Thursday, November 6, 2014

The Gospel of John

Today in our New Testament Challenge reading, we’re starting what I anticipate to be an incredible journey through the Gospel of John over the next week or so in the schedule.  The Gospel of John is different than the first three gospels of Matthew, Mark, and Luke known as the “synoptic” gospels.  This comes from the Greek word syn (name) and optic (relating to sight or view).  Most of the material in the John’s Gospel is unique, and persuasively argues that Jesus is the Son of God.  Every chapter presents evidence – both signs and statements – for Christ divine authority.

The external and internal evidence show that this is the ‘Gospel according to John,” John, the apostle, that is, as in John the son of Zebedee.  This is  “the disciple Jesus loved.” (i.e. the author of the Gospel; compare John 21:24 with 21:20–23) who is consistently paired with the apostle Peter (see John 13:23–24; 18:15–16; 20:2–9; 21:1–8, 15–23). This clearly points to the apostle John, as it is this disciple who is consistently paired with Peter elsewhere in the New Testament (cf. Luke 5:8–10; 22:8; Acts 1:13; 3–4; 8:14–25; Gal. 2:9). Also, note that John the Baptist, who in the other Gospels is called “John the Baptist” or “the Baptist” or “Baptizer,” is called simply “John” in this Gospel—which is possible because the apostle John remains unnamed.

John was the only one of the 12 remaining disciples to die a natural death. Scripture records the suicide of Judas, history tells us the other 10 were all martyrs.  He was also the last one to die, leaving this life near the end of the 1st century at a very ripe age of nearly 100.

He is the second most prolific author of the New Testament, writing five NT books: this Gospel, 1st, 2nd, and 3rd John, and the book of Revelation.  The theme of all five of these books is the Lord Jesus Christ himself.  The Gospel is a look back to the past, when John himself followed Jesus and witnessed his amazing life, ministry, death, and resurrection. The three letters of John are the apostle dealing with current issues in church life.  The fifth book he wrote, Revelation is at Jesus in the future.  

Scholars believe that John wrote his Gospel while living in Ephesus, prior to his banishment by the Romans to the isle of Patmos. Here is why: An early church father named Iranaeus  (c.125-c.205) was a student of another church father named Polycarp (c.69-c.155). It is widely held that Polycarp was personally mentored by the apostle John.  This makes Iranaeus a pretty trustworthy authority on the subject of John’s Gospel. It is Iranaeus who said that John wrote the fourth Gospel while he was living in Ephesus.

This fourth Gospel is unique from the other three, sharing only a small percentage of the words and works of Jesus in common.  Being written decades after the other three Gospels, it’s as if John, being familiar with Matthew, Mark, and Luke, wanted to share some of his memories of Jesus that didn’t make it into the other Gospels. We believe, of course, that God wanted these words and stories written down for those who would live on after John was gone.

As you begin reading this Gospel, let me give you some distinctions between this Gospel and Matthew, Mark, and Luke, again which are known as the Synoptics:

Synoptics – Focus on Christ’s ministry in the region of Galilee
John – Focus on Christ’s ministry in the region of Judea

Synoptics- Jesus’ sayings are generally short (e.g. the parables)
John  - Long discourses of Jesus (e.g. John 13-17)

Synoptics- only mention one Passover
John - mentions 3 Passovers, providing for us an estimated time lapse of Christ’s public ministry (about 3 to 3 and a half years)

Synoptics- much emphasis on the “kingdom”
John - much emphasis on eternal life

This Gospel is also unique in that it is heavy in theological reflection.  The first three Gospels tend to focus on the facts of Christ’s ministry.  John delves into the meaning and application of Christ’s ministry.  John is also purposefully evangelistic.  He states clearly that his goal in writing the book is that by seeing the Jesus of this Gospel, his readers might believe and therefore have life in his name (John 20.30-31).

Yet as theologically profound as John’s Gospel is, he uses the simplest Greek vocabulary of the four Gospels.  Someone said that John’s gospel is “shallow enough for babies to wade in, but deep enough for elephants to drown in.”

John himself had come to believe in Christ and experience life in his name.  A short biography of John reveals a powerful testimony of  transforming grace of Jesus.  John and his brother, James, were popularly known as the “sons of thunder,” due to their aggressive zeal for God’s honor.  They were the ones who wanted Jesus to call fire down from heaven on their perceived enemies.  But this young, zealous, idealist young follower of Christ was transformed into the mature, patient, respected apostle of God’s love.  More than any other Biblical writer, John emphasized the love of God.  It was a love that transformed him personally and a love that can transform us as well as we encounter Christ in the Gospel of John.

May you be richly blessed in your reading.

Robert Prater

Wednesday, November 5, 2014

Book of Hebrews

Beginning today, we’ll be reading the New Testament book of Hebrews.  Unlike most of the other New Testament epistles, Hebrews does not contain the name of the author.  Many different writers have been suggested from Barnabas, Silas, Priscilla or Aquila, Luke, or Apollos.  The majority of Bible believers through the ages have accepted Paul as the writer.  The internal evidence strongly supports Paul’s authorship.   His logical approach is clearly seen in the book.  There is mention of Timothy, Paul’s close companion.  (13:23)  Hebrews was written from Italy about the time that Paul was released from his first Roman imprisonment (Acts 28:30-31; Heb. 13:24)

We know from history that Rome persecuted the Christians under Nero during A.D. 65-68 and Jerusalem, along with the temple, was destroyed in A.D. 70. The epistle implies the sacrifices were still going on and speaks of persecution and suffering (Heb. 10:32-34). This means the book of Hebrews was written before Jerusalem was destroyed and during the persecution. So it safe to say that Hebrews was written about A.D. 65-69.

From the Book, we are able to gather that Hebrews was written to a group of Jewish Christians who were being persecuted and were contemplating renouncing their faith in Jesus as their Messiah and reverting to Judaism. (See Heb. 3:1; 4:14; 10:23.)  So the Holy Spirit encourages them to "hold on" to their faith in Jesus. He tells them that Jesus is better than anything and anyone including the angels, Moses, Aaron, and any high priest.

Today we live in a world that is so pluralistic in religious beliefs.  As a Christian,  we will come into contact with people from various different religious beliefs and ideas on a daily basis.  Some may be involved in other world religions such as Judaism, Hinduism or Islam, or even groups like Mormonism or Jehovah’s Witness.  And others you know may claim to be atheist.

All of these groups will come to you as a Christian with one question, “Why is Christianity better than my religious beliefs?”  They may not come out and say it, but if you get into a discussion with other people, you may find that they are uncomfortable with a stand that says “Jesus is the only way.”  The book of Hebrews in the Bible was written to help with this issue.  The writer is challenging you to realize that faith in Jesus Christ is the only way to God and heaven, and that Jesus is superior to all others. 

Hebrews is also a book of challenge and warning.  The danger that the readers faced was to leave their faith, or to fail to embrace Christ wholeheartedly.  The easiest choice was to drift back to Judaism, or to have a partial commitment to Christianity.  Hebrews is a challenge to leave old belief systems and religious efforts to get to God behind, and to press on to maturity in Christ.

There is really no other book like Hebrews.  It will open your eyes to know Jesus more.  You will see Jesus in new ways in all His majesty and superiority.  

Robert Prater

Thursday, October 30, 2014

Letters to Timothy part 1

The letters to Timothy and Titus are different from Paul's other letters. These letters were written not to a church but to a person. They were personal. Timothy was Paul's young assistant who had accompanied him for years and acted as his liaison to a number of churches. Timothy whose name means “one who honors God” was Paul’s “beloved son in the faith.” Timothy’s conversion to Christianity was produced by Paul’s ministry during his first missionary endeavor (Acts 14:6-18) to Lystra, the home town of young Timothy. Though Lystra was a city full of false religions, Timothy’s mother Eunice and grandmother Lois had raised him to be a Hebrew as they were (2 Tim. 1:5, Acts 16:1). Timothy’s father -being a Greek- refused for Timothy to be circumcised, but no doubt Timothy’s mother and grandmother taught him the history of their faith (2 Tim. 3:15) and instilled a faithfulness to the Lord. Timothy had a good report of the Christians that were in that city, and Paul then took Timothy with him on his missionary journeys.  Timothy was Paul’s “true child in the faith.”  (1 Tim. 1:2)

Background of Ephesus

Ephesus was a proud, rich city with a busy port at the end of the caravan route of Asia. It was the fourth largest city in the Roman empire. This was a large city containing a theatre that could seat upwards of 25,000 people. The city of Ephesus was littered with temples, libraries, and public baths. Ephesus had a town square with a market place. Despite the growth of Christianity in the city of Ephesus, this city was still filled with pagan ideology. The worship of the goddess Diana/Artemis was prevalent in this city. The temple of Diana/Artemis was built in this city and was considered one of the Seven Wonders of the World, it was four times larger than the Parthenon. The trade of Ephesus was very important in this hustle and bustle land. While Christianity was on the rise in Ephesus, the silversmiths and makers of silver shrines for Diana grew weary of losing their precious income (Acts 19:23-41). Before Ephesus became a hub for Christendom, it was once the epicenter for the cult worshippers of Diana. According to Greek mythology Diana was considered the fertile goddess. Ephesus was so inundated with false doctrine, that when they went to persecute Alexander who was a Jewish Christian, they chanted for two hours straight “Great is Diana of the Ephesians” (Acts 19:34).

When Paul visited Ephesus in Acts 20:17, he reminded the Ephesian elders of his preaching of repentance and faith towards Jesus Christ(Acts 20:19-21). It was this preaching that had converted many from worshipping false idols and turning to Jesus Christ as their Lord and Savior. The apostle then warned them of false teachers, who would come into the flock of God as grievous wolves (Acts 19:29). Such a warning was relevant to the church of God in Ephesus, considering that such false doctrine abounded in their city. Warning the church of false teachers was of upmost importance to Paul, for we see many times in Paul’s letter to Timothy to warn many of false doctrine, and to heed to the truth (1 Tim 1:3-4, 4:1-2, 16, 6:3-5, 20, 1 Tim 1:13-14, 2:15-18, 4:1-4).

Timothy traveled with Paul to Berea (Acts 17:14), Athens (Acts 17:15, Corinth (Acts 18:5 2 Cor. 1:19), to Jerusalem (Acts 20:4). Timothy was imprisoned with Paul in Rome (Phil. 2:19-23). Paul believed in Timothy’s ministry and ability that the apostle would send Timothy to be his representative to various churches (1 Cor. 4:17; 16:10; Phil. 2:19; 1 Thess. 3:2). And here in these letters we find that Paul had left Timothy in help guide and lead the church in Ephesus. Timothy was present with Paul when he penned the letters to the churches of the Thessalonians and the Corinthians (1 Thess. 1:1,2; 2 Thess. 1:1; Acts 19:22; 2 Cor. 1:1).  Paul left in the care of Timothy the church in Ephesus while he went on to Macedonia (1 Tim. 1:3). Paul had done some of his greatest work in Ephesus. Some four years after Paul had left Ephesus he wrote them the letter which we call the Epistle to the Ephesians around A.D. 62.

1 Timothy
The first letter Paul wrote Timothy may have been considered personal, but it included instructions to the church as a whole in Ephesus. Paul addressed Timothy, but also includes his apostolic credentials. This gives us the clue that Paul was addressing Timothy and to the churches in Ephesus.

The theme throughout the epistle is the command for Timothy to “teach no other doctrine.” There arose some in Ephesus who were desiring to be “teachers of the law” but they did not understand what they were teaching. Paul had to correct the idea of teaching the law in retrospect to the Gospel of Jesus (1 Tim 1:3-11).  With Ephesus indoctrinated with pagan religion and an ungodly culture, it was inevitable for there to arise teachers proclaiming a false doctrine. With false teachers and false doctrine becoming an issue within the churches in Ephesus, Paul had to set in order the organization of church leadership.  Paul gives the qualifications for elders and deacons in overseeing the life of the church.  (1 Tim. 3:1-13)  Apparently the dissension of false teachers was arising from those less than qualified within in the current church. Paul states that a elder must not be a “new convert, lest he became conceited and fall into the condemnation of the devil.” (1 Tim 3:6)

Paul also reminded Timothy of the “faith” throughout these letters. Timothy was to hold to the faith (1 Tim 1:19), because some had made shipwreck of their faith (1:19-20). He was to be nourished in the “faith and of good doctrine” (4:6). Timothy was to be an example of faith to his elders (4:12). He was to follow after faith (6:11). But most importantly the young Timothy was to fight the good fight of faith (6:12).  

Our purpose today is the same plea, to fight for and contend for the faith. What has been entrusted to us has to be kept. Timothy may have been young, but Paul trusted him with the Gospel. You and I are being handed the glorious gospel that saves sinners. The gospel of Jesus Christ that was preached to us and led to our salvation, must be cherished and held onto. Any corrupters of pure doctrine must be opposed.  Embracing culture and loosening our grip on doctrine will shipwreck the church. We are a light set on a hill, we must shine with the radiance of the Gospel. The church and it’s doctrine will not be accepted by the world, it’s not our duty to water down the truth that saves. Truth that does not lead to deliverance is not truth at all. The truth of the Gospel of Jesus Christ sets people free from the bondage of sin. If chains are not being broken, lives being restored and made holy, then we are preaching another gospel. The same Gospel that delivered us and freed us from sin, will be the same Gospel that will bring revival to our cities and world. 

Part 2 to be continued on 2 Timothy

Robert Prater

Monday, October 27, 2014

Intro: Letters to the Thessalonians

1 Thessalonians

Thessalonica was a port city and commercial center located a hundred miles from Philippi. The Egnatian Way linking Rome to Byzantium passed through the city making it one of the wealthiest trade centers in the Roman Empire. Because of this strategic location, Thessalonica became a base for the spread of the gospel in Macedonia and Greece.  Paul writes his first letter to the church at Thessalonica somewhere around AD 51-52 from the city of Corinth. This church was founded by Paul on his second missionary journey which is recorded in Acts 16:1-18:22. Acts 17:1-4 reveals that as Paul entered the city of Thessalonica, he immediately went to the synagogue of the Jews and preached Jesus to them. Although some of the people were persuaded (some devout Greeks and leading women), the Jews became angry at Paul’s message and forced him out of the city (Acts 17:5-10). After Paul’s removal from Thessalonica, he fled to Berea where he also faced persecution and was eventually thrown out of the city (Acts 17:11-14). Leaving Timothy and Silas in Berea, Paul went to Athens and was rejoined by them at a later time (Acts 17:15-16). From Athens, Timothy was sent back to Thessalonica (1 Thessalonians 3:2) and Paul traveled to Corinth alone (Acts 18:1). Timothy and Silas eventually joined Paul in Corinth (Acts 18:5) and from the good report of Timothy about the church, Paul wrote this letter to the church at Thessalonica.

Paul wrote as a proud father who rejoiced in the faithfulness of his children. Paul also knew they were experiencing persecution for their faith in Jesus Christ and for this reason he wrote to encourage them and remind them of their hope in Christ.  Evidently the return of Christ was central to Paul's message here because he answers many questions about the second coming of Christ. He also addresses sexual purity which was an ongoing problem for the early church. Pagan religions often condoned sexual encounters as part of their rites, and ancient Roman culture itself had few sexual boundaries. Paul urges the Thessalonians not to participate in sexual activity outside of marriage. Reminding them that the body was God's temple and should be kept holy.  

Paul’s letter to the church at Thessalonica is one of encouragement and comfort as well as a reminder to be faithful to God. His words are just as relevant today as they were 2000 years ago as believers are tempted to lose heart in the midst of hardship. Paul challenges the follower of Christ to endure trials and look forward to the hope we have in Jesus Christ.

2 Thessalonians

Reports had come to Paul of continued progress in the Thessalonian church and their faithfulness to the gospel. But some doctrinal problems had also arisen. False teachers had begun to tell the believers that the day of the Lord was already at hand. They misunderstood Paul's words that the day of the Lord would come suddenly. Some believers had even stopped working and were just waiting for the Lord. They were losing hope. In this letter Paul reminded them that they had been called by God and saved through Christ's work. He exhorted them to stand firm in Christ and to work hard waiting for Jesus' return.

Today this message remains just important for believers in Jesus.  We live in a culture so focused on the material that Christians often forget the spiritual realities that should dictate our lives.   We must resist the gradual slip into increased self-centeredness.  As you read the words of 2 Thessalonians, allow them to rekindle your hope and fan into flame your desire to live in God-honoring, spiritually productive ways.

Robert Prater

Friday, October 24, 2014


Transformation is something all Christians should desire.  Spiritual Transformation is a change in a person’s character that is effected on the basis of receiving the benefits of God’s actions in Jesus Christ.  So what does transformation look like?  This Sunday at Crosstown I'll be preaching study about this transformation which was a the theme from our readings in the New Testament Challenge this week.  Hope to see you there!


Tuesday, October 21, 2014

Prison Epistles Introduction

(Paul in Prison, by Rembrandt)

This week we’ll begin reading the Prison Epistles in our New Testament Challenge.  The Prison Epistles refer to four letters in the New Testament written by the apostle Paul during his time under house arrest in Rome between approximately 60—62 AD. They include Ephesians, Philippians, Colossians, and Philemon.  (We’ll be reading the first three this week)  The first three of these epistles were written to specific local groups of Christians in the cities for which the books were named.


The city of Ephesus was the capitol of the Roman province of Asia which is modern day Turkey. Located at the intersection of several major trade routes, it was a major commercial center in the Roman empire. Paul used the city as a center for his missionary work in the region. Ephesians was written to the believers at Ephesus and covers areas of doctrine (chapters 1—3) and application (chapters 4—6). Of great importance is this letter's emphasis on salvation by grace through faith (Ephesians 2:8-9), church unity (Ephesians 4), and spiritual warfare (Ephesians 6:10-18).


Philippi was a culturally diverse Roman city on the main highway from the eastern provinces to Rome, and the church at Philippi had a very diverse group of believers. Paul wrote this letter to thank the Philippians for their financial support of Paul’s missionary work.  (4:10-19) Again, despite this letter was written while Paul was in prison, it is one of the most joyful books in the whole New Testament.  It's most prominent theme is joy, specifically the joy of serving Jesus. Paul also wanted to address his circumstances at the time of his writing as well as his hope to see them again. (1:19-26)  Also, it’s important to note women played an important role in life and ministry of the church Paul founded in the city of Philippi.  (cf. Acts 16:11-15, 40)  He mentions two in chapter four, Euodia and Syntyche.  Paul describes Euodia and Syntyche as "women who contended at my side in the cause of the gospel" (4:3). From this we infer that they were leading members and co-workers of Paul in this congregation, making the contention between them all the more harmful.  Paul encouraged them to seek harmony with one another.  Paul was concerned that they "be of the same mind in the Lord."


The city of Colossae was about a hundred miles east of Ephesus. At one time it was a large and strategic city but by the time of this writing it had declined into the shadows of nearby cities.

The Colossian church was experiencing the same sorts of problems that other early churches had encountered. Certain members were teaching that the observance of Jewish rulers about food, the Sabbath, and special festivals needed to be added to the Christian faith.  Paul was very concerned for the spiritual condition of these Christians.  He did not want them to be swayed by the teachings of  others that would pull them away from the simplicity and sufficiency of Christ. 
Colossians 1:15-18 has been called "The Great Christology", because it sets forth Paul's inspired conviction and understanding of just who Jesus Christ.  His point:  Jesus is sufficient for salvation and is all that we need. 

Despite Paul's situation during the writing of the Prison Epistles, he was not hindered from sharing the Gospel message with others or writing letters to encourage individuals and churches. Acts 28:30-31 tells us, "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." Even in this difficult context, God was at work to empower Paul to change the lives of many during his time and ours through these works now known as the Prison Epistles.

We too as Christians, whatever trials we face, can always seek to advance Christ’s kingdom and God’s glory.  We too can be triumphant, and can learn to be content in whatever circumstances and say as Paul, ‘I can do all things through Christ who gives me strength.”  (Philippians 4:13)

Robert Prater

Tuesday, October 14, 2014

Intro to Luke and 2 Corinthians

The Gospel of Luke

 Luke is the longest of the four Gospels, and the only one with a sequel-the book of Acts. Luke, a physician, was not an eyewitness to the events surrounding Jesus but gathered reports from others to provide "an orderly account" of the events to someone named Theophilus.  (Luke 1:3)  Luke was a companion of the Apostle Paul during his missionary travels and has also been called Luke the Evangelist because of this very reason. Luke was not one of the Apostles but was likely a Greek by birth who was very well educated and (Col 4:11) who was possibly brought to faith in Christ by Paul during one of his missions

Little is known about Theophilus. We don't know if this Theophilus, which means friend of God or lover of God, was a given name or a name taken after conversion (which was a common practice). The title given to him by Luke "most excellent" indicates he held prominence and may have been a high ranking official in Roman society.

There is external and internal evidence indicating that both the Gospel of Luke and the Book of Acts may have been written at the same time (61-64 A.D.). There is no mention in the Book of Acts of historical events after A.D. 62 and nothing is said of the destruction of Jerusalem in A.D. 70   

Since Luke was a Greek it appears that he wanted the Gentile Christian’s to understand that God offers salvation to all who would trust in the Son of God. This third gospel presented the works and the teachings of Jesus Christ in a way that the non-Jew would more easily understand and this is why this gospel was not intended specifically for the Jews. It seems evident, just as in the Book of Acts, that Luke wrote this to give an historical and factual account of Jesus Christ’s ministry for Theophilus, who was likely a converted Gentile

The fact that his main interest was in the redemptive plan of salvation of what God had planned from the beginning is testimony to the fact that the audience was those who were within the Body of Christ and were Gentile by birth. The style of Luke’s writing has an apologetic nature to it with highly accurate details and genealogies that we might expect of someone of a higher, Greek up-bringing and which the Greeks of the day would better appreciate. It seems that Luke is interested in those who the world neglects, especially the Jewish religious leadership of the day. Those who were being neglected like children, women, and the poor, were an emphasis in this gospel so it would appear that his audience also included those who were disenfranchised in Judea during the 1st century.

Luke gives us the purpose in the very beginning in Luke 1:1-4.  As with Luke’s Book of Acts, one of the reasons for Luke’s writing this gospel was to stress the humanity of Christ which may be why he gave a highly accurate and vividly detailed genealogy of Jesus Christ and account of His birth. he gives us an exacting, accurate, and detailed account of Jesus’ earthly ministry and writes it in such a way as to be one of the most historically reliable accounts that stands up to ancient and modern historicity standards and scholarship.

He tells us in the very first chapter that his intention was to give a well-ordered, accurate account of the ministry of Christ and reminds his reader of this in writing “to know the certainty” of these things that he has learned (1:4)

2 Corinthians


Second Corinthians is a deeply personal letter--a response to the complex history between the Apostle Paul and the church he had established in Corinth.  It shares the concern, passion, intimate feelings and thoughts of an apostle who is defending his own apostleship and ministry in a church which he founded.  Various allegations against Paul are scattered throughout the letter (1:15ff; 3:1ff; 10:1ff, 13ff; 11:7ff; 12:12).

This epistle is actually Paul's fourth letter to the church in Corinth. Paul mentions his first letter in 1 Corinthians 5:9. His second letter is the book of 1 Corinthians. Three times in 2 Corinthians Paul references a third and painful letter: "For I wrote to you out of much affliction and anguish of heart and with many tears ..." (2 Corinthians 2:4, ESV). And finally, we have Paul's fourth letter, the book of 2 Corinthians probably written around 56-57 A.D.

As we learned in 1 Corinthians, the church in Corinth was weak, struggling with division and spiritual immaturity. Paul's authority had been undermined by an opposing teacher who was misleading and dividing with false teachings.

In an attempt to solve the turmoil, Paul traveled to Corinth, but the distressing visit only fueled the church's resistance. (2:1) When Paul returned to Ephesus he wrote again to the church, pleading with them to repent and avoid God's judgment. Later Paul received good news through Titus that many in Corinthian had indeed repented, but a small and fractious group continued to cause problems there.

From this letter we learn the need to forgive and restore those who are repentant. The need to embrace the New Covenant through the resources God gave us…The Word, the Holy Spirit, keeping our focus on things eternal (the unseen). He shows us the ministry of reconciliation and the principle of giving. He also warns us not to look at the outward appearance or credentials of our leaders but to look at their heart and match their teachings with the Word of God. Through Paul’s example of hardships, we can also endure through hardships, pain, weakness, and difficulty. Because at our weakest, God’ power is made perfect in us. (12:9-10)

Robert Prater