Introduction to John's Gospel
Author, date and place of writing
The Gospel of John was written by “the disciple whom Jesus loved” (John 21:20, 24). This person is not identified by name in the Gospel, but we know that the three closest disciples to Jesus were Peter, James and John (Matthew 17:1, 26:37, Mark 5:37). Peter is often described as being with the beloved disciple (John 13:23-24, 20:2, 21:20-21), and James was killed by Herod Agrippa no later than AD44 (Acts 12:2), so John is accepted as being the author.
We know the author was an eye witness of all that Jesus did (John 1:14, 19:35) and we see this in the detail included in the Gospel, for example - he knew the hour Jesus sat at the well (John 4:6), he knew the size of the pots at the wedding in Cana (John 2:6). John was Jesus’ closest disciple, and yet he is not mentioned in this Gospel. This would be natural if he had written the Gospel, but hard to explain otherwise. Finally, the author took it for granted that his readers knew who he was and would accept his authority, and the early church was satisfied that John was the author.
Although the exact date of writing is not known, it seems likely that the Gospel was written when John was an old man living in Ephesus – probably between AD85-90. Jerusalem has been destroyed (AD70), but John had not yet been exiled to the island of Patmos.
Purpose of the Gospel
In John 20:30-31 we read “Jesus did many other miraculous signs in the presence of His disciples, which are not recorded in this book. But these are written that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in His name”. This shows us that John had carefully selected the material for his book to encourage people to believe in Jesus, be saved from their sins and have eternal life. However, the “may believe” in 20:31 is translated in some manuscripts as “may continue to believe”, and John’s intention could also have been to strengthen believers within the church.
It seems likely that John’s target audience was Greek-speaking peoples, so he began his Gospel by describing Jesus as the “Word” who was in existence before time began. While the Jews were interested in Jesus’ family and background (see Matthew’s Gospel written primarily for Jews), Greeks were interested in philosophical ideas and arguments. So John presented Jesus in a new way, designed to appeal to people who saw and thought about the world very differently from the Jewish nation.
Structure of the Gospel
John’s Gospel deals with the same time period and events as Matthew, Mark and Luke, but is very different in style and structure. It contains no parables and only seven miracles, five of which are not recorded elsewhere. Jesus’ discourses are mainly focused on who He was and what He came to do, rather than on ethical teaching.
While Matthew, Mark and Luke give a fuller narrative of Jesus’ life and death, John focussed on teaching about the role of Christ and the power of His death and resurrection. John Calvin suggested that if the other Gospels show us Jesus body, then John shows us Jesus’ soul.
John organized his Gospel around seven specific miracles or ‘signs’ – water into wine (John 2:1-11), the healing of the royal official (John 4:46-54), the healing of the lame man (John 5:1-9), the feeding of the 5,000 (John 6:1-14), walking on water (John 6:15-25), the healing of the man born blind (John 9:1-41) and the raising of Lazarus (John 11:1-46). John saw these events as more than mere miracles, but ‘signs’ that forced the reader to ask “Who is this man who can do all these things?”
It is notable that John wrote about Jesus’ public ministry in chapter’s two to twelve, but then focused solely on His private ministry to the twelve disciples in the Upper Room in chapters thirteen to seventeen. No other Gospel takes so much time to examine this part of Jesus’ ministry in such depth, and John gave us a unique insight into Jesus’ teaching and relationships with the twelve.
Themes within the Gospel of John
John wrote to introduce us to Jesus, and he set out seven “I am” statements that Jesus said of Himself: “I am the bread of life” – (John 6:35), “I am the light of the world” (John 8:12), “I am the Gate” (John 10:7), “I am the good shepherd” (John 10:11), “I am the resurrection and the life” (John 11:25), “I am the way, the truth and the life” (John 14:6), and “I am the true vine” (John 15:1). With the addition of each statement we learn more about who Jesus is, and why He is all that we will ever need.
John also wanted to show us that Jesus was both fully God, and also fully man. John emphasised that Jesus was fully God in several clear and direct statements (John 1:1, 8:58, 10:30, 14:9, 20:28), and he also emphasised Jesus’ humanity by showing us that Jesus was sometimes tired, thirsty, sorrowful, troubled (John 4:6, 7, 6:26, 11:35, 12:27). We see Jesus as both “The man they call Jesus” (John 9:11) and “The holy one of God” (John 6:69).
John wrote to show us that people either belong to the light or the darkness (John 1:4-9, 3:19-21, 5:35, 8:12, 9:5, 12:35-36, 12:46). John wrote the Gospel so that we may believe and have life, and move from the dark into the light. The word “believe” occurs ninety-eight times during the Gospel.
John also frequently mentioned the Holy Spirit. We see His work in regeneration (John 3:5-8) and His promised outpouring after Jesus is glorified (John 7:37-39). There are five sayings about the Spirit in chapters fourteen to sixteen, all found only in John’s Gospel. He is described as counsellor, dwelling in the believer, teacher, witness to Christ, convictor of the world and guide into all truth for Christ’s people. John clearly showed us that Jesus’ ministry on earth would be continued through the working of the Holy Spirit.
Why should I read this Gospel?
We read John’s Gospel to learn more about who Jesus is, and to learn to understand the eternal relationship between God the Father, God the Son, God the Holy Spirit, and us. We see Jesus’ concern for the individual and how He relates to us, and ultimately why He did what He did, and how He saved us from death to eternal life.
In John’s Gospel we have an up close and personal look at Jesus. We see the creator God completely revealed in the form of a man, and we are presented with a choice – to remain in the dark and destined for death, or to believe in Jesus and live in the light, destined for eternal life.
1:1-18 Introduction to Jesus
1:19 – 12:50 Jesus’ ministry in the world
13:1 – 17:26 Jesus’ ministry to His disciples
18:1 – 21:25 Jesus’ suffering, death and resurrection