FACTS ABOUT THE BIBLE #3
The New Testament Writings
439. The four Gospels follow closely in the tradition of the books of history we saw in the Old Testament—words spoken and deeds done. Little is told of the inward thoughts and motivations of the various people in the stories. The Gospels tell how Jesus was a descendant of David, which was an essential requirement of the Messiah, according to the prophecies of Scripture.
440. Matthew was written by a former tax collector named Matthew. His book covers the lineage of Jesus and also tells the story of much of his ministry, including the Beatitudes.
441. The Beatitudes are a well-known portion of Scripture from Christ's Sermon on the Mount in which he blessed certain types of people. Matthew 5 records that Jesus blessed the poor in spirit, those who mourn, the meek, those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, the merciful, the pure in heart, the peacemakers, and those who are persecuted for righteousness' sake—all of which describe the people who would populate the kingdom of God. However the actual word beatitude doesn't appear in Scripture. It's from the Latin word for "blessed" and was made popular by the Vulgate.
442. The parables are the stories Jesus used to convey spiritual truth. They were essentially comparisons—"The kingdom of heaven is like a treasure hidden in a field" or "Everyone who hears these words and puts them into practice is like a wise man who built a house." While his concrete images made the parables memorable, they also puzzled people who could not always follow Christ's meaning.
443. Mark is a Gospel that details Jesus' service to those he called and preached to. Jesus' portrayal as the great servant can be found in this Gospel, which was written by someone we know very little about.
444. Luke opens his Gospel by saying that "many" had attempted to write an account of Jesus' life and ministry, but that he himself is doing so because God has given him "perfect understanding of all things from the very first" (Luke 1:3 KJV). God not only gave the Gospel writers firsthand exposure as eyewitnesses to the events of Jesus' ministry, but also perfect understanding. Luke is especially forthright about Christ the man.
445. John, perhaps the most famous book of the whole Bible in terms of its saving message, is a description of both Christ's deity and his redeeming work for sinners. The Gospel was written by the "disciple whom Jesus loved," John.
446. John was compelled to address the question of how a flesh-and-blood man could also be a divine being as Jesus was. The notion of gods having sex with humans was commonplace in many pagan traditions, especially among the Greeks. But to make it clear that the birth of Jesus was of God in the flesh, the Gospels described the virgin birth. Other pagan writings did not.
447. The four Gospels therefore tell of all aspects of Jesus: Matthew of his right to be called "King," Mark of his title as "Greatest Servant," Luke of his completely human nature, and John of his being the Savior of the world—God's only Son.
448. The Book of Acts was written by Luke, also the author of the Gospel of Luke. He begins with a salutation to Theophilus and makes reference to the "first account I composed" (the Gospel of Luke). Luke's two books could be titled, "The Acts of Jesus" and "The Acts of the Apostles." They comprise a two-volume history of New Testament times. The events in Acts take place over several decades. As the books of Moses established the historical framework for the Old Testament, so the Gospels and Acts establish the framework for the New Testament.
449. The apostles' letters are sometimes called epistles. The word epistle helps convey that there was a formal or public element to these letters. These last twenty-two books of the Bible were personal letters in that they often specify the names of both the sender and the recipient(s). The fact that no point is made of the authors' identities implies how unimportant the issue is. The apostles were charged with the responsibility of spreading Jesus' message faithfully, and that in and of itself gave the writings authority in the eyes of Christ's followers.
450. Romans. In this letter Paul writes to the disciples in Rome. Normally he wrote to communities of disciples that he himself had established. Romans is an exception, for in this case he wrote in advance of his first visit. Misunderstandings about the message of Jesus were complex, so Paul gives an extended explanation of his understanding of the message. He also deals with the complexities of Jewish versus Gentile perspectives.
451. First Corinthians. Corinth was a city in southern Greece. Acts 18 describes how Paul spent eighteen months there. This letter is written some time after that. Parts of this letter are difficult to follow because Paul goes straight into his answers to the Corinthians' problems without restating what they were. First Corinthians 13, the famous love passage, is timeless and universal.
452. Second Corinthians. By the time this letter was written, Paul had to make a defense of his ministry. Recurring problems at Corinth and the infusion of false teachings had sullied his reputation. In this wonderfully moving letter, Paul states that the purpose of the defense is not to protect his reputation but to defend the truth for those he had taught.
453. Galatians begins a series of shorter letters. Galatia was a region situated on the eastern side of Asia Minor. The letter was therefore addressed more broadly than the letters to Rome and Corinth. The Epistle of Galatians was to be read by various gatherings of disciples in various cities of Galatia. The purpose of the letter was straightforward: to protest and refute false teaching that had taken root in that region.
454. Ephesians. Ephesus was a seaport on the western coast of Asia Minor. In New Testament times this region was called Asia. This letter was very general in nature and served as an explanation of God's design, followed by specific instructions for everyday living. It was intended for communities beyond Ephesus as well.
455. Philippians. This letter is as specific as Ephesians is broad. Philippi was a city in northern Greece. Paul preached there on his second major journey. The people in Philippi held Paul in high esteem. He was sending words of encouragement to them during a time of persecution. Ironically Paul seems to be writing from jail. Sharing his hope, he writes of his intent to return to them at some future time.
456. Colossians. Colosse was a city located due east of Ephesus. This letter is very similar to Ephesians, except much shorter. As the letter ends, it gives instructions to send it on to Laodicea, another nearby city.
457. First Thessalonians. Thessalonica was a city in northern Greece. It was just down the road from Philippi. Paul's first visit there was recorded in Acts 17. As usual he was met with two different responses: enthusiastic acceptance and severe resistance. Paul wrote this letter to strengthen and encourage the believers there. Above all he urges them to look for "the day of the Lord" when everything will be made right.
458. Second Thessalonians. Sometime after the disciples at Thessalonica got Paul's first letter, they began to wonder whether "the day of the Lord" might have come and gone. Paul quickly assured them that indeed it had not. He urged them to continue imitating Jesus and loving the people around them.
459. The Pastoral Letters are the instructions of Paul to two young Christian ministers. Detailing useful advice about church leadership, particularly the importance of setting high moral standards, the books of 1 Timothy, 2 Timothy, and Titus have a fatherly tone as Paul writes to his young proteges.
460. First Timothy. Timothy was Paul's best-known helper. He is first mentioned in Acts 16. Paul met him on one of his journeys, and the two later agreed to work together. Paul writes to Timothy as a father would to a son, so there was likely a significant age difference between them, as well as a bond of love. The message of this book can be summed up with the words "The goal of this command is love, which comes from a pure heart and a good conscience and a sincere faith" (1 Tim. 1:5).
461. Second Timothy. Paul's second letter to Timothy was written when Paul was facing imminent death. Though the Scriptures don't record it, modern historians generally agree that Paul was beheaded in Rome for continuing to preach the gospel. This letter to Timothy was apparently written in anticipation of that event and is extremely moving. Paul charges Timothy to continue the good fight of faith.
462. Titus. Though Titus comes after 2 Timothy in the Bible, it was obviously written sometime before it because it contains none of Paul's immediate anticipation of death. Titus was another helper and coworker of Paul's. This letter is structured much like 1 Timothy. Paul reminds Titus to give attention to instruction and to the appointment of others who could help spread the message.
463. Philemon barely takes up a page in most Bibles. Though the title is "Philemon," it is also addressed to Apphia, Archippus, and the group of disciples that met in their house. The subject of the letter was a runaway slave of Philemon's named Onesimus. Paul ran across Onesimus and urged him to return home. At the same time, Paul encouraged Philemon not only to forgive Onesimus but to treat him as a brother rather than a slave.
464. Hebrews. Though the King James Version of the Bible attributes this letter to Paul, most modern English versions do not. The uncertainty stems from the fact that if Paul did write this letter, he failed to specify such a fact in the text as he had in all his other letters. Regardless of who wrote this epistle, it is distinctly different from any of the other letters in the Bible.
[ALBERT BARNES’ BIBLE COMMENTARY GIVES STRONG EVIDENCE IT WAS PAUL WHO WROTE THIS EPISTLE; THUS MAKING IT 14 EPISTLES FROM PAUL - NUMBER 14 IS USED FOR SALVATION/DELIVERANCE, I.E. ISRAEL WAS DELIVERED FROM EGYPTIAN BONDAGE ON THE 14TH DAY OF THE FIRST HEBREW MONTH - Keith Hunt]
465. The Book of Hebrews is the only anonymous letter in the New Testament. It is placed at the end of Paul's letters in our New Testament specifically because the collectors of the Canon were not sure if it was written by Paul or not. We're also not sure of the intended recipients, though it was widely circulated in the early church. Still, the focus of the letter is clear: Jesus is our Great High Priest, the mediator between holy God and sinful man.
[AND IT ANSWERS MANY QUESTION ABOUT WHAT HAPPENS AFTER THERE IS NO TEMPLE AND LEVI PRIESTHOOD; IT ANSWERS IN GIVING FORTH THE CORRECT NEW COVENANT AND THE NEW PRIESTHOOD, AND LAWS THAT JEWS WOULD BE CONCERNED ABOUT - THE OLD WAS FINALLY GOING TO OFFICIALLY DIE; THE NEW WAS ALREADY IN PLACE, AND WOULD THEN CONTINUE - Keith Hunt]
466. The Christian Hall of Fame is the title often given to Hebrews 11, which begins with Abel and proceeds to list the key figures of the Old Testament. Since it was probably intended for Jewish Christians, the list emphasizes Abraham and Moses but goes on to include the many believers who suffered persecution and martyrdom for the cause of the faith.
[IMPORTANT CHAPTER AS IT SHOWS CHRISTIANS DO NOT ALWAYS HAVE IT EASY; SOME, EVEN LIKE PAUL, HAD PHYSICAL SUFFERINGS, AND EVENTUALLY WERE PUT TO DEATH FOR THEIR FAITH IN THE TRUE GOD - Keith Hunt]
467. James. It is believed the author of this book was James, the brother of Jesus and leader of the Jerusalem council. James was written most likely for Jewish Christians, as it is addressed to the "twelve tribes scattered among the nations." James wrote to instruct and encourage Christians in the midst of persecution and personal trials. James is especially marked by its emphasis on a faith accompanied by good works and a lifestyle that is consistent in its faithfulness to Christ.
[NOTE ONCE MORE, THE COMMON FALASY OF THE 12 TRIBES OF ISRAEL THOUGHT OF AS “JEWS” - THE JEWS ARE ONLY 3 TRIBES - JUDAH, LEVI, AND BENJAMIN; THE 10 TRIBES NEVER RETURNED EN MASS (A FEW INDIVIDUALS, AND SMALL NUMBER OF SAMARITANS WHO CLAIM THEY ARE FROM THE TRIBE OF EPHRIAM) FROM THE ASSYRIAN CAPTIVITY BACK TO THE HOLY LAND. IT IS JAMES THAT MARTIN LUTHER CALLED “AN EPISTLE OF STRAW” - TELLS YOU A LOT ABOUT MARTIN LUTHER - Keith Hunt]
468. First Peter. This is the first of two letters from Peter written in Rome. He addressed it to the Gentiles of Asia Minor who were enduring severe persecution. It appears to be a letter meant to circulate; it deals with practical subjects of faith, hope, and love for everyday living. Although certain aspects of his style are rough, others are quite elegant and similar to classical Greek. This leads scholars to believe that Peter may have had a Greek amanuensis (someone to take dictation) named Silvanus (1 Peter 5:12).
469. Second Peter. In Peter's second letter (less elegantly written than 1 Peter) he began by pointing out that he did not have long to live and wanted to lay down the things most essential for his disciples to remember, urging them to grow in the knowledge of the truth. Near the end of this epistle, Peter made reference to some of Paul's letters.
[AND SAYS “LIKE OTHER SCRIPTURES” - SHOWING THE APOSTLES KNEW WHAT THE NEW TESTAMENT SCRIPTURES WERE BECOMING; SEE THE STUDIES “CANON OF THE NEW TESTAMENT” UNDER THE SECTION “HOW WE GOT THE BIBLE” - Keith Hunt]
470. First John is the first of three letters written by John. These three letters have notable similarities to his Gospel and the Book of Revelation. These letters speak out against the heresy of Gnosticism. The Gnostics taught that the body and this world are evil and that salvation came through special knowledge.
[TAUGHT A LOT MORE TRUTHS THAN JUST THAT, A LOT MORE - Keith Hunt]
471. Second John. In this short but personal letter, John dealt with the problem of false teachers. He appeared to be counselling a particular congregation not to receive visiting teachers who proclaimed false teachings.
[PRETTY WELL UP FRONT NOT TO RECEIVE THEM - Keith Hunt]
472. Third John. Ironically this letter dealt with the flip side of the problem covered in 2 John. In this case John wrote to a congregation that had been rejecting visiting teachers. Only here, the visiting teacher in question was true. Second and Third John are the two shortest books in the entire Bible.
[THEY REALLY MISSED SAYING JOHN WAS VERY CLEARLY TELLING CHRISTIANS WHAT “LOVE” WAS ALL ABOUT - THE BIBLE DEFINITION OF LOVE - Keith Hunt]
473. Jude, like James, was a sibling of Jesus. His letter seemed to be written at a time when many of the apostles had already been martyred. He made references to their warnings about false teachers and Peter's and Paul's predictions. Jude made the point that these teachings had indeed reached projected proportions. Jude's writing sets the stage for the final book of the Bible.
[AND HE MAKES IT PLAIN THAT TURE CHRISTIANS NEEDED TO CONTEND FOR THE FAITH ONCE DELIVERED TO THE SAINTS SHOWING WAY BEFORE THE END OF THE FIRST CENTURY, FALSE CHRISTIANITY WAS ALREADY MAKING SOME LARGE HEADWAY - SO THINK ABOUT WHERE IT IS TODAY - Keith Hunt]
474. The Epistle of Jude quotes from Enoch 1:9 and the Assumption of Moses. Many Christians have not heard of these books because they were written before the time of the New Testament and were not accepted into the Canon of inspired Scripture by the Jewish or Christian communities. Yet Jude used them to make a point in his epistle.
[YES AND PAUL USED NONE CHRISTIAN POETS TO GET A POINT ACROSS AS RECORDED IN THE BOOK OF ACTS - Keith Hunt]
475. Apocalyptic writing was a kind of code, a way of communicating that unbelieving enemies would not understand. A person who wrote such literature could encourage his readers to stand against the pagan state and predict its downfall under divine judgment, without fear of official reprisal. Modern readers often miss this aspect of the apocalyptic genre, just as the ancient pagans did. It was designed to reveal its message to insiders in terms that an outsider could not understand.
[WELL THERE ARE MANY PARTS OF REVELATION THAT ARE QUITE CLEAR AND SPEAK OF THINGS THAT ARE CLEAR TO UNDERSTAND; IT’S NOT ALL SYMBOLS AND VAILED SPEECH - Keith Hunt]
476. Revelation. The longest of all the New Testament letters, "The Revelation to John" was addressed to seven specific communities, all of them located in Asia. Like Hebrews, this book was built upon quotations and allusions to Old Testament passages (hundreds of references). The line of the book is as follows: Goodness and evil wage a cataclysmic battle in which goodness wins the decisive victory. The practice of using bizarre conflicting images was a practiced style in ancient times. It was called "apocalyptic," so the book is sometimes called the Apocalypse instead of Revelation. The meaning is actually the same, only apocalypse comes from a Greek root, while revelation comes from a Latin root word.
477. The identity and meaning of the beast numbered 666 has deeply concerned Christians throughout history. Its symbolism has been assigned to Satanism in popular culture and to such notorious figures as Napoleon and Hitler. Some scholars believe that while Satan is a major player in Revelation, the meaning 666 was clear to the people of the time of its writing. In both Greek and Hebrew, letters doubled as numerals. One solution to the 666 puzzle? The number is produced by adding up the Hebrew letters of "Kaisar Neron," or Emperor Nero, which reaches an equivalent of the number 666.
[BOTH IDEAS ARE WRONG; IT IS AN END TIME BOOK AND BASED UPON THE 7 RESURRECTIONS OF THE HOLY ROMAN EMPIRE. ROME IS THE MAIN BEAST; ROMULUS WAS THE FOUNDER OF ROME; HIS NAME ADDS UP TO 666. IF YOU ARE PART OF THE END TIME ROMAN SYSTEM YOU ARE A MEMBER OF THE ROMAN EMPIRE OF FALSE RELIGION, AS IT HAS BEEN FROM THE SECOND CENTURY ON. IF YOUR MIND AND YOUR WORKING HANDS ARE IN THEIR CAMP, YOU SET YOURSELF AGAINST THE END TIME PLAGUES OF GOD. SEE MY STUDIES CALLED “THE BEASTS OF DANIEL AND REVELATION” UNDER THE “PROPHECY” SECTION - Keith Hunt]
478. The extraordinary prophetic vision of the second coming of Jesus and the last judgment were given while John was exiled on Patmos, an Aegean island used as a Roman penal colony. The author had been banished there for his preaching most likely during the reign of Roman Emperor Domitian (A.D. 81-96).
479. Apocalypse is the Greek name for the Book of Revelation. The word literally means "to unveil" or "to reveal something that has been hidden." The early church had numerous books claiming to reveal future events, and it wasn't until the fourth century that John's apocalypse was recognized as the one inspired version.
[WRONG AGAIN, THE AUTHORS HAVE NO IDEA THE CANON OF THE NEW TESTAMENT WAS SET BY THE APOSTLES THEMSELVES BY THE END OF THE FIRST CENTURY A.D. - Keith Hunt]
A Savior, Which Is Christ the Lord
480. Jesus Christ, more than any other figure or historical happening mentioned, is the most important figure in the Bible. The Old Testament prophesies about his coming and his death, the New Testament sees him be born, establish a ministry, and eventually sacrifice himself for all who believe in him.
481. Many incidences in the Old Testament point to Christ: Abel's lamb was a type of Christ. So was Abraham's willing offering of his son, Isaac, for sacrifice. The Passover lamb in Egypt was a type of Christ. Even the scarlet cord the prostitute Rahab hung in her window was a symbol of Christ!
[SCARLET THREAD? DO NOT SEE HOW THAT IS MADE OUT TO REPRESENT CHRIST; IT COULD REPRESENT BLOOD, AND THAT NO BLOOD WAS TO BE UPON THAT HOUSE AND THOSE INSIDE - Keith Hunt]
482. ”To him give all the prophets witness." Truly, God had been telling his people about the coming Savior long before Jesus was ever born. Micah foretold Jesus' birth, Zechariah told of how he will eventually reign as King over all the earth. Joel described the day of judgment and what part Jesus will play in it.
483. The New Testament is the unraveling of all those prophesies and foretellings of the Old Testament. Jesus' birth is recorded in two Gospel books: Matthew and Luke.
484. The Christmas story reveals the depth of God's love to all humankind. Matthew's and Luke's Gospels tell the story of the virgin birth, the humble beginnings of Jesus, and the joyous celebration set off in heaven when Christ was born. Though missed by many, God allowed both great (the magi) and humble (the shepherds) to join in the celebration.
485. The number of magi who followed the star of Bethlehem is unknown. The Bible doesn't tell much about them. The Christian tradition that there were three kings did not arise until about seven hundred years after the event took place. Their legendary names—Balthasar, Melchior, and Caspar, in Western traditions— emerged much later. So did the story that one of them was black. Medieval Christians reasoned that the three kings must have come from the three continents, so one must have been African.
[THE WISE MEN FROM THE EAST WERE A TYPE OF “DRUID” - AND SHOWS THE EAST MUST HAVE ACQUIRED TEACHINGS FROM WAY WAY BACK, MAYBE THROUGH ABRAHAM, AND OTHERS IN CONTACT WITH ISRAELITES DOWN THE CENTURIES FROM THE TIME OF ABRAHAM - Keith Hunt]
486. The magi did not come to the actual stable where Jesus was born. Their trip is thought to have taken place when Jesus was closer to two years old.
[YES THEY CAME TO THE HOUSE WHERE JESUS WAS AND INDEED ABOUT TWO YEARS AFTER JESUS’ BIRTH - Keith Hunt]
487. Because Herod ordered the slaughter of young Jewish children, Mary and Joseph fled to Egypt with the child Jesus. The Egypt in which Jesus found shelter was much different from the proud and mighty nation that his ancestors Abraham and Moses had known. The glory that had been Egypt was gone. The flourishing cities through which pharaohs once rode in pomp were decaying and the great pyramids and temples were crumbling.
488. Symbolically the announcement of the angel to the shepherds provides a counterpoint to the homage paid by the wealthy wise men. In New Testament times shepherds ranked low on the social register. The shepherds also served as a reminder that Jesus was coming as both the shepherd to the flock of Israel and as the sacrificial lamb that would take away the sins of the world.
489. Joseph and Mary returned from Egypt some time after the death of Herod in 4 B.C. and made their home in Nazareth, a town in Galilee. The name Nazareth is derived from Hebrew words that mean "consecrated people," because this town was noted for clinging to the ancient laws and customs of the Hebrews. Jesus' birthday is celebrated on December 25 now, but that wasn't always the case. For centuries a different calendar was used, and the date was in the spring.
[JESUS WAS BORN 5 B.C. AS PROVED BY A STUDY ON THIS WEBSITE. IT IS A SHOCK TO MANY TO LEARN THAT FOR ABOUT 4 HUNDRED YEARS JESUS’ BIRTH WAS NOT CELEBRATED AT ALL. IT WAS THE CATHOLIC CHURCH THAT INTRODUCED A “MASS” ON THE “SATURNALIA” FEAST OF THE PAGAN ROMAN EMPIRE, GOING FROM ABOUT DECEMBER 25 TO JANUARY 1ST - HENCE MANY PAGANS COMING INTO THE CHURCH OF GOD COULD STILL HAVE THEIR WINTER FEAST, NOW SPRINKLED WITH SO-CALLED HOLY WATER - Keith Hunt]
490. The baby Jesus was like any other baby—he was human and had the same needs as babies do today. He cried to be held and fed, needed his diapers changed, and learned to talk like any other baby does.
491. Though nativity scenes tell the story differently, there were likely no animals present at Jesus' birth. The Bible makes no mention of camels, donkeys, cattle, or sheep. All these are cultural additions to the story that have been added through the ages.
COULD HAVE BEEN SOME DONKEYS OR EVEN HORSES IN THE STABLE - WE ARE NOT TOLD, BUT THAT IS WHAT STABLES ARE ALL ABOUT - Keith Hunt]
492. The shepherds weren't given a miraculous sign to follow like the magi were two years later. The "star of the East" did not guide them. The angels told the shepherds to look for a baby wrapped in cloths and lying in a manger. Presumably this was an unusual sign in itself and the shepherds found Jesus with little difficulty.
493. The Christmas story has undergone cultural interpretation to such an extent that many people believe the Bible tells of Joseph asking the innkeeper if the baby can be born there. There is, however, no record of such a conversation occurring. Luke 2:7 simply states: "She wrapped him in cloths and placed him in a manger, because there was no room for them in the inn."
494. Jesus did not receive his name, which means "the Messiah" or "the Christ," until his eighth day when he was circumcised. The name had been given to Mary by the angel before she conceived, but the practice was to officially name the child when he was circumcised.
495. At twelve years of age, Jesus already demonstrated that he was aware of his lifework. His parents had taken him to the Passover feast in Jerusalem. When they left, they thought he was with them, but he had stayed behind in order to speak with the teachers at the temple.
[JEWISH CUSTOM AT THE TIME TAUGHT 12 YEARS WAS MOVING INTO ADULTHOOD; SEEMS STRANGE TO US TODAY, BUT JEWISH CHILDREN DEVELOPED (THROUGH TEACHING AND JEWISH LIFE) MENTALLY AND EMOTIONALLY MUCH QUICKER THAN TEENAGERS OF TODAY - Keith Hunt]
496. His ministry began when he was about thirty years of age. John the Baptist was serving as a "voice in the wilderness" and calling the people to remember that their Savior was coming, that the time had come to repent. Jesus was baptized by John at the Jordan River.
[THIRTY WAS THE STANDARD AGE IN ISRAEL TO START WORK FOR GOD IN A SERIOUS WAY. JESUS PROVES THAT WATER BAPTISM IS A SERIOUS PART OF THE NEW COVENANT, AS THE REST OF THE NEW TESTAMENT SHOWS - SEE MY STUDIES ON BAPTISM UNDER THE “SALVATION” SECTION - Keith Hunt]
497. Satan tempted Christ and tried to weaken the Savior's resolve, but Jesus stood firm in his mission. Christ's ministry would ultimately lead to his death, and though Satan's temptations would have saved him great pain, he was faithful to his heavenly Father.
498. The Lord's preaching took him all over the area for three years. He traveled throughout Galilee, Judea, and Samaria. He healed the sick and brought hope to many through miracles. He often spoke in parables to the people to help them better understand what his ministry was all about.
[JUST THE OPPOSITE….. HE SPOKE IN PARABLES SO THEY WOULD NOT UNDERSTAND. IT BLOWS MY MIND HOW SOME THEOLOGIANS CANNOT READ SIMPLE PLAIN VERSES, OR THEY SEE THE WORDS BUT THEY GO IN ONE EYE AND OUT THE OTHER - SUCH IS THE FOLLY OF WAY TOO MANY TEACHERS, EVEN WITH PhDs - Keith Hunt]
499. Jesus spent much of his ministry life in and around the Sea of Galilee. Galileans in Bible times were considered country hicks to the more cosmopolitan residents of Jerusalem. Jesus spoke primarily to the humble people who labored on the land and were familiar with the animals and plants around them. His parables are filled with images of the natural world.
500. Jesus met all manner of people—and accepted them all if they repented of their sins. Harlots, tax collectors, liars, cheats, the infirmed, and the diseased all received kind words, healing, and a message of hope. One such man was especially memorable.
501. A rich tax collector called Zacchaeus wanted to catch a glimpse of Jesus, but he had to climb a sycamore tree (Luke 19:4). This is an inferior kind of fig tree that has traditionally been a food of impoverished people in the Near East. Thus the rich man was forced to rely on the tree that was a symbol of poverty. Jesus did not harbor any love, however, for the proud and often conniving leaders of the Jewish faith who consistently misled the people.
502. Obedience to laws without a sense of mercy is an action empty of spiritual value. Several times Jesus quoted the prophets who had said, "God desires mercy more than sacrifice." He reserved a special anger for the scribes and Pharisees, who might loosely be called "lawyers." Matthew's term for Pharisees is hypocrites, a term in Greek that applied to actors or people who were pretenders. They were people who said one thing but did another.
503. The Pharisees were a group of Jewish clerics who felt that their strict obedience to Jewish traditions set them apart from the rest of the pagan culture. Their name means "the separated ones." They were intolerant of anyone considered ritually unclean and persecuted many people. Their reliance on rules made them appear pious to the masses, but Jesus criticized them for having an outward show of piety while neglecting the fact that inwardly they were proud, pompous sinners.
504. The Sadducees were the Jewish artistocracy who rather enjoyed the artistic and political advantages that came from being allied to the Roman Empire. During Christ's life they controlled the high Jewish council, called the Sanhedrin, but they were haughty and pompous and generally disliked by the common people.
505. Jesus called special helpers to his aid in order to preach and teach and minister to the people. There were twelve helpers in all—Simon Peter, Andrew, James, John, Philip, Bartholomew, Thomas, Matthew, James, Thaddaeus, Simon the Zealot, and Judas Iscariot.
506. The words disciple and apostle are often used interchangeably but mean quite different things. The word disciples means "learners" or "students." The disciples of Jesus were those who listened to Jesus, followed him, and even taught what Jesus taught. An apostle, from the Greek apostolos, for "one who is sent out," generally means a messenger of the gospel. The author of Luke used the word apostle specifically for the twelve disciples who had been companions of Jesus, were witnesses of the resurrection, and eventually became leaders of the church.
507. The name Mary, derived from the Greek form of the common Hebrew Miriam, the name of the sister of Moses, is the name of three different women in the life of Jesus. His mother Mary only made a few appearances in the Gospel accounts, but she was at the foot of the cross with John. Mary the sister of Martha and Lazarus was a close friend of Jesus. Jesus healed Mary Magdalene (or Mary of Magdala, a town near Tiberias) by casting out the demons within her. She then became a devoted follower of Christ.
508. To the devout Jews who accepted Jesus, he was the promised Savior who fulfilled the word expressed in their Scriptures of a coming "Messiah" or "anointed one" from the line of David who would deliver the children of Israel and usher in a new age of peace under God's rule. Though he was later called the "Christ," this is not a name but a title. Christos comes from the Greek meaning "anointed one" or "Messiah."
509. Hebrew was still the language of the places of worship, but outside of them the people spoke a dialect known as Aramaic. They also carried on conversations in Greek. It was not the classical language of Homer and the heroes, but a dialect known as Koine, the language in which the bulk of the New Testament was written. Undoubtedly Jesus learned to speak all three languages.
510. The '"eye of a needle" was the phrase Jesus used in Mark 10:25 when he said, "It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter the kingdom of God." Those words must have shocked his original audience, who had thought that prosperity was a sign of God's blessing. In recent years some people have tried to identify a particular gate into Jerusalem as "the eye of the needle," thereby missing Christ's main point: Someone committed to worldly wealth is probably not as interested in heavenly gain.
511. Jesus was not alone in works of healing. Just as other men claimed messiahship to attract political followers, numerous wonder-workers and healers wandered the Roman Empire in that day. Jesus even referred to others who were healing in his time. The Jewish Talmud discusses several wonder-working rabbis of Jesus' time. But none made the claim that Jesus' followers made— that he had the ability to raise the dead and had done so on three occasions with witnesses.
512. Jesus was well-received by the people as long as he was performing miracles and teaching, but they did not look to him as the King of Kings. Sadly they were looking for an earthly king instead of a heavenly one. As a result their love for Jesus was short-lived.
513. Jesus took three of his most trusted disciples up on a mountain, where they experienced an extraordinary event. While the disciples watched, Jesus was miraculously "transfigured." His physical being was transformed, and the figures of Moses and Elijah, the two great prophets of Judaism, stood beside him. The disciples also heard the voice of God saying Jesus was God's beloved Son. The accounts all say Jesus' face shone as Moses' did when he encountered God on Mount Sinai in Exodus.
SOME USE THIS TO TEACH MOSES AND ELIJAH ARE IN HEAVEN; THIS IS NOT AT ALL TRUE; MATTHEW TELLS US IT WAS A “VISION” NOT REALITY. JESUS IT IS WRITTEN WAS THE FIRST-FRUITS FROM THE DEAD, NOT ONE PERSON HAS EVER RECEIVED GLORIFIED ETERNAL LIFE, SAVE JESUS….. SEE THE STUDIES UNDER “LIFE, DEATH AND RESURRECTION” - Keith Hunt]
514. As Christ rode a donkey into Jerusalem, he was hailed by the people with palm leaves and shouts of "Hosanna!" The people celebrated him as their king. They did not want the greatest gift that Christ offered and that they needed most. They wanted freedom from the Romans and a nation of their own instead, and thought Christ brought that, despite the many warnings and explanations given of his ministry.
515. Satan provoked Judas to betray Jesus, as it is stated in the Gospel of John. The treachery of Judas has provoked some speculation over motives, including the notion that he might have been an anti-Roman zealot who was disappointed that Jesus had not proved to be the rebel leader many were expecting. The Gospel of Mark tells how Judas went to the chief priests to betray Jesus before being offered a bribe, suggesting that he had some other motive besides money. Matthew specifically states that Judas asked how much he would be given, and he was paid "thirty pieces of silver" in fulfillment of ancient Hebrew prophecy.
516. The Last Supper was a preparation for Jesus himself as he readied himself for the end, which he knew was near. Judas Iscariot was even confronted by Christ at the table. The Lord celebrated a final supper with his disciples, his most trusted companions. This special dinner was given to Christians in order to remember the sacrifice Jesus made for his people.
[THIS LAST SUPPER OF JESUS’ WAS THEN TURNED INTO THE NEW TESTAMENT PASSOVER SERVICE. WE ALSO SEE THAT SATAN CAN ENTER A PERSON AS HE DID WITH JUDAS. THIS TELLS US THE ENEMY AND HIS DEMON HELPERS CAN NOT ONLY INFLUENCE PEOPLE BUT ALSO POSSESS THEM, AS OTHER PARTS OF THE GOSPELS ALSO SHOW - Keith Hunt]
517. The words "Take and eat: this is my body," and "This is my blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many for the forgiveness of sins" (Matt. 26:26, 28) are part of a sacrament of the Christian church that originated with the Last Supper. Communion is based on the events of the Last Supper and serves as one of two main sacraments in the Christian church to this day.
518. After the Last Supper, Jesus spent his last night of freedom in the Garden of Gethsemane on the slopes of the Mount of Olives. The name means "olive presses." In Jesus' time the Mount of Olives was covered with a luxuriant growth of these trees, and the inhabitants of Jerusalem often rested there to seek relief from the sun.
519. ”Today—yes, tonight—before the rooster crows twice you yourself will disown me three times" (Mark 14:30). On the way to Gethsemane, Jesus told his disciple Peter this prophecy. The roosters first crowed about midnight, and they were so punctual that Roman soldiers used the sound as a signal for changing the guard. The roosters crowed a second time about three o'clock in the morning, which awakened the second watch of soldiers.
520. Many first-century Jews died, just like Jesus, on a cross. Some estimates for the number of Jews crucified in this time for a variety of crimes run as high as one hundred thousand. But this was not at the hand of other Jews. Crucifixion was exclusive to the Romans, and it was an extreme penalty generally reserved for cases of runaway slaves or rebellion against Rome. An uprising of slaves against Rome led by the gladiator-slave Spartacus in 71 B.C. resulted in some six thousand crucifixions. Bodies were left to decompose as a grim warning.
[THE BODIES WOULD HAVE BEEN PICKED CLEAN BY BIRDS AND OTHER ANIMALS…..A MUST HORRIBLE SCENE - Keith Hunt]
521. Gall is mentioned several times in the Bible, it refers to the juice of a poisonous and bitter plant, but there is no way of knowing exactly which plant. The best guess is the poison hemlock, the plant that poisoned Socrates and served medicinally as a sedative. Hemlock was considered a plant of ill omen and associated with witches and evil spirits.
522. The Seven Last Utterances are the final words spoken by Christ while on the cross. The four Gospels reveal different phrases, but grouped together they include: (1) "Today you will be with me in paradise" (spoken to the thief next to him). (2) "My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?" (3) "Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do." (4) "I thirst." (5) "Woman, behold your son. Son, behold your mother" (spoken to Mary and the disciple John). (6) "It is finished." (7) "Into your hands I commit my spirit."
[THE INFAMOUS MISPLACEMENT OF A COMMER…. THE ORIGINAL WRITINGS HAD NO PUNCTUATION. IT SHOULD READ, “I SAY UNTO TODAY, YOU SHALL BE WITH ME IN PARADISE.” JESUS DID NOT GO TO HEAVEN THAT DAY, OR INTO HELL AS SOME TEACH. THE THIEF ON THE CROSS, WILL BE RESURRECTED IN THE SECOND RESURRECTION, AND JESUS KNOWING HIS ATTITUDE KNEW HE WOULD ACCEPT THE TERMS OF THE NEW COVENANT AND SO BE SAVED INTO THE KINGDOM OF GOD AND PARADISE - Keith Hunt]
523. ”A mixture of myrrh and aloes, about a hundred pound weight" was brought after the crucifixion. "Then took they the body of Jesus, and wound it in linen clothes with the spices, as the manner of the Jews is to bury" (John 19:39-40 KJV). Myrrh was one of the main ingredients used in the purification of the dead.
[JEWISH BODIES WERE “WOUND” NOT JUST HAVING A “SHROUD” OVER THEM. AFTER JESUS RAISED LAZARUS FROM THE DEAD HE TOLD THEM TO LOOSE HIM….. UNWIND HIM FROM THE WOUND LINEN CLOTHES. THE “SHROUD OF TURNIN” IS NOT JESUS CHRIST, A ROMAN CHURCH FALSEHOOD - Keith Hunt]
524. The linen in which Jesus' body was wound was made from flax, the oldest textile fiber known. In the ancient world there were different grades of linen. Fine linen was used in the cloths of the rich, for curtain hangings in the temple, and even for sails of Phoenician trading ships. The poor people, however, wore only ordinary coarse linen. The Bible did not specify what type of linen Jesus was wound in.
525. The death of Jesus at Golgotha must have had no more significance to the Romans than the deaths of the thousands of other Jews they crucified at that time. Yet soon the whole ancient world heard about Jesus. His disciples carried his teaching to the farthest outpost of the Roman Empire.
526. Yet to one Roman, Christ's death did have significance. The Roman centurion who watched Christ die said, "Surely this man was the Son of God!" when he saw the sun darken and felt the earth quake at Jesus' death.
527. The resurrection of Jesus is the central story to all Christianity. After dying on the cross, being wrapped in a burial shroud, and being interred in a sealed tomb, Jesus rose from the dead— conquering death and offering the hope of eternal life to all who believe in him.
[HE WAS NOT WRAPPED IN A “SHROUD.” YES THE RESURRECTION IS ONE OF THE MOST CENTRAL PARTS OF CHRISTIANITY; BUT WHY BOTHER WITH A RESURRECTION IF YOU HAVE AN IMMORTAL SOUL THAT GOES TO EITHER HEAVEN OR HELL UPON DEATH? Keith Hunt]
528. After Jesus was resurrected, he appeared several times to various disciples. His resurrection fulfilled every prophecy he and all the early prophets had made concerning the Savior of the world. Though some doubted, many believed and were brought to a saving understanding that Jesus was truly their Savior and the King of Kings.
529. Jesus commissioned his followers to preach the gospel to all people. His call to them brought the disciples and other faithful followers to the beginning of the church. And through a history of almost two thousand years, the church has experienced persecution, misery, and separation. Yet never has it died and never will it fall, despite what might happen, for Christ is the head of his church. And his kingdom cannot fail!
530. Christ ascended into heaven, on a cloud, to be with the Father and to "sit at the right hand of God" until the time of his second coming. He will come again at "the last days" as the Bible writers prophesied. His message remains today for all who will believe in him and trust him as their personal Savior.
[YES JESUS SITS AT THE RIGHT HAND OF GOD THE FATHER, NOT INSIDE HIM, NOT ON TOP OF HIM, BUT BY HIS RIGHT HAND SIDE; SO IT IS CLEARLY STATED IN THE NEW TESTAMENT, AND SHOWNS TO BE SO IN THE BOOK OF REVELATION. THERE IS NO SIGHTING OF THE HOLY SPIRT AS A PERSON SEPARATE FROM FATHER AND SON; IT IS NEVER GIVEN OR SHOWN IN THE NEW TESTAMENT; THERE IS NO HOLY SPIRIT PERSON SITTING ON THE LEFT SIDE OF THE FATHER. THIS ALONE BLOWS AWAY THE DOCTRINE OF THE “TRINITY” BY CATHOLICS AND PROTESTANTS. AS A CHILD GROWING UP WITH THE BIBLE, I NEVER EVER THOUGHT THE HOLY SPIRIT WAS A SEPARATE PERSON FROM THE FATHER AND SON - Keith Hunt]
Miracles of Amazing Proportions
531. Biblical miracles are found in both the Old and New Testaments. Many show God's power over nature while other miracles are a sign of his mercy and love for those who fear him. These events are supernatural and can only be the work of God.
532. Miracles demonstrate God's hand intervening in earthly affairs in extraordinary ways. New Testament miracles tend to be "personal" miracles, as opposed to miracles affecting the entire nation, such as the plagues on Egypt or the crossing of the Red Sea. Apart from his own miraculous birth, resurrection, and the transfiguration, Jesus performed more than thirty-five miracles in the Gospels.
Old Testament Miracles
533. The flood is an example of a miracle of nature. Certainly it was a judgment against the world, but it was no less than a sign of God's power and dominion. He caused it to rain so hard and so fast and so long (forty days) that every living thing on the whole earth was swallowed up in a gigantic flood.
[NOT AT ALL TRUE; IT WAS NOT A UNIVERSAL FLOOD ALL OVER THE EARTH; SUCH AN IDEA SHOWS THE LACK OF UNDERSTANDING OF THE UTTER VIOLENCE THE EARTH WOULD HAVE GONE UNDER; THAT VIOLENT FLOOD OVER ALL THE EARTH WAS IN GENESIS 1:2, WHEN THE AGE OF THE DINOSAURS CAME TO AND END; WHEN ANIMALS WERE MOVED ABOUT IN VIOLENT STRATA FORMING; WHEN COAL BLEDS WERE MADE, WHEN OIL BELDS WERE MADE; WHEN NATURAL GAS BEDS WERE FORMED; WHEN DIAMONDS WERE CREATED FROM PRESSURE. SEE THE STUDIES ON THIS UNDER “MISCELLANEOUS” - Keith Hunt]
534. Noah's surviving in the ark during the flood is an example of God's provision and mercy for the one man and his family who did not die in the flood. That this man was able to build the ark and then fill it with animals and find food for all of them is an amazing feat—too amazing to be possible without divine intervention.
[DIVINE INTERVENTION THERE WAS BUT NOT IN THE WAY MOST HAVE AS A UNIVERSAL WORLD WIDE FLOOD, IN NOAH’S DAY - Keith Hunt]
535. Sarah delivered a healthy baby boy when she was well past her childbearing years. Her husband, Abraham, was already a centenarian, and she had given up hope of having a child. Yet God had promised them a son to fulfill the covenant.
536. The burning bush. The first clear miracle recorded in the Bible is Moses' encounter with God, described in Exodus 3. That passage describes Moses, who was living as a shepherd in Midian, seeing a bush that was on fire but did not burn up. As Moses approached, God called him by name, told him that he was standing on holy ground, and announced that he would be sent to free the Israelite slaves in Egypt. While earlier passages describe things like the miraculous growth of Jacob's herd of sheep or the hand of God on Joseph's life, this is the first recorded instance of a clearly supernatural act.
537. Aaron's staff becomes a snake. When Moses and Aaron approached Pharaoh in Exodus 7, they threw a wooden staff to the floor, and it miraculously turned into a snake. After Pharaoh's magicians appeared to duplicate that feat, Aaron's staff/snake swallowed all the magicians' snakes—a sign of God's supernatural power being greater than that of man's magical power.
538. The ten plagues. In an attempt to free his people from slavery, Moses revealed to Pharaoh that ten plagues would hit Egypt: water turning to blood, frogs, gnats, flies, cattle disease, boils, hail, locusts, darkness, and the death of all firstborn males. While there are natural explanations for all ten, the occurrence of them all together, along with the fact that Moses predicted them, certainly categorize them as a special act of God.
539. The pillar of fire and the parting of the Red Sea. Exodus 14 describes the flight of the Israelites from Egypt. Pharaoh's armies, chasing them, were kept from approaching the Israelite camp by a protective pillar of fire. The Red Sea then opened up, allowing the Israelites to cross the sea "on dry land." When the Egyptians tried to follow, the sea closed over them, killing them all. The pillar then guided the Israelites through the wilderness—a cloud by day, and fire by night.
540. Manna from heaven. While the Israelites lived in the wilderness, God miraculously provided them with bread from heaven that would appear on the ground each morning like dew. Exodus 16:31 describes it as tasting "like wafers made with honey," and the Jews referred to it as manna, which literally means, "What is it?"
541. Water from the rock. When the people in the wilderness were thirsty, Moses was instructed by God to strike a rock with his stick. Exodus 17 records that Moses did this in full view of the elders, and water poured forth from the rock, quenching the thirst of the Israelites.
542. The budding of Aaron's staff. In an attempt to prove that Aaron had a special place of leadership, Moses gathered the walking staffs of each tribal leader and placed them in a tent before the Lord. The next morning Aaron's staff had sprouted, budded, blossomed, and produced almonds, according to Numbers 17:8. The staff was kept in front of the people, as a sign of God's choice of leaders.
543. The bronze snake. Numbers 21 tells how God sent venomous snakes among the people as a discipline for complaining. After many Israelites died, God told Moses to make a bronze snake and put it on a high pole. Anyone who was bitten could simply turn and look at the snake, and they would be saved. Just as the bronze snake was lifted up and offered life to those who would believe and turn toward it, Christ was lifted up and offers the free gift of salvation to all who believe.
544. The walls of Jericho. While most Old Testament miracles were confined to the lives of Moses, Elijah, Elisha, and Daniel, one of the few other supernatural events occurs in Joshua 5-6. Rather than attacking the city of Jericho, the armies of Israel followed God's command to march around the city walls and blow trumpets. After doing this for a week, they gave a great shout and the walls of Jericho simply fell down in front of them. Recent archaeology of the site has shown that the walls did, indeed, fall outward—a strange occurrence, since walls were generally pushed inward by invading armies.
545. Gideon's fleece. Another Old Testament miracle is recorded in Judges 6. Gideon, chosen by God to lead Israel's armies, needed a sign that God was really on his side. He laid a fleece on the ground one night and asked the Lord to let it be wet with dew the next morning, even though the ground was dry. God did just that. The next night Gideon laid the fleece and asked that it would be dry while the ground was wet. Again God acted. This miracle has led to people talking about "laying out a fleece" when they want to test something or someone.
546. Fed by ravens. The prophet Elijah, after proclaiming a drought, hid in the Kerith Ravine. First Kings 17 records that God sent ravens with bread and meat to him every morning and evening, sustaining him through the difficult times.
547. Multiplying flour and oil. When Elijah asked the widow of Zarephath to make him a cake during the drought, she replied that she and her son were about to die of starvation. However, Elijah told her that if she made him a meal, her jar of flour would never run out and her jar of oil would never run dry. First Kings 17:15-16 records that the widow's jars were miraculously filled each day.
548. Raising the widow's son. When the widow of Zarephath's son died, Elijah took the boy in his arms, went into an upper room, and cried out to the Lord, "O Lord my God, let this boy's life return to him!" (1 Kings 17:21). God raised the boy to life—presaging a miracle Jesus Christ would perform hundreds of years later.
549. Fire on Mount Carmel. One of the best stories in Scripture takes place in 1 Kings 18, when Elijah did battle with 450 prophets of Baal. Placing a bull on an altar on top of Mount Carmel, he challenged the prophets to make fire come down and consume the sacrifice. When they failed, he taunted them, suggesting that their god must be asleep or away on a trip. Elijah then had water poured on the bull, stepped forward, and said a short prayer: "Let it be known today that you are God in Israel and that I am your servant." Fire suddenly came from heaven and burned up the sacrifice—leading the crowd watching to prostrate themselves before God, then turn and slaughter the false priests.
550. Chariots of fire. Second Kings 2 records that Elijah did not die, but was taken up to heaven in a chariot of fire pulled by horses of fire. Those same chariots appeared later in Elisha's life, when the Aramean armies came to capture him. Though Elisha's servant was afraid for his life, God opened his eyes and helped him to see that they were surrounded by chariots of fire sent by God. In response to that vision, Elisha struck the entire Aramean army blind.
[ELIJAH DID DIE; IT IS TOTALLY FALSE TO BELIEVE ELIJAH RECEIVED ETERNAL LIFE BEFORE JESUS CHRIST AS A HUMAN RECEIVED IT; SUCH IDEAS ARE CONTRARY TO MANY SCRIPTURES OF THE NEW TESTAMENT - SEE MY STUDIES UNDER “LIFE, DEATH AND THE RESURRECTION” - Keith Hunt]
551. Oil aplenty. When a widow asked Elisha for help to pay her creditors, the prophet instructed her to ask neighbors for their empty jars. After collecting the jars, she was to pour oil from her small oil pot into the jars. She kept pouring and pouring, miraculously multiplying her oil until all the jars were filled. The widow then sold the oil and paid her debts.
552. Raising the Shunammite's son. When a childless woman invited Elisha to stay with her, then prepared his room and all his meals, the prophet announced she would soon become pregnant and have a son. She did, but the boy died from an internal problem a few years later. Second Kings 4 reveals that Elisha went to see the body, lay down on top of him, and raised the boy to life.
553. Feeding the multitudes. Elisha took twenty loaves of barley bread and divided them among a hundred men. According to 2 Kings 4:42-44, the Lord multiplied the bread so that everyone had their fill, and there was bread left over. Jesus would later do a similar miracle, feeding five thousand, recorded in Matthew 14.
554. Naaman healed of leprosy. When the commander of Syria's armies came down with leprosy, his wife encouraged him to visit Elisha. The prophet told Naaman to wash seven times in the Jordan River. Though he was skeptical, Naaman did as he was told and was miraculously cured of his disease. Second Kings 5:15 records his response: "Now I know that there is no God in all the world except in Israel."
555. An axhead floats. Second Kings 6 tells the story of a workman with a borrowed ax cutting some trees, when the axhead fell into some water. Elisha cut a stick, threw it into the water, and the iron axhead floated to the top.
[NOT QUITE AS IT REALLY HAPPENED, STILL A MIRACLE THOUGH - Keith Hunt]
556. Nebuchadnezzar's dream. The king of Babylon, who conquered Jerusalem and carried off its citizenry into exile, had a strange dream that none of his wise men could interpret. But the prophet Daniel, a young Jew selected to serve in Nebuchadnezzar's court, asked God to help him understand the dream. Not only did God reveal the dream to Daniel, but the Lord gave him the meaning of the dream—which accurately revealed what would happen to future kingdoms.
557. The fiery furnace. When Daniel's three friends—Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednigo—refused to bow down to an idol, the king of Babylon had them thrown into a fiery furnace. The furnace was so hot that even the soldiers leading them toward it were killed, but the three followers of God were miraculously saved. When the king looked into the furnace, he saw not only the three men but a fourth man, who looked like "the Son of God." Recognizing it as a miracle, he issued a decree that no one was to slander the God of Israel.
558. The writing is on the wall. Daniel 5 records that when the loathsome King Belshazzar threw a drunken party and used sacred cups that had been brought from the temple in Jerusalem, the fingers of a human hand suddenly appeared and wrote a message on a wall: "Numbered. Weighed. Divided." Though none of the king's astrologers could divine the meaning, Daniel could. He told the king that God had judged Belshazzar and found him wanting, so his kingdom would be taken away that very night. That is exactly what happened.
559. Daniel in the lion's den. When King Darius decreed that anyone found praying to God would be killed, Daniel went into his room, opened the shutters, and prayed loudly to the Lord. Darius reluctantly had Daniel thrown into a lion's den, but God shut the mouths of the lions and he was preserved without a scratch. The court members who had plotted against Daniel were then thrown into the den and devoured.
560. Jonah and the whale. The last miracle recorded in the Old Testament involves the reluctant prophet Jonah who, while attempting to run away from God, was caught in a horrible storm and thrown into the sea in the sailors' attempt to pacify their gods. He was swallowed by a great fish, survived for three days, then was coughed up onto the shore. Upon reaching the intended city of Nineveh, Jonah preached repentance, and the pagans there turned to God (much to Jonah's disgust).
New Testament Miracles
561. The virgin birth. No doubt the first miraculous event recorded in the New Testament is the birth of Jesus Christ. Mary, a virgin, was "found to be with child through the Holy Spirit," according to Matthew 1:18. Several other miracles surrounded that birth, including the striking dumb of Zechariah in Luke 1, the angels' appearance to the shepherds in Luke 2, and the star which led the magi to visit in Matthew 2.
562. Water into wine. The first recorded miracle of Jesus occurs in John 2, when Christ was attending a wedding in the city of Cana and the hosts ran out of wine. Jesus requested six large jars to be filled with water, and they then miraculously turned into fine wine. As John records, "He thus revealed his glory, and his disciples put their faith in him."
563. Healing. One of the things Christ was most known for was his ability to heal the sick. Matthew 4:23-24 records that "Jesus went throughout Galilee . . . healing every disease and sickness among the people. News about him spread all over Syria, and people brought to him all who were ill with various diseases, those suffering severe pain, the demon-possessed, those having seizures, and the paralyzed, and he healed them." The sick included lepers, paralytics, and those with internal bleeding.
564. A man born blind. Certainly one of the most amazing miracles of Jesus was the healing of a man born blind in John 9. Christ made some mud with his saliva, rubbed it on the man's eyes, and instructed him to wash in a nearby pool. Upon doing so the man received his sight. Jewish leaders denounced him as a fraud, but when questioned, the man responded, "One thing I do know. I was blind and now I see!"
565. The centurion's servant. Since Roman conquerors were hated by most Jewish citizens, it was generally forbidden for a Jew to enter a Roman's home. Thus when a God-fearing Roman centurion told Jesus that his servant was ill, he informed the Lord that Jesus didn't have to enter his home to perform the healing. Instead Christ could do it from a distance. Marveling at the man's faith, Jesus replied, "I have not found anyone in Israel with such great faith" (Matt. 8:10). Before the centurion could get home, the servant was healed.
566. Jesus calms the storm. Matthew 8 relates the story of Jesus asleep in a boat when a violent storm arose. When the disciples, fearing they would drown, awakened the Lord, he simply rebuked the winds and the waves, making them calm.
567. Raising the dead. In Matthew 9, Jesus tells a crowd of mourners that a ruler's young daughter is not dead but asleep. Though the mourners laughed at him, Jesus proceeds to raise her from the dead. Luke 7 also tells of Jesus raising the dead, this time a widow's son. And John 11 records the raising of Lazarus, which was witnessed by a crowd of people.
[IN THE GOSPEL OF JOHN WE ARE TOLD THAT DEATH IS A SLEEP, THE RAISING OF LAZARUS. WE DO NOT GO ON LIVING AFTER DEATH; WE ARE ALSEEP. I ONCE HAD A MINOR OPERATION, THEY PUT ME OUT AND I HAD NO DREAMS…. JUST NOTHING, IT WAS ALL BLACK AND SILENT; I WAS AS GOOD AS DEAD, BUT MY BODY STILL FUNCTIONED, HENCE THEY WERE ABLE TO REVIVE ME. OFTEN IN SLEEP WE DO NOT DREAM, AND IT IS BLACK AND SILENT, TILL WE AWAKE, AND WE HAVE NO RECOGNITION OF THE TIME SPENT WHILE ASLEEP, SO IT IS WITH DEATH. AND THAT IS WHY WE NEED A RESURRECTION - Keith Hunt]
568. Feeding the multitudes. After preaching to a large crowd, the disciples encouraged Christ to send the people away so that they could find something to eat. Instead the Lord had them gather their food—five loaves of bread and two fish—and proceeded to feed five thousand people.
569. Walking on water. After his disciples had sailed off in a boat to the other side of a lake, the disciples watched Jesus walk out to them on the waves. Peter asked to join him, and also walked on water for a short time. But Matthew notes that as soon as Peter took his eyes off the Lord and began to look at the waves, he began to sink. Christ helped Peter back into the boat—prompting the disciples to say, "Truly you are the Son of God."
570. The transfiguration. A few days before his death, Jesus took Peter, James, and John up to a high mountain. There he was "transfigured" before them. His face "shone like the sun, and his clothes became as white as the light." Moses and Elijah, two of the handful of miracle workers in Scripture, then appeared with Jesus, and the voice of God announced, "This is my Son, whom I love; with him I am well pleased" (Matt. 17:5).
571. The tearing of the veil. Matthew 27:51 records an important miracle that took place during Christ's death on the cross: "At that moment the curtain of the temple was torn in two from top to bottom." The tearing of that curtain, which created a barrier between the worship area and the holy of holies where God dwelt, meant that man was no longer to be separated from God.
572. The resurrection. The greatest of all miracles in the Christian faith is the fact that Jesus rose from the dead, conquering death and sin. The evidence for the resurrection as a historical fact (the empty tomb, the Roman guard, the eyewitness reports of those who were there, the lack of any other explanation) is overwhelming.
573. Apostles heal a cripple. In the apostolic age some of the followers of Christ had the power to do miracles. Acts 3 records Peter and John healing a beggar who had been crippled since birth, and Acts 5:12 notes that "the apostles performed many miraculous signs and wonders among the people."
574. Ananias and Sapphira. The early church encouraged members to take care of one another. One couple, Ananias and Sapphira, schemed to sell some property and give some of the money away but then deceive the church by keeping some of it for themselves. When they stood before the leadership, God struck both Ananias and Sapphira dead.
575. Peter's escape from prison. When Peter was arrested for preaching the gospel, he was held in prison, bound to a soldier on either side. But Acts 12 relates that late one night Peter was awakened by an angel, his chains simply fell off, and the gates before him miraculously opened by themselves. He walked to freedom ... while the guards who were supposed to be keeping watch over him were later executed.
Speaking in Pictures
576. The parable of the sower, found in Matthew 13, likens sharing the gospel to a farmer scattering seed. Seed sown on the path is eaten by birds—which the Lord explains is similar to what occurs when a hearer doesn't understand the message. Satan snatches it away, so that it cannot have an impact on the hearer's life. Seed scattered on rocky soil sprouts, but it dies because it cannot set its roots—this is likened to someone who initially believes the gospel but falls away from the faith due to persecution. Some seeds grow but are choked out by thorns—a depiction of the person whose belief is undermined by worldly concerns. But the good seed that grows is like the individual who hears the gospel, understands it, and chooses to follow Christ.
577. The parable of the weeds also tells the story of a farmer sowing seeds, but an enemy sows weeds among the wheat. When it sprouts, a servant asks the farmer if he should pull them up. The farmer replies, "No, because while you are pulling the weeds, you may root up the wheat with them. Let both grow together until the harvest" (Matt. 13:29). Jesus later explains that he is the good seed, the weeds are the sons of evil, spread by the enemy Satan, and the field is the world. The harvest represents the end of time, when God will bring his people into his house, but send those who reject him to judgment.
578. The parable of the new wine in old wineskins, found in Matthew 9:16-17, describes the new life Jesus brings. This new life cannot be confined by old forms—or by hardened hearts. Jesus' meaning was clear: to embrace the special gift he brought, a person had to be born again, [BEGOTTEN AGAIN - Keith Hunt] to become a new form, because the old one would burst and be ruined by the message of Jesus.
579. The parable of the wise and wicked servants discusses what faithful servants (believers) should be doing while their master (Jesus) is away. A wise servant who is left in charge of the other servants will make sure they are being taken care of and doing their work. The foolish servant will assume he can do as he likes since the master will be staying away a long time. He will beat the other laborers and become drunk. Yet the master will return unexpectedly and find out who has acted wisely and who has acted foolishly. The foolish servant will be cast into a dreadful place for not honoring the master while he is away.
580. The parable of the sheep and the goats is a picture of what will happen when Christ returns. Sheep symbolize believers; goats symbolize unbelievers. The sheep will be parted from the goats with a final destination of heaven. The goats will be sent to hell, the place of eternal punishment.
[HELL IS THE SECOND DEATH - REVELATION 20 - IT BURNS UP AND THE END RESULT IS DEATH FOR ALL ETERNITY, JUST AS NEVER EXISTING - Keith Hunt]
581. The parable of the growing seed is only found in one of the Gospels of the New Testament—Mark. The parable describes how the kingdom of God is like a seed that is scattered into the ground and eventually sprouts and grows and produces grain. It does this with no help or direction. The seed's power to grow itself is likened to the power of the gospel message: It has its own mysterious power.
582. The parable of the watchful porter is a reminder that no one knows the exact return of Christ. Believers are to be ready, to stand at attention like an attentive porter would at the door of a building, to not let down their guard as they wait for Christ's return.
583. The parable of the two debtors likens debtors to sinners. In this very short parable from Luke, there are two debtors. One owes a small amount of money to a lender, the other ten times the amount of the first debtor. If the lender forgives both of them, Jesus asks, who will be more thankful? The obvious answer is the debtor with the larger amount of debt. The same concept holds true for sinners. Whether large or small, Christ forgives, but those with more to be forgiven will be more thankful. This parable was told after Jesus' feet were anointed by a former prostitute. The Pharisee sitting at the table was convinced Jesus wouldn't let such a sinner touch him if he only knew her past. Jesus' parable speaks directly to the heart issue.
584. The parable of the good Samaritan tells the story of a man who was beaten by robbers and left for dead. Though a passing priest and temple worker refused to help the victim, a despised Samaritan stopped, assisted the man, and agreed to pay for all costs in his recuperation. The story shows that God's love moves beyond social prejudice.
585. The parable of the barren fig tree is a picture of how eternity will not wait forever for nonbelievers to make up their minds. In the story the owner of a vineyard tells the steward to cut down a fig tree that hasn't yielded fruit in three years. Thinking he has allowed an ample amount of time, the owner is frustrated and sees no point in using up soil to nourish it. Yet the steward asks for one more year to fertilize the fig—perhaps the steward is Christ interceding on our behalf!
[THINKING THE THEOLOGY OF THIS LIFE ONLY TO SAVE PEOPLE, GIVES ALL KINDS OF SILLY IDEA, AND FALSE THEOLOGY - Keith Hunt]
586. The parable of the lowest seat at the feast likens the seating arrangement to how Christians are to behave on earth. They are to humble themselves now in order to be exalted later. At a feast it is wise to take a seat in a lower position and then be asked to move up to a more exalted position rather than exalting oneself first and then being asked to move down by the host. This is an often-repeated theme in the Bible: Believers are to be humble and not seek out positions of exaltation.
587. The parable of the great banquet is a reminder that not everyone will enter the kingdom of heaven. Though all are invited, many will reject the invitation and be lost. The story describes a gracious host who plans a large banquet and sends invitations to many people. But on the day of the banquet, those who are invited make excuses and don't come. The owner then sends for the poor, the lame, those who are in need. He will not force anyone to come into the banquet hall. Rather it is a matter of accepting an invitation.
588. The parable of the mustard seed likens the kingdom of heaven to the smallest seed known in that part of the world. Though the seed is tiny, it grows to a great height. In the same way, though the church started small, it would grow rapidly and become a worldwide force throughout the rest of history.
[AND THE KINGDOM OF GOD ON EARTH WILL SPREAD FROM JERUSALEM TO COVER THE WHOLE EARTH - Keith Hunt]
589. In the parable of the yeast, Jesus describes the kingdom of heaven as being like a small amount of yeast that gets mixed into a large amount of flour, permeating all the dough. Once the process of leavening begins, it cannot be stopped. Similarly once the good news of the gospel took hold in the world, there would be no stopping it. (In a later passage, Christ would warn against the evil yeast of the Pharisees, which could also permeate lives.)
[THIS HAS TO DO WITH THE LITERAL KINDOM WHEN IT COMES TO EARTH. THE WORLD IS NOW BECOMING MORE SECULAR ALL THE TIME. ONLY TWO CHURCH ORGANIZATION ARE INCREASING: THE ROMAN CATHOLIC CHURCH AND THE SEVENTH DAY ADVENTISTS. SUCH STATISTICS DO NOT EVEN LOOK AT THE CHURCH OF GOD, SEVENTH DAY KEEPERS, YET THEY ARE LARGER THAN THE ADVENTIST CHURCH; 18 OR SO MILLION ON THE AFRICAN CONTINENT ALONE - Keith Hunt]
590. The parables of the hidden treasure and the pearl both compare the gospel message to something of great value. Just as a man sells all he has in order to purchase the field with hidden treasure or the fine pearl, Jesus would give all he had—even his own life—in order to provide redemption for his people.
[SO WE MUST GIVE UP ANYTHING TO BE IN GOD’S KINGDOM - Keith Hunt]
591. The parable of the net states that the kingdom of God is like a net that catches all kinds of fish. When the net is full, it is pulled on shore and the good fish are separated from the bad fish. Jesus explains that the net and sorting represent the action that will take place at the end of time, when Christ will remove the righteous from the unrighteous, sending believers to heaven and unbelievers to hell.
[NO WE DO NOT GO TO “HEAVEN” AS MOST CHRISTIANS THINK OF GOING TO HEAVEN, NOR DO THE UNBELIEVERS GO TO HELL AS MOST THINK OF THAT PHEASE “GOING TO HELL” - Keith Hunt]
592. The parable of the lost sheep, in Matthew 18, is one of the sweetest stories of Jesus. In it he tells of a loving shepherd caring for one hundred sheep. If one gets lost, he will leave the ninety-nine to go find the one that is missing. In the same way, God is concerned about each person and he doesn't want anyone to be lost.
593. The parable of the lost coin likens a poor woman's rejoicing when finding a lost coin to the rejoicing in heaven when a sinner repents and turns to God. This parable can be found in Luke 15.
594. The parable of the unmerciful servant relates the story of a man who owes a great debt to his master. Falling on his knees, he pleads for mercy and it is granted. But moments later the servant sees a man who owes him a small amount and has him thrown into debtors' prison. When the master hears of this, he is outraged and has the servant arrested and punished until he can pay back his entire debt. Forgiveness should be in direct proportion to the amount forgiven—since the servant had been forgiven much, he should in turn forgive others. Since Christians have been forgiven for all their sins, they should in turn be willing to forgive the failings of others.
595. The parable of the workers in the vineyard, found in Matthew 20, tells the story of a landowner hiring workers to help in his fields. Some are hired in the morning, some at noon, and others near the end of the day, but they are all paid the same amount. Jesus used the parable to explain that rewards are under the sovereign control of God. Some prominent people will be demoted while some lowly people are exalted. The Lord's evaluation is all that matters in the final accounting of our lives.
[NO IT TELLS OF SOME BEING CALLED WHEN YOUNG, OTHERS, MIDDLE AGE, OTHERS LATTER AGE….. ALL RECEIVE ETERNAL LIFE, THE SAME THING; REWARDED ACCORDING TO YOUR WORKS IS ANOTHER MATTER ALTOGETHER - Keith Hunt]
596. The parable of two sons is about a father asking two boys to work in a vineyard. One says he will, but fails to go. The other says he won't, but does anyway. The one who eventually obeyed was righteous—a point Christ used to explain why prostitutes and tax collectors who turn to God will make it into heaven, while the Pharisees and religious leaders will not because they have not repented and believed.
597. The parable of the tenants may have been Christ's most powerful story. In Matthew 21 he tells of a careful landowner who rents out his vineyard. When he sends servants to collect the rent, the tenants beat them. Then he sends his own son, whom the tenants kill. Jesus used this illustration to depict a loving God caring for Israel yet being rejected by them. Eventually God sent his own Son, whom they would crucify. The result is that the kingdom of God would be taken from Israel. The religious leaders of the day, completely misunderstanding Christ's meaning, were enraged by the parable.
598. The parable of the wise and foolish builders contrasts a wise man who builds his house on a rock foundation with a fooi-sh man who builds his house on sand. When a storm comes, the house on sand falls apart, while the house built on rock stands firm. In other words, the quality of the foundation determines the strength of the building. The firm foundation represents Christ's work of transforming lives from the inside out, contrasted with the Pharisees' religion, which relies on a merely outward appearance of righteousness. This parable, following a story about choosing which fruit to eat and which road to walk, reveals that there is always a wise choice that leads to God and a foolish choice that leads away from him.
599. The parable of the wedding banquet tells the story of a king trying to invite people to his son's celebration. Since the invitations are ignored or rejected by most, he angrily sends his army to punish those who snubbed him and invite people off the street to fill the wedding hall. The parable illustrates that Israel had rejected their Messiah, so Gentiles would be welcomed into the kingdom of God. An interesting detail is that one guest is expelled for not wearing wedding clothes that were given by the king—an illustration that we must not only respond to God outwardly, but inwardly by appropriating what God provides.
[WE ARE TO ANSWER OUR CALLING. WE ARE TO BE CHOSEN; WHEN THAT IS SO WE MUST PUT ON THE RIGHTEOUSNESS OF THE WEDDING BRIDE OF CHRIST….. WHITE GARMENT REPRESENTS THE RIGHTEOUSNESS OF GOD WHICH IS GOD’S COMMANDMENTS - PSALM 119: 172 - WE MUST SERVE AND OBEY HIM - Keith Hunt]
600. The parable of the ten virgins, found in Matthew 25, pictures Israel as ten virgins awaiting the return of the bridegroom. The wedding custom of the day called for the groom to return to his home leading a procession, and the image is that of Christ returning from heaven with his bride, the church. Preparation for the banquet is necessary, but five of the virgins have failed to prepare by bringing enough oil. They leave to shop for oil, and by the time they get back, the feast is in progress and they are denied admission. The image is that Israel is unprepared, though they should know that the Messiah is coming.
[IT IS ANYONE NOT WATCHING AND BEING PREPARED FOR JESUS’ RETURN, AS HIS RETURN IS AS CLOSE AS OUR DEATH; VERY FEW OF US KNOW WHEN WE ARE GOING TO DIE, SO LIVE FOR GOD AND CHRIST EACH AND EVERY DAY - Keith Hunt]
601. The parable of the talents is the story of a master entrusting three servants with various amounts of money to invest while he is away. Upon his return two have invested wisely and are praised. The third has hidden his money and is rebuked. His words and actions reveal a lack of faith in the master. The point of the parable is that God's people must serve him while he is away.
[WE MUST USE WHAT WE HAVE BEEN GIVEN TO USE, WE ALL SERVE IN DIFFERENT WAYS - Keith Hunt]
602. The parable of the lamp reminds us that no one lights a lamp and then hides it. Instead we use a lamp to illuminate the darkness. In the same way, we have not been given the truth of the gospel in order to keep it a secret, but to share it with others.
[TO LIVE AT ALL TIMES AND IN ALL PLACES AS AN EXAMPLE OF TRUE CHRISTIANITY IN WORD, THOUGHT, AND DEEDS - Keith Hunt]
603. The parable of the prodigal son is one of the most well-told stories in Scripture. A father has two sons, one of whom demands his inheritance, leaves town, and wastes the money on foolish pleasures. The other son stays at home, working with his father. When the profligate son decides to return, the father rejoices, while his brother grouses about his father's response. Christ's point in telling the story was that not only is everyone welcome in God's family, but we should all rejoice when a lost soul repents and enters into fellowship with God.
604The parable of the rich fool, related in Luke 12, tells of a wealthy man who builds bigger and bigger barns, promising himself that he will soon be able to take life easy. God's response is clear: "You fool! This very night your life will be demanded from you." Life is more important than hoarding material things. The rich fool's wealth would do him no good in eternity.
605. The parable of the shrewd manager is one of the more difficult parables to understand. A financial manager, in danger of losing his job, does favors for some of the people who owe money to his master. The master then praises the manager for acting shrewdly. The point is not that it's good to be dishonest, but that it was good the manager had planned ahead—in essence, he had used material goods for future benefits.
[WE ARE TO BE WISE IN USING WHAT IS RIGHT AND LAWFUL IN THIS WORLD TO USE, IN OUR PHYSICAL LIVES. CHRISTIANS OFTEN ARE NOT WORLDLY WISE IN THE RIGHT AND GOOD WAY. BEING A WISE INVESTOR IS ONE SUCH WAY - Keith Hunt]
606. The parable of the rich man and Lazarus, in Luke 16, relates a story of a wealthy man dying and going to hell, while a poor man dies and goes to heaven. The initial point Christ was making was that material wealth has nothing to do with spiritual righteousness. But there is more to the story. When the rich man asks to go back and warn his living brothers, his request is rejected— a suggestion from the Lord that people will always be asking for more signs, even though they've already been given more than enough information that Jesus is the Christ.
[A PARABLE NOT UNDERSTOOD BUT BY A FEW. IT IS ALL EXPLAINED FULLY UNDER THE SECTION, “LIFE, DEATH AND RESURRECTION” - Keith Hunt]
607. The parable of the persistent widow tells of a woman seeking justice from an unjust judge. Though he routinely refuses to hear her case, the woman's persistence finally wears him down, and she gains justice. Jesus interpreted the parable by saying, "Listen to what the unjust judge says. And will not God bring about justice for his chosen ones, who cry out to him day and night?" (Luke 18:6-7).
[DO NOT GIVE UP ON PRAYING, FOR WHATEVER THAT IS GOOD AND RIGHT, UNLESS GOD GIVES YOU AN ANSWER - Keith Hunt]
608. The parable of the pharisee and the tax collector is perhaps the most touching story Christ told. A self-righteous priest stands before God and offers a prayer of thanks that he is not like the tax collector. But the tax collector is too humbled to even look up to God and pleads with the Lord to forgive him for his sins. Jesus' point is that we dare not trust in our own righteousness or compare ourselves to others in order to be justified. Instead we must humble ourselves before God in order to find forgiveness and gain his righteousness.
[WE MUST ALWAYS BE HUMBLE AND REALIZE WE ARE SINNERS - 1 JOHN 1 AND 2; NEVER LET PRIDE AND SELF-RIGHTEOUSNESS TAKE HOLD OF YOU - Keith Hunt]
A Church Begins
609. Until the Book of Acts, the Bible primarily belonged to the Jewish people. Of the many radical elements of Jesus' message, one of the most radical was that he meant for it to apply to Gentiles (non-Jews) as well as Jews. When Jesus told his apostles to go to the ends of the world, he really meant it. This brisk narrative begins in Jerusalem and ends in Rome, symbolizing how Jesus took the faith of ancient Israel and opened it up to the whole world.
610. The lists of disciples differ slightly from one book to another. The Gospel of Matthew lists Simon, Andrew (Simon's brother), James and John (the Sons of Zebedee), Philip, Bartholomew, Thomas, Matthew the tax collector, James the son of Alphaeus, Thaddaeus, Simon the Cananite, and Judas Iscariot. Luke refers to Simon as "the zealot" (a brand of political protestors) and mentions "Judas son of James" instead of Thaddaeus. Many of these men were pillars of the early church.
611. Peter, who was called Simon before Jesus renamed him, was the first leader of the early church. Peter had a long history with the Lord; he denied Christ three times before the cock crowed but went on in faith following Christ's death and resurrection to become exactly what his new name meant—"the rock."
[YES JESUS DID AT FIRST FOUND THE CHURCH ON PETER. HE WAS THE CHIEF SPOKESMAN AND LEADER, BUT THAT WAS ONLY FOR THE START, IT DID NOT CONTINUE AS THE ROMAN CHURCH WOULD HAVE IT. PAUL CAME ALONG AND HE CERTAINLY DID NOT TAKE A BACK SEAT TO ANYONE, SEE THE FIRST CHAPTER OF GALATIANS - Keith Hunt]
612. James and John, both sons of Zebedee, were brothers. They both were active in the early church. Both had been especially close to Jesus, being present at the transfiguration, it is strongly believed that John went on to write the Gospel of John.
613. Acts introduces the New Testament's second most influential figure (Jesus was the first!), an educated, pious Jew and tent-maker named Saul. Born in what is now Turkey, Saul went to Jerusalem to learn from the esteemed rabbi Gamaliel, grandson of the legendary rabbi Hillel, the most prominent pharisaic rabbi of the first century. Given authority by the high priest to arrest followers of Christ in Damascus for blasphemy, Saul vigorously persecuted early Christians. His name was changed to Paul after he experienced a transforming vision and conversion.
614. Paul developed a strategy for his traveling ministry that he followed through all his journeys. He generally moved farther westward from Israel with each mission. When he entered a city for the first time, he would look for a synagogue or other place where he could find the Jews of the city. In the first century A.D., Jews were dispersed throughout the world. Hardly a city didn't have Jews who met together regularly. Sometimes synagogues were receptive to his message; at other times hearers were extremely hostile.
615. When Paul was arrested in Jerusalem for his "heretical" views, he demanded a trial in Rome before the emperor, his right as a Roman citizen—the equivalent of an American traveler demanding a hearing with the U.S. president.
616, Many other missionaries preached the gospel in the early years of the church. Their mission was to spread the Word to all parts of the known earth, as they had been commissioned to do by Jesus before he returned to heaven. Thanks to their efforts, Christianity gained a foothold quickly in nearly every part of the known world.
617. Barnabas was one of the earliest converts to Christianity and a close friend of Paul's. A Greek-speaking Jew from Cyprus. Barnabas's real name was Joseph, but because he was an excellent teacher, his friends called him Barnabas, which means "Son of encouragement." He accompanied Paul on the first missionary journey through Asia Minor.
618. Timothy was one of Paul's main helpers. Paul mentored the younger man through two letters (1 and 2 Timothy) and called him his "true son in the faith." Timothy also traveled on his own.
619. Philip became a missionary and was the first to preach the gospel to those living in Samaria. He is especially remembered for how he helped an Ethiopian read a passage from Isaiah. An angel directed him to go to the Ethiopian. Upon arriving they read the passage together. The foreigner asked to be baptized and became the first Ethiopian Christian.
620. Silas traveled as a missionary with Paul and Peter. He sang hymns joyously to Christ when he was imprisoned with Paul during the earthquake in Philippi. The jailer became a Christian because he was so moved by their display of faith. He was to Paul a "faithful brother."
621. Phoebe is one of the few women missionary figures of the New Testament. History indicates that it was not uncommon for women to be in leadership roles in the early church, though it was certainly not typical in Jewish synagogues. Phoebe traveled to Rome, most likely to bring Paul's letter (what we know as the Book of Romans) to the Christians there.
622. Apollos was a Jew from Alexandria. He was actually a missionary before he met Paul. John the Baptist had mentored him and helped Apollos become a powerful preacher. He found help for his questions about Jesus in Corinth when he spoke with Priscilla and Aquilla.
623. Roman subjects incorporated emperor worship into the local religion throughout the empire. In the provinces, leading citizens became priests in the imperial cult to cement their ties with Rome. (Augustus, however, exempted the Jews from the imperial cult.) Emperor worship continued as the official pagan religion of the empire until Christianity was recognized under the Emperor Constantine (A.D. 305-337).
624. Paul stayed longer in some cities than others. Some larger cities, such as Ephesus, became teaching centers through which he could reach outlying areas of the surrounding regions. Paul's goal was to teach his followers well enough so they could teach others. Those who were able to accept this role were called elders, overseers, and pastors. The focus, however, was not on building an organization, but on preaching the Word.
625. The excellent highway system constructed throughout the Mediterranean world by the Romans was traveled frequently by Paul. Built so Roman armies could move swiftly and their traders could deliver goods efficiently, the Roman roads also contributed to the spread of the Christian message.
626. Since many Jews traveled to Jerusalem for annual feasts, and since many apostles were on the road with Christ's message, Paul sometimes found that the gospel message had reached a town before he did. This was the case with Rome, the center of the world in its day. There were many disciples in this metropolis long before Paul reached it.
627. The gospel of Christ spread primarily by word of mouth. Sometimes the apostles would move on to another city only to receive a request for more teaching from the city they had recently left. So they would write letters to be read aloud to groups of individuals who met for teaching and encouragement. They also wrote letters while confined in prison.
628. The agrapha is a phrase meaning "things not written." It was used in the early church to refer to sayings of Jesus that his followers remembered, but which were not written down in any of the Gospels. For example, in Acts 20:35, Paul quotes the Lord Jesus as saying, "It is more blessed to give than to receive." Those words can't be found in any of the Gospels, so apparently that is one of the things the Lord's followers remembered him saying, and would cite him as the source, even though it was never written down as such.
629. How do you tell the world the "Good News" if you don't speak their language? The disciples were gathered in an upper room when all of a sudden "tongues of fire" touched the followers. They began to speak in other languages. Some people who saw them thought they were drunk. This was the arrival of the Holy Spirit that Jesus had promised. The disciples could now go and spread the Word of God everywhere.
630. The early church grew as a "communistic" society in which everyone shared, according to the reports in Acts. There was a Utopian state of harmony depicted in these first days of the Christian community, although they were not yet called "Christians." A young man named Matthias was elected to replace Judas as one of the Twelve. The group prospered, made collective decisions, and enjoyed common ownership of goods, making the early Christians in Jerusalem a practical model for the kibbutz.
631. In Acts 6, we see that seven young men were appointed to see to the needs of the church people, in order to free up the time of the disciples and eventual apostles. Stephen, a gifted speaker, was one of these men. He was a skilled debater and angered many who could not argue well with him or win him over. Eventually these men became so angry that Stephen was arrested and tried before the Sanhedrin.
632. The first martyr of the church was Stephen. A young Pharisee named Saul was present. Eventually Saul would be converted and receive the name Paul. His conversion is a sign of the wondrous grace God has in store for those who believe in him. When Stephen was stoned, he died with a vision of Jesus in sight. He was at peace and thus incensed his captors even more. Before he died Stephen said, "Lord, do not hold this sin against them."
633. The early church was not a perfect organization. Early Christians were as sinful then as they can be now. One of the earliest instances of this appears in Acts 5. Ananias and his wife, Sapphira, lied about the amount of compensation they received after selling a field. Had they not pretended to sell it for less, it wouldn't have mattered, but since they did lie in order to keep back money for themselves, God took them both. As Peter told them, "You have lied to the Holy Spirit."
634. Another famous Ananias was Ananias of Damascus. When Paul was converted, he became blind. Ananias was told to go to the house where Paul was staying. He did so, though he knew that the man Saul was coming to arrest Christians. He prayed and the newly converted Paul received his sight back.
635. Dorcas, who was also called Tabitha, also received a miracle during the early days of the church. She lived in Joppa. She fell ill and then died. Her distressed friends sent for Peter, the "rock" of the church. He prayed for her even as she was dead! She was given her life back and sat up. Many of her friends became believers as a result of this miracle.
636. Cornelius was actually a Roman soldier and was stationed at Caesarea. He was a Gentile who had joined a synagogue in order to seek God. He was a "God fearer." An angel appeared to him one day and told Cornelius to send for Peter. When Peter came, Cornelius and his entire family learned about Jesus. They were baptized immediately and praised God.
637. Eutychus had been named well. His name means "lucky." While he was listening to Paul preach, he fell out of a third-story window (he fell asleep) and was lying still and believed to be dead when they reached him. Paul embraced him and he was healed. He had been blessed, not lucky, but his name seems appropriate!
638. Philemon had an interesting conversion experience. He was a wealthy Christian from Colosse, and he was converted by his slave, Onesimus. Onesimus had run away and eventually met the apostle Paul and became a believer. Paul sent him back to his master, Philemon, and urged Philemon to receive him as a "beloved brother." Philemon did so and was also saved!
639. Lydia is one of the few women mentioned in the early church. She was a seller of purple cloth and a Gentile, but sought God by going to a Jewish prayer center. She then met Paul and his fellow missionaries. She became converted, and eventually she and her family and even their workers were baptized. Paul and his friends stayed in her home.
640. Stephanas and his entire household were the first Christians to convert during Paul's ministry in Achaia. As the church grew in that area, Stephanas took a more active role in caring for other new Christians. Paul was fond of him and his family and he especially enjoyed Stephanas's visit with him in Ephesus.
641. Aquila and Priscilla were a tent-making couple from Corinth. They became Christians after listening to Paul preach. They were dear friends of Paul and supported him to the very end, even risking their lives for him. They were loved and known in many churches in Greece and Asia Minor.
642. Acts closes with Paul incarcerated and under a mild form of house arrest in the imperial capital. He continued preaching the gospel and writing letters to the churches he had established. Acts says nothing more about Paul's appeal or ultimate fate, or that of Peter. Both eventually disappear from the biblical account without any specific word about what happened to them. According to well-established tradition, both apostles were martyred during Emperor Nero's persecution of Christians after the great fire in Rome in A.D. 64.
TO BE CONTINUED