Why Four Gospels? by A.W. Pink
On our somewhat brief examination of the four Gospels it has been the writer’s design to bring before the reader that which is characteristic in each one, pointing out the various connections in which the different Evangelists view our Lord and Saviour. It is evident that each of the Gospels contemplates Him in a distinct relationship—Matthew as King, Mark as Servant, Luke as Son of Man, and John as Son of God. But while each Evangelist portrays the Lord Jesus in an entirely different viewpoint from the others, yet he does not altogether exclude that which is found in the remaining three. God knew that where the Scriptures would be translated into heathen tongues, before the whole Bible or even the complete New Testament was given to different peoples, oftentimes only a single Gospel would be translated as a beginning, and therefore has the Holy Spirit seen to it that each Gospel presents a more or less complete setting forth of the manifold glories of His Son. In other words, He caused each writer to combine in his own Evangel the various lines of Truth found in the others, though making these subordinate to that which was central and peculiar to himself.
That which is dominant in Matthew’s delineation of the Lord Jesus is the presentation of Him as the Son of David, the Heir of Israel’s throne, the Messiah and King of the Jews. Yet, while this is the outstanding feature of the first Gospel, nevertheless, a careful study of it will discover traces therein of the other offices that Christ filled. Even in Matthew the Servant character of our Lord comes into view, though, in an incidental manner. It is Matthew who tells us that when the sons of Zebedee came requesting of Him that they might sit on His right hand and on His left in His kingdom, and that when the other ten apostles were moved with indignation against them, He said, "Ye know that the princes of the Gentiles exercise dominion over them, and that they that are great exercise authority upon them. But it shall not be so among you: but whosoever will be great among you, let him be your minister; and whosoever will be chief among you, let him be your servant: Even as the Son of Man came not to be ministered unto, but to minister, and to give His life a ransom for many" (20:25-28); and it is from this Gospel we learn that when He sent forth the Twelve, He warned them, "The disciple is not above his Master, nor the servant above his Lord. It is enough for the disciple that he be as his Master, and the servant as his Lord. If they have called the Master of the house Beelzebub, how much more shall they call them of His household" (10:24,25).
Again; Matthew’s Gospel does not hide from us the lowly place the Lord took as the Son of Man, for it is here we have recorded His word, "The foxes have holes, and the birds of the air have nests; but the Son of Man hath not where to lay His head" (8:20): as it is here we are told that when they that received tribute came to Peter and asked, "Doth your Master pay tribute?" that the Lord said to His disciple, "What thinkest thou, Simon? of whom do the kings of the earth take custom or tribute? of their own children, or of strangers? Peter said unto Him, Of strangers. Jesus said unto him, Then are the children (i.e. of kings) free. Notwithstanding, lest we should offend them, to thou to the sea, and cast an hook, and take up the fish that first cometh up; and when thou hast opened his mouth, thou shalt find a piece of money: that take, and give unto them, for Me and thee" (17:25-27).
So, too, do the Divine glories of Christ shine forth on the pages of this first Gospel. It is here that we are told, "Behold, a virgin shall be with Child, and shall bring forth a Son, and they shall call His name Emmanuel, which being interpreted is, God with us" (1:23). And it is here we have recorded most fully Peter’s notable confession, "Thou art the Christ, the Son of the living God" (16:16).
Mark’s central purpose is to present Christ as God’s perfect Workman yet, here and there, he gives hints that the Servant of Jehovah possessed other and higher glories. This second Gospel, as well as the first and third, record His Transfiguration upon the holy mount (9:2), and Mark also tells us of the Triumphal Entry into Jerusalem (11:7-10). It is here we are told that when the high priest asked Him, "Art Thou the Christ, the Son of the Blessed?" that He answered, "I am: and ye shall see the Son of Man sitting on the right hand of power, and coming in the clouds of Heaven" (14:62). Thus did He bear witness to His Messianic and Kingly glory.
Mark is also careful to tell us in the opening verse of his Gospel that Jesus Christ was "the Son of God," as he also informs us that the demon-possessed man from the tombs cried and said, "What have I to do with Thee, Jesus, Thou Son of the most high God?" (5:7). These things do not detract from that which is central in this second Gospel, but guard the Divine glories of Him that "took upon Him the form of a servant."
Luke describes the Humanity of the Saviour, pictures Him as the Son of Man, and shows us the lowly place which He took. But while this is the central theme of the third Gospel, references are also made, here, to His higher glories. It is here we read that the Saviour told the people, "Behold a greater than Solomon is here" (11:31), as it is here we also find Him owned as "The Son of David" (18:38). Luke also refers to the Transfiguration and the Triumphal Entry into Jerusalem.
This third Gospel reveals the fact that the Saviour was more than Man. It is here we are told that the angel of the Lord said unto Mary, "That Holy Thing which shall be born of thee shall be called the Son of God" (1:35); as it is here also read of the demon-possessed man crying, "What have we to do with Thee Jesus, Thou Son of God most high" (8:28)!
So it is with the fourth Gospel. The outstanding feature there is the setting forth of the Deity of Christ, yet a careful reading of John will also reveal His Kingship as well as His Human lowliness. It is here we read of Andrew telling his brother Simon, "We have found the Messiah, which is, being interpreted, the Christ (1:41). It is here that we are told Nathaniel owned our Lord as, "The King of Israel" (1:49). It is in this forth Gospel we hear the Samaritans saying unto the converted adulteress, "Now we believe, not because of thy saying: for we have heard Him ourselves, and know that this is indeed the Christ (i.e., the Messiah), the Saviour of the world" (4:42). And it is here also we learn that when entering Jerusalem, the people "took branches of palm trees, and went forth to meet Him, and cried, Hosanna, Blessed is The King of Israel that cometh in the name of the Lord" (12:13).
In like manner, we find in John illustrations of our Lord’s lowliness. It is in this fourth Gospel that we read, "Jesus therefore, being wearied with his journey, sat thus on the well" (4:6). It is here we find recorded the pathetic fact, that, "every man went unto his own house—Jesus went unto the mount of Olives" (7:53; 8:1). Every "man" had his "own house" to which he retired at night, but the Beloved of the Father was a homeless Stranger here! So, again, it is John who tells us, "And it was winter, and (being cold out on the mountain) Jesus walked in the Temple in Solomon’s porch" (10:22,23). Once more: it is John who shows us the Lord, as the perfect Man, making provision for His widowed mother, providing her a home with His beloved disciple (19:26,27).
Returning now to our central design in this book, we would take a look at two or three incidents found in all four Gospels, and comparing them carefully, would notice the characteristic and distinctive lines in each one. First, let us observe the reference which each Evangelist makes to John the Baptist. Matthew alone tells us that he cried, "Repent ye: for the kingdom of heaven is at hand" (3:3), for Matthew is the one who presents the Lord Jesus as Israel’s King and Messiah. Mark is the only one to tell us that those who were baptized by our Lord’s forerunner "confessed their sins" (1:5), this being in accord with the ministerial character of this second Gospel. Luke, who dwells on human relationships, is the only writer that tells us about the parentage of the Baptist (chap. 1), as he is the only one to describe in detail the various classes of people who came to him at the Jordan. All of these things are significantly omitted by John, for in this fourth Gospel the emphasis is placed not upon the Baptist, but upon the One he was sent to herald. Here only are we told that he "came to bear witness of the Light" (1:7); that Christ existed before him (1:15), though as a Child He was born three months after him; and that he testified Christ was both God’s "Lamb" (1:29) and God’s Son" (1:34).
Again; let us note what each Evangelist has said about the Feeding of the five thousand, and particularly the way in which this miracle is introduced. Matthew says, "And Jesus went forth, and saw a great multitude, and was moved with compassion toward them, and He healed their sick. And when it was evening, His disciples came to Him, saying, This is a desert place, and the time is now past; send the multitude away, that they may go into the villages, and buy themselves victuals. But Jesus said unto them, They need not depart; give ye them to eat" (14:14-16). Thus, Matthew prefaces his account of this miracle by speaking of Christ "healing the sick," for this was one of the Messianic signs. Mark says: "And Jesus, when He came out, saw much people, and was moved with compassion toward them, because they were as sheep not having a shepherd: and He began to teach them many things. And when the day was now far spent, His disciples came unto Him, and said, This is a desert place, and now the time is far passed: Send them away, that they may go into the country round about, and into the villages, and buy themselves bread: for they have nothing to eat. He answered and said unto them, Give them to eat" (6:34-37). Instead of mentioning the "healing of the sick," Mark brings a beautiful ministerial touch into his picture by telling us the Saviour was moved with compassion toward the people because they were "as sheep not having a shepherd," and then makes known how the perfect Servant "began to teach them many things," thus ministering to them the Word of God. Luke tells us, "And the people, when they knew it, followed Him: and He received them, and spake unto them of the kingdom of God, and healed them that had need of healing. And when the day began to wear away, then came the twelve, and said unto Him, Send the multitude away, that they may go into the towns and country round about, and lodge, and get victuals: for we are here in a desert place. But He said unto them, Give ye them to eat" (Luke 9:11-13). Here we find Human sympathy and human want brought out, for Luke presents the great Physician healing, not as a Messianic sign, but healing those "that had need of healing." Now, observe, how entirely different is John’s method of introducing this miracle. He says nothing about the Messianic sign of healing, nothing about the Servant of God "teaching" the people, and nothing of the Son of Man ministering to the "need" of the sick; instead, he tells us, "When Jesus then lifted up his eyes, and saw a great company come unto Him, He saith unto Philip, Whence shall we buy bread, that these may eat? And He said this to prove him: for He himself KNEW what He would do" (6:5,6). Thus the fourth Gospel, again, brings out the Deity of Christ, by revealing His Omniscience.
As another example of the characteristic differences of each of the four Evangelists when recording the same or a similar incident, let us take the Sabbath criticisms which the Saviour met with. Each of the Gospels make mention of Christ being condemned for transgressing the traditions of the elders with which the Jews had cumbered the Sabbath, and each tells us the reply which He made to His objectors, and the arguments He used to vindicate Himself. In Matthew 12:2,3 we read, "At that time Jesus went on the Sabbath day through the corn; and His disciples were an hungered, and began to pluck the ears of corn, and to eat. But when the Pharisees saw it, they said unto him, Behold, Thy disciples do that which is not lawful to do upon the Sabbath day." To this our Lord made answer by reminding the Pharisees how that David, when he was an hungered, entered the house of God and did eat the shewbread, sharing it also with those that were with him. Then He went on to say, "Have ye not read in the Law, how that on the Sabbath days the priests in the temple profane the Sabbath, and are blameless? But I say unto you, That in this place is One greater than the Temple" (Matt. 12:5,6). Mark also refers to this same incident, and records part of the reply which the Saviour made on this occasion (see 2:23-28), but it is very striking to observe that he omits the Lord’s statement that He was "Greater than the Temple." In Luke’s Gospel there is a miracle recorded which is not found elsewhere—the healing of the woman who had an infirmity for eighteen years (Luke 13:11-13). As the sequel to this we are told, "And the ruler of the synagogue answered with indignation because that Jesus had healed on the Sabbath day, and said unto the people, There are six days in which men ought to work: in them therefore come and be healed, and not on the Sabbath" (11:14). But on this occasion we find Christ employed an argument to vindicate Himself, which was thoroughly in keeping with the scope of this third Gospel. "The Lord then answered him, and said, Thou hypocrite, doth not each one of you on the Sabbath loose his ox or his ass from the stall, and lead him away to watering? And ought not this woman, being a daughter of Abraham, whom Satan hath bound, lo, these eighteen years, be loosed from this bond on the Sabbath day?" (13:15,15). Here the appeal was not to the Old Testament scriptures, nor to His own Greatness, but to human sympathies. John records another miracle, not mentioned by the others, which also met with a similar rebuke from the Lord’s foes. But here, in answering His critics, the Lord Jesus vindicated Himself by using an entirely different argument from those employed on other occasions, as noted by other Evangelists. Here we find Him replying: "My Father worketh hitherto, and I work" (5:17). Thus, we see again, the principle of selection determining what each Evangelist recorded.
One more example must suffice. Let us observe what each Gospel says about the Arrest in the Garden. Matthew tells us, "And while He yet spake, lo, Judas, one of the twelve, came, and with him a great multitude with swords and staves, from the chief priests and elders of the people. Now he that betrayed Him gave them a sign, saying, Whomsoever I shall kiss, that same is He: hold Him fast. And forthwith he came to Jesus, and said, Hail, Master; and kissed Him. And Jesus said unto him, Friend, wherefore art thou come? Then came they, and laid hands on Jesus, and took Him. And, behold, one of them which was with Jesus stretched out his hand, and drew his sword, and struck a servant of the high priest’s and smote off his ear. Then said Jesus unto him, Put up thy sword again unto his place: for all they that take the sword shall perish with the sword. Thinkest thou that I cannot now pray to My Father, and He shall presently give Me more than twelve legions of angels? But how then shall the Scriptures be fulfilled, that thus it must be?" (26:47-54). Mark says: "And immediately, while He spake, cometh Judas, one of the twelve, and with him a great multitude with swords and staves, from the chief priests and the scribes and the elders. And he that betrayed Him had given them a token, saying, Whomsoever I shall kiss, that same is He; take Him and lead Him away safely. And as soon as he was come, he goeth straightway to Him, and saith, Master, Master; and kissed Him. And they laid their hands on Him, and took Him. And one of them that stood by drew a sword, and smote a servant of the high priest, and cut off his ear. And Jesus answered and said unto them, Are ye come out as against a thief, with swords and with staves to take Me? I was daily with you in the Temple teaching, and ye took Me not: but the Scriptures must be fulfilled" (14:43-49). It will be observed that Mark omits the fact that Christ addressed the traitor as "Friend" (see Ps. 41:9—Messianic prophecy), as he also says nothing about His right to ask the Father for twelve legions of angels. In Luke we read, "And while He yet spake, behold a multitude, and he that was called Judas, one of the twelve, went before them, and drew near unto Jesus to kiss Him. But Jesus said unto him, Judas, betrayest thou the Son of Man with a kiss? When they that were about Him, saw what would follow, they said unto Him, Lord, shall we smite with the sword? and one of them smote the servant of the high priest, and cut off his right ear. Then Jesus answered and said, Suffer ye thus far. And He touched his ear, and healed him. Then Jesus said unto the chief priests, and captains of the temple, and the elders, which were come unto Him, Be ye come out, as against a thief, with swords, and staves? When I was daily with you in the Temple, ye stretched forth no hands against Me, but this is your hour, and the power of darkness" (Luke 22:47-53). Luke is the only one to record Christ’s touching but searching question to Judas, as he is the only one to tell us of Christ healing the ear of the high priest’s servant. Entirely different is John’s account. In 18:3 we read, "Judas then, having received a band of men and officers from the chief priests and Pharisees, cometh thither with lanterns and torches and weapons." But here only is it added, "Jesus therefore, knowing all things that should come upon Him, went forth, and said unto them, Whom seek ye. They answered Him, Jesus of Nazareth." Here only are we told, "Jesus said unto them, I am. And Judas also, which betrayed Him, stood with them. As soon then as He had said unto them, I am, they went backward, and fell to the ground" (18:5,6). Here only do we read, "If therefore ye seek Me, let these go their way: that the saying might be fulfilled, which he spoke, Of them which Thou gavest Me have I lost none" (18:8,9). And here only are we told that the Lord said to the disciple who had cut off the ear of the priest’s servant, "Put up thy sword into the sheath: the cup which My Father hath given Me, shall I not drink it?" (John 18:11).
In closing, we would call attention to one other feature of the Gospels, that has often been noticed by others, and that is, what is found in the closing portions of the respective Gospels. There is a striking and climatic order observed. At the close of Matthew’s Gospel, we read of the Resurrection of Christ (28:1-8). At the close of Mark’s Gospel, we read of the Ascension of Christ (16:19). At the close of Luke’s Gospel, we hear of the Coming of the Holy Spirit (24:49). While at the close of John’s Gospel, reference is made to the Return of Christ (21:21-23)! May that Day soon dawn when He shall come again to receive us unto Himself, and in the little interval that yet awaits, may we study His Word more diligently and obey its precepts more carefully.