Introduction: Welcome back, readers! We are about to embark on a study of one of the most beloved books in the canon of scripture – the gospel of John!
This book is for truly for everyone. It is written in plain, uncomplicated language, but at the same time it is dignified and profound. On one hand, it is simple enough for a newborn in Christ to digest. But on the other hand, even the most mature believer finds it deep and complex.
WHO: Despite some modern day criticism, early church fathers (Irenaeus, Clement of Alexandria, Tertullian, Origen, Eusebius and others) are in COMPLETE agreement that the gospel of John was written by John, brother of James, who was one of the twelve apostles. His parents were Zebedee and Salome (Matthew 27:56, Mark 15:40).
John was probably born in Bethsaida, a fishing village on the Sea of Galilee. In his early life, he and his brother James worked for their father in the family fishing business. These are the brothers that Jesus referred to as the ‘sons of thunder’ because of their tempers (Mark 3:17).
John most likely had what we would call a ‘middle class’ or ‘upper middle class’ upbringing. His father’s business was profitable enough to have paid employees (Mark 1:20). His mother Salome is later described as one of the women who traveled with Jesus and provided for his needs (Matthew 27:55). She also purchased spices to embalm his body (Luke 23:55).
Furthermore, at the crucifixion when Jesus asks John to care for his mother Mary, the scripture records that John brought her into ‘his own house’ which indicates he was not destitute by any means.
We also find that John was known to Caiaphas, the high priest (John 18:15) – further indication that John was probably a well known figure and a man of some means.
Many feel that John was originally a disciple of John the Baptist and that he was the unnamed partner of Andrew as mentioned in John 1:35-40. Eventually, he becomes the disciple closest to Jesus – ‘the disciple whom Jesus loved’. John is believed to be the youngest of the twelve, becoming a disciple around the age of 25.
John was obviously an eyewitness to the life and ministry of Jesus. He was also in the ‘inner circle’ of Jesus along with Peter and James. As such, John saw things that most of the other disciples did not. He was a witness to the transfiguration of Jesus. He was present when Jesus raised Jairus’ daughter from the dead. He was allowed to witness the suffering/torment of Jesus in the Garden of Gethsemane. He was present at the trial of Jesus and he was chosen to care for Mary, mother of Jesus, after the crucifixion.
WHERE AND WHEN: After the ascension of Christ, John remained in Jerusalem for some time (Acts 1:14, 3:1, 4:13). We know he was sent to Samaria to preach the gospel with Peter (Acts 8:14-25) and he was present at the council of Jerusalem (Acts 15). All this agrees with the history recorded by the church fathers, which asserts that John lived in Jerusalem until the death of Mary (15 years after the crucifixion). Afterwards, he settled in Ephesus, living there from 70 to 98 AD. His gospel was most likely written in Ephesus, between 85 and 90 AD.
From Ephesus he was banished to the Isle of Patmos by Domitian, where he wrote the book of Revelation. Later (after the death of Domitian in AD 96), John returned to Ephesus where he too died, not long after his return. Tradition claims that he is the only apostle to die a natural death.
RELATIONSHIP TO THE OTHER GOSPELS: John’s gospel stands apart from the synoptic gospels in a number of ways.
- John’s gospel does not contain any of the parables of Jesus.
- While the synoptic gospels chiefly report the ministry of Jesus in Galilee, John writes about events taking place in Judea.
- While the synoptic gospels stress the public discourses of Jesus, John stresses the private interviews Jesus had with his disciples.
- While the other gospels reveal what Jesus did, John delves more deeply into why he did it.
There are a couple of reasons for these differences. One is the late date of writing. While the other three (Matthew, Mark and Luke) were all written before 70 AD, John’s gospel was written much later (85-90 AD). By the time he writes his account, all of the other apostles (including Paul) are dead. Jerusalem and the temple have been destroyed by the Romans and the Jews have been dispersed throughout the surrounding regions. About 50 years have passed since the birth of the church, and even at that early stage, Satan is attempting to introduce false doctrines into the church. The world was a completely different place when John wrote his gospel!
Also, while John could have written another gospel covering the exact same material as the others, Holy Spirit led him in a new direction – to prove that Jesus was the Son of God. Thus, his gospel does not need to cover the basics found in the other gospels. Accordingly, we find no genealogy, no record of birth, no mention of boyhood growth, no record of baptism, no mention of either the wilderness temptation or Jesus’ suffering in Gethsemane.
Instead, John’s account goes back to the beginning of time, when Jesus was one with the Father and Holy Spirit.
While John’s gospel is very different from Matthew, Mark and Luke, it should be noted that his gospel does not contradict the others; it supplements them, giving us a richer and fuller picture of Jesus and his ministry.
WHY: We know that none of the four gospel writers gives us an exhaustive account of everything Jesus did (John 21:25). Rather, each author was moved by Holy Spirit to reveal certain truths in their writings. Naturally, they choose events from the life and ministry of Jesus that reflected these truths.
One of the main truths or points that John is making in his account of Jesus is this:
John 20:31 – But these are written, that you might believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God; and that believing you might have life through his name.
Specifically, John presents seven miraculous signs, seven ‘I am’ statements and seven eye witness accounts for the purpose of convincing his readers that Jesus is the Son of God. The point of understanding that Jesus is the Son of God is so we can believe on him and find salvation.
Another one of the awesome aspects of John’s gospel is that it emphasizes the Father-Son relationship between God and Jesus. In John 14:7-9 we are assured that anyone who sees Jesus has seen Father God. This is God at work, revealing himself to us through his Son.
When Jesus healed people, he was revealing God’s desire for us to be whole. As Jesus displayed compassion to the hurting, he revealed that God is touched by our troubles and he greatly desires to show us his compassion. Because Jesus raised people from the dead, we can be sure that it is God’s ultimate desire for us to live and not die.
As we study this book, one of our focuses should be to understand how Father God views us and how he wants to deal with us.
Well, I don’t know about you, but I am ready to get started!
John 1:1 – In the beginning was the Word and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.
In the Beginning – Hmm… We’ve heard this phrase before, haven’t we? Where was that? Right – the first verse in the bible:
Genesis 1:1 – In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth.
Right off the bat, John goes straight to his main focus – Jesus as the Son of God. Let me explain. Matthew begins his gospel with a genealogy of Jesus; this draws the reader’s attention to the physical beginning of the savior’s life on earth. Mark begins his gospel with the ministry of John the Baptist, pointing the reader to the precursor of Jesus’ earthly ministry. Luke also begins his gospel with the birth of John the Baptist – again, drawing our attention to the beginnings of Jesus’ public ministry on earth in human form.
But John draws our attention to the beginning of time. Before the Roman Empire. Before the Israelites became a nation. Before the birth of Moses, Abraham, Job or Noah. Before Adam and Eve were created and placed in the garden.
Before all of that, before the very foundations of the earth were set in place, before anything was created, Jesus (the Word) existed. Therefore, he cannot be created; he is eternal. And since there is only one Being that is uncreated and eternal (Yahweh), Jesus must therefore be divine. He is God.
[Here in the very first verse of this gospel, we find an example of what we alluded to in our introduction – This gospel is simple enough for a new Christian, yet deep and complex enough to challenge a mature believer!]
Was the Word: ‘Word’ or ‘the Speech’ is the name that John gives to the one who existed before creation, but afterward took on a body of flesh and walked this earth (John 1:14, I Timothy 3:16). Obviously, he is referring to the Messiah, Jesus Christ.
But why use the term ‘Word’? Think of it this way: Word(s) or Speech is the method that we use to communicate with each other. It is the way we make our will known or convey our thoughts to others. Jesus is the method or way that God communicated his divine will to mankind.
Word(s) or Speech is not only the way we make our will/thoughts known, but the way in which those in authority carry out their will. God’s plan for the ages has been carried out by his Son, Jesus.
Also, although there is no way most of us would know, in the Targums (translations of Hebrew scriptures into Aramaic for the benefit of Jews who no longer understood Hebrew) the phrase ‘Word of God’ is frequently substituted for ‘Jehovah’. John may have had this in mind as he wrote.
Was with God: This expression denotes intimacy. John reveals that Jesus was with God in the beginning; he was intimately united with his Father and being of the same essence and nature, he shared in God’s divine glory. Jesus is therefore a Person distinct from the Father, but of the same essence and nature with God. Simply stated, the Word (Jesus) was and is God.
The Word was God: John wants to make his point very clear – Jesus existed with God, but he was not an inferior being in any way. He is not a second God, nor is he god-like. HE IS GOD. His both divine and eternal. He is in mutual communion with Father God and Holy Spirit.
There is no stronger proof or declaration in all of scripture that affirms Jesus the Son is equal to the Father. We see that Holy Spirit moved upon the apostle John to make this point irrefutable.
John 1:2 – He was in the beginning with God.
While this sounds a bit repetitious, it is nevertheless very important. John once again confirms these vital points, so there is no room for error or misinterpretation:
Jesus (the Word/Speech) existed before creation. He is eternal. Jesus (the Word) is one with God. He is divine, having the same essence and glory as the Father.
By stressing these points, John refutes a number of false doctrines that had crept into the early church which suggested that the Father existed before the Son or that the Father and Son were diverse in nature and will, or that the Word in the beginning was not the same as the Word by which all things were made.
John 1:3 – All things were made through him, and without him was not any thing made that was made.
John now uses the proof of creation to once again establish, beyond any doubt, that Jesus is God. Essentially John’s reasoning goes like this: Since He who made all things is God, and since Jesus made all things and nothing was made without him, therefore Jesus is truly God.In other words, Jesus is not merely an instrument of creation. He did not receive delegated power from the Father. He, along with the Father and Holy Spirit are coworkers in creation.
Let’s take a closer look at John’s statement in this verse.
All Things: This means, well, all things! This expression cannot be limited to any part of the universe; it expresses the thought of everything that exists. This includes living things like plant life, people, animals, angels and other beings. It includes all material realms, regardless of whether or not we know of their existence. It includes powers and dominions; things we can see and things we can’t (Colossians 1:16-17, Hebrews 1:2).
Were made through Him: The original word for ‘made’ comes from the verb ‘to be’. It signifies to create or form from nothing. Don’t miss the significance of this – God did not take raw materials that he found lying around and make something out of them. He, Jesus and the Spirit literally created the very molecules which made up every part of creation. They formed the universe and everything in it from nothing!
Without him was not any thing made that was made: When we compare this phrase with the prior phrase, we find they actually say the same thing.
One phrase is stated in a positive manner: All things were made through Him.
The second phrase expresses the same thought, in a negative manner: Without Him was not any thing made that was made.
This is a very common method of writing among the Hebrews. They use both positive and negative statements to confirm their point of view. When they state something in this way, they are attempting to call significance to it.
John 1:4 – In him was life, and the life was the light of men.
In Him was Life: All throughout the scriptures, God is referred to as the ‘living God’ because he is the source or fountain of life. God has infused (breathed) this life into his creation (Genesis 2:7). Not only did God create life, but he sustains it – without him, all living things would instantly decay or be reduced back to nothing. In other words, they would die.
We can’t help but notice that the same is true in the spiritual realm. Without Jesus, mankind is dead in trespasses and sin. But through him, we are a new creation, having eternal life.
I John 5:11-12 – And this is the witness, that God has given to us eternal life, and this life is in his Son. He that has the Son has life; and he that has not the Son of God has not life.
John concludes that the source of both natural and spiritual life is God, and since Jesus is God, he possesses these same attributes. He is able to give us eternal life.
The Life was the Light of men: How does light assist us in daily life? It allows us to see things with clarity and it prevents dangers which result from a state of darkness. A good example of this would be a light house. The light shines on the coastline at night, allowing the captain of a ship to clearly see the shoreline. It reveals rocks and other dangerous obstacles that would otherwise be hidden in darkness.
Light can also represent knowledge or understanding. Have you ever seen a cartoon where a person with an idea has a light bulb over their head? The light bulb represents a new idea or a new understanding.
Jesus the Messiah is called the light of the world (John 8:12, Isaiah 9:2, Matthew 4:15-16). He is our teacher, imparting knowledge and understanding to mankind. By his light, we are made aware of spiritual darkness and danger.
Let me offer you some encouragement and relief:
As John pointed out, God is the author of life. The scriptures are full of examples of his resurrection power. Do you have things in your life that need to be resurrected or brought back to life? Have you been trying to breathe life into them yourself, without any results?
These could include things like your marriage, your health, your finances, etc. If that is you, I encourage you to seek God in prayer. Ask him to breathe his breath of life into your situation and give you relief. Find scriptures that speak to your situation, and pray them over yourself.
Let me offer you some strength:
Are you going through a difficult time right now? Here is something to consider: John tells us that Jesus was with God and Holy Spirit before the foundation of the world. The scriptures also tell us that God/Jesus/Holy Spirit knew the ending of all things before the beginning or creation of the world.
This can only mean that God sees you and your problems, right now! He knew you would be in your current situation. He is right there with you, longing to draw you close to him. His Spirit is standing by, eager to lead you to victory. So don’t despair and don’t focus your eyes on the circumstances. Declare the Word of God over your life. Declare victory in your situation. Be assured that God is going to bring you through that valley and into a land flowing with milk and honey!