XII. THE LORD’S TEACHINGS ON EARTH
We can study all the teachings that the Lord taught, including Matthew 5, 6, 7, 13, 24, 25. The Gospels of Luke and John also contain many of the Lord’s teachings. John 14, 15, and 16 are also important chapters on the Lord’s teachings. When we read them we have to pay attention to where the Lord was speaking. Did He teach them in the land of Judea or in Galilee? Was He speaking to the disciples or to the crowd? Was He speaking to both groups or only to the disciples and not to the crowd? If we study the teachings this way, we will grasp the central messages. If we want to work for the Lord, at least we have to study His parables, miracles, and teachings. Otherwise, we will have no material to work on. Our hands will be too empty, and we will not be able to meet the needs.
XIII. COMPARING THE FOUR GOSPELS
This is also an important way to study the Bible. Why did the Spirit not write one complete gospel, but instead chose to write four different Gospels? Why are the records in the four Gospels seemingly different at times and the sequence of events rearranged? Sometimes the numbers even do not agree. If we do not study them carefully, we will not realize the wonder behind the Spirit’s inspiration.
In reading the four Gospels, the first thing we have to do is subdivide them into sections. The subdivision must be detailed. We can set aside a bigger notebook and write down all the events of the four Gospels in it under four columns. For example, in recording the genealogy of the Lord, we can put Matthew 1:1-17 in the first column and Luke 3:23-38 in the third column. Mark and John do not have a genealogy, so we can leave the second and fourth columns empty. Some events are recorded in only one Gospel, while others are recorded in all four Gospels. After we finish this work, we can turn to our notebook and everything will become clear. If we further compare all the entries in the columns, we will find the similarities and differences between these records. Such comparative reading will reveal many places that differ, and these differences will reveal to us the sovereign arrangements of the Holy Spirit.
The genealogy in Matthew is divided into three groups of fourteen generations: From Abraham to David, from David to the captivity into Babylon, and from the captivity to Christ. The genealogy in Luke traces backward. Matthew goes from Abraham to David, while Luke goes from David to Abraham. Matthew goes from David to the captivity in Babylon, while Luke goes from Salathiel back to David. Matthew goes from Abraham to his descendants, while Luke goes from Abraham back to Adam. Therefore, if Matthew’s genealogy is in three sections, Luke’s genealogy should be in four sections. Luke’s genealogy begins with Mary, and Matthew’s genealogy ends with Joseph. These subdivisions must be clearly marked before we can extract the meaning from them.
Someone once linked the four living creatures in Revelation 4 to the four Gospels. The four living creatures are the lion—the king of the beasts, the ox—the diligent servant, the face of a man, and the eagle. In the Old Testament God said that He bore the children of Israel on His wings like an eagle (Exo. 19:4; Deut. 32:11-12). Matthew portrays the Lord Jesus as the King, Mark portrays Him as the Servant, Luke portrays Him as a man, and John portrays Him as God. The four living creatures exactly match the description of the Lord in the four Gospels.
Matthew shows us the Lord Jesus as the King. Hence, in his genealogy, he specifically points out that He is the descendant of King David. Luke shows the Lord Jesus as a man. This is the reason his genealogy goes all the way back to man’s first ancestor—Adam. Mark shows us the Lord Jesus as a servant, and John shows Him as the Son of God. This is the reason neither of these two books has a genealogy. When we consider the four books this way, we indeed find Matthew speaking of the Lord as the King, Mark as the Servant, Luke as a man, and John as the Son of God.
All four Gospels speak of the coming of the Lord Jesus. But the descriptions of His coming differ. Matthew says, “Behold, your King is coming to you” (21:5), Mark says that the Son of Man came to serve (10:45), Luke says that the Son of Man came to seek (19:10), and John says that the Lord came to give us life (10:10). We can find many such comparisons in the Gospels. If we spend time to study them, we will find that each Gospel has its own characteristics.
The endings of the four Gospels are very meaningful. Matthew covers the resurrection (28:6), Mark covers the ascension (16:19), Luke covers the promise of the coming of the Holy Spirit (24:49), and John covers the Lord’s coming again (21:22). After the Lord Jesus resurrected, He ascended to the heavens. After the ascension, there was the coming of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost. In the future the Lord Jesus will come again. The wonderful arrangement of the four Gospels matches the order of sequence of these four events.
Matthew does not say anything about the ascension of the Lord Jesus, because it speaks of the Lord being with the disciples until the completion of the age. Mark speaks of the Lord’s ascension, saying, He “sat at the right hand of God” (16:19). This is because He took the form of a slave and was obedient unto death for the accomplishment of His work. Therefore, God exalted Him to the highest. Luke records the Lord’s ascension as well. God was mindful of this man, who was a little lower than the angels, in order that He would be crowned with glory and honor. The Lord Jesus ascended in the position of a man, which means that He will lead many sons into glory. John does not say anything about the Lord’s ascension because it speaks of Him being our life and living within us.
Matthew’s record is arranged according to dispensational truth, not according to chronology. Luke “carefully investigated all things from the first”; therefore, his record is “in an orderly fashion” (1:3). Some parts are according to chronological order, while others are according to the order of subjects. Mark and John were both written according to the order of the events themselves.
We can buy a large-size copy of the four Gospels and divide Matthew into five or ten sections. Then we can study each section carefully and consider what the other three Gospels have to say about the things recorded in each section. Similar passages should be grouped together, while dissimilar ones should be clearly marked. The dissimilar passages should have broader subdivisions, while the similar passages should have finer subdivisions. For example, the parable of the sower in Matthew 13 is also in Luke. We have to make a finer subdivision before we can identify the finer differences between the various records. We have to subdivide them in such a way that we can tell the similarities and the differences at a glance. This requires much time. It takes at least two years to go through the four Gospels. The actual copying and note-taking may only take about three months.
(How to Study the Bible, Chapter 5, by Watchman Nee)