The Journal of Biblical Accuracy

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Are the teachings of the Gospels, including the "hard sayings" for us?

Many will consider this question as rather unnecessary and say that, of course, the gospels are relevant to us. But there are some who implicitly or explicitly believe, that the gospels do not have such importance for they do not, according to their view, refer to us but to Jews, living under the age of law. Foundation of this theory is the so called dispensationalism, which taken into the extreme concludes that relevant to the believers of today are only the epistles (and in some extreme forms of dispensationalism, only parts of them!), while the remaining Word of God is rather for our information only. Indeed, the Bible contains parts that are not for the application of the Christian. For example, the law with its ordinances, is something that covers a big part of Exodus, Leviticus, Deuteronomy and Numbers. As the law of Moses is no longer valid (Hebrews 8:13, Colossians 2:13-14) we would be right to say that these parts are not there for our direct application but rather for our information and benefit. This does not, of course, happen for everything in the Old Testament. Psalms and Proverbs, for example, are books of eternal truths that have no connection to a particular age. The same is also true for many prophetic writings.

So, instead of what many do, classifying the part before the gospels as "Old Testament" (those who support that the gospels are not relevant to us, put this separation in Acts), I would rather pay attention and read what is said and then ask myself whether there is a reason that what I read could possibly not refer to me. To say it differently instead of breaking the Word of God into parts like Old Testament and New Testament (which are human divisions anyway) I would rather take the Word of God, as ONE and evaluate whether there are reasons that something would perhaps not refer to me. Thus, much in Numbers or Deuteronomy etc. does not refer to me: it relates to the Old Covenant and those living under it. I have reasons to not apply the killing of goats, the various sacrifices etc. as these are obsolete: Jesus Christ gave His blood once and for all and no other sacrifice is needed. The same we could say about the law of the Sabbath, the law of the tithe etc. I can learn from them but they are no longer a law valid for my direct application.

Moving to Jesus now and His teachings, some have taken the fact that when Jesus was speaking the law was still there, being fulfilled by Him (it was fully fulfilled with His crucifixion), and based on this they support that what Jesus said does not refer to us but to people under the law. Thus parts of the epistles are elevated and the gospels are downgraded as not that relevant to us, hence creating an artificial antithesis between Jesus and the writings of His very disciples. I believe this is wrong, for though Jesus lived in an age when the law was valid and was still being fulfilled by Him, He did not come to teach about the Mosaic law! What was His mission then? Why was He sent? Let’s allow Him to give the answer. This He does in Luke 4:43 where we read:

"But he said to them, "I must preach the good news of the kingdom of God to the other towns as well; for I was sent for this purpose."

The purpose for which Jesus was sent was to preach the good news of the Kingdom of God. He did not come to preach just some good news, but something specific: the good news of the Kingdom of God, the good news that the Kingdom of God is coming! The preaching about the coming Kingdom of God, was –as He Himself said - the very reason He was sent!

Matthew 4:17 verifies very clearly that the Kingdom of God (or Kingdom of heaven, as it is called in Matthew) was the start and remained the main subject of Jesus’ teaching:

Matthew 4:17
"From that time Jesus began to preach, saying, "Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand."

And again after a few verses:

Matthew 4:23
"And he went throughout all Galilee, teaching in their synagogues and proclaiming the gospel of the kingdom and healing every disease and every affliction among the people."

What was Jesus preaching was not the law but the gospel of the Kingdom of God. Then in his first recorded in Matthew teaching, the so called sermon of the mount, we find Him opening it as follows:

Matthew 5:2-3
"And he opened his mouth and taught them, saying: "Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven."

Furthermore in Luke 8:1
"Soon afterward he went on through cities and villages, proclaiming and bringing the good news of the kingdom of God".

And Luke 9:59-60
"To another he said, "Follow me." But he said, "Lord, let me first go and bury my father." And Jesus said to him, "Leave the dead to bury their own dead. But as for you, go and proclaim the kingdom of God."

The phrases "kingdom of God" and its synonym "kingdom of heaven" occur in total 84 times in the gospels. The Kingdom of God was the main subject of the teaching of the Master. So guess what: what He mainly spoke about and which is recorded in the gospels is about the kingdom of God – Jesus’ main subject and mission - and not about the law, though of course since the law had not yet been fulfilled but was being fulfilled, you can see things here and there referring to the law. But in no way can somebody classify the message of Jesus as referring only to the Jews living under the law. In contrast, the message of Jesus was about the good news of the Kingdom of God and how to enter into it. Is not this, the entering into the Kingdom of God, the main goal for me and you? If yes, let us pay attention to what the specialist on the matter, the King Himself says about it, instead of making the grave error of essentially putting Him aside as not relevant to us.

Moving on, let us look at what Jesus was speaking about with His disciples after He was raised from the dead and until His ascension. In Acts 1:3 we find a summary of it:

"He presented himself alive to them after his suffering by many proofs, appearing to them during forty days and speaking about the kingdom of God."

The Kingdom of God was not something that Jesus was teaching only before His crucifixion or just a topic among many others. In contrast it was chief topic, the chief topic I would say, of His ministry. He was preaching about it before the crucifixion and continued to speak about it after the resurrection too, all the way up to the time of his ascension. Now what did the disciples do after the ascension? Was there a change of policy? Again the book of Acts gives us the answer:

Philip, preached the Kingdom of God (Acts 8:12):

"But when they believed Philip as he preached good news about the kingdom of God and the name of Jesus Christ, they were baptized, both men and women."

Paul and Barnabas, preached about the Kingdom of God and how to enter it, which apparently is "through many tribulations":

Acts 14: 21-22
"When they had preached the gospel to that city and had made many disciples, they returned to Lystra and to Iconium and to Antioch, strengthening the souls of the disciples, encouraging them to continue in the faith, and saying that through many tribulations we must enter the kingdom of God."

Paul again, this time in Ephesus:

Acts 19:8
"And he entered the synagogue and for three months spoke boldly, reasoning and persuading them about the kingdom of God."

Paul, now in Rome, in arrest:

Acts 28:23
"When they had appointed a day for him, they came to him at his lodging in greater numbers. From morning till evening he expounded to them, testifying to the kingdom of God and trying to convince them about Jesus both from the Law of Moses and from the Prophets."

And the book of Acts closes as follows, referring to this great apostle:

Acts 28:30-31
"He lived there two whole years at his own expense, and welcomed all who came to him, proclaiming the kingdom of God and teaching about the Lord Jesus Christ with all boldness and without hindrance."

To summarize: the Kingdom of God was the purpose that Jesus was sent. He preached about it all the time, all the way up to His ascension. Then the apostles took over and did the same. Paul preached about the Kingdom of God proclaiming it all the way till the end of his life. The same did Philip and I am sure all the others too. We see therefore that the message did not vary: both Jesus and His apostles were preaching about the Kingdom of God. It is a grave error to downgrade the gospels as supposedly being part of the law, because though the law was still being fulfilled, what the gospels mainly describe, what their main theme is, is the Kingdom of God and not the law.

The gospels therefore have much more to do with the new era we are living in than with the old era of the law. This is especially so for the parts we read previously in chapter 3 of this study, which were in fact addressed to His disciples and were given – most of them - just hours before His arrest. To the question then: are these passages for us, the answer is short and simple: yes, they are. If we are disciples of Christ, people who want to enter into the Kingdom of God, what both the Master and His apostles say is relevant to us and they do not contradict each other. How could they, anyway? Here is what the Lord commanded His disciples just before His ascension:

Matthew 28:18-20
"And Jesus came and said to them, "All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age."

The Lord commanded the apostles to make disciples and teach them to observe "all that I have commanded you". "I have commanded you" is in the past tense. Therefore it was not new revelation He was speaking about here, but commandments and teachings that He had already given to them and there is only one place where these already given teachings and commandments of the Lord are recorded: the gospels.

So, are the gospels, the sayings of Christ, and in particular His sayings to His disciples, relevant to the Christian of today? Absolutely! Let us make no mistake about it.

Appendix 3: Revelation 2, 3: are the epistles of Jesus to the seven church relevant to us?

Author: Anastasios Kioulachoglou