How to Read the Gospels for All Their Worth

It is an odd fact that throughout the centuries Christians have struggled to understand the four Gospels.  To a certain extent, the effort is understandable as, in some ways, it would have been easier to have just one Gospel that was written by Jesus himself in Aramaic as that was the spoken language of ancient Palestine.

But God in His wisdom gave us four accounts of the life, death and resurrection of Christ.  Perhaps He thought it was wise to verify the most important life ever lived with four witnesses.  But then again, it is also important to note that the four evangelists wrote for four different communities.

According to ancient sources, the Gospel of Mark was written to the persecuted Christian community shortly after the crucifixion of Peter.  The Gospel of Luke was written to Gentiles to explain how it was that the “Jewish faith” was opened to all people of all nations, The Gospel of Matthew was written to Christian Jews after they had been shunned by their fellow Israelites and the Gospel of John was written to a whole new generation about to lose all eyewitnesses to the life of Christ.  The author’s purpose should help you understand each Gospel. But you can’t truly understand any of the Gospels until you comprehend the phrase “The Kingdom of God.”

Literally, Kingdom of God (βασιλεία τοῦ θεοῦ), it is the area over which the king exercises His rule. So, the Kingdom of God is area over which Jesus exercises His reign.  Where do we see the Kingdom of God?

But is the Kingdom present or future? The Bible’s answer is, “yes.” Jesus reigns over the hearts of His followers now but He will reign perfectly over the entire universe once He returns.

But how do we know the Kingdom? Is it when people become saved or when the powers of darkness in this world are challenged.  The answer is both but neither alone.  The great British missionary and theologian Lesslie Newbigin wrote, “When the message of the kingdom of God is separated from the name of Jesus two distortions follow, and these are in fact the source of deep divisions in the life of the church today. On the one hand, there is the preaching of the name of Jesus simply as the one who brings a religious experience of personal salvation without involving one in costly actions at the points in public life where the power of Satan is contradicting the rule of God…On the other hand, when the message of the kingdom is separated from the name of Jesus, the the action of the church in respect of the evils in society becomes a mere ideological crusade, inviting men and women to put their trust in that which cannot satisfy.” Mission in Christ’s Way.

Thus, the Kingdom of God is seen when those who have come to a saving faith in Jesus Christ engage the world with truth presented with grace.  We are to be salt (Matt. 5:13).  In the ancient world, salt was used to preserve that which would decay without it.  Reflect upon what has happened in Washington, D.C. and Hollywood without the pervasive effect of the followers of Christ.  The Gospel cannot be separated from engaging the culture but we cannot effectively engage the culture without the grace of the Gospel.

In order to read the Gospels for all their worth, we must understand the historical context of the individual authors and the truth and mission of the Kingdom of God. Happy reading.

If you are one of my Free Seminary students, next week, we will look at Ecclesiastes 1, Psalm 22 and Isaiah 52-53.  Until then, blessings.