How do the portraits of Jesus differ in the Gospels of Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John?

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Matthew is written to persuade a Jewish audience that Jesus is the promised Messiah. For that reason, Matthew emphasizes Jesus's connection to Judaism and presents him as God's chosen, in the line of Abraham and Moses, but greater than either of these earlier figures who entered into covenant with God. Matthew reveals Jesus as a great sage, teacher, and healer, and as God's anointed one, but not as co-equal with God.

Mark, which is accepted as the earliest gospel written, is the shortest of the four and does not include any birth stories. It starts with the adult Jesus's ministries. It has more records of miracles and emphasizes, from Isaiah, Jesus's role as the suffering servant.

Luke is often seen as the social justice gospel that portrays Jesus as a person concerned with alleviating the sufferings of people in this life. Unlike Matthew, who spiritualizes the beatitudes, Luke's Jesus puts them in earthly terms. For instance, he says, "blessed are the poor," not the "poor in spirt," which is Matthew's version of the first beatitude. Luke is also written to a gentile, rather than Jewish, audience and emphasizes Jesus's divine nature.

The Jesus in the gospel of John is different in many ways from the Jesus of the other three gospels. Here, Jesus is fully divine and appears in human form. He is the logos of the universe, who existed before the creation of the earth. This Jesus reflects the Jesus experienced by a group of early believers who never met him and so emphasized his divinity.

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Mark, Matthew, and Luke are known as the "synoptic gospels", as they include many of the same stories and follow a similar chronology. Most scholars assume that Mark was the oldest of the synoptics and that the other two were based upon Mark and a non-Markan source sometimes called "Q" in some manner. 

The version of Jesus who appears in Matthew is more clearly associated with the conservative Jewish tradition of Mosaic laws that the Jesus we see in the other Gospels. He is somewhat harsher than the Jesus of the other Gospels as well, and more impatient with the obtuseness of his disciples. Matthew was probably intended for a Jewish audience and thus emphasizes the continuity of Christianity with God's promises to the Jews.

The Jesus of Mark is somewhat more secretive than the Jesus in other Gospels and places more emphasis on immediate action, but generally Mark is shorter and less well developed than the other three. This gospel addresses the Romans and has a strong sense of urgent mission.

Luke addresses a more educated Greek audience, and is written more in the style of Greek biography, emphasizing the role of Jesus as teacher, and assimilating him more to a traditional sort of Hellenistic sage.

The Gospel of John is the latest of the group, probably written after the destruction of the Temple in Jerusalem, and the most spiritual. Rather than promising an immediate Kingdom of Christ on earth, it emphasizes a more complex mysticism and symbolism. 

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