The monumental task of the disciples and their followers was to leave a source behind that would keep the believers, in the future, in touch with Christ and in touch with God. On that day of Pentecost, there were one hundred and twenty people who had encounters and opinions of Jesus the Christ (Acts 1:15). Now, the Holy Spirit was to guide them through the maze. The disciples had to form a body of literature that could be passed on to the common people from the lips of teachers, who had little learning. We are talking of a work — that would simplify and summarize the Law of Moses and the Prophets. The Hebrew Law required that at least two or three witnesses had to agree and collaborate to ratify the truth (Deuteronomy 19:15). The Christians, under the guidance of the Holy Spirit, ended up with four Gospels, the Book of Acts, the overwhelming Apostle Paul’s letters and Epistles, the Epistle of James, brother to Jesus, the Letters of Peter, the Gospel of John, of John Zebedee (also Revelation), and of the writer to the Hebrews. All agree on who Jesus was and what Jesus had come to do for humanity. In addition, there were five hundred men (without women and children), who were ready to testify that Jesus was alive. These works contain the Words of Jesus, to whom the Father gave His Words to keep the believers in touch with Christ and and in touch with God. John Zebedee appears to have had help in compiling his Gospel, especially with the “Word” and “Logos” concept. Jesus Christ was God’s Word Himself and so were His Words, the Word of God. The Person, Jesus Christ, the Son of God is the content of the of the Gospels and the “Promise” and the “Covenant” of the Old Testament that contains the Law, the Prophets, and the Psalms. For my reference on the New Testament, I prefer the Revised Standard Version (RSV).
In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God; all things were made through him, and without him was not anything made that was made. In him was life, and the life was the light of men. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it (John 1:1-5).
And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, full of grace and truth; we have beheld his glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father. (John bore witness to him, and cried, “This was he of whom I said, ‘He who comes after me ranks before me, for he was before me.’”) And from his fullness have we all received, grace upon grace. For the law given through Moses; grace and truth came through Jesus Christ. No one has ever seen God; the only Son who is in the bosom of the Father, he has made him known (John 1:14-18).
Judas (not Iscariot) said to Jesus, “Lord, how is it that you will manifest yourself to us, and not to the world?” Jesus answered him, “If a man loves me, he will keep my word, and my Father will love him, and we will come to him and make our home with him. He who does not love me does not keep my words; and the word which you hear is not mine but the Father’s who sent me (John 14:22-24).
Paul left this message:
For I delivered to you as of first importance what I also received, that Christ died for our sins in accordance with the scriptures, that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day in accordance with the scriptures, and he appeared to Cephas, then to the twelve. Then he appeared to more than five hundred brethren at one time, most of who are still alive, thought some have fallen asleep. Then he appeared to James, then to all the apostles. Last of all, as to one untimely born, he appeared also to me. For I am the least of the apostles, until to be called an apostle, because I persecuted the church of God. But by the grace of God I am what I am, and his grace toward me was not in vain. On the contrary, I worked harder than any of them, though it was not I, but the grace of God which is with me. Whether then it was I or they, so we preach and so you believed (I Corinthians 15:3-11).
THE FORMING OF THE GOSPELS WAS A COMPETITION BETWEEN THE GENTILES AND BETWEEN THE JEWS
Thanks to Luke, the editor and the writer, we have an early Gospel and stories of the Acts of the Apostles. By an early Gospel, Luke had access to one hundred and twenty people on Pentecost (Acts 1:15). Before Pentecost, Paul had access to five hundred men, who had seen the Risen Christ (I Corinthians 15:6). The eleven disciples were Galileans. And therefore, they were unfamiliar with the Greek language and with their thinking. For instance, the writer of the Gospel of John appears to be a witness himself, but he regards John Zebedee as more profound and as more reliable because he was close to Jesus, in real life. Peter became an eloquent spokesman for Jesus after Pentecost, but he too had Silas write his letter (I Peter 5:12). Paul, who came from Tarsus, was raised in the Greek world. However, Paul did not feel that he could write without more skilful assistance like Tertius (Romans 16:22). When Paul wrote to Timothy, he had Luke with him (II Timothy 4:11). And Paul also had at least three men with him, who were versed in Greek when he visited and later wrote to the Corinthians: Luke, Silvanus, and Timothy. Luke recorded his presence in the “we traveled” (Acts 16:6,12). The only letter Paul wrote was to the Galatians (Galatians 6:11). John Marcus, the other disciple, a rich young ruler from a wealthy family, who was schooled by Jews, by Greeks and by Romans, appeared with Peter after Jesus’ Resurrection, may well have been the man that wrote the Gospel of Mark and also the Gospel of John. The writers, themselves, withheld their identities for safety reasons. A century later, the Church Fathers, to give credence to the Gospels, named them: Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John. We shall add more in a later chapter. The first men to preach the Gospel of Jesus as the Christ and Savior of mankind were Peter, Stephen, and Philip. The first writer and his companions was Paul to the Galatians (Galatians 1:6-10). Paul did not put out a volume on Jesus. However, Paul spreads Jesus all over his writings. Mark’s Gospel was only an outline of Jesus that would not be complete by the Jewish Christians during Mark’s lifetime. It did take three centuries before the Church Fathers had agree on a document they could follow. Martin Luther could not accept the Epistle of James or the Letter to the Hebrews, simply because working out our salvation interfered with being “justified by faith alone.” Modern twenty-first century theologians find it hard to accept the “Sermon on the Mount” as a way to get close to God. God’s grace, alone, can only put man close to God. We must be very alert against the teachings of the saints based on presumption. We ought to guard against “presumptions” which are not backed by the New Testament.
The Gentiles were more eager to accept a Gospel, clothed in the Hellenistic garb. Both, the Gentiles and the Jews began to lay claim to Jesus as their Christ and as their Messiah. Then, the Gospels, as we have them now, were not available when the first Christians were spread out in the Roman Empire. In fact, too many followers and so many pretenders of Jesus were spreading ideas about Christ, which were not representative of a human Jesus. Therefore, Mark, apparently, may have been orally responsible for Luke to put the Gentiles first with an orderly and
a realistic account of Jesus, the Son of man. The Gospel of Matthew, as we shall discuss later, was a collection by Jewish Disciples after the Apostles had passed on. John Zebedee was a primary witness, who wrote down what he encountered
with Jesus; however, a team did the editing and adding things John Zebedee could not have seen or even known, “We know that his testimony is true” (John 21:24).
THE GOSPELS HAD TO BE WRAPPED IN THE HEBREW SCRIPTURES
The Hebrews were given the Scripture, the Law, the Prophets, and the Psalms to keep them close to their God. And by displaying the “Ten Commandments” everywhere, even on their bodies, they were to be daily reminded of their relationship with God (Deuteronomy 6:4-9). The Prophets were commissioned to discipline Israel, to keep them close to God, and that God would revisit them, in a person, similar to Moses and David. Isaiah 7:1, predicted that the unbelievable would happen. A virgin, without a man, would bear a male-child in whom God would take up residence among his people. The “Birth of Jesus” is the fulfilment of the Scriptures (Matthew 1:18-25; Luke 2:25-35; John 1:14). To Israel, such a view was unacceptable! And it was contrary to the first “Three Commandments,” which, in their belief, insulted their God (Exodus 20:1-7). Israel was not ready then, nor is Israel ready today. The Gentiles, however, were ready for the Son of God to live among human beings. The Gentile gods loved lovely female earthlings.
In the Hellenistic world, there was no need to infuse Isaiah 7:14 to prove that a virgin conceived by a God to give birth to Jesus. The Gospel of Matthew was intended as a didactic manual for the Jewish Christians, which required proof that Jesus was intended (Matthew 1:22-23). All Jewish believers, even hellenized believers, needed to be linked to their tradition with Yahweh (Lord); and any reference, which may point to Christ as the legitimate Messiah, was used to convince the Jews that Jesus indeed was the Christ! And that Jesus would return! And that Jesus would restore a David kind of a kingdom with the twelve disciple at Jesus’ side (Matthew 19:28). Some of these references have been stretched to fit Jesus. Isaiah 7:14 was given to evidence the fall of Israel by Assyria (Isaiah 7:16-17). In that sense, the “Birth of Christ” did also point to the end of Judea and Herod the imposter king. It is a remarkable mystery that the Gospels and that the Letters of our first Christian leaders left no account of the fall of Jerusalem and the fall of Judea. The fall of Jerusalem and the fall of Judea must have been an enormous shock, which left them all speechless. At the time of Christ, little Judea was the longest and the most lasting small kingdom on earth. And even the Gentiles believed that the superior Jewish God had kept Judea from being dissolved. The mighty Assyrians failed during the time of King Hezekiah and the Prophet Isaiah (II Kings 19). The Babylonians captured, imprisoned, and plundered Judah, but the Babylonians did not end Judah. And therefore, the Persians quickly restored Yahweh and Judah to a greater power than they were in David’s time (Ezra 1). Luke, the Gentile Evangelist, could not dismiss the idea that Jesus would come back and that Jesus would restore Jerusalem and Judea (Luke 24:21; Acts 1:6).
Some time elapsed when an eyewitness, among the soldiers from the Roman guards, heard Jesus tell Pilate that His kingdom was not of this world (John 18:36). And then, the disciple began to remember what Jesus had said and what Jesus had prayed that, “He was not of this world and neither were the disciples nor their followers” (John 17). Then, the women came with the news that Jesus was alive and so did two men from Emmaus, who were not listed with the twelve apostles. Then, the “Risen Lord” had to break into a room where his favored ten men were hiding in disbelief. It was an unbelievable occurrence, but thanks to the women who made it believable! We owe it to the women, who were the very first witnesses to the fact that the “Real Christmas” had begun. Jesus the Christ had attained the form in which He could be forever with his followers. Jesus’ followers were no longer orphans — Jesus’ followers were forever joined in the Spirit with their Lord, and so can we (John 14:15-31).
JESUS HIMSELF TRIED TO ACCOMMODATE THE JEWS, THE LAW, AND THE PROPHETS
While Jesus was on earth, He also was a Jew. And therefore, Jesus treated women by their Jewish tradition. Then, Jesus had better things to do than to change the minds of the male population on how to treat their women. It was wise, when in Rome, “do as the Romans did.” Jesus was on a “Higher Mission” than to become involved in arguments, which led nowhere. We must not be surprised when Jesus observed the customs of his time, which were impolite and rude to the fairer sex. Jesus’ purpose was to “die for the sins of humanity,” and not get involved like John the Baptist, who lost his head over the adulteress Herodias (Matthew 14:1-12; Mark 6:14-29).
Jesus also let them believe that He might be the son of David when He was David’s Lord (Matthew 22:41-46). It was a fulfillment of Zechariah 9:9 and Psalms 118:26). Only, Jesus rode into Jerusalem to save Jerusalem! Jesus did not ride into Jerusalem to capture it, like David did. The people cheered Jesus as if He were another king like David, but Jesus, in His Heart, knew that they would reject His Peace and His Salvation:
And when they drew near to Jerusalem and came to Bethphage, to the Mount of Olives, then Jesus sent two disciples, saying to them, “Go into the village opposite you, and immediately you will find an ass tied, and a colt with her; untie them and bring them to me. If any one says anything to you, you shall say, ‘The Lord has need of them,’ and he will sent them immediately.” This took place to fulfill what was spoken by the prophet, saying, “Tell the daughter of Zion, Behold, your king is coming to you, humble, and mounted on an ass, and on a colt, the foal of an ass.”
The disciples went and did as Jesus had directed them; they brought the ass and the colt, and put their clothes on them, and he sat thereon. Most of the crowd spread their clothes on the road, and others cut branches from the trees and spread them on the road. And the crowds that went before him and that followed him shouted, “Hosanna to the Son of David! Blessed be he who comes in the name of the Lord! Hosanna in the highest!” And when he entered Jerusalem, all the city was stirred, saying, “Who is this?” And the crowds said, “This is he prophet Jesus from Nazareth of Galilee” (Matthew 21:1-11).
And when he (Jesus) drew near and saw the city he wept over it, saying, “Would that even today you knew the things that make for peace! But now they are hid from your eyes. For the days shall come upon you, when your enemies will cast up a bank about you and surround you, and hem you in on every side, and dash you to the ground, you and your children within you, and they will not leave one stone upon another in you; because you did not know the time of your visitation” (Luke 19:41-44).
Jesus was convinced that He was Isaiah’s fulfilment. Jesus declared Himself to his people where He grew up, in Nazareth:
And he came to Nazareth, where he had been brought up; and he went to the synagogue, as his custom was, on the sabbath day. And he stood up to read; and there was given to him the book of the prophet Isaiah. He opened the book, and found the place where it was written, “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to preach good news o the poor, He had sent me to proclaim release to the captives and recovering of sight to the blind, to set at liberty those who are oppressed, to proclaim the acceptable year of the Lord.”
And he closed the book, and gave it back to the attendant, and sat down; and the eyes of all in the synagogue were fixed on him.
And he began to say to them, “Today this scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing. And all spoke well of him, and wondered at the gracious words which proceeded out of his mouth; and they said, “Is not this Joseph’s son?” And he said to them, Doubtless you will quote to me this proverb, ‘Physician, heal yourself; what we have heard you did at Ca-perna-um, do here also in your own country.’” And he said, “Truly I say to you, no prophet is acceptable in his own country. But in truth I tell you there were many widows in Israel in the days of Elijah, when the heaven was shut up three years and six months, when there came a great famine over all the land; and Elijah was sent to none of them but only to Zarephath, in the land of Sidon, to a woman who was a widow. And there were many lepers in Israel in the time of the prophet Elisha; and none of them was cleansed, but only Naaman the Syrian.” When they heard this, all in the synagogue were filled with wrath. And they rose up and put him out of the city, and led him to the brow of the hill on which their city was built, that they might throw him down headlong. But passing through the midst of them he went away (Luke 4:16-30).
Jesus was absolutely sure that God was His real Father, who had sent Him on a “Redemptive Mission” in the world. Jesus did exactly what the Father intended Him to do:
Jesus said to them (Jews), “Truly, truly, I say to you, the Son can do nothing of his own accord, but only what he sees the Father doing; for whatever he does, that the Son does likewise. For the Father loves the Son, and shows him all that he himself is doing; and greater works than these will he show him, that you may marvel. For as the Father raises the dead and gives them life, so also the Son gives life to whom he will. The Father judges no one, but has given all judgment to the Son, that all may honor the Son, even as they honor the Father. He who does not honor the Son does not honor the Father who sent him. Truly, truly, I say to you, he who hears my word and believes him who sent me, has eternal life; he does not come into judgment, but has passed from death to life.
“Truly, truly, I say to you, the hour is coming, and now is when the dead will hear the voice of he Son of God, and those who hear will live. For as the Father has life in himself, so he has granted the Son also to have life in himself, and has given him authority to execute judgment, because he is the Son of man. Do not marvel at this; for the hour is coming when all who are in the ombs will hear his voice and come forth, those who have done good, to the resurrection of life, and those who have done evil, to the resurrection of judgment” (John 5:19-29).