By: Åge M. Åleskjær
It is crucial that we are aware of certain divisions in the Word of God. This will greatly increase our revelation of the new and better covenant.
When we study the Bible, it is crucial that we divide the Word of God in a right way. Firstly, we have to see the different groups of people it talks about, and secondly, we have to understand certain events that also made a division in time. The truth is that when Jesus was walking on this earth, He could not give us the whole revelation, although He was pointing towards it. This was because the work He first had to do was not yet finished.
The Scriptures explain the dispensations, God’s time schedule, and the different covenants. In the center of it all we find the cross of Christ. There is a dramatic division in time at the death, resurrection, and ascension of Jesus, and the following outpouring of the Spirit at Pentecost. Jesus spoke a lot about the time after Pentecost. He said: “At that day you will know that I am in My Father, and you in Me, and I in you” (John 14:20).
“However, when He, the Spirit of truth, has come, He will guide you into all truth” (John 16:13).
Paul explains the same division in time, and talks about the time “before faith came” and “after faith has come” (Gal. 3:23-25).
We have the great privilege to live after faith has come, after the will is in effect (Heb. 9:16-17), and after the Spirit has come. We live “in that day” that Jesus spoke so enthusiastically about. This is the time when He can speak clearly to us.
The three groups
“Give none offence, neither to the Jews, nor to the Gentiles, nor to the church of God” (1 Cor. 10:32).
The Word of God divides people into three groups: the Jews, the Gentiles, and the church of God. I am thankful to Rev. Kenneth Hagin, who opened my eyes to this simple principle. I got a hold of this teaching through direction from the Holy Spirit. One morning as I was praying about a situation that I as a pastor had to solve, the Holy Spirit spoke to me and said that the answer I was looking for could be found in some teachings by Rev. Kenneth Hagin, which I had on tape. I did find the answer I needed, but I also got a hold of something that has become an invaluable help in the study of the Word of God. I could see it clearly in the Bible. You might want to study this in more detail. Then you may turn to 1 Cor. 10:32, 1 Cor 9:19-23, Rom. 2:14-15, Acts 15:19-21, Acts 21:25, and Gal. 2:7-8.
It is as simple as that – three groups of people and God approaches each group differently. The revelation that Hagin was sharing on the tape, was that three different laws rule these three groups. The Jews have the Mosaic Law, the Gentiles have “the law of conscience,” and the church of God has “the law of Christ” or “the law of love.” All of the groups are represented in 1 Cor. 9:20-21: the Jews are under the Law; the Gentiles are without law. Paul is not under the Law, but neither lawless. He is in the law of Christ. This is plain, clear and simple.
I am an incurable Bible student. I need to have more than one Scripture on a truth; two or three witnesses are a minimum. The truth also has to fit the totality, and must not contradict other clear statements in the Word of God. Sometimes it may seem as though the Bible contradicts itself, but that is only because we do not see the whole context. The Word of God is always in harmony with itself.
So then, the Word of God divides people into three groups, and different laws rule each of these groups. Bearing this in mind we can easily understand that we must address these three groups differently. This is why it is a good idea to ask ourselves some questions when we study the Bible, to better understand the context.
Questions to ask when studying the Bible
A simple, fundamental rule to understand the Scriptures is to simply ask:
Who is speaking?
To whom are they speaking?
What are they speaking about?
The first question is: “Who is speaking?”
God has allowed many people to be quoted in the Bible, including the fool. Even the devil is quoted many times. In the book of Job there are several voices that are allowed. But it is important to see that God is rebuking them in chapter 42, saying, “…you have not spoken of Me what is right…” And Job himself is saying, “I have heard of You by the hearing of the ear, But now my eye sees You. Therefore I abhor myself, And repent in dust and ashes” (Job 42:5-6). This is useful information. You have to read the first 41 chapters of the book of Job in the light of this; only then are you rightly dividing the Word of Truth.
God has allowed us to join a search where the truth is finally revealed. Other poetical books are also like this – for example, the Ecclesiastes. It is important to understand that it is not God who is proclaiming, “All is vanity!” It is the preacher in this book who is saying this in a period of life where he was frustrated, searching for the truth. God allows us to take part in the process, and many people are recognizing themselves.
The second question is: “To whom are they speaking?” When Timothy is told to drink some wine for his stomach, it is not meant as a command for all of us to drink wine. On the other hand, the apostle Paul is interpreting the law of love regarding this issue in Romans 14, and the conclusion is: walk in love!
Much of what Jesus said in the Gospels must also be studied in the light of to whom he was speaking. Often he answered questions from the Pharisees, and obviously his answers would relate to Jews under the Law and not to Christian Gentiles after Pentecost. He clearly stated, “I was not sent except to the lost sheep of the house of Israel.”
Of course the teachings of Jesus carry significance for us today. But we have to learn to rightly divide the Word of truth. We have to read it in its context. For example, when Jesus spoke to the rich young man that he would be saved by keeping the commandments, he said this because he was speaking to a Jew living under the Old Covenant. He knew, of course, that no one trying to live according to the Law would be able to save himself. But in this specific incident, he related his answer to God’s message to the Jews. Today his answer to the rich young man would have been totally different. Now the message is, “For whoever calls on the name of the LORD shall be saved” (Rom. 10:13). “Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ, and you will be saved…” (Acts 16:31).
I believe you can see the importance of knowing the answers to these questions, and also to the third question: “What are they speaking about?” Many times Jesus was speaking about the Law to the people under the Law, and naturally its application to a born-again Gentile under the law of Christ is not the same. All of this will help us to present ourselves as workers who rightly divide the Word of Truth. But there is more.
The Bible is divided into the Old and the New Testaments. When the New Testament is referring to “the Scriptures,” it is referring to the Old Testament. That was the Bible they had at that time. The New Testament was not yet written. Jesus often said, “It is written” or “Have you not read?”
In Acts we can read about the people in Berea, and how they “received the word with all readiness, and searched the Scriptures daily to find out whether these things were so” (Acts 17:11).
The Apostle Paul used the Scriptures in his ministry, “for he vigorously refuted the Jews publicly, showing from the Scriptures that Jesus is the Christ” (Acts 18:28).
So it is obvious then that it is of present interest for a Christian to search the Scriptures—the Old Testament. We love the Bible from cover to cover.
But now we are able to read it in a new light. Now we have the New Testament, and the New Testament gives the answer to what the Old Testament was pointing towards. The Bible explains that all the things that happened to the people in Old Testament time happened to them as examples for us who live now (1 Cor. 10:11).
The Gospels and the Acts of the Apostles
The first part of the New Testament is a revelation of the life of Jesus. We are able to study His life and teachings and see what He did for us. It is wonderful to closely follow the Son of God, and know that he came to show us who God really is. The disciples wrote this down according to what the Holy Spirit wanted them to write. Their mission was to record the life and whereabouts of Jesus.
The Acts of the Apostles is the next book. It is the history of the first Christians. The words and promises of Jesus are put into operation at this point, and the foundation of the New Testament church is laid. This is powerful reading!
Nevertheless, there are some important issues one has to be aware of. During the time of the Gospels, the New Covenant was not yet in operation. This is why Jesus so definitely says that he was only sent to the Jews. His earthly ministry was only directed toward them, even though His life, death and resurrection also apply to us, the Gentiles far away (Matt. 15:24, Matt. 10:5-6). It is important to understand that Jesus often spoke about the Law to the people under the Law, and that what He said, therefore, does not always apply to us living after Calvary.
Let me give you another example to clearly portray to you the radical effect Calvary brought forth.
He Forgave Us, that We Might Forgive Others
Before Calvary, when Jesus taught His disciples how to pray “before Pentecost,” you will notice that to receive forgiveness you first had to give forgiveness. The initiative was with you, and it was man who first had to forgive and love, then God would forgive. Read Matt. 6:12, 14-15.
The message is very clear. You will not receive forgiveness unless you first forgive. This has led to great agony among people who have had a hard time in forgiving parents that abused them as children, or unfaithful spouses who let their loved ones down. Many counselors have forced a half-hearted forgiveness from people in order for those people to be forgiven.
But the Gospel brings good news. It brings forgiveness to the tormented soul, and releases a true forgiveness toward those we need to forgive. Here is the message: “And be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, just as God in Christ forgave you” (Eph. 4:32).
After Calvary the order has changed! Now we are not supposed to forgive to receive forgiveness, but we are supposed to forgive as a fruit of already being forgiven.
His finished work declares that by His sacrifice He has already made atonement for the sins of the world, and we have been forgiven at the cross. “Because He first loved us, we love Him” (1 John 4:19). It does not begin with us – it started with Him. To understand this difference is to understand the Gospel itself.
“In this is love, not that we loved God, but that He loved us and sent His Son to be the propitiation for our sins” (1 John 4:10).
“But God demonstrates His own love toward us, in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us” (Rom. 5:8).
It started with God, not with us. He loved us first, He forgave us first, and He died for us while we were still sinners.
Col. 3:13 confirms Eph. 4:32 so wonderfully: “Bearing with one another, and forgiving one another, if anyone has a complaint against another; even as Christ forgave you, so you also must do” (Col. 3:13).
Again it is very clear who is the first party to forgive. It is Christ who already has forgiven us. This is why we should forgive. The redemption makes the difference; now we can build on what He already has done. And His love has been poured out in our hearts, enabling us to forgive others (Rom. 5:5).
Do you see the big difference that came after Calvary? The cross has left its eternal marks on history, and a new and better covenant has come with a new and better foundation.
The revelation was not yet given
The revelation that Paul later received about the church, and about the gospel to the Gentiles, was not yet revealed while Jesus was walking on the earth. It is, therefore, not written in the four Gospels. Jesus shows us some glimpses of it, but it is not revealed. He gives some prophetic “signals” about it, especially in the Gospel of John, but he says, “I still have many things to say to you, but you cannot bear them now.”
Jesus is often pointing toward the division in time that was to come after his death, and says, “These things I have spoken to you in figurative language; but the time is coming when I will no longer speak to you in figurative language, but I will tell you plainly about the Father. In that day you will ask in My name…” (John 16:25-26).
He also said, “I still have many things to say to you, but you cannot bear them now. However, when He, the Spirit of truth, has come, He will guide you into all truth” (John 16:12-13).
The Spirit had to come before we could be guided into all truth. This is why the Bible could not be fulfilled before after the Spirit had come, and the apostle Paul was commissioned to “fulfill the Word of God.”
Jesus had many things to say that He did not get a chance to share while He was here, but now He has shared it by revealing Himself to Paul. At this time He has explained to us plainly and openly about the meaning of His life and His sacrifice, and not in figurative language (John 16:25).
The Testament is in Force After Death
In reality it is a revelation that makes the pieces fall into place. The revelation is to understand the significance of the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ!
This is why the apostle Paul is saying “Jesus Christ was clearly portrayed among you as crucified,” and how he determined “not to know anything among you except Jesus Christ and Him crucified.” And he will not boast “except in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ.”
Look at what the Bible says: “For where there is a testament, there must also of necessity be the death of the testator. For a testament is in force after men are dead, since it has no power at all while the testator lives” (Heb. 9:16-17).
So the New Covenant comes into force at the end of the Gospels. We get a glimpse of it in the Gospel of John, especially in the last chapters. There Jesus is prophesying about how it will be after the Spirit has come.
The covenants of God are “covenants of blood,” so the New Covenant could not start before Jesus had died and given his blood.
The Bible needs to be read in the light of this central issue: the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ. It needs also to be read in the light of the fact that Jesus entered the Most Holy Place, into heaven itself, with His own blood, and sat down as High Priest for all the blessings of salvation we now live in. When He was seated in heaven, the Spirit was poured out. That is when “the covenant of the Spirit” could start.
The Glories After the Cross of Jesus
The apostle Peter teaches the same thing as the apostle Paul, namely about the cross as a division in time. He writes: “Of this salvation the prophets have inquired and searched carefully, who prophesied of the grace that would come to you, searching what, or what manner of time, the Spirit of Christ who was in them was indicating when He testified beforehand the sufferings of Christ and the glories that would follow” (1 Pet. 1:10-11).
In other words, the time they saw was the sufferings of Christ (the cross) and the glories that would follow. They prophesied about a certain time period and they searched what, or what manner of time, they were prophesying about. They saw in advance the glories that we now live in – we who live after Pentecost, in the time of the New Covenant.
The time from John the Baptist Until Pentecost
If we read even more carefully, we will come to see that the time from John the Baptist until Pentecost is another division in time. At that time the Gospel of the kingdom of God was preached, and it was possible to “press into it” or “take it by force.”
“The law and the prophets were until John. Since that time the kingdom of God has been preached, and everyone is pressing into it” (Luke 16:16).
“Assuredly, I say to you, among those born of women there has not risen one greater than John the Baptist; but he who is least in the kingdom of heaven is greater than he. And from the days of John the Baptist until now the kingdom of heaven suffers violence, and the violent take it by force” (Matt. 11:11-12).
Some people read this and believe that the New Covenant started with John the Baptist, but then one is not “rightly dividing the word of truth.”
Firstly, Matt. 11:11 shows that John the Baptist was not born-again and because of that he was lesser than the least in the kingdom. You need to be born-again to enter the kingdom of heaven (John 3:3-5), and it was impossible to be born-again before the resurrection of Jesus. Jesus had to rise from the dead, “that He might be the firstborn among many brethren” (Rom. 8:29 and Col. 1:18).
However, in the time period from John the Baptist to Pentecost, one could take the blessings of the kingdom by force. This is why people at that time experienced forgiveness of sins and healing more than ever before. Even Gentiles, who were not among “the children” whom the bread belonged to, that is the Jews, took the kingdom by force – even though the Gentiles were called “dogs” (ref. Matt. 15:22-28).
The time period from John the Baptist to Pentecost was a very important interim period. Jesus was walking on the earth and the kingdom of God was at hand.
However, a totally new time started after Calvary. Now the enmity is abolished, the Gentiles are included, and He has conveyed us into the kingdom of God.
Jesus Prophesied a Lot About the Time We Are Living In
When Jesus was about to leave, he spoke about the New Covenant and the time after Pentecost. He said, “And I bestow upon you a kingdom, just as My Father bestowed one upon Me” (Luk. 22:29).
“Do not fear, little flock, for it is your Father’s good pleasure to give you the kingdom” (Luk. 12.32).
“Assuredly, I say to you that there are some standing here who will not taste death till they see the kingdom of God present with power” (Mark 9:1).
In other words: The kingdom of God was to come in power, and then one no longer had to “take it by force” or “press into it.” Of course one does not have to do that when “the kingdom is bestowed upon us” and “it was the Father’s good pleasure to give us the kingdom.” We have been given a full share, and the time “to press into it” is over.
Conveyed Into the Kingdom of God
Look at how different this is after Calvary: “He has delivered us from the power of darkness and conveyed us into the kingdom of the Son of His love” (Col. 1:13).
This happened without any effort on our part; we were conveyed into his kingdom. It was He that performed it – not us. We did not have to take it by force – He placed us into it. Now we are placed in the kingdom of the Son of His love, so obviously we are not standing on the outside trying to press in or take it by force. We have already been conveyed into the kingdom. We are inside, not outside! We do not take it by force – we live in it. When we are preaching that the Christians have to press into it (Luke 16:16 and Matt. 11:12), we are ignoring the very work of Christ, as it is presented in Col. 1:13.
The Gospel according to Paul – in red-letter edition
A few years ago our church had the privilege to host a meeting with the famous evangelist Dr. T.L. Osborn. During our conversation, he mentioned something that bore witness to my heart. He said he wished somebody would print a red-letter edition of the letters of the apostle Paul, where everything Paul says about the redemption and the work of the cross would be printed in red, and the rest would be printed in black. He said that we have the Gospels according to Matthew, Mark, Luke and John, but the gospel to the Gentiles – that is us – is the gospel according to Paul, and that, too, should be printed in red-letter edition.
You see, Matthew, Mark, Luke and John mainly tell us what happened “physically” in relation to the death and resurrection of Jesus. We read about the crucifixion, the grave, the resurrection, the angels, and about the resurrected Jesus that reveals Himself.
But it is the apostle Paul who shows us the spiritual consequence of what happened! He explains that we died with Christ, rose with Him, and were seated with Him in Heaven.
He is showing us the depths of the redemption, and is explaining that Jesus was made sin for us that we might become the righteousness of God in Him. His letters reveal who we are in Christ and what Christ is in us.
The mystery of the Church is revealed, and all the pieces are put together so that we might see the whole picture in a way that was hidden in previous times. This includes the time of the Gospels and the time when Jesus walked here on the earth.
This is why the letters of Paul should have a special place in the lives of us who used to be Gentiles but now are part of the Church. We have been grafted into the vine, and Paul, the “apostle to the Gentiles,” has been given the task of revealing the gospel to the “uncircumcised.”
This is not to reduce the significance of the Old Testament or of the Gospels, but to encourage us to read the Bible in the light of the Bible! If we miss the revelation in the Bible and in God’s plan of salvation, we have read the Bible through shaded glasses that dim the view. There are a lot of shaded religious glasses that tradition and religious communities have given us.
You may wonder why I say that the letters of Paul should be printed in red, the same color in which the words of Jesus are printed in the Gospels. Maybe you feel this exaggerates the importance of Paul. And you may wonder why I say that only part of his letters should be printed in red – not all his writings. Let’s look at it.
Firstly, Paul is writing to explain his revelation of the Gospel. He did not receive this from a man, but from Jesus Christ Himself (Gal. 1:11-12).
Secondly, he is writing after the Counselor has come. And now Jesus can share with us everything He wanted to tell us, but could not, during the time He was here. “The Day” that Jesus looked toward and pointed to has come (John 16:25).
So, in fact, Paul is only a secretary. He is writing down the revelation he got directly from the resurrected Jesus. We have to understand the Pauline revelation. It is not Paul who is important, but the revelation Jesus gave to him. It is not the secretary who is great, but the one who is dictating the book. This is why these words also can be printed in red. We do not praise Paul. On the contrary, we praise Jesus, who was the One who called and anointed the apostle Paul and gave him the mission of fulfilling the Word of God, as previously mentioned.
Thirdly, Paul is called the apostle to the Gentiles, and was the one God called in a specific way to preach to the Gentiles, the uncircumcised, just as Peter was called to the circumcised. The fact that the Gentiles were to be included was part of the mystery that was revealed to Paul. We will look into that later, but my point here is that Paul was planting churches, and the Bible says he had a “deep concern for all the churches” (2 Cor. 11:28). As a father of the churches he wrote letters to help them with certain issues regarding everyday life in the churches. He needed to talk about certain things to the church in Corinth, and other things to other churches. In the letters to Timothy he is encouraging and instructing Timothy on how to be a leader in the church. These things are certainly important to us, and we learn a lot from them, but they are not part of the mystery that had been hidden from ages and from generations.
Therefore, these passages would not have to be printed in red.
In Ephesians 1 and 2 we can find a concentrated version of the message Paul was given (as Paul also explains in Eph. 3:1-6). In Eph. 1 and 2 there is just a short greeting, and then he goes “straight to the point,” so to speak. There is no mention of human relation’s issues or the like. Paul says, “When you read, you may understand my knowledge in the mystery of Christ.” These two chapters are the very essence of the mystery that was revealed to Paul.
I want to always stay focused on the gospel of grace, and, therefore, a week never passes without me reading these two chapters. Paul is elaborating on the message throughout all his letters. The red letters would be found in many other places, but all of Ephesians 1 and 2 would have to be printed in red.
The Letters of Peter and James
It was not only Paul who wrote the New Testament. If we assume that Paul is the writer of the letter to the Hebrews, there are still the letters of Peter, James, and John. These are also given by God and are profitable for edification, exhortation and comfort.
But in Gal. 2:7-8 we read about a division of labor. Peter had a calling to the circumcised, and James was the pastor of the church in Jerusalem – a church full of messianic Jews. According to Acts 21:20 many of these were “zealous for the law.”
Naturally, the letters of Peter and James were mainly writings to this group of people. The introductions to these letters are in fact telling that they are meant for saved Jews. That is also the case for the letter to the Hebrews.
These letters are also the Word of God. And they have a message to the Gentiles, too. We just have to remember that they are written to “the circumcised,” while Paul mainly wrote to “the uncircumcised.” Then we will remember to read the Bible in light of the words of the Bible, and we will rightly divide the Word of Truth.
The Letters of John and the Revelation of John
In fact the letters of John are in their own league. He, too, had a calling to the circumcised. But according to church history, John moved to Ephesus in his latter days. So in the book of Revelation we can see that he was in contact with the churches in Asia Minor. These were churches that Paul and his fellow workers had planted and kept influencing. Some historians claim that Timothy began to cooperate closely with John after the death of Paul in about 67 A.D. Timothy was grateful for the teaching of John which was a powerful antidote to that of the Gnostics. This teaching is shining forth through the letters of John. We can also see that John is very much in line with the teaching of Paul about the new creation and the new commandment.
The whole Bible is the Word of God and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction and for instruction in righteousness, but the sum of what the New Covenant is all about was revealed through Paul.
“All Scripture is given by inspiration of God” (2 Tim. 3:16). But we have to read the Bible in light of what it says itself.