Rebecca Van Noord
United in intent, but unique in perspective, each Gospel writer presents a different picture of the life and work of Jesus. Here is how the four Evangelists announce the good news of Jesus and call people to believe in Him.
Who is Jesus?
Matthew presents Jesus as the heir of David and the fulfillment of God’s promises to Abraham (1:1–17). He is the true King and the new Moses. He has come to fulfill the Law and the Prophets and usher in God’s kingdom.
Mark shows Jesus as the Son of God, come with authority to teach, heal and cast out demons. He is also the Son of Man, the true representation of what it means to be human. Jesus’ rejection and suffering are raw and pronounced in Mark.
Luke presents Jesus as the prophet who has come to suffer for His people (7:16; 13:33). He is a healer and a friend to tax collectors. He has come to save the lost and the outcast. He is the Servant from Isaiah, who brings comfort to the suffering and oppressed.
For John, Jesus is the Word made flesh—God present since the beginning of time. He is the Son of God and the one who reveals the Father. Jesus makes bold claims about Himself that require bold faith from His listeners.
How do the Gospel writers tell their stories?
Matthew intersperses five major blocks of Jesus’ teaching throughout his narrative, emphasizing that Jesus is the true teacher of the Torah.
Mark intentionally groups events and teachings according to theme. He sandwiches these events so they lend meaning to one another. For example, he places Jesus’ commissioning of the Twelve near John the Baptist’s death, emphasizing the cost of discipleship (6:7–30).
Luke emphasizes Jesus’ ministry to the outcast. His travel narrative—Jesus’ journey to Jerusalem—is often called the “Gospel for the Outcast” (9:51–19:27). Jesus tells parables like the Prodigal Son and the Good Samaritan as He travels to fulfill His messianic role.
Jesus’ miracles or “signs,” many of which are not recorded in the other Gospels, feature prominently in John’s narrative and bring attention to His identity as the Son of God (1:19–12:50).
What literary techniques does each writer use?
Matthew draws on Old Testament passages to show how Jesus’ life fulfilled ancient prophecies (e.g., Matt 1:22–23 and Isa 7:14; Matt 2:15 and Hos 11:1). He also begins with a genealogy to emphasize that Jesus is the heir of David and the fulfillment of God’s promises to Abraham (1:1–17).
Mark relies on the secrecy motif to build suspense and highlight Jesus’ mission. Numerous times Jesus commands demons, the people He heals, and even His disciples to keep quiet about His identity.
Luke has the largest vocabulary and uses fine literary Greek. His extended preface is modeled after prologues of Hellenistic Greek histories and Graeco-Roman literature and displays great artistic skill (1:1–4).
John’s simple prose is infused with symbolism and profound theological significance. Jesus is the Word (1:1), the Bread of Life (6:35), the Light of the World (8:12), and the Good Shepherd (10:11). John also wields dramatic irony. Nathanael asks, “Can anything good come out of Nazareth?” (1:46).
What are the themes of each Gospel?
The kingdom; the fulfillment of the Law and Prophets (5:17)
The kingdom of God, which has arrived but has not fully manifested itself (1:15; 4:30–32; 14:25)
The kingdom of God or the kingdom of heaven; condemnation of wealth used inappropriately (16:1–31; 19:8)
Belief in Jesus for eternal life (5:21–25)
Why do the Gospel writers tell their stories?
Matthew presents Jesus as the fulfillment of Israel’s expectation of a coming messianic king (e.g., 1:22–23; 2:5–6; 3:3).
Mark proclaims that Jesus is the Son of God and that the kingdom of God is here: “The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand; repent and believe in the gospel” (1:15).
Luke writes, “It seemed good to me also, having followed all things closely for some time past, to write an orderly account for you, most excellent Theophilus, that you may have certainty concerning the things you have been taught” (1:3–4).
John says, “But these are written so that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in his name” (20:31).
As you closely read each Gospel, consider how individual events fit within each Gospel narrative. When you compare events across the Gospels, consider how each telling highlights different concerns about Jesus’ life and ministry
Scripture quotations are from the English Standard Version (ESV).
Edward Adams, Parallel Lives of Jesus: A Guide to the Four Gospels (Louisville, KY: Westminster John Knox Press, 2011).
Nicholas Perrin, “The Synoptic Gospels,” Faithlife Study Bible (Bellingham, WA: Lexham Press, 2012). FaithlifeBible.com
Mark Strauss, Four Portraits, One Jesus: A Survey of Jesus and the Gospels (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2007). Logos.com/FourPortraits