Visit your local Christian bookstore sometime and I am sure you will find several versions of men’s attempts to “harmonize” the four gospel accounts of the earthly ministry of the Lord Jesus Christ. Many men have gone through great efforts to try to piece together a continuous narrative of the life of the Lord.
While there may be some value in understanding the chronology of recorded events, we should stop ourselves amid this pursuit and ask a simple question. Why are there four gospel accounts in the Bible to begin with? If God had wanted us to have a single continuous narrative of the life of His Son, could He have not written His Bible just so? Surely He could have and would have if this is what He wanted. Since this is clearly not the case in God’s word, we can deduce that this is not what God wanted. Apparently, God wanted four distinct records for some reason.
Since we are asking questions, let me pose another. Why are there only four? Why not five? Why not seven or ten or twelve? We find only four. Again, I suppose that if God had desired it to be otherwise, this is what we would find in the Bible. However, we clearly do not find this to be the case. We find four, and only four: Matthew, Mark, Luke John.
In seeking to answer this question, men have offered up their best guesses. Some suggest that Matthew is the gospel to the Jews, Mark to the Romans, Luke to the Greeks and John to the world, and while there may be some truth to that if spoken in a particular context, at best this still comes from men’s ideas.
In seeking to answer this question, I believe it is much safer to look to the word of God itself to find the answer. When we do this, we do not have to guess, and we can be certain in our understanding.
The reason that there are four gospel accounts concerning the Lord’s earthly ministry is because the people of Israel were told by the prophets that when their Messiah showed up in their midst, they were to BEHOLD Him in four particular ways.
Zech. 9:9 – Rejoice greatly, O daughter of Zion; shout, O daughter of Jerusalem: BEHOLD, THY KING cometh unto thee: he is just, and having salvation; lowly, and riding upon an ass, and upon a colt the foal of an ass.
Isa. 42:1 – BEHOLD MY SERVANT, whom I uphold; mine elect, in whom my soul delighteth; I have put my spirit upon him: he shall bring forth judgment to the Gentiles.
Zech. 6:12 – And speak unto him, saying, Thus speaketh the LORD of hosts, saying, BEHOLD THE MAN whose name is The BRANCH; and he shall grow up out of his place, and he shall build the temple of the LORD:
Isa. 40:9 – O Zion, that bringest good tidings, get thee up into the high mountain; O Jerusalem, that bringest good tidings, lift up thy voice with strength; lift it up, be not afraid; say unto the cities of Judah, BEHOLD YOUR GOD!
The issue in the gospel records is not a continuous narrative of the life of the Lord, but rather a presentation of Messiah to the nation Israel in accordance to who the prophets said He would be! Consequently, there are four gospels in which the LORD causes Israel to BEHOLD Him just this way.
Matthew = BEHOLD THY KING
Mark = BEHOLD MY SERVANT
Luke = BEHOLD THE MAN
John = BEHOLD YOUR GOD
Take some time to study the opening and conclusion of each gospel account. In these comparisons, the reader is alerted to the particular emphasis of each gospel record. Look for characteristics, vocabulary, etc. that fits with the categories shown in the associations above. You may be surprised at how wonderfully these issues stand out.
Mt. 1:1, 6, 16-17 & 28:16-20
Mk. 1 & 16:19-20
Lk. 1:1-4 & 24:50-53
Jn. 1:1-14 & 21:25