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  • Writer's pictureHarriman Baptist Tabernacle

Four Portraits of Christ

One of the Old Testament’s purposes is to prepare our hearts, as it makes us aware of what God can give us and make us hunger after Him. The stories will set your heart aflame and establish a hunger and a thirst for God.

The Old Testament is also a book of unfulfilled prophecy and unexplained sacrifice. Also, it is a book of unsatisfied longings. Men were crying out for God:

Psalms 42:1

As the hart panteth after the water brooks, so panteth my soul after thee, O God.

Job 23:3

Oh that I knew where I might find him! that I might come even to his seat!

Whereas the Old Testament is a book of preparation, the New Testament is a book of realization. The New Testament is the supply for the need that the Old Testament reveals to us. Most of us don’t have an adequate awareness of our need. The whole of the Word of God is not only to help us to see God, but also to help us see ourselves as we are and our need for God.

When we begin read the pages of the New Testament, we instantly discover the One who comes in fulfillment of the Old Testament prophecies, as an explanation of the sacrifices and in satisfaction of the longings which are there. The Lord Jesus Christ, of course, is that One. We have in the four Gospels a complete picture of the Person of Christ.

Some may wonder, "Why is it necessary to have four Gospels? Why don't we have just one Gospel? Why couldn't one of these writers have gotten all the facts together and presented them for us?" Well, that would be like trying to take a single photograph of an object to adequately represent it. It would be impossible to take one picture which would show all four sides at one time. It is impossible to get a full, detailed representation of anything without having multiple views. Similarly, it is impossible to get a full view of the Person of Christ without portraying his four fundamental aspects. There are many portions of the four Gospels which are similar, or the same, but the writers were not tasked to do the same thing. In fact, there is a distinct aspect of Christ set forth in each of the four Gospels. We find a different portrait of Christ in each one. We can have no concept of the fullness of his Person until we examine all four of these. You can't get a clear, well-rounded picture of Christ until you have all four Gospels in view.

Now, since we now have the four Gospels of the New Testament, we can look back retrospectively into the Old Testament and see the anticipation provided by the Spirit of God that someday there would be given a four-fold picture of Christ. The Old Testament is filled with pictures of the coming Messiah. Just look at the book of Isaiah, for example. In its opening pages we sense at first a dim, shadowy portrait of someone in the background. As we move along in the book it grows clearer, until we come to the fortieth chapter; and from then on, the figure of the Messiah steps out into full glory. He fills the entire horizon of the book. We have in Isaiah a picture of Christ second to none in all the Bible. There are many pictures of the Lord Jesus Christ, but all of them and all of the anticipations and prophecies can be categorized under four aspects -- even in the Old Testament:

First, our Lord Jesus is pictured in many prophecies, like those of Isaiah, Jeremiah and Zechariah, as coming as the King -- the King of Israel. And, of course, the nation of Israel has loved that kind of a picture. That is the portrait they built up in their minds. And this is one of the basic reasons why Israel rejected the Lord when he did come. It is the answer to the question which is often asked: "Why did the Jews not know their Messiah when he came?" They had only one of his aspects in mind. They seized upon this idea of his coming as a great, triumphant Redeemer and King and Mighty One, moving against the nations who were their enemies. When he didn't do that, they felt he wasn't the One. There are prophecies that speak of it.

Second, we have other Old Testament pictures which speak of Messiah as the Servant, as the suffering One. Again, Isaiah is in the fore-view. There is also the typological fore-view that Joseph gives of the coming of One who is to suffer. The Hebrews were confused by these two kinds of pictures that many of the rabbis say in their writings that there must be two Messiahs. They called one "Messiah Ben-joseph," or Messiah the son of Joseph, and the other "Messiah Ben-david," or Messiah the son of David. Messiah Ben-david was said to be the kingly One, and Messiah Ben-joseph the suffering One. They didn't see even the two-fold aspect of a single Messiah we have already discussed.

Third, we have frequent Old Testament pictures of Christ's coming as Man. He was to be born of a virgin, grow up in Bethlehem, walk among men.

Fourth, we have those pictures which speak of him as God, the Everlasting One.

Micah 5:2

But thou, Bethlehem Ephratah, though thou be little among the thousands of Judah, yet out of thee shall he come forth unto me that is to be ruler in Israel; whose goings forth have been from of old, from everlasting.

In order to substantiate these four aspects and purpose of the four Gospels, we will first look further into what the Old Testament says about them. The Old Testament speaks of the four Gospels and gives us an understanding of why there are four Gospels and these four portraits of Christ and not just one. There is a distinct purpose in why there are four, and we will look into three of these Old Testament examples:

Old Testament - Preparation

Four faces: Lion, Ox, Man, Eagle

The first example is found in Ezekiel, it begins with a vision of God in a particular way. He saw Cherubim sometimes called Seraphim. These flaming creatures that are living beings in human form with wings that are found in Old and New Testaments. They were seen by many writers in the Bible. John, Isaiah, Ezekiel and other writers of scripture saw them. They are manifestations of the character of God or attributes of God personified so we can grasp something of God with our finite minds. These living creatures in Ezekiel’s vision had four faces:

Ezekiel 1:10

As for the likeness of their faces, they four had the face of a man, and the face of a lion, on the right side: and they four had the face of an ox on the left side; they four also had the face of an eagle.

In order to maintain consistency, we will consider them in the order as found in the four Gospels:

1. Lion - King of Beasts - Christ the King

2. Ox - Work animal – Christ the Servant

3. Man - Intelligence – Christ the man – Son of Man

4. Eagle – Deity – Son of God

The Branch: King, Servant, Man, God

The second example is with the Old Testament term for coming of Christ – referred to as the Branch, such as part of a tree – a part of the life God shooting forth into the human stream.

Jeremiah 23:5

Behold, the days come, saith the LORD, that I will raise unto David a righteous Branch, and a King shall reign and prosper, and shall execute judgment and justice in the earth.

Zechariah 3:8

Hear now, O Joshua the high priest, thou, and thy fellows that sit before thee: for they are men wondered at: for, behold, I will bring forth my servant the BRANCH.

Zechariah 6:12

And speak unto him, saying, Thus speaketh the LORD of hosts, saying, Behold the man whose name is The BRANCH; and he shall grow up out of his place, and he shall build the temple of the LORD:

Isaiah 4:2

In that day shall the branch of the LORD be beautiful and glorious, and the fruit of the earth shall be excellent and comely for them that are escaped of Israel.

The third example:

BEHOLD! Found 4 times in the Old Testament

Zechariah 9:9

Rejoice greatly, O daughter of Zion; shout, O daughter of Jerusalem: behold, thy King cometh unto thee: he is just, and having salvation; lowly, and riding upon an ass, and upon a colt the foal of an ass.

Isaiah 42:1

Behold my servant, whom I uphold; mine elect, in whom my soul delighteth; I have put my spirit upon him: he shall bring forth judgment to the Gentiles.

Zechariah 6:12 (again)

And speak unto him, saying, Thus speaketh the LORD of hosts, saying, Behold the man whose name is The BRANCH; and he shall grow up out of his place, and he shall build the temple of the LORD:

(Pilate in John 19:5)

John 19:5

Then came Jesus forth, wearing the crown of thorns, and the purple robe. And Pilate saith unto them, Behold the man!

Isaiah 40:9

O Zion, that bringest good tidings, get thee up into the high mountain; O Jerusalem, that bringest good tidings, lift up thy voice with strength; lift it up, be not afraid; say unto the cities of Judah, Behold your God!


New Testament – Realization

1. Gospel of the King (Matthew)

2. Gospel of the Servant (Mark)

3. Gospel of Son of Man (Luke)

4. Gospel of Son of God (John)

Gospels Related to the World of the 1st Century:

1. Matthew – Jew (Nation of Israel)

2. Mark – Romans – brief, concrete (quickly, straightway, immediately)

3. Luke - Greeks – (humanity - idolization of idea of humanity)

4. John - Christians – (gospel of son of God)

The four Gospels are not Biographies of Christ - Not the life of Christ, but rather portraits of Jesus - open windows to help us see Jesus.

John 21:25

And there are also many other things which Jesus did, the which, if they should be written every one, I suppose that even the world itself could not contain the books that should be written. Amen.


Now let's take the four Gospels in their order:

Matthew’s Gospel is the Gospel of Christ as King. There are a number of characteristics which mark it as distinctive in this way. His effort is to depict Christ as the King of Israel. He accomplishes this right away, because the first thing he does is to give us Christ's genealogy. A genealogy is very necessary for a king. Every king is very, very careful to keep his genealogy intact so that we can be sure he is of the royal family. Matthew traces the genealogy of the Lord Jesus back through King David to Abraham, who was the father of the nation Israel. Christ's royal genealogy is complete.

Then we notice that, throughout Matthew, our Lord speaks as King and acts as King; he speaks with authority and acts with authority. In the Sermon on the Mount he says to the people, "Moses said to you so and so, but I say to you such and such." He speaks with the authority of Moses and more. To the Jews, Moses was the great authority. Nobody had ever spoken more authoritatively than Moses, but here came One who gave additional teaching beyond what Moses said. And our Lord acts authoritatively. He dismisses the evil spirits and commands them to leave. He heals the sick, makes the blind to see. He passes judgment upon the officials of the nation as a king would do. He says, "Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites!" And, in majestic, straightforward, commanding dignity, he pronounces the rejection of the entire nation in the latter part of the book.

The key phrase of this book is the “kingdom of heaven." It occurs thirty-two times in the New Testament, every one of them in Matthew. Matthew is constantly referring to the kingdom of heaven and the King. Even in his account of the birth of our Lord, Matthew says that Christ was born King of the Jews, and that when he died, he was crucified as King of the Jews. In Matthew's Gospel there is no account of the ascension of Christ. Why? Because the King of the Jews belongs on earth. Thus, Matthew gives us a thorough kingly emphasis.

By way of contrast, Luke doesn't say Jesus was born to be King of the Jews; he says he was born to be the Savior. Luke doesn't say Jesus was crucified because he was King of the Jews, but because he "made himself to be like God."


Mark, the second Gospel, pictures Christ as the Servant. We discover this immediately, because there is no genealogy at all. Who cares about the genealogy of a servant? Nobody.

No one is interested in a servant's genealogy. And in Mark's Gospel our Lord simply appears on the scene. But do you know what we get in place of a genealogy? We get credentials. That is what we are looking for in a servant, isn't it? We want to know what his credentials are. And in the first chapter of Mark we are given Christ's credentials and his references. His first reference is John the Baptist, who gives him a good character reference. And then you have the reference of his Father and the witness of the Spirit.

The key words in this Gospel are immediately and straightway. That is the word of a servant, isn't it? When you give a servant an order, you want it carried out immediately, not ten minutes later. "Immediately Jesus did so and so" is repeated many, many times in Mark.

Whereas Luke is filled with parables, and Matthew has a great many, there are only four parables in Mark. Each of them is a parable of service. They represent the Servant of Jehovah -- the suffering Servant whom Isaiah pictures in his 53rd chapter.

And in Mark, Jesus is never called "Lord" until after the resurrection -- another mark of his servanthood. Mark 13:32 is a verse which has puzzled many. Our Lord says of his second coming:

Mark 13:32

But of that day and that hour knoweth no man, no, not the angels which are in heaven, neither the Son, but the Father.

Men have wondered how Jesus could be omnipotent God and still not know the time of his own coming. But this is explained by the character of Mark's Gospel. As John tells us:

John 15:15

Henceforth I call you not servants; for the servant knoweth not what his lord doeth: but I have called you friends; for all things that I have heard of my Father I have made known unto you.

Even the Son, in his Servant aspect, does not know when he is returning. So, Mark gives us the picture of the suffering Servant of Jehovah.


Luke gives us the picture of Christ as Man. Here he is seen in the perfection of his manhood -- the glory, beauty, strength, and dignity of his manhood. And, as we would expect, Luke also begins with Christ's genealogy. If Jesus is to be presented as Man, we want to know that he belongs to the human race, don't we? Notice to whom Luke traces his genealogy -- clear back to Adam. He thus links him directly with our race.

In Luke we find most of the references having to do with Christ praying. If you want to see Jesus in prayer, read the Gospel of Luke. Prayer is a picture of man's proper relationship to God -- dependence upon a sovereign, omnipotent God. That is why you see Christ in the act of prayer many, many times throughout the Gospel of Luke.

In Matthew 10, when Jesus sends the disciples out, he tells them, "Don't go into any of the towns of the Gentiles but go rather to the lost sheep of the house of Israel." But when he sends them out in Luke 9, they go everywhere to preach the gospel. This is indicative that here he has in view the entire human race. In Luke you have the reflection of his human sympathy. He wept over the city of Jerusalem; he healed the man whose ear Peter had cut off when they arrested Jesus in the garden. No other Gospel tells us about these two incidents. But Luke gives us the sympathetic, human aspect of our Lord.

In Luke we also have the fullest account of Christ's agony in the garden of Gethsemane. There he sweats blood as he enters into the sorrows of humanity. That is our Lord as a man, feeling our own infirmities, entering into our trials, being tempted as we are. Luke gives us this picture all the way through his Gospel.


Then, John's Gospel presents Christ as God. This great book is much used today, because it is the deity of our Lord which is questioned. John's Gospel, more than any other, is given out in evangelistic work, because the key question people have is: "Is Jesus Christ really the Son of God?"

• Matthew answers the question "Is Jesus of Nazareth the King of Israel?" He says, "Yes," and he shows us why. He demonstrates Christ's legal and hereditary rights to the throne.

• Mark answers the question "Is Jesus Christ the servant of Jehovah?" He says, "Yes."

• Luke answers the question "Is Jesus Christ a true man?" He says, "Yes."

• John answers the question "Is Jesus Christ the Son of God?" His answer, of course, is a very positive "Yes!"

In John's Gospel we find only a brief genealogy. Three of the Gospels begin with a genealogy -- Matthew, Luke and John. But it is a very brief one in John because it is the account of Christ's divine nature. This genealogy is encompassed in only one verse:

John 1:1

In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.

That's all it takes! We have only two persons in this genealogy -- the Father and the Son.

Have you ever noticed that in the Gospel of John there is not a single word about Jesus' sweat and agony in the garden of Gethsemane? What is the reason for that? Well, it is because the Son of God does not enter into the suffering as the Son of man does. Of course, it is the same person, but John leaves that account out because it doesn't fit into the picture he is drawing of Christ.

In John's Gospel, however, we find the only place where we are told that when the temple soldiers came to arrest Jesus in the garden, he asked them, "Whom do you seek?" They answered, "Jesus of Nazareth." And he stepped forward and said to them, "I AM he." And they fell backward and to the ground in amazement when he used that divine name of God -- that name which the Hebrews did not dare pronounce. Seven times in John's Gospel Jesus claims to be God by the use of that name, "I AM" --"I AM the bread of life" (6:35, 48); "I AM the light of the world" (8:12; 9:5); "I AM the door" (10:9); "I AM the good shepherd" (10:11); "I AM the resurrection and the life (11:25); "I AM the way, and the truth, and the life" (14:6); "I AM the true vine" (15:1).

John waits until the end of Chapter 20 to state his purpose in writing his Gospel -- no doubt hoping that, by the time a person has read this far, the purpose already will have been accomplished:

John 20

30 And many other signs truly did Jesus in the presence of his disciples, which are not written in this book:

31 But these are written, that ye might believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God; and that believing ye might have life through his name.

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