by Henry Vosburgh
– The second reason is to reveal an entire presentation of Jesus to all humanity. Four Gospels by four unique writers with four target audiences – it only follows that there would be a four-fold presentation of Jesus Christ in order to reveal the whole story about him to all men. Such is most certainly the case.
The Gospel of Matthew: The presentation. With Matthew having his primary audience as the Jewish people, he would naturally want them to understand the presentation of Jesus that would truly compel them to believe on him unto salvation. What the Jews would need is to be convinced that Jesus was indeed the Rabbi, Messiah, and King that he claimed to be. This was particularly difficult for them to do; being involved in the crucifixion of Jesus and the persecution of his followers, they would have to be convinced in spite of deep-rooted prejudice and willful spiritual blindness.
The proof. Thus in Matthew’s Gospel, proofs for his presentation as Jesus being the Rabbi from God, the Messiah of promise, and the King of Israel are easily demonstrated. As Rabbi or teacher from God, Matthew provides in his Gospel six different teaching collections: Sermon on the Mount (5-7), missionary instruction (10), parables (13), community instructions (18), denunciation of religious hypocrisy (23), and the end times (24-25). As the promised Messiah, Matthew is extremely diligent to cite Old Testament (OT) prophecy after prophecy that Jewish scholars had long attributed as messianic, and then he demonstrates how Jesus fulfilled them. He related the fulfillment of Micah 5:2 as the birthplace of the Messiah, the virgin birth of Isaiah 7:14, of the forerunner in Isaiah 40:3, and of the parting of garments and suffering of the cross from Psalm 22. As the promised King, Matthew demonstrated that Jesus fulfilled the requirements thereof. He demonstrated the royal right of Jesus to the throne of Israel through David on through to Abraham, fulfilling two vital OT covenants. He preached the nearness of the kingdom, offering it to the people of Israel. He even presented the message of the King that would be applicable to Israel, still doing so after they had rejected him. The grandest proof of course was the formal presentation of Jesus as King in the procession riding into Jerusalem on the foal of a donkey, fulfilling the prophecy of Zechariah about Israel’s future king. Verse after verse, account after account, chapter after chapter, Matthew convincingly set forth Jesus as the very hope of salvation the Jews should believe on – their Rabbi, Messiah, and King.
The Gospel of Mark: The presentation. With Mark’s target audience being those who were largely typical of the Roman culture, it was vital to help them understand that the power and authority of Jesus was not military, and not achieved through resistance, rebellion, and overthrow. Living under the thumb of Caesar, it was a natural longing for people to seek relief from the oppression of Rome. With the rise of persecution against the church, such a longing would only be heightened. Mark’s Gospel was written then to reveal Jesus Christ as a servant, and that his displays of authority and power were never intended to throw off the imperial reach. Instead his Gospel was to demonstrate that Jesus came to meet the spiritual needs of man through servanthood and ministry, and even endured the suffering of the cross as a servant to men. In this way, he demonstrates his power over the sinfulness of this world that truly oppresses men.
The proof. Mark’s Gospel is far more weighted to the ministry action of Jesus than it is to his teachings. Whereas the other gospels focus greatly on the words of Christ, Mark’s stands in contrast. Other than chapters four and thirteen, the references to Jesus’ teaching ministry are dominantly about what he did and not near as much about what he said. There is no genealogy provided, for no one is concerned about the heritage of a servant; servants do not press for rights they do not have. Though Jesus did have claims as a king, this is not the focus of Mark’s testimony about him. Another key feature to Mark is the most often repeated word of the book: “immediately” or “straightway.” In the Greek the word is euthus or eutheos and it refers to the diligent and determined intention to fulfill a successive obligation or opportunity. In chapter one for example, the word occurs nine times; and in the book – sixteen chapters – it is over eighty times. The healing of the paralyzed man in chapter two is particularly descriptive; Jesus forgave the man of his sins, and then to demonstrate his authority to do so, he healed him. His authority was demonstrated through service. In Mark 10:45 are found these great words, “For even the Son of man came not to be ministered unto, but to minister, and to give his life a ransom for many.” And for certain, the greatest display of service to man was paying sin’s price on the cross at Calvary. Even Paul would later write, “But made himself of no reputation, and took upon him the form of a servant, and was made in the likeness of men: And being found in fashion as a man, he humbled himself, and became obedient unto death, even the death of the cross” (Phil.2:7-8).
The Gospel of Luke: The presentation. With Luke’s target audience being those of the Greek demographic, his presentation of Jesus is uniquely significant. The Greek culture certainly had a dualistic philosophy concerning its views of the human and the divine natures. Many things could be said about this, but one standout observation is relevant to Luke’s presentation of Christ. The Greeks held to a heightened view about humanity, revealing itself in its philosophers [elevation of thought], art [elevation of the human body], athletics and military [elevation of achievement], etc. They also held to a belief system about their gods that was built on fear while also readily ascribing flawed character within their deities. There was infidelity, wrath, jealousy, spite, and many other examples of moral failure among those they called their gods – with the worst flaw being that of a general malevolence toward humanity. Thus Luke’s presentation of Jesus Christ is one which sets forth Jesus as the Son of Man, possessing the supreme human nature that is perfect in character and life; while at same time, Luke reveals Jesus’ supremely divine nature as gracious, loving and compassionate toward humanity.
The proof. To demonstrate that Jesus is the Son of man, Luke is the most descriptive of the four Gospel writers concerning the humanity of Jesus. Luke is the one that has the most detailed account of Jesus’ birth. He is the one that records the genealogy that goes beyond a tracing through David and Abraham on through to the first man, Adam himself. Luke is the only one who addresses with any detail the childhood of Jesus. Luke also gives unique insight to the temptation of Jesus, an event that demonstrated his ability as a man to resist Satan’s attacks, and also demonstrated that he knowingly has compassion for humanity in the struggle against temptation. His concern for humanity was declared through Luke and no other Gospel writer at the very commencement of his ministry. In Luke 4:18-19 we find what Jesus was on earth to do: “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he hath anointed me to preach the gospel to the poor; he hath sent me to heal the brokenhearted, to preach deliverance to the captives, and recovering of sight to the blind, to set at liberty them that are bruised, To preach the acceptable year of the Lord.” Even from the cross at the peak of his own bodily suffering, Jesus’ concern for others was noted as he comforted the thief next to him that because of his faith, he would be him in paradise. Only Luke records this account.
The Gospel of John: The presentation. It is the Gospel of John that has the clearest internal testimony as to why it was written. John 20:31 – “But these are written, that ye might believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God; and that believing ye might have life through his name.” Of all the Gospel writers, John is the most definitive in declaring the deity of Jesus Christ, that he is the Son of God. The Gospel’s own outline is crystal clear, as he recounts the events of Jesus consistently presenting his deity before the people of Israel. This acknowledgment is vital to saving faith; for if a man does not confess to the deity of Christ, he is not able to know salvation. John’s Gospel is one account after another, each one verifying that Jesus is indeed the Son of God.
The proof. How John accomplishes this throughout the Gospel is by selecting the standout events, teachings, and various encounters with people that happened in the course of his ministry that are the most compelling. John himself admits that he is handpicking the samples:
- 20:30 — “And many other signs truly did Jesus in the presence of his disciples, which are not written in this book.”
- 21:25 – “And there are also many other things which Jesus did, the which, if they should be written every one, I suppose that even the world itself could not contain the books that should be written. Amen.”
Seven miracles were selected: changing water into wine (2), healing the nobleman’s son (4), feeding the 5,000 (6), resurrection of Lazarus (11), etc. Definitive teachings are provided: the unity discourse (5), the bread of life discourse (6), the light of the world discourse (8), the last supper discourse (13-16), etc. Special encounters / interviews take place in John’s Gospel: with Nicodemus (3), with the woman at the well (4), the adulterous woman (8), the man born blind (9), the exchanges with Caiaphas and Pontius Pilate (18) are uniquely detailed, and we also the most intimate account of what happened on the morning of the resurrection (20); John was there to inspect the tomb, and he gives his firsthand report of the event. In all of these selections of John for his Gospel, the one dominating reality that readers come to is that Jesus is the Son of God.
Four Gospel accounts from four uniquely prepared writers give to all mankind from now until the end of the world a full-bodied and complete presentation, a comprehensive witness to the person of Jesus Christ.
Conclusion: In the year 1874, one of America’s greatest lawyers published a very poignant article entitled fully as The Testimony of the Evangelists, Examined by the Rules of Evidence Administered in Courts of Justice, or more commonly searched out today by the shortened title Testimony of the Evangelists. It was written by Simon Greenleaf, a principle founder of the Harvard Law School. What he did in this document was demonstrate by the principles of law and jurisprudence how the testimonies of the four Gospel writers would have held up in the courts of law; mainly, the principles to establish the authenticity of the Gospel accounts themselves, and the principles of cross-examination applied to the Gospels. One observer writes about Greenleaf’s work:
“He noted that the type of eyewitness accounts given in the four Gospels—accounts which agree, but with each writer choosing to omit or add details different from the others—is typical of reliable, independent sources that would be accepted in a court of law as strong evidence. Had the Gospels contained exactly the same information with the same details written from the same perspective, it would indicate collusion, i.e., of there having been a time when the writers got together beforehand to ‘get their stories straight’ in order to make their writings seem credible. The differences between the Gospels, even the apparent contradictions of details upon first examination, speak to the independent nature of the writings. Thus, the independent nature of the four Gospel accounts, agreeing in their information but differing in perspective, amount of detail, and which events were recorded, indicate that the record that we have of Christ’s life and ministry as presented in the Gospels is factual and reliable.”
The conclusion Greenleaf drew was that the testimony of the evangelists, meaning the four Gospel writers, would hold up well were it prosecuted in a court of law. The interesting thing about this exercise was that Greenleaf is reported to have set out on this exercise not to support the claims of the Gospels, but rather to disprove them — especially on the matter of the resurrection of Jesus. What resulted has now become a significant contribution to the field of Christian apologetics. What it shows to us is yet another point of verification as to why four Gospels are included in the NT canon. In the main, however, for people of faith who are committed to biblical integrity and who trust the words of Scripture as inspired by God, the two main points demonstrated in this lecture stand forth loud and clear. There are four Gospels because, taken together, they declare that the witness of Jesus Christ is for every person, every tribe, and every nation. Then, there are four Gospels because, taken together, they provide the complete, fully-delivered testimony of the person of Jesus Christ – Christ is Rabbi, Messiah and King; Christ is the Servant of the Lord; Christ is the Son of man; and Christ is the Son of God.