The book of Hebrews was written to encourage Christians who were being persecuted and discouraged in their faith. The trials and discouragement was predicted by Jesus. He told His disciples of the hardships that His disciples would experience prior to the fall of Jerusalem (as recorded in Matthew 24). Before the fall of the Jerusalem temple, famines and persecutions would bear down upon the disciples of Jesus and the “love of many would grow cold” (Matt.24:8-12). This prediction was made in about AD 30 and the fall of Jerusalem was completed in AD 70, 40 years later. The years of 66-70 AD were especially difficult years. Because of the signs Jesus gave in Matthew 24 regarding the fall of Jerusalem and what would take place just before that fall, the disciples would know the signs to look for, and these would signal to them when to leave the city of Jerusalem. So Hebrews was written just prior to the fall of Jerusalem encouraging the brethren to stay strong and beware “least there be in any of you an evil heart of unbelief in departing from the living God” (Heb.3:12). The Christians were to encourage one another and “so much the more as you see the day approaching” (Heb.10:24-25). What day could they see approaching? The day of the final fall of Jerusalem, the center of Judaism, and the place from which Christians needed to be prepared to escape when they saw Jerusalem surrounded by the Roman armies (Luke 21:16-22).
Romans is a great book for the new Christian convert to read through. Paul explains the meaning of our salvation and what God expects from us now. The book of Romans can be organized into five simple parts:
- First, Paul covers the problem of sin and our unrighteousness (1-3).
- Next, he speaks about the provision made for those who desire to be righteous—God’s salvation (4-5).
- Third, Paul talks about pursuing righteousness with all our might (6-8).
- Fourth, he explains the selection of God, choosing the humble of the world to respond to His gospel call (9-11).
- Finally, Paul concludes with the practices of righteousness—loving one another, giving, showing mercy, and doing good to our enemies (12-16).
Salvation comes to us BY grace THROUGH faith, and that is a GIFT of God, not something we earn or deserve (Eph.2:8).
“BY grace” means that God did not have to save us at all, but due to His own mercy and grace, He provided a way for sinners to be saved. “THROUGH faith” means that this saving grace comes to us THROUGH this channel. The condition we were in before this channel was created was that we were “children of wrath” (Eph.2:3). Why? Because we were “dead” (separated from God) in trespasses and sins (v.1). What we earned was “wrath.” But God’s great love provided a means to make us “alive together with Christ” (v.4,5). So, by grace we are saved!
On the day of Pentecost, Peter preaches his first sermon. Peter’s explains how the prophesied day had come when the Lord would save His people. He quotes the prophet Joel saying, “And it shall come to pass in the last days, says God, That I will pour out of My Spirit on all flesh…That whoever call on the name of the LORD shall be saved” (Acts 2:17-21). First, God’s Spirit had just been poured out on the apostles. They received the power of the Holy Spirit and many could hear the different languages that the apostles could now speak. After seeing that the “last days” or last time period had come, confirmed by the giving of the Holy Spirit, then the second part of the prophecy was also fulfilled. “And it shall come to pass…That whoever calls on the name of the LORD shall be saved.”
The historic crucifixion of Jesus and His resurrection that followed three days later is the ultimate verification of the truth of His deity. It was predicted in the Jews’ own scriptures (Psalm 16; Isa.53), and that is no small thing to deal with. If Jesus’ body could have been kept in the grave, the church of Christ would never have gotten started. Peter spoke in Jerusalem just 50 days after the crucifixion had taken place. There could be no credibility in a man like Peter talking about a resurrected Jesus if it were not for the fact that the Jews’ own scripture predicted it, the tomb was empty, the body of Jesus was missing, and witnesses were willing to testify to having seen Jesus alive again. In Acts 2 we find the presentation of evidence, and no Jew was able to refute any of the evidence Peter presented. Miracles were also adding credibility to Peter and the other apostles. The evidence stood that day and every day since.
When Paul traveled to Athens, he was shocked by the large numbers of idols in the city. Athens was a place where there were countless idols dedicated to the many gods created by the human imagination. He even saw one that was called “The Unknown God.” When Paul got an opportunity to speak a large group of Athenians, he referred to the “Unknown God” as being the one true God that the Athenians worshipped but were very ignorant about.
Therefore, the One whom you worship without knowing, Him I proclaim to you: 24 “God, who made the world and everything in it, since He is Lord of heaven and earth, does not dwell in temples made with hands. 25 Nor is He worshiped with men’s hands, as though He needed anything, since He gives to all life, breath, and all things. (Acts 17:23-25)
An amazing feature of the Old Testament is that it was written by the Jews, and the Spirit of God guided prophets to write some amazing prophesies about a Messiah-Savior who would come in their future. But they gave some specifics about that time when the Messiah would come. Daniel interpreted a dream for the king of Babylon, Nebuchadnezzar, and the dream was of an image made of four metals. Daniel 2:32-33: “This image’s head was of fine gold, its chest and arms of silver, its belly and thighs of bronze, its legs of iron, its feet partly of iron and partly of clay.” (NKJV)
The prophets often wrote about the coming Christ in the Old Testament. They explained His general characteristics, His mission, His plan, and even the way He would die and be raised from the dead. They wrote these prophecies down so that when the Messiah did come, God’s people could recognize Him. Also, by having these prophecies, God’s people could recognize a false messiah claiming to be the Christ. All God’s people had to do was compare that person with the credentials set forth by the prophets. Jesus Christ matched these credentials perfectly. If He had missed just one, there could be an argument made against Him for not being the Son of God.
As just established, the gospel is the power of God. It is the good news that Jesus died for us, was buried, and then raised. First, the Bible convicts us of our sins. Next, the gospel informs us that Jesus has created a way to forgive us of those sins. Our sins have ultimately separated us from God. While carrying the guilt of sin, we will never to be able to have a relationship with God.
“But your iniquities have separated you from your God; And your sins have hidden His face from you, So that He will not hear.” (Is. 59:2)
How did Christianity survive even one day in Jerusalem? The leader, Jesus, had been crucified in Jerusalem before many witnesses. His tomb was guarded. There would be no possible way for the followers of Jesus to claim Jesus was God or the prophesied Messiah. A dead Jesus could only lead to one logical conclusion: He was not God, was not the Messiah, and believers were all wrong. With the tomb of Jesus in Jerusalem, the memory of his crucifixion still fresh, there is no way that the church of Christ could ever get started in that hostile environment. But, it did get started and it thrived because something powerful happened in that city.