The Gospel of John explains who Jesus is, appeals to the reader to respond in faith, and highlights the benefits a life of faith in the Son of God. Interestingly, the book begins and ends with statements that Jesus is God (1:1, 20:28).
Date and author: The fourth Gospel was probably written by John, the beloved disciple who is mentioned but not named in the book. John also wrote the book of Revelation and 1, 2, and 3 John. John the Apostle was apparently a Christian overseer in Ephesus and likely wrote the book between 80–100 A.D. John had been an eyewitness of Jesus, and he had also seen the Holy Spirit work mightily in the first century to establish churches amidst the Roman Empire. It’s perhaps these perspectives that cause him to include material that is nowhere to be found in the other Gospels :Matthew, Mark, and Luke. In fact, over 90% of the material in John’s Gospel is unique to John.
Purpose: John seems to have a very specific purpose in mind as he writes this gospel. He seems to be making an appeal to his readers urging them to do three things:
- Understand that this Jesus of Nazareth is the Promised Christ, the Son of God.
- Believe in Jesus and find a life abundant.
- Be born again from above so that you are equipped to live the genuine life God intends.
In John 20:30–31, he makes one thing clear about his purpose in writing: “These (things) are written that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ; and that by believing you may have life in his name.”
In John, we read that Jesus is the Son of God sent into the world by the Father to accomplish the Father’s purposes and then to return to Him in glory. John organizes his Gospel so readers understand Jesus as the sent One who is also the Good Shepherd promised in the Old Testament. Behind all this is the Father’s glorious and wise rule over every event in history including Jesus’ life, death, and return to glory.
The Father, Son, and the Holy Spirit work together to accomplish God’s mission and purpose. In his final speech to his disciples, Jesus gathers the new community and commissions them as agents and representatives of Jesus in the power of the Holy Spirit (John 14–17)
John sought to lead men to eternal life by first convincing them that Jesus was the Divine Savior. Jesus’ miracles were recorded as “signs” to confirm His deity, that He was Jehovah God, the incarnate Word made flesh. John called Jesus the Bread of Life, Light of the World, the Good Shepherd, the Way, the Truth, the Life, and the True Vine; each of these titles carries Old Testament significance, indicating Jesus was no ordinary man. John points to everything in Jesus’ life and teaching as a sign that Jesus of Nazareth was truly the eternal Word of God who “became flesh and dwelt among us, full of grace and truth” (John 1:14). John highlights Jesus as the teacher and the doer of signs or miracles which validate his teaching and show His claims are true: He is equal with God, and He is God in the flesh.
Clearly, John‘s book is no mere biography; it’s a theological argument. John wants to convince his readers that Jesus of Nazareth is God the Son. Then he wants to show us how that fact will change our lives in amazing ways. After all, it’s by believing in Jesus Christ as the Son of God that we find life—real and eternal life.
Every event John records is designed to show Jesus as God. John pulls specific incidents from the life of Jesus that demonstrate his majesty and deity. Of particular interest to John are the signs/miracles of Jesus. In the first 12 chapters of his book, John records seven miracles. These miracles were not performed simply to alleviate human suffering or meet human need. The miracles were “signs,” which means they pointed to the truth of Jesus’ claim to be the Son of God. Both Jesus’ “I am” sayings and His signs/miracles are central to understanding the Gospel of John and the life of Jesus.
John’s Gospel seems to have been written both to encourage existing believers and to clearly demonstrate Jesus’ identity as the Son of God to those who had yet to believe. Additionally, John’s original readers are both Jews and Gentiles, so look for statements like the one he records in perhaps the Bible’s most famous verse: God so loved “the world” that he sent Jesus so “whoever” (Jew or Gentile!) believes in Him would have eternal life (3:16). As you read John, also watch for large sections where Jesus seems to be teaching true believers, like when He instructs His disciples about the Holy Spirit. But in other places, John aims to hold out Jesus’ true identity as the Christ, the Son of God, the Light of the World, the Living Water, the Bread of Life, and the Good Shepherd who lays down His life for His sheep.
One way John seeks to convince skeptics is by detailing how the rulers and authorities all judged Jesus wrongly and thus rejected Him. John urges his readers not to repeat that mistake. But John also writes to encourage true believers. To the persecuted believer, Jesus’ rejection at the hands of ruling authorities presaged their own experience as first-century followers of Jesus. They, too, would face much ridicule and official opposition from the Romans and Jews. When John records Jesus teaching about eternal life, he emphasizes that in Him, God’s rule has already begun for believers, that their eternal life begins now. Especially in John 13–17, there is much of Jesus’ teaching that seems aimed at Christians, not skeptics.
The Gospel divides nicely into two parts: John 1–12 which contains the signs Jesus performed, and John 13–21 which shows His path through rejection to glory. John has recorded for us in his Gospel many of Jesus’ teachings, even though, rather curiously, there’s not a single parable.
There are also patterns in the way John writes. Often, he will present a sign or miracle and then immediately follow up with Jesus’ teaching concerning that sign. Then John describes the response of the people, as well as Jesus’ own explanations for what His signs/miracles meant.
4 But when the goodness and loving kindness of God our Savior appeared,5 he saved us, not because of works done by us in righteousness, but according to his own mercy, by the washing of regeneration and renewal of the Holy Spirit, 6 whom he poured out on us richly through Jesus Christ our Savior, 7 so that being justified by his grace we might become heirs according to the hope of eternal life.
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