The first three gospels are sometimes called the 'synoptic' (same view) gospels. This is because they each cover teaching and miracles by Jesus that are also covered in another account. John, writing later, recounts Jesus' other words and miracles that have a particular spiritual meaning.
All four gospels present Jesus as both the Son of God and son of man. They all record His baptism, the feeding of the 5,000 from five loaves and two fishes, Mary's anointing of the Lord Jesus, His prayer in the garden of Gethsemane, His betrayal, trial, crucifixion, death, burial and resurrection. However, each writer does so in a slightly different way, recording additional details or emphasizing one aspect more than the others.
Click on the name of one of the authors (below) to see what makes their account of the gospel special.
Mark was Peter's son (I Peter 5:13, possibly spiritual son), who wrote down what Peter said about who Jesus was, what He did, where He went and what happened; Mark's gospel is therefore Peter's account, an eye-witness account, written down by Mark.
Luke was a doctor and a co-worker with Paul (Colossians 4:14; Philemon v24). Because some spurious stories about Jesus were circulating, Luke decided to interview local eye-witnesses and people who had followed Jesus closely. Luke collated all the interviews into a single account, recording details not mentioned elsewhere, for example regarding the conception and birth of Jesus and Mary's extended family, as you might expect of a doctor.
John was one of the first twelve disciples of Jesus and therefore an eye-witness (John 19:35); John brings out the spiritual significance as well as recording the practical aspects of Jesus' works and words. John lived to be older than any of the other writers. It is therefore likely that he was familiar with their accounts and wanted to supplement theirs with additional teaching and miracles by Jesus which had a bearing on the situation towards the end of the first century AD.
Recommended reading: F.F.Bruce "The New Testament Documents".
Matthew writes his gospel account to give us the view of Jesus as the King:
Matthew records Jesus' authority in calling the disciples: "Follow me" (Matthew 4:19). This is how Matthew himself became one of the twelve disciples of Jesus. Matthew had formerly been a tax collector, a Jew working for the Roman government, probably dishonest and despised. He briefly gives his own account of how he became a follower of Jesus in Matthew 9:9-13.
Matthew records more than any of the others about Jesus' teaching concerning God's kingdom and heavenly rule:
Privately, Jesus warns the disciples three times that not everything will happen the way they expect: "the Son of Man will be betrayed and they will kill Him, and the third day He will be raised up" (Matthew 17:22-23).
Matthew records Jesus entering into Jerusalem, riding on a donkey, to cries of 'Hosanna to the Son of David', in direct animated fulfilment of Zechariah's prophecy regarding the King of Zion, who will establish peace and whose kingdom will extend to the ends of the earth (Zechariah 9:9-10).
Just when it looks to the crowd as though Jesus will prove He is the Messiah by overthrowing the Roman government of Israel, the King is arrested, betrayed by a friend. Even in His arrest, Jesus reminds them He is King "I could pray to My Father, and He will provide Me with more than twelve legions of angels" (Matthew 26:53). Instead, as the meek and lowly King, He is judged by earthly rulers (first the Jewish Sanhedrin and then the Roman governor), mocked, scourged and crucified as the King of the Jews (Matthew 27:26-37).
It appears to go quiet after all the rhetoric. Though He is dead, Matthew records the earthly rulers are still not sure about the King of the Jews, because of the possibility of resurrection, so they seal (with wax) the stone covering the tomb entry and place guards over it (Matthew 27:62-66).
Well they might fear, for nothing, not even the power of death or the gates of Hades can hold the King. He rises on the third day, just as He said, and appears to the disciples.
Finally, Jesus meets the disciples at the appointed mountain and declares to them:
Mark wrote down Peter's account of the 'good news'. Peter was one of the first twelve of Jesus' disciples, and the first to publicly recognise Him as the Messiah. Peter, through Mark, shows us that Jesus fulfils all the criteria of the Servant-Messiah our Ransom, who was prophesied by Isaiah some 750 years earlier (Isaiah 42:1-9; 49:5-7; 52:13-53:12). Jesus is portrayed as a slave, caring for people and serving God (Mark 1:32-35). There are therefore no details of His birth, only of the beginning of His service (Mark 1:1,9).
The diligence of His service and its effect on people is such that the word 'immediately' is used many, many times in Mark's account. More than once, Jesus was so busy healing people, He did not have time to eat (Mark 3:20; 6:31). In case after case His great compassion is manifested, both on individuals and on the crowd "because He saw the crowd were like sheep without a shepherd" (Mark 6:34).
As the Son of God He could discern the thoughts of hearts, yet as God's Slave (representing God faithfully as the Son of Man) He was authorized to both forgive sins and heal the sick, as seen in Mark 2:1-12.
Mark's record also describes the feelings of people, the anguish of suffering and the relief of Jesus' touch, in details not contained elsewhere: the "little daughter", the woman who "had spent everything she had on doctors and was not benefitted at all", they "begged Him earnestly" to come and heal; when He did "they were amazed with great amazement", they said "we have never seen anything like this", or "they feared greatly" (Mark 5:21-43; 2:12; 7:37; 4:41).
Gradually the eyes of the disciples, especially Peter, begin to open: this is the promised Messiah, the Christ (Mark 8:29). Straight away, Jesus shows them that He will be despised and rejected and fulfil the sufferings predicted in Isaiah chapter 53, regarding His death for our sins. Peter just can't believe it. Then Jesus shows them that to be His disciples means to follow Him in every way, not to be ashamed of Him, but to suffer with Him, so that when He comes in His Messianic kingdom, He will not be ashamed of them (Mark 8:30-38).
From this point onwards, Jesus speaks and teaches more. But still Jesus is the slave of God, healing people, full of compassion. Jesus reveals "the Son of Man came to serve and to give His life a ransom for many" in Mark 10:45. He comes to Jericho, the lowest city on the earth's surface (500 feet below sea level). There, the lowest person in the lowest city (a blind beggar) cries out to Him. Peter even remembers the beggar's name, Bar Timaeus, and Mark records it. Jesus asks Bar Timaeus "What do you want Me to do for you?" What does the lowest of the low want the coming Messianic King (the Son of Man, Mark 8:38; 10:45) to do for him? "That I may receive my sight" came Bar Timaeus' reply. Jesus heals him; He is still the slave of God to serve needy people.
As Jesus enters Jerusalem there is a rapturous welcome, but it is short-lived. The Passover Feast is about to begin, where the obedient slave will become the obedient lamb, silent before His shearers and led to the slaughter (Isaiah 53:7).
Before this though, there will be one last supper, where the slave of God will serve His disciples, saying "Take; this is My body" and "This is My blood, being poured out for many" (Mark 14:22-24). Now He has given them everything. Gently, He warns the disciples one more time of what is coming: the Shepherd will be struck down and the sheep will be scattered (Mark 14:27). But Peter is confident he will not be a sheep that goes astray, turning to his own way (Isaiah 53:6). Jesus warns him, but still he does not listen. Within hours, Peter will deny he ever knew Jesus (Mark 14:71).
Later, in the garden, the slave of God prays intimately to His Father: "Abba, not what I will, but what You will" (Mark 14:36); He is obedient even unto death. Mark then records the details of how Jesus is despised, smitten, afflicted, wounded, bruised, whipped, oppressed and finally led out to die, not opening His mouth to defend Himself (only answering name and rank, Mark 14:62). Nailed to the cross, God lays upon Him the iniquity of us all. Jesus has fulfilled every last detail of Isaiah chapter 53.
This is not the end, though. His obedient death is accepted by God as our ransom: "My righteous Servant shall justify many, for He shall bear their iniquities. He (God the Father) shall see the travail of His (Jesus') soul and be satisfied" (Isaiah 53:11). Because He is satisfied, God raises Jesus from the dead: "He shall prolong His days" (Isaiah 53:10). The women visit the tomb and find it empty. It is announced to them: "He is raised! Go and tell His disciples and Peter, 'You will see Him', even as He told you" (Mark 16:7). What compassion and wonderful care for Peter!