The Gospels are a special kind of biography. Each writer selected events from Jesus’ life that he felt relevant to his purpose. John makes his purpose clear towards the end of his Gospel (John 20:30-31).
Most scholars believe this Gospel is written by John the Apostle, the closest disciple to Jesus. On five occasions he calls himself, ‘the disciple whom Jesus loved’ (21:20, 24) showing that there was a special friendship between Jesus and John.
For many decades it was assumed that John’s Gospel must have been the last Gospel written, maybe around AD 90 but more recent scholarship suggests it may have been earlier. In John 5:2 John says that: ‘Now there is in Jerusalem near the Sheep Gate a pool, which in Aramaic is called Bethesda and which is surrounded by five covered colonnades.’ He writes of this without mentioning its destruction in AD 70, implying that it was still there. John may have been the last Gospel written, but perhaps not as late as was once thought, perhaps around AD 65.
John is very different to the other three Gospels. Known as the Synoptic Gospels, Matthew, Mark and Luke have many common stories. But around 90% of John is unique to his Gospel. Furthermore, John gives an account of Jesus in Jerusalem on four different occasions, whereas the other three only mention Jerusalem in His public ministry in the last week of His earthly life.
The purpose of the Gospel is stated in 20:31. Referring to the miraculous signs in the Gospels, John says: ‘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.’ The Greek may be translated ‘that you may come to believe’ or ‘that you may continue believing’. Certainly, the Gospel has had great value in leading people to Christ and helping Christians grow in their faith.
To know God the Father
John begins his Gospel with the creation of the world, using the idea of ‘the Logos’ (The Word=Jesus) being there at the very beginning, being executive in creation. The idea of ‘the Logos’ was already used by a Greek Jewish philosopher, Philo. John teaches that Jesus is the Word of God in bodily form, the revelation of who God is. Jesus himself said “anyone who has seen me has seen the Father” (14:9).
John’s Gospel records that Jesus speaks of God as His Father more than in any other Gospel: 5:19, 6:38, 6:44, 8:49, 10:15, 10:30, 14:31, 14:28, 15:10, 16:28. It appears on His lips some sixty-five times in the three Synoptic Gospels but over one hundred times in John. The God is rarely presented as Father in the Old Testament and so this would have been a new concept for His followers and those who heard Him speak.
This Gospel gives a wonderful portrait of Jesus and therefore of God. By reading it we can know who God really is, and what God is really like: our faith in Him will be strengthened and we will see that God alone is worthy of our praise and commitment.
To believe in God the Son
John arranges his material around seven signs (John’s word for miracle): changing water into wine (2:1-11), the healing of the royal official’s son (4:46-54), the healing of the lame man (5:1-9), the feeding of the 5,000 (6:1-14), walking on water (6:16-24), the healing of the man born blind (9:1-41) and the raising of Lazarus (11:1-44). These miracles are signs of who Jesus is.
Jesus talks of His identity in terms of ‘I am’ sayings in John’s Gospel: ‘I am the Bread of Life’ (6:35), ‘I am the Light of the World’ (8:12), ‘I am the Gate’ (10:7), ‘I am the Good Shepherd’ (John 10:11), ‘I am the Resurrection and the Life’ (11:25), ‘I am the Way, the Truth and the Life’ (14:6), and ‘I am the True Vine’ (15:1).
The ‘I am’ sayings are connected to the signs: eg ‘I am the Bread of Life’ connects to the Feeding of the Five Thousand; the raising of Lazarus connects with ‘I am the Resurrection and the Life’.
John 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 (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 (4:6, 7, 6:26, 11:35, 12:27).
All the Gospels give significant space to the last week of Jesus’ life. John gives around half of his Gospel to this. The Upper Room discourse before the events leading to His crucifixion starts in chapter 13 and lasts until chapter 17. There are many references back to the Old Testament; for instance, as Jesus died, John records that Jesus said, “it is finished” (19:30) - God’s pictured, promised salvation plan had been completed!
Jesus is the Creator and Sustainer of the universe, and the Saviour of the world. He is the physical life-giver and eternal life-giver.
To be changed by God the Holy Spirit
John wrote to show us that people belong either to the light or to the darkness (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. How does this happen? Through faith: the word ‘believe’ occurs 98 times during the Gospel.
How do people come to believe? Through the Holy Spirit: John frequently mentions the Holy Spirit. We see His work in regeneration (3:5-8) and His promised outpouring after Jesus is glorified (7:37-39). There are five sayings about the Spirit in chapters 14 to 16. He is described as Counsellor, dwelling in the believer, teacher, witness to Christ and convicter of the world. The Holy Spirit will guide Christ’s people into all truth. John clearly shows us that Jesus’ ministry on earth would be continued through the working of the Holy Spirit.
John’s Gospel urges readers to understand how, as followers of Jesus, they can walk with Jesus in the power of the Holy Spirit.
|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|