New Testament World
Are you someone who reads the program before you see a musical or play? Well, I’m not. I am the person that walks straight into the Theatre, scoffs at the ‘crazy’ people spending $20 buying the program, sits through the first half not really understanding what is going on and ends up reading the program over the shoulder of the smart person in front of me to work out what it is all about.
The Bible is incredible, we will be journeying through it for the rest of our lives and I know we will still have those ‘aha’ moments when we read something completely new, that is a fresh revelation to us.
In the Introduction Part One, we went through the concepts of historical context and different genres. Now I want to introduce you to some of the main characters of the New Testament to set you up for your journey. So let me ask you this question, can you name the twelve disciples for me? Take your time, it's harder than you'd think!
How hard is it to name them all? Most people, including myself before I studied it: Matthew, Mark, Luke, John but, in fact, Mark and Luke were not part of the twelve disciples. Let’s have a read of who was in the chosen twelve in Matthew 10:1-4.
Simon (called Peter or Cephas), Andrew, James son of Zebedee, his brother John, Philip, Bartholomew, Thomas, Matthew the tax collector, James son of Alphaeus, Thaddaeus, Simon the Zealot and Judas Iscariot. What a mixed bunch of men! Fishermen, two firey sons of thunder, a tax collector, a Zealot and Judas – with these, Jesus changed the world! Imagine what He can do with your life surrendered to Him.
Were you shocked at some of these names? Let’s be honest, Thaddaeus isn’t that well-known! I bet he has to get out the list for people in heaven to prove he was actually one of the twelve and that Luke and Mark were not! I can’t wait to talk to the ones we don’t have a lot of details on, and ask them how they went following Jesus for the time they did, and what happened to them after the resurrection? Most became missionaries and were killed for their faith. These men are the foundation on which Jesus built the Church.
Now for the culture of the New Testament, let’s set the scene. The curtain opens to Bethlehem about 2000 years ago. Throughout your journey in the New Testament, you are going to hear names like Bethlehem, Jerusalem, Corinth, Philippi. If you're a visual person, below is a map to help you to see where everything is. A great way to engage with the Bible is keep this map on your wall and highlight the names that you read as you go along. It will amaze you by the end of reading the Bible how many places you have journeyed through.
So, here we are in the Middle East, and we have three main cultures that have large parts to play in the culture that Jesus entered. Let me introduce you to these cultures: Romans, Greeks and Jews.
The Romans are the strong militant force in the story, often considered the enemy. When Jesus arrived on the scene, the Romans were in charge of the government, legal and financial systems. They had their own religion, systems and laws to follow. In Matthew 8:5-13, when Jesus heals the Roman Centurion, He declares over him in Matthew 8:10, 'Truly I tell you, I have not found anyone in Israel with such great faith'. What! A Roman, the enemy that has killed them, put taxes over them and dominated them. This was mind blowing, revolutionary!
This strong militant people actually forged the way for the spreading of the gospel – the roads that Jesus and Paul walked along to preach the gospel were built and guarded by the Romans. God used everything to spread the message of the gospel!
The Greeks provided the cultural education and philosophical context of the life of Christ and the first century church. The Greeks were philosophical thinkers, with forums of people getting together just to go through different or new schools of thought. The Bible was translated into Greek by Alexander the Great, which provided a platform to preach the gospel, and they could build on the Old Testament scriptures because Greek was declared the universal language. Coincidence? I think not!
The Jewish culture provides the religious context of Jesus’ world. Jesus is the fulfillment of the Old Testament and is the spearhead to the New Testament. We will get to know these amazing people as we read the Old Testament together.
These cultures are our platform, our stage, if you like, where Jesus is about to make His entry. All form part of the greatest story in history: one man that changed the world in three years with a mixed bunch of men and women! Thirty years of preparation and three to change the world. Ready. Set. Go!