The gospels found at the beginning of our New Testament represent a period of transition from the old covenant to the new. And as such, we need to take great care to understand the words of Jesus in light of this transition. To start with, we need to avoid the two extremes regarding the red letters, the recorded words of Jesus.
There is a formal group known as the Red Letter Christians who teach that the path to true spirituality is to focus on and follow all, and basically only, the words of Jesus as our guide to faith and practice. This totally misses the fact that some of Jesus’ message was old covenant teaching to an old covenant crowd. It also ignores that what Jesus often taught through parables and mystery and looking forward is explained more clearly in the apostles’ letters; an explanation we desperately need to fully understand the new covenant way that we now relate to God.
The other end of the spectrum is seeing the words of Jesus as only old covenant teaching to an old covenant crowd. After all, the new covenant did not technically begin until the shedding of Jesus’ blood on the cross. And Jesus’ teaching the crowds all took place before the cross. But this is also misguided as it misses the fact that many of Jesus’ words were pointing forward to life under the new covenant and are loaded with new covenant meaning for you and I.
So how do we find the middle ground? How do we know which words of Jesus were meant for us, His new covenant saints? As with all things biblical interpretation, context is the key. Particularly important is seeing how the gospel message brought to us by Jesus unfolds through a new covenant lens. This has opened up so much of Jesus’ teaching to me personally and has shed new light on Jesus’ oft-confusing statements.
Over the next several weeks, we will unpack the words of Jesus – often misunderstood or misapplied – in light of all that we know about His mission to this planet. His mission to usher in the new covenant. His mission to initiate a new way to relate to God. His mission to establish His kingdom on earth in us. Won’t you join us?