Lesson: Christ and the Four Gospels



 The Four Gospels (Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John) are not just four separate publications about the life of Jesus; they are accounts that focus on different aspects of Jesus.  Scholars see different emphases in the four Gospels:
    Matthew - The kingship of Jesus
    Mark - The servanthood of Jesus
    Luke - The humanity of Jesus
    John - The deity of Jesus

Such observations, however, seem to be backed up by other parts of the Bible, specifically the "living creatures" that are seen in visions by people hundreds of years apart.  Hundreds of years before Jesus, Ezekiel saw a vision of living creatures:
Their faces looked like this: Each of the four had the face of a man, and on the right side each had the face of a lion, and on the left the face of an ox; each also had the face of an eagle.  (Ezekiel 1:10)

About 60 years after crucifixion, Apostle John was exiled to the island of Patmos, and there he saw a vision of four living creatures similar to Ezekiel's:

In the center, around the throne, were four living creatures, and they were covered with eyes, in front and in back.  The first living creature was like a lion, the second was like an ox, the third had a face like a man, the fourth was like a flying eagle. (Revelation 4:6-7)


Biblical scholars have studied these living creatures for centuries, especially their facial appearances.

    Lion - Jesus as the Messiah, the King of Kings (Matthew)
    Ox - Jesus as the servant (Mark)
    Man - Jesus as a human (Luke)
    Eagle - Jesus as God (John)

Discussion Questions:
1. Why do you think it takes four books to fully describe Jesus?
2. Do you see the appearance of the "living creatures" and the different emphases of the Gospels as coincidental?  If not, then what does this tell you about the Gospels?
3. The emphases of Matthew and Mark seem to be contradictory at first.  What does this tell you about the Christian definition of leadership?
4. What does the humanity of Jesus tell us about ourselves?  When was Jesus a human?
5. The emphases of Luke and John may seem to be miles apart.  What does this tell you about our potential?


Matthew - Jesus as True King of Israel and King of kings

Symbol: Lion, the king of beasts
Matthew is written by Matthew (a.k.a. Levi, a former tax collector), one of the twelve disciples of Jesus.  Matthew is written primarily for the Jews.  It begins with a paternal genealogy of Jesus, which traces him back to the royal family of King David.  In Matthew, Old Testament scriptures are quoted very frequently to let the readers see that Jesus is fulfilling the prophecies concerning the Messiah.

Earthly King                                      Jesus            
* demands obedience, forces people to do things   * earns obedience
* gets resources from people                      * gives his life for us
* looks glorious                                  * humble, even though he is powerful
* claims authority for himself                    * gets authority from God, the final authority

What the Jews envision in their "Messiah:"
     * powerful prince leading a military force to drive out the Romans
     * establish the old kingdom of David
     * enforcer of their old laws, leading people back to the days of Moses
     ==> salvation from oppression, glory in their nation state

What Jesus was:
     * humble savior to save them from spiritual oppression, death
     * teacher of the heavenly system of morality
     * fulfillment of the symbolisms in their old law, the Torah
     ==> salvation from spiritual void, introduction of a new era where law is truly fulfilled, not just covering up sins

Some Jews were disappointed in Jesus when he was crucified.  Some of his disciples (e.g., Judas the Zealot) were possibly politically active.  The Palm Sunday was like a welcome for a king.  Yet this King of kings came to die for the people, not to overthrow the government.


Mark - Jesus as a Servant, Sacrificial Lamb of God

Symbol: Ox, the sacrificial animal and the animal that works hard in the fields
Mark is written by John Mark, a protégé of Peter.  Mark contains much less teaching than the other three Gospels.  It is an action-packed book.  It tells Jesus performing one miracle after another as a servant serving the humanity ("immediately").

What did Jesus do in Mark?
1. performing services, including healing (physical & emotional), casting out demons, and blessing
     * these services show the loving care of God and help demonstrate the power of God so people would want to know more about God
     * these services are not the "ends" of a Christian ministry, but "means" to people's spiritual growth - we need to focus on God, not demonstrations of God's power
2. teaching the gospel
     * teaching is an important part of servanthood - it gets people to grow spiritually and to follow God, which is the real purpose of a servant of God
     * the greatest commandment (12:28-33)
     * the last words in Mark (16:15-18) - a to-do list for Christians
3. obeying the plan of God the Father - accepted the crucifixion
     * he defended his identity before the high priest, but did not argue about the false accusations (our sins) before Pilate
     * Teachings and miracles complement each other - teachings add substance and more value to miracles and miracles help authenticate teachings

Key concepts - try to see in Jesus' perspective:
     * To serve: to explore the needs of others and meeting them - could be very frustrating, demanded lots of patience, had to see all the filth and sin first hand
     * To sacrifice: to temporarily give us his "sinless" state and endure what is intolerable for God - crucifixion is not just painful to Jesus; it forced him to experience "sin" - something that could not be possible for Him as God, to be separate from God the Father (15:34)

Key verses:

"But it is not so among you, but whoever wishes to become great among you shall be your servant; and whoever wishes to be the first among you shall be slave of all.  For even the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give His life as a ransom for many." (10:43-45)
     * Jesus set an example for us to follow
     * our human desire to become great needs to be refocused on the right ideas and action - aim high, but with right attitude and for God

Christian            vs          secular
to serve                         to use, to control
based on love                    based on desire to dominate and use
for the Kingdom                  for oneself
with God's power & authority     with one's own (fake it if needed)

"And He summoned the multitude with His disciples, and said to them, 'If anyone wishes to come after Me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross, and follow Me.  For whoever wishes to save his life shall lose it; but whoever loses his life for My sake and the gospel's shall save it.  For what does it profit a man to gain the whole world, and forfeit his soul?  For what shall a man give in exchange for his soul?'" (8:34-37)
     * redefines the meaning of life for humanity - to sacrifice earthly life in order to gain eternal life
     * in servanthood, we can find true purpose

Compare & Contrast
Matthew & Mark focus on the two characteristics of God: kingship & servanthood
For us, they are opposite, but for God, authority and leadership leads to service - can we understand why?
1. love and concern - how much of these should we have?  how can we get enough?
2. God gives us authority for us to serve others (16:17) - "in my name" = claim the authority I have for yourself in your services to others
3. God could have used His authority on us without serving us, but He chose to serve
humility - what's more humble than a great man serving the least (e.g., Moses)?  Mark demonstrates Jesus' humility and wants us to do the same

Mark is the best book for a new believer to read


Luke - Jesus as a Human

Symbol: Man
Luke is written by Luke, a Greek Jew and a medical doctor who accompanied Paul in his missionary journeys.  Luke is a good historian -- he researches carefully and records details often omitted by other Gospels.  He included a maternal genealogy of Jesus to show Jesus' human side.  He includes many accounts of Jesus expressing human emotions (e.g., weeping before the tomb of Larzarus).


John - Jesus as God

Symbol: Eagle, the symbol of deity
John is written by Apostle John, the "beloved" disciple of Jesus.  As one of the closest person to Jesus when he was on earth, John has some insights that others may not have.  The Gospel of John is very different from the other three Gospels.  It includes many encounters of Jesus not mentioned in the other three.  It includes a lot of teachings of Jesus (especially those concerning his deity) that are not mentioned elsewhere.  It also has special emphasis on the Holy Spirit.



This lesson was developed by George Huang.  Got a question or want to publish this lesson?  E-mail me.

Last updated: 2/10/2000