Written: early date prior to AD 70;
late date c. AD 80-90
Key word: Son of God “But these are written, that ye might believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God; and that believing ye might have life through his name.” - John 20:31
Why Written: Presenting Christ as the Son of God
The three synoptic gospels have much in common, but John confronts us with 92% new information. The four gospels fit together in a profound and beautiful way to form a timeless evangelistic sermon with four key points: 1) Jesus is the Messiah, 2) Jesus is the perfect servant, 3) Jesus is the perfect man (in His wisdom and compassion), and now 4) John’s Gospel makes a final appeal, the great application: “what will you do with Jesus?” While the three present the facts, John challenges us to apply the facts: “will you come to Him?” This is evidenced by the personal encounters with Nicodemus (ch. 3), the woman at the well (ch. 4), and the crippled man at the Pool of Bethesda (ch. 5).
Galilee is the primary setting for the Synoptics; John takes place mostly in Jerusalem, where the teaching of Jesus is in stark contrast to the religious leaders. Jesus clearly presents Himself as ‘one with the Father’God incarnate. Each of us is forced to make a clear choice: “is Jesus the Deity as He claims to be, or not?” There is no middle ground to accept Him as a ‘good teacher’ and nothing more. He is either a liar to be rejected, or God to be worshiped and bowed to as Lord of our lives.
John emphasized the deity of Christ as the Son of God. His Gospel contains eight “I Am” statements of the Lord, which reflect God’s own name of self-existence: YHWH, or Jehovah, translated “I AM” in Exodus 3:14.
John is one of the most important figures of the New Testament, and one of the most prolific writers of Scripture. Five of the New Testament books are the product of his pen: the Gospel of John, 1 John, 2 John, 3 John, and the book of The Revelation. John and his brother James were the sons of Zebedee and Salome, who may have been a sister of Mary, the mother of Jesus (Matt. 27:56; Mark 15:40, cp. John 19:25). If that is true, then John, about the same age as Jesus, knew the Lord in childhood as a cousinand in manhood as Christ, the Messiah.
John is introduced initially by the other gospel writers (Matthew, Mark, and Luke) as part of a successful family fishing business which was able to employ hired servants. He lived at Capernaum on the northwest shore of the Sea of Galilee, had a house in Jerusalem (John 19:27), and enjoyed personal acquaintance with the high-priest (John 18:15-16). However, in his own Gospel we meet John and Andrew as disciples of John the Baptist (John 1:35, 40), who was preaching and baptizing on the east side of the Jordan in the area of Bethany.
One day, Jesus appeared as John was ministering. The Baptist recognized Jesus as the Messiah, and called the attention of John and Andrew to that fact. It was about ten o’clock in the morning when the two fishermen made a fundamental decision to forsake all and follow the Lord. The rest of the day and the evening were spent with Jesus. Andrew was anxious for the dawning of a new morning. He wanted to go and find his brother Simon and bring him to Jesus. When Jesus met Simon, He said unto him, “ ‘Thou art Simon, the son of Jonah: thou shalt be called Cephas,’ which is by interpretation, a ‘stone’ ” (John 1:42). From that day forward, Peter would never be too far from the Lord, and neither would John.
The day following Peter’s introduction to Christ, Jesus moved from the east side of the Jordan opposite Judah, and went to Galilee (John 1:43), where Philip was found together with his friend Nathanael (also known as Bartholomew). Nathanael lived at Cana of Galilee where a wedding was about to be held. Jesus and His disciples were invited to the celebration. A social concern arose at the wedding which the Lord met by graciously and miraculously turning the water into wine. By this display of sovereign power, the hearts of the Lord’s new disciples were turned so that they believed in Him (John 2:11).
There would be many other miracles which John would be privileged to witness as he worked with Jesus for the next three and one half years. John, with Peter and James, would be those closest to the Lord. Perhaps the Lord realized that James and John in particular needed personal attention, for they had violent tempers (cp. Mark 3:17). Jesus allowed John to be present at the resurrection of the daughter of Jarius, at the Transfiguration, and in the hour of agony in the Garden of Gethsemane. At the Last Supper, it was John who was given the place of honor at the right hand of the Lord (John 13:23). His mother had once sought for John and his brother the greatest place of honor in the kingdom of heaven. While that request was denied as being too presumptuous, in private and according to Divine prerogative, John was given a place of honor (cp. Matt. 20:21).
At the end of the Lord’s public ministry, John followed at a discreet distance as soldiers took the Lord from Gethsemane into the place of the high priest, to Pilate’s praetorium (place of judgment), and then to Golgotha. John stood beneath the Cross on which Christ suffered, and stayed there until He died. Three days later, when the report came that the tomb in which Jesus was buried was empty, John was among the first to race to the burial site to see what that meant (John 20:1-10). A few hours later he knew what it meant, for he saw the resurrected Lord (John 20:19-38).
After the Ascension of Christ, John was with the other disciples when the power of the Holy Spirit came at Pentecost. Following that monumental day, Peter and John remained in Jerusalem to advance the gospel of the kingdom of heaven. John was still in Jerusalem when the Apostle Paul returned from his First Missionary Journey (c. AD 50), and so John was able to take part in The Great Jerusalem Council (Acts 15, cp. Gal. 2:9).
In later years, it would be said that John ministered in Ephesus, and suffered for the sake of the gospel he preached. He suffered spiritual persecution because he combated the heresy of the Gnostics, who denied that Jesus was come in the flesh (1 John). The Gnostics, literally “the knowing ones,” tried to find a solution to the question of how physical man can have fellowship with a God who is spirit. How are matter and spirit related? How did evil come into existence? The Gnostics thought they had discovered a solution to these questions. They believed that emancipation from the body came through knowledge (gnosis). At this point the Gnostics divided into two major schools of thought. Those who followed Cerinthus believed that Jesus was both good and evil; He was both flesh and Spirit. In contrast, the Docetists denied the fleshly or “evil” nature of Jesus, and taught that Jesus had no real human nature but only a spiritual one. Together, the teaching of the Gnostics denied the true Incarnation of Jesus: that He was true humanity but free of sin. There were other problems which John had to combat on behalf of the Church, such as immorality. Though an “Apostle of Love,” John was not hesitant to correct doctrinal and moral error.
In addition to the spiritual battles he fought, John suffered religious and political persecution under Domitian (AD 51-96; ruler of Rome, AD 81-96). Irenaeus (c. 175-195, bishop of Lyons in southern France) states that the Apostle John continued to live at Ephesus after being freed by Nerva (AD 35-98; emperor, AD 96-98, Domitian’s successor), and that he died in the reign of Trajan (AD 98-117). If Irenaeus is correct, John would have been over one hundred years of age. The “disciple whom Jesus loved” (cp. John 13:23; 19:26; 20:2; 21:7, 20) went to the One whom he loved.
2. Deity Explained 13 - 17 the Last Supper and prayer
3. Deity Defamed 18 - 21 the last week
Deity Proclaimed Chapters 1 - 12
Chapter 1:1 - 1:18 The Deity of Christ. The deity of Jesus Christ is clearly revealed in this wonderful introduction, whereby John declares that he beheld the glory of the Lord, the Light of the World. Time and again Jesus will be presented in this manner (cp. John 8:12; 9:5; 12:46 with 1 John 1:5-7). It was the apostle’s desire that all men might believe on Christ and have eternal life.
Chapter 1:19 - 1:34 In the gospels written by Matthew, Mark, and Luke, the writers pass directly from the time of temptation by Satan to the Galilean Ministry (Matt. 4:11-12; Mark 1:13-14; Luke 4:13-14). John takes the reader back to the period when Jesus returned from the wilderness before departing for Galilee. John the Baptist testifies that Jesus is the Messiah and the Son of God. Though the Baptizer had known Jesus since childhood, he did not know that Jesus was the Messiah until he saw the Holy Spirit descending and remaining on Him (note 1:33). “And I saw, and bare record that this is the Son of God” (cp. 1:34). When a committee of Jews from Jerusalem was sent by the Sanhedrin to question John, to discover if he were the Christ or Elijah, John humbly declared that he was simply “the voice of one crying in the wilderness, Make straight the way of the Lord, as said the prophet Esaias” (1:23).
Chapter 1:35 - 1:51 As the Lord began His public ministry, He called unto Himself the first five of twelve disciples. There were Andrew and John, Simon and Philip, and Nathanael. Nathanael was initially a skeptic when told that He had been found, “of whom Moses in the law, and the prophets, did write, Jesus of Nazareth, the son of Joseph” (1:45). The last word Nathanael heard was, “Nazareth,” and he did not have a high opinion of people from that community. In sarcastic honesty he asked, “Can there any good thing come out of Nazareth?” (1:46). Rather than argue, Philip wisely said, “Come and see.” Nathanael came and he saw the Savior, and was convinced by the Majesty of Christ (1:49). Let each seeker of Truth respond to this simple invitation: “Come and see.”
Chapters 2 - 4 In these chapters John sets forth the ministry of Christ in a series of miracles, messages, and mighty words.
Miracles as Proof. John records seven ‘sign’ miracles overall, which serve as a framework for his narrative up to the last Passover, and are proof of the deity which Christ everywhere displayed.
1. Water to wine 2:1
2. Nobleman’s son 4:46
3. Pool of Bethesda 5:1
4. 5,000 fed 6:1
5. Walking on water 6:15
6. Man born blind 9:1
7. Lazarus 11:1
Personal Interviews. This section also records the two very important personal interviews: the intimate one-on-one encounters with Nicodemus (ch. 3) and with the woman at the well (ch. 4). In these, individuals like each one of us meet the Living God face to face, and are challenged with the reality of relationship with Him as the life-changing Lord.
Of particular interest is the first miracle in Cana of Galilee, located about four miles northeast of Nazareth, and the first cleansing of the Temple (Chapter 2). The changing of water into wine amazed the servants as well as the disciples, for the six waterpots contained “two or three firkins apiece” (2:6) (between 16 and 24 gallons), for a total of 96 to 126 gallons of fresh wine. It was a miracle of great abundance. In chapter 3 Nicodemus is told that he must be “born again.” When Nicodemus confesses his ignorance of the meaning of the new spiritual birth, the Lord explains to him in simple language that salvation is a sovereign act of God, made effective by the secret work of the Holy Spirit (3:8). Before the night was over, Nicodemus understood what constitutes a biblical Christian.
A Biblical Christian. Albert N. Martin has crystallized the simplicity of the gospel in Christ Jesus by stating in summary form that a biblical Christian is a person who has done four things.
First, according to the Bible, a Christian is a person who has faced realistically the problem of his own personal sin (1 Cor. 15:22; Rom. 3:10,23). Second, a biblical Christian is one who has seriously considered the one divine remedy for sin, Jesus Christ (John 3:16; 1 John 4:10; Ephesians 2:4). Third, a biblical Christian is one who has wholeheartedly complied with the terms for obtaining God’s provision for sin (John 1:12). Fourth, a biblical Christian is a person who manifests in his life that his claims to repentance and faith are real (John 14:21-24).
[See What Is a Biblical Christian, by Albert N. Martin, available from Mount Zion ministries.]
Following his conversation with Nicodemus, the Lord and His disciples went into the land of Judea, where John the Baptist continued to speak of Christ (3:22-36). Moving into Chapter 4, the story is told of how Jesus gave to the woman of Samaria the spiritual water of life, while sitting on a well which was itself literally 100 feet deep and 9 feet in diameter.
Chapter 5 - 10 In chapters 5-10, Christ performed specific miracles, including the raising of Lazarus. He offers Himself as the Bread of Life (ch. 6), the Light of the World (ch. 8), and the Good Shepherd (ch. 10). The “feast of the Jews” in Chapter 5 is not defined. There were several feasts which the Jews observed at this time, and which Christ Himself kept. Passover took place in April and commemorated the Exodus 1,400 years earlier. The Feast of Pentecost took place in June, 50 days after Passover and commemorating the giving of the Law. The Feast of Tabernacles was held in October, celebrating the in-gathering of harvests. The Feast of Dedication was the joyous remembrance in December of the revolt started by Judas Maccabaeus. Finally, there was Purim, observed shortly before Passover (in April) to remind the Jews of their glorious deliverance from destruction during the days of the Persians (study Esther). Purim is never referred to in the Gospels.
While the “feast of the Jews” in Chapter 5 is not defined, in Chapter 7 the Feast of Tabernacles (October) is in view (7:2). It had been a year and a half since Jesus was in Jerusalem. In six more months He would die there. On His prior visit to the Holy City, Jesus had healed a man on the Sabbath, and announced that He was the Son of God (5:18). The Lord knew that in their anger, the Jews planned to murder Him, and He plainly said so (7:19-23). But it was not His time to die. When the rulers sent officers to arrest the Lord, they could not do it (7:44). Following the Feast of Tabernacles, Jesus observed the Feast of Dedication two months later (10:22-39), which was held in December.
Chapter 11 About a month before His own death, Jesus performed a miracle which was used by the Sanhedrin for the main pretext as to why they should seek to put Him to death (11:48-53). Jesus raised Lazarus from the dead. This was the Lord’s third act of restoring someone to life (Mark 5:21-43, Luke 7:11-17).
Chapter 12 The events of the Last Week begin to be detailed in this section. On the night prior to His great entry into Jerusalem, a supper was held at Bethany. Mary and Martha were there, as was Lazarus. Sometime during the supper, Mary took “a pound of ointment of spikenard, very costly, and anointed the feet of Jesus, and wiped his feet with her hair: and the house was filled with the odor of the ointment” (12:3). She knew that Jesus was going forth to di.e. and anointed Him (for burial). Following His Triumphal Entry into Jerusalem (12:9-19), certain Greeks were allowed to meet Christ, indicating the universal appeal of the gospel (12:20-36). As the gospel would be for all men without distinction, so the gospel would be victorious over Satan (see 12:27-36). And yet, the Jews as a nation would not believe on Jesus. John tells why: it was the fulfillment of Scripture (12:37-50).
Deity Explained Chapters 13 - 17
In these chapters, the Lord gave His final message to the Twelve during the Last Supper. The Lord’s teaching on Heaven in John 14 has been of particular comfort to the Church for centuries, as well as the promise of the Holy Spirit. Although Jesus was about to leave them physically, He was not leaving them at all, because He would send “the Comforter.” The Holy Spirit indwells the true believer, and fulfills very specifically for them today the same role which Jesus served in His physical presence with His disciples: to guide, to teach, to provide, and to protect them.
The essential unity between Christ and His people is revealed in Chapter 15. In Chapter 16 the Lord warns that His followers should not be offended when they suffer for righteousness’ sake. Finally, the Lord prayed for His own in the High Priestly Prayer (John 17). Following the Last Supper, Jesus went with the Apostles to Gethsemane, prior to His arrest by the Roman garrison (500-600 men). Chapters 14 - 17 constitute one of the wonderful high points in the New Testament, and deserve the special appropriation and understanding of every Christian.
Deity Defamed Chapters 18 - 21
The illegal trials and Crucifixion of Christ are described along with the glorious Resurrection, the final moments with the Apostles, and His Ascension at Bethany (cp. Luke 24:44-51). The tender grace shown to Peter deserves special consideration (20:9-19). Three times Peter had denied the Lord, three times he would be asked the extent of his love for Christ. Three times Peter would affirm his love but not in boldness as before. Peter was no longer fleshly. He was a man sustained by the Holy Spirit, reflected in the fact that he died a martyr for the Masterjust as Jesus knew he would (21:18-19).
2. Where does the Gospel According to John primarily take place?
3. What is the significance of Jesus saying “I Am…” on eight different occasions?
The Disciple Whom Jesus Loved
4. List all the books of the Bible written by John.
5. Describe briefly the heresy of Gnosticism. What were its major errors?
Deity Proclaimed - Ch. 1 - 12
6. Read John 1:1-18, which describes Jesus Christ. In your own words, summarize briefly what this portion of Scripture says about Jesus (who He was and why He came).
7. List four characteristics of a Biblical Christian.
8. What transformed John from a “Son of Thunder” into the “Apostle of Love.”
MAKING IT PERSONAL
9. Is there any evidence that you are a teachable person like John, to the point that a portion of your life has been transformed? If so, what is that evidence? Please be specific. (And remember your example - it will encourage someone else later.)