The twenty-seven books of the New Testament are divided into three groups of nine books each. This was foretold by the design of the Temple Lampstand given in Exodus 25. Just as Genesis opens subjects that are closed in the Revelation, Matthew opens the earthly ministry of Jesus, which is concluded in the Revelation.
The first group of nine books, Matthew through Galatians, addresses Jewish subjects. Although some of these books are addressed to Gentile churches (Rome, for example) their subject matter is for Jewish Christians. The book of Galatians, while written to a Gentile church, deals largely with circumcision and the struggle between Gentile Christians and those Jews who thought you had to become a Jew before you could become a Christian.
The last group of nine also speaks to Jewish subjects. The first book of this group is Hebrews. James is addressed “to the twelve tribes scattered among the nations.” First Peter is addressed to people from Pontus, Cappadocia, etc. in Asia Minor. People from these countries were in Jerusalem on the Day of Pentecost (Acts 2:9). In other words, Peter is probably addressing Jews. The last book is the Revelation which brings history to culmination, and includes Jesus reigning as King of kings and Lord of lords on the throne in Jerusalem. This not only brings a conclusion to history, but it also fulfills much prophecy!
The middle group of nine begins with Ephesians and ends with Philemon, and is addressed to Gentile Christians. We Gentiles are a parenthetical insertion in the great plan of the Lord. In Ephesians Paul specifically speaks to Gentiles. (Ephesians 3:1) Philemon, one of my favorite books, is about the Church going Home.
This middle group of nine books is a picture of Gentile Christianity, sandwiched in the middle of the relation between God and His chosen people. This group also illustrates the saying of Jesus, “The first will be last and the last, first.” The Hebrew people, later known as Jews, received the Word of God first, but will be the last to fully understand and benefit from it.
The last book in this middle group is the small, read-it-in-three-minutes, book of Philemon. Written by Paul while he was in prison, it addresses a Brother-in-Christ, Philemon, who had a slave, Onesimus. Onesimus had apparently run away from his owner and was with Paul in Rome. He was sent home by Paul with a letter declaring him to be like a son. Paul urges Philemon to treat Onesimus as a brother, rather than a slave. Paul also offered to pay the debts of Onesimus.
The name Onesimus, who was useless to his owner at one time, means “useful” and he is a type of the Church. We were of little use before we received Salvation and the Lord included us in His spiritual family. Now we are family members, sons of God, and are useful for whatever His plan may be for each of us.
In this book Paul is a type of Jesus. He petitioned Philemon that he would forgive the sins of Onesimus. Jesus is our advocate before the Lord. (First John 2:1) Paul offered to pay any debts of Onesimus. Jesus paid all of our debts.
The story in Philemon is a beautiful picture of the Church being sent Home to Heaven. We are servants or slaves, formerly useless like Onesimus. Because of Jesus, who speaks well of us before the Lord, we are directed toward our Home in Heaven, our debts paid. There is no way we can praise His name enough!