Bible scholar, Tim Mackie, suggests that one way to grasp the gospels’ intent is to read each one’s beginning and end. In this post, I want to examine each of the gospels using his suggestion, and looking for a parallel.
Matthew begins with a genealogy that places Jesus clearly in line with Abraham and David. He’s a king, born to a kingly line; he’s the promised Son of God. Matthew ends his book with Jesus on a mountain, much like Abraham, teaching and making disciples who obey.
He said to them, “Take to heart all the words I have solemnly declared to you this day, so that you may command your children to obey carefully all the words of this law. They are not just idle words for you—they are your life. By them you will live long in the land you are crossing the Jordan to possess.” (Deuteronomy 32:46-47)
Then Jesus came to them and said, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.” (Matthew 28:18-20)
Let’s notice other interesting parallels …
The ruler of the day was threatened by the news of a newborn King and ordered male babies to be killed. Jesus escaped death by fleeing to Egypt with his parents.
The genealogy looks backward to a chosen people.
Joseph is told that Jesus will be called Immanuel, God with us.
The ruler of the day accused Jesus of being King of the Jews. He sentenced him to death. Jesus conquered death in His resurrection.
The great commission looks forward to a chosen people.
Jesus tells us that He is with us to the very end of the age.
One organizational structure in the Book of Matthew is the five sermons or discourses, the most notable being the Sermon on the Mount. The five discourses are the sermon on the mount, Matthew 5-7; the mission, Matthew 8; the parables, Matthew 13; church life, Matthew 18; and eschatology, Matthew 23-25.
Mark jumps right into the story of Jesus’s ministry. He does not tell anything about His birth. Instead, he announced that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God. I noticed one particular parallel in chapters 1 and 15.
At that time Jesus came from Nazareth in Galilee and was baptized by John in the Jordan. Just as Jesus was coming up out of the water, he saw heaven being torn open and the Spirit descending on him like a dove. And a voice came from heaven: “You are my Son, whom I love; with you I am well pleased.” (Mark 1:9-11)
With a loud cry, Jesus breathed his last.
The curtain of the temple was torn in two from top to bottom. And when the centurion, who stood there in front of Jesus, saw how he died, he said, “Surely this man was the Son of God!” (Mark 15:37-39)
One organizational structure of the Book of Mark is the book’s two halves. The first half is about Jesus’s identity as the Son of God. The second half is all about the mission of Jesus – taking up the cross.
Luke gives a thorough birth and death narrative. It is the longest of the gospels and, coupled with Acts, tells the narrative of Jesus’s life, mission, and the beginnings of the church. One parallel between the beginning and end that stood out to me was Jesus being the fulfillment of all the scriptures. Mary and Zechariah’s songs are full of historical references. And then on the road to Emmaus, as He walked and talked, He explained the whole of scripture, beginning with Moses and the prophets.
He has raised up a horn of salvation for us
in the house of his servant David …
to show mercy to our ancestors
and to remember his holy covenant,
the oath he swore to our father Abraham …
He said to them, “How foolish you are, and how slow to believe all that the prophets have spoken! Did not the Messiah have to suffer these things and then enter his glory?” And beginning with Moses and all the Prophets, he explained to them what was said in all the Scriptures concerning himself. (Luke 24:5-27)
Another interesting thing in Luke is his balanced portrayal of men and women. In the first chapter, he introduces Zechariah, and then Elizabeth. We hear Mary’s song, and then Zechariah’s song. In Chapter 2, Joseph and Mary are mentioned, as well as Simeon and Anna. Jesus raises the only son of the widow of Nain, and the only daughter of Jairus. Even in the parables, there is a certain balance. In the parable of the mustard seed, a man is planting a garden. And in the parable of yeast, a woman is baking bread. A shepherd loses a sheep, and a woman loses a coin. There are others …
John’s book, of course, is different. And yet, it tells us even more about Jesus! Let’s look at one possible parallel between the book’s beginning and end.
The true light that gives light to everyone was coming into the world. He was in the world, and though the world was made through him, the world did not recognize him. He came to that which was his own, but his own did not receive him. Yet to all who did receive him, to those who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God— (John 1:9-12)
Then Jesus told him, “Because you have seen me, you have believed; blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed.” Jesus performed many other signs in the presence of his disciples, which are not recorded in this book. But these are written that you may believe that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in his name. (John 24: 29-31)
The structure of the Book of John includes the most poetic prologue, seven signs, seven “I am” statements, and Jesus’s high priestly prayer.
The So What
This is not a complete and thorough analysis of the structure of the four gospels. I noticed a few interesting things as I begin to study. I’m curious if you read the beginnings and endings of the gospels, what you see!
Father, you who are the master storyteller,
Who weaves together stories for our benefit,
Would you teach us through the narratives of your Son’s life
How to love Him fully, wholly, and completely.
May we turn our eyes toward Jesus, and look into HIs
Wonderful face, experiencing the abundance He has
Promised us. Amen.