Grace to you and peace from him who is and who was and who is to come, and from the seven spirits who are before his throne, and from Jesus Christ the faithful witness, the firstborn of the dead, and the ruler of kings on earth. (Revelation 1:4-5)
Revelation is considered as apocalyptic literature. It presents a caricature of contemporary social reality by the use of symbols. It was readily understood by people at the time of its writing. However, the meaning of these symbols has become perplexing for modern-day readers.
Revelation was written during the rule of Domitian and Nero by Apostle John to encourage Christians living under tyranny. John reminded them to remember the salvation of Christ and their ultimate hope, instead of focusing on the oppressions and their frustrations.
Theme of Revelation:
God reigns from the very beginning to the very end of time. Although the reality may seem difficult at the moment, all things are still under His control. God will have the ultimate victory over evil. Only God can bring everything to consummation.
In Revelation, Jesus is no longer the suffering lamb but the victorious King. He is the King of kings and the Lord of lords. Jesus showed the world that He is of the same status as God. On the other hand, Jesus still bears the marks of the nails as marks of His love for His People. It is a reminder to readers that Jesus’ redemption surpassed death and He has received the glory He deserved. His people can then share this glory from God because of Jesus’ ultimate obedience.
When God’s people continue to witness Jesus in challenging situations, the Lord who has overcome oppression and temptation promises His servants the glory of God. One day, all sufferings shall pass and they will share glory and joy with Jesus in the New Heaven and Earth.
Romans is an influential book in Christianity.
Paul’s purpose in writing this book was to strengthen the church in Rome, and prepare for his missionary work in Italy and Sicily. The church, at the time of writing, was faced with influence from heresies and pagan religions. The church was in need of strengthening in faith. At the same time, this letter acted to strengthen Paul’s connection with the local churches.
In Romans, Paul shared his thoughts about the Christian faith in details. In the Letter to the Ephesians, Paul had said “For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God” (Ephesians 2:8). Paul expanded this concept fully in Romans. He explained that believers were saved because of God’s redemptive grace. Because of such grace, we are justified before God and are free from the bondage of sin. Because of such grace, we now have a new identity in Christ. Therefore, we do not earn our salvation. Salvation belongs to God alone.
Corinth was a famous city in Paul’s time. It was famous not only because it was a prosperous city, but also because of its low moral standard. Christians at Corinth had to face tremendous challenges due to their different values and lifestyles.
One of the reasons Paul wrote to the Corinthian church was to deal with conflicts and divisions happened at the church. Paul was also addressing the disagreement about his apostolic authority from the church. Although Paul could not be with the church, he wanted to give instruction to believers who were living under the influence of the Corinthian culture.
One of the instructions that Paul gave to the Corinthians was about maintaining pure faith. Paul mentions that there were some people among them who rely on their own wisdom, instead of God’s. And their teachings had led to confusion at the church. Paul reminded the people that God’s wisdom was often seen as foolish, and hard to be accepted by the world’s wisdom. However, that was only what the world thought. Paul pointed out that it was not necessarily to beautify the gospel, in order to please the world. Believers needed to respect the truth of the cross. They should be willing to become “foolish” and return to Jesus Christ—the true origin of the gospel.
2 Corinthians is believed to be composed of two separate letters from Paul.
1. 2:3-4 and 7:8 are collectively called “the letter of tears”. It was written after Paul’s visitation to Corinth (the Painful Visit). The church at that time was displeased about Paul’s leading and started to resist Paul. From the letter, we can sense Paul’s frustration and anger.
2. Afterward, Paul wrote another letter to the Corinthian church (see 2 Corinthians 2:4 & 7:8;12. The first letter means 1 Corinthians). In this letter, the Corinthians were regretting their previous opposition against Paul and were seeking reconciliation with him. In this letter, Paul also gave further instructions to the church, for their deep transformation by the gospel.
1. Servant Leader: some people at the Corinthian church who called themselves “super apostles”. They challenged the apostolic authority of Paul. They criticized Paul for his suffering and poverty, which was a shame to Christ’s power. Paul pointed out that their claims were based on their distorted value system. Paul also raised the concept of “servant leader”. For Paul, being a leader is to learn from Christ, by serving others in humility.
2. The Forgotten Generosity: Another issue at the Corinthian church was their lack of generosity, when the church at Jerusalem was in the midst of sufferings. While all other churches gave support financially, the Corinthian church showed little action. Rather than focusing solely on the issue of money, Paul pointed out that their root problem is about a lack of genuine transformation by the gospel. Paul emphasized that the essence of the gospel was Jesus’s generosity. Jesus gave up everything to become poor, so that anyone who followed Him would become rich in Him. Therefore, Jesus’s followers should practice Jesus’s generosity by sacrificial giving. (see 2 Corinthian 8:8-9)
3. Humility: At the end of the letter, Paul reminded the Corinthian believers to humbly reflect on their lives, and see if their lives are deeply transformed by the gospel and the power of the Holy Spirit.
1 Thessalonians is the earliest known letter of Paul.
The relationship between Paul and Thessalonica can be found in Acts 17. In Acts 17, Paul and Silas were readily received by the people in Thessalonica. For a whole month, they preached in the city leading to many Jewish and Greek people turning to Jesus. The rapid growth of the church, however, led to suspicion from the Roman government. The Roman government started to oppose Christianity, leading to the arrest of Paul and Silas. Despite all the oppressions, the church continued to grow. Paul wrote the letter in order to maintain his connection with the church.
1 Thessalonians can be divided into two parts:
Paul affirmed the Thessalonian believers about the price they paid for the gospel. He emphasized that he treated the believers as his own family, he loved them deeply. Paul encouraged the oppressed believers that, through their sufferings, they were participating in Jesus’s ministry in a different way.
Themes of 1 Thessalonians:
1. Holy living: Thessalonica was a city under the heavy influence of contemporary culture, especially in their open and chaotic sexual relationships. Paul reminded the believers to live a holy life that is worthy of their identity in Christ, particularly in sexual relationships. To be holy sexually, for Paul, was to confine one’s sexual relationship within marriage.
2. Serving with Love: Paul encouraged the believers to witness Jesus by working hard, so people would see them as a hardworking and reliable group. Besides, working hard was not just to earn a living, but also to be able to share generously with the poor.
3. Hope in the Future: There were believers who had passed away, with some dying due to oppression. Their families and some believers began to worry about their hope in the future. Paul assured them that, though it was a difficult time, no power nor death could separate them from the love of Christ. When the Lord returns, they will receive Jesus, like people receiving their king returning from victory. Therefore, believers should stay alert and live in the light of the Lord, instead of staying in the darkness of the world. They should live their life on earth as if in the kingdom of God.
In 2 Thessalonians, Paul received the news that the problems in 1 Thessalonians had aggravated. Oppression was getting worse and the believers started to feel confused about the coming of the Lord. Some used Paul’s name to spread rumours that Jesus had already returned at a time not known to them. It created fear among the believers, who thought that they were abandoned by Christ.
Themes of 2 Thessalonians:
1. Hope in Oppression and Suffering: Paul re-emphasized that the suffering they experienced was not meaningless, but a way of participating in the kingdom of God. One day, suffering would pass, and their characters would be shaped in the process.
2. Explanation for the Day of the Lord: Paul clarified that Jesus’ return would not lead to fear and worry of being abandoned. The second coming of Jesus should bring hope and faith to the believers. When Christ returns, He will end the ruling of the kings who rebelled against God, and put the world under His judgement.
3. Warning to the Idle People: Some theologians believe that Paul was addressing those who quitted their jobs because they believed that Jesus would return soon. Some others believed that Paul was talking about the Roman practice of patronage, which was the practice of poor people working for the rich. Instead of working in real jobs, they carried out their masters’ order to earn their living. Sometimes, their tasks would include immoral requests (3:11). Paul reminded them to work hard so that they could generously give to the poor and witness the sacrificial love of Jesus.
In conclusion, Paul wrote these two letters to stress that, following Jesus would lead to a holy and counter-cultural lifestyle. This lifestyle may lead to hostility. However, we should live out Jesus’s love and generosity to fight against other’s hostility. At the same time, Paul comforted and encouraged the suffering believers to fix their eyes on Jesus’s coming - for their victory was already secured in Jesus.
No one can be certain of the author of the book. The author appeared to be someone who was close to an apostle and familiar to the apostles’ teaching.
Since the book of Hebrews frequently refers to the Old Testament, the author seemed to expect that the readers would be familiar with the Old Testament. As a result, the readers were likely to be Jewish Christians. It is also why the book is called “Hebrews”.
The Jewish Christians at that time were facing opposition from the Jewish community. Many were thrown into jail. Some of them even abandoned Christian faith due to oppression.
Purpose of Hebrews:
1. To proclaim the superior position of Jesus
a. He is the radiance of God’s glory.
b. He is the exact imprint of God’s character.
2. To challenge the readers to stand firm in their faith regardless of the situation.
In 1:1-2, the author wrote, “Long ago, at many times and in many ways, God spoke to our fathers by the prophets, but in these last days he has spoken to us by his Son, whom he appointed the heir of all things, through whom also he created the world. “
The author then compared Jesus with important symbols in the Old Testament, including angels and the Torah, Moses and the Promised Land, the office of the priest and Melchizedek, offerings and covenants. It is to illustrate:
1. Jesus is the Word of God, which is superior to the Torah and deserves our respect.
2. Jesus, as foreshadowed by Moses, will bring His people into the Promised Land - the Kingdom of God, which is much better than the land of Canaan.
3. Jesus is our eternal priest.
4. Jesus offered an offering which is effective forever
The author then challenged the readers:
1. Treasure the Gospel of Christ
2 . Don’t give up. Trusting Christ in leading His People to the Kingdom of God
3. Hold on to the eternal covenant between Jesus and His people. Reconciled with God.
James, who was the half-brother of Jesus, is the author of this book. His story can be found in Acts 12-15 and Galatians 1-2. James had succeeded Peter and became the leader of the Jerusalem church. At his time, the church went through famine, poverty and oppression from the Jews. Despite the challenges, James was affirmed as the pillar of the church, who led the church with extraordinary wisdom.
The book of James was for Jewish believers who were living outside of Jerusalem. It is a summary of the wisdom sayings from James.
James was influenced deeply by Jesus’ teaching (especially from the Sermon on the Mount) and by Proverbs (particularly Chapters 1-9). Allusions to the teachings of Jesus and Proverbs can be found throughout the letter.
The purpose of the letter was to challenge and encourage the Jewish Christian community to have wisdom in their living, so that they can live out God’s love.
There are five themes in the book which James introduced in Chapter 1:
1. Challenges in life cultivate our perseverance, and make us complete. “Complete” means we become integrated people, whose behaviour is aligned with our thoughts and values.
2. When people ask God for wisdom, He will give and demonstrate His goodness in all situations.
3. Poverty can drive us to trust God for His provision.
4. God is generous. He shows us His generosity through Jesus who gave up everything and made us alive.
5. We need to show God’s love through our actions, including speaking in love to others, serving the poor and being devoted to God.
The author of this book is Jude, who is the half-brother of Jesus. He believed in Jesus after His resurrection and became a leader among the Jewish Christian community. He was also an itinerary preacher.
The letter was for the Jewish Christian community, who was facing the problem of corrupted teachers. According to Jude, these teachers were morally compromised, especially when it came to money and sex. They abused God’s grace as an excuse to sin. After Jude found out, he addressed the problem with immediate attention.
Jude pointed out that these corrupted teachers had rejected Jesus by distorting the gospel and His authority. Jude used much Old Testament and other scriptures to give warning about the seriousness of this issue. He demanded that the church to deal with the issue. At the end of the book, Jude taught the church to stand up for pure faith. Jude also encouraged them to build their foundation on the gospel of Christ, and to build the church with prayer and obedience in Jesus’ teaching. Finally, the church was called to stay alert, instead of following the teaching of corrupted teachers.
The purpose of this book: to emphasize that God’s grace requires us to respond with our entire life.