The Theme – The Gospels present viewpoints on Christ that help us understand His life and mission.
Each of the four Gospels recount the story of Jesus Christ, and each have their own emphasis and contributes to our full understanding of the life of Christ, by four different authors. They were written between A.D. 50-65, with the exception of John’s Gospel, which was written around A.D. 85-90. The Gospel of Matthew presents undeniable evidence that Jesus Christ is the promised Messiah. This book forms the joining link between Old and New Testament, focusing on the fulfillment of prophecy.
Through a dramatic and action-packed sequence of events, the Gospel of Mark shows us Jesus the Servant. Luke’s Gospel was written to give a reliable and precise record of Jesus Christ’s life, revealing not only his humanity but his perfection as a human. The Gospel of John gives an up-close and personal look at Christ’s identity as the Son of God.
Our study will help us to see the different emphasis and perception of the Gospels from the eyes of four writers that recorded Christ’ life. We will also take a look at the writers of these four books and what purposes they had in mind when they wrote about Jesus Christ. They are biographies of Christ and tell us of His death on the cross and His resurrection from the grave. The Holy Spirit inspired all, and all are part of the Word of God. But they are also, different. No two are exactly alike. The four Gospels differ in subject matter, vocabulary, and the order in which events are recorded.
Though all are different, three of the Gospels are somewhat like each other in their content. They are called the synoptic Gospels. The word “synoptic” means “having the same view.” The three synoptic Gospels are Matthew, Mark and Luke. The Gospel of John is quite different in what it records about Jesus Christ. It does not contradict the first three, but rather gives added material not found in them
THE GOSPEL OF MATTHEW – (For the Jewish Audience)
The first gospel account found in the New Testament is the Gospel of Matthew. The theme of the book of Matthew is Christ, the King! Date of writing is A. D. 50.
- The Place of Matthew
Matthew was not necessarily the first gospel account to be written. Rather, Matthew was placed first because it bridges the gap between the Old and New Testaments. Matthew is a New Testament book, but over and over its writer went back to the Old Testament to draw out quotations and allusions to show that Jesus Christ is the fulfillment of Old Testament Messianic prophecies. For this reason, Matthew often wrote, “Now all this was done, that it might be fulfilled which was spoken of the Lord by the prophet, saying … (Matthew 1:22).
- The Writer
Matthew, called also Levi (Mark 2:14), was the writer of the first Gospel. His name appears 7th or 8th in the New Testament lists of the apostles (Matthew 10:3; Mark 3:18; Luke 6:15). Matthew was a publican, a Jew who collected taxes for the Roman government before he was called by Christ to be an apostle. Thus, He was despised by devoted Jews.
- Matthew’s Portrait of Christ
Matthew wrote his gospel account to tell others about the Lord Jesus Christ. His primary audience was written originally for the Jews, the Gospel of Matthew presents Christ as the Son of David and the Son of Abraham. Because He is portrayed as King, His genealogy is traced to King David; and the place of His birth, Bethlehem, the home of David, is emphasized.
Matthew tells us that when the wise men arrived in Jerusalem, they asked, “Where is he that is born King of the Jews?” And while the other gospel writers often used the term “gospel,” Matthew almost without exception called it the “gospel of the kingdom.” Matthew went from working for a king to serving the King of Kings. His portrait of Christ as the prophesied king of the Jews was one he could identify with.
- Matthew’s Key Words
Seven times in this Gospel Christ is spoken of as “the son of David” (Matthew 1:1; 9:27; 12:23; 15:22; 20:30; 21:9; 22:42). Only in Matthew does Christ speak of “the throne of his glory” (Matthew 19:28; 25:31). Moreover, only here in the Gospels is Jerusalem referred to as “the holy city” (Matthew 4:5) and “the city of the great King” (Matthew 5:35). Being the Gospel of the King, Matthew is also the Gospel of the kingdom;; and in it the word “kingdom” appears more than 50 times and the expression “the kingdom of heaven,” which is found nowhere else in the New Testament, appears about 30 times.
Matthew seems definitely to have written to confirm persecuted Jewish believers in their faith and to reconcile them in their thinking that the gospel was not a rejection of Old Testament prophecies but rather an outworking of the great promises of the Covenants of Abraham and David.
The Jews needed a clear demonstration of the Messiah’s Person and work and to have objections removed which hindered unbelieving Jews. Matthew accomplished that purpose by proving the kingship of the predicted divine-human Messiah in that:
(1) He fulfilled Old Testament predictions in His person and work;
(2) He produced the credential of Israel’s King and announced teachings of the kingdom;
(3) His Person and work were rejected by the nation;
(4) He announced a new program, in His death, resurrection and Second Coming,
(5) After this present age of His building the Church,
(6) He will return to set up His kingdom.
Matthew, more than any of the Gospel writers, identified events and utterances in the life of our Lord with Old Testament predictions, e. g. (Matthew 1:22; 2:15, 17, 23; 4:14; 12:17; 13:14; 21:4; 26:54, 56; 27:9, 35).
- The Power of the King
Matthew closed his gospel account with the Great Commission. There Jesus said, “All power is given unto me in heaven and in earth. Go ye therefore, and teach all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost: teaching them to observe all things whatsoever I have commanded you: and, lo, I am with you always, even unto the end of the world” – (Matthew 28:18-22).
THE GOSPEL OF MARK – (For the Romans)
Mark is the second Gospel, and is the shortest of the four Gospels with only 16 chapters. The theme is Christ, the Servant. Date of writing A. D. 68.
- The Writer
Mark, the author of the Second Gospel, was a native of Jerusalem. His mother’s name was Mary (Acts 12:12); his father is not known to us. John Mark is not named in the Gospels but appears in The Acts when, with his uncle, Barnabas, he accompanied Paul on the first missionary journey as far as Perga, where he turned back for reasons that are not given (Acts 13:13). Rejected by Paul, he went with Barnabas to Cyprus (Acts 15:38-40). However, during Paul’s later years Mark was at his die (Colossians 4:10) and was sent for by Paul shortly before the apostle’s execution (2 Timothy 4:11). Peter referred to Mark as “my son” (1 Peter 5:13). From the early days of the church
- Mark’s Portrait of Christ
Mark wrote his gospel account with an appeal to the Romans. The Romans were men of power. They were the builders of the mightiest empire the world had seen to that day. They wanted to know if a man could do the job. So Mark portrayed Christ as the Obedient, Tireless Servant. He recorded many of Christ’s miracles to show His power. Mark is the gospel account of deeds. Reading how Jesus went from one event to another almost takes the reader’s breath away.
Mark wrote his gospel about 20 years after his failure to finish Paul’s first missionary journey (A.D. 65-68). By that time he had proven to be an obedient, tireless servant himself. Because the Romans were not very interested in the Jewish Old Testament, Mark included only about half as many references to the Old Testament as Matthew did. Mark also omitted the birth and genealogy of Christ, because they were unimportant for a servant. Mark also omitted the visit of Christ as a boy to the temple, because the Romans were not interested in mere boys. They were looking for strong men. In Mark we find Christ busy ministering to the crowds
- Mark’s Key Words
Although it is the briefest of the Gospels, Mark’s narrative is often more vivid and detailed than the parallel accounts in Matthew and Luke, e. g. the story of the maniac of Gerasa (Mark 5:1-20). Written principally for the Romans world, this Gospel presents Christ as the Servant of the Lord, sent to accomplish a specific work for God. Therefore, it is a book of deeds more than words, and contains no long discourses and few parables.
The words “straightway” and “immediately,” occur more than 40 times. The other key word of Mark is “multitude.” This word is found 17 times. Jesus was always surrounded by crowds of people; for example, “Jesus withdrew himself with his disciples to the sea: and a great multitude from Galilee followed him, and for Judaea” (3:7)
As the Servant of the Lord, Christ fulfills such Messianic prophecies as Isaiah 42:1-21; 49:1-7; 50:4-11; 52:13-53:12; Zech 3:8. Because He is presented as a servant, a genealogy is not needed. An unusual number of passages give insight into the feelings of our Lord (Mark 3:5; 7:34; 10:21). Although Christ is set forth in Mark in His servant character, the strong emphasis upon His miracles points to His power as the Son of God.
- The Wonder of the Servant
Mark is the gospel account of wonder. In this Gospel as in no other we see the multitudes hushed in awe as they saw Jesus at work and heard the gracious words that come from His lips: “And they were all amazed, insomuch that they questioned among themselves, saying, What thing is this? What new doctrine is this? For with authority commandeth he even the unclean spirits, and they do obey him. And immediately his fame spread abroad throughout the entire region round about Galilee” (1:27, 28). We, too, should stand in awe at this amazing Servant of Jehovah.
THE GOSPEL OF LUKE – (Christ the Man)
- The Book of Luke Outline:
(1) His Birth, Childhood, Early Ministry – Chapters 1:1-4:13;
(2) His Ministry in Galilee – Chapters 4:14-9:50;
(3) His Journey to Jerusalem, Ministry – Chapters 9:51-21:38;
(4) His Rejection and Death – Chapters 22:1-23:56;
(5) His Resurrection and Ascension – Chapter 24:1-53.
The third Gospel is that of Luke and is the account of the Holy Spirit. There are more references to the Spirit in Luke alone than in Matthew and Mark combined. Luke, the longest of the Gospels, was written principally for the Greeks. Its emphasis is upon the perfect humanity of Christ, whom it presents as the Son of man, the human-divine Person, and whose genealogy it traces to Adam.
He alone tells of Christ’s boyhood and reveals more of His prayer life than the other Gospels. The parables found in Luke show Christ’s concern for lost humanity. In the accounts of certain miracles that Christ performed the observation of a physician is evident. Luke is in many ways the Gospel of compassion, stressing, as it does, the Lord’s sympathy for the brokenhearted, the sick, the mistreated, and the bereaved. Luke alone records the parables of the lost sheep, the lost coin, and the lost son (Luke 15:3-32).
- The Book’s Purpose
Luke portrays Jesus as a perfect man, appealing to the Greek culture which exalted reason, philosophy, the human mind, and beauty. Luke’s writings were orderly and classical. He mentions that Jesus spent the whole night in prayer before He chose His apostles (Luke 6:12-16), unlike the other Gospel accounts.
There are statements in Luke that speak of His purity more clearly, like when the centurion said “certainly this was a righteous man” (Luke 23:47). Luke also seems to reveal Christianity as a religion for all mankind and not just the Jews. As an example, the lineage of Jesus is traced past Abraham all the way back to Adam the first man. Jesus is seen in Luke as a friend of sinners and a savior to anyone who would believe in Him.
When considering both of Luke’s works it is clear that he traces the origin, heart, and description of the Christian movement from Bethlehem to Jerusalem, to Antioch, to Macedonia, to Achaia, to Ephesus, and finally to Rome, the capital of the world. He examined eyewitnesses, knew personally and had close contact with the main followers of Christ like Mark and James, the brother of the Lord, Paul. Silas (a member of the Jerusalem Church) and no doubt many others.
Luke addressed his account of the life of Christ and the Acts of the Apostles to a man named Theophilus, yet it possesses a style that would appeal to all intelligent gentiles and would certainly appeal to any believer. Theophilus could have been a gentile convert to Christianity who desired to know more of the facts surrounding the life of Jesus Christ, possibly a wealthy contributor to Christianity, no one can say for certain. The name Theophilus means “lover of God”.
Luke was described by Paul in his letter to the Church in Colossae as “the beloved physician” (Colossians 4:14). He was also mentioned as a companion of Paul on his missionary journeys, and on his third and last missionary journey he said that “only Luke is with me” (2 Timothy 4:11). He wrote this Gospel and a sequel, the Acts of the Apostles. Tradition teaches that Luke was a native of Antioch in Syria, the city in which the apostle Paul’s sending church was later located. Luke mentioned this city six times in Acts (6:5; 11:19-27; 13:1-3; 14:26-28; 18:22).
He was the most highly educated of all the gospel writers and used the best Greek. He was a physician and naturally showed an interest in women and children in his gospel account. He used the word “woman” forty-three times, almost as much as Matthew and Mark combined. And he mentioned the birth and infancy of both Christ and John the Baptist. It is Luke who reported the accounts of Christ in the temple, both as a baby and as a young boy.
Luke must have been an amazing man because he claims in the beginning of his account of the life of Christ that he “investigated everything carefully” (Luke 1:1-4). This would mean that he would have spoken with eyewitnesses to the miracles and events surround the ministry of Jesus. He was clearly persuaded by the facts that he was told and became a devoted follower of Christ and a companion of Paul until the end. There can be no doubt that Luke was a gentile believer, even his name “Luke” is a gentile name.
- The Language
Luke was written in Greek and uses a style similar to other important Greek documents. He uses a popular, non-literary Greek style, omitting Semitic and Latin “barbarisms”; yet, he manifests a rich vocabulary and a high degree of literary artistry, as seen in his ability to sketch the character of an individual in a few graphic strokes of the pen. A noted French philosopher and critic of the Bible called the book of Luke “the most beautiful book ever written.”
- Luke’s Portrait of Christ
Luke wrote his gospel account to a Greek man named Theophilus with an appeal to Greeks in general. The Greeks were interested in philosophy and teaching. Therefore Luke recorded much of the teaching of Christ. The Greeks were also the historians of the ancient world. Luke referred to many political figures, such as King Herod (1:5), Emperor Caesar Augustus (2:1), he Syrian governor Cyrenius (2:2), Tiberius Caesar (3:1), and the Judean governor Pontius Pilate (3:1). The Greeks were interested in the developments of the whole person – body, mind, and spirit. Luke presented Christ as the Perfect Man. Luke showed Christ’s moral perfections and tender sympathies.
- Luke’s Key Words & Phrases
Luke’s portrait of Christ, the Perfect Man as Savior of imperfect mankind, is reflected in the key verse of his book: “For the Son of man is come to seek and to save that which was lost” (19:10). The phrase “Son of man” is found 26 times in his gospel account.
- The Savior of Men
From Luke’s gospel account we are clearly reminded of the primary reason Jesus Christ came to earth. He came “to seek and to save that which was lost.” He came to die on the cross for our sins and He came to save us. The salvation He has provided through His death is ours when we place our faith and trust in Jesus Christ.
THE GOSPEL OF JOHN – (Christ in His Deity)
The Gospel of John is unlike the first three Gospels. It is not one of the Snyoptics. In fact, only 8 percent of the material found in John is also found in any other gospel account. John’s gospel account was the last one to be written, probably between A. D. 80-95. Most likely John was in Ephesus when he wrote the account. The Gospel of John is regarded by many as the deepest and most wonderful book in the New Testament. Although in one sense of the word it is simple, direct, penetrating and to be understood by common folk, yet in another respect it is a inspiring and profound revelation thought through only by the deeply spiritual scholar.
- The Author
John was one of the earliest disciples to follow Christ (John 1:35-40). He was the son of Zebedee and one of the Twelve. He may also have been the youngest. His name means “God is gracious.” Some Bible scholars hold that John was only sixteen when he was called to be an apostle. John was one of those apostles whose brother was also an apostle; James and John, Andrew and Peter, Matthew and Thomas. Moreover, John was the last of the apostles do die. He lived to the end of the first century.
John came from a wealthy business family. His father, Zebedee, was in the fishing business. His mother, Salome, was one of the women who took spices to anoint the body of Christ after the crucifixion (Mark 16:1). John, along with his brother James and Simon Peter had the privilege of being with Christ on the Mount of Transfiguration (Matthew 17:1). There they saw Christ in all His glory. Later John was the only apostle to be at the crucifixion of Christ. All that time Jesus entrusted His mother. Mary, into John’s care. John was known as the “beloved apostle”. He also wrote three small epistles and the final book of Scripture, which we call the book of Revelation.
- John’s Portrait of Christ
John’s purpose in this fourth Gospel was, as he very plainly declares, “that ye might believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God; and that believing ye might have life through his name” (John 20:31). Thus, he presents Christ deity as the Son of God, who was sent from God and who always spoke the message God gave Him. He portrayed Christ as the Divine Son of God. He referred to God and the Father 121 times and to Christ as the Son 42 times. Perhaps the best-known verse in all of Scripture is John 3:16, “For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting lie.”
- John’s Key Words
The Gospel of John has several key words. One is the word “believe.” This word is found 98 times in John’s Gospel. With good reason, John’s Gospel is called “the Gospel of Belief.” John provided examples of those who believed, such as Philip and Nathaniel (1:43-51). Nicodemus (3:1-15), and the woman at the well (4:1-42). And John distinctly stated his purpose in writing his Gospel, that we, the readers, might believe on the Lord.
In accordance with the purpose of this Gospel, the words “believe” and “life,” and the titles, “Son” and “Son of God,” are used many more times than in the other Gospels. Other characteristic words of John are “true,” “truth,” “love,” “witness,” and “world”. John alone records the great “I am” declarations of Christ (John 6:35; 8:12; 10:7, 11; 11:25; 14:6) and gives the sayings of Christ as introduced by the solemn “Verily, verily” (John 1:51; 5:19, 24-25)
THE FOUR GOSPELS – From the portraits of Christ found in the Gospels we can draw many facts about God and Christ such as:
(1) Prophesied King: God is faithful and true;
(2) Obedient, Tireless Servant: Christ is humble and gracious;
(3) Perfect Man as Savior: Christ is holy and loving;
(4) Divine Son of God: Christ is eternal, creator of the world and He is:
A PERSONAL SAVIOR
Mark dwelled on Jesus’ ministry to the multitudes. John, on the other hand, emphasized Christ’s work with individuals. While Jesus is the Savior of the world, salvation is a personal matter. Jesus said to Nicodemus, “Verily, verily, I say unto thee, except a man be born again, he cannot see the kingdom of God” (3:3). To be born again, a person must place his or her faith in Jesus Christ. “For God sent not his Son into the world to condemn the world; but that the world through him might be saved. He that believeth on him is not condemned: but he that believeth not is condemned already, because he hath not believed in the name of the only begotten Son of God” (3:17, 18).
Knowing the facts about Christ is important. However, being confident of His incarnation, virgin birth, substitutionary death, and resurrection is most essential for us as believers. But really knowing Christ on a personal level and becoming like Him should consume our lives. As it does, we will be Christ’s disciples, we will bear fruit, and we will ultimately bring glory to God. Above all this we need to have “A Servant’s Heart” like that of our Lord.
What does it means to have a servant’s heart? The word servant simply means to serve and to serve means to help, assist, or attend to. Most individuals think of the word servant with a negative attitude because they see servants as those who wait on someone hand and foot. They believe a servant is a horrible job to have because it is demeaning and thankless. However, to be effective in the Lord’s service we must be willingly to take the role of a servant. It has been said that the beauty of a servant is defined not merely by their thoughts but by their actions. Human nature defines that thoughts are the reason behind a given action of a person, but the overwhelming thought directing any action should be the expression of love within the heart.
So, do you have a servant’s heart? Has God blessed you with the insight to see the needs of others and reach out in compassion and understanding even when they, themselves, cannot reach out and ask for help? The disciples of Jesus had a hard time learning this, and so do we. Even the godliest person sometimes will rebel when called upon to do something they feel is beneath their dignity. In our pursuit for the marks of mature spirituality and leadership ability, we must not bypass that quality which so completely characterized the life of our Savior Jesus Christ, which is the quality of unselfish servant hood. Jesus said, “For even the Son of Man did not come to be served but to serve, and to give his life a ransom for many” (Mark 10:45).
The apostle Paul added to this focus when he wrote, “Each of you should be concerned not only about your own interests, but the interests of others as well” (Philippians 1:4). But then pointing to the Savior as our great example, he quickly added, “You should have the same attitude toward one another that Christ Jesus had.” Samuel L. Brengle, a brilliant orator and highly successful pastor, was so burdened by the plight of the inner city poor that he resigned his church and joined the Salvation Army in London. Soon after being inducted, he was given the task of cleaning a pile of muddy boots. This was too much! Inwardly he rebelled; but then he thought about how Jesus washed the feet of His disciples. He then asked the Lord for a servant’s heart, cleaned the boots, and went on to a fruitful ministry among the disadvantaged.
The story has been told of a noncommissioned officer, who was directing the repairs of a military building during the American Revolution, was giving out orders to the soldiers under his command, trying to get them to raise a heavy wooden beam. As the men struggled in vain to lift the beam into place, a man who was passing by stopped to ask the one in charge why he wasn’t helping the men. With all the pomp of an emperor, the soldier responded, “Sir, I am a corporal!” “You are, are you?” replied the passerby, “I was not aware of that.” Then, taking off his hat and bowing, he said, “I ask your pardon, Corporal.” Then the stranger walked over and strained with the soldiers to lift the heavy beam.
After the job was finished, he turned and said, “Mr. Corporal, when you have another such job, and have not enough men, send for your Commander in Chief, and I will come and help you a second time.” The corporal was astonished. The person speaking to him was General Washington! My beloved, God measures greatness by service. The Lord Jesus has set an example, for though He was God and worthy of all honor, He “did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give His life a ransom for many” (Matthew 20:28).
In the book of John it is recorded for us that during the Last Supper, Jesus performed the task of a lowly servant by washing His disciples’ feet, setting the stage for His astonishing statement about humility, “You call Me Teacher and Lord, and you say well, for so I am. If I then, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also ought to wash one another’s feet” (John 13:13-14). Thus, Christ the Lord has set the example for all who would follow Him, confirming that it’s not what we’re called, but what we do that counts.
If you’re too big to do little things, you’re too little to do big things.