Day 21

The New Testament Epistles - cont.

The Epistle to the Hebrews

The writer of Hebrews is unknown, but he would certainly have been known to his readers, and would have had the respect and authority necessary for his letter to be influential. Its content tells us that his readers were Jewish converts who were either being tempted back to Judaism, or were perhaps attempting to Judaise the gospel. The date of writing is only known to precede 70 A.D. as there is no mention of the temple destruction, and references to the temple are in the present tense. The theme of his letter is the absolute supremacy of Christ, and is beautifully structured to present that message to a Hebrew audience. The letter can be subdivided as follows: Christ is greater than the angels [1-2] Christ is superior to Moses [3] Rest for God’s people [4] Christ is superior to the Aaronic priesthood [5-7] The superior sacrificial work of Christ, our High Priest [8-10] Perseverance in faith [11-12] Concluding exhortations [13]

Christ is greater than the Angels

[1-2] Christ is the firstborn of the Father who calls him his son, who laid the foundations of the earth and now sits on the right hand of God. All the angels worship him, but angels are servants, ministering spirits, sent forth to minister for them who shall be heirs of salvation. If words spoken by angels were steadfast, how can we neglect the message of salvation spoken of by the Son of God? Jesus came to us, having been made a little lower than the angels, to suffer death and then be crowned with glory and honour, in order that death and sin be conquered, and that man might be sanctified and brought back to God.

Christ is superior to Moses

[3] Consider Jesus, our High Priest, who was faithful to the Father who appointed him. Moses was also faithful, but Moses was a servant in God’s house, whereas Christ is the son in God’s house. Beware of being provoked into turning away from God, remembering the people in Moses’ time who failed to inherit the promised land because of their unbelief; we must not fail through such unbelief.

Rest for God’s people

[4] Christians too have a ‘rest’ to enter. We must be careful we do not fail through unbelief as the Hebrews did in Moses’ time. The ‘rest’ the Hebrews entered in the promised land was a physical rest. Using Psalm 95, the writer concludes that God made a promise of rest to those who believed. David, in this psalm, still spoke of the possibility of entering a rest if people would hear God’s voice, which must therefore be a spiritual rest, which still remains to this day. The way to this rest is provided by coming to God through Jesus Christ, our great High Priest.

Christ is superior to the Aaronic priesthood

[5-7] Aaron was high priest in the time of Moses, and all priests were of the house of Aaron. Jesus is more than our High Priest; he is a Priest-King in the order of Melchizedek [Ps 110:4] whom Abraham met [Gen 14:18–20]. The writer now warns his readers against falling away, saying they should by now be mature in their faith, but are still as babes. The writer urges them to move on from basic principles of faith towards perfection, warning them that they would not be able to recover from apostasy. They should therefore not be spiritually lethargic, but have faith and patience as Abraham did, for Christians have the certainty of God’s oath and promise given to Abraham, of which they are now heirs. Melchizedek, who had no ancestors or descendants, was a king and priest of the most high God, superior to Abraham who gave him tithes, and therefore superior to the Levitical priesthood who were descendants of Abraham. Righteousness could not be obtained under the law administered by the priesthood, hence a priesthood that offered a means of righteousness must be superior. The priesthood of Christ is superior in that it was not given through the law but by a solemn oath, saying that Christ is of the order of Melchizedek,a perpetual priest with no succession, whereas there were many priests in the Levitical priesthood. Furthermore, Christ does not have to first offer sacrifices for his own sins before the people’s, since he is holy and without blemish. Consequently, he is able to offer righteousness through his own one-time sacrifice.

The superior sacrificial work of Christ, our High Priest

[8-10] Our High Priest has much more to offer because the earthly priesthood was only a shadow of things to come. Had the original covenant been faultless, there would have been no need for the second, foretold through Jeremiah and quoted here in verses 9 to 12. We are reminded of the nature of the earthly tabernacle, and that it could not make the high priest, who enters the holiest place to perform a service, perfect. The pattern of that service, which first required a sacrifice, was imposed until the coming of Christ whose tabernacle is more perfect, not made by hands, but is in heaven. Christ has entered this heavenly tabernacle by a more superior sacrifice. In previous days, there could be no covenant or forgiveness of sins without sacrifice, but now, the new covenant has been made with the sacrifice of Christ, who is our path to forgiveness of sins. In those days, there had to be many sacrifices for a person’s sins. Now, Christ has offered himself as a one-time perfect sacrifice and the old sacrifices are no longer needed. Readers are warned to hold fast to the profession of their faith in Christ without wavering, and not to reject God’s grace given through him.

Perseverance in faith

[11-12] Examples of faith are shown in Abel, Enoch, Noah, Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Moses, and Rahab. Others mentioned in passing are Gideon, Barak, Samson, Jephthah, David, Samuel and, collectively, the prophets. These men and women of faith could not receive the fulfilment of promises before the coming of Christ. With so many examples of faith, we should be encouraged to persevere, for we now have Jesus, the author and finisher of our faith. The sufferings we experience are to be considered as fatherly chastisements from God, which will benefit and encourage us. But we should take heed that we do not fall from grace as Esau did. The writer warns his readers not to reject Jesus, for we have not been brought to the physical mountain as the Israelites had, but to the spiritual mountain that is Sion, the heavenly Jerusalem, and to the church of Christ, who will be our judge. Since we are called to partake in an eternal kingdom, we should have the grace to serve God in an acceptable manner.

Concluding exhortations

[13] Practical guidance is given for Christian living, with a reminder that Christ suffered for us and we should continuously offer our sacrifice of praise and witness. The letter closes with a prayer, a request for prayer, messages and greetings.

The Epistle of James

It is generally accepted that the author of this epistle was James, the brother of Jesus. James didn’t become a convert until after Jesus’ resurrection, but then went on to become a leader of the Jerusalem church. The recipients are specifically identified in verse 1 as the twelve tribes which are scattered abroad, quite likely those who left Jerusalem during the persecution following Stephen’s martyrdom. The date of writing isn’t known for sure, theories ranging from pre-50 to early 60s A.D., just before James’ martyrdom. This is a very practical letter, focusing entirely on disciplines of Christian life.

Temptation

[1] Following a brief introduction identifying his intended recipients, James opens his letter speaking of temptations being a joy in that they are a test to believers. Testing is beneficial to spiritual growth, bringing Christians to spiritual maturity. The wisdom of this can, if necessary, be sought in faithful prayer. Testing exalts people of low degree, yet will bring the rich into recognition of their true standing before God. Those who endure temptation shall receive the crown of life, which the Lord hath promised to them that love him. However, temptations are not from God but from one’s own thoughts, which can lead to sin and spiritual death if not dealt with. God’s word is our source of understanding in this, but reading in itself is insufficient. We must practise what the word teaches us, otherwise we deceive ourselves, and our own words will expose us.

Favouritism forbidden; Faith and deeds

[2] Showing favouritism to the rich, and hence demeaning the poor, is condemned as an act contrary to God who has chosen the poor, and whose name is often blasphemed by the rich. Being a respecter of persons is transgressing the law  that says, Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself. The law is to be obeyed in its entirety, for if one point of the law is transgressed, then the (whole) law is Transgressed. Paul says it is faith that saves us, not deeds. James qualifies this by emphasising that deeds are the consequence of faith. Believing in God is in itself not enough; demons also believe and tremble, so evidence of faith in the form of deeds is an essential element of Christian life. We know that the body without the Spirit is dead; so is faith without deeds also dead.

Beware, the tongue

[3] A warning is given of how easy it is to offend with the tongue. In the same way that a bit in a horse’s mouth can turn its whole body, and the relatively small rudder will turn a ship as directed, so can the tongue, a small member of our body, change the direction of our destiny. Ill-chosen words can defile the body and set it on a course of spiritual destruction. Out of the same mouth that praises God can come curses on people who are made in the likeness of God; these things ought not to be. Those who profess to be Christians ought especially to control their tongues, for if there are unchristian thoughts or attitudes, then the tongue will expose them. Good conversation can reflect wisdom and knowledge from above, has attributes such as gentility and mercy, and is without hypocrisy. Good seeds are sown by a good tongue.

Against worldliness

[4] In this chapter James speaks of things of our spirit that are of this world and are at enmity with God. We should remember the scripture tells us, The spirit that dwelleth in us lusteth to envy (has all manner of lusts), and draw close to God, then He will draw close to us. We are not to speak evil of one another, not judge one another, not boast of what we might do, but seek the Lord’s Will.

The corrupt rich; Patience and brotherly care

[5] James condemns the worldly attitude of the rich and their oppression of the poor, warning them of the miseries that will come upon them. Christians are encouraged to be patient in waiting on the Lord, citing the prophets as examples of those who suffered affliction yet had patience. We are warned concerning oaths, and encouraged to pray for one another, particularly for the sick and for sinners. Finally, James exhorts us to bring a brother who is a sinner back to truth, for this act will save a soul from spiritual death, and hide a multitude of sins.

The First Epistle of Peter

The disciple Peter’s first letter was written for him by the more educated Sivanus (Silas) early in the 60’s A.D. It was written to brethren in areas of Asia Minor who would soon be suffering persecution in the same way the Christians were in Rome, to give them encouragement to stand firm and to live out their lives as Christians in a hostile world. These two themes are interwoven throughout Peter’s letter.

Faith and a living hope

[1] Peter praises God for His grace in selecting, through foreknowledge, those to be born again and saved through faith, having a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, who are able to rejoice at sufferings, for sufferings refine His people in readiness for the salvation of their souls. These things were foretold by the prophets and fulfilled in Christ. Christians are exhorted to live a holy life, having been redeemed from their former ways by the sacrifice of Christ, and to live according to the gospel, which is the everlasting truth.

A spiritual house; Submission to authority

[2] God’s word is the food for spiritual growth, enabling Christians to be the living stones that form the spiritual house, which is the church. In this house, God’s people are a holy priesthood offering up spiritual sacrifices in praise and worship to the one who called them out of darkness into His marvellous light. Christians should bear witness by submission to authority, not being seen to be unlawful and thereby inviting criticism from unbelievers. Servants, or slaves, likewise should submit to their masters, even if they are treated unjustly, as this was the example of Christ who suffered for all without just cause.

Wives and husbands; The duty of all Christians

[3] Wives should submit to their husbands. In doing so, husbands who sin will be won over by their pure conversation and their meek and quiet spirit. Husbands are to honour their wives as equal heirs to God’s grace, lest their prayers be hindered. All Christians are called to love one another, displaying the fruits that love brings, and to seek peace. This will favour the eyes of the Lord and open His ears to prayer. Expect to suffer for your faith and be prepared to answer those who are puzzled concerning the hope that is in you. Take care your sufferings are for doing good rather than evil, for Christ once suffered for the sins of all that He might bring them closer to God, having been put to death in the flesh, then brought to life by the Spirit and is now at the right hand of God.

Living and suffering for Christ

[4] Christians should arm themselves with the mind of Christ, considering a life according to the flesh to be in the past, regardless of peer pressure, for all must give account to God as judge. Conduct yourselves with a view that we are in the end times, being prayerful, loving, hospitable and serving with the proper use of God’s gifts. You should not be surprised that you have to suffer, but rejoice that you are worthy to be partakers of Christ’s sufferings. Nevertheless, beware that your suffering is for Christ’s sake and not for your own wrongdoings.

Conduct of elders and young men; Final greetings

[5] Elders are to teach and oversee willingly and with humility. Younger brethren are to submit themselves to their elders, treat one another as equals and with humility, and guard against the influence of the Devil. Remain steadfast in the faith, knowing your brethren throughout the world also suffer the same afflictions. Final greetings and a blessing are then given.

The Second Epistle of Peter

Peter’s second and last letter was written towards the end of his life, probably between 65 and 68 A.D., and presumably to the same audience as his first letter. On this occasion he did not have Silas to help him, and the written Greek (the commentators say) is more basic. The purpose was to encourage spiritual growth, warn against false teachers, and to urge his readers to remain strong in their faith in readiness for the Lord’s return.

Spiritual growth through the knowledge of God

[1] Peter’s opening greeting reminds us all that our Christian walk is possible only through our knowledge of God. Faith leads to virtue, and through knowledge is added temperance, patience, godliness, brotherly affection and love. Christians that lack these attributes are not able to grow spiritually. Peter considers it to be his duty to remind his brethren of these things, particularly now as he sees his time on earth coming to an end. He recalls his presence at Christ’s transfiguration as a witness to the divine source of the gospel he has preached to them.

False teachers

[2] Peter warns that there will be false teachers whose intent is financial gain from their religious teaching. In the days of Noah, when fallen angels and an ungodly world were destroyed by the flood, only Noah and his family were saved. Likewise, Sodom and Gomorrah were destroyed with only Lot and his daughters saved. These events demonstrate that God will deliver the godly out of temptation, and reserve the unjust for the day of judgement when they will be punished. Balaam is an example of one who chose the wages of unrighteousness when using his gifts, and was rebuked by means of a dumb ass. If false teachers, who once knew Christ and were delivered from sin, return to their old ways, then it would have been better for them never to have known righteousness, for appropriate judgement will befall them.

The certainty of Christ’s return

[3] Peter reminds us of the words of the prophets and the teaching of the apostles. They had spoken of false teachers and those who would scoff concerning the second coming of Christ. The day is not known, but the Lord’s time is not as our time: one day is with the Lord as a thousand years, and a thousand years as one day, and He is long-suffering, not wishing that any should perish, but that all should come to repentance. Peter finishes his letter urging all Christians to remain steadfast and to grow in grace and the knowledge of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ.

The First Epistle of John

Although the author is not named, it has been generally accepted it was John, the disciple Jesus loved, also the author of the letters 2 and 3 John. The overall purpose of this letter is given in 5:13: that ye may know that ye have eternal life, and that ye may believe on the name of the Son of God. It is constructed around three tests of ‘the reality of the knowledge of God’: the test of obedience, the test of love and the test of belief. These three tests are grouped and repeated three times throughout the letter, although in ‘The third application’, ‘obedience’ is encompassed in ‘Belief ’. It is thought this letter was probably written sometime between 85 and 95 A.D.

Introduction

[1:1-4] The apostle gives his testimony by relating his fellowship with Jesus, and hence with God, explaining the close physical relationship the apostles had with him.

The first application of the tests

[1:5-2:28]

Obedience

John declares God to be the light; none can have fellowship with Him who do not walk in the light and have not been cleansed from all unrighteousness by the blood of Christ. No man can say he has not sinned, but God is faithful and just to cleanse from all unrighteousness those who confess their sins, with Jesus Christ as the atoning sacrifice for all sins. We can be sure that we have come to know him if we obey his commands.

Love

This is a commandment of old, to love one another. Anyone who hates his brother is still walking in darkness. Warnings are given against love for the things of this world, that is, the lust of the flesh, the lust of the eyes and the pride of life. Those who have love for this world do not have the love of the Father in them.

Belief

John warns against ‘antichrists’ – in this context, those who deny that Jesus is the Christ and also deny the Father (these were the Gnostics of the time who were leading some believers astray). His readers are urged to remain steadfast in the truth and in their confession of the One that promised everlasting life.

The second application of the tests

[2:29-4:6]

Obedience

It is one of God’s expressions of love for us that those who believe in Jesus and are born again are called children of God. All children of God know of the certainty of Christ’s second coming and turn away from sin. This is how believers know that Christ is in them and they are children of God, that they turn away from all sin.

Love

We know we have spiritual life when we love one another and have compassion for those in need. Love is most evident when it is displayed in actions rather than words, but it is our hearts that condemn us if true love is not in us.

Belief

Caution is to be exercised when listening to those who profess to have the Spirit in them. The Spirit of God is recognised by this simple truth: every spirit that confesses that Jesus Christ has come in the flesh is of God, and every spirit that does not confess that Jesus Christ has come in the flesh is not of God. Hence, belief is in the incarnate Christ, not just in words but in public confession.

The third application

[4:7-5:12]

Love

Love comes from God; God is love. God showed his love for us by sending His son as an atoning sacrifice for our sins. So we also ought to love one another. The God who no one sees is seen in those who love, for God’s spirit is in us, and his love is made complete in us. Perfect love drives out fear; the one who fears is not made perfect in love. We love because God first loved us. And this command have we from him, that he who loveth God love his brother also.

Belief

John speaks of faith in Christ (belief), introduced by combining the three elements of love, obedience and belief. The core of Christian belief, witnessed by the Spirit, is that God has given us eternal life through His son.

Concluding remarks

[5:13-21] John ends his letter with an explanation of his primary purpose in writing: that ye may know that ye have eternal life, and that ye may believe on the name of the Son of God. He encourages confidence in prayer, tells them that those born again cannot be touched by the Devil if they avoid sinning, then reminds them that Jesus is the Son of God who was sent by the Father, and through him we come to know God. John concludes with the simple warning to guard yourselves from idols.

The Second Epistle of John

This very short letter, penned by John late in his life, was written to a specific woman believer (some say the woman represents the church in general), urging her to be discerning when providing hospitality to travelling evangelists. The problem was that there were Gnostic teachers who relied on the same practice as true evangelists; that is, they would be taken into a believer’s home, then given provisions when they left. Apart from the usual exhortations, briefly given, the key verses are 10 and 11: If there come any unto you, and bring not this doctrine, receive him not into your house, neither bid him God speed: For he that biddeth him God speed is partaker of his evil deeds.

The Third Epistle of John

John’s third letter is another personal one, this time to one Gaius of whom nothing else is known. It would seem that a church leader by the name of Diotrephes rejected John’s letters and authority. He would not receive brethren sent by John, and even excommunicated those that did receive them. John wrote this letter to commend Gaius for supporting the brethren sent by him and, presumably indirectly, to send a warning to Diotrephes.

The Epistle of Jude

It is generally accepted that Jude, in calling himself the ‘brother of James’, was a half-brother to Jesus. The recipients of the letter are not known, nor is the date of writing, although there are suggestions it was either around 65 or 80 A.D. Verses 3 and 4 tell us that Jude had originally intended to write about the salvation we share, but then felt compelled to warn his readers about some godless men who had infiltrated the church. These were false teachers who taught that God’s grace gave them licence to sin, since their sins would no longer be held against them. They even considered their sins would lead to further evidence of God’s grace. Jude cites historical examples of God’s judgement against such apostates: the unbelieving Israelites during the exodus; the angels who fell prior to the flood; and Sodom and Gomorrah judged for their sexual immorality and perversion. He then describes the deplorable words and character of these godless men and the fate that awaits them. Jude reminds his readers that these things were foretold by Jesus. He urges them to continue to grow in faith, showing mercy to others and to save souls whenever they are able. The letter ends at verses 24 and 25 with an expression of praise to God: Now to Him being able to keep you without stumbling, and to set you before His glory without blemish, with unspeakable joy; to the only wise God, our Savior, be glory and majesty and might and authority, even now and forever. Amen.
30-Day Reading Plan This is a 30-day reading plan based on an average of 15 minutes per session - a total read time of 7½ hours. The actual read times vary from 12 to 20 minutes to accommodate for practical read session end points. If the reading times don’t suit you, then simply go at your own pace and note where you finished. Please select your reading day below
New Testament History Books -
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Old Testament History Books -
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18 19 20 21
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New Testament Epistles -
The Prophets -
The Poetry Books -