WHY FOUR GOSPELS?
Isaiah spoke of the Messiah as the ideal Israelite (Isaiah 49:3-6), implying by this that he would manifest all the qualities of virtue to which Israel, as a nation, was called. The Israelites were taken out of Egypt to glorify God (Jeremiah 13:11; Isaiah 43:7) by manifesting His characteristics both individually and nationally. To that end they encamped around the Tabernacle and in the shadow of four standards that reproduced the faces of the Cherubim, which overshadowed the Mercy Seat in the Tabernacle. The nation of Israel was divided into four sections under the leadership of the tribes of Judah, Ephraim, Reuben and Dan with the standards of a Lion, Ox, Man and Eagle (Ezekiel 1:10), representing royalty, service, humanity and divinity.
Many Bible students have long recognized that these same four aspects are exhibited in the four accounts of Christ’s ministry. Matthew emphasizes his royal dignity, constantly drawing upon the prophecies of the Old Testament in confirmation of his majesty. Mark gives attention to the Lord’s work of service, recording what he did for others, including the miracles and acts of love that he rendered. Luke treats his ministry from the standpoint of his humanity, tracing his genealogy back to Adam (Luke 3:23-38). John shows Christ as divine–the Word made flesh (John 1:14), the Son of God (John 20:31) and the manifestation of the Father (John 14:9)–the means by which the foundation for the righteous character he revealed was provided.
The four Gospel records, therefore, are like the four standards of Israel, exhibiting the Lord in four different aspects. The four accounts show that he rules (Matthew–the Lion), because he served (Mark–the Ox), and though he was flesh (Luke–the Man), he conquered through the spirit (John–the Eagle).
At another level, the four Gospel accounts can be distinguished by their intended readers. Matthew wrote for a Jewish audience, Mark wrote for Roman readers, Luke crafted his account for the Greek mind and John appears to have written for all believers. It is significant that these groups represent major peoples in the cosmopolitan world of the first century Mediterranean: the Gospel is for everyone, regardless of background.
Thus the four accounts of Christ’s life, though not in themselves complete (see John 21:25), provide a much fuller and more balanced presentation of the Lord than would be possible in a single account. Yet at the same time, the accounts compliment, rather than contradict, each other. All this is a testimony to an important feature of inspiration. Together, the four Gospel accounts portray the Lord Jesus Christ from four perspectives as the image of God.