James—Testing the vitality of your faith
James is perhaps an exception to letters having a continuous flow of thought. James begins letter-like but then becomes more proverbial, somewhat like Old Testament wisdom literature. James covers a lot of ground in his “epistle”—everything from trials (1:2-8, 12-15) to the ageless conflict between rich and poor (1:9-11; 2:1-7; 5:1-6) and even the difficulty of controlling the tongue (3:1-12). James is not shy or backward about telling his recipients what they should do: there are over 50 commands in the book’s 108 verses. In addition, James uses the word faith 16 times, a considerable amount in proportion to its size. James' commands to his readers are not only the path of wisdom but are also the actions and thinking of genuine, living faith. Allow James to test the vitality of your faith.
1 Peter—The pathway forward for persecuted believers
1 Peter is written to believers who are suffering persecution because of their commitment to Jesus Christ. Peter writes in order to exhort them to remain confident in God’s grace to them. He in His grace, found only in Christ Jesus, will bring them to eternal glory (5:11-12).
1 Peter has three distinct but logically progressing sections (1:3-2:10; 2:11-4:11; 4:12-5:11). The first is Peter’s recipients’ new calling, which began at regeneration when they were birthed to a living hope. Current trials should not derail their confidence as the grace they have experienced is the very salvation prophesied and anticipated by so many (1:10-12). In addition, that new calling demands a lifestyle of holiness and obedience (1:13-2:10).
The second section details believers’ present mission, which essentially is to do good before a watching world to the glory of God. Doing good includes behaving honorably in one’s societal relationships (2:11-4:6) but it also includes loving and serving one another in the church according to the spiritual gifts God has given each (4:7-11).
The third section promises coming grace and glory. Coming glory from the God of all grace should inspire to endure even severe suffering (4:12-19), fulfill obligations in the church (5:1-7), resist Satan in firm faith, knowing that suffering is the universal but temporary lot of all Christians (5:8-9), and praise the sovereign God who will use suffering to establish them in glory (5:10-11).
2 Peter—Spiritual growth as an antidote to false teachers
2 Peter exhorts believers to spiritual growth as an antidote to false teaching. Key to standing firm in Christ until our entrance into His kingdom is supplementing our faith with the virtues delineated in 1:5-7. 2 Peter 2 is helpful in showing how greed and immoral desires lie at the roots of much false teaching. 2 Peter 3 warns of scoffers who will doubt whether Christ will return (vv. 1-13) and ends with a warning that believers must be on guard against being led astray (3:17). The best “guard” is a good offense: “but grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ” (3:18).
1 John—Knowing you have eternal life
1 John states its chief purpose in 5:13: “I have written these things to you that believe on the name of the Son of God so that you might know that you have eternal life.” John writes to help those who believe in Christ know that they have eternal life. Since assurance is rooted in what you believe, 1 John does defend the doctrines of Christ. To deny who Christ is, either His humanity or His deity, automatically disqualifies you from any kind of relationship with Christ (2:22-23; 4:2-3; 5:6-10).
But much of 1 John gives assurance to those whose actions evidence a genuine relationship with Christ. After all, a person who believes in Christ is born again. And if you are born again, then God’s seed remains in you (3:9) and that must result in a difference in the way you will live.
1 John does not even hint that salvation is by works, nor does it propose a lifelong agony of scrutiny as to whether you are truly saved. Genuine believers sin (1:10)! Rather, 1 John is looking at life patterns as an indication of whether someone genuinely knows Christ, and three specific life patterns receive the most emphasis:
- Do you obey Christ’s commandments?
- Do you love fellow Christians?
- Do you love the world?
2 & 3 John—Walking in truth and love
2 John and 3 John, the two shortest books of the Bible, use the two words truth and love to develop complementary themes. In 2 John, love for the truth means that we will love one another based on truth and, therefore, refuse to help those who do not teach truth (vv. 7-11). 3 John, on the other hand, urges those who walk in truth to show love to all those who hold to truth, especially to those who sacrificially spread the truth (vv. 5-8), and warns against those who love self rather than the truth and those in the truth (vv. 9-10).
Jude—Contending for the one true faith
Jude makes it clear that there is only one faith for all time and that any departure from that faith is to be vigorously opposed (v. 3). Jude shares some similarities with 2 Peter by his depiction of the motives and methods of false teachers. Their future doom is certain but what is visible even now is their pride, greed, and immoral desires. Again, like 2 Peter, key for believers is their own growth in the faith as a solid platform to them help rescue others (vv. 20-23).
Revelation—Christ’s victory over this world and into the next
Revelation is about Jesus Christ (not just end-time events) and His coming victory over Satan, the Antichrist, and the kingdom of rebellious earth-dwellers. Revelation begins with Christ as He assesses, commends, and critiques seven churches in Asia Minor (chs. 1-3). John writes from the island of Patmos and the seven letters to the churches are in the order that a postal rider would travel as he left Patmos carrying these letters with him.
In Revelation 4-22, the heavens open and we are allowed with John a glimpse into what will transpire to bring an end to earth as we know it and to usher in a new heavens, new earth, and new Jerusalem. Revelation 4-19 describe events during the end-time seven-year Tribulation period, as various references to three-and-a-half year spans of time indicate (11:3-4; 12:6, 14; 13:5). Importantly, the Lamb’s own hand inaugurates the Tribulation. He opens the seven seals one by one (6:1, 3, 5, 9). His opening the seventh seal leads to the seven trumpets (8:1ff). And He as the Son of Man presides over the final “harvest” that eventuates in the seven bowl judgments (14:14ff) and removes all obstacles to His reign.
Why the emphasis in Revelation on Jesus as the Lamb? Because He was slaughtered for every tribe, language, and people on the earth (5:9), He has the right to punish these peoples for their refusal to embrace Him. Rejecting His love, they now experience His wrath.
Revelation marks the beginning of Christ’s reign on earth, and He shares that reign with His followers (5:10; 11:15, 17; 19:6; 20:4, 6). In the end, God starts over by making a new heaven, a new earth, and a new Jerusalem, where no sin, pain, sorrow, death, or sickness will be found (21:1-5)—a place only for those written in the Lamb’s book of life (21:27).
Anybody who is the Lamb’s cannot read Revelation without ending with the same prayer that bursts forth from John: Come, Lord Jesus (22:20). May it be today!