The Gospels

The Four Gospels

The four Gospels record the eternal being, human ancestry, birth, resurrection, and ascension of Jesus the Christ, Son of God, and Son of Man. They record also a selection from the incidents of His life, and from His words and works. Taken together, they set forth, not a biography, but a Personality.

These two facts, that we have in the four Gospels a complete Personality, but not a complete biography, indicate the spirit and intent in which we should approach them. What is important is that through these narratives we should come to see and know Him whom they reveal. It is of relatively small importance that we should be able to piece together out of these confessedly incomplete records ( John 21:25 ) a connected story of His life. For some adequate reason -- perhaps lest we should be too much occupied with "Christ after the flesh"-- it did not please God to cause to be written a biography of His Son. The twenty-nine formative years are passed over in a silence which is broken but once, and that in but twelve brief verses of Luke's Gospel. It may be well to respect the divine reticencies.

But the four Gospels, though designedly incomplete as a story, are divinely perfect as a revelation. We may not through them know everything that He did, but we may know the Doer. In four great characters, each of which completes the other three, we have Jesus Christ Himself. The Evangelists never describe Christ--they set Him forth. They tell us almost nothing of what they thought about Him, they let Him speak and act for himself.

This is the essential respect in which these narratives differ from mere biography or portraiture. "The words that I speak unto you, they are spirit, and they are life." The student in whom dwells an ungrieved Spirit finds here the living Christ.

The distinctive part which each Evangelist bears in this presentation of the living Christ is briefly note in separated Introductions, but it may be profitable to add certain general suggestions.

  1. The Old Testament is a divinely provided Introduction to the New; and whoever comes to the study of the four Gospels with a mind saturated with the Old Testament foreview of the Christ, His person, work, and kingdom, with find them open books.

    For the Gospels are woven of Old Testament quotation, allusion, and type. The very first verse of the New Testament drives the thoughtful reader back to the Old; and the risen Christ sent His disciples to the ancient oracles for an explanation of His sufferings and glory ( Luke 24:27 Luke 24:44 Luke 24:45 ) One of His last ministries was the opening of their understandings to understand the Old Testament.

    Therefore, in approaching the study of the Gospels the mind should be freed, so far as possible, from mere theological concepts and presuppositions. Especially is it necessary to exclude the notion--a legacy in Protestant thought from post apostolic and Roman Catholic theology--that the church is the true Israel, and that the Old Testament foreview of the kingdom is fulfilled in the Church.

    Do not, therefore, assume interpretations to be true because familiar. Do not assume that "the throne of David" ( Luke 1:32 ) is synonymous with "My Father's throne" ( Revelation 3:21 ) or that "the house of Jacob" ( Luke 1:33 ) is the Church composed both of Jew and Gentile.

  2. The mission of Jesus was, primarily, to the Jews ( Matthew 10:5 Matthew 10:6 ; 15:23-25 ; John 1:11 ) He was "made under the law" ( Galatians 4:4 ) and was a "minister of the circumcision for the truth of God, to confirm the promises made unto the fathers" ( Romans 15:8 ) and to fulfil the law that grace might flow out.

    Expect, therefore, a strong legal and Jewish colouring up to the cross. ( Matthew 5:17-19 ; 6:12 ; cf ; Ephesians 4:32 ; Matthew 10:5 Matthew 10:6 ; 15:22-28 ; Mark 1:44 ; Matthew 23:2 ) The Sermon on the Mount is law, not grace, for it demands as the condition of blessing ( Matthew 5:3-9 ) that perfect character which grace, through divine power, creates ( Galatians 5:22 Galatians 5:23 )

  3. The doctrines of grace are to be sought in the Epistles, not in the Gospels; but those doctrines rest back upon the death and resurrection of Christ, and upon the great germ- truths to which He gave utterance, and of which the Epistles are the unfolding. Furthermore, the only perfect example of perfect grace is the Christ of the Gospels.

  4. The Gospels do not unfold the doctrine of the Church. The word occurs in Matthew only. After His rejection as King and Saviour by the Jews, our Lord, announcing a mystery until that moment "hid in God" ( Ephesians 3:3-10 ) said, "I will build my church." ( Matthew 16:16 Matthew 16:18 ) It was, therefore, yet future; but His personal ministry had gathered out the believers who were, on the day of Pentecost, by the baptism with the Spirit, made the first members of "the church which is his body" ( 1 Corinthians 12:12 1 Corinthians 12:13 ; Ephesians 1:23 )

    The Gospels present a group of Jewish disciples, associated on earth with a Messiah in humiliation; the Epistles a Church which is the body of Christ in glory, associated with Him in the heavenlies, co-heirs with Him of the Father, co-rulers with Him over the coming kingdom, and, as to the earth, pilgrims and strangers ( 1 Corinthians 12:12 1 Corinthians 12:13 ; Ephesians 1:3-14 Ephesians 1:20-23 ; 2:4-6 ; 1 Peter 2:11 )

  5. The Gospels present Christ in His three offices of Prophet, Priest and King.

    As Prophet His ministry does not differ in kind from that of the Old Testament prophets. It is the dignity of His person that which makes him the unique Prophet. Of old, God spoke through the prophets; now He speaks in the Son. ( Hebrews 1:1 Hebrews 1:2 ). The old prophet was a voice from God; the Son is God himself. ( Deuteronomy 18:18 Deuteronomy 18:19 )

    The prophet in any dispensation is God's messenger to His people, first to establish truth, and secondly, when they are in declension and apostasy to call them back to truth. His message, therefore, is, usually, one of rebuke and appeal. Only when these fall on deaf ears does he become a foreteller of things to come. In this, too, Christ is at one with the other prophets. His predictive ministry follows His rejection as King.

    The sphere and character of Christ's Kingly Office are defined in the Davidic Covenant ( 2 Samuel 7:8-16 ) and refs, as interpreted by the prophets, and confirmed by the New Testament. The latter in no way abrogates or modifies either the Davidic Covenant or its prophetic interpretation. It adds details which were not in the prophet's vision. The Sermon on the Mount is an elaboration of the idea of "righteousness" as the predominant characteristic of the Messianic kingdom. ( Isaiah 11:2-5 ; Jeremiah 23:5 Jeremiah 23:6 ; 33:14-16 ) The Old Testament prophet was perplexed by seeing in one horizon, so to speak, the suffering and glory of Messiah. ( 1 Peter 1:10-11 ) The New Testament shows that these are separated by the present church-age, and points forward to the Lord's return as the time when the Davidic Covenant of blessing through power will be fulfilled ( Luke 1:30-33 ; Acts 2:29-36 ; 15:14-17 ) just as the Abrahamic Covenant of blessing through suffering was fulfilled at His first coming. ( Acts 3:25 ; Galatians 3:6-14 ).

    Christ is never called King of the Church. "The King" is indeed one of the divine titles, and the Church in her worship joins Israel in exalting "the king, eternal, immortal, invisible." ( Psalms 10:16 ; 1 Timothy 1:17 ). But the church is to reign with Him. The Holy Spirit is now calling out, not the subjects, but the co-heirs and co-rulers of the kingdom ( 2 Timothy 2:11 2 Timothy 2:12 ; Revelation 1:6 ; 3:21 ; 5:10 ; Romans 8:15-18 ; 1 Corinthians 6:2 1 Corinthians 6:3 )

    Christ's priestly office is the complement of His prophetic office. The prophet is God's representative with the people; the priest is the people's representative with God. Because they are sinful he must be a sacrificer; because they are needy he must be a compassionate intercessor. ( Hebrews 5:1 Hebrews 5:2 ; 8:1-3 )

    So Christ, on the cross, entered upon his high-priestly work, offering Himself without spot unto God ( Hebrews 9:14 ) as now He compassionates His people in an ever-living intercession ( Hebrews 7:23 ). Of that intercession, John 17 is the pattern. ( John 17:1-26 ).

  6. Distinguish, in the Gospels, interpretation from moral application. Much in the Gospels which belongs in strictness of interpretation to the Jew or the kingdom is yet such a revelation of the mind of God, and so based on eternal principles, as to have a moral application to the people of God, whatever their position dispensationally. It is always true that the "pure in heart" are happy because they "see God," and that "woe" is the portion of the religious formalists whether under law or grace.

  7. Especial emphasis rests upon that to which all four Gospels bear a united testimony. That united testimony is sevenfold:
    1. In all alike is revealed the one unique Personality. The one Jesus is King in Matthew, Servant in Mark, Man in Luke, and God in John. But not only so; for Matthew's King is also Servant, Man, and God; and Mark's Servant is also King, and Man, and God; Luke's Man is also King and Servant, and God; and John's eternal Son is also King, and Servant, and Man.

      The pen is a different pen; the incidents in which He is seen are sometimes different incidents; the distinctive character in which He is presented is a different character; but He is always the same Christ. That fact alone would mark these books as inspired.

    2. All the Evangelists record the ministry of John the Baptist.
    3. All record the feeding of the five thousand.
    4. All record Christ's offer of Himself as King, according to Micah.
    5. All record the betrayal by Judas; the denial by Peter; the trial, crucifixion, and literal resurrection of Christ. And this record is so made as to testify that the death of Christ was the supreme business which brought Him into the world; that all which precedes that death is but preparation for it; and that from it flow all the blessings which God ever has or ever will bestow upon man.
    6. All record the resurrection ministry of Christ; a ministry which reveals Him as unchanged by the tremendous event of his passion, but a ministry keyed to a new note of universality, and of power.
    7. All point forward to His second coming.