At the heart of the New Testament lies the Gospel of John, a book distinctively evangelistic in its purpose, irrespective of whether one perceives it as the sole book in the New Testament with this explicit intention. The gospel’s assurance is profound and clear: it carries within it a self-sufficient message that reveals the necessary understanding for anyone to attain eternal life. This specific content of saving faith is encapsulated in John 20:31, where belief in Jesus as the messiah and the son of God is outlined as the path to eternal life.
Yet, when we turn our gaze towards the Synoptic Gospels – Matthew, Mark, and Luke – we are met with different primary purposes. Each of these accounts is written with a distinct audience in mind and aims to highlight particular aspects of Jesus’s life, teachings, and works.
This distinction in purpose and audience prompts an important question: Can an individual, upon reading one of the Synoptic Gospels, uncover within it the message necessary to obtain eternal life, just as they could in the Gospel of John?
The answer is a resounding ‘yes.’ This article aims to demonstrate how each gospel, despite their unique objectives and audiences, is interwoven with the essential declaration of Jesus as the messiah, the son of God – the very belief that, according to the Gospel of John, promises eternal life.
The Gospel of John: the assurance of salvation
Uniquely positioned among the New Testament narratives is the Gospel of John. It diverges from the other gospels in style, content, and structure, capturing the essence of Jesus’s divinity in a manner that is deeply reflective and philosophical. This gospel, unlike the Synoptics, consistently unfolds a grand narrative aimed at providing an unequivocal revelation of who Jesus is—the Messiah, the Son of God.
John 20:31 encapsulates the specific content of saving faith and highlights the purpose of John’s Gospel. It reads,
“But these are written that you may believe that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in his name.”John 20:31
Here, the gospel writer outlines the path to eternal life: belief in Jesus as the Messiah, the Son of God. This statement is not buried within a complex theological discourse or veiled in parable and metaphor—it is proclaimed openly and clearly. The Gospel of John, thus, emerges as an assured guide, a beacon illuminating the way towards salvation, its message being self-sufficient to provide the understanding required for attaining eternal life.
In the chapters of John, Jesus’s conversations, his signs and miracles, and the unique “I am” statements consistently point to his divine identity. From the outset, John establishes Jesus as the Word that “became flesh and dwelt among us” (John 1:14), thus echoing the claim of His Messiahship and divine sonship. Therefore, the Gospel of John stands as an enduring testament to the life, work, and divinity of Jesus Christ, assuring readers of the promise of eternal life through faith in Him.
Purpose and audience: the synoptic distinction
Turning our attention to the Synoptic Gospels – Matthew, Mark, and Luke – we are met with a different set of primary purposes and audiences. These three gospels are often analysed together due to their shared content and parallel narratives, and yet, they each carry a distinctive focus that differentiates them from one another and from the Gospel of John.
Matthew, traditionally believed to be written for a Jewish audience, primarily seeks to demonstrate how Jesus fulfils Old Testament prophecies and thereby establishes Him as the awaited Jewish Messiah. The gospel often draws parallels between Jesus’s life and teachings and Jewish laws, customs, and prophecies, asserting Jesus’s authoritative position within the Jewish tradition.
Mark, considered the earliest of the gospels, presents a concise and action-oriented account of Jesus’s ministry. Often suggested to be addressing a Gentile audience unfamiliar with Jewish customs, Mark seeks to depict Jesus as a figure of mighty deeds and divine authority, whilst simultaneously showcasing His humanity and the cost of discipleship.
Luke, the longest of the four gospels, was written by a Gentile for a primarily Gentile audience. His gospel provides an orderly and detailed account of Jesus’s life and ministry, emphasising Jesus’s compassion for the marginalised, the role of women, and the universality of Jesus’s message.
The variations in their narratives prompt an intriguing question: amidst their unique objectives, do the Synoptic Gospels contain the sufficient message necessary for one to attain eternal life, as explicitly stated in the Gospel of John?
The key to eternal life in the synoptics
Intriguingly, the answer is a profound ‘yes’. The message that offers the key to eternal life—the declaration of Jesus as the Messiah and the Son of God—is not exclusive to the Gospel of John but permeates the narratives of the Synoptic Gospels as well.
In the Gospel of Matthew, Jesus’s Messiahship is strongly emphasised right from the genealogy in the opening chapter, asserting Jesus’s rightful claim to the throne of David, a key expectation of the Jewish Messiah. This portrayal continues throughout the narrative, climaxing with Peter’s confession
“You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.”Matthew 16:16
The Gospel of Mark, with its characteristic brevity and focus on action, does not shy away from presenting Jesus as the Son of God. This is pronouncedly indicated in the very first verse,
“The beginning of the gospel about Jesus Christ, the Son of God.”Mark 1:1
Furthermore, Jesus’s Messiahship is affirmed through the recurrent motif of ‘Messianic Secret’, where the revelation of Jesus’s identity is gradually disclosed.
Luke’s Gospel, with its emphasis on Jesus’s compassion and universal message, also embeds the affirmation of Jesus as the Messiah and the Son of God. In the angelic announcement of Jesus’s birth to the shepherds in Luke 2:11, He is referred to as “a Saviour, who is Christ the Lord.” Also, similar to Matthew, the account includes Peter’s confession of Jesus’s Messiahship.
Thus, even amidst the Synoptic Gospels’ unique focuses, the message that has the power to grant eternal life, the belief in Jesus as the Messiah and the Son of God, is very much alive and present in their narratives.
The universality of the message across the Gospels
From the Jewish context of Matthew, through the succinct and potent narrative of Mark, to the compassionate and universal tone of Luke, and finally, to the philosophical and intimate portrait in John, the message stands consistent: Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God. The Gospel writers, each in their distinctive way, affirm this essential truth, underscoring that belief in this declaration leads to eternal life.
This shared proclamation across all four Gospels—despite their unique perspectives and purposes—affirms the universality of the message of salvation. It is a testament to the enduring, foundational belief of early Christian communities and, by extension, offers contemporary readers a unified, coherent narrative about Jesus’s identity and mission. The presence of this universal theme, therefore, reinforces the assurance that anyone who reads that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God, and believes it, can attain eternal life, irrespective of which Gospel they encounter.
As we stand on the shores of this exploration and look back at the journey, the implications for contemporary readers become abundantly clear. In an age of a plethora of interpretations and complexities, the shared message across the gospels offers a comforting beacon of clarity and assurance. The declaration of Jesus as the Messiah, the Son of God, transcends individual narratives, cultural contexts, and historical moments, grounding the reader in the fundamental claim of the Christian faith.
It is a testament to the universal appeal of the Gospel message, which reaches out to diverse readerships, much like the original audiences of the respective Gospels. Just as these texts spoke to Jewish audiences grappling with their Messianic expectations, to Gentile readers encountering the figure of Christ for the first time, and to early Christian communities forming their theological understandings, they continue to speak to us today.
This exploration also reiterates an essential tenet of the Christian faith—the power of belief. Amidst the diverse literary genres, historical contexts, and theological themes of the New Testament, the call to believe in Jesus as the Messiah, the Son of God, is unfailing and consistent. It provides assurance that the message found across these Gospels is sufficient for the attainment of eternal life. It is not contingent on scholarly expertise, exhaustive knowledge of theological discourse, or awareness of cultural and historical nuances; instead, it hinges on the personal and transformative act of belief.
As contemporary readers, we are invited to engage with the Gospels not just as historical or literary documents but as narratives that carry a profound, life-altering message. Irrespective of the gospel one is reading, the path to eternal life remains unchanging: belief in Jesus as the Messiah, the Son of God. This central message, though expressed in different ways and through various narratives, is universal and enduring—a testament to the all-encompassing nature of the gospels and the salvation they promise.