The “fourfold witness” refers to the four Gospels – Matthew, Mark, Luke and John – which together provide a comprehensive witness to the life, ministry, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ. Each Gospel offers a unique perspective on Jesus, with some similarities and some variations between them. Looking at all four Gospels together gives us a more complete understanding of who Jesus was and what He accomplished.
The word “Gospel” means “good news,” and refers to the message about Jesus Christ that the apostles preached after His resurrection. The Gospels are eyewitness accounts of Jesus’ life and ministry written down so that others could learn about Him. Though there are four Gospels, they preach one unified message about Jesus being the Son of God and Savior of the world.
Why are there four Gospels instead of just one? Each was written for a different audience and purpose:
- Matthew was written for a Jewish audience to prove Jesus was the Messiah foretold in Old Testament prophecy. It emphasizes Jesus’ role as King.
- Mark was written for Romans and focuses on Jesus as a suffering servant and risen conqueror. It emphasizes Jesus’ role as Servant.
- Luke was written for Greeks and emphasizes Jesus’ humanity and perfection. It presents Jesus as the Son of Man.
- John was written to new believers and focuses on Jesus as the divine Son of God. It presents Jesus as the Son of God.
Together, the four Gospels form a complete witness about Jesus Christ. While each author had a particular emphasis and audience, God inspired all four to be written so we could have a fully inspired record of the Savior. As the apostle John wrote:
Jesus did many other things as well. If every one of them were written down, I suppose that even the whole world would not have room for the books that would be written. (John 21:25)
Let’s take a brief look at how each of the Gospels uniquely testifies to who Jesus is:
Matthew – Jesus the Promised Messiah and King
Matthew’s Gospel was written to a Jewish audience to prove that Jesus was the Messiah prophesied about in the Old Testament. Matthew includes many quotes and references to Old Testament prophecies fulfilled by Jesus. Some key themes in Matthew include:
- Jesus’ genealogy tracing him back to Abraham, showing he is a descendant of David and rightful heir to the throne (Matthew 1:1-17)
- Frequent use of the phrase “kingdom of heaven” referring to God’s kingdom (mentioned over 30 times)
- Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount portraying him as a new Moses giving the law (Matthew 5-7)
- Many messianic miracles proving Jesus is the Christ (opening eyes, healing leprosy, casting out demons, etc.)
- Parables of the kingdom teaching about God’s reign on earth
- Jesus riding into Jerusalem as the prophesied king (Matthew 21:1-11)
- Pilate asking Jesus “Are you the king of the Jews?” (Matthew 27:11)
For Matthew, Jesus is the King and Messiah sent to establish God’s kingdom on earth. His Gospel is filled with references to Jesus as the fulfillment of Old Testament prophecies about the coming Messiah.
Mark – Jesus the Suffering Servant and Risen Lord
Mark’s Gospel was likely written for a Gentile Roman audience. Mark emphasizes Jesus’ works more than His words and presents Jesus as a servant who came to suffer and sacrifice Himself to pay the ransom for sinners. Key themes in Mark include:
- No genealogy or birth narrative, Mark begins with Jesus’ ministry
- Action-packed narrative showing Jesus as a man of great power and authority
- Jesus portrayed as a suffering servant fulfilling Isaiah 53 through His death
- Minimal teaching passages compared to action and miracles
- Jesus as the Son of Man who came to give His life a ransom for many (Mark 10:45)
- Packs more miracles into less words than any other Gospel
- Strong emphasis on Jesus’ death and resurrection
For Mark, Jesus is the Suffering Servant who conquers sin and death through His sacrificial death and victorious resurrection from the grave. Mark’s fast-paced account presents Jesus as the Son of Man and risen Lord.
Luke – Jesus the Perfect Savior of All People
Luke’s Gospel was written with a Greek audience in mind. Luke portrays Jesus as the perfect Savior and emphasizes His perfection, compassion, prayerfulness, and sacrifice for all people. Key themes in Luke include:
- Most comprehensive account of Jesus’ birth and childhood
- Genealogy tracing Jesus back to Adam showing He came to save all mankind
- Heavy emphasis on prayer and the Holy Spirit guiding Jesus
- Jesus eating with sinners, outcasts, and social pariahs
- Parables of lost things (sheep, coin, sons) showing God’s love for the lost
- Good Samaritan showing love for neighbors
- The Prodigal Son showing the welcoming father
- “Father, forgive them” prayer while dying on the cross (Luke 23:34)
For Luke, Jesus is the perfect Savior who embodies compassion and brings salvation to all who will receive Him. Luke highlights Jesus’ tender heart for the hurting and lost.
John – Jesus the Divine Son of God
John’s Gospel was likely written last and assumes the reader already has some Christian instruction. John emphasizes Jesus’ divine nature and eternal existence as the Son of God. Key themes in John include:
- “In the beginning was the Word” showing Christ’s eternal nature (John 1:1)
- I AM statements underscoring Jesus’ deity (John 6:35, 8:12, 10:7, 10:11, 11:25, etc.)
- Upper room discourse where Jesus emphasizes his unity with the Father (John 14-17)
- Doubting Thomas declares “My Lord and my God!” upon seeing the risen Christ (John 20:28)
- The stated purpose that the readers “may believe Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God” (John 20:31)
For John, Jesus is the eternal Son of God who took on flesh to reveal the Father and offer eternal life. John exalts Christ as the radiance of God’s glory and exact representation of His nature (Hebrews 1:3).
The Unified Witness of the Fourfold Gospel
While each Gospel has unique aspects, together they create a multifaceted picture of Jesus Christ. The four Gospels harmonize as one divinely inspired account that reveals Jesus as the promised Savior of the world. Through the fourfold witness we see Jesus revealed as:
- King (Matthew)
- Servant (Mark)
- Son of Man (Luke)
- Son of God (John)
These four perspectives combine to provide a robust and well-rounded understanding of who Jesus is and why He came. The different emphases and strengths of each Gospel come together to paint a vivid portrait of Christ and create a solid foundation for Christian faith.
While skeptics sometimes claim the Gospels contradict one another, the differences can be understood as variation in perspective between eyewitnesses. The accounts harmonize on the major events of Jesus’ life, death, and resurrection. The unique aspects reveal the multifaceted nature of Jesus and grounds for His universal appeal to all types of people.
Through the fourfold Gospel, Jesus is revealed not just as a great teacher and miracle worker, but as the divine Son of God who took on human flesh to become the Savior of the world. He is the Messiah promised in the Old Testament, the Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world (John 1:29), and the risen Lord seated in power and glory at the Father’s right hand.
The four Gospels provide the most reliable witness to the life and identity of Jesus Christ. As John stated near the end of his Gospel:
Jesus performed many other signs in the presence of his disciples, which are not recorded in this book. But these are written that you may believe that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in his name. (John 20:30-31)
May we cherish the fourfold witness of the Gospels that points us to Jesus Christ and the eternal life found in His name!