You may be surprised to read this, but the New Testament begins in the wrong place. In our thinking, at least. Hang on, I haven’t lost it just yet. Here’s what I mean.
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When we open the New Testament, we often read the gospels by thinking forward to the church. How does this apply to me today? After all, God’s Word has as its goal our changed lives. Nothing wrong with that. But we miss something important when we make a mad dash to application.
In fact, when we read the gospels by first thinking forward, we sidestep a truth that plays a critical role in the life change we long for.
What Thinking Backward Means
Before we look forward, we should think backward. That’s what the gospel writers do.
- Matthew’s first words make a beeline back to Abraham and King David.
- Mark’s opening paragraph cites Isaiah.
- Luke and John also look back—way back—to the beginning of time and to eternity past.
Before looking forward, the first chapters of all four gospels look back and quote the Old Testament. Why? Because the New Testament simply continues the story of the Old. The story of God’s kingdom plan on earth sputtered to a stall at the end of Malachi, but it gets a jump start in the gospels.
After a 400-year gap of silence, the biblical quills start scribbling again—taking their unfinished story to its next glorious level.
Think New Testament = New Covenant
So why does the New Testament start in the “wrong place” in our minds? The word “testament” means “covenant,” and the New Covenant began when Jesus died on the cross. Jesus said:
This cup . . . is the new covenant in My blood. —Luke 22:20
That pivot—from Old Covenant to New—occurred at the end of the gospels, not at their beginning. With this mindset, we could also understand the Old Testament beginning in Exodus rather than in Genesis. But there’s no need to be that persnickety. Genesis lays the essential groundwork for the rest of the Old Testament. (In fact, even the New Testament comes into view in the initial chapters Genesis.)
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No need to move the New Testament flyleaf four books over to the book of Acts. We simply need to move the flyleaf in our brains. The New Testament begins at the cross, not at the manger.
When we read the gospels, we should think Old Testament. Because it was.
Read the Gospels by Thinking Backward
Before we ask what the gospels mean to us, we should ask what it meant to the readers. That’s a truth that plays a critical role in the life change we long for.
Everything about Jesus’ ministry occurred in the context of the Old Covenant. The church was on nobody’s mind. True, Jesus shared with his disciples at Caesarea Philippi that he would build his church, but he spoke about it only about a year before his death. Even then, his words fell on deaf ears. Why?
The disciples were looking forward by looking backward.
- They saw a future defined wholly by Old Testament promises—and the Old Testament never mentioned the church.
- They expected, and rightly so, that the Messiah would usher in the kingdom of God.
- Even Jesus had this as his primary message from the start: “The kingdom of heaven is at hand!”
These disciples expected the kingdom. Period. That’s it.
Well, that’s almost it.
About Your Life and His Glory
Their expectations of the kingdom included their significant places of leadership in it. When they thought of the Kingdom of God, they imagined prestige, power, privilege, and personal perks. The Kingdom of Them. But it should have been all about Jesus.
As you read the gospels this year, be sure to think forward by thinking backward. Read first as the first readers did. Then think forward to your own life. Take the timeless truths and apply them.
And make it about Jesus and his glory.