About the New Testament
Study to shew thyself approved unto God, a workman that needeth not to be ashamed, rightly dividing the word of truth. (2 Timothy 2:15)
The New Testament (NT) or “New Covenant” is a term describing a portion of the Bible revealed in fulfillment of Old Testament (OT) prophecies. The New Testament details the nativity, ministry, life, death, resurrection, and ascension of the predicted Messiah and the inauguration of the new dispensation of the Christian church on the Day of Pentecost.
The books of the New Testament were written by various authors from about 40 to 96 A.D. These authors were in many cases close associates of Jesus Christ, and all were His contemporaries and wrote first hand accounts of the life of Jesus and of the early Church. The books of the New Testament can be divided into four sections:
- The Gospels: Matthew through John
- History: Acts
- The Epistles (letters): Romans through Jude
- Prophecy: Revelation
The Gospels – The Story of Jesus, the Christ
The ministry of Jesus Christ is set forth in the four gospels. These gospels record selected events in the life of Jesus Christ; taken together they set forth a Personality, not a biography. The twenty-nine formative years of the Messiah are passed over silently. This silence is broken only once or twice. The gospels do not present everything the Son of God did, but they introduce in a wonderful way “the Doer.”
The gospels are more clearly understood if one is familiar with the OT. The many OT prophecies of a coming Messiah (“the Christ”), which foretell His Person, His work, and His kingdom, are indispensable to an understanding of the gospels. To understand the gospels one must not confuse the kingdom, which was offered to Israel, with the NT church of Jesus Christ. The throne of David (Luke 1:32) must not be made identical with “My Father on His throne” (Revelation 3:21), nor must the house of Jacob (Luke 1:33) be construed as the church of Jesus Christ. It must also be remembered that the mission of the Messiah was primarily to the Jewish nation (Matthew 10:5-6; John 1:11). He was “a servant to the circumcision” (Romans 15:8). He fulfilled the law, died under the law, and set us free from the law (cf. Galatians 4:4-5).
Therefore, to understand the gospels, you must understand yourself to be under the Old Testament law up to the time of the cross (Matthew 10:5-6; Matthew 15:22-28; Mark 1:44). The Sermon on the Mount must be seen to be law, not grace. It demands a perfect character that can only be achieved by the grace of God working through divine power in our lives. In understanding the NT you must also remember that the full-orbed revelation concerning grace is to be found in the epistles, not in the gospels, and that Christ by His life, death, and resurrection made possible the operation of divine grace. The gospels do not present the doctrine of the church. Not until the Messiah was rejected as King and Savior by the Jews did He begin to announce a “mystery,” until that moment “hidden in God” (Ephesians 3:3-10). His great new announcement was “I will build My church” (Matthew 16:16-18).
Church History – The Book of Acts
Until the death, resurrection and ascension of Christ, the church was still future, for it was to be based upon a wholly new operation of the Spirit — His baptizing work (Matthew 3:11; Mark 1:8; Luke 3:16-17; cf. Acts 1:5; Acts 11:16). A study of those Scriptures reveals that the baptism of the Spirit occurred between Acts 1:5 and Acts 11:16; that is, in the pivotal new beginning inaugurated on the Day of Pentecost. On this day the Holy Spirit came to perform His baptizing work for the first time and consequently to give birth to the Christian church.
The Epistles – Letters to the Early Church
Following the gospels and Acts, numerous epistles (letters) from the apostles, especially the Apostle Paul, reveal God’s plan for the Church, how it is to be governed, and practical teaching for the Church, the body of Christ.
Prophecy – The Book of Revelation
The book of Revelation outlines the future and destiny of the church (Revelation 2-3), as well as the destiny of Israel after her tribulation and establishment of the kingdom (Revelation 4-20). The final two chapters present the eternal state. Since the dispensation of grace was not begun until the cross, when “the veil of the temple was torn in two from top to bottom” (Matthew 27:51), the term New Testament is a popular accommodation to describe the latter portion (less than one-third) of divine revelation rather than a strictly accurate usage.
(Information Sources: The New Unger’s Bible Dictionary and Dr. J. Vernon McGee’s Bible Commentary)