New Testament Lessons

Children’s Illustrated Bible, p. 182, Jesus of Galilee, p. 206-207 and Daily Life, p. 208-209

Who wrote about the life of Jesus?

The four gospels are about the life of Jesus and his teachings. Acts of the Apostles tells the story of his early followers.  Many authors wrote about the life of Jesus, but only four gospels are included the New Testament. These gospels were written by the Evangelists: Matthew, Mark, Luke and John.

The Lost Gospel of Judas and the Gospel of Mary Magdalene were presumably known at the time but were not included. Other stories about Jesus that are not in the New Testament appear in Gospel of Thomas, a book of proverbs, cryptic metaphors and advice. A narrative of Jesus’ childhood, The Infancy Gospel of Thomas (another Thomas), tells stories of the boy Jesus with super-powers who could turn pebbles into doves and kill bullies with a glance.

All four gospels in the New Testament include the Last Supper and Jesus’ death and resurrection.

Who was Mark?

Mark’s gospel is the earliest – and shortest – of the gospels and is believed to have been written around 70 A.C.E. Mark was one of the original disciples, having possibly been a servant at the miracle at Cana and who later carried water to the house where the Last Supper took place. He was present at the Pentecost and helped found the early Christian church Alexandria, Egypt. His symbol is the Lion. He is the patron saint of lawyers and of the city Venice.

Who was Matthew?

Like Mark, Matthew was one of Jesus’ original followers. As a tax collector and a Jew, he most likely worked for Herod and was a symbol of Roman oppression. His was the 2nd gospel to be written, sometime in the 80’s A.C.E. Matthew relied on the writings of Mark. In his gospel, Matthew describes his first encounter with Jesus. He was sitting in the Custom House when Jesus called him to follow. Matthew witnessed the Resurrection and other events in Jesus’ life. After Jesus’ Ascension, Matthew preached to Hebrew audiences. His birth story includes a lengthy genealogy and references to Hebrew scripture designed to convince the reader that Jesus is the Messiah whose coming has been foretold.

Matthew is the patron saint of accountants and bankers. His symbol is the Angel.

Who was Luke?

Luke traveled with Paul and Timothy and wrote his gospel to tell the story of Jesus to a wide audience of people well beyond the Holy Lands.  Unlike the other three evangelists, Luke was not an eyewitness, but he has set down “an orderly account” from those who were eyewitnesses. His gospel was written 3rd, in the mid 90’s A.C.E.  Luke addresses his Gospel and the Acts of the Apostles to Theophilus.  Theophilus may have been an individual.  However, since Theophilus is Greek for “lover of God,” Luke also may have been writing for all people who “love God.”

Of the three synoptic gospels (Matthew, Mark and Luke), Luke’s contains the most vivid descriptions and dramatic writing style. He was believed to be a well-educated Greek. In Colossians (4:14) Luke is called “the beloved physician.” Though it has not been proven that Luke had medical training, his writings show compassion and knowledge of healing. Luke’s emblem is the ox. He is the patron saint of doctors and artists.


Who was John?

Like Matthew and Mark, John was one of Jesus’ followers, and is mentioned frequently in the stories of Jesus’ ministry. His gospel was written last, in the early 2nd century. John was a follower of John the Baptist. As a son of Zebedee and younger brother of James, he was a fisherman and one of the first four disciples. John was present at the Last Supper and the Crucifixion, where Jesus spoke to him from the cross, telling him to care for his mother Mary. He and Peter were the first to be alerted by Mary Magdalene that Jesus’ body was no longer in the tomb. John was a founder of the early church at Ephesus, in modern day Turkey. His symbol is the Eagle. John is the patron saint of authors, editors and government officials.

What else is included in the New Testament besides stories of Jesus? 

The rest of the New Testament is made up of the stories of Jesus’ followers and the Book of Revelation.  The Acts of the Apostles tells stories about the founding of the early church and is attributed to Luke.  The New Testament also includes the epistles, letters that Paul and leaders of the new church wrote to the Christians.  The letters to the Romans, Corinthians, Galatians, Ephesians, Philippians, Colossians, Thessalonians and those to Timothy, Titus and Philemon are attributed to Paul.  The Book of Revelation tells the story of Jesus’ second coming. It is attributed to John the evangelist, yet the writing style and subject matter are quite different from John’s gospel.

A time of oppression

When Jesus was born, Judea was a Roman colony. The emperor appointed local leaders. As long as they carried out the wishes of Rome, they were free to govern as they wished. Herod taxed his subjects heavily to build palaces. Those who couldn’t pay taxes would have to sell all or part of your land, be sold into slavery, or forced military service. Families lost farms and became day laborers; free people became slaves; families that once had lived in the same place for many generations became fragmented across the kingdom.

After Jesus’ baptism and healing miracles, he gained followers. He expounded on his philosophy through parables and teachings. He communicated a message of hope and a vision of the Realm of God not only to those who were downtrodden, poor and rejected, but to members of the establishment – people like Zaccheus, the tax collector, the centurion who asked Jesus to heal his servant, and Matthew – one of the evangelists. The parables gave people hope and a different way of looking at their lives.

Jesus’ public ministry spanned three years. Gospel stories tell of his evolution from exorcist to healer to activist with the power to raise people from the dead. His increasing influence caused fear and concern among those in leadership – both in government and religious circles. It is little wonder that such a figure living under Roman occupation in a hierarchical society would be crucified.

In Roman times crucifixion, the most shameful form of execution, was used for slaves, pirates, revolutionaries and enemies of the state. Rising from the dead on Easter morning, Jesus was reborn in a final miracle. St. Paul saw the crucifixion as a powerful symbol of rebirth. He traveled far and wide to tell the story of Jesus’ life, death and resurrection. As a result, St. Paul is considered the founder of Christianity. 

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