SHORT CHRISTIAN READINGS SELECTED FOR FORMER JEHOVAH'S WITNESSES
What Did Jesus Teach?
By David A. Reed
EDITOR'S NOTE: Readers should keep in mind that Jesus' earthly ministry was almost exclusively directed toward the Jewish people, who were still subject to the Mosaic Law, and obviously was prior to Christ's sacrificial death for ALL mankind. Differentiate between salvation by works and salvation by faith, as well as between salvation by faith and sanctification.
"... Jesus began to preach, and to say, 'Repent! For the Kingdom of Heaven is at hand.'" -- Matthew 4:17.
The word repent means to feel sorry for your past conduct, to regret or feel conscience-stricken about your past actions, attitudes, etc. -- with such sorrow that you want to change your life for the better. Jesus began his ministry with a call for people to repent, and he also concluded his ministry by instructing his early followers to preach that same message:
"He told them, 'This is what is written: The Christ will suffer and rise from the dead on the third day, and repentance and forgiveness of sins will be preached in his name to all nations, beginning at Jerusalem.'" -- Luke 24:46-47 NIV.
For people to repent from their sins means for them to be so sorry for their sins that they would quit practicing them and change their hearts and lives for the better. The call to "Repent!" was the opening theme of Jesus' teaching. It was also his closing theme -- the message he assigned his followers to preach. So, this message of "repentance and forgiveness of sins" was the central theme of Jesus' preaching, the main point he wanted us to learn and to preach to others.
What else did Jesus teach? His other teachings all revolved around different aspects of repenting from our sins and receiving forgiveness for our sins. If we go through the four Gospels and analyze his words by topic, we find that Jesus devoted some of his teaching to:
-- salvation (about 4% of the words he spoke),
-- the Kingdom of God (2%),
-- the new covenant that he would institute (1%), and
-- instructions for his followers to carry on their ministry (4%).
But most of his words dealt with three major topics:
-- discussing or proving by miracles his identity as the Messiah, the Son of God, the Savior who would save us from our sins (31%);
-- outlining the behavior or conduct that God expects of us, so that we would be able to distinguish good behavior from sinful behavior (25%);
-- and discussing rewards and punishments based on people's behavior or conduct (32%).
Jesus' words concerning rewards and punishments actually fall into three categories:
-- punishment for that generation of Jews that sinned by rejecting Jesus (12%),
-- and rewards and punishments people will receive after death (9%),
-- or when Christ returns to judge this world (11%).
So, with 25% of Jesus' recorded words in the Gospels outlining the behavior God expects of us, and another 32% discussing rewards and punishments based on this conduct, that adds up to 57% of Jesus' message focusing on human behavior and its consequences, whether good or bad. It is clear, then, that we have a lot to learn from reading Jesus' words, and that what we learn should affect the way we live our lives.
To see all of Jesus' teachings, please read the four Gospels of Matthew, Mark, Luke and John. Meanwhile, here are a few sample excerpts to whet your appetite, so that you will go on to pick up the Bible and read the rest for yourself:
"Blessed are those who hunger and thirst after righteousness, for they shall be filled. Blessed are the merciful, for they shall obtain mercy. Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God. Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called children of God. Blessed are those who have been persecuted for righteousness' sake, for theirs is the Kingdom of Heaven. ... Blessed are you when people reproach you, persecute you, and say all kinds of evil against you falsely, for my sake. Rejoice, and be exceedingly glad, for great is your reward in heaven. For that is how they persecuted the prophets who were before you." -- Matthew 5:6-12.
"But woe to you who are rich! For you have received your consolation. Woe to you, you who are full now, for you will be hungry. Woe to you who laugh now, for you will mourn and weep. Woe, when men speak well of you, for their fathers did the same thing to the false prophets." -- Luke 6:24-26.
"But woe to you, Pharisees! For you tithe mint and rue and every herb, but you bypass justice and the love of God. You ought to have done these, and not to have left the other undone. Woe to you, Pharisees! For you love the best seats in the synagogues, and the greetings in the marketplaces. Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you are like hidden graves, and the men who walk o'ver them don't know it."
"One of the lawyers answered him, 'Teacher, in saying this, you insult us also.'" ... He said, 'Woe to you lawyers also! For you load men with burdens that are difficult to carry, and you yourselves won't even lift one finger to help carry those burdens.'" -- Luke 11:42-46.
These excerpts from Jesus' teachings help us appreciate why many rich political and religious leaders, like the scribes and Pharisees, hated him and wanted to kill him.
"You have heard that it was said, 'An eye for an eye, and a tooth for a tooth.' But I tell you, don't resist him who is evil; but whoever strikes you on your right cheek, turn to him the other also. If anyone sues you to take away your coat, let him have your cloak also. Whoever compels you to go one mile, go with him two. Give to him who asks you, and don't turn away him who desires to borrow from you.
"You have heard that it was said, 'You shall love your neighbor, and hate your enemy.' But I tell you, love your enemies, bless those who curse you, do good to those who hate you, and pray for those who mistreat you and persecute you, that you may be children of your Father who is in heaven. For he makes his sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the just and the unjust. For if you love those who love you, what reward do you have?'" -- Matthew 5:38-46.
"Whenever you stand praying, forgive, if you have anything against anyone; so that your Father, who is in heaven, may also forgive you your transgressions. But if you do not forgive, neither will your Father in heaven forgive your transgressions." -- Mark 11:25-26.
"Then Peter came and said to him, 'Lord, how often shall my brother sin against me, and I forgive him? Until seven times?' Jesus said to him, 'I don't tell you until seven times, but, until seventy times seven.'
"Therefore the Kingdom of Heaven is like a certain king, who wanted to reconcile accounts with his servants. When he had begun to reconcile, one was brought to him who owed him ten thousand talents. But because he couldn't pay, his lord commanded him to be sold, with his wife, his children, and all that he had, and payment to be made. The servant therefore fell down and kneeled before him, saying, 'Lord, have patience with me, and I will repay you all!'
"The lord of that servant, being moved with compassion, released him, and forgave him the debt.
"But that servant went out, and found one of his fellow servants, who owed him one hundred denarii, and he grabbed him, and took him by the throat, saying, 'Pay me what you owe!' So his fellow servant fell down at his feet and begged him, saying, 'Have patience with me, and I will repay you!' He would not, but went and cast him into prison, until he should pay back that which was due. So when his fellow servants saw what was done, they were exceedingly sorry, and came and told to their lord all that was done. Then his lord called him in, and said to him, 'You wicked servant! I forgave you all that debt, because you begged me. Shouldn't you also have had mercy on your fellow servant, even as I had mercy on you?' His lord was angry, and delivered him to the tormentors, until he should pay all that was due to him.
"So my heavenly Father will also do to you, if you don't each forgive your brother from your hearts for his misdeeds.'" -- Matthew 18:21-35.
These excerpts from Jesus' teachings also teach us the way we should live: being merciful and loving toward others, just as Jesus is merciful and loving toward us. (But his mercy and love do not excuse wickedness. Jesus condemned wicked conduct and called sinners to repent of their sins. So should we.)
"Be careful that you don't do your charitable giving before men, to be seen by them, or else you have no reward from your Father who is in heaven. Therefore when you do merciful deeds, don't sound a trumpet before yourself, as the hypocrites do in the synagogues and in the streets, that they may get glory from men. Most certainly I tell you, they have received their reward. But when you do merciful deeds, don't let your left hand know what your right hand does, so that your merciful deeds may be in secret, then your Father who sees in secret will reward you openly.
"When you pray, you shall not be as the hypocrites, for they love to stand and pray in the synagogues and in the corners of the streets, that they may be seen by men. Most certainly, I tell you, they have received their reward. But you, when you pray, enter into your inner room, and having shut your door, pray to your Father who is in secret, and your Father who sees in secret will reward you openly.'" -- Matthew 6:1-6.
"Don't lay up treasures for yourselves on the earth, where moth and rust consume, and where thieves break through and steal; but lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust consume, and where thieves don't break through and steal; for where your treasure is, there your heart will be also." -- Matthew 6:19-21.
"He also said to the one who had invited him, 'When you make a dinner or a supper, don't call your friends, nor your brothers, nor your kinsmen, nor rich neighbors, or perhaps they might also return the favor, and pay you back. But when you make a feast, ask the poor, the maimed, the lame, or the blind; and you will be blessed, because they don't have the resources to repay you. For you will be repaid in the resurrection of the righteous." -- Luke 14:12-14.
"See the birds of the sky, that they don't sow, neither do they reap, nor gather into barns. Your heavenly Father feeds them. Aren't you of much more value than they?
"Which of you, by being anxious, can add one moment to his life-span? Why are you anxious about clothing? Consider the lilies of the field, how they grow. They don't toil, neither do they spin, yet I tell you that even Solomon in all his glory was not dressed like one of these. But if God so clothes the grass of the field, which today exists, and tomorrow is thrown into the oven, won't he much more clothe you, you of little faith?
"Therefore don't be anxious, saying, 'What will we eat?', 'What will we drink?' or, 'with what will we be clothed?' For the Gentiles seek after all these things; for your heavenly Father knows that you need all these things. But seek first God's Kingdom, and his righteousness; and all these things will be given to you as well.
"Therefore don't be anxious for tomorrow, for tomorrow will be anxious for itself. Each day's own evil is sufficient.'" -- Matthew 6:26-34.
"They were bringing to him little children, that he should touch them, but the disciples rebuked those who were bringing them. But when Jesus saw it, he was moved with indignation, and said to them, 'Allow the little children to come to me! Don't forbid them, for the Kingdom of God belongs to such as these. Most certainly I tell you, whoever will not receive the Kingdom of God like a little child, he will in no way enter into it.' He took them in his arms, and blessed them, laying his hands on them." -- Mark 10:13-16.
"Again, the Kingdom of Heaven is like a dragnet, that was cast into the sea, and gathered some fish of every kind, which, when it was filled, they drew up on the beach. They sat down, and gathered the good into containers, but the bad they threw away. So will it be in the end of the world. The angels will come forth, and separate the wicked from among the righteous, and will cast them into the furnace of fire. There will be the weeping and the gnashing of teeth." -- Matthew 13:47-50.
So, Jesus did not teach "universal salvation" (that [eventually] everyone [or nearly everyone] will be saved and enjoy rewards [either on a paradise earth, or] in heaven). Rather, wicked and disobedient people will face punishment after this life. This was a constant theme of Jesus' teaching, although it is not a popular message today. He makes this point very clear in the following passage:
"But when the Son of Man comes in his glory, and all the holy angels with him, then he will sit on the throne of his glory. Before him all the nations will be gathered, and he will separate them one from another, as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats. He will set the sheep on his right hand, but the goats on the left.
"Then the King will tell those on his right hand, 'Come, blessed of my Father, inherit the Kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world; for I was hungry, and you gave me food to eat. I was thirsty, and you gave me drink. I was a stranger, and you took me in. I was naked, and you clothed me. I was sick, and you visited me. I was in prison, and you came to me.'
"Then the righteous will answer him, saying, 'Lord, when did we see you hungry, and feed you; or thirsty, and give you a drink? When did we see you as a stranger, and take you in; or naked, and clothe you? When did we see you sick, or in prison, and come to you?'
"The King will answer them, 'Most certainly I tell you, inasmuch as you did it to one of the least of these my brothers, you did it to me.'
"Then he will say also to those on the left hand, 'Depart from me, you cursed, into the eternal fire which is prepared for the devil and his angels; for I was hungry, and you didn't give me food to eat; I was thirsty, and you gave me no drink; I was a stranger, and you didn't take me in; naked, and you didn't clothe me; sick, and in prison, and you didn't visit me.'
Then they will also answer, saying, 'Lord, when did we see you hungry, or thirsty, or a stranger, or naked, or sick, or in prison, and didn't help you?'
Then he will answer them, saying, 'Most certainly I tell you, inasmuch as you didn't do it to one of the least of these, you didn't do it to me.'
These will go away into eternal punishment, but the righteous into eternal life.'" -- Matthew 25:31-46.
Jesus warned that his faithful followers would also be hated, just as he was hated, and that some would be killed. But he encouraged us to remain faithful and to trust in him. God's Spirit will carry us through our times of trial, and we will receive our reward in heaven with Jesus:
"Behold, I send you out as sheep in the midst of wolves. Therefore be wise as serpents, and harmless as doves. But beware of men: for they will deliver you up to councils, and in their synagogues they will scourge you. Yes, and you will be brought before governors and kings for my sake, for a testimony to them and to the nations. But when they deliver you up, don't be anxious how or what you will say, for it will be given you in that hour what you will say. For it is not you who speak, but the Spirit of your Father who speaks in you.
"Brother will deliver up brother to death, and the father his child. Children will rise up against parents, and cause them to be put to death. You will be hated by all men for my name's sake, but he who endures to the end will be saved.'" -- Matthew 10:16-22.
"Don't be afraid of those who kill the body, but are not able to kill the soul. Rather, fear him who is able to destroy both soul and body in Gehenna."Aren't two sparrows sold for an assarion coin? Not one of them falls on the ground apart from your Father's will, but the very hairs of your head are all numbered. Therefore don't be afraid. You are of more value than many sparrows.
"Everyone therefore who confesses me before men, him I will also confess before my Father who is in heaven. But whoever denies me before men, him I will also deny before my Father who is in heaven.'" -- Matthew 10:28-33.
"Do you think that I have come to give peace in the earth? I tell you, no, but rather division. For from now on, there will be five in one house divided, three against two, and two against three. They will be divided, father against son, and son against father; mother against daughter, and daughter against her mother; mother-in-law against her daughter-in-law, and daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law." -- Luke 12:51-53.
"He called the multitude to himself with his disciples, and said to them, 'Whoever wants to come after me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross, and follow me. For whoever wants to save his life will lose it; and whoever will lose his life for my sake and the sake of the Good News will save it. For what does it profit a man, to gain the whole world, and forfeit his life? For what will a man give in exchange for his life? For whoever will be ashamed of me and of my words in this adulterous and sinful generation, the Son of Man also will be ashamed of him, when he comes in the glory of his Father with the holy angels.'" -- Mark 8:34-38.
So, Jesus' teachings invite us to follow him, even at great personal cost to ourselves -- perhaps even at the expense of our life. Following him involves trusting in him for salvation and adhering faithfully to the things Jesus taught.
"He said to them, 'Thus it is written, and thus it was necessary for the Christ to suffer and to rise from the dead the third day, and that repentance and remission of sins should be preached in his name to all the nations, beginning at Jerusalem." -- Luke 24:46-47.
True Christianity still preaches this same message today -- the Gospel message that calls people to repent of their sins and receive forgiveness through Christ. These few excerpts are only a sample of the things Jesus taught. You owe it to yourself and to God, to read the New Testament for yourself. In that way you will receive Jesus' teachings in their original context, and you will read how his first followers went on to explain those teachings. Read the Bible prayerfully -- asking for insight, for understanding, for faith to believe, and for faith to act in obedience to Jesus and his teachings.