Because the good news about Jesus Christ is for all nations (Gen 12:3, Is 66:18-20, Matt 28:19-20, Acts 11:17-18), the message has some inherent flexibility. It can be delivered in various ways to various people at various times.
Please don’t misunderstand: I’m not saying there are no false gospels (nor that any message = God’s message). I’m merely saying that the true gospel can’t be oversimplified to a single, universal formula. For example, “Jesus is Lord,” “Jesus is the Christ,” “Jesus died for our sins,” and “The Kingdom of God is among you” are all biblical and have their place, and each formula will resonate differently for different people groups (or even different individuals).
I believe that’s why God didn’t give a single portrait of Jesus in the New Testament. To communicate the breadth of his grace to the nations, God gave four Gospels, which provide four lenses through which we can view the work of Christ.
All four perspectives are true. All four are important. Each speaks truth in a slightly different way, though there’s significant overlap between them.
And each Gospel lens triggers further reflection on the person and work of Christ in the epistles.
As you read the New Testament, consider these subdivisions:
- Matthew: with James, Hebrews, Jude
- Mark: with 1 & 2 Peter
- Luke: with Acts, Romans, 1 & 2 Corinthians, Galatians, Ephesians, Philippians, Colossians, 1 & 2 Thessalonians, 1 & 2 Timothy, Titus, Philemon
- John: with 1, 2, & 3 John, Revelation
Perspective #1: By Jews, for Jews
These books show Jesus fulfilling the Old Testament; he’s everything the Jews had been waiting for. These books clarify points of continuity and discontinuity between Old and New Testaments, and they preach the gospel to people familiar with the things of God.
Perspective #2: Peter’s Perspective
Mark was Peter’s close associate (1 Peter 5:13), and many scholars have noted Peter’s hand in Mark’s Gospel. Many episodes read like Peter’s memoirs (such as, Mark 1:36, 14:72). Mark’s Gospel and Peter’s epistles have a strong sense of “doing,” with comparatively little emphasis on “teaching.” These books preach the gospel to people who feel out-of-place in their world and who appreciate knowing just the facts.
Perspective #3: Paul’s Perspective
There’s a strong case for identifying Luke-Acts as a trial brief written to aid Paul’s defense in Roman court. Undoubtedly, Luke was Paul’s close associate and one of his only companions to the end (2 Tim 4:11). Thus, Paul, the apostle to the Gentiles, influenced Luke’s Gospel, where Jesus gives more attention to Gentiles and marginalized outsiders than he does in any other Gospel. Luke, Acts, and Paul’s epistles preach the gospel to people working through the implications of God’s grace and his “all nations” mission.
Perspective #4: John’s Perspective
John was a Jew through and through, and he had a remarkable tenderness in relationships (John 13:23-25). His Gospel and epistles assume unfathomably profound associations between Old and New Testaments, while simultaneously simplifying the message with such clarity that anyone can understand it. Son of God. Believe. Know. Love. Come, Lord Jesus. These books preach the gospel to people who need to learn (or re-learn) the basics.
Read, Study, Preach
These four subdivisions don’t represent the only way to read the New Testament; they merely provide a framework I’ve found to be helpful. Each perspective is like a set of tracks for shipping the cargo of the gospel to a different group of people. As you read the New Testament, you may find it helpful to stay on one track for a time, or you may find it helpful to maintain balance in all four.
As you teach and share the gospel with others, you may want to consider which track is most likely to connect with your audience. Are they already familiar with God or not? Do they have basic Bible knowledge or not? Do they feel like a minority or majority in their environment? Are they likely to feel excluded, and so need more coaxing? Or are they more likely to feel included, and so need more confrontation?
And with a more diverse audience, we have a greater need to cycle through all four perspectives.
Question: Which perspective resonates the most with you?