New Testament Survey – History

New Testament Survey—-Books of History

The first five books of the New Testament are books of history.  Matthew, Mark, Luke and John are biographies written about the life of Jesus Christ.  The next book, the Book of Acts, is the history of the Early Church.  In this session, we want to deal with the Books of History in the New Testament.

The Gospels

Matthew, Mark, Luke and John, although they each tell the story of the Life of Christ, they are quite different in their emphasis and style.  Let’s look at them one at a time.


The Gospel of Matthew was clearly written to a Jewish audience.  Some of the sure signs of this Jewish emphasis are the following:  Chapter one has a genealogy which begins (Matthew 1:1) “The book of the generation of Jesus Christ, the son of David, the son of Abraham”.  He is the King who comes offering the Kingdom of God.  The phrase “The king of heaven” occurs some thirty-two times in this Gospel.  Further, to show that this Jesus fulfills expectations of the Old Testament, ten times he specifically stresses that what happened in the life of Jesus fulfills the Old Testament.  Also, he uses more Old Testament quotations and allusions than any other book of the New Testament, some 130 times.

One simple outline of Matthew distinguishes nine sections:

I.                     The Person and Presentation of the King (1:1-4.25)

II.                  The Proclamation or Preaching of the King (5:1-7:29)

II.                The Power of the King (8:1-11:1)

IV.                The Program and Progressive Rejection of the King (11:2-16:12)

V.                  The Pedagogy and Preparation of the King’s Disciples (16:13-20:28)

VI.                The Predictions or Prophecies of the King (24:1-25:46)

VII.              The Proof of the King (28:1-20)


The Gospel of Mark does not (in the earliest manuscripts) actually bear the name of Mark.  It was a later addition.  However, there is convincing evidence that Mark, who was a known companion of the Apostle Peter, is in fact, the author.

This Gospel is the shortest of the four, and Mark seems to be action oriented.  His use of “immediately” or “at once” occurs more than 40 times in this Gospel.  Mark writes to a Roman or Gentile audience.   Mark 10:45 is a theme verse: “For even the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and give His life as a ransom for many”.  As Mark emphasizes the actions of a servant, he only mentions 17 out of 70 parables (teachings), but he includes more than half of Christ’s 35 miracles.  The following outline focuses on the “Servant” emphasis in Mark:

I.                    The Preparation of the Servant for Service (1:1-13)

II.                  The Preaching of the Servant in Galilee (i:14-9:50)

III.                The Preaching of the Servant in Perea (10:1-52)

IV.                The Passion of the Servant in Jerusalem (11:1-15:47)

V.                  The Prosperity of the Servant in Resurrection (16:1-20)


The Gospel of Luke as well as Acts are both authored by Luke.  What do we know of him?  He was a physician, a travel companion of the Apostle Paul (Colossians 4:14), and something of a historian.   The opening verses of the Gospel make it clear that he attempted to research all the facts in a careful manner.  It seems that Luke was a Gentile (he was differentiated by the Apostle Paul for the Jews), and Luke clearly writes to a Gentile audience.  He goes to special lengths to explain Jewish customs and geography to make it more understandable to his Gentile readers.

As to the theme of this book, it is good to consider his audience.  Gentile philosophical thought glorified the human body, and focused on physical reality.  Luke presents Jesus as the Perfect Man.  Luke’s genealogy traces Jesus’ lineage all the way to Adam, the first man.  Jesus’ boyhood mental and physical development are stressed (only) in Luke 2:40-52.  In Matthew, we see Jesus as the Son of David, Israel’s King.  In Mark, we see Him as the Lord’s Servant, serving others.  But in Luke, we see Him as the Son of Man, meeting men’s needs, a perfect man among men.   The humanity of Jesus and especially his compassion, are emphasized in Luke’s Gospel.  Chapter 15 stands out, with three consecutive stories which tell us not only of the love that Jesus had for sinners and those in need, but also revealing the heart of our Heavenly Father, particularly in the story of the Prodigal Son.  The following outline focuses on Jesus as the Son of Man:

I.                    The Prologue:  the Method and Purpose of Writing (1:1-4)

II.                  The Identification of the Son of Man with Men (1:5-4:13)

III.                The Ministry of the Son of Man to Men (4:14-9:50)

IV.                The Rejection of the Son of Man by Men (9:51-19:44)

V.                  The Suffering of the Son of Man for Men (19:45-23:56)

VI.                The Authentication (by resurrection) of the Son of Man before Men (24:1-53)

The “Synoptic Gospels”

The first three Gospels, Matthew, Mark and Luke, share so many similarities that they are called the “Synoptic Gospels”, because even though the first three authors have their own distinct purpose and style, the “see together” so many aspects of the Life of Christ. The Fourth Gospel, the Gospel of John is quite different in many ways.

The Gospel of John

There is little doubt that the “John” who wrote this Gospel is the brother of James, and a son of Zebedee.  Jesus called James and John the “Sons of Thunder”.   John was, along with Peter and James, in the circle of three—the three closest friends of Jesus Christ.  He also refers to himself as “The disciple whom Jesus loved”—and this is a good reminder to all of us: that the most significant thing that can be true of our lives, is to know in a personal way, the love of Jesus Christ!

John states the purpose of his Gospel at the end of his writing.  In John 20:31, the author makes it clear that he organizes his material to help lead the reader to sincere belief that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that believing, you might have life in His name.  As such, John organizes his material is such a way as to lead the inquirer—any honest seeker—to examine a representative sampling of the Life and Teaching of Jesus Christ, to come to saving faith.  Perhaps the best known verse in the entire Bible is John 3:16.  His audience is universal.  His teaching appeals to all people everywhere, and the Gospel of John is quite different from the Synoptics.  In John’s Prologue, he presents Jesus as the eternal Word (Logos) of God, which became flesh, and dwelt among us (John 1:14).  He is a personal witness to the life, death and resurrection of Christ.  “And we beheld his glory”.  In choosing representative miracles to share, he picks seven “signs”, miracles that lead the reader to a deeper understanding about the Person of Christ and His mission.  John stresses the deity of Christ, and presents seven “I Am” statements.  “I Am” is the Old Testament revelation of Almighty God (Yahweh).

The Book of Acts

This book by Luke is a follow-up to his gospel.  There is a natural flow from one right into the other; in fact, in the Early Church, they travelled together (Luke-Acts).  The real title is “The Acts of The Apostles”, and while this is certainly true, it could just as certainly been titled, “The Acts of the Holy Spirit”.  Each Gospel as well as Acts has a version of what we call “The Great Commission”.  Luke, in Acts, quotes Jesus as promising in Acts 1:8, “You will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem and all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.”  A missiologist, Roland Allen, years ago, wrote a compelling book, “The Spontaneous Expansion of the Early Church”, and his conclusion was that it was all the work of the Holy Spirit.  Remember, the apostles (really a larger group of 120) were gathered in the Upper Room (after the ascension of Jesus Christ, and prayed for ten days before Pentecost came, and the Holy Spirit was poured on their assembly.  The terms “filled with the Holy Spirit” “Spirit-filled” are used strategically in this book.  The Holy Spirit filled the early disciples, empowered them to witness, gave them boldness, and came to energize entire groups of people.  The Holy Spirit manifested Himself with miracles, tongues, and other manifestations.

Some of the highlights of this great book include the first sermon in the establishment of the church, by Peter (in Acts 2), a sermon by Stephen, who became the first Christian martyr (Acts 7).  It is in Acts that we hear of Saul, who is wondrously converted (Acts 9) and eventually is commissioned as a missionary (Acts 13), and then sets off on three different missionary journeys, which effectively establishes a beachhead for the Gospel in Asia Minor, Greece and Italy.

We can learn much from these early Christians.  They were truly wholly devoted followers of Christ and their life-styles demonstrated it (Acts 2:42-47; 4:32-37).  They prayed.  They witnessed.  They were filled by the Holy Spirit.  And the church exploded with growth!  And God still is waiting for Christians to be fully committed that He might show Himself strong in their behalf!

Acts 1:8 gives us really an outline for the Book of Acts:

I.                    The resurrection appearance of Jesus, the Great Commission and His ascension (Acts 1:1-11)

II.                  The Apostolic Replacement and Prayer Meeting (Acts 1:12-26)

III.                The Outpouring of the Holy Spirit, and establishment of the Jerusalem Church (Acts 2:1-8:1)

IV.                The Persecution, and Dispersing of Believers: to all Judea and Samaria (Acts 8:2-12:25)

V.                  The Missionary Journeys of Paul: to the ends of the earth (Acts 13:1-28:31)

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