A Quick Gospel Primer

In John 19:19, we read about Pilate’s proclamation on Jesus’ cross: “Jesus of Nazareth, the King of the Jews.” It was recorded in Hebrew (the language of the land), Latin (the language of nobility), and Greek (the language of the masses). In a similar manner, we have four accounts of Christ’s life recorded in our Bibles, and, like the three languages of Pilate’s marker, each gospel communicates a consistent but unique view of Christ’s life and ministry.

Matthew’s gospel, for example, is geared toward a Jewish audience. Mark seems to cater to a more Roman audience while Luke’s record is Greek in language and style. Finally, the gospel of John has a more universal message.

The Gospel of Matthew

From the beginning, Matthew emphasizes the laws and traditions of Judaism. He focuses on the scribes and Pharisees, and he extensively refers back to Old Testament quotations throughout his writing. Multiple times in Matthew, we see the phrase, “that it may be fulfilled,” followed by an Old Testament reference. He is the only writer to use “church” in his writings. He arranges Jesus’ teachings into thematic passages. Jesus is called Son of David nine times. He emphasizes the kingdom of Heaven in over fifty verses.

In Matthew 10:6 and 15:24, the author refers to “the lost sheep of the house of Israel,” a term unique to this book. Matthew divides the sections of his book with, “When Jesus was finished,” or some variation that segues into a new topic or thematic section. This happens in Matthew 7, 10, 19, and 26. There are two pivotal points in the book. One is in chapter 4:17, recording, “From that time Jesus began to preach and say, ‘Repent for the kingdom of Heaven is at hand,’” and the other is in 16:21 when Jesus begins foreshadowing His crucifixion.

The Gospel of Mark

Mark is a rapid-moving book. It is aimed at convincing the reader that Jesus is God, quickly moving from one setting, miracle, or event to another. “Immediately” is used some forty times in the book. Suffering and persecution are themes of this gospel. He interprets and explains phrases and customs those outside Judah might be unfamiliar with, and he emphasizes the sovereign authority of Christ. There is no birth story or genealogy in Mark.

The Gospel of Luke

Luke is referred to as a physician. He is very detailed and technical in his identifications of people and places. In Luke 19:25, when referring to the camel and the needle, he uses a word for a surgeon’s needle. (The others recording this use a word for a stitching needle.)

Luke emphasizes the humanity of Jesus. In his genealogy, he traces Mary’s line back to God, and he emphasizes individual’s encounters with Jesus. Women, children, and the needy encounter Jesus often in this book. Prayer is heavily emphasized. Luke 11, 18, and 21 are all prayer passages peculiar to Luke. He also puts an emphasis on grace and the urgency of salvation.

The Gospel of John

This is sometimes referred to as the gospel of belief, and the concept of belief is found ninety-eight times in the book. The author never identifies himself by name. He is always the apostle “that Jesus loved.” Chapters 2:13, 5:1, 6:4, and 11:55 record different Passovers, and this helps us give a timeline Jesus ministry.

John only records seven miracles, and five of them are unique to John. Also, John emphasizes Jesus’ control over His timeframe. In chapters 2:4, 7:6, 7:30, 8:20, and 13:1, John refers to Jesus’ time or hour coming. This cumulates in John’s thesis at the end of his book (20:30-31) – that these events are recorded to stir belief in his readers.


One cannot get the full picture of Jesus by studying only one of the gospels. They all have unique contributions to giving us a complete picture of Christ. This has been recorded for us that we may believe and know for certain the faith we have in Jesus. They confirm His deity, His power, His humanity, His fulfillment of prophecy, and His control over the events surrounding His life and death.

lesson by Tim Smelser