The inspired scriptures are a library of many books written by many authors at many times from many places – all under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit. They were compiled by church leaders during the first few centuries after Jesus returned to heaven. They remain a profound means through which God speaks to us today.
The first main part of the inspired scriptures tells of the Jewish people & their relationships with God. Included are the stories of Moses & David, the two Jewish leaders with whom God had the most intimate & profound spiritual relationships. Also included are the great prophets –such as Isaiah & Daniel – who were used by God to call his wandering people back into relationship with him. Many passages in these Jewish scriptures point to a messiah – whom God promised would rescue his wandering people, and whom we know as Jesus.
The second main part of the inspired scriptures tell of the life & ministry of Jesus, and the establishment & growth of his church. Included are four accounts of Jesus’ life, death & resurrection, plus an historical narrative, describing how the Holy Spirit grew the early church. These Christian scriptures also contain letters from early church leaders – such as Paul, James & Peter – which encourage & instruct the first church communities in their witness for Jesus.
Most Christian Bibles include a handful of additional books & additions to books in the inspired Jewish scriptures, referred to as the Apocrypha. Some Christian (mainly Protestant) Bibles exclude these scriptures.
Not included in any versions of the inspired scriptures are several other early letters which claim to tell of Jesus, but which were not written by the closest followers of Jesus & which were not in common use by the early church.
God, please help me to love hearing You speak into my life.
Various traditions suggest that all but one of the thirteen principal witnesses were eventually executed for serving Jesus, by taking the good news about him to the ends of the earth, as Jesus had commanded them.
Their obedience to this command is indicated by the supposed places of their physical deaths:
- Israel (James)
- Italy (Peter & Paul)
- Turkey (Philip)
- Greece (Andrew)
- Armenia (Bartholomew or Nathanael)
- Ethiopia (Matthew)
- India (Thomas)
- Egypt (James, son of Alphaeus)
- Iran (Thaddaeus or Lebbaeus or Judas, and Simon the Patriot)
- Georgia (Matthias)
Only John is believed to have died from natural causes, in Greece. During the last 10 years of his very long life, perhaps 60 or 70 years after Jesus had returned to heaven, John wrote his personal account of the life & ministry of Jesus, three letters to Christian friends, and the visionary revelation of the end of the world which he received from Jesus.
John’s testimony of the good news of Jesus (339) is quite different from the other three gospel testimonies.
- John’s gospel has a deeply spiritual tone, expressly aimed at inspiring faith in the divine power of Jesus.
- John places more emphasis on the work of the Holy Spirit in the lives of believers.
- And he places more emphasis on the idea that we are called to show our love for God by loving each other.
God, please help me to love You by loving specific people.
(339) John’s testimony about Jesus is incorporated in previous posts on this site.
The executions of Peter & Paul in Rome were part of a pattern of persecution of Christians that continued for some time throughout the Roman Empire.
In Israel, certain Jews rebelled against the cruel & heavy-handed rule of their Roman overlords. But ultimately, their rebellion was crushed & the city of Jerusalem was obliterated by Roman armies. This took place about 35 years after Jesus had returned to heaven, in partial fulfillment of things he had taught his witnesses about the end times.
During this period of tumult, Jude wrote a letter to scattered Christian friends (338). The inspired scriptures suggest that Jude was a close relative of Jesus, like James. And like James & many other people, Jude didn’t realize that Jesus was the son of God until after he had been raised from death. But then, Jude believed & became a strong witness for Jesus.
Jude’s short letter, like Peter’s last letter, contains strong warnings against false teachers, and lists some of their tactics for upsetting God’s work among believers.
Jude emphasizes that the power to overcome the lies of false teachers is found only in Jesus. He encourages believers to persevere in faith & prayer, insisting this is the key to serving other believers who are being led astray by false teachers.
- To those beginning to doubt God’s truth, we are to show mercy as we encourage their faith.
- To those who have actually begun to embrace false teachings, we are to intervene more forcefully — contending for the faith & demolishing the lies of false teachers.
Jude admonished his friends to respect the power of evil, even while hating the power of evil.
But he concluded by emphasizing the power of Jesus to bring faithful believers through all the evils of this world & ultimately home to heaven.
God, please help me to love contending for the faith.
(338) The letter is known simply as Jude.
Soon after the writing of his last letter, Peter went home to heaven — by means of execution at the hands of the Roman government.
About the same time, Paul was re-incarcerated in Rome, where he eventually experienced a similar entrance to larger life in his heavenly home. While awaiting execution, Paul also wrote his second letter to Timothy (337).
Paul began by giving thanks to God for Timothy’s faithful service to the believers in Ephesus, Turkey. The main aim of the letter was to encourage Timothy. Paul wrote that the young church leader would continue to find in Jesus all the power, love & self-control that he would need for his ministry.
- As a soldier of Christ, Timothy was reminded to fight for the glory of his commander.
- As an athlete for Christ, Timothy was reminded to run his race according to God’s plan.
- As a farmer for Christ, Timothy was reminded that he would be blessed by God for the harvest of souls in Ephesus.
Accurately teaching the truths of the inspired scriptures would continue to be of fundamental importance in Timothy’s ministry, Paul said. So-called teachers who distorted the truths of scriptures would continue to be a great danger to the body of Christ.
As a clean serving dish is used to serve nourishing food, Timothy was reminded to remain unstained by the sins of the world, in order to be effectively used by God to nourish the Ephesian believers with God’s truth.
However, such service would never be easy, because there is so much evil in the world; as always, the world would continue to persecute faithful followers of Jesus.
But Paul again urged Timothy to stay focused on teaching God’s truth from the inspired scriptures – which are ever useful for correcting wrong living & for guiding believers in right living.
Paul closed his last letter with a strong sense of having run his race in accord with God’s will for his earthly life, and a strong sense of assurance that he would soon enter into heavenly life.
God, please help me to love living the life that You allow.
(337) 2 Timothy 1-4
Peter’s second & last letter to Christian friends was written at the end of his life, from Rome (336). In this short letter, Peter gave Christians practical advice for our daily walk with Jesus, another warning against false teachers, and a reminder of the promises we have in Jesus.
Peter wrote this letter because his love for God inspired him to love us. His prayer is that our love for God will inspire us to love other people.
God wants us to share in his divine nature, Peter said. Jesus has made this possible, by his sacrificial death & by his resurrection. The Holy Spirit is the divine nature of God, the living heart of the body of Christ. But in order to grow in the divine nature of God, individual members of the body of Christ must be diligent in several things. In other words, we have to cooperate with the leading of the Holy Spirit as we grow.
- Faith is first. We receive God’s grace by faith, not because of anything we are or do. Faith is how our life in God begins. Then, God expects us to grow in a variety of ways.
- We are expected to pursue goodness (or virtue or purity), which is best done in daily fellowship with other members of the body.
- We are expected to pursue knowledge of God’s nature & of his ways, which requires daily meditation on God’s word.
- We are expected to pursue self-control (letting our spirit rule our flesh), which requires spending daily private time with God in prayer.
- We are expected to pursue perseverance (or patience or longsuffering or endurance or steadfastness), by daily depending on God to work all things for our good at just the right time.
- We are expected to pursue godliness, by daily letting God have his way in our lives. He’s the master; we’re his servants.
- We are also expected to pursue kindness toward other believers every day — especially toward newer believers.
- The culmination of all this is love – both for other believers & for those who remain separated from God.
As we put on these Christ-like characteristics, we bear fruit for God’s kingdom; otherwise, we remain barren.
False teachers were not only barren but also dangerous. They tended in various ways to keep the people’s focus on themselves, instead of on Jesus. They were more interested in their own material welfare, than in the spiritual welfare of the believers in their care. Peter warns the members of the body of Christ to be aware of the ever-present danger posed by false teachers.
By contrast, Jesus died for our spiritual welfare — in this life & the next. He has promised that our earthly lives will ultimately give way to life in heaven, our ultimate welfare. Until that day, our part is to live holy lives, dedicated to God, here on earth.
God, please help me to love holiness in this life.
(336) 2 Peter 1-3
From various clues in the inspired scriptures, we can piece together certain key events in the life of Mark:
- John Mark was a son of Mary, a woman whose home in Jerusalem was a meeting place for the followers of Jesus (Acts 12).
- Mark went with Paul & Barnabas on their first mission trip to Turkish Antioch (Acts 12), but he later turned back to Jerusalem (Acts 13).
- Mark wanted to go with Paul on his second mission trip, but Paul refused. So Mark went with Barnabas to Cyprus (Acts 15).
- About 10 years later, Mark was reunited with Paul in Rome (Colossians 4 & Philemon).
- As he neared the end of his life, Paul wanted Mark to return to him in Rome (2 Timothy 4).
At about this time, perhaps 35 years after Jesus had returned to heaven from earth, Peter was also in Rome — awaiting execution for the crime of being a Christian. (Several early church leaders record that Peter was singled out for execution because of his leadership role in the church at Rome.)
Possibly, it was at this time that the Holy Spirit inspired Peter & Mark to record their testimony of the good news of Jesus, which we know as the Gospel of Mark (335).
However, many contemporary Bible students date Mark’s gospel narrative much earlier & view it as the basis for subsequent gospel narratives.
Precise dating of the document is difficult, but it remains as a significant means by which the Holy Spirit helped Peter & Mark do their jobs for Jesus.
God, please help me to love simply telling Your story.
(335) This testimony is incorporated into previous posts on this site.
Continuing his first letter to Christian friends (328), Peter emphasizes the blessing of sharing in the sufferings of Christ. We should thank God when we get to suffer for following Jesus.
Enduring such suffering joyfully can be the most powerful witness for Jesus.
In church life, leaders are to model humble submission to God, rather than becoming spiritual dictators. The humility of Christ is wanted for all members of any faith fellowship, especially its leaders.
This is important because we have an enemy, who will use any device to destroy Christian fellowship. Satan wants to devour us spiritually, as a roaring lion physically devours its prey.
Remaining humble before God is our best defense against Satan.
At about this same time, Luke wrote his record of the acts of the Holy Spirit through the witnesses for Jesus, and the miraculous spread of the Christian faith from the Middle East into southwestern Asia & southern Europe. His narrative began with Jesus’ return to heaven, and covered a period of about 30 years – up to the time of Paul’s imprisonment in Rome.
The book of Acts shows us how Jesus worked through his church then, and how he desires to work through his church now. It is paraphrased in previous posts on this blog, and harmonized chronologically with letters from early Christian leaders.
God, please help me to love the joy of suffering with You.
(328) 1 Peter 4-5