Four Gospels, One Witness

If you’ve been a Christian long enough, you, like me, have probably heard the bold and incorrect assertion that the gospel accounts of Jesus’ life contradict one another. Whether that statement comes from the mouths of liberal theologians, agnostic acquaintances, or atheistic bloggers, we must acknowledge that it is one that has been repeated (and I would argue decisively refuted) for centuries. In The Final Days of Jesus, Andreas J. Köstenberger and Justin Taylor deliver a heart-stirring harmonization of the gospel testimony of Jesus’ final days that is honest, approachable, refreshing, and informative.

While this book is not a a strict technical analysis, it is plainly evident that Köstenberger and Taylor have done their homework. Coming in at right around 200 pages, The Final Days of Jesus is clear and concise (one might call it brief), yet manages to be informative for even seasoned Christians. Beginning with Sunday March 29th, AD 33 and culminating on Sunday April 5, AD 33, Köstenberger and Taylor provide a running commentary on the scriptural testimony of the events that transpired during what many call the “Passion Week.” The general structure of the text is intended to help you understand exactly what happened on each day of Jesus’ final week. Each notable moment of the Passion Week is demarcated by a subtitle and reference to the relevant biblical texts that are being summarized, harmonized, and explained. For the most part, the relevant texts are copied into the book to make the experience as seamless as possible.

A Helpful Devotional Commentary

As alluded to above, it is imperative to note that Köstenberger and Taylor do not set out to provide an academic resource, but an aid to inform worship. They are not overly concerned with defending their dating philosophy (e.g. providing thorough arguments for a 33 AD dating of Jesus’ death), the precise location of sites and buildings, etc. That doesn’t mean they haven’t done the scholarly work to be able to defend their positions – it simply means that the limited scope of this work prevents them from including extensive references and providing lengthy arguments for their convictions. What the two are concerned with is detailing the events that transpired in Jesus’ final week and explaining both the historical and eschatological significance of all that took place. Jesus is the God-man, the Messiah, the second person of the Trinity; this book reminds us of the impact that such extraordinary claims had on the Jews and Romans of the time.

As they summarize, harmonize, and comment on the final days of Jesus, Köstenberger and Taylor provide just enough commentary to help you understand the various narratives at play within the larger arc of the redemptive story. Why does Jesus ride into Jerusalem on a donkey? Who is the Son of Man prophesied in Daniel, and what does that have to do with the high priest tearing his clothes? Why do the Jews so viciously turn on Jesus? Why did Jesus have to appear before both the Jewish and Roman authorities? What is the significance of the inscription over Jesus’ head? Why crucifixion? The authors tackle all of these questions and more as they unpack the various movements in the final scenes of the life of Jesus, the promised Messiah.

Along with the biblical text and accompanying commentary, you’ll find maps, charts, and illustrations all throughout the book, serving to help you visualize and understand the biblical data that the authors are summarizing, harmonizing, and commenting on. I found them to be helpful, overall, and appreciate their inclusion. One such chart, explaining the allegorical connections in one of Jesus’ parables, is below:

 

The Parable of the Tenants

Parable Representation
Vineyard Owner God
Vineyard Israel
Slaves God's Prophets
The son Jesus
Destruction of the evil tenants God's judgment on Israel's unrighteous leaders
Giving of the vineyard to others Extension of God's kingdom to the gentiles


Although some of these tables, charts, and related commentary do require the authors to make interpretive judgments, as one would expect in a resource with such features, it is refreshing to see that Köstenberger and Taylor largely draw their conclusions from what the text of scripture itself plainly states. Many authors fall into the error of saying more than the text says, but Köstenberger and Taylor do an admirable job at staying within the bounds of inspired scripture. They deftly weave Old Testament types and prophecies with New Testament fulfillment, and they do so in a way that is easy to follow for both new and seasoned believers – though I am convinced that those at least somewhat familiar with the Old Testament (offices, titles, names, events, etc.) will be better equipped to appreciate the finer details of this work.

Helpful illustrations (such as the one below) are also placed throughout the book, making it easier to visualize the data that is being summarized or commented on. Again, some interpretive judgments must be made, so a diagram or two might not match one-to-one with what you have been taught before. Nevertheless, I find that these diagrams are largely profitable and useful and will remark that Köstenberger and Taylor do a fine job at presenting sufficient rationale for the assumptions and interpretations they make.

The Political Significance of Messiah

Perhaps one of the most helpful features of this book is the manner in which Köstenberger and Taylor draw attention to the political aspect of Jesus’ identity as the Messiah / King / Anointed One. I was helpfully reminded that our western eyes don’t always see or understand the nuanced details that the gospel writers provide. What does it mean that Jesus is the Son of God? To what office was Jesus anointed for? It is clear, The Final Days points out, that Jesus was a threat not only to the devil and his demons, but to the political and religious structures of the time as well.

The Jews, for the most part, expected that a “greater Son of David” would appear on the scene and reign over Israel – and eventually the entire world – with might and justice. Expectations around Messiah, then, included the destruction of Israel’s enemies (i.e., the Romans in Jesus’ days). Thus, as Jesus’ earthly ministry is approaching a climax, there are two possible outcomes in the minds of all of the inhabitants of Israel at the time: either Jesus will establish His reign as King over Israel and powerfully and completely eliminate Rome’s occupation, or He will die as a pretender and go down as yet another failed insurrectionist.

No one anticipated a third option. Yet it is the third option – the death, burial, and resurrection of the triumphant Son of God – that the authors assert that the gospels coalesce to present. The King of the universe has come, and His kingdom has invaded earth. This glorious truth has massive implications for both the Jews and the Romans, as well as the entire world.

The Long-Awaited, Yet Unexpected Messiah

It is clear that Köstenberger and Taylor are convinced that not only do the gospels not contradict one another, they complement each other. We are privileged, they argue, to have four accounts rather than just one, and we should celebrate the fact that the authors did not look to sanitize or edit their respective accounts. Instead, the gospel writers faithfully preserved what they saw (or heard), and they did so in a way that is consistent with how eyewitness testimony works.

In the last chapter of the book, the Köstenberger and Taylor ask the most important question of all. They ask the same question that Jesus asked Peter and the disciples, and it is the same question that you have to ask yourself: “Who do you say He is?”

While they might offer distinctive details and perspectives, the gospels agree on this: Jesus is the Son of the living God. He is the lamb of God given and slain for sinners. He was born of a virgin though and lived a perfect, sinless life. He was crucified, died, and was buried. The third day, He rose from the dead, ascended on high, and is now sitting at the right hand of the throne of God having accomplished the work His Father gave Him to do. He will come again to judge the living and the dead, and His kingdom will know no end. Köstenberger and Taylor successfully demonstrate that the gospel writers each say these things in their four unique but complementary accounts.

Now, the question remains: who do you say He is?


I recommend this book to anyone looking for a harmonization of the four gospel accounts of Jesus’ final week, to anyone looking for a devotional aid – especially for one to use during the week(s) leading up to Easter, and to anyone looking to further understand the nuances and details of the most important week of the most important person who ever lived. This 200 page book is a brilliantly executed resource that will help you see how the gospel writers carefully and accurately capture and convey the final week of Jesus in a fresh, inviting, and compelling way. I look forward to revisiting this helpful work in the weeks leading up to Easter and invite you to do the same.

5/5

Links

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The Final Days of Jesus on Amazon.com

The Final Days of Jesus on Crossway.org

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