NEW TESTAMENT INTRODUCTION
The close of the Old Testament canon left Israel in two great divisions. The mass of the nation was dispersed throughout the Persian Empire, more as colonists than captives. A remnant, chiefly of the tribe of Judah, with Zerubbabel, a prince of the Davidic family, and the survivors of the priests and Levites, had returned to the land under the permissive decree of Cyrus and his successors, and had established again the temple worship.
Upon this remnant the interest of the student of Scriptures centers; and this interest concerns both their political and religious history.The Persian rule continued about one hundred years after the close of the Old Testament canon, and seems to have been mild and tolerant.
During this period the rival worship of Samaria was established. Cf. John 4:19-20. (Dr. Schofield).In 333 B.C. the Grecian empire was in power. At first the Jews were treated with considerable favor. After the death of Alexander his kingdom was divided, and the Jews were in difficulty caused by wars between Syria and Egypt. One or the other ruled them alternately.
During this period between 320 and 198 B.C., great numbers of Jews were established in Egypt, and in 285 B.C., the Septuagint translation of the Old Testament was made.In 198 B.C.
Judea was conquered by Antiochus the Great, and annexed to Syria. At this time the division of the land into the five provinces of the Gospels: Galilee, Samaria, Judea, Tranchonitis and Perea, was made. In 170 B.C. Antiochus, after repeated interferences with the temple and the priesthood, plundered Jerusalem, profaned the temple, and enslaved great numbers of the inhabitants. December 25, B.C. 168, Antiochus offered a sow upon the great altar, and erected an altar to Jupiter. This is the desolation of Daniel 8:13, type of the finals “abomination of desolation” of Matthew 24:15. The temple worship was forbidden, and the people compelled to eat swine flesh. (Dr. Schofield).
The revolt of the Maccabees was caused by the above-mentioned treatment of the Jews. For many years the Jewish nation held its own, but in the later end of that period civil war broke out. This was terminated by the Roman conquest of Judea and Jerusalem in 63 B.C. In B.C. 47, Herod was made governor of Galilee. Some years later he was appointed king of the Jews and held that office when Christ was born.
During the many years of troubled history the religious life of the nation was kept alive by the ministry of the prophets. Before the exile Isaiah and Jeremiah held the standard high, and along with their exhortations gave forth-glowing predictions of God’s future plans for the kingdom. Ezekiel had a like ministry during the exile among the captives of Babylon; and Haggai, Zechariah, and Malachi, following the return from captivity, brought the word of God to the remnant which had resettled in their homeland. Idolatry was pretty much a thing of the past. It had caused the original break-up of the nation and a lasting lesson had been learned.The institution of worship is the synagogue seems to have grown out of the necessity of preserving the spiritual life of the nation.
Some think that the Jews while in captivity, and thereby
deprived of temple worship, met together on the Sabbath Day for the reading of
the Law. It served the purpose of maintaining familiarity with the inspired
writings, and upon these the spiritual life of true believers was nourished.
The traditions of the elders were no doubt brought into being in these same days, and the two great sects of Pharisees and Sadducees were also formed.
Amongst such a people, governed by Rome, and torn by bitter religious controversies, but maintaining an elaborate religious ritual, appeared Jesus, the Son and Christ of God.
THE FOUR GOSPELS.
The four Gospels record the eternal being, human ancestry, birth, death, resurrection, and ascension of Jesus Christ, Son of God and Son of Man.
They record also a selection from the incidents of His life, and from His words and works. Taken together, they set forth, not a biography but a
These two facts, that we have in the four Gospels a complete Personality, but not a complete biography, indicates the spirit and intent in which we
should approach them. What is important is that through these narratives we should come to see and know Him Whom they reveal. It is of relatively
small importance that we should be able to piece together out of these confessedly incomplete records, John 21:25, a connected story of His life. For
some adequate reason...it may be well to respect the Divine secrecy. We may not through them know everything that He did, but we may know the
Doer. In four great characters, each of which completes the other three, we have Jesus Christ Himself. The Evangelists never describe Christ.... they
set Him forth. They tell us almost nothing of what they thought about Him, they let Him speak and act for Himself.
The Old Testament is a divinely provided introduction to the New; and whoever comes to the study of the four Gospels with a mind saturated with
the Old Testament fore view of Christ, His person, work, and kingdom, will find them open books.
The mission of Jesus was, primarily, to the Jews, Matthew 10:5-6; 15:23-25. He was made under the law; Gal. 4:4, and was a minister of the
circumcision , for the truth of God, to confirm the promises made unto the fathers, Romans 15:8, and to fulfill the law “that grace might flow out.”
The doctrines of grace are to be sought in the Epistles, not in the Gospels; but those doctrines rest back upon the death and resurrection of Christ, and
upon the great germain truths to which He gave utterance, and of which the Epistles are the unfolding. Furthermore, the only perfect example of
perfect grace is the Christ of the Gospels.
The Gospels do not unfold the doctrines of the Church. The word occurs in Matthew only...Our Lord, announcing a mystery until that moment hid in
God, Ephesians3:3-10, said “I will build my church,” Matthew 16:16, 18. It was, therefore, yet future; but His personal ministry had gathered out the
believers who were...by the Spirit, made the first members of the church which is His body, Ephesians 1:23.
The Gospels present a group of Jewish disciples, associated on earth with a Messiah in humiliation; the Epistles a Church which is the body of Christ
in glory, associated with Him in the heavenlies, co-heirs with Him of the Father, co-rulers with Him over the coming kingdom, and, as to the earth,
strangers and pilgrims, I Peter 2:11.
Especial emphasis rests upon that to which all four Gospels bear a united testimony. That united testimony is seven-fold:
1. In all alike is revealed the One unique Personality. The One Jesus is King in Matthew; Servant in Mark; Man in Luke; and God in John. But not
only so: for Matthew’s King is also Servant, Man, and God; and Mark’s Servant is also King, and Man, and God; Luke’s Man is also King, and
Servant, and God; and John’s eternal Son is also King, and Servant, and Man.
2. All the Evangelists record the ministry of John the Baptist.
3. All record the feeding of the five thousand.
4. All record Christ’s offer of Himself as King, according to Zechariah.
5. All record Christ’s betrayal by Judas; the denial by Peter; the trial, crucifixion, and literal resurrection of Christ. And this record is so made as to
testify that the death of Christ was the supreme business which brought Him into the world that all which precedes that death is but preparation for
it; and that from it flowed the blessings which God ever has or will bestow upon man.
6. All record the resurrection ministry of Christ; a ministry, which reveals Him as, unchanged by the tremendous event of His passion, but a ministry
keyed to a new note of universality, and of power.
7. All point forward to His second coming.