Everything You Need to Know about the New Testament
The New Testament may very well be the most life-changing compilation you could ever read.
The New Testament is the second section of the Bible, describing Jesus and how He came to this world to reveal the love of God. It tells about His ministry, His death and resurrection, and the church that resulted.
But what makes it so life changing?
It’s the truths it contains.
Those truths, lived out by Jesus, reach across culture, time, and country. They have changed lives over the past two thousand years, giving millions of people freedom, hope, and purpose.
So don’t miss out! If you’ve ever wanted to know more about the New Testament, here’s your chance.
This overview will look at the following:
- Why the Bible has two testaments
- The books of the New Testament
- The authors of the New Testament
- What the gospels are
- Major themes and events in the New Testament
- Key lessons from the New Testament
- God’s promises in the New Testament
Let’s dive in.
Why is there a “New” Testament, and how is it different from the Old Testament?
The Bible is divided into two major sections known as the Old Testament and the New Testament. These two sections function like books in a series. The Old Testament provides the backdrop to the New Testament, which is like its sequel.
The golden thread throughout?
Jesus Christ, the Son of God and the Savior of humanity. He is the central theme of the Bible (John 5:39).
But why is one “old” and the other “new”?
Here are three major reasons:
- The New Testament fulfills the Old Testament promises.
- In it, Jesus confirms the covenant of grace.
- The New Testament helps categorize biblical history and shows us God’s people after the birth of Christ.
Let’s explore each one.
Fulfillment of the Old Testament promises
The New Testament is all about fulfilling the promises God made to His people in the Old Testament. These are promises about the Messiah, the way He will deliver us from this evil world, and the sinless world that we will someday live in.
But let’s get a little backstory to these promises.
But that all changed.
Adam and Eve, given the opportunity to exercise their freedom of choice, doubted God. They allowed themselves to be tempted with the possibilities of power and knowledge.
Unfortunately this “knowledge” was that of evil (Genesis 3:5, 22). Up until then, they had only known goodness.
In a matter of speaking, this unleashed evil onto the world. It immediately began affecting everything about them and their environment. Death was the only way to pay for their sin.
Thankfully, God had a plan.
He promised to send a Deliverer (Messiah) to free His people from the consequences of sin and evil. They wouldn’t have to die forever. He would take the ultimate consequences upon Himself, demonstrating perfect love in the process.
The Old Testament is about the making of this promise. It traces the loss of perfection and the longing of God’s people for redemption, and for the Messiah.
It promised that the Messiah would carry the sins of the people and suffer so that they could be set free (Isaiah 53).
The New Testament, then, is about the keeping of this promise.
It shows how God sent that Messiah—Jesus Christ. He came and fulfilled the prophecies and the symbols of the Old Testament, dying the death we deserved. And because of this, those who accept His death can live forever! God will restore the world to perfection once again (Revelation 21–22.)
The Covenant of Grace confirmed
In detailing the life and death of Jesus, the New Testament shows how God confirmed His covenant of grace.
What is this covenant of grace?
In short, it was God’s agreement to save His people by faith and grace alone. Because the people could not keep God’s law and obey Him in their own ability, God sent Jesus to demonstrate the perfect keeping of the law.
By dying on the cross, He took our penalty for sin. And His perfect life makes it possible for God to put His law in our hearts and minds! In this way, obeying Him becomes part of who we are!
This covenant of grace started all the way back in the beginning.
When Adam and Eve doubted God and sinned, God had a plan to deal with their sin. He showed them what this was like by sacrificing a lamb to give them clothing to wear (Genesis 3:21).
But that lamb represented more than clothing.
It represented Jesus’ death, which would confirm the covenant of grace.
In Genesis 12, God made a covenant with Abraham, promising that
- the nation that came from Abraham would be God’s chosen people.
- the Messiah would come through this nation.
Jesus’ death confirmed this covenant too.
When the Israelites came from Egypt, God made a covenant with them when He gave them the sanctuary system. This became known as the old covenant.
The covenant of grace, however, is known as the new covenant because it was not confirmed until the death of Jesus. Even so, it existed from the time of Adam and Eve, so it was actually “older” than the old covenant.
God’s people after the birth of Christ
The Old and New Testaments divide the story of God’s people into two major sections: the time before Christ’s birth and the time after. The New Testament is the story of the church from the birth of Christ onward.
Interestingly, even history divides at this point.
That’s why we often use the terms BC and AD. BC stands for “before Christ” and works back from around the time Christ was born. AD is anno domini in Latin, meaning “in the year of our Lord.” It counts forward from the birth of Christ.
In this way, then, the Old Testament is pre-Messiah.
It shows the beginning and development of God’s people—the Israelite nation. God chose them to be a blessing to the world and to prepare the way for the Messiah—Jesus.
On the other hand, the New Testament is about God’s people after the birth of Jesus.
Now, instead of God having one specific nation as His chosen people to spread His message throughout the earth, He has given everyone the chance to join in the responsibility of sharing the good news of Jesus.
2 Peter 2:9 refers to the church like this:
“You are a chosen people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for God’s own possession, so that you may proclaim the excellencies of Him who has called you out of darkness into His marvelous light” (NASB).
And it’s not exclusive.
Anyone who believes in Jesus can become part of this group of people (Galatians 3:28).
The book of Acts details the way the church fulfilled its mission after Jesus’ ascension. Smaller letters, called epistles, shared the Christ’s teachings and guided this growing church.
You may be wondering if these instructions are still relevant to us.
The answer is yes! They speak of events that are about to happen. Some of the letters, as well as the book of Revelation, foretell the second coming of Christ and help the church to prepare for the last days of earth’s history.
What are the books of the New Testament?
The New Testament consists of 27 books that were originally written in Greek.
They are in canonical order, meaning that they have been organized according to Christian tradition to thematically express its ultimate message.
Their order is similar to that of the Old Testament, starting with the core story in the first few books, followed by a historical account and other writings.1
The books of the New Testament include2
- 4 Gospels
- The Acts of the Apostles
- 21 letters written to the churches, church leaders, and larger groups of Christians
- Revelation, a book of prophecy
For a chronological list of the books according to date written, see the chart below.
|Book||Date Written (Approximate)|
|1 and 2 Thessalonians||AD 52|
|1 and 2 Corinthians||AD 57|
|1 Peter||AD 60–63|
|Acts of the Apostles||AD 63|
|2 Peter||AD 64|
|1 Timothy||AD 63–67|
|2 Timothy||AD 63–67|
|1, 2, and 3 John||AD 85–95|
These books came together in stages.
At first, Christians passed on the accounts of Jesus and the teachings of their leaders through oral tradition.
Oral tradition—through storytelling, singing, and reciting poetry—was a the common form of sharing history during those times. In this way, eyewitnesses of Jesus kept their experiences alive.3
But as time went on, they recognized the need to record them.
After all, eyewitnesses of Jesus couldn’t be everywhere at once! Persecution was increasing and many of the apostles were dying. Their teachings needed to be preserved so that believers would have them for years to come.
Bible scholars generally agree that the books of the New Testament were written sometime between 50 and 100 AD. Paul most likely wrote his letters first, followed by the Acts of the Apostles.4 Matthew, Mark, and Luke may have written their Gospels around the same time, though scholars disagree on the dates. John authored his Gospel, epistles, and the book of Revelation last.
Because the writings came from respected leaders and eyewitnesses of Jesus’ life (2 Peter 1:16), the believers treasured them. They read them in worship services and memorized them, making it difficult for them to be tampered with.5
Near the third century, the whole biblical canon began to take shape. Church councils convened to determine what should and shouldn’t be included.
But God was guiding the whole process. The councils were simply acknowledging the inspiration and authority of the books.
How did they recognize this inspiration?
Each book was consistent with the other books in its records of the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus. The New Testament books were also consistent with the already-established Old Testament.
By the fourth century, the New Testament was considered Scripture and part of the biblical canon.6
Who are the authors of the New Testament?
Seven men authored the New Testament: Matthew, Mark, Luke, John, Paul, Peter, James, and Jude.
These men came from a variety of backgrounds and professions. Some were fishermen, one was a physician, and another was a tax collector. One even persecuted Christians before encountering Jesus.
Let’s look at each one.
Matthew (also known as Levi Matthew)
Matthew was a tax collector before Jesus called him to be one of His twelve disciples (Matthew 9:9). Later, he served as an apostle in the early Christian church.
He wrote the book of Matthew.
Mark (also known as John Mark or Marcus7)
The Bible doesn’t give any evidence that Mark spent time with Jesus in person. But he worked closely with the apostles of the early Christian church and joined Paul and Barnabas on their first missionary trip (Acts 12:25; 13:5).
He wrote the book of Mark.
Luke was a physician who worked and traveled with Paul (2 Timothy 4:11). Paul calls him “the beloved physician” (Colossians 4:14).
Luke had an eye for detail, as seen in the introduction of his Gospel:
“It seemed good to me also, having followed all things closely for some time past, to write an orderly account for you” (Luke 1:3, ESV).
Luke also wrote the book of Acts, or Acts of the Apostles.
John was a fisherman and the brother of James.
They were both disciples, but John had a particularly close relationship with Jesus—so much so that he referred to himself as “the one whom Jesus loved” (John 20:2, ESV).
He wrote five books in total—the Gospel of John, the three epistles of John, and the book of Revelation.
Paul (previously Saul)
Paul was not among the first twelve disciples.
A zealous Jew, he instead persecuted Christians until he had a dramatic turnabout (Acts 9:1–19). Through a vision, Jesus appointed Paul as an apostle. He became one of Jesus’ most ardent followers and helped spread the gospel throughout the Mediterranean region.
He is the author of Romans, 1 and 2 Corinthians, Galatians, Ephesians, Philippians, Colossians, 1 and 2 Thessalonians, 1 and 2 Timothy, Titus, Philemon, and possibly Hebrews.
Peter (also known as Simon Peter)
Peter was a fisherman, one of Jesus’ disciples (1 Peter 1:16), and a brother to the disciple Andrew.
After Jesus’ ascension, Peter assumed a leadership role in the early Christian church (Acts 15:6–7). He wrote the two epistles with his name.
James (James the Just)
James was a brother of Jesus (Galatians 1:19). Though not one of the twelve disciples, he saw Jesus after His resurrection (1 Corinthians 15:7).8
Later, he became a leader of the church in Jerusalem (Acts 15:2, 6, 13).
Not surprisingly, he wrote the book of James.
Jude (also known as Judas)
Jude was a brother to James the Just (Jude 1) and a stepbrother of Jesus. Though he is sometimes called Judas, don’t confuse him for Judas Iscariot, who betrayed Jesus.
Now that we’ve become acquainted with the authors of the New Testament, let’s learn more about their writings. We’ll start with the Gospels.
What are the Gospels?
The core Gospel message, that Jesus saves, is told by four different people in four different books. While each of them present the Gospel story, sometimes they are referred to together as “The Gospels.” They are the first four books of the New Testament (Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John), and historical accounts of the life and ministry of Jesus.
The word gospel comes from the Greek word euaggelion, which means “good news.” Isaiah 52:7 uses the Hebrew equivalent:
“How beautiful upon the mountain are the feet of him who brings good news” (NKJV).
Jesus also mentioned the gospel, often in the context of the kingdom of God. He commissioned His disciples to share this message with the world (Matthew 24:14; 28:18–20).9
No doubt, the Gospel writers believed that their writings shared this good news.
Scholars call Matthew, Mark, and Luke the synoptic Gospels because they follow a similar pattern in telling the story of Jesus.
The pattern looks like this:
- Jesus’ life and ministry
- His death
- His resurrection
- His ascension
- The commission to preach the gospel and make disciples
The Gospels show how Jesus fulfilled the Old Testament prophecies and came as the promised Messiah. Many times, their writers refer to these passages.
One common example of this is when they justify Jesus’ actions with the words “that the Scripture might be fulfilled.”10 They then refer to a passage in the Old Testament that foretold that specific action of the Messiah.
There’s another way the Gospels connect back to the Old Testament:
They show aspects of Jesus’ life that coincide with Old Testament characters.
Take a look at how Jesus parallels Moses:
- Moses left a position of royalty to free the Israelite slaves. Jesus left a position of power to free people enslaved by sin (John 3:16).
- Moses spent 40 years in the wilderness in preparation for his ministry. Jesus spent 40 days in the wilderness fasting and praying (Matthew 4:1–11).
- Moses ascended Mount Sinai, becoming illuminated by God’s glory (Exodus 34:29). Jesus ascended the Mount of Transfiguration and radiated with glory (Matthew 17:2).
Why Four Gospels?
The New Testament includes four Gospels—four different accounts of the same story— because they provide four different perspectives on the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus. These accounts build the details and credibility of the events.
Think of it this way:
If you and three other people saw a crime happen, the police would want to interview each witness.
Why? Isn’t one witness enough?
Investigators would tell you no. Each individual has a unique perspective and emphasis.
And having many witnesses who notice different details helps corroborate the testimonies.
Same with the Bible, particularly the Gospels. The writers viewed Jesus through their own viewpoints and shared different aspects of His character.
Even then, they were only scratching the surface (John 21:25)!
But the beauty of the Gospels is how they encapsulate the essential story we need to know.
Each one of the books brings out the following:
- Jesus’ divine nature11
- His teachings and miracles12
- His betrayal, trial, and death13
- His resurrection14
- His encouragement for us today15
Together, the four Gospels provide a layered history of the life of Jesus.
Matthew is the first book of the New Testament and the first of the four Gospels.
Because the author, Matthew, was Jewish, he addresses that audience. The Jews had been longing for the kingdom of God, which would come through the Messiah.
Here are some instances of this theme:
- Jesus’ royal lineage from King David (Matthew 1:1–17).
- The wise men who worshiped Jesus as the “King of the Jews” (Matthew 2:2, 11).
- Jesus’ parables about the kingdom of heaven (Matthew 13, 20, 22, 25).
The target audience of Mark was the Romans, who valued power and military prowess. For this reason, he presents Jesus as a powerful miracle worker.
Instead of devoting large sections to Jesus’ words and teachings, Mark focuses on His ministry and miracles. He brings out how Jesus had the authority to cast out demons (Mark 1:23–27).
Some scholars believe that the author of Luke was a Greek, making him the only non-Jewish author of the New Testament. Luke’s careful research and methodical approach would have appealed to the Greeks.
Luke emphasizes Jesus’ identification with humanity and His mission to save the lost (Luke 19:10).16 The underlying message is that everyone—Jews and non-Jews—can have access to the blessings of Christ. This helps us understand why he traces Jesus’ genealogy all the way back to Adam, the father of humanity (Luke 3:38).
This book and the last of the Gospels was written by John, Jesus’ disciple.
His desire was for all to know about the salvation that comes through Jesus, so he highlights the divinity of Jesus.
How does he do this?
He begins his narrative at Creation where Jesus was One with God who spoke the world into existence. He shows that Jesus was fully human but also fully God (John 7:29; 8:58; 10:36).
And don’t miss the powerful “I am” statements of Jesus:
- “I am the bread of life” (John 6:35).
- “I am the light of the world” (John 8:12).
- “I am the door of the sheep” (John 10:7).
- “I am the good shepherd” (John 10:11, 14).
- “I am the resurrection and the life” (John 11:25).
- “I am the way, the truth, and the life” (John 14:6).
- “I am the true vine” (John 15:1).
In these last few sections, we’ve explored the way the four Gospels express the core story of Jesus.
Next, the Acts of the Apostles shows how that core story impacted the first-century world. Keep reading to learn more!
The Acts of the Apostles
The Acts of the Apostles (often referred to as Acts) is the story of the early Christian church after Jesus went back to heaven. It bridges Jesus’ ministry with the ministry of His followers.
It continues where Luke’s Gospel left off—right before Jesus’ ascension.
In its first verses, Jesus commissions His disciples to preach the gospel to the whole world. He promises to send the Holy Spirit to empower them.
Then, it documents the energetic missionary efforts of these apostles. It shows the growth and unity of the church amid controversy and persecution.
But Luke had another purpose.
He wanted to provide evidence of Jesus’ resurrection and the power of the gospel (Acts 1:3).
The remaining books of the New Testament expand on this evidence, showing how it’s practical to believers.
Most of the books are letters, addressed to three groups of people:
1. Local churches
2. Church leaders
3. Larger groups of Christians
The following sections will give us an overview of the letters.
Paul’s letters to individual churches
Paul was a committed church leader and the most prominent ambassador of the gospel during the first century. He helped establish churches throughout the then-known world.
Because of his travels, Paul had to find other ways to support the churches he started.
He did this by writing letters (epistles) to them. These epistles provided the believers with instruction on various spiritual and practical matters.
This counsel, crucial to the survival of the young church, is still needed today.
The names of the epistles come from the cities where the churches were located. Let’s look at each one:
Paul encourages the church in Rome and affirms their beliefs. He addresses the Jews in the churches and shows them that all—both Jews and Gentiles—have sinned and need a Savior.
Jesus, His teachings, His work, and His sacrifice.
After presenting a thorough argument for salvation by faith, he gets practical. Romans 12–16 outlines the church’s duty to respond to Jesus’ salvation by loving and serving one another.
Paul helped establish the Corinthian church (Acts 18) and spent 18 months nurturing it.
But what do you do when your baby church is struggling and you’re a long boat ride away?
You send them a letter of rebuke, tempered with love and encouragement. Paul also answers questions that the believers had on various topics. These include marriage and singleness, freedom in Christ, conduct in the church, spiritual gifts, and the resurrection.
The epistle of 1 Corinthians had its effect on most of the believers in Corinth.
But not everyone.
Some had resisted Paul’s counsel and were trying to stir up doubts about his ministry.
So, Paul wrote another letter to them, defending his legitimacy as an apostle.
At the same time, he discusses faithful ministry. It involves enduring affliction, depending on God, and allowing God to work through weakness.17
False teachers had infiltrated the church of Galatia, teaching that salvation comes through obedience to the law of Moses.
On hearing the news, Paul acted quickly.
He wrote to the Galatians, urging them not to accept a false gospel (Galatians 1:6–7). Jesus Himself fulfilled the law, so we are saved through faith in Him (Galatians 2:20). Obedience is the result of His Spirit working in our lives (Galatians 5:13–26).
Paul established the church of Ephesus over the course of two years (Acts 19:1, 10). The believers in this church had left their idols and sinful practices to accept the gospel.
Now, they were thriving.
In his letter, Paul speaks of the richness of the gifts God bestows on His followers (Ephesians 1:3–14; 2:4–8; 3:14–20).
Then, he encourages them to reveal this rich grace through seeking unity with one another.
Paul sent this letter from prison during a time of persecution. Even so, he rejoices because the message of the gospel continues to spread.
The believers in Philippi were in a similar situation to Paul.
They were suffering too (Philippians 1:7). But who better to encourage them than someone who could empathize?
Paul shares his experience and gives the believers advice on dealing with adversity (Philippians 3:8; 4:11). He assures them that God is capable of providing for their every need (Philippians 4:19).
The believers in Colossae were a faithful group.
But this didn’t exclude them from danger.
Like in Galatia, false teachers had been misleading the people about salvation.
Paul knew that, more than ever, the Colossians needed to be rooted in Jesus (Colossians 1:27; 2:6–7). He reaffirmed their belief in Jesus as sufficient for salvation and urged them not to give in to pressure.
Timothy had returned from Thessalonica and brought news to Paul of the thriving church there (1 Thessalonians 1:1).
With joy, Paul praised them for their excellent example in receiving the gospel (1 Thessalonians 1:2–8).
He also emphasized three key doctrines:
- Growing in holiness (1 Thessalonians 4:1–12)
- The resurrection (1 Thessalonians 4:13–18)
- The Second Coming (1 Thessalonians 5:1–11)
Misunderstandings happen—even to the best of us.
Paul’s first epistle to the Thessalonians created some confusion. Some claimed that Jesus was coming back soon, so they had neglected their responsibilities.
How did Paul respond?
In his epistle, he described some events that needed to happen before Jesus could return. He also charged the believers to “stand fast” in God’s work despite persecution (2 Thessalonians 2:15).
Paul’s letters to church leaders (The Pastoral Epistles)
The next four epistles are written by the apostle Paul to church leaders (pastors). Each one is named after the people Paul was addressing.
Church leadership always poses many challenges.
Turns out, the challenges of the early Christian church were not that different from the challenges today.
- Church roles
- False teachings, truth mixed with error
- Interpersonal challenges
In the Pastoral Epistles, Paul offers special encouragement—and straightforward counsel—to church leaders.
Timothy was like a son in the faith to Paul (1 Timothy 1:2). He traveled with Paul and received training from him. Then, Paul appointed him as a leader in the church of Ephesus—a task that required much counsel.
So, what kinds of challenges was Timothy facing?
Once again, false teachers were infiltrating the church. Paul urges Timothy to maintain sound, Jesus-centered teaching and advises him on dealing with those teachers.
Being young did not disqualify Timothy from leadership (1 Timothy 4:12–14). Paul highlights the importance of Timothy’s work, instructing him in other areas of church administration. He encourages Timothy to “wage the good warfare” and “fight the good fight of faith” (1 Timothy 1:18; 6:12).
This epistle is the last one that Paul wrote. At this time, he was in Rome, awaiting his execution.
What would you say if you knew you were writing your last words?
Paul’s time was short and he wasn’t sure he would see Timothy again. He gave Timothy some final advice and instructions.
But most of all, he encouraged the young man. Paul was passing his baton to Timothy. Timothy would carry on Paul’s teachings and guard the truth in the churches he led.
This wouldn’t be easy. There would be suffering, challenges, and temptations. But Paul presented the Scriptures to Timothy as the ultimate guide
(2 Timothy 2:15; 3:14–17).
The epistles of Paul are organized by type and recipient rather than by date of writing. Thus, letters to other church leaders follow the ones sent to Timothy. We’ll look at Paul’s letter to Titus next.
The churches on the island of Crete needed help. Paul enlisted another one of his sons in the faith—Titus—for the job.
Paul’s letter provides Titus with an administrative to-do list (Titus 1:5):
- Appoint church leaders
- Deal with false teachers
- Teach correct doctrine
This outline is still pertinent to church leaders today.
Philemon is perhaps the most unique of all Paul’s epistles. It takes the form of a short letter to a friend.
He was a “beloved friend and fellow laborer” of Paul (Philemon 1).
Philemon had held a slave, Onesimus, who escaped and met Paul. When Paul shared the gospel with Onesimus, the young man accepted Jesus and became like a son to Paul. He assisted Paul, who was imprisoned at this time (Philemon 13).
Eventually, Paul sent Onesimus back to Philemon. He urges Philemon to accept Onesimus back not as a slave, but as a brother in Christ. Paul would repay the young man’s debt.
In short, the theme of Philemon is this:
Letters to large groups (The General Epistles)
These next letters were written to large groups of Christians throughout the Roman Empire during the first century. They are sometimes called the General Epistles because they contained counsel for a general audience rather than specific churches.
What kind of counsel?
They provide practical instruction and guidance on walking with God. The love of God in Christ will lead us to live out His law of love in the way we treat others.
The letters also address the time before Christ’s second coming. The authors provide advice to handle false teachings that might creep into the church.
Scholars are unsure of the author of this book, though evidence seems to show it was Paul.
For one, the line of reasoning in Hebrews points to Paul’s education and intellectual ability. The book also references people and places that Paul mentions in his other epistles (Hebrews 13:23–24). Finally, the early church chose to include it in the biblical canon for the very reason that they believed Paul wrote it.18
Though not explicitly stated, the audience was Jewish converts to Christianity.
And they were struggling. Many had fallen back into keeping the law of Moses in order to become worthy of salvation.
In Hebrews, Paul presents the all-sufficiency of Christ. Jesus fulfilled the old covenant and the Israelite sanctuary services. His life, death, and ministry in the heavenly sanctuary are far superior to the symbols used in those services.
Through faith in this living Christ, believers can live victorious lives (Hebrews 12:1–2).
James was a leader in the church at Jerusalem. His epistle addresses an important conflict that had arisen.
The members wondered: What was the connection of works to salvation? Was salvation found through good deeds or was it through faith in Jesus?
James wrote this letter to answer those questions. Works don’t save us, rather they are a reflection of our faith.
It’s an issue of where the motivation for our works comes from. He proclaimed that “faith without works is dead” (James 2:17, 26).
Jesus’ disciple Peter receives credit for authoring the two epistles with his name.
At the time, severe persecution had distressed the believers.
How should they respond?
Peter encourages them that their trials were temporary. Joy and glory would be their reward, and God’s Word would endure.
Besides this encouragement, Peter discusses submission—submission to rulers (1 Peter 2:13–24), submission in family relationships (1 Peter 3), submission to one another within the church (1 Peter 5:5), and most importantly, submission to God (1 Peter 5:6).
Trouble for the church didn’t only come from outside.
It came from within.
After advising the believers to grow in holiness, Peter warns the church about false teachers.
With all the challenges ahead, some of the believers wondered if Christ would ever come. Peter encourages them that God is not delaying His promise; He wants as many as possible to be saved (2 Peter 3:9). The believers could help Jesus to come sooner by living in a way that pointed others to Christ (2 Peter 3:14–15).
During the time of this epistle, leaders were emerging in the church who were denying Christ’s divinity and messiahship. John’s letter reads as a father addressing his children and seeking to guide them through the challenges.
He answered questions, such as:
How can the church know if they are children of God? How can they tell if they are being deceived?
As an eyewitness of Christ’s majesty (1 John 1:2), John confirms that God’s true children will believe in Christ. This belief will be seen in their obedience to His commandments and their love for one another.
Though most of the general epistles don’t address individuals, 2 and 3 John are exceptions. This second epistle addresses “the elect lady,” whom we know little about. In the letter, John continues the theme from his first letter:
The importance of love and living it out through obedience.
He encourages believers to walk in this truth and not deviate from the doctrine of Christ (2 John 8–9).
In this letter, John addresses Gaius, a believer who had been baptized by Paul and afterward traveled with him. John commends his hospitality and encourages others to imitate him.
According to the letter, Gaius had considerable influence in his church because of this godly behavior.
So, John informs him of an issue.
Diotrephes, who seems to have been a leader in the church, had turned fellow Christians away. John promises that he will come shortly and deal with the issue face to face (3 John 14).
In 25 verses, Jude addresses some problems he noticed in the early Christian church:
Some were denying Jesus Christ and creating division.
He gives examples from the Old Testament of how these false teachers will face the judgment. At the same time, he urges:
“Keep yourselves in the love of God, waiting for the mercy of our Lord Jesus Christ that leads to eternal life” (Jude 21, ESV).
Revelation is the last book of the Bible and of the New Testament. Its message was given as a vision to the apostle John, who wrote it down while exiled on the island of Patmos.
The message of Revelation is unique in many ways.
For one, it is full of symbols, some of which are directly defined and others that require more study. It also focuses on prophecy and events surrounding the last days.
Because of this focus, it acts as a sequel to the book of Daniel, which contains many prophecies related to the last days too.
Revelation begins with John’s vision of Jesus. It continues with a glimpse of heaven and future events through a series of prophetic visions:
- The seven churches
- The throne room of heaven
- The seven seals
- The seven trumpets
- The controversy between the woman and the dragon
- The seven plagues
- Deliverance and judgment
- The new heaven and earth
Though the symbols seem strange, the focal point of Revelation is “the Lamb who was slain” (Revelation 13:8). John uses this name for Jesus 30 times.
Revelation assures us that despite the battle between good and evil, the Lamb and those with Him will be victorious (Revelation 17:4).
Major themes and events in the New Testament
The Old Testament is the narrative of God’s promise to send a Messiah and redeem His people from sin. The New Testament is about how God kept that promise.
This may be the greatest theme in the New Testament: God’s fulfillment of His promise through Jesus.
Sin and selfishness separated humanity from God, but God sent Christ to save His people from sin (Matthew 1:21).
The four Gospels record how He lived out this mission. Then, the Acts of the Apostles follows with the story of Jesus’ followers proclaiming Him throughout the world.
As they recognized how Jesus had fulfilled the promise of the Messiah, they wrote out these teachings, which we find in the remaining books of the New Testament.
Finally, the book of Revelation builds to the restoration of all things. God will once again reunite with His people in a world free from sin and full of love. We will regain the paradise that was lost.
These themes are woven throughout the major events of the New Testament:
- Jesus’ life, death, and resurrection
- The gospel to the world
- Last day events and the Second Coming
- The millennium and the final judgment
- The new earth
Let’s get an overview of each one.
Jesus’ life, death, and resurrection
The New Testament zooms in on the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus. These events are the focal point of the Gospels as well as the driving force behind the accounts of the Acts of the Apostles. They form the foundation for the epistles too.
The Gospel of Matthew and Luke capture various aspects of the miraculous birth of Jesus. These miracles and fulfillments of prophecy include:
- The angel Gabriel’s appearance to Mary, a young Jewish virgin, telling her that her child would be the Son of God (Luke 1:26–35)
- Mary’s conception by the Holy Spirit
- Jesus’ birth in Bethlehem
- The announcement of Jesus’ birth by angels
- A star which led wise men “from the East” to Jesus’ birthplace (Luke 2:1–20).
After Jesus’ birth, the Bible writers spend little time on His childhood or early adulthood. The reason for this may be that the writers were focused on why He came to earth, so they jump directly to His ministry.19
Jesus’ public ministry began when He was baptized by John the Baptist (Matthew 3, Luke 3, Mark 1). After choosing disciples,20 He spent three and a half years traveling with them.
Matthew 4:35 summarizes Jesus’ ministry as one of:
But ultimately, the Gospels move toward His death.21 All four of the Gospels detail His betrayal, arrest, secretive trial, torture, and death.
The death of Jesus was crucial to God’s plan. The penalty for sin was death, and the only one who could pay that penalty was someone who had no sin. Jesus’ sinless life qualified Him as the perfect sacrifice.
But their accounts didn’t end there.
Jesus came back to life on the third day after His death and burial.22
Don’t miss this thought:
The resurrection of Jesus Christ is so central to Christianity that, without it, Christianity wouldn’t even be valid (1 Corinthians 15:13–18).
This event is what promises us forgiveness and salvation from sin (Romans 6:4). This event is what inspired the disciples to proclaim Jesus with passion and courage. And this event is what fueled the early Christian church in the face of severe persecution and death.
Let’s turn next to the events surrounding the beginning of this church.
Spreading the Gospel to the world
Jesus’ last words were a special charge for His followers of all time.
What did He tell them?
He called them to preach the gospel—the good news about Jesus—throughout the world and make disciples:
“Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all things that I have commanded you; and lo, I am with you always, even to the end of the age” (Matthew 28:18–20, NKJV).
Christians call it the Great Commission.
The book of Acts shows us how the followers of Jesus took that commission to heart. Though they started by sharing the gospel with the Jews, a vision given to Peter helped the new Christians to understand that the gospel was also for the Gentiles (non-Jews) (Acts 10).
As the apostles traveled and shared the gospel, they established groups of believers. Eventually, the whole then-known world had heard the message of Jesus.
Followers of Jesus still have the responsibility to share the gospel. It’s a call we can’t ignore as we prepare for the last days.
Last Day Events
The New Testament doesn’t just include events in history; it also contains prophecies of the last days of this world.
What can we expect and how do we prepare? It gives us the answers for these questions and more.
Jesus described the signs of the last days in Matthew 24 and Luke 21. He also told His disciples how He would return, urging them to prepare for this visible, loud, and glorious event (Matthew 24:29–31).
Many of the epistles speak of the Second Coming. For example, 1 Thessalonians 4:13–17 explains how God’s people will experience the event, while 2 Peter 3:1–9 describes the condition of the world right before that time.
The symbols and prophecies of Revelation 12–19 delve deeper into religious and political happenings before Jesus’ coming. Then, Revelation 20 tells about the millennium and the final judgment that occur after His coming.
Perhaps the most important event in Revelation, however, is what comes at its end. Read on to find out about it.
The New Earth
Revelation 21 and 22 end with a beautiful prophecy about the re-creation of the earth. This will take place after the millennium and final judgment.
Take a moment to reflect on this vision that John saw of the new earth:
“And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, “Behold, the dwelling place of God is with man. He will dwell with them, and they will be his people, and God himself will be with them as their God. He will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain anymore, for the former things have passed away” (Revelation 21:3–4, ESV).
Sin and evil will no longer exist. God will reunite with His people in this paradise.
This event is why Jesus came and died. And it is this event that God’s people look forward to today.
In the next section, we’ll find that all the key lessons of the New Testament are meant to prepare us to live on the new earth forever.
Key lessons from the New Testament
As you can imagine, the New Testament offers many lessons! In short, they relate to who God is and what He wants to do in our lives.
Here are some of the major ones that surface over and over again:
- His self-sacrificing love
- The process of salvation
- What God wants to do for us
- Growing as a follower of Jesus
- God’s desire to restore His relationship with us
We’ll briefly expand on each one.
Self-sacrificing love is the essence of God’s character and law.
Jesus Himself summarized the whole law as love to God and love to humankind (Matthew 22:37–40; Galatians 5:14). God revealed this love to us through Jesus as He befriended the outcasts, healed the sick, gave attention to the neglected, and rebuked corrupted religious leadership.
This culminated into the ultimate demonstration of love—Jesus taking on our penalty of death just so we could have opportunity to be reconciled to God (John 15:13).
In response to God’s love and salvation, we will desire to keep His law of love (1 John 4:7–8, 19).
Salvation is a gift we receive through faith.
God gave His Son Jesus to die for us while we were still sinners (John 3:16; Romans 5:8).
Do we deserve it? No.
Can we earn it? No
Instead, we receive it by believing in Christ (Ephesians 2:8–10).
God wants to change our hearts.
Our actions are not the core issue.
Then what is?
It’s what’s fueling the actions—our hearts.
Jesus took the law to another level by showing that people could break God’s law in their hearts long before ever committing a sin (Matthew 5). He wants to write His law in our hearts and minds so that obedience becomes a natural part of who we are (Hebrews 8:10).
Following Jesus is a process of growth.
Many times, the New Testament speaks of our Christian journey as a process of growth (Ephesians 4:15). It sometimes refers to it with the fancy word sanctification (1 Thessalonians 4:3; Romans 6:22).
How do we grow?
Peter encourages believers to grow “in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ” (2 Peter 3:18, ESV). This growth takes place within the context of a church community (Colossians 2:19).
God longs to restore His relationship with us.
He has promised that Jesus will return soon and bring us to heaven (1 Thessalonians 4:16–17).
Then, He will recreate the earth to the perfection of Eden once again (Revelation 21–22). Sickness, sorrow, pain, and death will be gone forever (Revelation 21:4).
The Bible teaches us to live prepared for that day.
How? It reminds us that eternal life begins today through knowing Jesus Christ (John 17:3). Then, it provides us with principles to do just that!
As we study both the Old and New Testaments, we get to know Him and how to live in light of eternity.
Bible Promises in the New Testament
Second Peter 1:3 tells us that God has given us “precious and very great promises” (ESV).
We can claim these promises in any situation, trusting God will fulfill them.
The New Testament is a treasure chest full of these promises.
Here are some to get you started:
- God will be with us (Matthew 28:20).
- He will forgive us (1 John 1:9).
- He will set us free from sin and its condemnation (John 8:3; Romans 8:1).
- He will make us new (1 Corinthians 5:17).
- He will complete the work He has started in our lives (1 Thessalonians 5:23–24; Philippians 1:6).
- He will give us the Holy Spirit (Luke 11:13).
- He will hear and answer our prayers (1 John 5:14–15).
- He will give us peace amid difficulty (John 16:33).
- He will provide for all our needs (Matthew 6:31–33).
- He will come again (Revelation 22:12).
The Old and New Testaments work together
The New Testament is an incredible collection of history, teaching, and prophecy.
Think about it:
It was written over a period of fifty years by seven different authors from varied backgrounds.
Even so, the message of each of its 29 books is consistent. An amazing achievement!
But the New Testament is only part of the Bible.
It’s easy for Christians to focus on the New Testament, but we can’t forget that the Old Testament’s teachings and prophecies were fulfilled in the New Testament. The promises of the Messiah became reality in the life Jesus lived.
This is why Seventh-day Adventists uphold the whole Bible as the Word of God. As we study both the Old and New Testament, we’ll get the full scope of what Jesus wants us to know.
Want a closer glimpse of Jesus?
Study both the Old and the New Testaments. Pay attention to their connections with one another. As a result, your relationship with Him will grow richer and stronger!
 Jacob Prahlow, “The New Testament in Order,” Concillar Post, April 14, 2021. https://conciliarpost.com/theology-spirituality/the-new-testament-in-order/
 Keathley, J. Hampton, “2. Introduction to the New Testament,” Bible.org, August 4, 2004. https://bible.org/seriespage/2-introduction-new-testament
 L. Michael White, “Importance of the Oral Tradition,” PBS. https://www.pbs.org/wgbh/pages/frontline/shows/religion/story/oral.html
 “History of the Bible – New Testament,” History World. http://www.historyworld.net/wrldhis/plaintexthistories.asp?historyid=aa11
 Caleb Lindgren, “Reading Together, Early Church Style,” Christianity Today, April 20, 2018. https://www.christianitytoday.com/ct/2018/may/communal-reading-together-early-church.html
 Kwabena Donkor, “Who Decided Which Books Should Be Included in the Bible?” Ministry, March 2012. https://www.ministrymagazine.org/archive/2012/03/who-decided-which-books-should-be-included-in-the-bible
 “Mark or Marcus,” American Tract Society Bible Dictionary. https://biblehub.com/topical/m/mark_or_marcus.htm#amt
 Chilton, Bryan, “Who Wrote the Letter of James?” CrossExamined.org. https://crossexamined.org/wrote-letter-james/
 R.C. Sproul, “What Does the Word ‘Gospel’ Mean in the New Testament?” Ligonier, Nov. 30, 2020. https://www.ligonier.org/learn/articles/what-does-word-gospel-mean-new-testament
 Matthew 26:54, 56; Mark 15:28; John 19:24, 28, 36
 Matthew 1:23; 3:13–17; Mark 1:1, 9–11; Luke 1:32–35; 3:21–22; John 1:1, 29–34
 Matthew 4–25; Mark 1–13; Luke 4–19:27; John 2–17
 Matthew 26–27; Mark 14–15; Luke 22–23; John 18–19
 Matthew 28:5–7; Mark 16:1–7; Luke 24:1–12; John 20:1–18
 Matthew 28:18–20; Mark 16:15–18; Luke 24:44–49; John 17; 20:19–23
 Agan, C.D. “Jimmy,” “Knowing the Bible: Luke,” TGC, 2015. https://www.thegospelcoalition.org/course/knowing-bible-luke/#week-1-overview
 2 Corinthians 1:3–7; 3:4–6; 4:7–18; 8:1–2; 12:9–10
 Swindoll, Chuck, “Hebrews,” Insight for Living. https://www.insight.org/resources/bible/the-general-epistles/hebrews
 Edersheim, Alfred, “Jesus’s Childhood: The Missing Years?” Christianity.com, April 12, 2010. https://www.christianity.com/jesus/life-of-jesus/youth-and-baptism/jesuss-childhood-the-missing-years.html
 Matthew 4:18–22; Mark 1:16–20; 2:13–15; 3:14
 Matthew 26:24–25; Mark 14:18–21; Luke 22:21–23; John 13:21–30
 Matthew 28; Mark 16; Luke 24; John 20
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