The Design and Purpose of the Four Gospels

“And truly Jesus did many other signs in the presence of His disciples, which are not written in this book; but these are written that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that believing you may have life in His name” (John 20:30-31). So concludes the wonderful Gospel of John. John is often called the fourth Gospel record. Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John form a biographical record of the birth, life, work, and destiny of Jesus Christ. They are possibly the most valuable documents in existence

In order to appreciate and understand the Bible it is essential to know how the parts of the Bible fit together. The two main sections of the Bible are the Old and New Testaments. The Old Testament has specific sections that serve different purposes. Jesus mentioned the Law, the Prophets, and the Psalms (Luke 24:44). And all of these sections have different purposes. The same is true with the New Testament. The New Testament has a biographical section known as the Four Gospels, Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John. Then comes the Acts of the Apostles followed by the various letters and the concluding section is the Apocalypse or the book of Revelation. All parts of the Bible relate to each other to produce a single message of God, man, sin, and eternal salvation. They mesh together in such harmony that no one section of the Bible stands alone.

Without the New Testament records the Old Testament is an incomplete work. Without the Old Testament the New Testament has no foundation. It is a tragic mistake to isolate any section of the Bible from the whole picture. It is equally tragic not to recognize the purpose of each of these sections.

The Gospel Records have a very definite purpose and design. John’s words again are, “And truly Jesus did many other signs in the presence of His disciples, which are not written in this book; but these are written that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that believing you may have life in His name.” The Gospels are designed to furnish credible and irrefutable evidence upon which faith in Jesus Christ may stand. They do not propose to give a full account of everything Jesus said and did. John wrote, “And there are also many other things that Jesus did, which if they were written one by one, I suppose that even the world itself could not contain the books that would be written” (John 21:25). The material found in these records, however, is complete and full. It sufficiently serves the intended purpose. To have ample reason to believe Jesus Christ is truly the Son of God one needs but read and study the Gospel Records. That is their design and purpose.

Matthew, Mark, Luke and John reveal the Savior, not salvation. They tell us of what Jesus did in order to make salvation possible. The opening of the “new and living way” for all mankind is the theme of these books. Now the terms of salvation are made known in these records but the primary purpose served is to establish the basis for faith in Christ. The apostle Peter wrote of salvation for those who are “kept by the power of God through faith for salvation ready to be revealed in the last day” (1 Pet. 1:5). The last time is now, not during the days of Jesus on earth. After he ascended, the last days began.

While it is important to know why these records are in the Bible, it is equally important to understand what they are not designed to do. The things revealed in these records have a definite purpose and design. It is fundamentally wrong to attempt to make them something they were never designed to do. Consider a few things not intended for these books.

The Mosaic law was still in force during the time covered by Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John. Jesus taught His disciples to observe the law. He taught them to listen to those who were teachers of the Law. Matthew records Jesus’ words: “The scribes and the Pharisees sit in Moses’ seat. All therefore whatsoever they bid you observe, that observe and do, but do not ye after their works, for they say and do not” (Matt. 23:2-3). Jesus would not tell anyone to day to observe any of the Mosaic precepts. Nor would he tell anyone to listen to the Scribes and Pharisees who sat in Moses’s seat. No one can be right and observe any of the Mosaic precepts for that law has been removed. Hebrew 7:18,19 speaks of there being verily a “disannuling” of that commandment that went before.

It was Paul who wrote in Gal. 5:4, “Christ is become of no effect of you whosoever of you are justified by the law; you are fallen from grace.” Some who claim to be guided by the law of Moses today ought to give serious attention to Paul and contrary to a very popular false doctrine, it is quite possible for a child of God, one washed in the blood of Jesus Christ, to fall away from grace and finally be lost. You, see, Paul said so.

Jesus was born “under the law” and was subject to the Mosaic law. Again, from Paul: “But when the fullness of the time was come, God sent forth His Son, made of a woman, made under the law” (Gal. 4:4). These books that make up the first section of the New Testament tell us of the birth of Jesus. The law in force at the time Jesus was born, lived, and was crucified was the Old Testament law. It was not until his death that the law was taken out of the way.

The Mosaic law did not furnish evidence for saving faith. Paul wrote to Timothy: “But continue thou in the things which thou hast learned and hast been assured of, knowing of whom thou hast learned them. And that from a child thou hast known the holy scriptures, which are able to make thee wise unto salvation through faith which is in Christ Jesus” (2 Tim. 3:14-15). “The holy scriptures” are the Old Testament writings -- not the New. The New Testament was in the process of formation. It was not complete at the time Paul wrote this to Timothy. The only “holy scriptures” in existence when Timothy was a lad, were the Old Testament writings. But note carefully that these scriptures were able to make Timothy wise to salvation, and that salvation was possible only through faith in Christ Jesus. It is the faith in Christ that saves -- not adherence to the Old Testament scriptures.

The Gospel Records of Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John furnish that which the Old Testament only could anticipate -- saving faith in Jesus Christ as the only begotten Son of God Almighty. The summation written by John tells us that Jesus said and did enough to convince any honest heart that He is the one and only Savior.

The gospel of John is not a full biography of Christ. No details of his birth are given in John’s message. Not much of his boyhood days are particularized. John simply gives us those facts respecting our Lord which are capable of producing faith in him as the Messiah, the unique son of God. It has well be said, “John’s work is a gospel, and not a biography. It is most imperfect as a biography; it is complete as a gospel.”

All who read the gospel records should be convinced of two things, both of which are identical in fact and inseparable in understanding.

First, we should understand very clearly that the man Jesus is the Christ. The name Christ means the “anointed one.” When this is applied to Jesus it affirms that he is the long awaited king and deliverer. Jewish people had for thousands of years waited for their promised Messiah. The Messiah would be a deliverer who would usher in a kingdom of peace and prosperity (Psa. 110; Isa. 32:1-8; Amos 9:3). These are all Old Testament passages that look toward the time of peace and prosperity when the ruler, the Messiah, would come. It was the apostle Peter who confessed, “You are the Christ, the son of the Living God” (Matt. 16:16). W.E., Vine, one of the finest students of original words, defines the word KRISTOS as “anointed, noting that it translates in the Septuagint, the word Messiah.

The second thing that must be believed is that those who believe this are to understand that Jesus is the son of God, the divine Word and truly God. If Jesus were not truly the son of God and fully deity, he would not have been the Christ. Please consider the following very astute observation taken from the Cambridge Greek New Testament for Schools and Colleges:

“Men have failed to see this. Some have been looking for a mere prophet and a wonder worker, a second Moses or a second Elijah. Others have been looking for an earthly kind and conqueror, a second David or perhaps a second Solomon. These views were all far short of the truth and too often obscured and hindered the truth. Jesus, the Lord’s anointed must be, and is, not only very man, but also very God.”

There follows the promise that “believing you may have life in his name.” This is a great truth to possess. John wrote, “These things I have written to you who believe in the name of the Son of God that you may know that you have eternal life and that you may continue to believe in the name of the Son of God” (1 John 5:13). Belief in Christ is the solid assurance that one may have eternal life. Belief in Christ is an expanding experience. It perpetuates itself. You will notice that the added promise in John’s letter is, “that you may continue to believe in the name of the son of God.”

The gospels of Matthew, Mark, Luke and John all furnish irrefutable proof that Jesus, the man that was born of the virgin Mary and grew up in Nazareth, the man who finally was nailed to the cross on Golgotha and raised from the dead, is not merely man, he is the son of the living God. He was no mere man to whom for a time a divine being attached itself. Jesus is God who took to himself human nature, being found in fashion as a man (Phil. 2:6-7). Eternal life is not obtained through human intelligence or human experience. It is obtained by faith in Jesus Christ that will obey him implicitly.

Faith in his name means faith in him. Through no other name is salvation possible. It was Peter who said in Acts 4:12, “Nor is there salvation in any other, for there is none other name under heaven, given among men , whereby we must be saved.” And Paul said sinners are “washed, justified, and sanctified in the name of the Lord Jesus and by the Spirit of God” (1 Cor. 6:11).

The purpose and design of the gospel records can be summed up in one sentence. Matthew, Mark, Luke and John are designed to provide sensible people with credible evidence that Jesus Christ is the son of God and through him alone is salvation possible. Can any rational being successfully deny or refute this simple fact. Paul wrote, “So then faith comes by hearing and hearing by the word of God” (Rom. 10:17). The American Standard Version translates this, “So faith comes by hearing and hearing by the word of Christ.” You see it is a message that produces faith and it is to the gospels we must turn for that message.

To be saved, a believer then must obey Christ. His parting words were, “God into all the world and preach the gospel to every creature. He who believes and is baptized shall be saved but he who does not believe will be condemned” (Mk. 16:15-16). Those who believe the gospel and who will be baptized will be saved. Dear friend, please consider these words of our Lord Jesus Christ. Do not dismiss them from your consciousness. If today you believe that Jesus Christ is the son of God, then obey him today.

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