Hugh Fulford Page , The Bible,Pt 1-11;
THE “BEFORE” AND THE “AFTER” OF GOD’S ETERNAL PURPOSE
As a sequel to our two previous essays on God’s eternal purpose, it will be highly informative to observe the contrast of the before and the after of the making known of His eternally purposed scheme of redemption. This involves not only the status of the purpose itself, but also of humanity.
The observant reader of scripture will be struck by the use of such expressions as “once,” “then,” “at that time,” “in other ages,” etc., followed by “but now.” For instance, in Ephesians Paul speaks of “the mystery of Christ, which in other ages was not made known to the sons of men, as it has now been revealed by the Spirit to His holy apostles and prophets” (Ephesians 3:5-6). He speaks of the fellowship of the mystery “which from the beginning of the ages has been hidden in God who created all things by Jesus Christ; to the intent that now the manifold wisdom of God might be made known by the church . . .” (Ephesians 3:9-10). In Colossians he writes of “the mystery which has been hidden . . . but now has been revealed to His saints” (1:26). In Romans he speaks of “the mystery which was kept secret since the world began but now has been made manifest. . .” (Romans 16:25-26). There was the age of mystery when God’s plan was hidden, followed by the age of manifestation when it was made known.
The “before” and the “after” of the unfolding of God’s eternal purpose carries over to the “before” and the “after” of those who enter into that purpose by faith in Christ and obedience to the gospel. Paul wrote to the Ephesians: “Therefore remember that you, once Gentiles in the flesh . . . that at that time you were without Christ, beings aliens from the commonwealth of Israel, and strangers from the covenants of the promise, having no hope and without God in the world. But now in Christ Jesus you who once were far off have been made near by the blood of Christ (Ephesians 2:11-13). He goes on to say, “Now, therefore, you are no longer strangers and foreigners, but fellow citizens with the saints and of the household of God. . .” (verse 19). Earlier he had reminded them that they had been dead in trespasses and sins when they “once walked according to the course of this world, according to the prince of the power of the air, the spirit who now works in the sons of disobedience, among whom also we all once conducted ourselves in the lust of the flesh, fulfilling the desires of the flesh and of the mind . . . But God, who is rich in mercy . . . even when we were dead in trespasses, has made us alive together with Christ (by grace you have been saved) . . . (Ephesians 2:1-5). Later, he said, “For you were once darkness, but now you are light in the Lord” (Ephesians 5:8).
To Titus, Paul wrote: “For we ourselves were also once foolish, disobedient, deceived . . . but when the kindness and love of God our Savior toward man appeared . . .” (Titus 3:3-7). Peter reminded his readers that they “once were not a people but are now the people of God, who had not obtained mercy but now have obtained mercy” (I Peter 2:10).
The reality is that all—whether Jews or Gentiles—who have never become participants in God’s eternal purpose find themselves in the “before” situation. Only those who have obeyed the gospel and become Christians are in the “after” situation. Jesus told Nicodemus, a ruler of the Jews, that he must be born again—of water and the Spirit—in order to enter the kingdom (John 3:3-5). His Jewishness did not automatically make him a part of God’s eternal purpose “which He purposed in Christ Jesus our Lord” (Ephesians 3:11). In Acts 2, about three thousand Jews heard and believed the gospel, repented, and were baptized for the remission of their sins (verses 22-41), and thereby became participants in God’s eternal purpose. In Acts 10, the first Gentiles were told of God’s eternal purpose, and wishing to be a part of it, they were commanded to be baptized in the name of the Lord (verse 48).
In Antioch of Pisidia, Paul and Barnabas, in no uncertain words, informed the Jews who opposed their preaching, “It was necessary that the word of God (His eternal purpose to redeem man through Christ, hf) should be spoken to you first; but seeing you reject it, and judge yourselves unworthy of everlasting life, behold, we turn to the Gentiles” (Acts 13:45-46). Paul declared that “in times past” God “allowed all nations (the Gentiles, hf) to walk in their own ways” (Acts 14:16). However, with the revealing of God’s eternal purpose, idolatrous Gentiles are told that in the past “these times of ignorance God overlooked, but now commands all men everywhere to repent” (Acts 17:30).
When we come to comprehend the “before” and the “after” of God’s eternal purpose, key scriptures in the Old Testament will take on greater significance and deeper meaning, e.g.,: Genesis 3:15; Genesis 12:1-3; Deuteronomy 18:15-17; II Samuel 7:1-17; Psalm 110; Isaiah 2:1-4; Isaiah 7:14; Isaiah 9:6; Isaiah 53; Jeremiah 31:31-34; Daniel 2:44 (to mention only a small handful). Likewise, landmark texts of the New Testament will be more greatly appreciated, e.g.,: Galatians 4:4-5; Philippians 2:5-11; Titus 2:11-14; John 3:16-17; John 1:1-3, 14, 18; I John 1:1-3; Hebrews 2:14-15; Matthew 1:21; Luke 19:10; I Timothy 1:15; I Timothy 3:16; John 14:6; II Corinthians 5:17; Matthew 16:18-19, 24-27; Luke 24:44-47; Romans 1:16; Jude 3; Matthew 11:28-30; Revelation 22:17 (again, only a handful). No longer will the Bible be a disjointed, unintelligible book, but it will be seen as the systematic unfolding of one grand eternal purpose—God’s purpose to redeem man through Jesus Christ—the Old Testament being preparatory for the New Testament, the former giving way seamlessly to the latter.
By understanding God’s eternal purpose, the songs and hymns we offer in praise to God will move us and be more meaningful to us, e.g.,: Tell Me the Story of Jesus, O Listen to Our Wondrous Story, Amazing Grace, We Saw Thee Not, I Know Whom I Have Believed, My Hope is Built on Nothing Less, Father of Mercies, Love Lifted Me, Years I Spent in Vanity (all four stanzas to get the full “story”), None of Self and All of Thee (again, all four stanzas to see the complete transition), The Church’s One Foundation, ‘Tis Set the Feast Divine, Just as I Am, I Have Decided to Follow Jesus, In Heavenly Love Abiding, Blessed Assurance, Hold to God’s Unchanging Hand, O to Be Like Thee, This World is Not My Home, Victory in Jesus, and many, many others—not the jazzy, “campy,” syncopated songs, but those of significant theological content (though simplicity of language does not mean an absence of serious content)! Those who do not like to sing and those who do not sing in the assembly of the saints miss so much by way of comprehending and appreciating God’s great eternal purpose.
Most of all, when we come to grips with the “before” and the “after” of God’s eternal purpose, our lives will be tremendously impacted and transformed. We will be able to say, “I have been crucified with Christ; it is no longer I who live, but Christ lives in me; and the life which I now live is the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave Himself for me” (Galatians 2:20).
May 22, 2018
Getting Acquainted With The Bible
To many, the Bible is a big book that somehow dropped down out of heaven, filled with various rules, maxims, nice principles for everyday living, and magical cures for the problems of life. To others, the Bible contains a secret code, which, if unlocked, the reader will be able to discover all sorts of amazing things that the average reader of the Bible will not be able to discover.
Those with the first above stated view of the Bible think they can just open it up anywhere, read a few verses (perhaps from the Psalms or the Prophets or the Gospels or the Book of Revelation), and discover what they ought to do in a given situation. When it does not turn out that way, they throw up their hands and decide the Bible is an impractical book that cannot be understood by the ordinary person, but only by the theologically educated “clergy” who must then tell others what it means.
Those with the second above stated view of the Bible look for “messages” beyond the actual words of the text and seek to find in it an encoded message predicting all sorts of modern inventions, scientific discoveries, and dealing with the bizarre and the paranormal. To them, the Bible is more of a mysterious “curiosity” than it is an intelligent communication of God’s will to man regarding salvation from sin and the establishment of a meaningful relationship with God through Jesus Christ.
To benefit from the reading and study of the Bible it is necessary for a person to spend a little time getting acquainted with the Book itself.
The Bible is composed of two main divisions–the Old Testament and the New Testament. (A later study will be devoted to these two major divisions and why they are designated as the Old Testament and the New Testament). The Old Testament consists of 39 individual books; the New Testament consists of 27 individual books.
The 39 books of the Old Testament can be grouped as follows:
* The 5 books of Law (Genesis through Deuteronomy)
* The 12 books of Israelite History (Joshua through Esther)
* The 5 books of Wisdom Literature (Job through Song of Solomon)
* The 17 books of Prophecy (Isaiah through Malachi)
The 27 books of the New Testament can be grouped as follows:
* The 4 books of the Life of Christ (Matthew through John)
* The 1 book of Church History (Acts of Apostles)
* The 21 books of Instruction to Christians (Romans through Jude)
* The 1 book of Prophecy (Revelation)
Thus, depending upon what a person is wanting to know or interested in studying, one can turn to that part of the Bible dealing with that matter and begin an informative study of the subject. (Later lessons will provide further information as to the contents of the various sections and books of the Bible, as well as some practical suggestions for reading the Bible more understandably).
Far from being dull and boring, the Bible is a truly marvelous book designed to set forth God’s will for humanity. The person who will dedicate himself to a regular reading and study of it will be richly blessed.
Many years ago someone penned the following tribute to the Bible:
This book contains the mind of God, the state of man, the way of salvation, the doom of sinners, and the happiness of believers.
Its doctrines are holy, its precepts binding, its histories true, and its decisions immutable.
Read it to be wise, believe it to be saved, and practice it to be holy.
It contains light to direct you, food to supply you, and comfort to cheer you.
It is the traveler’s map, the pilgrim’s staff, the pilot’s compass, the soldier’s sword, and the Christian’s charter.
Here paradise is restored, heaven is opened, and the gates of hell disclosed.
Christ is the grand subject, our good its design, and the glory of God its end.
It should fill the memory, rule the heart, and guide the feet.
Read it slowly, frequently, and prayerfully. It is a mine of wealth, a paradise of glory, and a river of pleasure.
It is given you in life, will be opened at the judgment, and remembered forever.
It involves the highest responsibility, rewards the greatest labor, and condemns all who trifle with its holy contents.
Getting Acquainted With The Bible
“Why do I need to spend time getting acquainted with the overall make-up of the Bible? Why can’t I just ‘jump in’ to what I want to know and need to do to be a better husband or wife or parent? How does the Bible relate to my work situation? How can I make the right kind of friends? What is the right thing for me to do in a particular situation? How can I do the right thing when I am tempted to do the wrong thing? What does the Bible say about gambling or the ‘left-behind’ phenomenon or modern-day miracles? Does the Bible say anything about abortion, modern medical advances, space exploration, or current political affairs?”
To attempt to answer such questions without an overall view of the Bible and its various parts is like trying to learn how to do algebra or geometry before learning how to add, subtract, multiply, and divide. One cannot become a good automobile mechanic if he does not know the various parts of an automobile and how they all fit together. One cannot be a good doctor until he has first learned about the various parts of the human body and how they relate to and affect each other. Just so, one will never be able to study the Bible effectively and properly apply it to his/her life until he/she has taken the time to get acquainted with the Bible as a whole.
In our previous study we learned that the Bible is actually a library of 66 books, with 39 in the Old Testament and 27 in the New Testament. We also discovered that the 39 books of the Old Testament form four major groups (Law, History, Wisdom Literature, and Prophecy), and that the 27 books of the New Testament form four major groups (Life of Christ, Church History, Instruction to Christians, and Prophecy).
As we continue to get acquainted with the Bible we learn that it covers 15 distinct periods of God’s dealings with mankind. Every book of both the Old and New Testaments fits into one of these 15 historical periods. These 15 periods are as follows (Note: Scripture references in bold type provide the continuing storyline of the Bible, while scripture references in plain type cover matters occurring within that period):
1. The Creation and Early Civilization (Genesis 1-5)
2. Noah and the Flood (Genesis 6-11)
3. Lives of Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Joseph, (and probably Job) (Genesis 12-50; Job)
4. Moses leads the Israelites (descendants of Jacob) out of Egypt and through the Wilderness (Exodus through Deuteronomy)
5. Joshua leads the Israelites into the Land of Canaan (Joshua)
6. Israelites ruled by Judges (Judges, Ruth, I Samuel 1-8)
7. Israelites ruled by Saul, David and Solomon (I Samuel 8 through II Samuel 24; I Kings 1-11; I Chronicles 1 through II Chronicles 9)
(Note: The books of Psalms, Proverbs, Ecclesiastes, and Song of Solomon belong to this period).
8. Israelites divide into two kingdoms (I Kings 12 through II Kings 25; II Chronicles 10-36)
* Israel (10 tribes) with capital at Samaria
* Judah (2 tribes) with capital at Jerusalem
(Note: The two great oral prophets–Elijah and Elisha–lived during this time. The following books of the literary prophets (in the probable order in which they prophesied) belong to this period: Obadiah, Joel, Jonah (prophesied to Nineveh in Assyria), Hosea, Amos, Micah, Isaiah, Zephaniah, Nahum, Habakkuk, Jeremiah, and Lamentations (written by Jeremiah).
9. Israelites in Captivity
* Israel into Assyrian Captivity in 721 B.C.
* Judah into Babylonian Captivity in 588 B. C. (Daniel and Ezekiel in Babylon. Note: Daniel preceded Ezekiel to Babylon)
10. Israelites (Judah) return to Canaan/Palestine (Ezra, Nehemiah, Esther) (Note: The following books of the literary prophets belong to this period: Haggai, Zechariah, and Malachi).
11. The 430 years between the Old and New Testaments
12. The Life of Christ (Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John)
13. Beginning and Growth of the Early Church (Acts of the Apostles)
14. Instructions to Christians (individually and congregationally) (Romans through Jude)
(Note: Several of these books [actually letters to individual Christians and congregations] were written during the period of the beginning and growth of the early church as recorded in the Acts of the Apostles).
15. The Ultimate Victory of the People of God (Revelation)
With this framework of Bible events in mind, one is prepared to engage in a very sensible and rewarding study of God’s word.
BASIC BIBLE STUDIES
The Two Testaments: The Old And The New
When a person picks up a Bible and begins to examine it, one of the first things he discovers is that it is divided into two major sections–the Old Testament and the New Testament. Why is this the case? What is the difference between them? Are they not both part of the inspired word of God? Why is one called “Old” and the other “New”? These are excellent questions, and the answers to them provide one with tremendous assistance in better understanding the Bible and applying it to our lives today.
The 39 books of the Old Testament are a record of God’s dealings with the Israelite people, the people who came from the twelve sons of Jacob (whose name was changed to Israel), the grandson of Abraham. The first eleven chapters of Genesis provide one with a background to the eventual choosing of Abraham to be the head of a great nation of people from whom would come One through whom “all the families of the earth shall be blessed” (Genesis 12:3). (In the New Testament, the apostle Paul reveals that this One was Christ–Galatians 3:16).
From Genesis 12 through 50, we have the stories of the lives of Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, and Joseph. Joseph, we may recall, was sold by his brothers and wound up in Egypt. Eventually, his identity was made known, and he moved his aged father (Jacob) and his brothers and their families from Canaan to Egypt. There the Israelites flourished to such an extent that an Egyptian Pharaoh (king) saw them as a threat and subjected them to slavery. It was during this time that Moses was born. In time, God chose Moses to lead the Israelites out of Egypt back to the land that he had promised their ancestors (Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob)–the land of Canaan.
The first nineteen chapters of Exodus tell the exciting story of how Moses liberated the children of Israel from Egyptian bondage, led them across the Red Sea, and to Mount Sinai. On Mount Sinai, God gave to Moses the laws that were to govern the children of Israel for the next approximately 1500 years. Among these many laws were the ten commandments (Exodus 20).
The fifth book of the Old Testament–Deuteronomy–is composed of three speeches that Moses delivered to the Israelites during the last month of his life. In these he reviewed God’s dealings with them from the time they left Egypt until they came to the very edge of the land of Canaan. In Deuteronomy 5:2-3 Moses said: “The Lord our God made a covenant with us in Horeb (another name for Sinai, hf). The Lord did not make this covenant (the laws emanating from Sinai, hf) with our fathers (Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, hf), but with us, those who are here today, all of us who are alive.” Thus, we learn that the covenant or testament issued at Sinai was with and for the descendants of Jacob, the Israelites (later known as the Jews, a name derived from the tribe of Judah, one of the twelve sons of Jacob).
But this covenant/testament emanating from Sinai was not destined to be God’s final covenant/testament. As already mentioned above, it was only preparatory for the coming of Christ, the illustrious Seed (descendant) of Abraham who would bless all mankind. Paul wrote: “What purpose then does the law (the law issued through Moses at Sinai) serve? It was added because of transgression, till the Seed should come to whom the promises were made…” (Galatians 3:19). This Seed, remember, is Christ (Galatians 3:16).
With the coming of Christ, the old covenant/testament made with the children of Israel had served its purpose and was fulfilled and removed. In His sermon on the mount, Jesus declared: “Do not think that I have come to destroy the Law or the Prophets. I have not come to destroy but to fulfill” (Matthew 5:17). Following His death, burial, and resurrection, Jesus said to His apostles: “These are the words which I spoke to you while I was still with you, that all things must be fulfilled which were written in the Law of Moses and the Prophets and the Psalms concerning me” (Luke 24:44). Paul says that when Christ died He “wiped (blotted) out the handwriting of requirements (ordinances) that was against us, which was contrary to us. And He has taken it out of the way, having nailed it to His cross” (Colossians 2:14).
The writer of the New Testament book of Hebrews affirms of Christ: “And for this reason He is the mediator of the new covenant (testament)…” (Hebrews 9:15). He then declares: “For where there is a testament, there must also of necessity be the death of the testator (in this case, Christ, hf). For a testament is in force after men are dead, since it has no power at all while the testator lives” (Hebrews 9:16-17). Thus, with the death of Christ, the Old Testament was taken away as a binding covenant, and the New Testament became of force. “He takes away the first (the old testament) that He may establish the second (the new testament)” (Hebrews 10:9). And it is “by that will (the second, the new testament, hf) we have been sanctified through the offering of the body of Jesus Christ once for all” (Hebrews 10:10).
In a magnificent sweep of God’s dealings with humanity through the ages, the writer of Hebrews says: “God, who at various times and in different ways spoke in time past (the time of the Old Testament, hf) to the fathers by the prophets, has in these last days (the time of the New Testament, hf) spoken to us by His Son, whom He has appointed heir of all things, by whom also He made the worlds” (Hebrews 1:1-2). “For the law was given by Moses, but grace and truth came by Jesus Christ” (John 1:17). While the old covenant/testament was made with the Israelites, Christ’s new testament is for “every creature” (Mark 16:15) and “all nations” (Matthew 28:18-19). It is that part of the Bible that is to govern all mankind today. It is to the New Testament that we are to turn to learn how to come into a spiritual relationship with God through His Son, Jesus Christ (John 14:6). It is to the New Testament that we are to turn to learn how to worship God and how to live our lives pleasingly to Him.
If this essay has blessed you, feel free to forward it to others who may benefit from it.
BASIC BIBLE STUDIES
The Value Of The Old Testament
In our last study (#003 – The Two Testaments: The Old And The New), we learned that the Old Testament has been fulfilled, taken out of the way, and superseded by the New Testament. The Old Testament was dedicated with the blood of animals (Hebrews 9:19-20), but the New Testament has been dedicated with the blood of Christ Himself (Matthew 26:28). In His death, Christ took away “the first (the old testament) that he may establish the second (the new testament)” (Hebrews 10:9). It is “by that will (the new testament) we have been sanctified through the offering of the body of Jesus Christ once for all” (Hebrews 10:10). So, today, it is Christ’s new covenant/testament that is to govern “every creature” (Mark 16:15) and “all nations” (Matthew 28:19).
In the light of the above, the questions quite naturally arise: If mankind is not under the Old Testament today, why is it still a part of the Bible? What is the value of the Old Testament today? These are good, legitimate questions and deserve an answer.
The apostle Paul wrote: “For whatever things were written before (the context reveals he was speaking of the Old Testament Scriptures, hf) were written for our learning, that we through patience and comfort of the Scriptures might have hope” (Romans 15:4). Thus, while the New Testament is that which is to govern mankind today, the Old Testament is still a valuable part of God’s Book.
We must understand that from before the beginning of time, God had one overall, master plan in mind for humanity, and that was to redeem fallen mankind by Jesus Christ. (For those interested in exploring this great truth, attention is called to such passages as: Romans 16:15-27; II Timothy 1:8-11; Titus 1:1-3; I Peter 1:10-12; and especially Ephesians 3:1-12). Since God has had but one ultimate plan in mind for His creatures, it is only logical that there should be a connectedness between the Old and the New Testaments. The entire Bible is the record of the systematic unfolding of God’s eternal purpose.
In the Old Testament we see the groundwork that was laid and the preparation that was made for the coming of Christ into the world to redeem mankind from his sins. In the New Testament we see the fruition of all that had gone on before throughout the ages of the Old Testament. As someone has astutely observed: The Old Testament is the New Testament concealed; the New Testament is the Old Testament revealed. The writer of the New Testament book of Hebrews stated it this way: “These (the great men and women of faith out of the Old Testament) all died in faith, not having received the promises, but having seen them afar off were assured of them, and confessed that they were strangers and pilgrims on earth…
And all of these, having obtained a good testimony through faith, did not receive the promise, God having something better for us (those living after the coming of Christ and His death for the sins of the world, hf), that they (the Old Testament faithful) should not be made perfect apart from us” (Hebrews 11:13, 39-40).
The reader of the Old Testament will learn much and derive many values from its study. A few of these are:
1. One will learn of the origin of the universe, the earth, and its inhabitants (Genesis 1).
2. One will learn of the origin of sin (Genesis 3).
3. One will learn of the origin of worship (Genesis 4).
4. One will learn of the great promise God made to Abraham that through his Seed (the Christ, Galatians 3:16) all families of the earth would be blessed (Genesis 12).
5. One will learn of the development of the Hebrew/Israelite people who came into the world through Abraham, his son, Isaac, and Isaac’s son, Jacob (whose name was changed to Israel) (Genesis 12-50).
6. One will learn of the law that God gave the Israelites through Moses on Mount Sinai (Exodus 20).
7. One will learn that God expects man to worship Him according to His instructions, not according to man’s ideas about worship (Leviticus 10:1-2).
8. One will learn that when the Israelites obeyed God they were blessed, and when they disobeyed God they were punished (Deuteronomy 28).
9. One will learn of a Prophet (the Christ, Acts 3:22-23; Acts 7:37) whom God would raise up at a later time whom all people were to hear (Deuteronomy 18:15-19).
10. One will learn of many predictions of the coming Savior (Isaiah 7:14; Isaiah 9:6-7; Isaiah 53).
11. One will learn of a new covenant that God would make with the house of Israel and the house of Judah (Jeremiah 31:31-34). Note: The writer of the New Testament book of Hebrews quotes this passage and says that it was fulfilled in the new covenant/testament that God made through Christ (Hebrews 8:7-12).
12. One will learn of a “house” and a “kingdom” which God would set up “in the last days” (the days in which God speaks to all mankind through His Son, Hebrews 1:1-2) (Isaiah 2:1-4; Daniel 2:44; Daniel 7:13-14). Note: From a study of the New Testament, we learn that “the Lord’s house” and “the kingdom that shall never be destroyed” is the glorious church established by Christ (I Timothy 3:15; Matthew 16:18-19; Mark 1:14-15; Mark 9:1; John 18:36; Luke 17:20-21; Colossians 1:13-14).
All of the above and much more can be learned by reading and studying the Old Testament. But, again, it was only preparatory for the coming of Christ and the salvation that is possible only through Him (John 1:17; John 14:6).
If this essay has blessed you, feel free to forward it to others who may benefit from it.
BASIC BIBLE STUDIES
The Value Of The New Testament
In the opening verses of his account of the life of Christ, Luke wrote: “Inasmuch as many have taken in hand to set in order a narrative of those things which are most surely believed among us, just as those who from the beginning were eyewitnesses and ministers of the word delivered them to us, it seemed good to me also, having had perfect understanding of all things from the very first, to write to you an orderly account, most excellent Theophilus, that you may know the certainty of those things in which you have been instructed” (Luke 1:1-4). This introductory statement to the Gospel of Luke provides us with an excellent statement regarding the value of the New Testament Scriptures.
Originally, the teaching of Christ was transmitted orally-first by Himself, then by those who heard Him (Hebrews 2:1-4). Yet in time, Christ would be crucified for the sins of the world, be buried, resurrected, and ascend back to heaven. His apostles would be the divinely inspired ambassadors to take His message into all the world (Matthew 28:18-20; Mark 16:15-16; John 13:20), but they too would eventually die. How would future generations know what Christ and His apostles had taught? Events and teaching transmitted orally from one generation to the next often become corrupted with embellishments, additions, deletions, and changes. A divinely inspired written record (authentic documentation of what actually happened and what actually was taught) is the means God chose to preserve His final covenant with man.
As noted in the opening words of his narrative, Luke wrote to a man by the name of Theophilus to assure him of the certainty of those things (the things concerning Christ and His teaching) in which Theophilus had been instructed. Later, Luke wrote another document-Acts of the Apostles-to the same man and said: “The former account (referring to the Gospel of Luke) I made, O Theophilus, of all that Jesus began both to do and teach” (Acts 1:1).
Similarly, near the end of his account of the life and teaching of Jesus, the apostle John wrote: “And truly Jesus did many other signs in the presence of His disciples which are not written in this book (the Gospel of John, hf); but these are written that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that believing you may have life in His name” (John 20:30-31).
The apostle Paul wrote at least 13 (perhaps 14 [the author of the book of Hebrews is not definitely known]) of the 27 books constituting the New Testament Scriptures. In his letter to the Ephesians he affirmed: “â¦how that by revelation He (Christ) made known to me the mystery as I wrote before in few words, by which when you read, you may understand my knowledge in the mystery of Christ” (Ephesians 3:3-4). He explains that the “mystery” was God’s eternal purpose to bring believing Jews and Gentiles together in the one spiritual body of Christ, the church (Ephesians 2:11-22 – Ephesians 3:1-12).
In his first letter to the church at Corinth Paul unequivocally declared: “If anyone thinks himself to be a prophet or spiritual, let him acknowledge that the things which I write to you are the commandments of God”
(I Corinthians 14:37). Earlier he had warned the Corinthians “not to think (go, American Standard Version) beyond what is written” (I Corinthians 4:6). This emphasizes the inviolable and authentic nature of the apostolic writings.
At the end of the New Testament the apostle John warned: “For I testify to everyone who hears the words of the prophecy of this book: if anyone adds to these things, God will add to him the plagues that are written in this book. And if anyone takes away from the words of the book of this prophecy, God will take away his part from the Book of Life, from the holy city, and from the things that are written in this book” (Revelation 22:
All of these statements are representative samplings of why God’s new covenant/testament with mankind through Jesus Christ was put in writing. Just as the Old Testament is an authentic record of God’s covenant with ancient Israel mediated through Moses, so the New Testament is an authentic record of God’s new covenant made with all mankind mediated through Christ (Hebrews 1:1-2; Hebrews 9:15).
To summarize, the following points will help us to see the value of the New Testament.
1. In the New Testament we have a divinely inspired record of what Jesus did and taught.
2. In the New Testament we have a divinely inspired history of how the apostles of Christ carried out His orders to “go into all the world and preach the gospel to every creature” (Mark 16:15).
3. In the New Testament we have a divinely inspired account of how the church-the community of the redeemed-was established and how it spread throughout the first century world.
4. In the New Testament we have divinely inspired case studies of how people-both Jews and Gentiles-were/are converted to Christ, saved from sin, and added to the church, the community of redeemed people. (See, for example, Acts chapters 2, 8, 16, 22, etc.).
5. In the New Testament we have a divinely inspired statement of how local churches (individual communities of the redeemed) were/are to be organized and how they were/are to function.
6. In the New Testament we have divinely inspired instructions of how Christians were/are to conduct themselves-how to worship, how to function in their homes, how to live soberly, righteously, and godly in this present world.
In short, in the New Testament we have authentic documentation of “the faith which was once for all delivered to the saints” (Jude 3).
If this essay has blessed you, please feel free to forward it to others who may benefit from it.
BASIC BIBLE STUDIES
The Authority In Religion
In today’s study we address one of the most fundamentally important matters necessary to a right relationship with God-one that lies at the heart of establishing and maintaining such a relationship-and yet, ironically, one of the most controversial and emotionally-charged subjects that could be addressed-that of religious authority.
If you do not think this is an emotionally charged subject, check out your own feelings when these two words-“religious/religion” and “authority”-are used together. See what I mean? The very idea that anything smacking of “authority” should be connected with “religion” is felt to be totally out of order. We live in an age when the idea of there being anything normative and regulative about religious belief and practice is almost completely rejected.
Yet, in spite of the different notions people have regarding this subject, and in spite of the emotions that frequently get in the way of a rational discussion of the subject, it is necessary that such a discussion take place. In every field of study and in every realm of human activity the question of authority must be addressed and resolved. Society cannot function effectively without the recognition of certain standards and the necessity of complying with those standards. The area of religion is no different.
In the field of human government we recognize the importance of authority. In the United States we have a Constitution, and executive, legislative, and judicial branches working together to insure that our citizens are able to live free and productive lives. We have officers of the law to protect the innocent and to punish the guilty. God authorized the function of human government (Romans 13:1-7).
In the area of trade and commerce we understand the need for authority. Business cannot be transacted without such. What constitutes a standard foot, yard, gallon, or pound? Each merchant is not left to determine this for himself, is he? Our government has a Bureau of Weights and Measures that guarantees that correct standards are followed.
Operating a motor vehicle on the streets and highways requires the recognition of certain rules. Every driver is not free to operate her vehicle in whatever manner may suit her.
Even athletic contests require rules and regulations (a standard of authority) by which the contest will be played. Imagine the confusion that would result if there were no rules regulating a football, basketball, or baseball game, and no one with the authority to see that the rules were followed. (You heard about the fellow who attended a fight, and a Hockey game broke out, didn’t you?) Even the apostle Paul used athletic contests to illustrate the importance of “playing by the rules” when he wrote: “And if anyone competes in athletics, he is not crowned unless he competes according to the rules” (II Timothy 2:5, New King James Version).
When it comes to the all-important matter of religion and one’s relationship with God, the necessity of a standard of authority becomes extremely important. Yet, strangely, many people do not seem to understand this. Think for a moment: why is there so much religious and moral confusion in the world today? Is it not because the correct standard of authority in religion is not recognized and followed? What is that authority? To better appreciate the right standard of religious authority, perhaps we need to take a look at some of the wrong standards of religious authority.
1. Each person is not his own authority. One of the saddest statements in the Old Testament is found in Judges 21:25: “In those days there was no king in Israel; everyone did what was right in his own eyes.” A study of the moral and religious conditions of Israel will reveal that those were some of the most corrupt times in their history. Later, the prophet Jeremiah cried out: “O Lord, I know the way of man is not in himself; it is not in man who walks to direct his own steps” (Jeremiah 10:23). We are in need of a higher power than ourselves to live as we should.
2. The creeds and catechisms of men are not the authority. None of these bears the imprint of divine inspiration. At best they are but the collective wisdom of men at a given point in time. The Scriptures declare that “the world by wisdom did not know God” (I Corinthians 1:21). In spite of this, many people put their trust in the edicts of men rather than in the word of God. They have left their religious beliefs and practices up to the decisions of church councils, conclaves, and synods. They are willing to take the word of church officials as to what they are to believe and practice. Christ warned: “This people draws near to Me with their mouth, and honors Me with their lips, but their heart is far from Me. And in vain they worship Me, teaching as doctrines the commandments of men” (Matthew 15:8-9).
3. Family members and family religious traditions are not the authority. One of the quickest ways to make a person angry is to question his or her family’s religious beliefs and traditions. But becoming angry should never be the reaction of one who wants to discover and do the will of the Heavenly Father. Jesus said: “He who loves father or mother more than Me is not worthy of Me. And he who loves son or daughter more than Me is not worthy of Me” (Matthew 10:37).
4. The conscience of a person is not the authority. It is commonly held by many wonderful, sincere, and devout people that it really does not matter what one’s religious beliefs and preferences may be as long as he/she is conscientious in those beliefs and practices. Yet, before he became a Christian, Saul of Tarsus (who became the apostle Paul) persecuted Christians, even consenting to the death of Stephen, the first Christian martyr (Acts 7:58-8:3). In spite of these heinous acts, Paul-following his conversion-could nevertheless affirm: “â¦I have lived in all good conscience before God until this day” (Acts 23:1). Thus, though he had a good conscience when he persecuted the saints of God, his good conscience did not make his actions right. Similarly, today, one may conscientiously believe and practice things in religion that are not approved of God. Conscience can only approve of what one thinks is right, not that which necessarily is right!
With these erroneous concepts of religious authority removed, we will, in our next study, examine the correct standard of authority in religion.
If this essay has blessed you, feel free to forward it to others who may benefit from it.
BASIC BIBLE STUDIES
The Authority In Religion
In our previous Study we made the observation that nothing is more fundamental and important in establishing and maintaining a right relationship with God than the recognition of the correct authority in religion. Just as human society cannot function without laws, just so a meaningful relationship with God is not possible without a standard of authority. Mankind, left to himself, devolves into mass spiritual confusion and gross immorality.
What is the standard of religious authority? Our previous lesson sought to dispose of false standards: the individual, family and family traditions, the creeds and catechisms of men, the conscience (which can be seriously misguided). None of these prove to be reliable standards in the all-important realm of religion.
Christ, in a single, simple statement, settled the matter of authority when He declared: “All authority has been given to Me in heaven and on earth” (Matthew 28:18). Additional statements of Scripture validate Christ’s right to make such an exclusive claim to all authority.
On the Mount of Transfiguration, when Peter wanted to erect tabernacles honoring Moses, Elijah, and Christ, God spoke and said: “This is My beloved Son, in whom I am well-pleased. Hear Him!” (Matthew 17:5). The time to hear Moses and the prophets was passing away. The new covenant of Christ was being prepared. As Christ stated after His death and resurrection: “…all things must be fulfilled which were written in the Law of Moses and the Prophets and the Psalms concerning Me” (Luke 24:44). With the Old Testament Scriptures having been fulfilled in Christ, He became the sole authority in religion. “God, who at various times and in different ways spoke in time past (the time of the Old Testament, hf) to the fathers by the prophets, has in these last days (the time of the New Testament,hf) spoken to us by His Son…” (Hebrews 1:1-2). Later, this same writer warned: “See that you do not refuse Him (Christ) who speaks” (Hebrews 12:25). Jesus declared Himself to be “the way, the truth, the life,” and added that “no one can come to the Father except through Me” (John 14:6). While this statement flies in the face of modern religious pluralism, the exclusivity of Christ cannot be missed: THE way, THE truth, THE life!
To insure that His teaching would be preserved and communicated, Christ chose twelve men to be His special ambassadors to “all the world” (Mark 16:15). To these apostles Jesus said: “Most assuredly, I say to you, he who receives whomever I send receives Me; and he who receives Me receives Him who sent Me” (John 13:20). Here we see, as it were, a “chain of command”: God, Christ, the apostles of Christ. To insure the accuracy of the apostles’ teaching, Christ promised to send the Holy Spirit to guide them into “all truth” (John 16:13). Earlier, He had said to the apostles: “But the Helper (Comforter), the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in My name, He will teach you all things, and bring to your remembrance all things that I said to you” (John 14:26).
Following His ascension back to heaven, in fulfillment of His promise to them, Christ sent the Holy Spirit upon the apostles and they began the tremendous work of preaching His gospel to all the world (Acts 2:1-4). Acts of the Apostles is the New Testament book that records the history of the apostles’ work and their success. In this book we read of the beginning of the church (the community of saved people) and of its spread throughout the Graeco-Roman world, bringing both believing Jews and Gentiles into the one spiritual body of Christ (Ephesians 2:14-22). Recognizing the power and authority by which the apostles of Christ spoke, the early church “continued steadfastly in the apostles’ doctrine…” (Acts 2:42). The early Christians understood that the way for them to remain faithful to Christ was to follow the teaching of the apostles of Christ.
What about us today? We have the teaching of Christ and His apostles preserved in the 27 documents that constitute the New Testament Scriptures. The same divine inspiration by which the apostles spoke is the divine inspiration by which they and the prophets of the New Testament era wrote (Ephesians 3:5). In a magnificent affirmation of the divine inspiration by which he spoke and wrote, Paul said: “Now we (Christ’s “holy apostles and prophets”–Ephesians 3:5) have received, not the spirit of the world, but the Spirit who is from God, that we might know the things that have been freely given to us by God. These things we also speak, not in words which man’s wisdom teaches but which the Holy Spirit teaches, comparing spiritual things with spiritual” (I Corinthians 2:12-13). What a powerful statement affirming the divine inspiration of the very words (not just the thoughts) by which the apostles and prophets of Christ spoke and wrote! No wonder Paul would later say: “If anyone thinks himself to be a prophet or spiritual, let him acknowledge that the things which I write to you are the commandments of the Lord” (I Corinthians 14:37).
Thus, from Christ, to His apostles, to the divinely inspired writings of the apostles and prophets of the New Testament era, we have the true teaching of Christ vouch-safed to us today. The New Testament is the authentic documentation of what Christ would have all people believe, practice, and teach in the realm of religion. Christianity is “the faith (note its exclusivity: THE faith, not A faith, hf) once for all (note its finality, its completeness, hf) delivered to the saints” (Jude 3). That we have the true words of Christ today is guaranteed by Christ Himself when He declared: “Heaven and earth will pass away, but My words will by no means pass away” (Matthew 24:35). By this absolute standard of authority we can “test all things; hold fast what is good(true/correct)” (I Thessalonians 5:21).
If this essay has blessed you, feel free to forward it to others who may benefit from it.
BASIC BIBLE STUDIES
Humanity’s History Of Persistent Disobedience To God
Our first seven Studies were devoted to getting acquainted with the Bible, understanding why it is composed of two testaments, seeing the value of each of the testaments, and coming to an appreciation of the truth that Christ and His new testament is the standard of religious authority for all mankind. We are now ready to begin an examination of humanity’s sad history of disobedience to God and the tragic consequences of such disobedience.
It is an established Biblical fact that from the dawn of time people have chosen to disregard God’s rightful authority over them and to disobey His will. Consider these examples out of the Old Testament. (Just here it will be well to remember one of the values of the Old Testament which we pointed out in Study # 004 — namely, that “all these things happened to them as examples, and they were written for our admonition…” — I Corinthians 10:11).
1. In Genesis 2 we read of the creation of Adam and Eve, but in the very next chapter we read of their violating God’s commandment. Eve well understood God’s prohibition. She said: “We may eat the fruit of the trees of the garden; but of the fruit of the tree which is in the midst of the garden, God has said, ‘You shall not eat of it, nor shall you touch it, lest you die’ ” (Genesis 3:2-3). However, the serpent, acting as Satan’s agent, said: “You shall not surely die” (verse 5). Guess who Eve chose to believe! She ate of the forbidden fruit (the divine record does not say it was an apple), then shared it with Adam “and he ate” (verse 6). As a result of their disobedience they were driven from the garden of Eden (verse 24).
2. In Genesis 4 we read of the sin of Cain who, in a fit of anger, killed his brother Abel. Abel’s worship sacrifice had been acceptable to God, while Cain’s had not (verses 3-6). Was this caprice on the part of God–accepting one and rejecting the other? Thousands of years later, the writer of the New Testament book of Hebrews looked back to this incident and said: “By faith Abel offered to God a more excellent sacrifice than Cain…” (Hebrews 11:4). Since “faith comes by hearing, and hearing by the word of God” (Romans 10:17), it is quite obvious that God had spoken to Cain and Abel and instructed them as to the kind of sacrifice to make. Abel, acting on faith, complied with God’s instructions. Cain, presuming to offer a sacrifice of his own choosing, did not. As a result of his disobedience, God placed a curse on Cain (Genesis 4:11-15).
3. By the time we get to Genesis 6 “the wickedness of man was great in the earth, and every intent of the thoughts of his heart was only evil continually” (verse 5). God’s punishment for such moral corruption was a mighty flood over all the earth. Only Noah, his wife, their three sons, and their wives were spared.
4. In time, however, disobedience to God again manifested itself. The ancient cities of Sodom and Gomorrah became so depraved that “the Lord rained brimstone and fire on Sodom and Gomorrah, from the Lord out of the heavens” (Genesis 19:24).
5. Hundreds of years passed. The Israelites (the descendants of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob) are in slavery in Egypt. God raises up Moses to deliver them and lead them back to the land God had promised their ancestors–the land of Canaan. The Israelites were barely out of Egypt before they began to complain and to wish that they had remained in Egypt (Exodus 16:2-3). Later, while Moses was on Mount Sinai receiving the law that would govern them for the next fifteen hundred years, the people prevailed upon Aaron, Moses’ brother, to make a golden calf for them to worship. With their idolatrous mindset they cynically said: “…as for this Moses, the man who brought us up out of the land of Egypt, we do not know what has become of him” (Exodus 32:1).
6. Later, as punishment for believing a false (though majority) report concerning their being able to conquer the land of Canaan from its heathen inhabitants, the Israelites were forced to wonder for forty years in the wilderness which lay between Egypt and Canaan (Numbers 14:11-38).
7. Another striking example of disobedience involves the actions of two Israelite priests. “Then Nadab and Abihu, the sons of Aaron, each took his censer and put fire in it, put incense on it, and offered profane (strange, King James Version) fire before the Lord, which He had not commanded. So fire went out from the presence of the Lord and devoured them, and they died before the Lord” (Leviticus 10:1-2). This incident is highly reminiscent of Cain’s presumptuous act of worship recorded back in Genesis 4. Why are people, even today, so slow to learn that it is God who is to be pleased in worship, not themselves?
8. After finally entering the land of Canaan, the Israelites would go through cycles of flagrant idolatry and disobedience to God. As a result, God would bring other tribes against them in war. They would be punished for their sins and then cry out for deliverance. God–always a God of mercy–would hear their cries of repentance and raise up deliverers (judges) for them. The people would remain faithful for awhile, then the cycle of disobedience, punishment, and deliverance would be repeated. The Old Testament book of Judges tells how this tragic story repeated itself time after time. At the end of Judges we have this sad comment about the condition of the people: “In those days there was no king in Israel: everyone did what was right in his own eyes” (Judges 24:25). And, as we have pointed out in previous studies, this was one of the most corrupt times in Israel’s history–all because mankind insists on ignoring God and His will and “doing his own thing.”
(To be continued).
BASIC BIBLE STUDIES
Humanity’s History Of Persistent Disobedience To God
In today’s Study we continue our survey of humanity’s history of persistent disobedience to God, and will continue the numbering sequence from the previous Study. This lesson begins a little over 1000 years before the birth of Christ following the rule of the nation of Israel by judges. The nation has become proud and desires to have a king “to be like all the nations” (I Samuel 8:20). Samuel, the aged prophet of God, is distressed by the people’s arrogant request, but God says to Samuel: “…they have not rejected you, but they have rejected Me, that I should not reign over them” (I Samuel 8:7). (Note: It is distressing today–and an affront to God–when His people desire to follow the standards of the world rather than the will of Lord).
9. Saul, the son of Kish, of the tribe of Benjamin, was chosen as the first king of Israel. His reign began in a splendid fashion, but soon degenerated into willful disobedience to God. Following his defeat of the Philistines, and while waiting for the arrival of Samuel to offer a sacrifice of thanksgiving to the Lord, Saul grew impatient and presumptuously offered the sacrifice himself. When Samuel finally arrived (had he purposefully delayed his arrival in order to test Saul’s commitment to God’s will?), he confronted Saul and said: “You have done foolishly. You have not kept the commandment of the Lord your God, which He commanded you…” (I Samuel 13:13).
10. Still later, God commanded Saul to utterly destroy the heathen Amalekites for the misery they had caused the children of Israel hundreds of years before during the time of the wilderness wandering (I Samuel 15:2-3). (Note: God’s punishment of wickedness may be delayed–even for many years–but it is never withheld. See Galatians 6:7). But Saul again chose not to fully obey the Lord. He spared the life of Agag, the king of Amalek, as well as the best of the sheep and oxen. His “rationale” for sparing the animals was to offer them as a “sacrifice to the Lord” (I Samuel 15:13-15). Samuel again confronts Saul and says: “Behold, to obey is better than sacrifice, and to heed than the fat of rams” (I Samuel 15:22). Modern man needs to learn this lesson today–that God does not accept our rationalization for altering, and thus not obeying, what He has commanded!
11. David succeeded Saul as the second king of Israel. Though a good man–one after God’s own heart (I Samuel 13:14)–he nevertheless was far from perfect. II Samuel 11 records the story of the sordid affair David had with Bathsheba, a married woman whose husband was away from home fighting in David’s army. When Bathsheba wound up pregnant with David’s child, he immediately began efforts to “cover his tracks,” but nothing worked. Eventually, he resorted to having Uriah the husband killed in battle. Later, David humbly confessed his horrible sins and God in His mercy forgave him (II Samuel 12:1-14). Nevertheless, David had to suffer the earthly consequences of his sins by the death of the child he had fathered, and by constant turmoil within his own family, including the rape of one of his daughters by one of his sons, and the subsequent murder of that son by the girl’s brother! (II Samuel 12:1-14).
12. Solomon, a son later born to David and Bathsheba (following his murder of Uriah, David unabashedly took Bathsheba as one of his wives), became the third king of Israel. But he too soon fell into disobedience to God through the many foreign women he loved (I Kings 11:1). He assembled a harem of “seven hundred wives…and three hundred concubines (sub-wives)” (I Kings 11:3). (Note: Once in a Bible class I was teaching, I rhetorically asked, “How many wives too many did Solomon have?” An exceptionally brave man–sitting next to his wife–answered: “Seven hundred!”). These women proved to be Solomon’s downfall. “For it was so, when Solomon was old, that his wives turned his heart after other gods; and his heart was not loyal to the Lord his God…Solomon did evil in the sight of the Lord, and did not fully follow the Lord…” (I Kings 11:4-6).
13. Following the death of Solomon, the twelve-tribe nation of Israel divided into two kingdoms–ten tribes retaining the name “Israel,” and two tribes taking the name “Judah.” The sad history of these respective kingdoms is told in the rest of I Kings, and throughout II Kings and I and II Chronicles. The upshot of it all is that the kingdom of Israel–with not a single good king to ever reign over them–was taken in Assyrian captivity in 722 B. C., never to return, all because of their sins of idolatry, immorality, and persistent rebellion against God. The kingdom of Judah–with a few good kings interspersed among several evil kings–lasted 136 years longer, but eventually was taken into Babylonian captivity in 586 B.C. as punishment for their sins. Throughout all these years, God had been patient with both Israel and Judah, sending prophet after prophet such as Elijah, Elisha (two great oral prophets), Isaiah, Micah, Amos, Hosea, Nahum, Zephaniah, Jeremiah, and Habakkuk to warn the people and urge them to return to Him, but to no avail.
And so the sad history of mankind’s disobedience to God continued. What lessons should you and I learn from the history of God’s people in Old Testament times?
(To be continued).
BASIC BIBLE STUDIES
Humanity’s History Of Persistent Disobedience To God
In this Study we continue our Biblical survey of mankind’s ongoing history of disobedience to God, continuing with the numbering sequence from the previous Study.
Following the kingdom of Judah’s 70 year captivity in Babylon (the length and place of place of which had been predicted by Jeremiah–25:11-12), God in His mercy permitted the Jews (people of Judah) to return to Jerusalem. Beginning in 536 B. C., under the leadership of such courageous men as Zerrubabel, Ezra, and Nehemiah, many Jews returned to Palestine from Babylon, which had been conquered by the Persians. One would think that following their captivity the people of Judah would have learned the importance of obedience and faithfulness to God, but, alas, such was not the case.
14. Though at first very committed to rebuilding the temple, the Jews allowed the foreigners around them to discourage them in their efforts. “Thus the work of the house of God which is at Jerusalem ceased…” (Ezra 4:24). For 16 years the work of rebuilding lay idle as the people busied themselves with their own selfish concerns. The prophet Haggai appeared on the scene and chastised them, urging them to “consider your ways!” (Haggai 1:5). He indicted them by saying: “You have sown much, and bring in little; you eat, but do not have enough; you drink, but you are not filled with drink; you clothe yourselves, but no one is warm; and he who earns wages, earns wages to put into a bag with holes” (Haggai 1:6). (Sounds an awful lot like many today, doesn’t it? We get on a treadmill of activity, but accomplish nothing worthwhile because God is not really first in our lives).
15. Soon after their return, the people of Judah were again compromising their allegiance to the Lord by intermarrying with the heathen people of the land and engaging in their abominable acts. “The people of Israel and the priests and the Levites have not separated themselves from the peoples of the lands, with respect to the abominations of the Canaanites, the Hittites, the Perizzites, the Jebusites, the Ammonites, the Moabites, the Egyptians, and the Amorites. For they have taken some of their daughters as wives for themselves and their sons, so that the holy seed (the people of Judah, hf) is intermingled with the peoples of those lands. Indeed, the hand of the leaders and rulers has been foremost in this trespass” (Ezra 9:1-2).
16. During Nehemiah’s absence from Jerusalem, the people of Judah again compromised their loyalty to the Lord by allowing Tobiah, a known enemy of God’s people, to have his own room in the temple of God (Nehemiah 13:4-7). Further, they ceased their support of the Levites, in disobedience to God’s orders (Nehemiah 13:10). They violated the Sabbath by using it as a day for “business as usual” (Nehemiah 13:15). They continued to intermarry with the heathen around them, to the point that their children could not speak the pure language of Judah (Nehemiah 13:23-24). Learning of these sinful deeds, Nehemiah dealt severely with the people. “So I contended with them and cursed them (put a curse on them, hf), struck some of them and pulled out their hair, and made them swear by God saying, ‘You shall not give your daughters as wives to their sons, nor take their daughters for your sons or yourselves. Did not Solomon king of Israel sin by these things? Yet among many nations there was no king like him… Nevertheless pagan women caused even him to sin. Should we then hear of your doing all this great evil, transgressing against our God by marrying pagan women?'” (Nehemiah 13:25-27).
Important Chronological Note: The Old Testament comes to its chronological end with the close of Nehemiah’s career. The prophets Isaiah, Jeremiah, Hosea, Joel, Amos, Obadiah, Jonah (who preached to Nineveh in Assyria), Micah, Nahum, Habakkuk, and Zephaniah, had all lived and prophesied before either the Assyrian captivity of Israel or the Babylonian captivity of Judah. Ezekiel and Daniel had lived and prophesied during the Babylonian captivity. It is extremely important to keep in mind the time-frame in which all of the above named prophets lived, as well as the context of their prophecies. When they predicted a “return of the Jews to Palestine,” they were speaking of the return of the Jews from their foreign captivity, not of an alleged return yet to occur at (or shortly before) the second coming of Christ! Haggai, Zechariah, and Malachi lived and prophesied after the Jews return from Babylon and were contemporaries with Ezra and Nehemiah. Chronology and context must be respected in studying the Old Testament.
17. As the Old Testament ends, the people of Judah are still trying to “pull the wool” over God’s eyes by offering blind, lame, and sick animals–animals no longer profitable to them–as sacrifices to the Lord (Malachi 1:6-8). Their worship has degenerated into a mere formality. They put on a good act “with weeping and crying,” but it is all an abomination to God (Malachi 2:13-17a). Their values have again been turned upside down as they say: “Everyone who does evil is good in the sight of the Lord” (Malachi 3:17b,) reminiscent of the sense of values by which they had lived before they experienced the captivity (Isaiah 5:20-21). They are guilty of robbing God in their tithes and offerings (Malachi 3:8). In general, the people have degenerated morally, spiritually, and religiously. What can be done to redeem them and the rest of humanity, the vast Gentile world? With the opening of the New Testament, we will see God’s ultimate answer to humanity’s need for redemption, but even there we will see mankind’s stubborn insistence on ignoring the will of God and doing his “own thing.”
(To be continued).
BASIC BIBLE STUDIES
Humanity’s History Of Persistent Disobedience To God
Having completed a survey of mankind’s history of persistent disobedience to God as revealed in the Old Testament, we now come to the New Testament record of humanity’s disobedience to God. Our numbering sequence will continue from the previous lesson.
Before continuing our study, however, perhaps we need to deal with some questions that may be in the minds of some: “Were there no good people on earth? Had everybody ‘gone to the dogs’? Would it not be better to talk about the good people rather than only about the bad?” These are legitimate questions. Yes, there were many good people in all ages of human history. No, not everyone had “gone to the dogs.” But the overall history of humanity is not a pretty picture, and reality forces us to look honestly at the true picture. This is not an effort to be negative; it is an effort to be painfully honest as to the reality of the human condition. The apostle Paul affirmed: “…for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God” (Romans 3:23). Only by recognizing this reality are we prepared to accept God’s solution to our situation.
The New Testament opens with the birth of Jesus Christ (Matthew 1 & 2). Actually, the birth of Christ was preceded by the birth of John the Baptist by some six months, as a study of Luke 1 & 2 shows. John was sent by God to prepare the way for the ministry of Christ.
18. John was very bold and straightforward in his preaching to the citizens of Judea (a variation of the name Judah), a province of New Testament Palestine (the Old Testament land of Canaan). John called for the people to repent (Matthew 3:2), thus showing that there were many changes they needed to make in their lives. He referred to the religious leaders (the Pharisees and Sadducees, two of the several sects of the Jews that had arisen during the period between the two Testaments) as a “brood of vipers,” not the best way for a preacher “to win friends and influence people”! (Matthew 3:7). He went on to warn them that “even now the ax is laid to the root of the trees” (Matthew 3:10), a warning of the impending doom that awaited national Israel because of her rejection of Christ as the Messiah, a doom which she experienced at the hand of the Romans in A. D. 70.
19. As Jesus began His ministry His message was the same as John’s: “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand” (Matthew 4:17). Again, we note that Christ preached the need for repentance, the need for people to turn from their pattern of disobedience to God to a life of submission to God and His will. In a scathing rebuke of the Jewish religious leaders, Jesus employed identical language to that of John the Baptist when He said: “Serpents, brood of vipers! How can you escape the condemnation of hell?” (Matthew 23:33).
20. Over the course of His three-plus years’ ministry, Christ accrued a large number of followers (disciples). From among this number, He chose 12 “whom He also named apostles” (Luke 6:13). These would be the men with whom He would closely work, whom He would especially train, and upon whom, following His ascension back to heaven, He would send the Holy Spirit to “guide [them] into all truth” (John 16:13). They would be the first line of offense in taking His message of salvation “into all the world” (Mark 16:15). But look at the actions of some of the men handpicked by Christ Himself. Philip was slow to comprehend who Christ really was (John 14:7-11). Thomas doubted the reality of Christ’s resurrection (John 20:24-28). Peter, in a show of bravado, declared that he would lay down his life for Christ, but Jesus told Peter that “the rooster shall not crow till you have denied Me three times” (John 13:37-38). The heart of Judas Iscariot was penetrated by Satan, leading Judas to betray the Lord for 30 pieces of silver (Matthew 26:14-15). Thus, even among Christ’s closest associates there was a pattern of doubt, disbelief, disobedience, and outright betrayal.
The above incidents took place during the ministries of John the Baptist and Christ in the first century land of Palestine, the home of the Jews. But what was going on in the rest of the larger world that lay outside the country where Jesus lived and died? Following Christ’s death, burial, resurrection, and ascension back to heaven, the church was established and Christianity began to spread beyond the borders of Palestine. This was as the Lord had intended (Luke 24:46-47). As the apostles of Christ–especially the apostle Paul, who was called to the apostleship following Christ’s ascension (Acts 26:12-18)–went out into the larger world (the vast Gentile population of the earth) to preach the gospel, what kind of situation did they find with reference to religion and morals? Let us resume our survey.
21. As Paul set out with others to preach the gospel, they came to Cyprus, an island in the Mediterranean Sea. Here they encountered “a certain sorcerer, a false prophet, a Jew” who was “perverting the straight (right) ways of the Lord” (Acts 13:4-12).
22. At Lystra, a city in Asia Minor (the modern day country of Turkey), Paul and Barnabas encountered the deep idolatry into which the Gentile nations had sunk over the centuries (Acts 14:8-18).
23. In Athens, Greece Paul witnessed an indescribably sad display of idolatry as he observed the numerous altars the people had erected to their various gods. Seeing one erected “to the unknown god,” Paul used this as an opportunity to preach to them about the God that indeed they did not know–the true God of heaven and earth (Acts 17:16-34).
24. At Corinth (also in Greece) Paul encountered the basest kind of sexual immorality and depravity. Nevertheless, by the power of the gospel of Christ, “many of the Corinthians, hearing, believed and were baptized” (Acts 18:8). Later, Paul wrote a letter to them reminding them of their previous lifestyle and warning them not to revert to it: “Be not deceived. Neither fornicators, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor effeminate homosexuals, nor sodomites, nor thieves, nor covetous, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor extortioners will inherit the kingdom of God. And such were some of you. But you were washed, but you were sanctified, but you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus and by the Spirit of our God” (I Corinthians 6:9-11, New King James Version). What a mighty testimony to the power of the gospel to change lives, but what a telling insight into the depravity into which the whole Greco-Roman world had sunk!
On and on we could go with examples of the disregard for and the disobedience to the one true and holy God that had come to characterize the larger world of humanity. In a sweeping and graphic description of such Paul wrote: “For since the creation of the world His (God’s) invisible attributes are clearly seen, being understood by the things which are made, even His eternal power and Godhead, so that they (the Gentile nations, hf) are without excuse (for their idolatry and depravity, hf), because, although they [once] knew God, they did not glorify Him as God, nor were thankful, but became futile in their thoughts, and their foolish hearts were darkened. Professing to be wise they became fools… Therefore, God also gave them up…For this reason God gave them up…And even as they did not like to retain God in their knowledge, God gave them over to a debased mind…” (Romans 1:20-32).
It was into this kind of