Key Texts: Theme – 1:1; Purpose – John 20:31
There is evidence from Church History that John was the author of the fourth Gospel. The clearest is the testimony of Ireneas who wrote in the second half of the 2nd Century. His witness is important because he was a student of Polycarp, Bishop of Smyrna, and Polycarp himself was a student of John the son of Zebedee.
There is no need, however, to rely on uninspired history to find John’s fingerprints on this account of Christ’s life. There is strong internal evidence linking the Gospel to him. Matthew, Mark, and Luke name John presenting him as a member of the inner group of disciples which included his brother James and Simon Peter. These three alone saw the raising of Jairus’ daughter, the transfigured Christ and were present by his side in Gethsemane. Throughout the fourth Gospel, however, John is never mentioned by name, neither is James his brother. Yet Simon Peter receives some attention, as does his brother Andrew. Their introductions to Jesus are narrated in ch1 while John’s and James’ are not. In the accounts of Matthew, Mark and Luke, however, the calling of James and John are strongly linked with that of Peter and Andrew. In fact Luke informs us that Peter was a partner with James and John in their fishing enterprise (5:10). While John does not record the call by the seashore he tells us of Andrew and another anonymous individual who had been followers of John the Baptist who in turn became followers of Jesus. On the same day Peter became a follower as a result of Andrew’s witness. The question arises, “Who was the anonymous disciple?” A closer examination of the Gospel reveals that he appears in other places. At the last supper he reclines upon Jesus’ breast as one who was loved (John 13:25). As this disciple was inevitably one of the inner circle, owing to his closeness with the Lord he had to be either James or John, because Peter is mentioned by name at this time. In 18:15-16 one styled “another disciple” used his influence to have Peter admitted to the palace of the High Priest. If the anonymous disciple of this Gospel is indeed John, this is consistent as both he and Peter enjoyed close acquaintance with the master. It also reveals that John came from a wealthy family which granted him a certain influence in high places. At the foot of the cross he is seen standing with the women, the only disciple it seems who ventured so close to the scene of Christ’s Passion (19:26). Again described as “the disciple…who he (Jesus) loved…”, he is charged with caring for Mary. This disciple is again featured with Peter on the morning of the resurrection outrunning his friend to the empty tomb and believing for the first time that the great miracle had transpired (20:1-10). After the resurrection John and James are again unnamed but for the first time they are said to be in the presence of the Lord as the “sons of Zebedee” (21:2). While the others receive their names on this occasion they are known only by their father. At the close of the Gospel he again appears as “the disciple whom Jesus loved…which also leaned on his breast at the last supper” (21:20). Peter was particularly interested in the future ministry of this particular disciple again revealing they had a close affinity.
Piecing together this vital information we learn that the anonymous disciple was close to Peter, that he was a member of the Lord’s inner circle and that neither John nor James are mentioned by name in the account when both feature in the other Gospel records. It seems inevitable therefore that the anonymous disciple must be John who continued to labour with Peter after the resurrection as the account in Acts 3 records. It would seem that he omitted to mention his own name and his brother’s out of a sense of humility, a practise that was common in Greek literature. The fact that he made himself anonymous helps us signpost the way to John as the author of this Gospel. As, will be apparent, John’s Gospel was the last of the narratives to be written, which rules out James owing to his martyrdom when Christianity was in infancy.
John’s Gospel stands alone and apart from the other three, known as The Synoptics because they view Christ’s life from a similar position. To understand John’s narrative one must be acquainted with Matthew, Mark and Luke. John assumes that his readership is well acquainted with many of the facts of the life of Jesus. He does not repeat what is already well known. He fills in some of the gaps in Christ’s life which the other writers omitted. In fact while the we need The Synoptics to appreciate John, we also need John to complete the life of our Lord.
John informs us that Jesus ministered in Judea before commencing his Great Galilean Ministry which the others emphasise so clearly (2:13-3:36). During this time the temple was cleansed informing us that there two cleansing of the temples. It is also by understanding John’s Gospel that we know Christ’s ministry lasted for three years; Passover One (2:13), Passover Two implied (5:1), Passover Three (6:4), Passover Four ((13:1).
John’s purpose is not simply to tell a story. He has an ambition to relate those aspects of Christ’s life which best illustrate the central truth – that he was in fact The Son of God. Matthew wrote about The King, Mark the Servant and Luke the Compassionate Saviour and they all related the story from the aspect of Jesus’ humanity. John, however, drew out the central truth which the others implied but did not state with the same clarity, that Jesus was the second person of the Trinity, co-equal and co-eternal with the Father.
This is evident from The Prologue (1:1-18). John begins his account in eternity showing us Christ as The Logos, translated The Word. As our words reveals our thinking so Christ as the eternal Word reveals the mind and will of God. Christ as The Word existed through eternity as God and engaged actively in the creation of the universe. Yet in time he was “made flesh and dwelt among us”. In v14 John emphasises his own experience, “we beheld his glory”. The author therefore was an eye witness which he would stress perhaps more emphatically in his 1st Epistle (1 John 1:1).
John weaves the facts of the Christ’s life around this central truth, that Jesus is and always was the Son of God. He only records seven miracles; Changing the Water into Wine (2:1-11), The Healing of the Nobleman’s Son (4:46-54), The Healing of the Impotent Man (5:1-8), The Feeding of the 5,000 (6:1-14), Jesus Walking Upon The Water (6:15-21), The Healing of the Blind Man (9:1-7), The Raising of Lazarus (11) . Seven, being the perfect number, shows us the completeness of the power of Christ over sickness, over nature and over death. There is an eighth miracle, the resurrection. The eighth marks a new week and so his resurrection denotes a glorious new beginning for a world of men. It is John who defines the reason for Christ’s miracles and this he does when recording the first – “to manifest forth his glory” (2:11). The miracles were the signs declaring his divinity. John also shows us that Jesus used his miracles to teach truth. Feeding of the 5,000 led him into a long discourse about the Bread of Life. The opening of the blind man’s eyes prompted him to expound the parable of the shepherd and the sheep.
John’s Gospel is also characterised by the seven “I Ams” of Jesus Christ. By recording these wonderful statements John was identifying who Jesus was; The Bread of Life (6:35), The Light of the World (8:12), The Door of the Sheep (10:7), The Good Shepherd (10:11), The Resurrection and the Life (11:25), The Way, the Truth and the Life (14:6), The True Vine (15:1). The phrase “1 Am” is used, however, in other ways also. To the woman at the well he revealed himself as “I Am” to indicate that he was indeed the Messiah. In John 8:58 he emphatically stated “Before Abraham was 1 am”. This was was of his greatest revelations where he stressed his own eternity and his co-equality with the Father and so enraged the Jews who realised the significance. In 10:30 he employed the phrase to teach his oneness with the Father. In 14:3 he told the disciples that he already was in heaven before he died stressing his eternity and giving them hope, “that where I am there ye may be also”. The phrase “I am” links him with the ancient and holy name Jehovah which means “I am that I Am” – the unchanging God.
The Intimacy of Christ’s Discourses
It is evident that this account was written by one who had a close acquaintance with our Lord, from the nature of the conversations and discourses which are recorded. There is an intimacy about Jesus which lifts John’s record far above a normal historical account. Nicodemas (Ch 3), the Woman of Samaria (Ch 4) and the Woman taken in adultery (Ch 8) are examples of personal accounts which John alone records. In addition, however, John records many of Christ’s personal interactions with his disciples, particularly the Upper Room Discourse (Ch 14-16) followed by the High Priestly Prayer of Ch 17.
The Purpose of John’s Gospel
While Matthew wrote for Jews, Mark for the Romans and Luke for the Greeks John was writing for the world. The phrase “world” is a feature of John’s writings. It is especially featured in the most famous Gospel text in scripture (3:16). This text reveals the purpose of John’s Gospel, to win people from across the world, whether Jew or Greek, for Jesus Christ. In 20:30 and 21:25 John informs us that the Lord did many other works which are not recorded by him. He selected the facts, however, with one aim, one purpose:
“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” (20:31).
His Early Ministry in Galilee 1:19-2:12 (His Hour was not yet come – 2:4)
His Early Judean Ministry 2:13-3:36
His Samarian Ministry 4:1-42
His Second Galilean Ministry 4:43-54
His Second Judean Ministry 5:1-47
His Great Galilean Ministry 6:1-71
His Third Judean Ministry 7:1-41 (His Hour was not yet come 7:30, 8:20)
His Return to Bethany 11
His Final Arrival in Jerusalem 12:1-50 (His Hour is Come 12:23).
The Upper Room 13:1-17:26 (His Hour is Come 13:1, 17:1)
Gethsemane and Golgotha 18:1-19:38
The Resurrected Saviour 20:1-21:25