A Harmony of The Gospels
In the four preceding charts we have analyzed each of the records of the gospel. We have seen that the sacred writers presented Jesus in different roles. Mark wished to have the Romans see Him as a man of action — the servant of Jehovah. Matthew introduced Him to the Jewish people as their King, for whom they were looking and whom they failed to recognize, Luke, as we have already seen, brought Him before the Greek world and presented Him as the ideal man — the man without sin or blemish. John finally presented Him as the God-man to unbelievers, laying emphasis on the fact that He was God. In view of these fundamental facts it becomes necessary for the Christian to study each of these records, just as the Lord gave them. The fact that the Spirit presented Jesus in these four different aspects is proof that He wanted us to know Him from each of these angles.
The same time the human mind is so constituted that it wishes to get a full picture of our Lord and to correlate all the information which we have in order to know more about Him. Thus in the second century Tatian composed the first harmony of the gospels by combining the four records. Since his day many attempts have been made to perfect such a harmony in order that the reader might have an account of the events of our Lord's life as they occurred chronologically. Much labor has been bestowed upon this phase of Bible study, and good results have been achieved. Nevertheless, the last word has not yet been said.
On this and the following page (see charts below, click to enlarge) I have presented a graphic representation of the harmony of the gospel records. Just a few words are necessary to introduce this lesson. In the upper left-hand corner of the chart above is an inset which presents in a bird's-eye view the diagram of eternity which was given in a former section. A glance at this little chart shows that eternity is divided into three sections: “In the Beginning”; “Time”; and “The Ages of the Ages.” John in his record of the gospel takes us back into eternity prior to the creation of the world. This fact is indicated on the main chart below (chart A). There one will see a reference to John 1:1-4. From it two arrows run — one to the left pointing to the ages prior to the creation; the second one pointing directly upward to the period during which God was creating the universe. Christ, being divine and co-equal with the Father and the Holy Spirit (Philippians 2:5-9), came to earth and took upon Himself the form of man. Such is the presentation of the subject in the prologue of John (John 1:1-18).
The chart on the right-hand page (chart B) has been magnified (click to enlarge) because there is so very much material to be noted in connection with it. The heavy lines running through the center of both charts are one. The arrow on which the word, time, occurs is an extension of that one upon which the same word appears in the first chart (chart A), even though it is much higher on the page. The one on which “historic times” appears is a prolongation of the one thus designated. Likewise the one on which “Dispensation of Law” is written is a continuation of the small arc on the left-hand side which is designated “Age of Law.”
One must bear in mind that these charts are not made to a scale. Such was impossible. The birth of Jesus is indicated on the left edge of the right-hand page (chart B). If a person will begin, in order, with the material indicated by each of the arrows and read the passages mentioned, he will be able to follow the life and the events of our Lord from beginning to end.
The prologue of Luke should be studied first. It consists of the first four verses of chapter 1. Here we learn that Luke, as a scientist, gathered his material and incorporated it in his account, which is “the most beautiful book in the world.” This record is followed by the account of the birth and life of John the Baptist as recorded by Luke. Next in order we study the genealogies of Jesus as they appear in Matthew and in Luke. Let us remember that the one given by Matthew is His regal genealogy, whereas the one found in Luke is the actual one. The next material deals with the birth and early life of Jesus. Matthew, Luke, and John are the ones who give this information. After our Lord's return with Mary and Joseph from Egypt, we lose sight of Him until He is about twelve years of age when He visits Jerusalem with them at the passover.
After that event, we do not get another glimpse of Him until we see Him at the baptismal scene, which occurs in the middle of the year 26 A.D. It is quite likely that John had engaged in his public ministry for something like six months before this time. All four evangelists tell of the Forerunner's labors. John's ministry ran for something like eighteen months and overlapped with that of Jesus for about one year.
John stirred the country from center to circumference. Great masses went out and submitted to his baptism, confessing their sins. Thus great expectations were raised for the coming of the Messiah, whom John announced. At the psychological moment, Jesus appeared. When He was baptized, there came a voice out of the heavens, proclaiming, “This is my beloved son, in whom I am well pleased.” Then the Holy Spirit in the form of a dove came upon Him. John did not know that Jesus was the Messiah until this scene was enacted at the baptism. He had, however, been told by the Lord that the one upon whom the Spirit would come was the one whose appearance he was announcing. Thus John bore witness to the fact that Jesus of Nazareth was the Messiah of Israel. The first three evangelists give an account of the baptismal scene. This is followed immediately by the temptations of Jesus. He was in the wilderness forty days during which time the Devil tempted Him. At the conclusion of this period, however, Satan came with his three most subtle and powerful temptations; but each time Jesus rebuffed him, taking His stand upon that which was written. Returning from the temptations. He came to the place where John was. The latter pointed to Him as the Lamb of God that taketh away the sin of the world (John 1:29). Thereupon certain of John's disciples left him and followed Jesus. At this time Jesus won four or five of His disciples who accompanied Him from this time onward. When He returned to Galilee, He established His headquarters in Capernaum and went out from there on His various missionary tours. He began His public ministry in Galilee by turning the water into wine.
From the middle of 26 A.D. to the middle of 27 is a year which is passed over by Matthew, Mark, and Luke. John, however, tells of Christ's visit to Jerusalem at the passover of the year 27 A.D. It was at that time that He performed many miracles and multitudes believed on Him. He had His famous conversation with Nicodemus at this time (John 3:1f). The Apostle John is the only one who tells of the early Judean ministry. Some scholars think that it lasted for six months. Others, not so long. One cannot be dogmatic. When the opposition became so very great against Jesus in Judaea, He left that section of the country. Going northward, He journeyed to Samaria and conducted a short revival there. (See John 4.) Christ's leaving Judaea for Galilee synchronized with the imprisonment of John. It was in the middle of the first complete year of our Lord's ministry. This fact is indicated on the chart above.
The great Galilean ministry covered something like eighteen months. This fact is indicated on the chart. There were three tours of this period, as has already been suggested in previous studies. It is altogether possible that each of these was approximately six months long. Between the first and second, Jesus visited Jerusalem as we learn in John 5. In this passage the feast mentioned is not called definitely the passover, but many conservative scholars are of the opinion that it was. Personally I think that this position is quite probable.
The great Galilean ministry came to a conclusion at the passover of 29 A.D. It was at this time that Jesus fed the 5,000 on the eastern shore of the Sea of Galilee. Then crossing the lake, He preached the sermon on “The Bread of Life” in the synagogue at Capernaum. According to the data which we have, one comes to the conclusion that Jesus omitted visiting Jerusalem at this time.
The first six months — from passover to tabernacles — was spent in His retiring four times from the Holy Land. It seems that opposition had become so very powerful against Jesus that He no longer could do any good with the masses. Thus He retired to Gentile territory and ministered to those who were thirsting for the truth.
This little season was brought to a close by His journey to Jerusalem at the Feast of Tabernacles mentioned in John 7:1-10:21. Following this visit it is quite likely that Jesus engaged in the Judean ministry, as is found in Luke 9:51-13:21. This section, of His ministry was brought to a conclusion by the Feast of Dedication. At that time we see Jesus again in Jerusalem. This fact is set forth in John 10:22-39. From Jerusalem Jesus went over into Perea — the country east of the Jordan — and engaged in a marvelous ministry. He was then called to Bethany on account of the death of Lazarus. He went; but the opposition became more intense so that He retired from the environs of Jerusalem, going to Ephraim, which was north of the city. A little later, it seems that He went through the borders of Samaria and Galilee and finally joined the caravan of pilgrims which proceeded from Galilee through Perea on its way to Jerusalem. We have a record of the last journey given by all four evangelists. The events of the last week are likewise elaborated upon by all four gospel writers.
All of them tell about the resurrection — our Lord's triumph over the powers of the unseen world and His bringing life and immortality to light through the gospel. Luke alone tells of His ascension. He likewise enlarges upon this incident in the first chapter of Acts.
The student will do well if he will work out this harmony of the four records of the gospel. The chart presented will be of inestimable value in such a study.