“The beginning.” Mark is the only Gospel that has anything like the phrase, “the beginning of the Good News of Jesus Christ.” Yet when we understand that Mark is the Gospel that portrays Jesus Christ as the Servant of God, we can see that the phrase fits perfectly with the purpose of Mark (see commentary below on “the Good News of Jesus Christ” as to why there are four Gospels). Jesus Christ’s ministry as the obedient and suffering Servant of God came to an end with his death, which is why in the Gospel of Mark, Jesus never appears after his death. He was resurrected, not as a servant, but as Lord of all. But the Good News of Jesus Christ did not end with his death. It continued with his resurrection, his ascension, and now with his ministry from heaven. Thus Mark, which portrays Jesus as the Servant of God, only gives us the “beginning” of the Good News concerning him. In contrast to Jesus’ ministry as a Servant, which came to an end, his ministry as King (Matthew); human man (Luke); and Son of God (John) continues to this day, and Matthew, Luke, and John all have post-resurrection appearances of Jesus Christ.
Some scholars have suggested that the word “beginning” is referring to the start of Jesus’ ministry, as if the verse read, “This is the way the Good News of Jesus begins.” However, that cannot be correct. The “Good News” of Jesus began many years before John the Baptist came on the scene. At his birth about 30 years before, the angel announced that Jesus birth was “Good News” (Luke 2:10).
“the Good News of Jesus Christ.” It is sometimes asked why there are four Gospels. Part of the answer is likely that for any testimony to be validated, there needs to be 2 or 3 witnesses (Deut. 17:6, 19:15; Matt. 18:16; 1 Tim. 5:19; Heb. 10:28), and the four Gospels provide that, especially since Matthew and John were eyewitnesses. Nevertheless, the accounts by Mark and Luke have been recognized by most Christians not only as authentic historical documents, but also as God-inspired records of the life of Christ just as Matthew and John are.
The second reason there are Four Gospels is that each is written from a different perspective, and together they comprise a very profound, prophetic, and precise fourfold pattern of the Messiah. The pattern set forth in the four Gospels is that Matthew portrays Christ as a king, Mark as a servant, Luke as a man, and John as the Son of God. This pattern had already been set forth and foreshadowed long before by the Old Testament prophets. This fourfold pattern has its roots in an important Hebrew term used in the prophecies of Christ, which is tsemach. Tsemach means “sprout” or “offspring,” and is often translated “Branch,” and the vital “Branch,” and center of Old Testament prophecy is the Messiah, Jesus Christ.
Tsemach paints a mental picture of a new sprout or shoot coming up out of a dead-looking stump, certainly an appropriate picture of the Messiah, because just when it looked like Israel was cut down and dead, out of it sprang the Messiah. In the Old Testament, tsemach is used five times in direct prophetic reference to the Messiah and aspects of his life. Although “the branch” was a common term for the Messiah, five Old Testament verses in particular lay out a fourfold prophetic picture of him. In two verses the Branch is shown to be a king (Jer. 23:5; 33:15), also the Branch is shown as a servant (Zech. 3:8), also the Branch is shown to be a man (Zech. 6:12), and also, the Branch is shown to be “the Branch of the LORD (Yahweh)” i.e., one directly from LORD God (Isa. 4:2).
These four descriptions of the Messiah subdivide according to one of the most basic distinctions we can make about any person: who he is and what he does. Two of the four terms refer to his person—Son and man, while the other two relate to his work—King and servant. Intrinsic to these terms is another important distinction in the life of the Messiah: he is humbled and he is exalted, that is, both “sufferings” and “glory” will characterize his life. We see Jesus’ humility in the designations man and servant, we see his exaltation in the terms king and Son of God. Although the four Gospels are in many ways the same, they are also unique, each having its own vocabulary and style.
The Four Gospels all begin and end in a way that points out their unique purpose. The book of Matthew starts with a genealogy that presents Jesus as a King from the line of David; showing that Jesus is the Messianic fulfillment of God’s promise to David that his kingdom would never end (2 Sam. 7:16). Thus, Matthew starts with the “record of the genealogy of Jesus Christ the son of David,” and then gives the genealogy from Abraham, the one who was promised the land, and the genealogy goes through King David, who was the king and promised the kingdom in a covenant of salt with God (2 Chron. 13:5). Then Matthew ends with Jesus commanding his disciples to teach people to obey his commands, which is what subjects of the king do—obey—and also he told them he would always be with them, which makes sense because his kingdom will never end.
Mark has no genealogy, which makes sense because a servant’s genealogy is not relevant—the work he does is what matters, and servants are employed when they are ready to serve. Mark begins with John the Baptist preparing for the coming of God’s prophesied “Servant” (cp. Isa. 52:13), and then Jesus is equipped for ministry by receiving holy spirit and being tested in the desert (Mark 1:9-13), after which he begins his ministry (Mark 1:14). Mark ends suddenly. The angel told the women Jesus had been raised from the dead and they left trembling and astonished. That abrupt ending of Mark is appropriate because once Jesus had been raised from the dead the work of Jesus the Suffering Servant was over. Once Jesus arose he was now the exalted and glorified king
Luke portrays Jesus as a man, and as such it is appropriate that Luke begins with the birth of John the Baptist, who will prepare the people of Israel for his arrival. Then Luke records Jesus’ birth almost as if it was the birth of any other person, including his circumcision and being presented in the Temple along with sacrifices prescribed in the Law of Moses. However, the testimony of shepherds, Anna, and Simeon remind us that the baby was the promised Messiah. Then Luke 3 gives the human genealogy of Jesus going back to Adam, the first human. Luke ends with Jesus ending his earthly ministry and being carried up into heaven, at which point he began a totally new aspect of his ministry.
The Gospel of John begins with showing that God had a plan from the beginning (John 1:1) and that plan for salvation and redemption became flesh in Jesus Christ. John introduces Jesus as “the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world” (John 1:29), and only the sinless Son of God was qualified to be the sacrifice for all human sin. The Gospel of John does not end with the resurrection or ascension, because as the Son of God, Jesus’ ministry continues on forever. Instead, John ends with statements about how the Gospel of John was written so that people would believe that Jesus was the Son of God, and thus receive everlasting life (John 20:31; 21:24).
Beyond the way they begin and end, the Gospels have contents that point to their unique purpose. Matthew has a number of unique characteristics that point to Christ as King. Matthew mentions the humble birth of Christ in one sentence (Matt 1:25), but then skips forward almost two years until the Magi arrive and ask “Where is the one who has been born king?” (Matt. 2:2). Then the Magi present the royal Son with gifts appropriate of his status as king. The phrase, “the Kingdom of Heaven” is associated with the specific reign of the Messiah on earth. It occurs more than 30 times in the gospel of Matthew, but not once in any of the other Gospels, which use the phrase, “Kingdom of God.” The title, “Son of David,” occurs ten times in Matthew and only six times in all the other Gospels combined. There are a number of parables that are unique to Matthew, and most of them have a clear reference to the Kingdom. These include: the Darnel (Matt. 13:24-30); the Hidden Treasure (Matt. 13:44); the Pearl (Matt. 13:45); the Dragnet (Matt. 13:47); the Unmerciful Servant (Matt. 18:23-35); the Laborers in the Vineyard (Matt. 20:1-16); the Two Sons (Matt. 21:28-32); the Marriage of the King’s Son (Matt. 22:1-14); and the Ten Virgins (Matt. 25:1-13). Only Matthew records the “sheep and goat judgment,” when the king lets the righteous into his kingdom but excludes the unrighteous (Matt. 25).
The Gospel of Mark, which presents Christ as a servant, is short, simple and forceful, emphasizing Christ’s works more than his words. Commentators have long noticed that Mark focuses more on what Jesus did than what he said, which makes sense because obedient action is the sign of a good servant. Mark also moves quickly from one event to another. Even the vocabulary reflects this pattern. The Greek word eutheos (“immediately”) occurs 40 times in Mark but only 27 times in all the other Gospels combined. That statistic is made even more vivid when one realizes that there are only 16 chapters in Mark, but 73 chapters in the other three Gospels.
A valued servant is quick to obey. E. W. Bullinger, who also saw the fourfold portrait of Christ, notes that Jesus “is addressed as ‘Lord’ in the other three Gospels 73 times,...he is addressed as such in the Gospel of Mark only twice.”a Bullinger notes that of these two uses of “Lord” that appear in the KJV, one was by a Gentile woman and was simply the title equivalent of “sir” (Mark 7:28), and one is Mark 9:24, which is not even in the earliest Greek texts, but was a later addition. So actually, Jesus is never called “Lord” in Mark by anyone who knew he was the Messiah, a clear indication of the emphasis in Mark on Jesus’ role as God’s servant. Appropriately, more than a third of Mark takes place in the last week of Jesus’ life, which places special emphasis on his obedience and the fact that he was the suffering Servant foretold in the Old Testament.
Mark also opens with the phrase that Mark gives the “beginning” of the Good News of Jesus (Mark 1:1). That is true, because the Good News of Jesus continues to this day with Jesus sitting on the right hand of God. Jesus’ role of King, human man, and Son of God, all continue to this day, but Jesus’ role as the Servant of God ended with his death. Since Mark portrays Jesus as the Servant, it is appropriate that Jesus does not appear in Mark after his resurrection, when he is no longer the Servant, but “Lord of all.” Thus the Gospel of Mark only gives us the “beginning” of the Good News about Jesus, it does not continue with Good News about him after his resurrection.
The Gospel of Luke, which portrays Christ as a man, presents the Messiah and his relationships in a way that highlights his humanity as the Last Adam. Luke has an emphasis on both prayer and praise to God, which is appropriate for all mankind. Jesus is shown praying in Luke 3:21; 5:16; 6:12; 9:18, 29; 11:1; 22:32, 41, 44, and 23:34. Luke has four great praise hymns that are unique to Luke: the Magnificat of Mary (Luke 1:46-55); the Benedictus of Zechariah (Luke 1:68-79); the Gloria in Excelsis of the angels (Luke 2:14), and the Nunc Dimittis of Simeon (Luke 2:29-32), and praise to God is mentioned in many other verses.
Luke clearly portrays Jesus’ great love for all people and describes him as a warm and loving person. Commentators note that the book of Luke portrays Jesus’ special concern for the poor, sinners, women, and the family more clearly than any other Gospel. Luke has a unique emphasis on women, and speaks of women in a way not covered in the other Gospels, for example, Elizabeth, Anna, the widow of Nain, the repentant woman (Luke 7:37-50); the women who ministered to Christ (Luke 8:2-3), the daughters of Jerusalem (Luke 23:27-28), and Mary and Martha (Luke 10:38-42). Also, Luke shows Jesus sympathetically acknowledging the Gentiles. The parables that are unique to Luke emphasize human traits such as love for fellow man (and the importance of an individual), wisdom, and foolishness. Parables unique to Luke include: the Two Debtors (Luke 7:41-42); the Good Samaritan (Luke 10:30-37); the Persistent Friend (Luke 11:5-8); the Rich Fool (Luke 12:16-21); the Lost Coin (Luke 15:8-10); the Forgiving Father (Luke 15:11-32); the Wise Manager (Luke 16:1-12); the Rich Man and Lazarus (Luke 16:19-31); the Persistent Widow (Luke 18:1-8); the Pharisee and the Tax Collector (Luke 18:9-14).
The Gospel of John, which portrays Christ as the Son of God, starts out by saying that God, in the beginning, had a plan, purpose, or wisdom (the logos) that became flesh, that is, the Son “comes from” the Father. This is a very short genealogy: the Father had a Son, an only begotten Son, and since Jesus’ father is God, any portrayal of his earthly birth would only take emphasis away from the true Father. Jesus’ intimacy with his Father is uniquely portrayed in John. For example, the word “father” occurs as many times in John as in all the other Gospels combined.
The narrator writes the Gospel of John from the standpoint that Jesus is already exalted and in heaven, something both unique to John and appropriate to his status as the Son of God (cp. commentary on John 3:13). Theologians have long noticed that John is different from the other Gospels and truly unique. This fits with our expectations, because, as “the only begotten Son of God,” Jesus is truly unique.
John is also unique from the standpoint of what it leaves out. For example, there is no temptation in the wilderness. Kings, servants, and humans need to demonstrate their qualifications and be proven for the job they do, but as the Son of God, Jesus is qualified to be the Messiah without being tempted first. Similarly, there is no record of the event called “the Transfiguration,” because, as we have already said, John sees Jesus from the perspective of already being risen and in glory, not the perspective of preparing for his glory. Also, Jesus is called by the messianic title, the “Son of David” in every Gospel except John. As a king, servant, and man, Jesus was indeed the Son of David. But the emphasis in John, that Jesus was the Son of God, is more important and needs more emphasis than pointing out that Jesus was also “the Son of David.”
It should catch our attention that when the Messiah does a miracle in his role as King, Servant, or Man, the act is called a “miracle” (dunamis). The Greek word dunamis (miracle; power) occurs almost 40 times in Matthew, Mark, and Luke, but it does not occur at all in John. In contrast to the other Gospels, when Jesus does a miracle in the Gospel of John, the work is called a “sign” (simeion). A “sign” is something that gives information and points to something else. For example, a road sign with a curved line on it points out that there is a curve in the road ahead. The eight “signs” in John that are clearly miracles are called “signs” because they point to Jesus as the Son of God. Thus, Jesus could say, “though you do not believe me, believe the works, so that you may know and understand that the Father is united with me, and I am united with the Father” (John 10:38); and “Keep on believing me, that I am in the Father, and the Father in me, or else keep believing me because of the works themselves” (John 14:11). The eight miracle signs in John are:
Besides these specifically mentioned signs, there are other places in John that refer to signs Jesus was doing, such as John 2:23; 3:2; 7:31, and 12:37. The signs that Jesus was doing show the prejudice and spiritual blindness of the Jews, who a number of times asked Jesus to show them a sign of who he was (John 2:18; 6:30).
The fourfold portrait of Christ given by the Four Gospels is good evidence they are the God-breathed Word of God, and not just the writing and memories of four men. There is no way the four different writers could have collaborated on their individual Gospels and produced this remarkable fourfold portrait of Christ. Like all the different writers of the Bible, they each wrote independently of one another, separated by both time and space. They could not have agreed upon what to include together and what to emphasize individually such that the wonderful fourfold portrait of Christ that was foretold in the Old Testament was laid out in the Four Gospels. The Four Gospels, like the rest of the Bible, are the God-breathed Word.
“The Son of God.” This phrase, which is only two words in the Greek text, is missing from some early and important manuscripts. The variety of manuscripts that do not have the phrase is such that many scholars have concluded that differences in the manuscripts are not due to an accidental deletion that was simply recopied but rather was a deliberate change. That fact has not ended the debate; it has just shifted the question. Is it more likely that the phrase was original, but adoptionist scribes (those who say Jesus “became” the Son at his baptism) deleted it to add support for their position; or is it more likely that the phrase was not original, but scribes added it, following their general tendency to expand titles? At this point. there is no conclusive evidence for either position, and since the adoptionist view is erroneous, whether the phrase “Son of God” was added to simply expand the title of Jesus Christ, or whether it is original, the fact remains that Jesus was the Son of God from his conception, so we left the phrase in.