The Life of Christ in the Synoptic Gospels
The Synoptic Gospels and John: As mentioned in the Index, the first three Gospels are called “synoptic,” i.e., “seen together,” “a general view,” because combined they present a general and harmonized view of Christ’s life as distinguished from the Gospel of John, who writes for Christians as an eye witness and for a special purpose.
Why four Gospels: The existence of four separate and mainly, if not absolutely independent Gospels is a great blessing to the church: (a) it furnishes Christians with such a weight of contemporaneous testimony as is wanting to the vast majority of events in ancient history – a fourfold cord is not easily broken; (b) Jesus is presented to us from several different points of view, each different, yet each the same, each a separate mirror to take in the side presented to it but all disclosing in lifelike harmony the one grand Person – even a man cannot be understood when seen from one point of view, how much less the Son of God; and (c) it is this fourfold view that presents Jesus as the Savior of all men, of all races, of all tendencies of thought.
Matthew’s is the Gospel for the Jews, the Gospel of the past, the Gospel which sees in Christianity a fulfillment of Judaism, the Gospel of discourses, the didactic Gospel, the Gospel which represents Christ as the Messiah of the Jew.
His emblem is the man: expressing the kingly and human characteristics of Christ. Mark’s is the Gospel for the Romans, the Gospel of the present, the Gospel of incident, the anecdotal Gospel, the Gospel which represents Christ as the Son of God and Lord of the world.
His emblem is the lion: expressing courage, dignity, and energy. Luke’s is the Gospel for the Greeks, the Gospel of the future, the Gospel of progressive Christianity, of the universality and gratuitousness of the Gospel, the historic Gospel, the Gospel of Jesus as the Good Physician and the Savior of Mankind.
His emblem is the ox: expressing power and sacrifice, Christ’s priestly and mediatorial office. John’s is preeminently the Gospel for the church, the Gospel of eternity, the spiritual Gospel, the Gospel of Christ as the Eternal Son, and the Incarnate Word.
His emblem is the eagle: because he soars to heaven above the clouds of human infirmity and reveals to us the mysteries of the Godhead, and the felicities of eternal life, gazing on the light of immutable truth with a keen and steady eye.
Conclusion: Like Ezekiel’s cherubim (Ezek. 1), the “fourfold visaged four,” the Gospels are four in number; like them, they are the chariot of God who sitteth between the cherubim; like them, they bear him on a winged throne into all lands; like them, they move wherever the Spirit guides them; like them, they are marvelously joined together, intertwined with coincidences and differences, wing interwoven with wing, and wheel interwoven with wheel; like them, they are full of eyes, and sparkle with heavenly light.