What can be said about the New Testament in a short reflection?
Firstly, we can ask the question, why were the books written? John sums up the reason for writing his gospel and his first letter, thus:
… these are written that you may believe that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in his name.John 20. 30,31
I write these things to you who believe in the name of the Son of God so that you may know that you have eternal life.1 John 5. 13
The New Testament focuses on the life and ministry of Jesus Christ and on the early growth of the church which he instigated. It is written primarily to pass on the story to future generations and provide an opportunity for them to believe the central message of hope and reconciliation to God. The text is a spur to ask ourselves the question – do we believe? – and if so, are we passing on the same message of hope to future generations?
The New Testament complements the Old Testament; throughout the book, Jesus and the writers of the epistles make many references to the scriptures and the history of the Jewish people. In particular, Jesus commenced his ministry by relating his mission to prophetic words:
[Jesus] went to Nazareth, where he had been brought up, and on the Sabbath day he went into the synagogue, as was his custom. He stood up to read and the scroll of the prophet Isaiah was handed to him … He began by saying to them, “Today this scripture is fulfilled in your hearing.”Luke 4. 16, 17, 21
The New Testament is set in history. The first words in John’s gospel affirm that “the Word” – referring to Jesus, existed as part of the Godhead from the very beginning of time:
In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was with God in the beginning. Through him all things were made; without him nothing was made that has been made.John 1. 1-3
Matthew’s gospel then puts Jesus into a human context, by reference to a genealogy going back to ancient times:
Thus there were fourteen generations in all from Abraham to David, fourteen from David to the exile to Babylon, and fourteen from the exile to the Messiah.Matt. 1. 17
The heart of the New Testament is the portrayal of the life, ministry, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ and the implications of this for all human life – including the gentiles – the people of non-Jewish nations who had previously been regarded as outsiders. We witness a rounded human being who lived a life like each one of us. He grew up, ate food, felt sorrow and wept and slept just like everyone else. However, He provided an example of Godly living to which many may aspire, but none can wholly achieve. As we strive for holiness, we realise all the more, our need for forgiveness and restoration. The Cross provides the central focus for the gospels – and provides a means by which all of us may enter a relationship with our Father God, completely freeing us from most of the sacrificial and legal requirements set out in the Books of the Law. The resurrection seals this by demonstrating that death has been finally overcome and that we too will be raised to glory. This theme is taken up in the book of Revelation at the end of the Bible as we glimpse a vision of a new heaven and a new earth.
The Acts of the Apostles provide an overview of the challenging years of the growing Christian Church How could a group of inarticulate working men transform the world? This could have only happened by means of supernatural power – hence the book is often referred to as “The Acts of the Holy Spirit”. Peter, the fisherman, quotes a text from the prophet, Joel:
In the last days, God says, I will pour out my Spirit on all people. Your sons and daughters will prophesy, your young men will see visions, your old men will dream dreams… and everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.Acts 2. 17, 21
Most of the epistles or letters were written to specific churches or individuals to address the theological and practical problems of the age. Perhaps it is surprising that many of the same issues are ones that we face today. Paul, who is the primary author, and the arch-theologian of the Christian faith, expressed his desires for the people of Philippi, thus:
Rejoice in the Lord always. I will say it again: Rejoice! … Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.
Finally, brothers and sisters, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things. Whatever you have learned or received or heard from me, or seen in me—put it into practice. And the God of peace will be with you.Phil. 4. 4-9
This passage no doubt provided wonderful encouragement for people who lived 2,000 years ago, but also provides a great blessing for those of us reading it who are living through difficult times today.