As we finished up the letters of Paul and saw their significance in the storyline of the Bible, we are now going to move into other letters written by people other than Paul. These would be Hebrews, James, 1 and 2 Peter, 1, 2, and 3 John, and Jude. All of these letters help further the story of Jesus in their own unique way. Let’s find out about these letters and their significance.
The first letter we come to after Paul’s letter to Philemon is Hebrews. The author of the letter remains a mystery but we know from the title it was written to the Hebrews which were Jewish converts. I like to call this letter the “Old Testament Showdown” because of it’s deep roots in the Hebrew Scriptures. This captivating letter reiterates the fact that Jesus was the fulfillment of the law. The writer describes the superiority of Jesus over Moses, the great heroes of faith in the Hebrew Bible, and even over the angels. Through the sacrifice of Jesus, he became the ultimate sacrifice once and for all, and became the great high priest. Jesus is the fulfillment of the law. The letter to the Hebrews is full of warnings against falling away and of unbelief. The writer knew there would be persecution and so he puts stern warnings in to pay attention and not drift away from the truth. The letter ends with listing some great examples of faith we read about in the Hebrew Bible as an example we should all follow. Jesus is the fulfillment of the law and through his grace and mercy we should stay devoted followers of him. It connects the law with Jesus and it is a powerful letter for those who grew up with the law to show how Jesus fits in and fulfills it all. For those of us who did not grow up with the law and are looking at this 2,000+ years later, we can see that this letter provides reassurance that Jesus is Lord and he is the Promised One.
The next letter of James is one of convictions, self-reflection, and devotion. It was written by the brother of Jesus, James, and is written to the twelve tribes that scattered. In other words, this letter was written to all the descendants of Jacob, Jewish Christians. This is a unique letter that combines many of Jesus’ teachings from the sermon on the mount and the age old wisdom of Proverbs. In this way, James provides wisdom for the followers of Jesus that is practical, yet difficult to apply. James discusses the temptations and trials that we face and encourages us to endure the hardship and not give in to sin. Je spends much time discussing the faith without works, and how deadly the tongue can be. He discusses the two kinds of wisdom, our obedience to God and His faithfulness, our patience in awaiting the Lord’s return, and how powerful prayer can be. James infuses the wisdom of Proverbs with Jesus’ teachings to encourage and motivate us to be the most faithful and dedicated followers of the Messiah.
The letters of 1 and 2 Peter are both written by the apostle Peter. 1 Peter was written to the scattered Jewish and Gentile Christians throughout Asia Minor. The first letter of Peter is one that gives hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ. Although these people may be suffering, Peter wants them to be reminded of the hope they have in the risen Jesus. This letter offers instructions on living a life dedicated to Christ even in the midst of suffering. Throughout the letter, Peter uses Old Testament imagery to show the Gentiles that they are now part of the redemptive story. This letter gives us application of how God’s chosen people should act today. More than that, however, this letter offers a reason behind the suffering. Even though they are suffering persecution because of their faith, they should rejoice because this means that by imitating the love of Jesus, they are bringing God’s kingdom into action. This leads to a hope that though they are suffering, one day Jesus will return and we will all share in the victory of Jesus.
2 Peter is a much more intense and powerful letter. This letter calls out the false teaching that is taking place and calls to make their “calling and election sure.” Peter wants them to be aware that they are grounded in the truth and that refreshing their memory is never a bad thing. The day of the Lord is a huge theme in this book. Peter encourages them to look forward to the day when Jesus comes and destroys evil once and for all and the new heaven and earth is established. Because they are looking forward to this day, Peter calls them to be found “blameless” and “at peace with him”. A call to stay devoted and rooted in the truth. These letters of Peter encourage us to look forward to Jesus return, and all the while keeping faithful to God as we await that glorious return.
The next 3 letters are the letters of John. In the Bible, they are named 1 John, 2 John, and 3 John. To see the whole picture more clearly, we are going to break down these letters to see the overall picture they paint together.
These three letters are written by John the elder to believers in Christ. 1 John has messages of light, love, and watchfulness of false teachers who corrupt the truth about Jesus. The message of stopping false teachers is evident so only the truth is told about Jesus. John then talks about how God is light and since he is light, we must also be a light to the world by following Jesus. Jesus taught that we are to be a light in Matthew 5. John then talks about love. When we love others, we share in the gospel message and share in the love of Jesus. Jesus loved so we should love, and this is the message John is trying to give. So within 1 John, the ideas of light, love, and truth are expressed. It’s a letter of encouragement to make us realize that we get to share in the kingdom of God right now, as we await the full kingdom when Christ returns.
2 John is written to the “lady” who is unknown. He writes to her to discuss how one particular church should not receive or welcome these false teachers and deceivers. John starts out by saying that we should love one another and that means obeying his commands. His command is to walk in love (2 John 6). So by loving one another we follow his command and by following his command we are loving each other. It’s a harmonious relationship between obeying and loving. John then gives warnings
3 John is written to his friend Gaius. John praises him for his faithfulness and encourages him to continue his support for the fellow believers. Then he talks about this character Diotrephes who seems to be causing chaos in the local church. He then encourages Gaius to do what is good and hopes to see him soon. It’s a personal letter of encouragement and of a local church problems to get rid of the wickedness in the church and to promote obedience and faithfulness to Jesus.
The next letter is the letter of Jude. Judah, one of Jesus’ brothers, wrote a strong warning to Jewish believers about those who teach falsely about Jesus. These deceivers lead other people down a path that is corrupt and untrue. Judah uses examples from the Hebrew Scriptures like the deliverance of Egypt, the angelic rebellion, and Sodom and Gomorrah to warn the audience about these deceivers. He encourages them to stay strong to the faith. The warning Jude gives provides believers with the faith and courage to confront this evil and rebellion and to look to the hope of Jesus’ return when all evil and corruption is destroyed.
As you can see, all of these letters wrap around the idea of living in the present to get to a future hope. Jesus came, restoring our broken relationship with God and now we await the full arrival of His kingdom when Jesus returns. For now, these letters give us encouragement and instruction on what to do until that time comes.