When you read the Gospels in the Bible, such as Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John, do they sometimes seem to contradict other parts of the New Testament Scripture? For example, in Matthew 6:15, Jesus said, “If you refuse to forgive others, your Father will not forgive your sins.” Yet, in Colossians 2:13, the Apostle Paul wrote, “…God made you alive with Christ. He forgave us all our sins.” How can there be two different perspectives written in the same New Testament?
Many Christians experience confusion because they think all of Jesus’ teachings are part of the New Testament, also known as the “New Covenant.” However most of them are not. The New Testament, which is God’s New Covenant with mankind, actually starts in the book of Acts, not Matthew. How do we know this fact is true?
When reading the New Testament, ask yourself this question, “Had Jesus died yet when this was written?” If not, then those writings are part of the Old Covenant in most cases. If the writings are after Jesus died, then it’s part of the New Covenant.
When Jesus came to earth, He came directly to the Jews who were still under the Old Covenant with God. Want the gist of the Old Covenant? Deuteronomy 28 spells it out very clearly. If Israel obeyed God’s laws, there were 12 verses of blessings He would give them (see Deuteronomy 28:1-14). But, if Israel disobeyed God’s laws, there were 52 verses of curses He would give them. (see Deuteronomy 28:15-68).
Would you want to live in that kind of tension-filled relationship with God? No way! Unfortunately, many Christians today believe that is still how God treats them, even though we are under the New Covenant of grace. Therefore, Christianity feels more like a burden, instead of a blessing.
Many of the things that Jesus taught in the Gospels was Old Covenant instruction to the Jews of His day. When He taught them, He was raising the bar of how perfect they needed to be accepted and blessed by God. Here are some examples:
- “Unless you are more righteous than the strictest religious leaders in Jesus’s day, the Scribes and the Pharisees, you will not go to heaven.” (Matthew 5:20)
- “Calling someone an idiot or crazy because you are angry with them will send you to hell.” (Matthew 5:22)
- “Lust is adultery.” (Matthew 5:27-28)
- “You must live a perfect life exactly the way God does.” (Matthew 5:48)
These performance-based teachings were aimed to show the Jews and anyone who reads the Bible today that it’s impossible to get God’s unconditional acceptance by obeying the law. Jesus was preparing people to understand how much they needed Him to be their Savior.
God was about to bring into existence the New Covenant, and Jesus was preparing them and everyone else for it. But, here’s the key. The New Covenant did not begin until Jesus’ death, burial, resurrection, and ascension were complete. For instance, Hebrews 9:15 says:
“For this reason Christ is the mediator of a New Covenant, that those who are called may receive the promised eternal inheritance—now that He has died as a ransom to set them free from the sins committed under the Old Covenant.”
Remember Jesus’ teachings we just listed from the book of Matthew? Let’s compare what the New Covenant says about you as a Christ follower:
- God has already forgiven you whether you forgive or not. (Colossians 2:13)
- God made you perfect in your identity in Christ. (Hebrews 10:14)
- God made you a holy person and not a lustful person in Christ. (1 Corinthians 1:2)
- God made you a patient person because you’re complete in Christ. (Colossians 2:10)
The Old Covenant was conditional based on mankind’s imperfect works. The New Covenant is conditional based on faith in Jesus’ perfect work. Do you see the amazing difference?
Read the New Testament with a lot more clarity now that you know the New Testament starts in Acts, rather than Matthew!
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