The Gospels are a special kind of biography. Each author selected events from Jesus’ life that he felt relevant to his purpose. John makes his purpose clear towards the end of his Gospel as we will see later.
John’s Gospel is the fourth in order and likely to be the last written of all the Gospels. Although none of the Gospels have the author’s name, most believe the author to be John the Apostle, who of all the apostles, was closest to Jesus. On five occasions the author calls himself, ‘the disciple whom Jesus loved’ (21:20,24) which may sound an odd thing to say, but would have been acceptable at that time.
The date of writing is unknown. Early Church Fathers say that John lived ‘to a great age’ and was buried in the town of Ephesus. A church had been planted there by the Apostle Paul made up of people from a Jewish and Gentile background. John may have been in Ephesus when he wrote the Gospel and his approach suggests that both Jews and Gentiles were in mind as he wrote.
For many decades it was assumed that John’s Gospel must have been the last Gospel written, maybe around AD90 but more recent scholarship suggests it may have been earlier. In John 5:2 the author 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 AD70, implying that it is still there. Indeed John makes no mention of the destruction of the temple in Jerusalem in 70AD either. John may have been the last Gospel written, but perhaps not as late as was once thought, perhaps around 65AD.
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, having a hand in creation. The idea of the Logos was already used by Greek philosophers and probably in mind as John challenges their thinking.
John arranges his material around seven signs (John’s word for miracle): water into wine (2:1-11), the healing of the royal official (4:46-54), the healing of the lame man (5:1-9), the feeding of the 5,000 (6:1-14), walking on water (6:15-25), the healing of the man born blind (9:1-41) and the raising of Lazarus (11:1-46). 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).
Some of the ‘I am’ sayings are connected to the signs: ‘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).
John wrote to show us that people either belong to the light or 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. The word ‘believe’ occurs 98 times during the Gospel.
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, convictor of the world and guide into all truth for Christ’s people. John clearly shows us that Jesus’ ministry on earth would be continued through the working of the Holy Spirit.
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 which leads to the events leading to His crucifixion starts in chapter 13 and lasts until chapter 17.
It is John’s Gospel where 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 Synoptic Gospels and over one hundred times in John. The idea of God as Father was rare in the Old Testament and so this would have been a new thing for His followers and those who heard Him speak.
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 Christ, 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 inside and outside the church that readers’ faith may grow. We read it that we may continue to trust in Jesus.
Why read it?
Your faith will grow
It is clear from the purpose of the Gospel that the Gospel will benefit you whether you are a believer of not. It gives a wonderful portrait of Jesus and as you read, your faith in Him will strengthen. He is the Son of God and one worthy of your praise and allegiance.
It’s a unique picture of Jesus
John is very different to the other three Gospels. Known as Synoptic Gospels, Matthew, Mark and Luke have a lot of common stories. But around 90% of John is unique to his Gospel, including Jesus’ meeting with Nicodemus during which we have arguably the most famous verse in the Bible: John 3:16. Can you quote it?
Furthermore, John gives an account of Jesus in Jerusalem on four different occasions, whereas the other three leave mention of Jerusalem in His public ministry to the last week of his earthly life.
The Jesus you trust in is the creator and sustainer of the universe, as well as the One who meets with a whole variety of characters in His earthly ministry. You will see the ways in which He handles people in ways that draw them into conversation and often faith in Him.
It’s provides a model for how you can live
John’s Gospel urges readers to understand how as followers of Jesus they can walk in the Jesus way, with some breath-taking promises for how we can see changes take place through our prayer in His name.
As believers we can continue to see the works of Jesus in our own day. Jesus says: ‘Very truly I tell you, whoever believes in me will do the works I have been doing, and they will do even greater things than these, because I am going to the Father’. (14:12)
So as you read the Gospel, look for these promises and determine to grow in your faith so that you can see Jesus at work, wherever you live and work.
|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|