The New Testament in Ten Minutes
Desiring God 2014 Conference for Pastors
The Pastor, the Vine, and the Branches: The Remarkable Reality of Union with Christ
The New Testament (NT) is the climax of one grand story that starts with the Old Testament. The theological message of the OT and NT is unified: God reigns, saves, and satisfies through covenant for his glory in Christ.
So let’s walk through the NT section by section, book by book. I’m going to concisely summarize the theological message of each book of the NT. We could spending hours unpacking each of these statements, but I’m going to move through this survey quickly.
The NT has 27 books that we’ll divide into five sections:
Paul’s 13 letters
Hebrews and 7 general letters
1. Four Gospels
The four Gospels are biographies of Jesus, but they’re not like biographies we’re used to reading because they don’t describe Jesus’ childhood development and education nor do they always use chronological precision. They’re basically stories about Jesus’s death and resurrection but with extended introductions.
In the Gospel according to Matthew, Jesus the Messiah-king climactically fulfills the OT.
In the Gospel according to Mark, Jesus (like Aslan) is on the move: Jesus the Messiah, the Son of God, is a suffering servant and a model for his followers.
In the Gospel according to Luke, Jesus the Messiah fulfills God’s plan by seeking and saving the lost. He is concerned especially for Gentiles and outcasts of society.
The Gospel according to John is evangelistic: Jesus, the Messiah and Son of God, gives eternal life to everyone who believes in him.
Acts is history. It belongs with Luke’s Gospel as the second volume in a history of Christian beginnings (so Luke is volume 1, and Acts is volume 2). The word “Acts” denotes a type of writing in the ancient world that describes the great deeds of people or cities. The book of Acts describes the founding events of the church. Its message is that Jesus the Messiah continues to fulfill God’s plan by expanding the early church in the face of opposition through the Holy Spirit’s power.
3. Paul’s 13 Letters
- Romans is the greatest letter in the history of the world: The gospel reveals how God is righteously righteousing (i.e., justifying) unrighteous individuals—both Jews and Gentiles—at this stage in the history of salvation. This happens by faith in Christ apart from the law-covenant, and it happens ultimately for God’s glory.
Romans and the rest of the NT herald the gospel, which has two parts: (a) Jesus lived, died, and rose again for sinners, and (b) God will save you if you turn from your sins and trust Jesus. The church’s mission, according to the NT, is to proclaim that good news to the peoples of this earth in the Spirit’s power.
The message of 1 Corinthians is that God’s holy people (i.e., all Christians) must mature. As God’s holy people become what they already are (i.e., holy), they will increasingly not tolerate sin and will build each other up and will strongly affirm Jesus’s bodily resurrection.
The message of 2 Corinthians is that God shows his power through human weakness.
Galatians guards the gospel: both Jews and Gentiles are justified by (and continue to live by) faith in Christ, not by the works of the law.
According to Ephesians, the church (both Jewish and Gentile Christians) must maintain the unity that Christ powerfully created.
Philippians exhorts God’s holy people: conduct yourselves in a manner worthy of the gospel.
Colossians heralds that Christ is supreme. That is the basis for the letter’s many commands.
8–9. Paul wrote two letters to the new converts in Thessalonica to strengthen their faith: (a) walk (i.e., live) in light of Christ’s imminent coming, and (b) persevere because Christ will return and set all things right, especially by judging his enemies.
10–12. Paul wrote three letters to young pastors that we call the Pastoral Epistles. (a) In 1 Timothy, those in the church (especially church leaders) must oppose false teaching and be godly. (b) 2 Timothy exhorts: Persevere for the gospel. (c) Titus exhorts: Do what is good (by the grace of God).
- Philemon is Paul’s shortest and most personal letter. Its message is that you should love your Christian brothers and sisters (regardless of social barriers) by valuing them above yourself.
4. Hebrews and Seven General Letters
The message of Hebrews is that Jesus is better, so persevere (i.e., don’t fall away from the faith). Jesus is better than the prophets, angels, Moses, Joshua, and any high priest under the old covenant. Jesus’s Melchizedekian priesthood is better than the Levitical priesthood. Jesus’s sacrifice is better than any under the old covenant. Jesus’s new covenant is better than any others. Jesus is better, so persevere.
According to James, faith works. That is, genuine saving faith must become evident in how we endure trials, how we treat the poor, how we speak, and how we relate to the world.
3–4. Two letters from Peter exhort Christians who are facing persecution and false teachers: (a) stand firm in God’s grace, and (b) beware of false teachers.
5–7. John wrote three letters. 1 John is a comforting letter about assurance of salvation. You can know that you have eternal life in three interlocked ways: believing in Jesus, living righteously, and loving believers. The second and third letters exhort believers: (a) walk in the truth and love by not supporting deceivers, and (b) work together for the truth by supporting those who spread it.
- Jude exhorts those whom God is keeping for Jesus: contend for the faith against grace-perverting immorality.
The purpose of the last book of the Bible is to comfort and encourage Christians by revealing future events and providing a heavenly perspective on present earthly difficulties. You could title this book The Return of the King. We might quibble over how to interpret various details in the book, but the message is clear: God and the Lamb will consummate their kingdom for their glory. They will consummate their kingdom by saving their people and judging their enemies.
The Bible’s storyline has four sweeping parts: creation, fall, redemption, and consummation. The book of Revelation is the consummation. Compare and contrast the Bible’s bookends:
at the beginning of Genesis,
- sin and death enter the world, and
- God banishes humans from his presence;
at the end of Revelation,
- God banishes sin and destroys death, and
- he lives among his people in the Most Holy Place itself.
So the message of the NT (and the whole Bible) is this: God reigns, saves, and satisfies through covenant for his glory in Christ.
God reigns as the sovereign King over everyone, and he has a special relationship with his people, whom he saves and satisfies.
God does this through the new covenant, a better covenant that Christ mediates. God fulfills his ancient promises in Christ.
And he does it all for his glory: “For from him and through him and for him are all things. To him be the glory forever! Amen” (Romans 11:36).
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