The Gospels are where we find all the famous Bible stories about Jesus. Because each Gospel is about the same main character, they all share several elements.

For example, each of the four gospels follows this general progression:

  1. A statement of Jesus’ divine status (Mt 1:23; 3:13–17; Mk 1:1, 9–11; Lk 1:32–35; 3:21–22; Jn 1:1, 29–34)
  2. Jesus’ miracles and teachings (Mt 4–25; Mk 1–13; Lk 4–19:27; Jn 2–17)
  3. Jesus’ betrayal, trial, and death (Mt 26–27; Mk 14–15; Lk 19:28–23:56; Jn 18–19)
  4. Jesus’ resurrection and encouragement to his followers (Mt 28:1–15; Mk 16:1–8; Lk 24:1–12; Jn 20:1–10)

Many people (including myself!) have asked, “Do we really need four gospels in the Bible? That seems redundant. Shouldn’t one do the trick?”

Maybe that would be the case if Jesus were a regular person who just did regular things. But he isn’t, and he didn’t.

John says that the world itself couldn’t hold all the books that could be written about Jesus’ ministry: "Now there are also many other things that Jesus did. Were every one of them to be written, I suppose that the world itself could not contain the books that would be written." - John 21:25

He’s probably being hyperbolic, but if there’s that much to say about Jesus, then we shouldn’t be surprised that we have multiple accounts of him in our Bible. If the world couldn’t hold his whole story, then surely a 16-chapter pamphlet like Mark couldn’t!

We have four gospels because during the early church period, four people found it necessary to tell the story of Jesus from four different perspectives. Each gospel was written for a different (original) group of people, by a different author, who was trying to accomplish a different purpose.

Let’s take a closer look at each one.

Gospel of Matthew

The book of Matthew is the first Gospel (an account of Jesus’ life and ministry) in the New Testament. In Matthew, Jesus teaches people what it means to be part of his kingdom, the “kingdom of heaven.” He is betrayed and crucified. He rises again and commissions His disciples to spread the good news.

The apostle Matthew (who is traditionally credited with writing this book) seems to have written this Gospel to a Christian audience who was either Jewish or highly familiar with the Jewish religion. Matthew presents Jesus as the Messiah (Mt 1:1), the promised descendant of King David who would bring God’s kingdom to earth and establish a time of peace and justice. Matthew quotes the Old Testament extensively, and places special emphasis on Jesus’ fulfillment of prophecies—which would have been important to a Jewish audience. Matthew tells us the story of Jesus with an emphasis on His role as Messiah, or Christ:

"She will bear a Son; and you shall call His name Jesus, for He will save His people from their sins." - Matthew 1:21

Matthew opens with a simple statement of who Jesus is (the Messiah), and closes with a simple statement of what we should do (make disciples for Him).

Unlike John, Matthew doesn’t state his purpose explicitly. However, his opening verse makes it very clear what this book is about: Jesus, the Messiah, the son of David, the son of Abraham. The rest of this Gospel presents evidence of who Jesus is.

Gospel of Mark

Mark is the story of what Jesus did for us. The author, John Mark, wrote this book based on the apostle Peter’s memories of Jesus’ words and deeds.

Mark is the second Gospel (an account of Jesus’ life and ministry) in the New Testament. Like the other Gospels, Mark records Jesus’ life: His miracles, betrayal, death, resurrection, and commission. However, Mark’s Gospel is very brief (nearly half as long as Luke) and focuses more on things Jesus did than things Jesus said. Mark’s stories are not arranged chronologically; instead they’re put together to give us a quick, accurate view of Jesus.

This Gospel emphasizes two important characteristics of Jesus Christ:

“For even the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give His life a ransom for many.” - Mark 10:45

As you read Mark, you’ll see the word “immediately” repeated often: Mark is a quick, urgent, bold message about who Jesus is and what He did.

Mark opens with a quick overview of what the book is about: “the Gospel of Jesus Christ, the Son of God” (Mk 1:1). Every passage in Mark, every miracle, every conversation, every deed, points back to Jesus’ authority as the Son of God.

Mark is a brief synopsis of Jesus, and could have been meant for reading in one sitting—or aloud to an audience. It’s an exciting account of the Son of God that could speak to the Jews and the non-Jews of Mark’s day.

Gospel of Luke

Luke is the story of Jesus Christ—exactly as it happened. It’s written by Luke, the physician.

Luke is the third Gospel (an account of Jesus’ life and ministry) in the New Testament. Luke tells Jesus’ story in extensive detail, more so than any other Gospel. Luke records miracles, sermons, conversations, and personal feelings (Lk 2:19). The writer is a thorough historian who researched everything (Lk 1:3). And Luke’s attention to detail shows: not only is his the longest of the four gospels, but it’s also the the longest book of the New Testament. That’s a lot of content!

The book of Luke shows us Jesus, who came to seek and save the lost: “For the Son of Man has come to seek and to save that which was lost.” - Luke 19:10

We learn all about the God-man in whom we’ve placed our faith. We see how He lived, how He died, and how He rose again.

Luke’s Gospel is written in ways that Jewish and non-Jewish people can understand and appreciate. In Luke, Jesus is indeed the long-awaited Messiah; He is also the savior of the nations (Lk 2:30–32). Whereas Matthew traces Jesus’ ancestry to Abraham (Mt 1:1), Luke charts His lineage all the way back to Adam (Lk 3:38). This isn’t surprising—after all, Luke spent a great deal of time with the apostle Paul, who shared the good news with both Jewish and Gentile audiences.

Luke states his purpose of writing right away: this book is meant to give believers an accurate, chronological understanding of Jesus’ life, ministry, death, and resurrection. Luke investigated the events of Jesus’ life by speaking with eyewitnesses (Lk 1:2), giving Theophilus (and us) a thorough record of the things Jesus did and said.

Luke is written to a Christian with little education in the life of Christ, making this book a terrific starting point for believers interested in studying His life today.

Gospel of John

John is the story of Jesus: God who came down to save the world. This book was written by a disciple whom Jesus loved—the Church traditionally attributes it to John.

John is the fourth and last Gospel (an account of Jesus’ life and ministry) in the new Testament. John focuses on the deity of Christ more so than the other four: we see Jesus as the Word of God, the Son of God, and God Himself. Jesus is a great miracle worker, an omniscient teacher, a compassionate provider, and a faithful friend.

John may be the final Gospel, but this narrative begins far, far earlier than the other three. While Mark begins with Jesus’ adult ministry, and Matthew and Luke begin with His physical birth, John opens with the beginning of all creation: “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.”

Jesus presents Himself as God incarnate throughout the Gospel of John, often using the phrase “I am” (the memorial name of God revealed in Exodus). John records several “I am” statements from Jesus throughout this book:

The Gospel of John makes a strong argument for Jesus as the exclusive savior, and the only way to know God (Jn 1:18; 14:6). Jesus is greater than the Jewish heroes Moses and Abraham (Jn 1:17; 8:58); Jesus Christ is God in the flesh, and John challenges us to believe in Him.

In addition to this Gospel, the church traditionally associates John with three New Testament letters (First, Second, and Third John) and the prophetic book of Revelation. He was a leader in the early church, and he probably wrote his documents after most of the other New Testament books were already written.

The miracles recorded in John’s gospel are written that the reader would believe in Jesus and find life in His name. Therefore, much of John’s material directly states who Jesus is, not just what He does or says: “Therefore many other signs Jesus also performed in the presence of the disciples, which are not written in this book; but these have been written so that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God; and that believing you may have life in His name.” - John 20:30–31

Unlike Luke, John does not aim to chronicle the whole life of Christ—in fact, John doesn’t think the world could contain such a document (Jn 21:25). Instead, John presents a few signs and teachings that should compel us to believe in Jesus.