Overview of the Gospels
Jesus Changes Everything
Having read through the Gospels for three times, it might be beneficial to get a bird’s eye view of the forest (the four Gospels) rather than focusing on the individual trees (each Gospel), so that the significance of each book and how they all function together might become much clearer.
Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John make up the first section of the New Testament called the Gospels. Many would consider this section to be biographical as they introduce the Person and Work of Jesus Christ, but are they really a biography of Jesus in a proper sense of the word?
The Gospels do recount the life and ministry of Jesus Christ and, in that sense, may be called a biography of Jesus. However, in many ways, they are much more than that. For one thing the Gospels do not focus on biographical material that a normal biography would not miss. For instance, the bulk of Gospel material is not about Jesus’ miraculous birth, as Matthew and Luke have only two chapters each, nor are they interested in Jesus’ early childhood (just a few verses in Luke only). It might be surprising for many to realize that the Gospels are not primarily about Jesus’ miracles or teaching either—the Gospels record about forty-eight miracles, but most of the accounts are brief and matter-of-fact; and all the teachings of Jesus amount to only six brief sermons. (The Sermon on the Mount, the largest, takes less than twenty minutes to recite.)
So, what about Jesus is most important? The following data is revealing:
- Matthew 21-28, about 1/3 of the book, covers one week. In other words, Matthew spends twenty chapters on 33 years of Jesus’ life, but eight chapters on a single week in His life.
- Mark 11-16, also about 1/3 of the book, covers one week.
- Luke 19-24, about 1/4 of the book, covers one week.
- John 12-20, nearly 1/2 of the book (!), covers one week. In addition, John devotes seven chapters (1/3 of John) to just one 24-hour period within that one week (chs. 13-19).
As you can see, the Gospels are not a “normal” biography. It is not “normal” because it not about a “normal” person or life, nor was that one week to which they devote most of their attention a normal week. It was an extraordinary week leading up to a unique day in the history of the world. As one biblical scholar rightly noted, a Gospel is “a passion narrative with an extended introduction.”
If the four Gospels are the four-chambered heart of the Bible, the Passion of Christ, the work He came to accomplish, would be the very lifeblood. The death of Christ was not the unfortunate end to the promising life of a great man who thought ahead of His time. The heart of the heart of the Bible is the sacrificial, substitutionary, redemptive work of Christ on the Cross, and His victorious resurrection conquering death.
May each reading of the Gospel impress that truth deeper into our hearts.
 M. Kahler, cited by I. Howard Marshall, “Jesus in the Gospels,” Expositor’s Bible Commentary, I, 518.