|Survey of the New
with Jim Leffel
Week Five: Major Themes in the New Testament
Summary of Major Themes in the New Testament
1. Linear v. Cyclical.
In the cultures of the non-biblical world, there is no notion that history has a beginning, followed by a meaningful sequence of events, culminating in a completed or resolved state. An illustration from music may be helpful here. Biblical history is like a symphony. It begins with a theme. That theme is expanded and developed through a series of movements, culmitating in the final movement, in which all of the sub-themes are brought together into a final, climactic resolution. By contrast, nonbiblical history may be compared to a jazz piece, in which the tones are more or less disassociated, even random. There is no "direction" to the movement, it merely coveys impressions. Nonbiblical history isn't "going anywhere."
The biblical view of history ties directly into the way in which we look at our lives. Because history is going some place meaningful, our lives, inasmuch as they are connected in a vital way to this dirction take on objective meaning. Yet, ours is a day in which the notion of purposeful history is fading. Where is history going? What purpose does my life serve in relation to the bigger picture of humanity? The turn in our culture toward a subjective, or individualisitc meaning is the direct result of the absence of a biblical view of history. The consequence of this is depair, nihilism.
The Bible's linear view of history includes ultimate accountability for our lives before a perfect moral Being. Because we will be held responsible for our lives, what we do in this world bears ultimate significance (Luke 16:19-31, parable of the rich man and Lazarus). There will be a day of judgement for how we have lived our lives, and whether we have received God's provision for our sin. Again, we find no such parallel in non-biblical religion.
2. Kingdom of God.
The culmination of biblical history, a time of God's just rule, an era of "shalom," or peace. The biblical portrayal of God is not that he is transcendent only, but also iminant. He is involved in the process of history, and will personally oversee the affairs of human society. Cyclical views of history attribute to impersonal "fate" the affairs of life. Biblically, it is the sovereign plan of a redemptive, personal God. The rule of God is a "mystery." It begins with the rule of God in the lives of men and women who voluntarily place themselves under his Lordship. At the end of the age, Christ will return, and his rule will be political and coersive ("every knee shall bow, and every tongue shall give praise to God." Romans 14:11).
God's plan for the Kingdom is developed through a series of promises made to the Hebrews. First to Abraham, then to Judah, then David. It would be the Davidic King who would rule over the nations forever. This is at the heart of the messianic hope of the Old Testament scripture. It is the reason why the Gospel writers were so concerned with linking Jesus with the family and city of David, to show that he was the rightful heir to the promise.
This is the triumphant victory march of the King. In a paradoxical way, Christ entered Jerusalem in his triumphal entry, accepting for the first time, open recognition of himself as the messianic king. The humility of this event signified the purpose for which he came. Yet, there is the future hope of his triumphal return, for which the believing community eagerly awaits.
1. Prophetic fulfillment, yet in a mystery (1 Cor. 2:6-9; Rom. 16:25,26; 1 Pet.1:10-12: Mt. 13:11-17).
2. Sacrificial system and the cross. The Bible's universe is a moral one. Offenses against God's moral character cannot be ignored without making God a coconspirator in man's rebellion. The consequence of sin and the provision of God for it are described in the sacrificial system of the Mosaic Law. Jesus, the fulfillment of the Law (Mt. 5:17), became the "Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world (Jn. 1:29).
1. Polemic against legalistic self-righteousness. The issue of human failure is a part of virtually every religioius system. Sometimes it is characterized in moral terms, sometimes not. But the scripture stands alone in teaching that the acceptance of God can come to us only on the basis of an undeserved gift. Those who would present their good works to God as something deserving of God's acceptance disregard the sacrificial work of Christ. For this reason, legalistic self-rightousness is abhorant (Gal. 1:7-9).
2. God's acceptance is extended to all. The plan of God was to work with a chosen people to effect his plan of salvation for all the nations (Gen.12:3). Now, in the "fullness of time" (Gal. 4:4), those who have been outside of God's revelation have the light shown to them. In the "Great Commission," the Gentiles would receive the good news of God's grace to all people, Jew or Gentile.
D. New Community of God
1. New Covenant and the work of the Holy Spirit. With the fulfillment of God's promise to Joel in Acts 2, we enter into a new age of God's work (Day of the Lord). Now, God personally indwells his people, and through his Spirit, establishes a new community.
2. Neither Jew nor Greek. Gal. 3:28. The new people of God are united by a common Spirit. The distinctions between people in the culture hold no authority in the Christian community.
3. Citizens of heaven. Just as Jesus' kingdom was not "of this world," so too, our citizenship is in heaven (Phil. 3:20). This means that our life's values and our identity are not to be drawn from the "course of this world," but from the kingdom of God.
4. Global ambassadors. The promise of salvation in Christ goes out to all nations through the church. We exist to carry out the message by our proclamation, urging people to yeild to God by receiving his Son.
Comments on Hebrews and the General Epistles
A. Hebrews. This is a theology of the Old Testament in the light of the person and ministry of Christ.
B. James. To a primarily Jewish audience. James provides practical instruction on godly living.
C. 1 and 2 Peter. To the diaspora. Churches under persecution. Practical instruction on unity during opposition. Explains the role of Satan in their persecution.
D. 1,2,3 John and Jude. Written primarily to a gentile church. It focuses on problems of proto-gnosticism. Thus, the doctrine of Christ's humanity are taught and the call to moral purity and love are emphasized.