The return from exile and the Intertestamental period did not see the fulfillment of the promises. For a period of 400 years God did not speak to His people. Then a voice was heard in the Judean wilderness proclaiming, “Prepare the way of the Lord, make his paths straight” (Mark 1:3). The promised Messiah was coming the time of fulfillment was at hand. Indeed the one of whom the apostle Paul would later write, “For all the promises of God find their Yes in him. That is why it is through him that we utter our Amen to God for his glory” (II Corinthians 1:20) was here not merely to fulfill God’s promises but as the fulfillment itself.
I. Introducing the Gospels
We have the benefit of having four complementary accounts of the gospel, literally the “good news,” concerning Jesus the Christ. Of these four accounts three accounts, Matthew, Mark, and Luke, are known as the Synoptic Gospels. Synoptic is of Greek derivation and roughly means “to see as one” or “to see together;” this is used in description of these three gospel accounts because they all share a common perspective. Whereas John emphasizes Christ’s Judean ministry Matthew, Mark, and Luke focus primarily on His ministry in Galilee. Very little is said in any of the Gospels about the first thirty years of Christ’s life. Rather they focus primarily on the three years of Christ’s public ministry with the vast majority of their material focusing upon the final week of His life. Furthermore it is important to note that while the Gospels portray a historically accurate presentation of Jesus they are organized theologically rather than chronologically.
Like the other Gospels the title bears the name of the author. It was written by Matthew, also named Levi, a tax collector to a primarily Jewish audience sometime in the late 50’s to mid 60’s prior to the Jewish revolt in 64 and the fall of the temple in 70. He writes to demonstrate that Jesus is the Jewish messiah, Israel’s long awaited Davidic King, and the fulfillment of promise.
The tradition of the early church holds that John Mark, the cousin of Barnabas and companion of Peter and Paul, committed the preaching of the apostle Peter to writing sometime in the late 50’s. Because of this and other internal factors his intended audience is primarily Gentile believers in Rome. He wrote to demonstrate Jesus as the Lord’s suffering servant, to equip the church to evangelize, and to strengthen their faith before the coming persecution.
Luke a Gentile physician and the traveling companion of Paul wrote to the “most excellent Theophilus,” an unknown Roman individual of importance, sometime between 60 and 61. While addressed to this individual in particular it is understood to address Gentile believers in general as well. Unlike Matthew or Mark Luke’s prologue informs the reader of his purpose in writing,
“Inasmuch as many have undertaken to compile a narrative of the things that have been accomplished among us, just as those who from the beginning were eyewitnesses and ministers of the word have delivered them to us, it seemed good to me also, having followed all things closely for some time past, to write an orderly account for you, most excellent Theophilus, that you may have certainty concerning the things you have been taught” (Luke 1:1-4).
The overarching emphasis of Luke is that Jesus is the savior of the world and the outworking of this conviction is demonstrated in his second work, the book of Acts.
While unnamed in the work John, “whom Jesus loved” (cf. John 13:23; 19:26; 21:24), is understood to be the author. His audience was most likely Gentile and he wrote sometime in the mid 80’s to early 90’s from Ephesus. Like Luke he clearly states his evangelistic purpose as follows:
“Now Jesus did many other signs in the presence of the disciples, which are not written in this book; but these are written so that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in his name” (John 20:30-31).
II. A Harmony of the Gospels 
- The Birth of John the Baptist (Matthew N/A; Mark N/A; Luke 1:5-25, 39-45, 57-80; John N/A)
- Jesus’ Birth and Childhood (Matthew 1:1-2:23; Mark N/A; Luke 1:26-56; 2:1-52; 3:23b-38; John 1:1-18)
- The Ministry of John the Baptist (Matthew 3:1-12; Mark 1:1-8; Luke 3:1-20; John 1:15)
- Jesus’ Early Ministry (Matthew 3:13-4:11; Mark 1:9-1:14a; Luke 3:27-23a; 4:1-13; John 1:19-4:44)
- Jesus’ Galilean Ministry (Matthew 4:12-18:35; Mark 1:14b-9:50; Luke 4:14-9:62; John 4:45-7:9)
- Jesus’ Later Judean Ministry (Matthew N/A; Mark N/A; Luke 10:1-17:37; John 7:10-11:54)
- Jesus’ Journey to Jerusalem (Matthew 19:1-20:34; Mark 10:1-52; Luke 18:1-19:27; John N/A)
- Jesus’ Death, Burial, and Resurrection (Matthew 21:1-28:20; Mark 11:1-16:20; Luke 19:28-24:53; John 11:55-21:25)
III. The Life and Ministry of Jesus Christ – Part One
In what follows we will examine various periods of Jesus’ ministry both canonically, allowing the emphasis of each Gospel to be heard, and redemptive-historically, allowing the text to speak to the relationship between the Old Testament and Jesus, the promise and the fulfillment.
A. The Birth of John the Baptist
The birth narratives of both John the Baptist and Jesus in Luke 1:1-2:52 from a strong link between the Old Testament and New Testament presenting the continuity between the promise and the fulfillment.
Will someone read Luke 1:5-17? Will someone else read Malachi 3:1-5, 4:1-6? What similarities do you see? What is the role of this prophesied messenger?
This messenger is coming to prepare the way of the Lord and to call His people to repentance. He is preparing God’s people for the coming of their Messianic King.
B. Jesus’ Birth and Childhood
Alongside the birth of John the Baptist the birth of another is foretold. Matthew begins with a genealogy working from Abraham to Christ. His intent is to present Jesus as the Davidic King and the fulfillment of God’s covenant promises, specifically those to Abraham and David. A quick reading of Matthew’s narrative reveals that Jesus was born in Bethlehem (2:1-12), fled from Herod’s persecution to Egypt (2:13-15), and then returned to Nazareth after the death of Herod (2:16-23). Upon His return from Egypt Matthew quotes Hosea 11:1.
Would someone read Hosea 11:1 for us? Is Matthew reading Hosea out of context? If not then what does he intend by this quotation?
Matthew is presenting Jesus as the true, or faithful, Israel. Jesus is the true people of God and Matthew is deliberately structured his Gospel to note how His story parallels those whom He now represents. This is the first of many reoccurring themes which we will examine.
Luke continues to establish continuity between the promises and the fulfillment as Jesus is brought to the temple in accordance to the Mosaic Law (Luke 2:22-38; cf. Leviticus 12:1-8).
Will someone read Simeon’s prophecy in Luke 2:29-32? What is clear at this point in Luke’s Gospel?
That Jesus is the source of salvation for both Jew and Gentile. The promised Messiah is not merely King over Israel but the whole earth.
Luke’s genealogy comes later in the narrative (3:23b-38) than Matthew’s. Another important distinction is that Luke begins with Jesus and works back to Adam. Why is this?
Just as Matthew intends to present Jesus as the faithful Israel Luke points to Jesus as the true, or second, Adam and the fulfillment of the Adamic Covenant. As Jesus is now represents Israel He also represents the new humanity.
John’s Gospel goes back even further. “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God. All things were made through him, and without him was not any thing made that was made.” (John 1:1-3). “And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we have seen his glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father, full of grace and truth.” (John 1:14). John presents Jesus as not merely the fulfillment of the prophetic word but as the eternally-existing Word, the Creator-God, who became flesh and dwelled, or tabernacled, among His people. Just as God’s glory dwelled among Israel and was demonstrated before the nations in the tabernacle so now God’s glory is made manifest in the person of Jesus Christ. The former meeting place of God and man has been replaced by Jesus Christ.
C. The Ministry of John the Baptist
John’s ministry across the Gospels is presented as one who has come to proclaim the coming of the kingdom of God, or kingdom of heaven, and the coming king is pictured both in terms of judgment, as one who will separate the wheat and the chaff, the righteous and the unrighteous, as one who holds his axe at the roots of a fruitless tree, and in terms of grace as the one who will gather the righteous to himself. Whereas John baptized with water Jesus will baptize with the Holy Spirit and with fire.
D. Jesus’ Early Ministry
Jesus’ ministry begins in continuity with what has come before as He the true Israel and second Adam submits Himself to the baptism of John. “John baptizes in the Jordan River because it was here that, more than a thousand years earlier, Israel entered the Promised Land to become God’s light to the nations. John’s return to this place signals a new beginning for Israel.”
Would someone please read Matthew 3:13-17? What should this language immediately remind us of? Where have we read of the promise of sonship?
These words should immediately remind us of the Davidic Covenant (II Samuel 7:8-16). Jesus is the prophesied one who is both the descendant of David and the Son of God.
Jesus is then led, by the Spirit, into the wilderness to be tempted for forty days.
Where have we seen this before? What events in redemptive history should this remind us of?
As Matthew is structuring his Gospel to parallel the life of Christ and Israel this should immediately point us to Israel’s rebellion and the forty years spent wandering in the wilderness. However, where Israel failed Jesus as faithful Israel succeeded. Likewise Adam succumbed to temptation in the garden and now Jesus, the second Adam, overcomes the serpent’s temptations.
This is only the tip of the iceberg. What are your thoughts thus far and how does your understanding of the Old Testament shape your understanding of Jesus?
 This outline reflects the geographic structuring of Mark and Luke and is adequate for harmonizing the gospels; however, the texts of the individual Gospels themselves should be allowed to set their own priorities when outlining.