Our life with God continues…
Once you have read and come to know some of the Old Testament, you should be able to take a look at a bit of the New Testament. This part of the Bible continues to tell us Who God is, who we are, and how God still reaches out to us.
Our map to help us find our way through some of the New Testament is this study guide. Every map has a specific way of presenting information. Some maps show political boundaries. Other maps show physical characteristics such as mountains and valleys. Still others indicate what natural resources can be found in any given locale.
This “map” of the New Testament is intended to help you see the connection between many of the promises and prophecies of the Old Testament concerning the Messiah (i.e., the anointed one of God) — and how they have been fulfilled by Jesus Christ (the word “Christ” is from the Greek, meaning anointed) as recorded in the New Testament.
For an Orthodox Christian, the Old Testament and the New Testament are not just books. They are your history with God. The stories they contain are your stories, they concern your ancestors. They are your scriptures.
Let’s begin by reading a lesson we hear at the Divine Liturgy on Tuesday of Bright Week (and also at Sunday Matins, Gospel selection # 5): Luke 24:13-35. This passage tells us that the Lord Jesus discussed with Luke and Cleopas all the Old Testament scriptures of the law and the Prophets that concerned Himself. But just what are these?
Review of the Old Testament prophecies…
It is said that there were over 300 prophecies (spoken by different voices over 500 years) that the Lord Jesus fulfilled, including 29 major prophecies fulfilled in a single day — the day He was crucified. (Some of these prophecies may have found fulfillment on one level in the prophet’s own day, they found their ultimate fulfillment in Jesus Christ.)
Look briefly at some of the prophecies of the Messiah from Isaiah. Note the prophetic expectation found. (The texts marked with * indicate that they are taken from the lectionary appointed for the Nativity services.)
- Isaiah 2:1-5 [7. Isaiah — whose name means “The Lord gives salvation” — likely grew up in Jerusalem, the city where the Temple of the Lord stood. He lived around 742-701 B.C. He was primarily interested in the idea that the Messiah would come from the line of King David. Jerusalem was the capitol of the Kingdom of Judah where the southern tribes lived, and Isaiah prophesied of God’s protest to Judah for their wicked ways. Shechem was the capitol of the tribes of the northern Kingdom of Israel.]
- Isaiah 7:10-15
- Isaiah 8:9-10; 9:1-7
- Isaiah 11:1-10
- Isaiah 29:17-19
- Isaiah 35:1-10
So, briefly what are some of the basic clues to recognize the Messiah from Isaiah’s prophecy?
Now look at these prophecies:
- Micah 5:1-4 [1. Micah was from the country. He came from a little village about 25 miles southwest of Jerusalem called Moresheth-gath. Micah spoke up for the poor farmers who suffered injustice at the hands of the rich landlords. He prophesied from 725–701 B.C.]
- Jeremiah 23:5-6 [2. Jeremiah was from a priestly family. He lived in Anathoth, a village about 4 miles to the northeast of Jerusalem. Jeremiah was called by God to prophesy in 626 B.C. when he was just a boy. Jeremiah was convinced that it was God Who was coming to execute judgment against Judah through Judah’s enemies.]
- Baruch 4:21-22; 5:7-9 [3. Baruch was Jeremiah’s scribe or secretary. His prophecy was sent from Babylon back to Jerusalem in order to give the inhabitants there hope that ultimately God will bring about justice and overthrow the evil empire of Babylon.]
- Ezekiel 34:11-16 [4. Ezekiel was one of the first exiles to Babylon in 593 B.C. He was one of the cream of the Jerusalem crop. He was of priestly lineage. Ezekiel believed that the fall of Jerusalem was divinely-willed as a punishment for evil.]
Now look at these:
- Isaiah 40:1-11
- Isaiah 42:1-9
- Isaiah 50:5-6
- Isaiah 52:13-53:12
- Isaiah 60:1-6
- Isaiah 61:1-3, 10 [5. “Second Isaiah” is likely not actually Isaiah at all. This prophet was likely one who prophesied during the Babylonian Captivity / Exile — about 540 B.C. — and whose message was attached to the end of the prophecy of Isaiah. His concern is with the “man of sorrows” — the Messiah.]
- Zechariah 9:9 [6. Zechariah, who prophesied about 520-515 — was very interested in re-building the temple of Jerusalem once the exiles returned from Babylon. He sought to have a restored Jewish state under the co-leadership of the king and the high-priest. The Messiah was to come and herald this new kingdom.]
Now that we have looked at the major prophecies of the Messiah, try to summarize the basic expectations and characteristics you have discovered.
We are going to investigate the “seven signs” found in the Holy Gospel according to John. St. John tells us at the very end of his Gospel that “There are also many other things which Jesus did. Were every one of them to be written, I suppose that the world itself could not contain the books that would need to be written.” (Jn. 21:25)
The number 7 is an important number in the Bible. It usually indicates a certain fullnes, completion, totality, etc. St. John has chosen only seven wonders (miracles or signs) to include in his Gospel, but these seven simply point to the fact that all that the Lord Jesus did fulfils the prophecies of the Messiah. The Hebrew people looked for signs and wonders (Exod. 7:3; Deut. 4:34; Isa. 8:18; Jer. 32:20) as a test for the presence of the Anointed One.
St. John wrote his Gospel around A.D. 100. The Synoptic (meaning they see things in much the same way) Gospels of Ss. Matthew, Mark and Luke were written up to 50 years earlier. St. John’s Gospel is written more as a well-thought-out presentation of what he was an eye-witness of: giving us a contemplative interpretation of the “things which Jesus did.”
The First Sign
The Wedding at Cana — John 2:1-12.
We hear this at every celebration of Holy Matrimony as well as at the Divine Liturgy which is celebrated on the Monday after the Sunday of St. Thomas (9 days after Pascha). Although this is not directly a fulfillment of one of the Old Testament prophecies, the fact that the Savior changed water into wine is an indication of the blessing of the Messianic age.
Wine makes glad our hearts (Ps. 104 (3): 13) and its abundance will mark the Messianic Kingdom (Gen. 49:11, ff.; Isa. 62:8, ff.) This sign, together with the multiplication of the loaves (the Fourth Sign recorded at 6:1-13), is an obvious verbal icon of the Sacramental Mystery of Holy Communion…and a fulfillment of the Passover Meal (Exod. 12:11, ff.) and the Manna in the Wilderness (Exod. 16:15, ff.).
The Marriage Feast is also one of the single-most important images found in the Old and New Testaments. It is a symbol for the Kingdom of God; the union between God and His People (see Isa. 62:4-5; Mt. 22:1-14; 2 Cor. 11:2; Eph. 5:23; Apoc.19:7-9). There is no active action on the part of the Lord; His Word is sufficient to work wonders. (see Gen. 1:3, 6, 9; Isa. 55:11; Jn. 4:49-53; Mt. 8;8)
- Why was this first Sign particularly important? (vs. 11)
- How is the Lord Jesus revealed to be God in this event? (vs. 9)
- Can you think of any specific significance for us today in the changing of water into wine at the wedding at Cana?
The Second Sign
Healing the Nobleman’s son — John 4:46-54
We hear this passage at the Divine Liturgy for the third Monday after Pascha. As with the previous Sign, the Lord Jesus’ might is shown here as a verbal power: the power of His creative Word. The prophecies stated that the Messiah would be able to heal (Isa. 35:5-6; 61:1-2; Joel 2:28-31).
The Kingdom at the End of the Age will be characterized by healing (Apoc. 22:2). Even the Lord’s disciples will be empowered with the gift of healing (Lk. 9:6; Acts 2:16-21; 1 Cor. 12;10; James. 5:14-16).
- How did the Lord Jesus test the faith of the nobleman? (vs. 50)
- How did the man respond to this test? (vs. 50)
- How is faith connected to healing? (vs. 50)
- How can faith be a result of healing? (vs. 53)
- Can you think of any significant for us today regarding this miraculous healing?
The Third Sign
Healing of the Paralytic — John 5:1-15
This passage is proclaimed in the Church on the 4th Sunday of Pascha. Once again, the prophecies of healing apply to this Sign. But this takes place at the Pool of Bethsda, near the Temple in Jerusalem. The water from this high-ground pool gurgled-up from underground springs. Among other uses, the water from this pool was taken to wash down and quench the thirst of the sacrificial lambs before they were slain in the Temple liturgy.
There are a number of levels of significance here. First: Christ is the Passover Lamb (Jn. 1:29, 36; 19:17-37). Second, the pool is a symbol or figure or type of Baptism in which the faithful are washed and cleansed and healed — Acts 22:16 (This is why this passage is proclaimed in the Church during Paschaltide.) Finally, this event occurred near the Jewish Feast of Pentecost — i.e., 50 days after the Passover.
The theme for Pentecost was the giving of the Law on Mt. Sinai. The Law declared : “Keep the sabbath day holy.” — that is, no work…dedicate the day to God alone. Jesus, He Who Is the Lord of the Sabbath, instructs the paralytic-now-healed to carry his mat. To the super-orthodox Jews, this was considered to be unlawful labor. But Jesus states that the sabbath was made for mankind, not mankind for the sabbath. He taught that meeting the needs of people can be more important than following the letter of the law.
- The sick people (vs. 3) were physically ill and waiting for a miraculous cure.
- How might those who are not physically ill be in need of healing and health?
- What are some ways that we might be excused from formal adherence to the rule, according to St. Basil (who calls these things “reasons worthy of a blessing”)? Why is this? (see Mt. 25)
- What might some significance be for us today regarding this particular healing?
The Fourth Sign
Feeding the Five Thousand — John 6:1-13
There are parallel stories in Mat. 14:13-21, Mk. 6:30-44 & Lk. 9:10-17.
This passage is proclaimed in the Church at the Divine Liturgy on the 5th Wednesday of Paschaltide. In Isaiah 51:3 we learn that the Lord God will make the desert (i.e., the wilderness) a place of joy and gladness like Eden. (See Ps. 23) We read in John 6:31 that the people ate manna in the wilderness (see Exod. 4;15; 16:15-21; Numb. 11:8; Ps. 78:24 & Ps. 105:40).
In this story we read that the Lord Jesus took the loaves, gave thanks (“eucharisto”) and distributed them. There is an obvious connection with the events of the Last Supper (Mt. 26, Mk. 14, Lk. 22 and Jn. 13) as well as with the celebration of the Holy Eucharist in the Church (1 Cor. 11:23-26).
“Our daily bread…” (Mt. 6:11) may refer to the Bread of the Holy Communion. “Daily” is an unfortunate translation of the original word which means “essential”. This, then would refer to the Bread of Life, the living bread, Christ Himself, given in the Holy Eucharistic Mysteries to those Who believe in Him and who receive Him.
The giving of this bread in the wilderness is an image of the heavenly Bread. The bread and fish are reminiscent of the post-resurrection appearance on the shore of Galilee (Jn. 21:9), where the Risen Lord prepares breakfast for Peter, Thomas, Nathaniel, James and John.
All of this is a foretaste of eating in the Kingdom (see Apoc. 19:7-9). Refer, again, to the First Sign above for the Eucharistic connections. In 2 Kings 4:42-44 the Prophet Elisha fed 100 with 20 loaves. The Lord Jesus surpasses even that wonder.
- Why did many in the multitude follow the Lord Jesus? (vs. 2)
- He went up on the mountain to perform this Sign. What are other events on or near mountains that took place in the Bible?
- Any thoughts on the significance of this extraordinary event for our lives today?
The Fifth Sign
Christ walks upon the water — John 6:16-21
(There are parallels in Mat. 14:22-33 and Mk. 6:45-52.)
We hear this Gospel passage proclaimed on the Second Saturday of Paschaltide. Chronologically, it took place immediately following the feeding of the multitude (the Fourth Johannine Sign, above).
The Church has seen in this event a re-enactment of the Hebrews crossing the Red Sea to freedom(Exod. 15), and of their crossing the Jordan River into the Promised Land (Numb. 35; Deut. 12; Josh. 4; 1 Sam. 13), for the Savior also leads His disciples to the land where they were going. Additionally, we understand this as an image also of the Baptism of Jesus in the Jordan (Mt. 3:13-17).
Here the Savior tells the Apostle Peter “Fear not, I AM” (at least this is the literal Greek of the Gospel). This is a divine statement (Gen. 15:1, 26:24; Isa 41:10, 43:5; Apoc. 1:17 and especially Jn. 8:58), and St. Peter (well-versed in his Scriptures) recognizes it as such.
God the Word manifests his lordship even over the cosmic elements — in this case, water (see Job 38:8-11; Pss. 65:5-8;107:29; Lk. 8:35-41). It is significant that a story such as this comes from John the son of Zebedee, a fisherman with experience of the lake and all its moods — accustomed very well to sudden storms.
- Why was the Savior not with the disciples in the boat?
- What was the reaction of the disciples when they saw Jesus walking on the sea?
- What is the significance of His response to them?
- What is the significance of this story for us today?
The Sixth Sign
Christ heals the man born blind — John 9:1-41
We proclaim this Gospel passage on the Sixth Sunday of Pascha each year. It has obvious baptismal allusions: washing (see Jn. 3:5), healing, faith, conversion, salvation, seeing (see Isa. 35:5), illumination (see Heb. 6:4), and anointing (in this case, spittle and dust from the ground — i.e., clay: see Gen. 2).
Here we can see that the Savior rejects the universal assumption that malady and trouble are necessarily a consequence of sin. The two can be (and often are) connected, but this is not always the case, as seen here. The man’s blindness provides the occasion for God’s mighty signs and wonders to be revealed. The Savior also uses the divine statement again, “I AM” in verse 5.
The Jewish leaders, says St. John Chrysostom, cast this man out of the Temple and the Lord of the Temple found him. We see in this story a progress of faith on the part of the blind man. At first he simply declares that ‘a man called Jesus” is the healer. Then he states that Jesus is form God. Next he declares that He is a prophet. Finally he says that he believes in Jesus as Lord and he then falls down in worship. In this passage we see Jesus as the Light of the World.
- How do the Jewish authorities try to discredit this miracle?
- Why is this?
- What is the position that this man’s parents take concerning this whole event?
- Is there any significance for us today in this story?
- Do you ever feel that you have ever been punished by God for something you have done?
- Do you ever feel as though you have brought about your own punishment?
The Seventh Sign
The Raising of Lazarus — John 11:1-54
We celebrate this Gospel passage each year on the day just before Palm Sunday: Lazarus Saturday. This is the Savior’s last and greatest sign. Jesus is the Source of eternal life and resurrection for all. In this passage we see Jesus as the Life of the World. Although Lazarus will die again (this is simply a resuscitation of his body) it is a first installment, so to speak, of the Resurrection and the Life (see Jn. 5:21, 25, 28).
Again we hear the divine statement: “I AM” — there should be no mistake this time about just who Jesus says He Is. Nonetheless, He groans in the spirit and is “deeply moved, troubled” because He was face to face with the realm of Satan, here represented by death. He weeps. He undoubtedly knows that this ultimate and greatest Sign would bring about His own Passion and Death.
The Father has given over to His Son the power over death and life (see Jn. 5:24-29). This last and greatest sign has two different effects: an outburst of faith in Jesus as the Messiah and an outburst of hostility on the part of the Jewish authorities. This leads to two “outcomes.” The authorities sentence Him to death — but ultimately this only paves the way to His (and our) Resurrection.
- What is the statement Martha makes of Jesus before He declares to her “I AM’?
- What are the three things that Martha declares about Jesus in verse 27?
- Caiphas the evil high-priest prophesied that Jesus would die for the nation. This is actually something that corresponds to prophecies in the Old Testament. Can you find it?
- Are there any implications for us today in this awesome wonder worked by God?