New Testament Book Overview
Bible 102: New Testament Introduction
1 May 2021
Deny, deny, deny! How does the apostle Peter overcome the lowest point of his life? Peter whose name was Simon encounters Jesus with his brother Andrew fishing in the Sea of Galilee. Jesus calls Simon to become a fisherman of men so with that Jesus gave him a new name of Peter. “Peter’s name literally meant ‘rock.’ Jesus gave him this name when first met him in John 1:42, and later said Peter would be the rock ‘on which I will build my church,’solidifying Peter’s position as a leader” (Nelson). Jesus poured his life into his inner circle which included Peter who “plays a significant role among the Twelve. Peter is often singled out and the rest are mentioned as a group with him. He also acts as a spokesman for the group” (Closson). When Jesus sends out the twelve disciples he lists Peter first like a foreshadowing that Peter will have great authority and influence in the future. Peter is with Jesus at the climax of Jesus’ ministry when Jesus asks him who does he believe Jesus to be which Peter proclaims Jesus as Messiah. Jesus took Peter, James, and John to the op of a mountain where Peter experienced the transfiguration of Jesus. The downfall of Peter was when Jesus was arrested as the words prophesied by Jesus comes true as “immediately the roster crowed the second time. Then Peter remembered the word Jesus had spoken to him: “Before the rooster crows twice you will disown me three times. And he broke down and wept” (New Application Study Bible Mark 14:72). It is on the beach while fishing that Jesus appears so Peter jumps in the water to swim to him. Jesus once again singles Peter out when he asks him three times “Simon son of John, do you love me?” (John 21:16) Peter answers with a yes each time. Peter’s life transformed knowing Jesus had forgiven him and then commissioned him to feed Jesus’ sheep. Jesus changed this fisherman into an evangelist. Peter’s identity changed from impulsively immature to a bold powerful dynamic speaker during Jesus’ ascension through the Holy Spirit. Peter finally understood the significance of Jesus’ words about his death and resurrection.
“But God raised him from the dead, freeing him from the agony of death, because it was impossible for death to keep its hold on him” (Acts 2:24). The foundation of Christian faith rests on the basic fact of the empty tomb. It was the Apostle Peter who first raised his voice at Pentecost when the zeal of the Holy Spirit came upon the apostles. Peter’s powerful spirit-filled message was filled with passion and conviction as he was a witness to Jesus’ life, crucifixion, death, resurrection, and ascension into heaven. Peter’s words transformed his audience who included Jews and Gentiles into unity in Christ that moved from salvation for one particular group to universal salvation which is available to everyone. Peter redefines Jesus’ purpose that he came to not establish a political kingdom, but to take the weight of the cross. Peter’s influence on this day is when the church began its mission to spread the good news of faith as the foundation of salvation through Christ to the world.
The Roman Emperor, Nero, was one of the most notorious leaders known for executing anyone who didn’t agree with him. Under his rule, Rome was heavily taxed with the upper class benefiting from the rest of the population under the great strain of slavery. In 64 AD, a colossal fire broke out and destroyed most of Rome. Taking advantage of the destruction, Nero blamed the early Christians of starting the blaze. He ordered that Christians be rounded up and killed. Nero took pleasure in killing Christians. He would put then into his coliseum to be eaten by lions as an audience watched. He burned them alive as human torches to light his garden at night. The Roman Empire influenced acceptance of Christian persecutions by both Romans and Greeks. Christians were called out for their “refusal to sacrifice to the Roman gods and potentially endangering the empire which they deigned to protect” (Lunn-Rockliffe). Christians refusal to sacrifice to the emperor who was a semi-divine monarch was both looked as sacrilege and treason. Since ancient religion was a public affair, Christians had to account for their allegiance for their new religion. “The gods, after all, serve as patrons and protectors of the communities. Noncompliance by Christians is a social threat” (Burge & Green, 517). Many Jews did not want to be legally associated with Christians. Jews also harmed Christians physically, drove them out of their towns, and turned them into Roman officials. Peter being fully aware of the persecution as he has experienced being threatened, jailed, and beaten. He had seen fellow Christians die and the church scattered. But he knew Christ, and nothing could shake his confidence in his risen Lord. Peter reached out to both Jews and Gentile teaching them what it means to take up the cross, how to be diligent in faith, and in perseverance comes reward when Christ returns.
“Salvation is found in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given to mankind by which we must be saved” (Acts 4:12) proclaimed Peter with confidence of Jesus the Messiah whom was crucified but raised from the dead. The tomb could not hold him and has been exalted to right hand of God. As a witness, Peter confirms that the Holy Spirit has been poured out to whoever has ears to hear and eyes to see. He explains that one must turn to Christ, depend on him for forgiveness, mercy, guidance, and purpose. Peter further describes baptism as a sign of faith which identifies us with Christ and with the community of believers. Persecution pushed Christians beyond Jerusalem and into Judea and Samaria. Peter moved as the Holy Spirit moved and he spread the gospel that Jesus came to save the world from sin. He healed in Jesus name and many believed. He has a vision that leads him to the house of Cornelius. Cornelius and Peter were very different people. Cornelius was wealthy, a Gentile, and a military man. Peter was a Jewish fisherman turned preacher. God’s plan included both of them as it is a new chapter in Christian history. A Jewish Christian leader and a Gentile Christian convert discovered the significance of God at work in the other person. Peter experienced Cornelius’s salvation which was a bridge to his understanding that the Jews were chosen by God for a purpose which was to bring the message of salvation to all people. Peter’s formation of the church held to the truths Jesus had revealed to him. A spiritual house composed of living stones built upon Christ as the foundation. Jesus had encouraged Peter to care for the church as a shepherd tending his flock. Therefore, when Peter communicates with the early Church he uses the imagery of living stones, shepherds, and sheep to describe the church.
Peter’s 1st letter was written to the churches located throughout Bithynia, Pontus, Asia, Galatia, and Cappadocia. He begins with a reminder of his certainty of their salvation which “in his great mercy he has given us new birth into a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, and into the inheritance that can never perish, spoil, or fade” (1 Peter 3). “The crux of the matter is the reaction of the Christians to their situation” (Burge & Green, 518). These new believers were in the midst of great persecution so Peter offers faithful believers comfort and hope. These new believers needed reassurance as Peter did when he was with Jesus. They needed to know their belief was not in vain, but that Jesus loved them so Peter wrote to them so they would understand to expect ridicule, rejection, and suffering because behind the hatred was Satan who wanted Jesus to bow to him and he would not, but was the victory and in that all men can overcome persecution. “Though you have not seen him, you love him; and even though you do not see him now, you believe in him and are filled with inexpressible and glorious joy, for you are receiving the end result of your faith, the salvation of your souls” (1 Peter 1: 8). Peter’s faith was refined through persecution and he set himself as an example to others how to take up the cross by living a holy lifestyle. Not filled with laws and rituals but sincere love for one another. God’s love and forgiveness was freely given so they needed to take their eyes off themselves and start being selfless, self-centered, and instead meet the needs of others. This was the true sacrifice when a man lays down his life for others. Peter saw great joy in persecution “as you come to him, the living Stone—rejected by humans but chosen by God and precious to him” (1 Peter 2:4). Jesus was the foundation and new believers were now the building stones of the church. Peter tells his flock to humbly obey God regardless of present circumstances and in good time he will lift them up, sot carry each other’s burdens and struggles together so when the attacks come they can be “alert and of sober mind. Your enemy the devil prowls around like a roaring lion looking for someone to devour. Resist him, standing firm in the faith because you know that the family of believers throughout the world is undergoing the same kind of sufferings” (Peter 1: 8-9).
Peter’s second letter is of warning the family of believers that conflicts within the church would destroy it. He uses his authority as a courageous, experienced, and faithful apostle. This is the last letter from this great warrior whom would be soon martyred for his faith. In this letter he wrote as believers were becoming complacent and no longer growing as Christians, but rejecting their faith, listening to false teachers who distort the truth, and not being Christ-honoring individuals which infected the Christ-honoring church. True diligence in Christian growth is evident when believers don’t backslide or deceived by false teachers. “His divine power has given us everything we need for a godly life through our knowledge of him who called us by his one glory and goodness.” (2 Peter 1:3). Peter reminds the church of the story from the Old Testament of Balaam who had evil motives so he used religion for personal advancement, but God intervened through a donkey. “Greed motivated the heretics (2:3, 14) as they exploit member of the church” (Burge & Green, 523). Peter highlights their their arrogance, denial of Jesus as their sovereign Lord, despising His authority, and scoffing the return of Jesus in the second coming. “These people are springs without water and mists driven by a storm. Blackest darkness is reserved to them” (2 Peter 2:17). Peter expresses in his letter to not fall for such corruption within the church. Stay diligent in their faith and serve each other in the love of Christ who gave his life so they would be saved and share in the promise of eternal life. Faith must be a result of action, growth in Christian character, and the practice of moral discipline. Peter referred back to proverbs that dogs return to vomit and sows wallow in mud after being cleaned. Christians must stay persistent in their growth in faith. This letter is an impassioned plea to believers to stand firm. “The spirit is a source without limit to empower people to keep moving in the right direction. With that growing maturity comes an increasing capacity to carry out our God-given assignments in the new creation. That growth also brings an increasing capacity to enjoy the rewards that lie ahead” (Ross, 162). The leaders of the church should be as shepherds that protect the flock as Jesus protects souls. “The Lord is not slow in keeping his promise, as some understand slowness. Instead he is patient with you, not wanting anyone to perish, but everyone to repentance” (2 Peter 3:19).
Peter was anxious as he wrote his letters as he knew he would die soon. He wanted to prepare the church as Christ had prepared him for the kind of death he would face. He wanted Christians to keep faith in Christ and stay diligent and like him “you will receive a rich welcome into the eternal kingdom of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ” (2 Peter 11). Peter was assured in his death that he would be in the presence of Jesus because every person are accountable to God. He will punish evildoers and those who persecute God’s people. Those who love Him will be rewarded with life forever in his presence. “And I will make every effort to see that after my departure you will always be able to remember these things” (2 Peter 1: 15). It was important for Peter to teach that all with be held responsible for how people live each day. As Christians live out a holy life through Christ they have the hope of “an inheritance that can never perish, spoil or fade. This inheritance is kept in heaven for you” (1 Peter 1:4).
Peter describes several characteristics of good leaders in the early church, but still is the corner stone’s pillars of a spirit filled churches of today. They are caring of God’s flock, eager to serve, concerned with giving to others, and lead by example since God has entrusted leaders with his flock. Everyone within the church lead others in some way, so whatever your role you should stay in line with these characteristics. “And when the Chief Shepherd appears, you will receive the crown of glory that will never fade away” (1 Peter 3:4). God has given us his scripture as the light of the Holy Spirit that is used to guide us as we seek the truth. God inspired writers like Peter to ensure the message he intended was faithfully communicated in the very words they wrote. He inspired others to avoid the mistakes of those wicked teachers by growing in the grace and knowledge of the Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Today, Christians know they should be morally clean and spiritually alert which gives us our confidence in what is lasting and eternal and not be bound to earth, but strive to develop Christlike characteristics. In our believing faith it won’t come as a surprise when Christ, the Lord, comes like a thief as we don’t know the date, but “as you look forward to the day God and speed its coming” (2 Peter 3: 11). God’s purpose for people is not destruction, but to bring all to repentance of their sins so they can rely on Jesus’ sacrifice with renewal in the Holy Spirit as their guides to live a holy life until the day He returns. Peter’s heartfelt final farewell urged his readers to “grow in the grace and knowledge of the Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. To him be glory both now and forever! Amen” (2 Peter 3: 18). Each day just draw closer to Christ. Be prepared to stand for truth. Look forward to being in the presence of Jesus as he is coming back for every person who believes in him. “As the only sinless being, he suffered the full penalty justice demands for all humanity’s sin against God and wrongdoing to others. Every evil thought, word, attitude, and action sin has produced or will ever produce was paid for by Christ’s sacrifice on the cross” (Ross, 161). Consequently, we will be holy people “who live in obedience, who serve as channels of grace, who display an attitude of faith, who hunger and thirst after righteousness and justice, who worship God wholeheartedly, and above all, who love God, one another, and our neighbors as ourselves” (Walton & Hill, 397). Peter’s message is resounding as he wanted all ready for when Jesus embraces you into His New Heaven with the cherished words of welcome, my good and faithful servant.
Burge, Gary M., and Gene L. Green. The New Testament in Antiquity: a Survey of the New
Testament within Its Cultural Contexts. Zondervan Academic, 2020.
Closson, Don. “Christ's Inner Circle – The Primary Apostles of Jesus.” Probe Ministries, 17 Oct. 2014, probe.org/christs-inner-circle/.
Life Application Study Bible: NIV. Zondervan, 2019.
Lunn-Rockliffe, Dr Sophie. “History - Ancient History in Depth: Christianity and the Roman Empire.” BBC, BBC, 17 Feb. 2011, www.bbc.co.uk/history/ancient/romans/christianityromanempire_article_01.shtml#:~:text=Christians%20were%20first%20%2D%20and%20horribly,that%20Nero%20himself%20was%20responsible.
Nelson, Ryan. “Who Was the Apostle Peter? The Beginner's Guide.” OverviewBible, 6 Aug. 2020, overviewbible.com/apostle-peter/.
Ross, Hugh. Why the Universe Is the Way It Is. Baker Books, 2008.
Walton, John H., and Andrew E. Hill. Old Testament Today: a Journey from Original Meaning to Contemporary Significance. Zondervan, 2004.