Matthew, Mark, and Luke give much of the same testimony of the life and teaching of Jesus. The material offered is presented in the same general order of events. These three are called the synoptic gospels for that reason.
In an endeavor to understand the similarities recorded in the Olivet Discourse, it is more intriguing to notice the differences. When studying eschatological passages such as this, it isn’t difficult to encounter controversy. In an effort to avoid errant misunderstanding, context is important.
One of those controversies in interpretation is inevitably going to include the intended audience of the writers. In other words, there are some who say Matthew’s version of the Olivet Discourse was written only for the Israelis. Let’s see if such a sentiment can be demonstrated.
As He sat on the Mount of Olives opposite the temple, Peter, James, John, and Andrew asked Him privately, “Tell us, when will these things happen, and what will be the sign when all these things will be fulfilled?”Mark 13:3–4 — Modern English Version (Thinline Edition.; Lake Mary, FL: Passio, 2014)
I give this verse for context. Matthew wasn’t present for this private briefing. Neither was Mark or Luke. Therefore, the things they wrote were as they understood from others. One thing is clear, though. They were Jewish people asking about the temple.
We also need to understand that everything Jesus taught… He taught to Israelis. His earthly ministry was to Israelis. The words He gave to them are for Israelis. He came only to them.
This is what He said to a gentile woman who came to Him to plead for her daughter.
But He answered, “I was sent only to the lost sheep of the house of Israel.”Matthew 15:24–26 — Modern English Version (Thinline Edition.; Lake Mary, FL: Passio, 2014)
Then she came and worshipped Him, saying, “Lord, help me.”
But He answered, “It is not fair to take the children’s bread and to throw it to dogs.”
It’s only Matthew that records Jesus’ sentence, “I was sent only to the lost sheep of the house of Israel.” It follows, everything we read of Jesus and His earthly ministry must be understood first in that context. Especially as it is given to us in Matthew. It was Israel who was chosen to be God’s ambassador to the nations. When Jesus speaks and teaches, He is almost always speaking directly to Israelis.
Scholars also suggest that the synoptic gospels have intended audiences that differ. For Matthew, his audience was Jewish folks with Messianic expectations, proving Jesus is Messiah. Mark’s audience was the Gentile Romans and Greeks. Luke’s audience was new Gentile (Roman and Greek) Christians.
Can this idea be detected?
In the Olivet Discourse, when Jesus is speaking of how many will be martyred, it is recorded with some slight differences. The differences here seem to apply to the perspective of the intended audience.
And this gospel of the kingdom will be preached throughout the world as a testimony to all nations, and then the end will come.Matthew 24:14 — Modern English Version (Thinline Edition.; Lake Mary, FL: Passio, 2014)
But take heed. For they will hand you over to councils, and in the synagogues you will be beaten. You will be brought before rulers and kings for My sake, as a testimony to them.Mark 13:9 — Modern English Version (Thinline Edition.; Lake Mary, FL: Passio, 2014)
But before all these things, they will seize you and persecute you, delivering you up to the synagogues and prisons, and you will be brought before kings and governors for My name’s sake. It will turn out as a testimony for you.Luke 21:12–13 — Modern English Version (Thinline Edition.; Lake Mary, FL: Passio, 2014)
Each account has Jesus speaking of the testimony of the witnessing would-be martyrs. Matthew says the testimony is “to all nations.” Mark, it’s to “them (kings and rulers.)” While Luke records it’s a testimony for the individual believer.
Yes, the similarities are important. But the differences ought not to be challenges to our understanding. They are there to enhance and bolster our understanding.
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