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.
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.
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 )
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 )
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 ).
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.