return home.  When she said goodbye to her daughters-in-law, Ruth insisted on going home with her instead of returning to her own people.  “Where you go I will go, and where you stay I will stay,” she said.  “Your people will be my people and your God my God.”  (Ruth 1:16 NIV)


More than just a sweet story of loyalty, the book of Ruth concludes by telling how this Moabite woman took her place in the family line that later gave birth to king David.  And since Jesus’ mother Mary and foster father Joseph were both descendents of David, Ruth’s story also provides details of the ancestry of the Messiah.


1 & 2 Samuel


Likely written between 1000 B.C. and 1100 B.C., or thereabouts, the books of First and Second Samuel tell how God called a young boy, Samuel, to serve as his prophet, and how the nation of Israel came to be ruled by a king—first Saul from the tribe of Benjamin and then David from the tribe of Judah. 


David was a mere shepherd boy, the youngest among several brothers, but demonstrated courage and trust in God when he battled the Philistine warrior Goliath one-on-one, and God chose David to replace unfaithful Saul.  Yet even David is presented in these books with all his flaws and weaknesses, in contrast to the way histories of pagan nations of that time portrayed their kings as godlike heroes—again showing how the books of the Bible inspired by God differ from mere writings of men. 


Besides continuing to establish the royal lineage of the coming Messiah, these books also offer insight into God’s dealings with those who are chosen to serve him, both those who serve faithfully and those who deviate from God’s instructions. 


1 & 2 Kings


These books cover hundreds of years of history, from the final days of king David to the fall of Jerusalem to the Babylonian Empire—or from roughly 1000 B.C. to around 600 B.C.


God instructed David to have his son build a temple in Jerusalem.  King Solomon carried that out and was blessed with a peaceful reign lasting many decades.  Solomon was faithful to God during the early years of his reign, but married many foreign women who eventually led him to share in worshiping false gods and idols. 


Soon after Solomon’s death most of the tribes of Israel rejected his son and chose their own king.  The nation split into the northern kingdom of Israel and the southern kingdom of Judah.  Israel set up golden idols to be worshipped in two northern cities, so that subjects would not have to go to Jerusalem to worship at the temple in the southern kingdom’s territory.  Even the successive kings of Judah varied in their faithfulness to God, many of them promoting idolatry instead. 


Eventually the Jerusalem temple fell into disuse and disrepair, and the books of Moses containing God’s covenant and laws were lost and forgotten.   Finally during the reign of king Josiah the books of Moses were found in the temple.  The king read them aloud to the people, including the warnings mentioned above in Leviticus and Deuteronomy that the nation would be destroyed and its people scattered abroad if they proved unfaithful.  2 Kings records the fulfillment of this prophecy when God sent the Babylonian Empire to destroy Jerusalem.


1 & 2 Chronicles


While the history in 1 & 2 Kings alternates back and forth between discussing events in the northern kingdom of Israel and the southern kingdom of Judah, the account in 1 & 2 Chronicles covers roughly the same time span from the standpoint of Judah alone, for the most part.  It begins with extensive genealogical records, tracing the descent of mankind from Noah, and then focusing on the genealogy of the twelve tribes of Israel.  2 Chronicles concludes with a summary of the Jews’ decades-long captivity in Babylon, followed by the decree of Persian king Cyrus for the Jewish people to return to Jerusalem and rebuild the temple.


Ezra


The Babylonian Empire that destroyed Jerusalem and carried the Jews captive to Babylon was eventually itself defeated by the empire of the Medes and Persians.  Ezra begins with the official proclamation of king Cyrus of Persia for the Jews to return to Jerusalem and rebuild the temple.  It details the numbers who returned and the names of prominent individuals among them.  Ezra himself was one of the priests who returned  His book also relates the conflicts that occurred with non-Jews who had been transplanted into the land by conquering empires, and the conflicts among the Jews themselves as their leaders sought to re-establish temple worship and the laws given through Moses.


Nehemiah


A descendent of Jews who had been taken captive decades earlier, Nehemiah was cupbearer to Artaxerxes, ruler of the Medo-Persian empire, when it came to his attention that the work of rebuilding Jerusalem had stopped.  Nehemiah used his influence to obtain a letter from king Artaxerxes authorizing him to restart that work.  Nehemiah mentions Ezra the priest, and his book overlaps with Ezra’s account, but also continues through to the completion of rebuilding Jerusalem’s wall.


Esther


The book of Esther details an attempt by Haman, the Persian king’s prime minister, to exterminate the Jews throughout the Medo-Persian empire which, at that time, ruled most of the lands where Jews had been scattered during their captivity.  It relates how a young Jewish woman named Esther worked with her uncle Mordecai to foil the plot.  Through God’s providence, Esther became queen of the empire, Mordecai became prime minister, and the plot to kill all the Jews was turned into a triumph for them instead—an episode still commemorated today in the Jewish festival of Purim.


(Modern readers of Ezra, Nehemiah and Esther may draw parallels with the time when a Jew became prime minister of the British Empire, the occasion when a different British prime minister issued an official letter promising a national home for the Jewish people in Palestine, and the time when a European ruler again attempted to annihilate the Jewish people through the Holocaust.)


Job


The book of Job tells the story of a good and faithful individual named Job who was blessed by God, but whose faith was tested by sudden loss and adversity.  The veil is pulled back to show us the assembly of angels in the presence of God.  Satan enters the assembly and accuses Job of living right only for selfish reasons, to receive God’s material blessings.  To prove Satan wrong, God allows him to take those blessings away, but Job still maintains his faithfulness.  So, Satan demands the opportunity to afflict Job with sickness, which God again allows.  Job suffers greatly, but remains faithful through it all.


Much of the book is filled with the sayings of four friends of Job who come to comfort him, but who speak falsehood, accusing him of sin.  In their view, Job’s sufferings must be due to sin on his part.  Their false teachings are similar to the false ‘health and wealth gospel’ that is popular in some churches today—the false teaching that Christianity is a sure path to physical health and financial prosperity, and that sickness reflects sin in a Christian’s life.


Although the authorship of the book of Job is uncertain, we know that it is quite ancient, because the prophet Ezekiel who was among the Jewish exiles in Babylon mentions Job by name (Ezek. 14:14, 20), as does the New Testament writer James.  (James 5:11) 


Psalms


The book of Psalms is a collection of inspired songs and poetic prayers composed by a number of early writers, including king David, over a period of roughly five hundred years, from around 1000 B.C. to around 500 B.C.  Psalm 117 is the shortest, just two verses, and Psalm 119 is the longest at 176 verses.  (The chapter and verse numbers were added in more recent times, as is the case with all of the books in the Bible.)


More than just poetry and songs of praise, the Psalms also contain inspired prophecies that were fulfilled centuries later.  For example, Psalm 22 begins with the words Jesus spoke on the cross, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?”  (Ps. 22:1; Matt. 27:46 NIV) and goes on to say, “they have pierced my hands and my feet.”  (Ps.22:16 NIV)


Proverbs


The book of Proverbs is a collection of wise sayings, most of them attributed to king Solomon.  “The fear of the LORD is the beginning of knowledge,” according to Proverbs 1:7 (KJV).


Ecclesiastes


Unusual in its style, the book of Ecclesiastes presents a debate between a speaker who sees life as meaningless and vain, and another speaker who sees life as meaningful due to our relationship with God—although the two speakers may represent an internal debate within the mind of the writer.  In the end it is the viewpoint shaped by knowledge of God that wins:


“This is the end of the matter. All has been heard. Fear God, and keep his commandments; for this is the whole duty of man. For God will bring every work into judgment, with every hidden thing, whether it is good, or whether it is evil.”  (Eccl. 12:13-14)


Song of Songs


Also referred to as “Song of Solomon” this book of the Bible is a poetic story of love.  The main speakers are a young shepherd girl and the young man she loves.  Many readers see this as an allegorical representation of the relationship between God and the nation of Israel, or between Christ and the Church as portrayed much later in the book of Revelation:


“‘. . . the marriage of the Lamb has come, and his wife has made herself ready.’ It was given to her that she would array herself in bright, pure, fine linen: for the fine linen is the righteous acts of the saints. . . . I saw the holy city, New Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared like a bride adorned for her husband. . . . One of the seven angels . . . spoke with me, saying, ‘Come here. I will show you the wife, the Lamb’s bride.’ . . . and showed me the holy city, Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God . . .” (Rev.  19:7-8; 21:2, 9-10)


Isaiah


The prophet Isaiah served God during the reigns of Uzziah, Jotham, Ahaz and Hezekiah, kings of Judah.  His book contains prophecies as well as history that overlaps the history found in some of the later chapters of 2 Kings and 2 Chronicles.  Isaiah boldly proclaimed the coming judgment of God against the unfaithful Jewish nation, telling them, “Hear the word of the LORD, you rulers of Sodom; listen to the law of our God, you people of Gomorrah!”  (Isa. 1:10 NIV)  Concerning Jerusalem, he said, “See how the faithful city has become a harlot!”  (Isa. 1:21 NIV)


Isaiah also prophesied concerning other nations in the Middle East and North Africa.  And he spoke of events in the distant future concerning the coming Messiah or Christ:


“For to us a child is born, to us a son is given, and the government will be on his shoulders.  And he will be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.  Of the increase of his government and peace there will be no end.  He will reign on David’s throne and over his kingdom, establishing and upholding it with justice and righteousness from that time on and forever.”  (Isa. 9:6-7 NIV)


“But he was pierced for our transgressions, he was crushed for our iniquities; the punishment that brought us peace was upon him, and by his wounds we are healed.”  (Isa. 53:5 NIV)


Jesus read publicly from the book of Isaiah when he visited the synagogue in Nazareth, the town where he had grown up, and stated, “Today, this Scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing.”  (Luke 4:16-21; Isa. 61:1-2)


Jeremiah


Jeremiah, a priest at the temple in Jerusalem around 600 B.C., served as God’s prophet during the final years of the kingdom of Judah.  He saw the destruction of Jerusalem, with the Jewish king and leading men carried off captive to Babylon.  There were many other prophets in Jerusalem at that time, but they spoke lies in God’s name, denying the coming judgment that Jeremiah boldly proclaimed.


Besides foretelling events that occurred later during his own lifetime, Jeremiah also recorded God’s promise of the new covenant or agreement that we read about in the New Testament:


“‘The time is coming,’ declares the LORD, ‘when I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel and with the house of Judah.  It will not be like the covenant I made with their forefathers when I took them by the hand to lead them out of Egypt, because they broke my covenant, though I was a husband to them,’ declares the LORD.  ‘This is the covenant I will make with the house of Israel after that time,’ declares the LORD.  ‘I will put my laws in their minds and write it on their hearts.  I will be their God, and they will be my people.  No longer will a man teach his neighbor, or a man his brother, saying, “Know the LORD,” because they will all know me, from the least of them to the greatest,’ declares the LORD.  ‘For I will forgive their wickedness and will remember their sins no more.’”  (Jer. 31:31-34 NIV)


Lamentations


Attributed to the prophet Jeremiah, the book of Lamentations is a series of mournful poems expressing grief over the destruction of Jerusalem:


“How deserted lies the city, once so full of people!”  (Lam. 1:1 NIV)  “The punishment of my people is greater than that of Sodom,” the poet laments. “....it happened because of the sins of her prophets and the iniquities of her priests . . . The LORD himself has scattered them.”  (Lam. 4:6, 13, 16 NIV)


Ezekiel


The prophet Ezekiel was among prominent Jews taken into exile by Babylon a few years before the rest of the Jews were taken away and Jerusalem was destroyed.  He wrote while he was “among the exiles by the Kebar River.”  (Ezek. 1:1 NIV)


God showed Ezekiel visions of heavenly things, and had him proclaim judgments against the Jews and against the surrounding nations.  Toward the end of his book, the prophecies move ahead to the distant future to a time when the Jews would be once again “gathered from many nations to the mountains of Israel” (Ezek. 38:8 NIV) and when their restored nation would be attacked by “Gog, of the land of Magog” along with armies from many other nations including “Persia” (now called Iran).  (Ezek. 38:3-6 NIV)  But God will “pour down torrents of rain, hailstones and burning sulfur on him and on his troops and on the many nations with him.”  (Ezek. 38:22-23 NIV)


Daniel


Daniel was just a teenager when the Jewish royal family and nobility were taken into exile, and God gave him such wisdom that he was selected to serve in the court of the king of Babylon.  Some of his prophecies involved things that would happen to the Babylonian empire and its king, but most of the visions God gave him pointed toward events in the distant future.


Daniel prophesied in detail concerning a long succession of kingdoms and governments, after which “the God of heaven will set up a kingdom that will never be destroyed, nor will it be left to another people.  It will crush all those kingdoms and bring them to an end, but it will itself endure forever.”  (Dan. 2:44 NIV)  This would not be just another human government, but there would be “someone like a son of man” who would go into God’s very presence in heaven to rule everlastingly and to be worshiped by “all peoples, nations and men of every language.”  (Dan. 7:13-14 NIV)  When Jesus identified himself as “the Son of Man sitting at the right hand of Power, and coming on the clouds of the sky,” the Jewish high court condemned him for blasphemy.  (Matt. 26:64-65)


In the ninth chapter of Daniel a timetable is given for when the Messiah or Christ would come, and it points to the year when Jesus began his public ministry.


Hosea


The prophet Hosea served God during the final decades of the kingdoms of Israel and Judah.  God commanded him to marry an unfaithful wife, a prostitute, to illustrate the unfaithfulness of Israel and Judah.  And to illustrate how God repeatedly forgave his people, he commanded Hosea, “Go, show your love to your wife again, though she is loved by another and is an adulteress. Love her as the LORD loves the Israelites, though they turn to other gods.”  (Hos. 3:1 NIV)  Hosea’s prophecies speak of God’s anger toward Israel, and the blessings that would come when the nation would repent. 


Joel


The prophet Joel spoke to the people of Israel concerning a devastating invasion of locusts, which he compared to an army sent by God, and called them to repent in the face of God’s judgment.  The book also speaks of future blessings for Israel, and tells of the coming judgment against the Gentile nations.


“For, behold, in those days, and in that time, when I restore the fortunes of Judah and Jerusalem, I will gather all nations, and will bring them down into the valley of Jehoshaphat; and I will execute judgment on them there for my people, and for my heritage, Israel, whom they have scattered among the nations. They have divided my land, and have cast lots for my people . . .  (Joel 3:1-2)


Amos


Amos was not a prophet, but was a shepherd herding sheep and tending sycamore fig trees during the reigns of the second king Jereboam of Israel and king Uzziah of Judah.  But then God called Amos to proclaim a message of judgment to the people of Israel and to the surrounding nations.  (Amos 7:14-15)


Although the Jews were living in security at that time, Amos delivered God’s message that he would destroy their nation and “sift the house of Israel among all the nations, as grain is sifted in a sieve.”  Yet later, God would “bring my people Israel back from captivity, and they will rebuild the ruined cities, and inhabit them.”  (Amos 9:9, 14)


Obadiah


The shortest book of the Hebrew scriptures, just twenty-one verses long, the book of Obadiah foretells disaster for the neighboring nation of Edom and a restoration of blessings to the Jewish people.


Jonah


Called by God to travel to the large foreign city Nineveh and there preach a judgment message, Jonah ran away instead.  He boarded a ship to flee to the opposite end of the Mediterranean Sea, but when the sailors realized their ship was about to sink in a storm due to Jonah’s presence on board, they threw him overboard.  Swallowed alive by a huge fish, Jonah repented and prayed to God, after which he made it back to shore and took up the missionary assignment God had given him.


However, Jonah’s rebellious personality continued to trouble him.  When the people of Nineveh repented and God listened to their prayers by holding off the promised destruction of their city, Jonah responded with anger instead of appreciation. 


The book of Jonah gives great insight into God’s mercy toward people like the pagans of Nineveh “who can’t discern between their right hand and their left hand” (Jonah 4:11), and also shows how he can use even stubborn and rebellious individuals like Jonah to preach his message.


Those who are inclined to dismiss the book of Jonah as a children’s story should note that Jesus referred to it as factual.  He said, “For as Jonah was three days and three nights in the belly of the whale, so will the Son of Man be three days and three nights in the heart of the earth.  The men of Nineveh will stand up in the judgment with this generation, and will condemn it, for they repented at the preaching of Jonah; and behold, someone greater than Jonah is here.”  (Matt. 12:40-41; compare Luke 11:29-32) 


Micah


The prophet Micah foretold the destruction coming on the ancient kingdoms of Israel and Judah.  He also declared God’s message that he would restore the Jews to their land in the distant future.


Micah also foretold that the Messiah or Christ would come from Bethlehem.  (Compare Micah 5:2 and Matthew 2:1-6)  And he wrote the familiar words that describe the peace that will prevail when Christ rules the earth:


“They will beat their swords into plowshares, and their spears into pruning hooks. Nation will not lift up sword against nation, neither will they learn war any more.”  (Micah 4:3)


Nahum


Although the city of Nineveh repented when Jonah preached there, and was spared destruction at that time, the prophet Nahum evidently spoke at a different time, and proclaimed God’s judgment against that ancient city:


“Your people are scattered on the mountains, and there is no one to gather them.  There is no healing your wound, for your injury is fatal. All who hear the report of you clap their hands over you; for who hasn’t felt your endless cruelty?”  (Nahum 3:18-19)


Habakkuk


The book of Habakkuk begins with a back and forth dialog between the prophet by that name and God concerning the sins of the Jewish nation and the destruction about to come at the hands of the Babylonian empire.  Then it concludes with a prophetic prayer by the prophet.


Zephaniah


The prophecy of “Zephaniah, the son of Cushi, the son of Gedaliah, the son of Amariah, the son of Hezekiah, in the days of Josiah, the son of Amon, king of Judah” begins with a warning of the impending destruction of Judah and Jerusalem as punishment for their unfaithfulness to God.  (Zeph. 1:1)  Then it goes on to pronounce God’s judgments against the surrounding nations, and the eventual restoration of Jerusalem.


Haggai


During the second year of Medo-Persian emperor Darius, the prophet Haggai proclaimed God’s messages to the Jews who had returned from exile to rebuild Jerusalem and its temple.  They had been back in the Promised Land for around seventeen or eighteen years, but had not yet completed the work of rebuilding the temple.  Haggai’s message spurred them on to finish that work.


Zechariah


A contemporary of Haggai, Zechariah also presented visions from God to spur on the rebuilding of the temple in Jerusalem after the Jews returned from exile in Babylon.  He also prophesied concerning the future Messiah or Christ that he would come to Jerusalem “righteous, and having salvation; lowly, and riding on a donkey, even on a colt, the foal of a donkey”  (Zech. 9:9; compare Matt. 21:5, John 12:15), that the price of his betrayal would be “thirty pieces of silver” (Zech. 11:13; compare Matt. 26:15, 27:9), that he would be pierced on the cross (Zech. 12:10; compare John 19:37), and that his disciples would then be scattered (Zech. 13:7; compare Matt. 26:31, Mark 14:27)


Zechariah also foretells a time when Jerusalem will become “a burdensome stone for all the peoples. . . . and all the nations of the earth will be gathered together against it.”  (Zech. 12:3)


Malachi


The last book of the Old Testament in our Bibles, Malachi appears to have been written after the Jews returned from exile in Babylon to live again in the Promised Land.  Although merely four chapters long, it is quoted or paraphrased numerous times in the New Testament.  Malachi points out the sins of the Israelites and their priests, and calls them to repent.  Through the prophet, God tells them, “Then I will come to you and judge you.  I will be quick to testify against those who take part in evil magic, adultery, and lying under oath, those who cheat workers of their pay and who cheat widows and orphans, those who are unfair to foreigners, and those who do not respect me.”  (Mal. 3:5 NCV)


 


NEW TESTAMENT


Matthew


According to early Church writers the Apostle Matthew wrote his account of Jesus’ life and ministry first, before Mark, Luke and John, and wrote it in Hebrew, the language of the earliest disciples.  The four Gospels each present the works and teachings of Jesus Christ from a slightly different perspective.  (If you are interested in comparing them, side by side, you may wish to consult a book such as my Parallel Gospels in Harmony—with Study Guide or the free online version of that book at http://www.ParallelGospels.NET)


Matthew’s Gospel begins with Jesus’ royal genealogy through his foster-father Joseph, a descendent of king David.  Matthew also relates the details of Jesus’ birth from Joseph’s perspective.


Matthew’s account emphasizes the fulfillment of prophecies from the Hebrew Scriptures—prophecies that pointed to the promised Messiah, and that Jesus fulfilled.


Mark


The shortest of the four Gospels, Mark’s is a fast-moving account, traditionally based on what he remembered hearing about Jesus’ life and ministry at the Apostle Peter’s feet.  It omits some of Jesus’ longer talks, such as the Sermon on the Mount and parables about the Kingdom recorded by Matthew and Luke, and Jesus’ final words to his followers recorded by John.


But, for the most part, the Gospels of Matthew, Mark and Luke cover the same ground, each one occasionally supplying some details omitted by the others.


Luke


The physician Luke accompanied the Apostle Paul on his missionary travels among the Gentiles, and wrote his Gospel in Greek for a cosmopolitan Greek audience. 


The account begins with the birth of John the baptizer who would later introduce Jesus to the Jewish people, and then goes on to relate the story of Jesus’ birth from the perspective of his mother Mary, followed by Jesus’ royal genealogy through Mary who was, like her husband Joseph, a descendant of king David.


Luke also wrote the book of Acts, which takes up where his Gospel account leaves off.


John


Church tradition tells us that the aged Apostle John wrote his account last, after the other three were already circulating among the churches.  John’s Gospel stresses a close, personal relationship with Jesus.


The other three are often referred to as the Synoptic Gospels because they refer to the same events and the same messages Jesus delivered, while John, although telling the same story, also supplies information on a number of events and messages not included in the other Gospels.  For example, only John tells of the resurrection of Lazarus and Jesus’ final sermon to his closest disciples before his arrest.


Acts


The medical doctor Luke wrote the Acts of the Apostles as a sequel to his Gospel account.  He covers the growth and spread of the Christian congregation from the days immediately following Jesus’ resurrection, through the missionary tours of the Apostle Paul around the eastern Mediterranean, to Paul’s transport to Rome as a prisoner in chains.  Luke shared in some of those travels with Paul, as can be seen from his use of the first person (“we”) in some passages.


Romans


The Apostle Paul’s letter to the church in Rome was written before he visited the city.  He spoke of man’s rebellion against God and explained that, “sin entered into the world through one man, and death through sin; and so death passed to all men, because all sinned.”  (Rom. 5:12)  And he reviewed how far man had fallen:  “Professing themselves to be wise, they became fools, and traded the glory of the incorruptible God for the likeness of an image of corruptible man, and of birds, and four-footed animals, and creeping things. Therefore God also gave them up in the lusts of their hearts to uncleanness, that their bodies should be dishonored among themselves, who exchanged the truth of God for a lie, and worshiped and served the creature rather than the Creator, who is blessed forever. Amen. For this reason, God gave them up to vile passions. For their women changed the natural function into that which is against nature. Likewise also the men, leaving the natural function of the woman, burned in their lust toward one another, men doing what is inappropriate with men, and receiving in themselves the due penalty of their error.”  (Rom. 1:22-27)


He also addressed issues the churches faced over how to deal with the laws of Moses, which some wanted to impose on the Gentile believers.  These words from this letter encourage us when we feel that we are at a loss as to how to pray:  “the Spirit also helps our weaknesses, for we don’t know how to pray as we ought. But the Spirit himself makes intercession for us with groanings which can’t be uttered.”  (Rom. 8:26)


1 and 2 Corinthians


Paul’s letters to the church in Corinth cover many topics of concern to that congregation and helpful to followers of Jesus today.  We also get some insight into the hardships of Paul’s travels:  Five times from the Jews I received forty stripes minus one. Three times I was beaten with rods. Once I was stoned. Three times I suffered shipwreck. I have been a night and a day in the deep. I have been in travels often, perils of rivers, perils of robbers, perils from my countrymen, perils from the Gentiles, perils in the city, perils in the wilderness, perils in the sea, perils among false brothers.”  (2 Cor. 11:24-26)


In his first letter Paul addressed a case of blatant sexual immorality that was allowed to go on unchecked among the membership.  He instructed the leaders of the church to expel the guilty individual.  Later, in his second letter, he encouraged them to readmit this individual who had since accepted correction and repented.


Paul also encouraged all of us by writing this about the temptations we face in this world: “No temptation has taken you except what is common to man. God is faithful, who will not allow you to be tempted above what you are able, but will with the temptation also make the way of escape, that you may be able to endure it.”  (1 Cor. 10:13)


Have you been troubled by unanswered prayer?  Paul suffered from a personal affliction, and prayed three times for it to go away, but the answer was No.  He wrote, “there was given to me a thorn in the flesh, a messenger of Satan to torment me, that I should not be exalted excessively.  Concerning this thing, I begged the Lord three times that it might depart from me.  He has said to me, ‘My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.’ Most gladly therefore I will rather glory in my weaknesses, that the power of Christ may rest on me.”  (2 Cor. 12:7-9)  Besides helping us understand that the answer to our own prayers may sometimes be No, this passage also refutes the false ‘health and wealth gospel’ that is taught in some churches today—the false teaching that Christianity is a sure path to physical health and financial prosperity, and that believers fall sick only when there is sin in their lives.


Just as the church in Corinth was misled by false teachers, so likewise churches today may have pastors who fail to follow the real Jesus, the Jesus of the Bible.  Paul chided the Corinthians, “But I am afraid that somehow, as the serpent deceived Eve in his craftiness, so your minds might be corrupted from the simplicity that is in Christ.  For if he who comes preaches another Jesus, whom we did not preach, or if you receive a different spirit, which you did not receive, or a different ‘good news,’ which you did not accept, you put up with that well enough.”  (2 Cor. 11:3-4)  We should not put up with pastors who preach a different Jesus.  And the only way we can identify and avoid them is by reading the Bible for ourselves, so that we can spot counterfeit teachings, teachings that don’t reflect the message we find in the Bible.


Galatians


The Apostle Paul’s letter “to the churches in Galatia” (Gal. 1:2 NIV) indicates that false teachers were active there, too, and that believers were being deceived by them:  “I am astonished that you are so quickly deserting the one who called you by the grace of Christ and are turning to a different gospel—which is really no gospel at all.  Evidently some people are throwing you into confusion and are trying to pervert the gospel of Christ.”  (Gal. 1:6-7 NIV)


The letter to the Galatians makes it clear that Christians are not under the jurisdiction of the laws given to the Jewish nation through Moses.  “The law was our guardian leading us to Christ so that we could be made right with God through faith.  Now the way of faith has come, and we no longer live under a guardian.”  (Gal. 3:24-25 NCV)  Instead, Paul tells Christians to “Live by following the Spirit.”  (Gal. 5:16)


Those led by God’s Holy Spirit produce the fruits of the Spirit, not the works of the flesh:  “Now the works of the flesh are obvious, which are: adultery, sexual immorality, uncleanness, lustfulness, idolatry, sorcery, hatred, strife, jealousies, outbursts of anger, rivalries, divisions, heresies, envyings, murders, drunkenness, orgies, and things like these; of which I forewarn you, even as I also forewarned you, that those who practice such things will not inherit the Kingdom of God. But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faith, gentleness, and self-control. Against such things there is no law.”  (Gal. 5:19-23)


Ephesians


In his letter to the church at Ephesus in Asia Minor (now modern-day Turkey) the Apostle Paul reminded the Ephesian believers, “You were not born Jewish. . . . Remember that in the past you were without Christ.  You were not citizens of Israel, and you had no part in the agreements with the promise that God made to his people.  You had no hope, and you did not know God.  But now in Christ Jesus, you who were far away from God are brought near . . .  (Eph. 2:11-13 NCV)


Much of this letter is devoted to reminding us how to live as followers of Jesus.  Paul addresses advice to wives and husbands, to children and parents, to slaves and masters, and to all believers.  We all have a struggle against invisible enemies, and Paul advises us how to prepare for that struggle as if putting on a suit of armor:


“Put on the full armor of God so that you can fight against the devil’s evil tricks.  Our fight is not against people on earth but against the rulers and authorities and the powers of this world’s darkness, against the spiritual powers of evil in the heavenly world.  That is why you need to put on God’s full armor.  Then on the day of evil you will be able to stand strong.  And when you have finished the whole fight, you will still be standing.  So stand strong, with the belt of truth tied around your waist and the protection of right living on your chest.  On your feet wear the Good News of peace to help you stand strong.  And also use the shield of faith with which you can stop all the burning arrows of the Evil One.  Accept God’s salvation as your helmet, and take the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God.”  (Eph. 6:11-17 NCV)


Philippians


When Paul wrote his letter to the church at Philippi he was “in prison because I am a believer in Christ.”  (Phil. 1:13 NCV)  Paul’s words and experiences serve as an encouragement to followers of Jesus today who face imprisonment or worse in many parts of the earth.


He urged Christians, “Do everything without complaining or arguing.  Then you will be innocent and without any wrong.  You will be God’s children without fault.  But you are living with crooked and mean people all around you, among whom you shine like stars in the dark world.  You offer the teaching that gives life.”  (Phil. 2:14-16 NCV)  “Do not worry about anything, but pray and ask God for everything you need, always giving thanks.  And God’s peace, which is so great we cannot understand it, will keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus.”  (Phil. 4:6-7 NCV)


Colossians


In his letter to the Colossian congregation Paul addressed theological matters, declaring here that Jesus “is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation.  For by him all things were created, in the heavens and on the earth, things visible and things invisible, whether thrones or dominions or principalities or powers; all things have been created through him, and for him.  He is before all things, and in him all things are held together.  He is the head of the body, the assembly, who is the beginning, the firstborn from the dead; that in all things he might have the preeminence.  For all the fullness was pleased to dwell in him; and through him to reconcile all things to himself, by him, whether things on the earth, or things in the heavens, having made peace through the blood of his cross.”  (Col. 1:15-19)  And he added, “For in him all the fullness of the Godhead dwells bodily.” (Col. 2:9)


Paul also reminded the Colossian believers that they were not obligated to follow the ceremonial laws given through Moses, which prefigured or pointed forward to things that were fulfilled in Christ:  “Therefore do not let anyone judge you by what you eat or drink, or with regard to a religious festival, a New Moon celebration or a Sabbath day. These are a shadow of the things that were to come; the reality, however, is found in Christ.”  (Col. 2:16-17 NIV)


We can see from his conclusion, that Paul intended his letters to be circulated among the churches:  After this letter has been read to you, see that it is also read in the church of the Laodiceans and that you in turn read the letter from Laodicea.”  (Col. 4:16 NIV)


1 and 2 Thessalonians


Paul commended the believers in Thessalonica because, “when you received the word of God, which you heard from us, you accepted it not as the word of men, but as it actually is, the word of God, which is at work in you who believe.”  (1 Thess. 2:13 NIV)


He also reminded them that, “God wants you to be holy and to stay away from sexual sins.  . . . Don’t use your body for sexual sin like the people who do not know God.  Also, do not wrong or cheat another Christian in this way.  The Lord will punish people who do those things as we have already told you and warned you.  God called us to be holy and does not want us to live in sin.  So, the person who refuses to obey this teaching is disobeying God, not simply a human teaching.”  (1 Thess. 4:3-8 NCV)


In both letters to the Thessalonians Paul spoke of the coming return of Christ:  “According to the Lord's own word, we tell you that we who are still alive, who are left till the coming of the Lord, will certainly not precede those who have fallen asleep.  For the Lord himself will come down from heaven, with a loud command, with the voice of the archangel and with the trumpet call of God, and the dead in Christ will rise first. After that, we who are still alive and are left will be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air.  And so we will be with the Lord forever.” (1 Thess. 4:15-17 NIV)  “Then he will punish those who do not know God and who do not obey the Good News about our Lord Jesus Christ.  Those people will be punished with a destruction that continues forever.  They will be kept away from the Lord and from his great power.”  (2 Thess. 1:8-9 NCV)


1 and 2 Timothy


The Apostle Paul met a younger man named Timothy when he traveled to Derbe and Lystra in Asia Minor (now Turkey).  Although his father was evidently a pagan Greek, Timothy’s mother was a Jewish Christian, and she had raised Timothy in the faith.  Paul took Timothy with him as he continued his missionary journeys.  By the time the Apostle wrote these letters to him, Timothy was serving as Paul’s representative in Ephesus and other churches they had visited together.  “As I urged you when I went into Macedonia, stay there in Ephesus so that you may command certain men not to teach false doctrines any longer.”  (1 Tim. 1:3 NIV)


By the time he wrote his second letter to Timothy, Paul was nearing the time when he would be martyred for preaching the Gospel.  Speaking of the Hebrew Old Testament, Paul reminded Timothy that “from infancy you have known the holy Scriptures, which are able to make you wise for salvation through faith in Christ Jesus.”  (2 Tim. 3:15 NIV)  And he continued, “All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness, so that the man of God may be thoroughly equipped for every good work.”  (2 Tim. 3:16-17 NIV)


Paul’s letters encouraged Timothy to remain strong in faith and to set an example for others in good conduct.  He also gave Timothy guidelines for overseers and deacons in the churches.


Titus


A disciple the Apostle Paul had introduced to Christianity, Titus traveled with him on his missionary journeys.  Paul left Titus “in Crete so you could finish doing the things that still needed to be done and so you could appoint elders in every town, as I directed you.”  (Tit. 1:5 NCV)  The letter includes guidelines for making those appointments, as well as instructions on the right way for believers to live their lives.


Philemon


The Apostle Paul addressed this brief letter to Philemon, a wealthy man Paul had converted to Christianity and whose run-away slave Onesimus was also converted by Paul when he encountered him on his travels.  Paul urged Philemon to forgive Onesimus and to allow him to remain with Paul. 


Slavery was part of the social fabric of the Roman Empire, enshrined in law, and generally was not as harsh or oppressive as the enslavement of Africans in the American South.  Rather than foment revolution in a society where a large percentage of the population worked as slaves, Paul advised believers, “Were you a slave when you were called? Don’t let it trouble you—although if you can gain your freedom, do so. For the one who was a slave when called to faith in the Lord is the Lord’s freed person; similarly, the one who was free when called is Christ’s slave. You were bought at a price; do not become slaves of human beings. Brothers and sisters, each person, as responsible to God, should remain in the situation they were in when God called them.”  (1 Cor. 7:21-24 NIV)  Also, “Masters, provide your slaves with what is right and fair, because you know that you also have a Master in heaven.”  (Col. 4:1 NIV)


Hebrews


The author of this letter is not named, but church tradition attributes it to the Apostle Paul.  It concludes with indications that the writer was in Italy at the time, and was waiting for Timothy to join him before he resumed traveling.  (Heb. 13:23-24)


Written to Christian believers, the letter derives its title from the subject matter, which deals primarily with how God’s covenant with the Jewish people through Moses prefigured or foreshadowed the new covenant through Jesus.  The writer quotes Jeremiah 31:31-34 and many other passages from the Old Testament, explaining how they are fulfilled as prophetic pictures of the Christian arrangement.


It also stresses the importance of faith, which it defines as “assurance of things hoped for, proof of things not seen.”  (Heb. 11:1)  And it outlines how the major personages in the Old Testament exercised faith by trusting and obeying God.


James


Attributed to James the half-brother of Jesus who served as a leader of the church in Jerusalem, this letter addresses the need for Christians to live right.  “People who think they are religious but say things they should not say are just fooling themselves.  Their ‘religion’ is worth nothing.  Religion that God accepts as pure and without fault is this:  caring for orphans or widows who need help, and keeping yourself free from the world’s evil influence.”  (Jas. 1:26-27 NCV)


James speaks of how faith and good works fit together in a Christian’s life, and how “faith, if it has no works, is dead in itself.”  (Jas. 2:17)  Just believing that God exists, is nothing to brag about; “the demons believe that, too, and they tremble with fear,” James reminds us.  (Jas. 2:19 NCV)


He also cautions readers on the dangers of pursuing riches, and the danger of not bridling our tongues and controlling our speech. 


1 and 2 Peter


The Apostle Peter’s letters encourage Christians to live right and to patiently endure suffering when persecuted for the faith or when living under difficult circumstances.  He gives advice to believing women who are married to unbelieving men, and to slaves or servants working for difficult masters.  He cites Jesus’ example:  “People insulted Christ, but he did not insult them in return.  Christ suffered, but he did not threaten.”  (1 Pet. 2:23 NCV)


Peter also assures us that the Bible is truly the word of God, not men.  Speaking of the Old Testament, he writes, “Most of all, you must understand this:  No prophecy in the Scriptures ever comes from the prophet’s own interpretation.  No prophecy ever came from what a person wanted to say, but people led by the Holy Spirit spoke words from God.”  (2 Pet. 1:20-21 NCV)  In his second letter Peter also refers to portions of the New Testament that had already been written—the letters of the Apostle Paul—as inspired Scripture.


Peter also devotes a large portion of his second letter to warning against false teachers in the churches, describing them as greedy and immoral.  “Those false teachers only want your money, so they will use you by telling you lies.”  (2 Pet. 2:3 NCV) 


But Peter encourages followers of Jesus to keep waiting patiently for God’s Judgment Day, which will come even though unbelievers ridicule the idea that Jesus promised to return.  “It is important for you to understand what will happen in the last days.  People will laugh at you.  They will live doing the evil things they want to do.  They will say, ‘Jesus promised to come again.  Where is he?  Our fathers have died, but the world continues the way it has been since it was made.’  But they do not want to remember what happened long ago” when God executed judgment on the world in Noah’s day.  (2 Pet. 3:3-5 NCV)


Peter concludes, “You therefore, beloved, knowing these things beforehand, beware, lest being carried away with the error of the wicked, you fall from your own steadfastness. But grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. To him be the glory both now and forever. Amen.”  (2 Pet. 3:17-18)


1, 2 and 3 John


Besides the Gospel bearing his name, the Apostle John wrote three letters that are included in the New Testament. 


The first letter encourages believers to love one another, and to turn away from sin.  “If we say that we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us.  If we confess our sins, he is faithful and righteous to forgive us the sins, and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.  If we say that we haven’t sinned, we make him a liar, and his word is not in us. My little children, I write these things to you so that you may not sin. If anyone sins, we have a Counselor with the Father, Jesus Christ, the righteous.   And he is the atoning sacrifice for our sins, and not for ours only, but also for the whole world.”  (1 John 1:8-2:2)


John’s second and third letters are very brief—each just over a dozen verses long.  Both warn of enemies inside and outside the churches, a theme also found in the first letter.  By the time John wrote his third letter, it appears that some churches were already being taken over by such enemies.  He said, “I wrote something to the church; but Diotrephes, who loves to be first among them, does not accept what we say.  For this reason, if I come, I will call attention to his deeds which he does, unjustly accusing us with wicked words; and not satisfied with this, he himself does not receive the brethren, either, and he forbids those who desire to do so and puts them out of the church.”  (3 John 9-10 NASB)


Jude


Like John’s second and third letters, Jude’s letter is also very brief, just two dozen verses.  The disciple tells Christian readers, “I wanted very much to write you about the salvation we all share.  But I felt the need to write you about something else:  I want to encourage you to fight hard for the faith that was given the holy people of God once and for all time.  Some people have secretly entered your group.  . . . They are against God and have changed the grace of our God into a reason for sexual sin.”  (Jude 3-4)


This is a common thread found in many of the letters of the Apostles in the New Testament—that God’s grace and mercy must not be used as a pretext for persisting in sexual sin.  Jude goes on to remind readers that “Sodom and Gomorrah, and the cities around them, having . . . given themselves over to sexual immorality and gone after strange flesh, are set forth as an example, suffering the punishment of eternal fire.”  (Jude 7)


Revelation (also called Apocalypse)


Quite different from the other books of the New Testament, and somewhat reminiscent of the visions recorded by the Old Testament prophets, “This is the Revelation of Jesus Christ, which God gave him to show to his servants the things which must happen soon, which he sent and made known by his angel to his servant, John, who testified to God’s word, and of the testimony of Jesus Christ, about everything that he saw.”  (Rev. 1:1-2)  John is told, “What you see, write in a book and send to the seven assemblies: to Ephesus, Smyrna, Pergamum, Thyatira, Sardis, Philadelphia, and to Laodicea.”  (Rev. 1:11)


John then sees a vision of the risen Christ, who gives him specific messages to each of these seven prominent Christian churches in ancient Asia Minor.  Jesus commends the church in Ephesus for “your toil and perseverance, and that you can’t tolerate evil men, and have tested those who call themselves apostles, and they are not, and found them false” and “that you hate the works of the Nicolaitans, which I also hate.”  (Rev. 2:2, 6)  But Jesus also warns them, “I have this against you, that you left your first love.  Remember therefore from where you have fallen, and repent and do the first works; or else I am coming to you swiftly, and will move your lampstand out of its place, unless you repent.”  (Rev. 2:4-5)


Jesus calls five of the seven churches to “repent” for straying, in various ways, from following him.


The remainder of the book of Revelation presents a long series of visions full of signs and symbols:  “A great and wondrous sign appeared in heaven” (12:1 NIV), “Then another sign appeared in heaven” (12:3 NIV), “And I saw another sign in heaven” (15:1 KJV)  The exact meanings of these signs and symbols have been the subject of debate for centuries, but the basic overall message is clear:  God will intervene in human affairs to put an end to man’s governments and to establish the worldwide rule of the Kingdom of God.  In the process, God sends one plague or disaster after another—diseases, scorching heat, pollution of the seas and rivers, destruction of “a third of the trees” (Rev. 8:7 NCV), and so on—to punish rebellious mankind and call people to repent.  “The other people who were not killed by these terrible disasters still did not change their hearts . . . and turn away from murder or evil magic, from their sexual sins or stealing.”  (Rev. 9:20-21 NCV)


The Revelation goes on to show the world’s governments and armies suffering defeat at a “place that is called Armageddon in the Hebrew language  (Rev. 16:16 NCV), after which Christ rules for a thousand years.


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