General Epistles and Prophecy
General Epistles (8 Books)
These eight letters are called the General Epistles because their writers are more varied than in the Pauline Epistles. Five writers write these mostly shorter works to churches. They contain three letters from John, two from Peter, one from James, one from Jude, and Hebrews.
The General Epistles vary in their approach. Some are wisdom literature, encouragement, teaching on Christ's sacrifice and how He is better, and so on. These letters, except for Hebrews, are smaller in word count. Hebrews and James don’t follow the standard epistle structure. But the rest of the General Epistles follow the standard epistle structure.
Epistles are easy for us to understand. They have prayers, commands, principles, and straight and plain language for us to easily understand without much study. Epistles were written to address a particular issue or occasion. We do not receive a systematic approach to theology or church and Christian issues. Epistles have two audiences: the original audience they were written to in the first century, and us when we apply them to our context for our day.
New Testament Prophecy
Although usually considered along with the General Epistles, Revelation is unique in the New Testament as a prophetic word for the Church that will last until its contents are fulfilled. For this reason, and John's purposeful allusions to Old Testament prophecy, the book stands in its own category of prophecy.There are five interpretational approaches to the book of Revelation.
- Historicist – Book about the fulfillment of history from John’s time to the end of time.
- Preterist – Fulfilled in what is ancient history to us, but the immediate future of John the writer. Everything is prophecy about the Roman Empire and Emperors.
- Futurist – Prophecy about the future during the end times before the return of Christ.
- Spiritualist/Symbolic – a great drama showing transcendent spiritual realities. Fulfillment of these prophecies is seen as spiritual or cyclical throughout history, meaning that these prophecies have been fulfilled throughout history over and over, depending on the age.
- Prophecy – Mucho like Old Testament prophecies that have telescopic fulfillment throughout the ages. Telescopic fulfillment means the prophecies are partially fulfilled throughout history but have their complete fulfillment in the end times with the Antichrist and the return of Christ.
Date: 68 AD
Purpose: To show that Jesus and His sacrifice, priesthood, and covenant are better than those of the old covenant.
Key People:Jesus, Melchizedek, Writer of Hebrews, Hebrews I
Key Passages: Hebrews 4:12; 11:1, 6; 12:1-3; 13:8
I. Jesus Is Superior to Angels and Moses (1-4)
II. Jesus Has a Greater Priesthood (5-7)
III. Jesus’ New Covenant Is Better Than the Old Covenant (8-10)
IV. The Hall of Faith (11)
V. Faith for the Christian Believer (12-13)
The writer of Hebrews never mentions his name. Some people believe Paul wrote this book, but most scholars believe Paul is not the writer. Paul’s writings are to Gentile Christians, not Jewish Christians. The language and structure of the book does not follow a Pauline structure. And Paul did not speak of theology concerning the Temple in Jesus’ priesthood.
Hebrews speaks to the Jews who may have converted to Christianity but had second thoughts. The writer is deeply concerned to show how Jesus is better than every high tenet of Judaism. He is better than the Angels, better than Moses, a better high priest, provides a better sacrifice, and is the Mediator of a better covenant.
The book then describes the heroes of the faith in chapter 11 and offers application in the last two chapters. It almost reads as a pamphlet in favor of Jesus as the Messiah and Christianity as a more complete religion than Judaism. Although originally embattled for a place in the canon because of the mystery of its author, Christians saw the testimony of the Holy Spirit and the church that the Holy Spirit ministers throughout the book.
Date: 45-48 AD
Purpose: To provide godly and heavenly wisdom in the face of trials of various kinds.
Key People: James, the scattered ChurchI
Key Passages: James 1:2, 13; 2:17; 3:6; 4:7-8; 5:16
I. Various Trials (1)
II. Partiality and Faith Versus Works (2)
III. Speech and Heavenly Wisdom (3)
IV. Worldliness and Presuming upon Tomorrow (4)
V. The Wealthy, Suffering, and the Prayer of Faith (5)
As one of Jesus’ biological brothers, James came to faith in Jesus as the Christ after His resurrection. James seems to have enjoyed respect in the Jewish community and in the Christian community. As such, James became the pastor of the Jerusalem church.
As persecution scattered the church in Jerusalem, James prepared these five short chapters using the sayings of Jesus from the Gospels and the style of wisdom literature as he compiled some of his basic themes in his sermons to go out among the scattered church members.
This book contains New Testament wisdom literature with links to Jesus’ teaching. James talks about some of the same subjects throughout the book, such as speech, trials, the rich and poor, temptation, anger, partiality, faith, worldliness, and suffering. Wisdom comes from above and gives us guidance in every trial.
Date: 64 AD
Purpose: To encourage Christians suffering for doing good and for the name of Jesus.
Key People: Peter, Jewish Christians
Key Passages: 1 Peter 1:14-16; 2:9; 3:9; 4:8; 5:7-8
I. Christian Salvation (1-2:10)
II. Christian Relationships (2:11-3:12)
III. Christians Suffering (3:13-4)
IV. Christians in the Community (5)
Written by Simon Peter, famous for his leadership among the apostles and in the church of the first century, and known as the apostle to the Jews, he shows the common themes that help Christians in the end times. Peter reminds us of the Old Testament commitment to be holy as the Lord is holy. Peter also shares household rules for living as Christians in the secular world and how to suffer for Christ in these last days.
Date: 64-68 AD
Purpose: To encourage Christians not to be complacent in their walk with Christ, to condemn false teachers, and to remind Christians of Jesus’ soon return.
Key People: Peter, Jewish Christians
Key Passages: 2 Peter 1:21; 3:9
I. Christian Character (1)
II. Condemning False Teachers (2)
III. Jesus Will Return (3)
The second letter from Simon Peter with a Jewish flavor focuses on the end of the world and what will happen. While some scholars dispute the authorship of this letter, it clearly states that it is written by Peter. It was common for people to dictate their letters to the secretary. Peter tells us about some of the expectations for the time of the end and how the world will be judged.
Date: 60-65 AD
Purpose: To give tests of true faith in Jesus and encourage his children in the faith.
Key People: John, John’s children in the faith, Antichrist
Key Passages: 1 John 1:9; 2:12-14; 3:1, 11, 16; 4:1-2, 4, 7-8, 19; 5:4
I. Fellowship with God (1-2:28)
II. Sons of God (2:29-3:24)
III. Spirit of Truth and Spirit of Error (4:1-6)
IV. God Is Love (4:7-21)
V. Faith and Confidence of the Believer (5)
Containing only five chapters, John wrote this first letter to the general audience of Ephesus and Asia Minor, as well as every Christian. It contains the emphases John found important for Christian community.
Along with fellowship, brotherly love, an ability to detect false teachers and an ability to test the spirits, John incorporates teaching on each of these subjects and more. John, the elder, as he gets older, shows excellent leadership toward the end of his life. He gives tests for true faith and shows that continuous sin is not part of the Christian life.
Date: 60-65 AD
Purpose: To encourage the pastor of the church to address false teaching dangerous to the body of Christ.
Key People: John, the elect lady, a false teacher
Key Passages: 2 John 5-6
I. Follow God’s Commandments (1-6)
II. Avoid False Teachers (7-13)
John writes to the elect lady, probably the pastor of a church, to address a false teaching going around that Christ did not come in the flesh. Apparently, this false doctrine came from those who taught, as Greek philosophers, that the flesh, the body, is evil and has no part in the spiritual person.
They then taught that Jesus did not actually come to earth in the flesh, with a body. His body was a figment of the imagination. But His true spiritual nature was with the disciples. This may have been part of the Gnostic beliefs that were creeping into the churches toward the end of the first century AD.
Date: 60-65 AD
Purpose: To condemn a false teacher in Gaius’ church for teaching false doctrine and not walking in the truth.
Key People: John, Gaius, Diotrephes
Key Passages: 3 John 2, 4, 11
I. Commending Gaius (1-8)
II. Condemning Diotrephes (9-14)
John, the elder of Ephesus, wrote this letter to address a specific person in a specific church. This false teacher was teaching false doctrines to the Christians there. He wrote to condemn this false teacher and his teachings. But he also wanted everyone there to be in fellowship with God and love one another.
Date: 67-68 AD
Purpose: To seriously condemn false teachers in the Church and encourage believers to remain strong against false teachers and teaching.
Key People: Jude
Key Passages: Jude 3, 24-25
I. Concern about False Teachers in the Church (1-4)
II. Description of the False Teachers (5-16)
III. A Defense against False Teachers (17-23)
IV. Doxology (24-25)
Jude was the biological half-brother of Jesus. Although not an apostle, the apostles approved of him because He came to Christ after Jesus had left. His dramatic conversion was a powerful testimony to Jesus’ deity.
Jude wrote perhaps to the same churches Peter addressed in his second letter. He was deeply concerned about heretical doctrines teach by false teachers. He presented a strong defense against false teachers and their doctrine.
Jude quotes from two apocryphal books, the Book of Enoch (14-15) and the Assumption of Moses (9). Even though he references these books, that does not make them Scripture any more than a preacher quoting from a current poem or book. His references serve as illustrations.
Date: 95-96 AD
Purpose: To call all Christians to allegiance to Christ and “unveil” the hidden things about the future through prophecy.
Key People: John, Jesus, the seven churches, Satan
Key Passages: Revelation 1:3; 21:6-7
I. Purpose and Vision of Jesus (1)
II. Letters to the Seven Churches of Asia Minor (2-3)
III. Vision of Heaven (4-5)
IV. God’s Judgments through Tribulation (6-19)
V. Jesus’ Millennial Reign and Final Judgment (20)
VI. New Heavens and New Earth (21-22)
John wrote from the island of Patmos where a Roman Emperor imprisoned him for about a year in 95 AD. With an apocalyptic literary genre, the book of Revelation uses the background of end times events to show the superiority of Jesus over every enemy He has. Jesus is the Victor in every circumstance, no matter how dark the imagery gets.
Borrowing from Old Testament imagery and prophetic works, throughout the end times, Jesus and His people will overcome everything that the evil forces can throw against them. John records events of the Tribulation, God’s judgment and wrath poured it out on rebellious humans and the false trinity of Satan the Dragon, the first beast (Antichrist), and the second beast (False Prophet). Despite the impossible circumstances that wickedness produces Jesus and his saints rise above the location to defeat evil and bring in Jesus’ kingdom.