The first four books of the New Testament are known as the Gospels. Gospel means “Good News” and each offers its own unique perspective on the earthly life of Yeshua Jesus.
Matthew, Mark and Luke are known as the “Synoptic” Gospels, as they agree more on the events covered and the timetable of those events, although the timetables are not strictly followed. It’s like a friend telling you what happened. The conversation may bounce around a little, but you get the idea.
Gospel of John is unique
The Gospel of John, however, is quite different. It is best described as a love letter and the writer makes no attempt to put events in order. A good way of describing the differences is that the first three Gospels are like a collection photographs, snapshots if you will of significant happenings.
John’s Gospel is more like an oil painting. It is accurate and shows the truth, but there is an “artistic” touch to it that separates it from the other three.
Matthew traces Joseph’s linage and Luke traces Mary
Even though Matthew and Luke may be similar, there is an interesting and very important difference in the two writings. Both men offer a genealogy leading from King David to Yeshua Jesus. However, Matthew’s genealogy traces the linage of David to Joseph, who was married to Mary, the mother of Jesus.
Luke’s linage goes from David to Mary, so that is the bloodline. Matthew’s account includes the name of Jeremiah, who as King sinned against God. God said that because of that sin, the King of Israel would not come through his linage.
Because that is the case, Joseph can not have been the father of the Messiah, the eternal King of Israel, King of Kings and Lord of Lords. The immaculate conception of Jesus means that God is the biological father of Jesus, not Joseph.
Matthew: The Tax Collector and Social Outcast
No people were more hated in Jewish society than tax collectors. Here was Matthew, a young Jewish man with ambition and a keen business sense. He was educated, but sadly lacked in social skills. But working for the Romans, Matthew would have enjoyed an ample income and a comfortable lifestyle.
This, of course, was disgusting in the eyes of the citizens, who were living hand-to-mouth and were harshly burdened by their occupying forces. Matthew is writing to Jews and is very mindful of Jewish beliefs and sensitivities.
Matthew is often characterized as being rather odd, most likely a high-functioning autistic man, whose intellectual abilities were both a blessing and an encumbrance. He had the ability to collect taxes and keep the books, but he did not grasp simple human things like love and fellowship, things we all assume everybody understands and appreciates.
The Gospel of Matthew examines Jesus as the Messiah
Matthew’s main theme is Jesus as Messiah. He is writing to Jews, who do not accept Jesus as the Son of God and the Christ. Matthew relies heavily on Old Testament references, again in an effort to make the connection between the Hebrew writings and Yeshua Jesus. He takes lengths to appeal to Jewish sensitivities.
Mark: An associate of Peter and Paul
Mark, also known as a John Mark, was not one of the 12 Disciples, but was a close associate of the Apostle Paul and the Apostle Peter. It is through these two associations that Mark gained knowledge and insight into the ministry of the Lord Jesus Christ.
Much of his writing is a direct reporting on the public preaching of Peter. He traveled with Paul, but fell out of favor when he left Paul and Barnabas during Paul’s first missionary journey. Mark returned to Jerusalem.
When Barnabas wanted Mark to go on the second journey, Paul refused and that caused a slit between the two men. However, Mark would later be fully restored in relationship with Paul. Perhaps it was God’s way of preparing Mark for his writing, to have time with both Peter and Paul. Mark would also develop a close relationship with Matthew
Luke: Physician and Journalist
Like John Mark, Luke was not one of the original Disciples. He was also not a Jew. Luke was gentile from Greece. He did not know Jesus, but he traveled with Paul and, in journalistic fashion, recorded Paul’s experiences.
Luke’s Gospel can be viewed as “The Acts of the Holy Spirit Through the Lord Jesus Christ.” His follow-up is the Book of Acts, which is “The Acts of the Holy Spirit through the Apostles.”
John: The one Jesus Loved
John’s accounts are a theological love letter to any who desire fellowship with God. John also takes on gnosticism head-on. Gnostics believed that the spirit was good but the body was bad. This radical dualism suggested that Jesus could not be both man and God. John wastes little time in going after that idea.
In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. 2 He was with God in the beginning.
Through him all things were made; without him nothing was made that has been made. 4 In him was life, and that life was the light of men. The light shines in the darkness, but the darkness has not understood it.
He was in the world, and though the world was made through him, the world did not recognize him. He came to that which was his own, but his own did not receive him. Yet to all who received him, to those who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God— children born not of natural descent, nor of human decision or a husband’s will, but born of God.
The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us. We have seen his glory, the glory of the One and Only, who came from the Father, full of grace and truth. (John 1:1-5, 10-14)
Each of the Gospels have a purpose
Four different Gospels, with different styles, yet the same story. In the cases of Matthew and John, these were first-hand accounts. In the cases of Mark and Luke, they were reliable accounts from reliable witnesses. Together they teach us the essentials of Jesus and God’s plan to redeem man to Himself.