Identity, Tradition, Ministry, and Divinity in the Christology of the Four Gospels

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Mark, Matthew, Luke, and John are the four gospels of the bible. Although written across a span of 100 years, together they bring Jesus Christ to life. In each gospel, a main key idea of Jesus’ Christology comes out. Mark, Matthew, and Luke are the synoptic gospels and all focus more on Christ in a human sense whereas John speaks of Christ as God. The question of the identity of Christ is very important in Mark’s story of the Son of God. Matthew shows Jesus’ Christology through tradition of the Old and New Testament. Luke focuses on the ministry of Jesus and the role of the Holy Spirit. John puts great emphasis on the divinity of Jesus Christ and logos. Mark, Matthew, Luke, and John each have different aspects of Christology that focus on identity, tradition, ministry, and divinity.

The “identity” question or the Christological question of the gospel of Mark can be summed up as “who is Jesus according to the gospel of Mark?” The most tangible answers are the titles given to Jesus. Throughout the gospel, Mark refers to Jesus as: Christ, Son of God, Holy One of God, Son of David, King, Son of Man, Rabbi, Rabbouni, Teacher, Bridegroom, Prophet, the Coming One, the Mightier One, the Shepherd, and the Lord. These 15 titles each give Jesus a different characteristic but do not go into depth of who Jesus is. The real mystery lies within each title given to Jesus Christ.

When Jesus is called the Son of Man, there is a rippling effect to the reactions that occur. It is said that in the gospel of Mark, “Jesus is also seen as Son of Man, a term used in Mark not simply as a substitute for “I” or for humanity in general or with reference to a mighty figure who is to come, but also in connection with Jesus’ predestined, necessary path of suffering and vindication.” Mark wanted to reveal the human side of Christ so that humans would be better able to relate with him. In doing so, Christians can see the powerful Son of God in a tangible sense of humanity and divinity coming together.

The gospel of Matthew begins with a genealogy of Jesus dating back to David and Abraham. It lists out three sets of fourteen names going back to the beginning of Abraham, through David and the Babylonian Exile and down to the birth of Jesus. This genealogy is a key factor to Matthew’s Christology because it establishes Jesus’ place within the Jewish tradition. Throughout the book, Christ is referred to as the Son of David and the Messiah. Both these terms have rich Old Testament backgrounds through David and the prophets. Matthew wrote the gospel for a strictly Jewish audience and throughout the book has many references to the Old Testament and shows how the New Testament fulfills the Old.

The book is composed of five discourses which consist of speeches that were given by Jesus. These speeches were not exact translations, but rather constructed materials that came out of tradition. It is not a coincidence that Matthew’s gospel is five discourses just like the Pentateuch is five books. This is one of the many parallels between Matthew and the Old Testament. He was able to create a bridge in between the two books which greatly appealed to the Jewish-Christians at the time. “From beginning to end, there is tension between tradition and newness. Neither pole of the tension is rejected. The interplay between the two generates life and fresh insights.” Jesus was able to break the bonds of tradition and bring a new Christological influence that has outlived his time period. The genealogy of Jesus and his Jewish roots are important to understanding why this gospel was written. Matthew wanted to show how God sent Jesus, his son, to fulfill the Old Testament and create new traditions.

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Luke writes of the salvation that Jesus Christ brought to the world from the beginning of his earthly life. Through this salvation, God’s divine plan was fulfilled and extended to all humanity. There are many other themes of Luke’s gospel, but most have to do with mercy of Jesus. It is said that there is no other gospel writer that is concerned with the compassion and mercy of Jesus as much as Luke is. Throughout the gospel, Jesus is constantly showing mercy to the poor, sinners, and outcasts. An example of this is in Luke 7:36-50, Jesus breaks bread with a tax collector whom is considered an outcast. Every day of his life, Jesus put somebody else before himself, showing a compassion unseen in history.

The Holy Spirit also plays a very important role in Jesus’ Christology in Luke’s gospel. Through the power of the Holy Spirit, Jesus is guided through his public ministry into his passion and resurrection and then later helps the apostles in spreading the gospel after Christ’s death. Lastly, the Ascension plays into the theme of the Holy Spirit and Jesus’ Christology. It was Jesus’ mission “to be taken up from this world.” When Jesus ascended into heaven, he took his place at the right hand of the father. The ascension is a crucial part of Jesus’ salvation history because the Holy Spirit was released on the church and to all people because of this glorification.

The Gospel of John is the only gospel that focuses on the Christology of Jesus from above. It puts great emphasis on Jesus’ divinity and how he is both God and Man. John opens up with “In the Beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God” (John 1:1). Because Jesus is the Word, it is directly saying that Jesus has been here since the beginning, he was with God, and he was God. The prologue is very forthright in talking about logos and how Jesus is God. “The Logos idea in John’s Prologue makes certain affirmations which simultaneously eliminate certain alternative ways of interpreting Jesus of Nazareth. The belief of Christ as God incarnate is presupposed by the idea of creation.” The prologue is a foundation for the Christian dogma of Incarnation by stating how he is both fully God and fully man.

After the prologue, the Book of Signs and the Book of Glory go on to talk more about the divinity of Jesus and to expand on the Incarnation. John writes of Jesus’ miracles, which are referred to as signs or semeion. The book talks of seven miracles that Jesus performed during his ministry. However, John that “”Jesus did many other signs in the presence of the disciples, which are not written in this book; but these are written 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). Each sign performed shows God’s presence within him and his control over nature. The signs have as their overriding motivation and object the revelation of Jesus’ glory. Jesus demonstrates signs to demonstrate his divine nature and miraculous power, with the consequence of arousing faith in those who witness His signs and wonders.”

The Book of Glory is the third and concluding book of the gospel of John. It also speaks of Jesus’ divinity through the Last Supper, the passion, and the resurrection. The Book of Glory focuses on the period of Jesus’ glorification, in which God’s glory and presence is manifested. The Last Supper discourse is a sharp discrepancy from the Book of Signs because it focuses on the present as opposed to the future. The Book then goes through Jesus’ death and resurrection, bringing it back to the reminder of how Jesus is God. John concludes with a verse 30-31 which were written to “strengthen belief in Jesus as the Christ- and as the Son of God” which is ultimately the Christological element of John’s gospel.

Mark, Matthew, Luke, and John each have key elements that make up the Christology of Jesus Christ. The synoptic gospels are able to perceive Christ as human and John is able to grasp Jesus’ divinity. Through identity, tradition, ministry, and divinity, the gospels have their own unique characteristics that help develop the persona of Jesus Christ. One must read all 4 gospels in order to understand fully the message portrayed to all humanity. When finished, each gospel paints a different portrait of Jesus put together to form a perfect mural.

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