By Brent E. Hughes
Yes, we all know that, but sometimes when we study the Bible we may not consider the ramifications of that fact. Quite often we hear Christians or teachers approaching the Bible with this question: “What does this verse mean to me?” This is like the old phrase of “getting the cart before the horse.”
To discern the word (and will) of God for us today, we should first understand what it meant to the ones to whom it was addressed. After we understand that, we can then make a more accurate application for our use today. Thankfully, there are some questions to ask that will help us in this study.
For any given verse or topic, have we fully considered the setting, the context, the audience relevance, and have we done a full topical study? If these things are considered, let me illustrate the profound effect a few verses can have on our understanding of Jesus’ ministry:
- Galatians 4:4-5 But when the fullness of the time had come, God sent forth His Son, born of a woman, born under the law ,5 to redeem those who were under the law, that we might receive the adoption as sons.
We see that Jesus was born under the Law of Moses and was subject to it.
- Matthew 5:17-19 “Do not think that I came to destroy the Law or the Prophets. I did not come to destroy but to fulfill. 18 For assuredly, I say to you, till heaven and earth pass away, one jot or one tittle will by no means pass from the law till all is fulfilled. 19 Whoever therefore breaks one of the least of these commandments, and teaches men so, shall be called least in the kingdom of heaven; but whoever does and teaches them, he shall be called great in the kingdom of heaven.
Here Jesus gave unequivocal support to the Law of Moses while he was on earth. However, the lawyers, scribes, Pharisees and Sadducees often came to Jesus, testing him or accusing him of breaking the law (Matt 16:1, 19:3, 22:35, Mark 8:11, 10:2, Luke 11:16, John 8:6). They were doing this so that they might entrap him and accuse him of doing something contrary to the Law of Moses. His answers corrected those leaders’ misunderstanding and misapplication of the Law. After years of attempting to accuse Jesus of teaching contrary to the Law, they found no evidence. They could only bring false witnesses!
- Matthew 26:59-60 Now the chief priests, the elders, and all the council sought false testimony against Jesus to put Him to death, 60 but found none. Even though many false witnesses came forward, they found none. But at last two false witnesses came forward
We may safely conclude that Jesus never taught anything contrary to the Law as given by Moses, otherwise the Jews would have had an actual accusation against him! Jesus was a Jew. He was born under the Law. He lived under the Law. He taught the Jews a better understanding of the Law. He answered the Jewish leaders’ questions in reference to what the Law required.
The Gospels then are the history of his birth, life, death, resurrection and ascension, all of which occurred under the law. This understanding seems to make Jesus more like an Old Testament prophet, rather than a New Testament prophet. This brings up a very important question, what part of His teaching applies to us today?
To better understand this, let’s separate his teaching into at least two parts:
- Events –He prophesied coming events:
- His leaving, John 16:5-7
- The Holy Spirit’s coming, John 16:7, 15:26
- His coming kingdom, Matt 4:17, 16:28 Luke 9:27
- The new covenant , Matt 26:28 Luke 22:20
- The inclusion of Gentiles in the kingdom, John 10:16 Matt 10:18, 24:14
- His return, John 14:3
- The destruction of Jerusalem, Mark 13:1-2 Luke 19:41-44, 21:20-24
- The end of the Jewish nation, Matt 21:43
- The fulfillment of the Old Covenant, Matt 5:17-18 Heb 8:13
- People -He prophesied what people should be like in order to enter the new kingdom.
- Righteous Matt 5:20
- Those that do the will of the Father, Matt 7:21
- As little children, Matt 18:3
- Hard for a rich man to enter, Matt 19:23
- Take out whatever causes you to sin, Mark 9:47
- Must be born of water and the spirit, John 3:5
As Christians today, we have the responsibility to “rightly divide” (2Tim 2:15) Jesus’ teaching by understanding:
- What was for Jews only
- What later applied to Gentiles
- What statements concerned first century events and people only
Hopefully, we can begin to see just how important setting, context, audience relevance and a full topical study are to understanding God’s will for us today.