The Four Gospels.
The Story of this Period. It is common to designate this period as the |Life of Christ,| meaning the time he spent on earth. There is, however, no scripture life of Jesus. The gospels do not claim to present such a life. They do, however, give us a vast amount of material and though different in purpose and consequently in content, they do present the same general picture of Jesus. The matter of arranging the material in an orderly way presents much difficulty. If a topographical outline is attempted it can only be approximately correct because at some points the gospels leave us in uncertainty or in ignorance. If a chronological outline is attempted there is no less of uncertainty.
The following outline, however, may be accepted as a scheme of study for the period. (1) The childhood and youth of Jesus. From the birth of Jesus, B.C.4 to the beginning of the ministry of John the Baptist, A.D.26. (2) The beginning of Christ's ministry. From the beginning of John's ministry to Christ's first public appearance in Jerusalem, A.D.27. (3) The early Judean ministry. From his first public appearance in Jerusalem to his return to Galilee, A.D.27. (4) The Galilean ministry. From the return to Galilee to the final departure for Jerusalem, A.D., 29. (5) The Perean Ministry. From the departure from Galilee to the final arrival in Jerusalem, A.D.30. (6) From the final arrival in Jerusalem to the resurrection, April, A.D.30. (7) The forty days. From the resurrection to the ascension. May, A.D.30.
The Childhood and Youth of Jesus. (1) The long preparation for his coming. The prophets had most emphatically proclaimed his coming and all things had from the beginning been divinely directed so that preparation might be made for his advent. His human ancestry had been selected and prepared. When the time drew near for him to appear, the coming of John the Baptist his forerunner, was announced to Zacharias his father (Lu.1:5-25). This was quickly followed by the announcement of the birth of Jesus to Mary his mother (Lu.1:26-38) and soon thereafter to Joseph, the espoused husband of Mary (Matt.1:18-25). The beautiful story of his birth is told in the second chapter of Luke.
(2) The infancy. Of Jesus infancy we have several facts and incidents, (a) The appearance of the angels to the shepherds and the shepherds' visit to the babe, Lu.2:8-20. (b) The circumcision at eight days old, Lu.2:21. (c) The presentation in the temple where he was recognized by Simeon, Lu.2:22-32. (d) The visit of the wise men (Matt.2:1-12) and (e) The flight into Egypt, Matt.2:13-23.
(3) His boyhood and youth. This is commonly called the years of silence: (a) We have the record of his parents' settlement in the city of Nazareth, Matt.2:23; (b) We know that he had a normal growth, Lu.2:40; (c) At twelve years old he was remarkably developed and from his reply to his mother we may infer that he was conscious of his mission, Lu.2:41-50; (d) From Luke 2:50 we may infer something of the spirit which possessed him during the rest of his private life; (e) We also know his occupation (Mk.6:3).
The Beginning of Christ's Ministry. Here are several matters of importance. (1) The ministry of John the Baptist (Matt 3:1-12; Mk.1:2-8; Lu.3:1-18; John 1:6-33) who announced Christ's coming and prepared a people for him. This he did by preaching repentance and by baptising them as a profession of repentance and as a sign that they were forgiven. (2) The Baptism of Jesus. (Mt.3:13-17; Mk.1:9-11; Lu.3:21-23; John 1:29-34.) At this time he put off the life of seclusion and entered upon his public career. He also received the Father's attestation to his sonship and the special equipment of the Holy Spirit for his work by which also John knew him to be the Messiah, John 1:33. By this act he also set the stamp of approval on John's work and showed that he was not in competition with John. (3) The temptation of Jesus (Mt.4:1-11; Mk, 1:12-13; Lu.4:1-13). We are given the place and length of time of this temptation, also three of the temptations and how they were met. In Heb.2:18 and 5:18 we have some light on the purpose of this trial. It is probable, however, that all the import of it cannot be fully understood. (4) The work of Jesus begun. Here it is necessary to study two things: (a) The winning of his first six disciples (John 1:35-51); (b) His first miracle (John 2:1-11). At this point it will also be of help to call to mind that the method of Jesus was to preach, teach and heal (Mt.4:23). At the close of the marriage feast, which usually lasted six or seven days, Jesus went down to Capernaum (John 2:12).
The Early Judean Ministry. The records of this period are very brief and may be studied under three heads, (1) The incidents at Jerusalem during the first Passover of Christ's public ministry. The two principal incidents were the cleansing of the temple (John 2:13-22) and the conversation with Nicodemus, Jno.3:1-31. (2) The work out in Judea, where he won and baptized many disciples, whereupon John was led to make testimony to Jesus at Aenon, John 3:22-36. (3) His successful work in Samaria, concerning which there is given the story of his message to the woman at the well and of his two days' stay at Sychar. The period is made notable by two of the greatest discourses of all his ministry: (a) that to Nicodemus; (b) that to the woman at Jacob's well.
The Gallilean Ministry. This is by far the longest and most important period of Christ's work. It is not wholly confined to Galilee. For during this time he certainly attends the feast at Jerusalem and also makes some excursions into the north country. If the study of the last period was embarrassed because of the scarcity of material, this one is all the more so because of the amount and variety of it. The following outline will, however, simplify the study. (1) The beginning of his work in Galilee. (Matt 4:12-25; 8:2-4, 14-17; 14:3-5. Mk.1:14-45; 6:17-18; Lu.4:14-3; 16; John 4:43-54). In this section we have the account of (a) John's imprisonment and of Christ's arrival in Galilee; (b) of the healing of the nobleman's son, and his settlement at Capernaum; (c) of the call of four fishermen and many miracles wrought at Capernaum; (d) of his first brief tour of Galilee.
(2) The antagonism of the scribes and Pharisees. (Matt 9:1-17, 12:1-14; Mk.2:1-3:6; Lu.5:17-6:11; John ch.5). The more important matters of this record are: (a) The healing of the paralytic; (b) Matthew's call and feast; (c) the healing of the man at the pool of Bethsaida; (d) the story of the disciples in the grain fields and (e) the healing of the withered hand. In all these there is indicated the rising hostility to Jesus and his method, especially as regards his claim of power to forgive sins and in his attitude toward the despised classes and toward the Sabbath.
(3) The organization of his kingdom. (Matt.12:15-21, 10:2-4; chs.5-7; Mk.3:7-19; Lu.6:2-49.) The fame of Jesus began to spread and it became necessary for him to create an organization to carry forward his work. This was done by calling out his twelve apostles and outlining to them the principles of his kingdom. This he did in the sermon on the mount.
(4) The second tour of Galilee. (Matt.8:5-13; 11:2-30; Lu.7:1-8:3.) The narration here gives the stories (a) of the Centurion's servant and the widow's son of Nain, (b) of John's last message and (c) of Jesus anointed by the sinful woman.
(5) His teachings and miracles by the Sea of Galilee. (Matt.12:22-13:53, 8:23-34, 9:18-34; Mk.3:19-5:43; Lu.8:4-56.) In this section we have a large group of parables with their varied teachings and four very interesting miracles: (a) The stilling of the tempest; (b) The healing of the Gadarene demoniacs; (c) The story of Jainus' daughter; (d) Two dumb and a blind man.
(6) The third tour of Galilee. (Matt.13:34-15:20, 9:35-11:1; Mk.6:1-7:23; Lu.9:1-17; John ch.6.) Leaving Capernaum Jesus again came to his own city, Nazareth, where the people acknowledged the marvel of his wisdom and of his power but again rejected him-this time because of their knowledge of his lowly birth and unpretentious youth. Upon this rejection, Jesus and his disciples made another circuit amongst the cities and towns of Galilee. This tour is made notable by several incidents: (a) We have the sending out of the twelve on a tour of preaching, healing and raising the dead; (b) The story of the death of John the Baptist, who was the first New Testament person to suffer martyrdom for his conviction; (c) Two great miracles, that of feeding the five thousand and of walking on the sea; (d) Two great discourses of Jesus, that on |The Bread of Life| and on |Eating with unwashed hands.|
(7) His first retirement into the north and return to the sea of Galilee. (Matt.15:21-16:12; Mk.7:24-8:26). Jesus went up into the coast of Tyre and Sidon where he healed the daughter of the Syrophoenician woman. On the return trip he passed through Decapolis where he healed a deaf and dumb man and performed many other miracles. After his return we have the record of the feeding of the four thousand, of his encountering the Pharisees about his authority and the story of the blind man of Bethsaida.
(8) The second retirement to the north and return to Capernaum. (Matt.16:13-18 end; Mk.8:27-9 end; Lu.9:18-50). Jesus again journeys into the north and came into the parts of Caesarea Philippi where he drew from Peter the great confession, predicted his coming death, was transfigured before the favored three and healed the lunatic boy. On his return, as he neared Capernaum, he again foretold his death and resurrection and after he arrived at Capernaum, we have recorded the story of the coin in the fish's mouth and his discourse on humility, offenses and forgiveness.
(9) Jesus at the Feast of Tabernacles. (John chs.7-8). By this time the joyous season of the Feast of Tabernacles drew near and his brothers, who though they did not believe in his deity, seemed to have some pride in him and urged him to go up among the people and make a display of his power. This he refused to do but went up secretly, probably with the hope of escaping the antagonism that was now being manifested toward him. There was, however, great excitement at Jerusalem concerning him and he found it necessary to go into the temple and boldly proclaim the teachings of his kingdom. These teachings may be studied under four heads: (a) The teaching of the first day and the division of the Jews concerning him; (b) The story of the adulterous woman; (c) His teaching concerning himself as the |Light of the World.| He probably looked upon the great light over the treasury of the Lord's house which burned each night in commemoration of the cloud of fire that always guided and lighted Israel in the wilderness and was reminded of his own service for humanity and was prompted to this discourse; (d) His discourse on spiritual freedom and true children of Abraham.
The Perean Ministry. At the close of the Feast of Tabernacles Jesus returned to Galilee where he seems to have gathered around him a little company of loyal followers and made ready for his final departure to Jerusalem where he was to meat the death already foretold. The incidents of this period occurred during the journey. The material easily falls into three parts marking distinct sections of time. (1) From the departure from Jerusalem to the close of the Feast of Dedication. (Matt.19:1-2, 8:18-22; Mk.10:1; Lu. ch.10; John ch.s 9-10). This is one of the most interesting sections of all and records several incidents of far-reaching importance: (a) The story of the healing of the man born blind and the investigation of it by the Sanhedrin; (b) The story of the sending out of the seventy and their return is told. As the Lord's work drew near its close, he felt hat others should be sent out to do a like work to his own; (c) The story of the Good Samaritan and of his visit to Martha and Mary; (d) The allegory of the Good Shepherd; (e) The report of his visit to the Feast of Dedication.
(2) From the Feast of Dedication to the withdrawal to Ephraim. (Lu.11:1-17:10; John 11:1-54). This section of the period is even more crowded with activity than was the former one. It is very difficult, therefore, to refer here to anything like all that is recorded of the period. Among The subjects discussed the following are the most important: (a) The true nature of prayer and the follies and hypocrisies of the Pharisees, Lu. ch.11; (b) The danger of hypocrisy, of denying Christ, of covetousness and of the judgments of Christ, Lu. ch.12; (c) The need and nature of repentance, the proper use of the Sabbath, the number that shall be saved and the fate of Jerusalem, Lu. ch.13; (d) The law of conduct in the matter of feasts and counting the cost of discipleship, Lu. ch.14; (e) Three parables of grace and two parables of warning, Lu. chs.15-16; (f) Forgiveness and faith, Lu.7:1-10; (g) The raising of Lazarus and withdrawal to Ephraim, John ch.11.
(3) From the withdrawal to Ephraim to the final arrival at Jerusalem. (Matt. chs.13-20; 26:8-13; Mk. ch.10; 14:3-9; Lu.17:11-19:28; John 11:55-12:11). This section is notable for the preponderance of teaching over the miracles reported. There are two miracles, that of healing ten lepers and the blind man of Jericho. The following show how large a place is given to teaching: (a) Concerning the coming of the kingdom; (b) concerning prayer, illustrated by the importunate widow and the Pharisee and publican; (c) Concerning divorce; (d) the blessing of little children; (e) the ambitions of James and John; (g) the visit to Zachaeus; (h) the parable of the pounds and the anointing of Jesus for burial.
The Final Ministry in Jerusalem. Of all the periods of the life of Christ this is the most significant. The gospels put most stress upon it and particularly upon his trial and death. The disciples soon learned to triumph in the cross, the seeming defeat out of which Jesus, through his resurrection, snatched victory. Everything recorded of this period has a ring of the tragical and seemed a preparation for the coming doom he was soon to meet. The material readily divides itself into three sections or periods. (1) From the final arrival in Jerusalem to the last hours of private intercourse with his disciples. (Matt.21:11-26:16; Mk. chs.11-13; 14: 1, 2, 10, 11; Lu.19:29-22:6; John 12:12 end). Like every other section of his active ministry among the people this has in it some teachings and some miracles. The greatest act of all was, perhaps, the triumphal entry of Jesus into Jerusalem as king of the Jews. In this act he openly accepted the position of Messiah.
There is one important miracle, that of cursing and withering the fig tree. Some consider that a miraculous power was also used in the cleansing of the temple. The teachings may be grouped as follows: (a) The question about Christ's authority and his reply by question and the three parables of warning; (b) Three questions by the Jews and Christ's unanswerable question; (c) Seven woes against the scribes and Pharisees and the widow's mite; (d) The Gentiles seeking and the Jews rejecting Jesus; (e) a discourse on the destruction of Jerusalem and the end of the world; (f) the last prediction of his death and the conspiracy of Judas and the chief priests.
(2) Christ's last hours with his disciples. (Matt.26:17-35; Mk.14:12-31; Lu.22:7 end; John chs.13-17). Jesus has now withdrawn from the crowd and is alone with his disciples giving to them his final words of instruction and comfort. The whole of the material of this section seems to be surrounded by an atmosphere of sacredness that almost forbids our looking in upon its little company. This last evening that Jesus and the little group of disciples were together, is, however, so important that it is reported by the apostles. All the incidents of the evening seem to center around the institution of the last or Paschal Supper. But for the sake of study and as an aid to memory the events may be divided into three groups, (A) The supper. The order of events in connection with it seem to be: (1) the strife of the disciples for the place of honor; (2) the beginning of the Passover meal; (3) the washing of the disciples' feet; (4) the pointing out of the betrayer; (5) the departure of Jesus from the table; (6) the institution of the Lord's upper.
(B) The final instructions to the disciples. It is difficult to analyze these discourses. There are running through them one thread of teaching and one of comfort. In some sections one element seems to predominate and in other the other, To illustrate; chapters 13 and 15 of John seem to be more largely taken up with teaching, while chapters 14 and 16 have a larger element of words intended to comfort them. The effort seems to be to convince them that it is better for them for him to go away, that their spiritual fellowship with him would be more complete and their understanding and power more perfect because of the Comforter whom he would send.
(C) The final or intercessory prayer for them. With the close of this prayer, in which he prayed for their preservation, their preparation for service and their final union with him in his glory, and which he prayed that they might have fullness of joy (John 17:13) his ministry with them ended till after his death.
(3) Christ's suffering for the sins of the world. (Matt.26:36-27 end: Mk.14:32-15 end; Lu.22:39-23 end; John chs.18-19). From some good text on the Life of Christ or from the critical commentaries, the pupils can find a discussion of this section. The following outline will, however, be sufficient for our purpose here: (A) The agony in the garden and the betrayal and arrest. This picture of the suffering of soul experienced by the Savior in which he also yielded himself to the will of the Father stands out in blessed contrast against the weakness of his sleeping friends and the unspeakable criminality of the betrayer. Even in his arrest Jesus once more finds opportunity to show himself merciful in healing the ear of Malchus thereby, counteracting the injury caused by the folly or rashness of one of his friends.
(B) The Jewish trial. The order of this trial seems to have been somewhat as follows: (1) A preliminary trial before Annus; (2) A trial before day with only part of the Sanhedrin present; (3) A trial before the whole Sanhedrin at daybreak. Knowing his rights Jesus several times refused to act. (1) He refused to bear testimony because no legal charge had been made against him. (2) He refused to testify against himself which was within his right. (3) He demanded that they bring witnesses because that was just according to law. These last three points at which Jesus claimed and acted upon his rights instead of upon their request shows the tendencies of the trial to be unfair and illegal. If one understands the Jewish law of trial it will be easy to see how glaringly out of harmony with the law this trial was. There are at least ten illegalities in it.
(C) The Roman trial. This whole story abounds in evidences of the prejudice and moral degeneracy of the Jewish leaders. They hated Roman rule past all words to tell and yet would pretend loyalty to Caesar to carry out their wicked purpose. By this means they put Pilate in a position that to release Jesus would make him appear to be untrue to Caesar in releasing one announced to be Caesar's enemy. The trial may be studied in the light of the different ones before whom he was tried. (1) The public and private examination before Pilate. (2) The examination before Herod. (3) The second examination before Pilate. This also was partly private and partly public. Again, following he outline of John, we may consider the events as they happened alternately outside and inside of the praetorium.
(D) The crucifixion. It would be difficult to exaggerate the cruelty and torture of crucifixion. |It was the most cruel and shameful of all punishments.| The disciples, however, dwell most of all upon the shame of it. Such a death in the eyes of a Jew was the sign of the curse of God. Several things are of importance and should be remembered. (1) The throng that saw it. A few were friends, some were bitter enemies and many were curious on-lookers. Altogether there was a great crowd and Jesus was derided and mocked in his death. (2) The story of the two thieves who were crucified with Jesus and especially the conversion of the one who repented. (3) The seven sayings of Jesus while he is on the cross reveal his spirit and planning while undergoing this human outrage. They are worthy of careful study. (4) The miraculous occurrences of the day. There are three outstanding events that should be thought of as divine manifestations. They are: the darkness that covered the earth for three hours; the rending of the veil of the temple and the earthquake. The people were deeply moved by these marvelous signs. (5) The element of grace seen in it all. This is seen in the punishment of the innocent Jesus, while the guilty Barabbas went free; the saving of the guilty but penitent thief and several of the sayings of the cross.
(E) The burial and tomb. The burial was very hurried, lest they should break a Jewish law. Joseph of Arimathea and Nicodemus together took him from the cross and buried him and the officers made his grave as secure as possible and placed a guard over it. All this they did because of his saying that he would rise again in three days.
The Forty Days. (Matt. ch.28; Mk. ch.16; Lu.23:56-24 end; John chs.20-21; Acts 1:3-12; 1 Cor.15:5-7.) It is hard to divide this period into sections in such a way as not to present many difficulties. The several events may, however, be grouped under the following heads. (1) The early morning. (2) The walk to Emmaus and appearance to Peter. (3) The appearance to the ten when Thomas is absent. (4) The appearance to the eleven, Thomas being present. (5) The appearance to seven disciples by the sea of Galilee. (6) Several other appearances mentioned by Paul. (7) The last appearance, when the commission was given and he ascended. The order of events as outlined cannot be assured with any certainty. Then, too, there are differences of detail as to the occurrences here outlined. Each of them, therefore, presents its own difficulties. The most perplexing of all these problems is the arrangement of the events of the resurrection morning and especially the movements of the various women mentioned.
Touching the whole resurrection problem all of the gospels agree upon several important matters: (1) In giving no description of the resurrection itself; (2) that the evidence of it began with the women's visit to the sepulcher in the early morning; (3) that the first sign was the removal of the stone; (4) that they saw angels before they saw the Lord; (5) that manifestations were granted to none but disciples; (6) that the disciples were not expecting such manifestations; (7) that at first they received these manifestations with hesitancy and doubt; (8) that these appearances were made to all kinds of witnesses, male and female, individuals and companies; (9) that they were so convinced of his resurrection and appearance to them that nothing could cause them to doubt it.
The resurrection was necessary to show that we had not a dead and suffering Christ but a living and triumphant one. |The ascension is the necessary completion of the resurrection| and is presupposed in all New Testament teaching. Jesus is everywhere thought of as having all power and is expected to return again from the presence of the Father with great glory.
Teachings of the Period. The most of the emphasis is put on the final teachings in connection with his death and resurrection. It may be well, however, to gather together a few truths touching his whole career. (1) Those concerning his humanity: (a) He grew and developed as any normal child; (b) His education and work was that of any normal person; (c) But the whole of his childhood was set in divine manifestations; (d) In life he showed all the effects of hunger, sorrow, etc., found in any normal man. (2) Those concerning his super-human power. He exercised power over: (a) Physical nature; (b) sickness and physiological defects; (c) life and death; (d) demons and all spiritual powers; (e) over sin to forgive it. (3) Those found In his general teachings. There are many of these but the following are important to remember: (a) The truthfulness of the Old Testament scriptures; (b) The holiness and goodness and love of God; (c) The sinfulness of man and his need of salvation; (d) The value of repentance and faith as a means of bringing men into the favor of God; (e) His own duty and oneness with the Father; (f) The work and power of the Holy Spirit; (g) The purpose and work of his kingdom and church; (h) The power and nature of prayer; (i) The value of spiritual and the worthlessness of formal worship; (j) The true way to greatness through service.
(4) The teachings growing out of the crucifixion: (a) It proves that God will forgive; (b) It shows the great evil of sin; (c) It shows the need of cleansing before we can enter heaven; (d) It shows God's value of the soul; (e) It shows the value of salvation and the worth of eternal life; (f) It furnishes a motive to turn from sin that so offends God and endangers us; (g) It brings hope of forgiveness and cleansing.
(5) The teaching of the resurrection and ascension: (a) that Jesus is in truth God's son; (b) that there is another life; (c) that we shall also be resurrected; (d) that we shall know in the next life our loved ones of this life; (e) that our lives here have an influence and meaning beyond the grave.
For Study and Discussion. (1) Master all the material as given in this chapter, looking carefully into scripture references. (2) Study the geography of the country. (3) List all the divine manifestations in connection with the birth and childhood of Jesus. (4) Outline the entire career of John the Baptist, beginning with the vision to Zachariah before his birth. (5) Study in outline the sermon on the mount. (6) Find examples showing Christ's power exerted in each of the five directions suggested in |2| of |the teachings of the period| given above. (7) Discuss any outstanding events in the life of Jesus and his disciples that seem to members of the class to be epoch making in their influence. (8) Read and discuss Jesus' farewell addresses to his disciples. (9) Study carefully the scriptures covering the trial and crucifixion of Jesus. (10) Study the scriptures covering the period and outline further the events and teachings.