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The Gospels: Four Testimonies of the Savior


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The Gospels: Four Testimonies of the Savior

Looking closely at each of the four Gospels, we can see distinctive perspectives that highlight important truths about Jesus Christ.

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In Remembrance of Me (Also: "The Last Supper")

In Remembrance of Me, by Walter Rane; all other illustrations by Paul Mann

The word gospel means “good news,” and the good news is that Jesus Christ came to earth and accomplished His mission of salvation (see 3 Nephi 27:13–14). The four New Testament Gospels describe the life and mission of the Savior.

Each Gospel was originally written as an independent testimony of the Savior. When we look closely at each testimony individually, we can appreciate distinctive perspectives highlighting important truths about Jesus Christ.

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Luke

Mark

Who was he?

Traditionally believed to be John Mark, a missionary companion of Paul (see Acts 12:25).

What were his sources?

Possibly Peter, whom he accompanied to Rome and whose recollections about the Savior he wrote down.1

When was his Gospel written?

Probably between AD 65 and 70 (the first of the four New Testament Gospels to be written).

Who was his primary audience?

Gentile, possibly Roman, readers. Mark explains Jewish customs for readers who were unfamiliar with Jesus’s language and culture (see Mark 7:1–4), and he also mentions Roman customs (see Mark 6:48; 13:35).

Rather than beginning with the birth of Jesus, Mark begins with His baptism, where God declared Jesus to be His Beloved Son (see Mark 1:11). This divine approval and identity are the foundation of Jesus’s authority over sickness, disease, and opposition.

In general, Mark emphasizes that though Jesus was rejected, misunderstood, and died a humiliating death upon the cross, He ultimately triumphed over all things.

As Jesus demonstrated His authority, He was often misunderstood by fellow Jews (see Mark 1:27; 4:11–12; 8:27–28), including those in His hometown, Nazareth (see Mark 6:1–4), and some family members (see Mark 3:21; see also John 7:5). Even His own disciples did not completely comprehend the scope of His mission (see Mark 4:36–41).

Despite the opposition and misunderstanding, however, Jesus was victorious. During His mortal ministry, He taught His disciples that He would rise from the dead (see Mark 8:31; 9:31; 10:34). At the cross, even the Roman centurion declared that Jesus was truly the Son of God (see Mark 15:39). At the tomb, a messenger in a white robe confirmed that Jesus was risen (see Mark 16:5–6), and many witnesses beheld the resurrected Christ for themselves (see Mark 16:9–14).

What We Can Learn from Mark

For those who wonder why more people did not accept the crucified Messiah and are seeking to gain or strengthen their own testimonies, the Gospel of Mark offers hope. From the beginning, people have misunderstood Jesus Christ. But those from any race or background who patiently remain loyal and follow the Savior will receive reassurance that “truly this man was the Son of God” (Mark 15:39).

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The Revelation of St. John the Devine

Matthew portrays Jesus as the fulfillment of Israelite prophecies and as evidence that God is with His people.

Matthew

Who was he?

Traditionally believed to be the tax collector mentioned in Matthew 9:9.

What were his sources?

His Gospel seems to depend somewhat on Mark’s Gospel both in terms of its recorded stories and, with some exceptions, the order in which they are presented.

When was his Gospel written?

Probably between AD 80 and 95.

Who was his primary audience?

Jewish readers. Unlike Mark, Matthew does not feel the need to explain Jewish concepts for his audience. The Gospel begins with a genealogy that links Jesus with the royal Davidic line and with Abraham, the father of the Jewish covenant (see Matthew 1:1–17). However, it also includes several passages that highlight the faith of Gentiles and their inclusion in the kingdom of heaven (see Matthew 1:2–6; 8:5–12; 15:21–28), anticipating the Savior’s instruction on the Mount of Olives to “teach all nations” (Matthew 28:19).

Matthew portrays Jesus as the fulfillment of Israelite prophecies of the Messiah to come from King David’s lineage. He also portrays Jesus as the new Moses through parallels: He came out of Egypt (see Matthew 2:13–15), gave five major sermons2 (as Moses gave five books of law), and gave His new law on a mountain (see Matthew 5:1).

Matthew’s Gospel also portrays Jesus’s coming as evidence that God is with His people. When John the Baptist was in prison, he sent his disciples to Jesus to inquire if Jesus was “he that should come” (see Matthew 11:2–3). Jesus’s response was that He came to heal people and teach the gospel to the poor (see Matthew 11:4–5).

Only Matthew’s Gospel records the angel’s identification of Jesus as “Emmanuel, which being interpreted is, God with us” (Matthew 1:23; see also Isaiah 7:14) and the resurrected Jesus’s final words to His disciples, “I am with you alway, even unto the end of the world” (Matthew 28:20).

What We Can Learn from Matthew

Matthew’s Gospel is an important witness of Jesus’s role in showing that God’s love is with His people. Jesus’s coming to earth was the fulfillment of a plan that had been in place from the beginning. Before the Day of Judgment, God first sent His Son to teach and heal His people, both physically and spiritually.

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The Epistles

Luke emphasizes that Jesus was the Savior for all people, not just the chosen or elite.

Luke

Who was he?

A physician and missionary companion of Paul (see Colossians 4:14; 2 Timothy 4:11; Philemon 1:24).

What were his sources?

He learned from eyewitnesses and previously written Gospels, perhaps including Mark’s Gospel (see Luke 1:1–3).

When was his Gospel written?

Probably between AD 80 and 90, along with its companion volume, the book of Acts (compare Luke 1:1–4 with Acts 1:1–3).

Who was his primary audience?

Gentile readers. While Matthew’s genealogy of Jesus begins with Abraham (see Matthew 1:2), Luke’s goes back to Adam, the father of all humanity (see Luke 3:38). When compared with Mark, Luke sometimes modifies references that were not as meaningful for his non-Jewish readers, such as omitting Jewish religious traditions and changing Aramaic or Hebrew names or titles.

More than other Gospels, Luke mentions faithful women, some of whom accompanied Jesus and supported Him temporally (see Luke 8:1–3). He notes that other women witnessed the Savior’s death and declared to the Apostles that Jesus had risen from the dead (see Luke 23:49, 55–56; 24:1–10).

Luke emphasizes that Jesus was the Savior for all people, not just the chosen or elite. He also emphasizes that the Savior’s message was carried out through the power of the Holy Spirit. Luke mentions those who were filled with the Spirit as they prepared for and prophesied of the Savior (see Luke 1:15, 35, 41, 67; 2:25–27). Jesus Himself received the Spirit, ministered to others through it (see Luke 3:16, 22), and declared that God is willing to give this same Spirit to His children (see Luke 12:10).

Only Luke includes the Lord’s commission of the Seventy to teach the gospel to everyone (see Luke 10:1–12). This theme is continued in Acts as disciples carry the good news from Jerusalem to “the uttermost part of the earth” (Acts 1:8).

What We Can Learn from Luke

More than other Gospels, Luke’s demonstrates that the Savior of the world met His foreordained fate with dignity and courage so that each one of us might experience the blessings of His Atonement and Resurrection, regardless of our background.

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New Testament stories [art]

John

Who was he?

The Apostle John. Many early Christians believed that John was the unnamed disciple “whom Jesus loved” mentioned in this Gospel (see John 13:23). Modern revelation confirms this identification (see 3 Nephi 28:6; Doctrine and Covenants 7:1).

What were his sources?

His eyewitness testimony, the writings of John the Baptist (see Doctrine and Covenants 93:6–16), and unnamed faithful disciples who helped John compile this information (see John 21:24).

When was his Gospel written?

Probably between AD 90 and 110.

Who was his primary audience?

All people. John’s Gospel invites everyone to “believe that Jesus is the Christ” (John 20:31), which includes those who do not yet believe as well as disciples who seek to continue and strengthen their faith in Him.

The Gospel of John is unique among the four Gospels. In antiquity, it was known as “a spiritual Gospel”3 because of its emphasis on Jesus’s divine nature. Its opening verse states: “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God” (John 1:1; emphasis added). But it also emphasizes that “the Word was made flesh, and dwelt among us” (John 1:14).

This Gospel shows that one of the reasons many people failed to understand Jesus’s teachings was that He was “from above” and had a different, eternal perspective from people who “are of this world” (John 8:23; see also 3:11–13, 31). A careful reading of His dialogues with others shows how Jesus used these interactions to help the people raise their sights and begin to develop an eternal perspective. Whenever He spoke, He revealed the words of God (see John 8:40; 14:10, 24); and when He acted, He performed the will of God (see John 4:34; 5:30; 6:38).

What We Can Learn from John

John’s Gospel identifies its purposes: “As many as received [Jesus], to them gave he power to become the sons of God, even to them that believe on his name” (John 1:12), and “these [things] are written, that ye might believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God; and that believing ye might have life through his name” (John 20:31). This Gospel is thus a reminder to all its readers of the importance of allowing Jesus to teach us how to deepen our understanding from God’s eternal perspective.

Conclusion

We can learn many things by considering how each Gospel highlights different aspects of the ministry of Jesus and paints an individual portrait of the Savior. Through inspiration, each Gospel writer shared his own unique testimony of Jesus Christ, which when understood can add an enlightening dimension to our own study of the New Testament and our understanding of the Savior of the world.

Among other powerful themes, these individual testimonies teach that Jesus Christ is a Savior who fulfills His promises to His covenant people (Matthew), who succors us through adversity with the anticipation of eternal triumph (Mark), whose Spirit invites us to compassionately reach out to all people (Luke), and who marks the path to oneness with God (John).

Notes

  1. See Eusebius: The Church History, trans. Paul L. Maier (2007), 113–14 (3.39.15–16).

  2. The Sermon on the Mount (Matthew 5–7); the apostolic commission (Matthew 10); the parables discourse (Matthew 13); the community rules discourse (Matthew 18); and the Olivet discourse (Matthew 24–25).

  3. Eusebius: The Church History, 199 (6.14.7).