Jesus Christ, God’s Unique Son

In the first century, numerous written accounts about the life and activity of Jesus Christ existed. (Luke 1:1-4) Only four of these gained the acceptance of the community of believers and were preserved throughout the centuries by copying and recopying. Although the writers do not identify themselves by name, the four accounts have been attributed to Matthew, Mark, Luke and John. Eusebius, in his Ecclesiastical History, provided information about what was commonly believed regarding the accounts that became part of the recognized Scriptures. He quoted Origen (c. 185 to c. 254 CE) as accepting the tradition that there were only four authentic evangels, the first being written by the former tax collector Matthew, the second by Mark (as Peter instructed him), the third by Luke, and the last one by John.

The earliest comments identifying Peter as the primary source of Mark’s account come from Papias (c. 60 to c. 135 CE), who also said of Matthew (as quoted by Eusebius) that he “collected the words [lógia] in the Hebrew language.” The comments of Papias regarding Matthew, however, are not specific enough to identify the apostle as the writer of the evangel.

Only Luke’s account, in being directed to Theophilus, provides a possible clue respecting the time it was written. According to Acts 1:1, Theophilus had received the first book about what Jesus did. The Acts account ends with the statement that Paul lived for two years in Rome under house arrest. If Acts was written shortly thereafter, the evangel would have been composed before 61 CE. For the most part, the various dates suggested for the four evangels are nothing more than conjectures, based chiefly on opinions respecting Jesus’ words about the destruction of Jerusalem.

Fragmentary papyrus manuscripts (P66 [thought to date from the second century] and P75 [believed to date from late in the second century or early in the third century]) contain the following superscription for the account traditionally attributed to the apostle John, “evangel according to John” (euangelion kata ioannen [P66]; euangelion kata ioanen [P75]). At the end of the third Gospel, P75 (one of the oldest extant manuscripts of this evangel) reads, “evangel according to Luke” (euangelion kata loukan).

Luke’s Prologue (1:1-4)

In his prologue, Luke indicates that the many then-existing narratives were based on what eyewitnesses had handed down. As for his own account, Luke carefully investigated everything and then wrote down the information in orderly sequence. His objective was to establish for Theophilus, whom he called “most excellent,” the certainty of the teaching that had been imparted to him orally. The designation “most excellent” may indicate that Theophilus occupied a high position or was held in high esteem. (Luke 1:1-4)

The Unanimous Testimony of All Four Accounts

All four accounts are unanimous in identifying Jesus as the unique Son of God. Comparatively brief as the evangels are, they have provided millions of believers throughout the centuries the basis for their faith in Jesus Christ and have had a significant influence on their lives. The consideration that follows combines the information from all four accounts and presents it, with some exceptions, in chronological order.

The Word (John 1:1-5)

In the Septuagint, the opening two words of Genesis are the same as in John 1:1 and 1 John 1:1 (en arché [“in (the) beginning”]). The first chapter of Genesis portrays creative works as progressively coming into existence in response to what God says. This direct link of God’s speaking to the coming into existence of the creation appears to be preserved in the designation “the Word.” The reference to the Son as “the Word” suggests that God communicated through him and by means of him brought into existence the realities of his expressed will and purpose.

“In the beginning the Word was.” Before the countless ages that had passed since the universe came into existence the Word already “was” with the Father. The prophecy of Micah about Messiah’s birth in Bethlehem similarly pointed to his prehuman existence as reaching back to the infinite past. The Septuagint text of Micah 5:2 reads, hai éxodoi autoú ap’ archés ex hemerón aiónos (his goings forth [are] from [the] beginning, from [the] days of eternity.)

“The Word was with God [literally, the God].” In this case, the Greek preposition prós (“with”) may be regarded as indicating an interrelationship. “God” (theós) appears in the emphatic position as the opening term of the next statement. As the “image of the invisible God” (Colossians 1:15), being “in the form of God” (Philippians 2:6) and his very “imprint” (Hebrews 1:3), the Word is identified as theós, the only single Greek term that can adequately describe his nature. In the Greek text, the Word’s being distinct from the Father is evident from the absence of the definite article. (See the Notes section for an illustration of the structure of John 1:1.)

From the infinite past, the Word and God proved to be in a close mutual relationship. This aspect is revealed in his being with God in the beginning or prior to the start of creation. (John 1:2)

Everything came into existence through the Word. Apart from him, not a single creation came to be. (John 1:3)

Depending on the punctuation, life was in the Word or life came to be “in” or through the Word. The text could be understood to mean that the Word possessed life-giving power or that he imparted life to the creation. In the case of humans, this “life” was more than mere existence; it was “light,” or a life inseparably associated with an inner light that made moral decisions possible. That inner light or faculty of conscience is so powerful that it continues to shine in a morally corrupt world of darkness. Although surrounded by darkness, this light has not been extinguished. (John 1:4, 5)

Note: To illustrate the way theós, as applying to the Word is used, the following sentence preserves the order of the Greek words and substitutes “child” and “male”: In [the] beginning was the child, and the child was with the male, and male was the child.

Before John’s Ministry Started

Gabriel’s Announcement of John’s Birth (Luke 1:5-25)

Gabriel’s Announcement to Mary (Luke 1:26-38)

Mary Visits Elizabeth (Luke 1:39-56)

John’s Birth and His Father’s Prophetic Words (Luke 1:57-79)

Joseph’s Response to Mary’s Pregnancy (Matthew 1:18-25)

Jesus’ Birth in Bethlehem (Luke 2:1-20)

Genealogy of Jesus Christ (Matthew 1:1-17; Luke 3:23-38)

Joseph and Mary Fulfill the Requirements of the Law (Luke 2:21-38)

Arrival of the Magi (Matthew 2:1-12)

The Flight to Egypt and Herod’s Rage (Matthew 2:13, 14, 16-18)

Departure From Egypt and Residence in Nazareth (Matthew 2:15, 19-23; Luke 2:39-52)

John’s Preparatory Activity

The “Light” Is About to Appear (John 1:6-13; Matthew 3:1-12; Mark 1:1-8; Luke 3:1-18)

The Baptism of Jesus and His Time in the Wilderness (Matthew 3:13-4:11; Mark 1:9-13; Luke 3:21-23; 4:1-13)

John Focuses Attention on Jesus (John 1:19-37)

Jesus’ Activity Begins

Jesus’ First Disciples (John 1:14-18; 38-51)

The First “Sign” (John 2:1-11)

Stopover in Capernaum and Passover in Jerusalem (John 2:12-25)

The Visit of Nicodemus (John 3:1-21)

Jesus’ Disciples Do Baptizing and John “Decreases” (John 3:22-36; 4:1-3)

In Samaria (John 4)

Return to Galilee and Jesus’ Activity There

The Second “Sign” in Galilee (John 4:43-54)

Return to Nazareth (Luke 4:14-30)

Jesus Invites Peter, Andrew, James and John to Be Fishers of Men (Luke 5:1-11)

In the Synagogue of Capernaum (Mark 1:21-28; Luke 4:31-37)

Healing Peter’s Mother-in-Law and Other Afflicted Ones (Matthew 8:14-17; Mark 1:29-39; Luke 4:38-44)

Healing a Leper (Matthew 8:2-4; Mark 1:40-45; Luke 5:12-16)

Healing a Paralytic in Capernaum (Matthew 9:1-8; Mark 2:1-12; Luke 5:17-26)

Jesus Calls Matthew to Follow Him (Matthew 9:9-13; Mark 2:13-17; Luke 5:27-32)

In Jerusalem (John 5)

Back in Galilee

Jesus’ Disciples Pick Ears of Grain on the Sabbath (Matthew 12:1-8; Mark 2:23-28; Luke 6:1-5)

Jesus Heals a Man’s Hand on the Sabbath (Matthew 12:9-14; Mark 3:1-6; Luke 6:6-11)

Jesus Cures Many by the Sea of Galilee (Matthew 12:15-21; Mark 3:7-11)

Choosing the Twelve (Matthew 10:1-4; Mark 3:13-19; Luke 6:12-16)

Jesus’ Activity With His Disciples in Galilee (Matthew 4:23-25; Luke 6:17-19)

The Sermon on the Mount (Matthew 5:1-7:29; Luke 6:20-49)

Beatitudes (Matthew 5:3-12; Luke 6:20-26)

“Salt of the Earth” (Matthew 5:13)

“Light of the World” (Matthew 5:14-16)

Jesus Came to Fulfill the Law and the Prophets (Matthew 5:17-20)

Murder and Anger (Matthew 5:21, 22)

Peace With God and One’s Brother (Matthew 5:23, 24)

Settling Disputes (Matthew 5:25, 26)

Adultery and Divorce (Matthew 5:27-32)

Oaths (Matthew 5:33-37)

Retaliation and Liberality (Matthew 5:38-42; Luke 6:29, 30)

Love (Matthew 5:43-48; Luke 6:27, 28, 32-36)

Rightly Motivated Giving (Matthew 6:1-4)

Prayer (Matthew 6:5-15)

Fasting (Matthew 6:16-18)

Treasure (Matthew 6:19-21)

The Eye (Matthew 6:22, 23)

Two Masters (Matthew 6:24)

Worry (Matthew 6:25-34)

Judging (Matthew 7:1-6; Luke 6:37-42)

God’s Answering of Prayer (Matthew 7:7-11; Luke 11:9-13)

The “Golden Rule” (Matthew 7:12; Luke 6:31)

Two Roads (Matthew 7:13, 14)

Identifying Fruit (Matthew 7:15-23; Luke 6:43-46)

The Right Foundation (Matthew 7:24-27; Luke 6:47-49)

Miracles and Continued Activity in Galilee

Healing the Centurion’s Servant (Matthew 8:5-13; Luke 7:1-10)

Resurrection of a Widow’s Only Son (Luke 7:11-17)

John’s Inquiry and Jesus’ Reply (Matthew 11:2-19; Luke 7:18-35)

Jesus’ Response to Unbelief (Matthew 11:20-30; Luke 10:13-15, 21, 22)

In the Home of Simon, a Pharisee (Luke 7:36-50)

Women Who Accompanied Jesus and His Apostles (Luke 8:1-3)

Misrepresented as Being in League with the Demons (Matthew 12:22-50; Mark 3:20-35)

Jesus’ Use of Parables (Matthew 13:1-52; Mark 4:1-34; Luke 8:4-18)

Sower (Matthew 13:3-23; Mark 4:3-20; Luke 8:5-15)

Wheat and Weeds (Matthew 13:24-30, 36-43)

A Lighted Lamp (Mark 4:21-25; Luke 8:16-18)

The Growing Seed (Mark 4:26-29)

Mustard Seed (Matthew 13:31, 32; Mark 4:30-32; Luke 13:18, 19)

Leaven (Matthew 13:33; Luke 13:20, 21)

The Extent Jesus Used Parables (Matthew 13:34, 35; Mark 4:33, 34)

Treasure Hidden in the Field (Matthew 13:44)

Pearl (Matthew 13:45, 46)

Dragnet (Matthew 13:47-50)

Things New and Old (Matthew 13:51, 52)

Ending a Storm and Healing Demoniacs (Matthew 8:18, 23-34; Mark 4:35-41; 5:1-20; Luke 8:22-39)

Hemorrhaging Woman, Jairus’s Daughter, Two Blind Men, and a Mute Man (Matthew 9:18-34; Mark 5:21-43; Luke 8:40-56)

Return to Nazareth (Matthew 13:54-58; Mark 6:1-6)

The Twelve Sent Forth (Matthew 9:35-11:1; Mark 6:7-13; Luke 9:1-6)

Death of John (Matthew 14:1-12; Mark 6:14-29; Luke 9:7-9)

Jesus Meets Apostles (Matthew 14:13; Mark 6:30, 31; Luke 9:10; John 6:1-4)

Jesus Provides Food for Thousands (Matthew 14:14-21; Mark 6:34-46; Luke 9:11-17; John 6:3-15)

Jesus Walks on Water (Matthew 14:23-33; Mark 6:46-52; John 6:16-21)

Many Are Healed (Matthew 14:34-36; Mark 6:53-56)

Many Take Offense at Jesus’ Teaching (John 6:22-71)

Pharisees and Scribes Challenge Jesus About Tradition (Matthew 15:1-20; Mark 7:1-23)

Response to a Syrophoenician Woman (Matthew 15:21-28; Mark 7:24-30)

Many Healed and Thousands Fed (Matthew 15:29-39; Mark 7:31-37; 8:1-10)

Demand for a Sign (Matthew 16:1-4; Mark 8:11-13)

Disciples Misunderstand Jesus’ Words About Leaven (Matthew 16:5-12; Mark 8:14-21)

Progressively Restoring a Blind Man’s Sight (Mark 8:22-26)

In the Vicinity of Caesarea Philippi

Peter’s Confession and Christ’s Response (Matthew 16:13-19; Mark 8:27-29; Luke 9:18-20)

Jesus’ Future Suffering and Transfiguration (Matthew 16:20-28; 17:1-13; Mark 8:30-38; 9:1-13; Luke 9:20-36)

Curing an Epileptic Boy (Matthew 17:14-21; Mark 9:14-29; Luke 9:37-43)

Jesus Returns to Galilee and Teaches His Disciples (Matthew 17:22, 23; Mark 9:30-32; Luke 9:43-45)

The Temple Tax (Matthew 17:24-27)

Jesus’ Teaching About Greatness (Matthew 18:1-5; Mark 9:33-37; Luke 9:46-48)

Warning About Stumbling (Matthew 18:6-9; Mark 9:38-50; Luke 9:49, 50)

The Preciousness of “Little” or Insignificant Ones (Matthew 18:10-20)

Forgiveness (Matthew 18:21-35)

To Jerusalem (John 7:1-10; Matthew 8:19-22; Luke 9:51-62) and Then at the Temple

At the Festival of Tabernacles (John 7:11-52 [also 7:53-8:11])

“The Light of the World” and the One Who Sets Free (John 8:12-59)

The Blind Man (John 9:1-41)

The Caring Shepherd (John 10:1-21)

Continued Activity in and Near Jerusalem and Other Areas of Judea

The 70 (or 72) Sent Out (Luke 10:1-24)

Parable of the Compassionate Samaritan (Luke 10:25-37)

In Bethany at the Home of Martha and Mary (Luke 10:38-42)

Prayer (Luke 11:1-13)

Jesus’ Response to Misrepresentation and Unbelief (Luke 11:14-36)

In the Home of a Pharisee (Luke 11:37-54)

Leaven of the Pharisees and Proper Fear (Luke 12:1-12)

Warning About Coveting (Luke 12:13-21)

Anxiety and Fear (Luke 12:22-34)

Watchful, Faithful, and Disloyal Slaves (Luke 12:35-48)

Divisions (Luke 12:49-53)

Discerning the Time and Taking Action (Luke 12:54-59)

The Urgency of Repentance (Luke 13:1-9)

Healing a Crippled Woman and Teaching with Parables (Luke 13:10-22)

Festival of Dedication (John 10:22-39)

Jesus’ Activity After Leaving Jerusalem (Luke 13:23-17:10; John 10:40-42)

Jesus’ Answer to a Question About Salvation (Luke 13:23-30)

Certain Pharisees Warn Jesus (Luke 13:31-35)

As a Guest in a Pharisee’s Home (Luke 14:1-24)

Considering the Cost of Discipleship (Luke 14:25-35)

Joy Over Repentant Sinners (Luke 15:1-32)

Parable of the Dishonest Steward (Luke 16:1-13)

Reaction of Pharisees and Jesus’ Response (Luke 16:14-18)

The Rich Man and Lazarus (Luke 16:19-31)

Teaching About Stumbling, Forgiveness, and the Right View of One’s Labors (Luke 17:1-10)

Return to Judea, Departure from Bethany, and Continued Activity

The Resurrection of Lazarus (John 11:1-54)

Ten Lepers Healed (Luke 17:11-19)

God’s Kingdom and Christ’s Return (Luke 17:20-37)

Parables About Prayer (Luke 18:1-14)

Questions About Divorce (Matthew 19:1-12; Mark 10:1-12)

Jesus Blesses Little Children (Matthew 19:13-15; Mark 10:13-16; Luke 18:15-17)

Riches and Entering the Kingdom (Matthew 19:16-30; Mark 10:17-31; Luke 18:18-30)

Parable of the Vineyard Workers (Matthew 20:1-16)

Jesus Again Foretells His Future Suffering and Death (Matthew 20:17-28; Mark 10:32-45; Luke 18:31-34)

Blind Bartimaeus and His Companion (Matthew 20:29-34; Mark 10:46-52; Luke 18:35-43)

Zacchaeus (Luke 19:1-10)

Parable of the Minas (Luke 19:11-27)

Final Days, Arrest, Death, and Resurrection

In Bethany (Matthew 26:6-13; Mark 14:3-9; John 11:55-12:11)

To Jerusalem on a Donkey’s Colt (Matthew 21:1-11; Mark 11:1-11; Luke 19:28-44; John 12:12-19)

Back to Jerusalem and to the Temple (Matthew 21:12-19; Mark 11:12-19; Luke 19:45-48; John 12:20-50)

Back to and in Jerusalem for the Third Time (Matthew 21:20-24:2; Mark 11:20-13:2; Luke 20:1-21:6)

The Tax Question (Matthew 22:15-22; Mark 12:13-17; Luke 20:20-26)

Questioned About the Resurrection (Matthew 22:23-33; Mark 12:18-27; Luke 20:27-40)

The Foremost Commandments (Matthew 22:34-40; Mark 12:28-34)

Whose Son Is the Christ? (Matthew 22:41-46; Mark 12:35-37; Luke 20:41-44)

Scribes and Pharisees Denounced and Destruction of Temple Foretold (Matthew 23:1-24:2; Mark 12:38-13:2; Luke 20:45-21:6)

When Will It Take Place? (Matthew 24:3-25:46; Mark 13:3-37; Luke 21:7-38)

Three Parables (Matthew 25:1-46; 26:1, 2)

Plot and Betrayal (Matthew 26:3, 4, 14-16; Mark 14:1, 2, 10, 11; Luke 21:37-22:6)

Preparations for the Passover (Matthew 26:17-19; Mark 14:12-16; Luke 22:7-13; John 13:1)

Final Night With the Apostles (Matthew 26:20-56; Mark 14:17-50; Luke 22:14-53; John 13:2-18:11)