Now we come to the New Testament. The title page of this section of your Bible probably includes the words of Our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. The New Testament is made up of 27 books, beginning with the Gospels of Matthew, Mark, Luke and John. These Gospels (gospel is an old English word meaning “good news”) tell the story of Jesus Christ’s life.
Jesus Christ is one of the best-known and yet least understood figures of history. He lived on earth for only about 33 years, but he had a profound impact on what has happened since. Today, those who claim to follow his teaching make up the largest of the world’s religions – more than one billion.
“I must be about my Father’s business” – Luke 2:49
Each of the Gospels tells the story from a slightly different point of view. Jesus was born in Bethlehem, a village about six miles south of Jerusalem. However, he spent most of his life working as a carpenter in Nazareth, a town in the northern province of Galilee. At about the age of 30, Jesus began his active ministry. His powerful preaching, accompanied by miracles, soon attracted a popular following.
Jesus incurred the wrath of the religious authorities. His message of love and humility exposed their hypocrisy, and they looked for ways to discredit him.
In spite of mounting opposition, Jesus continued to preach and heal. Among the common people he became a popular and controversial figure. Many thought he was the long-awaited Messiah. He talked of establishing the “kingdom of God” in which all people could live in peace and freedom.
But, instead of organizing a movement to overthrow the Romans, Jesus emphasized tolerance, peace, humility and submission to civil authorities. He spoke of God as his Father and often referred to himself as “the Son.” He said he was the “bread of life” and promised that those who “ate his flesh” and “drank his blood” would have eternal life when he raised them up “at the last day.” He said his kingdom was “not of this world,” yet he assured those who followed him that they would rule with him. Most disconcerting of all was his insistence that he would die and then be raised from the dead.
“I am innocent of this man’s blood” – Matthew 27:24
Eventually, the authorities schemed to do away with Jesus. They arrested him, tried him for treason and crucified him. After his death, his disciples buried him and resigned themselves to continue their former lives.
Three days later, Jesus rose from the dead. At first the disciples could not believe what had happened. They had witnessed his death and burial. Now the resurrected Jesus was among them. Would he now restore the kingdom to Israel? they wondered (Acts 1:6). The “time is not for you to know,” Jesus responded (Acts 1:7).
First, there was work to be done. Jesus gave them a commission (Matthew 28:19-20) and promised to send the Holy Spirit to guide and support them. He then ascended to his Father in heaven, to return to earth at a time yet in the future.
The life and work of Jesus Christ are the central focus of the Bible.
Acts of the Apostles
A few weeks after Jesus’ resurrection, on the Day of Pentecost, Jesus’ disciples received the Holy Spirit, as promised. Now, filled with spiritual understanding and power, the disciples realized that Jesus had come to rescue, not just a few downtrodden people in Judah, but rather the whole world. His goal was not physical liberation, but spiritual salvation.
The Holy Spirit opened the disciples’ understanding to the full meaning of the prophecies concerning the Messiah. Enthusiastically, they began to spread the good news. Much of the book of Acts is concerned with the work of the apostle Paul. After his conversion to Christianity, Paul traveled extensively within the Roman Empire, preaching the gospel and establishing churches. He was constantly persecuted and several times narrowly escaped with his life.
The apostles maintained contact with the new churches by letters, or (“epistles.”)
|“And when there had been much dispute, Peter rose up” – Acts 15:7|
This article was written in 1991, and updated in 2001.
Next chapter: Apostles and Epistles
Author: John Halford