Author

According to John 21:20–24, the author of the Gospel is “the disciple whom Jesus loved.” He is mentioned in several scenes: the last supper (13:23–25); Jesus’ crucifixion (19:26– 27); running to Jesus’ tomb (20:1–10); and Jesus’ appearance to the disciples in Galilee (21:7, 20–24). His role as a direct witness is particularly important to the book. Despite the remarkable description, “the disciple whom Jesus loved,” the disciple remains anonymous. The book’s title, “John,” was derived from the testimony of the early church fathers.

Recipient

The author simply addresses the readers as “you” (plural; 20:31), without specifying who they are. But we may infer from certain observations something about the intended readers. For example, the author translates some Hebrew or Aramaic terms into Greek (1:38, 41; 9:7; 19:13, 17) and provides a brief explanation about a particular Jewish custom (2:6; 19:40). These are indications that the author is reaching out to a wider audience beyond the Jewish circles.

Date

Probably between A.D. 70 and 100.

Purpose/Occasion

The author makes it explicit what his purpose is for writing this book. It is twofold: 1) “that you may believe Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God;” and 2) “that believing, you may have life in [ Jesus’] name” (20:31).

Unique Characteristics

  1. Jesus’ origin from above as central to the approach of the Gospel.
  2. Presentation of key themes that are not found or are not as prominent in the other gospels, such as the Word,
    signs, Jesus’ relationship to the Father, glory, Jesus’ hour, “I AM,” truth, etc.
  3. Intimate connection between Jesus’ works and the deeper spiritual truths behind them.
  4. Jesus’ personal interaction with specific individuals (e.g. Nathanael, Nicodemus, the Samaritan woman, the man born blind, etc.).
  5. Inclusion of important events not included in the Synoptic Gospels, such as the cleansing of the temple early on in Jesus’ ministry, the raising of Lazarus from the dead, and Jesus’ washing of the disciples’ feet; as well as exclusion of some significant events, such as the transfiguration and the institution of the Lord’s supper (Holy Communion).
  6. Insights on the sacraments and the Holy Spirit, all of which are fundamental to the beliefs of the True Jesus Church on salvation.

Central Verse

“But these are written that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that believing you may have life in His name” (20:31).

Survey

Go through the entire book briefly for an overview and record descriptive headings in Chart B. One approach to seeing the layout of the entire Gospel is to view the book according to the phases of Jesus’ mission to the world as He described in 16:28:

  1. “I came forth from the Father”
    The prologue to the book (1:1–18) introduces the Lord Jesus as the Word who had become flesh. He was with God, and was God Himself. As the only begotten who is in the bosom of the Father, He came to dwell among us in order to declare the Father to us.
  2. “And have come into the world.”
    Starting from 1:19, the book begins to narrate the ministry of Jesus in the world by first introducing the testimony of John the Baptist. This portion of the Gospel (1:19–12:50) is often known as the “book of Jesus’ signs,” since the many signs the Lord performed and the truths they convey form the core of this part of the book. Near the end, Jesus gave a summary of His purpose for coming into the world: “I have come as a light into the world, that whoever believes in Me should not abide in darkness” (12:46).
  3. “Again, I leave the world”
    “Now before the feast of the Passover, when Jesus knew that His hour had come that He should depart from this world to the Father…” (13:1). This weighty introduction in 13:1 marks the transition from Jesus’ ministry to the public to His final moments with His disciples, leading up to His passion, death, and burial. Therefore, this latter part of the Gospel has been aptly called the “book of Jesus’ glory” or “the book of Jesus’ hour.” It concentrates on the hour in which Jesus was to be glorified through the cross.
  4. “And go to the Father.”
    The final two chapters of the Gospel record events following the Lord’s resurrection, particularly His appearances to Mary and His disciples. Jesus bid Mary to tell the disciples, “I am ascending to My Father and your Father, and to My God and your God” (20:17). Jesus’ ascension into glory underlies the significance of His post-resurrection appearances. Having completed His work in the world, and before returning to His Father, Jesus prepared the disciples for the commission that the church would carry out on His behalf.

Themes

Jesus, the Christ and the Son of God

The author sums up the purpose of the book with the words “that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God” (20:31). Jesus’ identity as the Anointed of God sent into the world stands as the center of the entire gospel. He declared Himself as the Son of God whom the Father loves but gives to the world (3:16–18; 5:20; 10:36; 11:4). The Father has given Him all authority, especially the authority to grant eternal life, so that whoever believes in the Son should have life (5:21, 24; 13:3; 17:2). Being the only begotten of the Father, Jesus is the only way to the Father and the only one who can fully reveal the Father (1:18; 14:6, 9). He is one with the Father (10:30; 14:11, 20; 17:21, 22). He speaks and does whatever He has seen with His Father and has been commanded by the Father (5:30; 6:38; 7:16; 8:38; 10:37, 38; 12:49, 50; 14:10). Therefore, to receive the Lord Jesus is to receive the Father who had sent Him (3:33; 5:24; 12:44; 13:20).

“I am”

Among the most distinguishing features of John are Jesus’ “I am” statements. Through the seven “I am” declarations, the Lord Jesus made known to the world His identity in relation to those who believe in Him: “I am the bread of life” (6:35); “I am the bread which came down from heaven” (6:41); “I am the light of the world” (9:5); “I am the door” (10:7, 9); “I am the good shepherd” (10:11); “I am the resurrection and the life” (11:25); “I am the way, the truth, and the life” (14:6). Besides these declarations, Jesus also identified Himself as the “I AM” (8:24, 28, 58), which was God’s self-revelation in the Old Testament (Isa 43:10). He also told the disciples that they would believe that “I AM” when His words come true ( Jn 13:19). In essence, the Lord was making Himself known as the eternal Lord God, and for this reason the Jews tried to kill Him. In reality, Jesus is indeed God Himself manifested in the flesh (1 Tim 3:16). True faith in Jesus entails believing that He is none other than the true God Himself.

Believe

The Gospel according to John uses the word “believe” far more than any other book in the Bible. This should not come as a surprise, since the purpose for the writing of this book is a call to faith (20:31). Faith determines a person’s eternal destiny. Everyone who believes in the Lord Jesus has eternal life, but those who do not believe stand condemned (3:14–19, 36; 6:47; 8:24; 11:25).

Through His teachings and the signs He performed, Jesus time and again urged the people to believe that He had been sent from the Father and that He was the “I AM.” He also warned them of the consequence of unbelief. On numerous occasions we read how individuals or a multitude believed in Him (4:39–42; 4:53; 7:31; 8:30; 9:35–38; 11:45). Yet at the same time, many others, including His brothers, refused to believe (3:12; 5:38, 44, 47; 6:36; 7:5; 8:45, 46). In fact, the Gospel concludes that the Lord Jesus was rejected by His own (1:11), and that the people did not believe Him although He had done so many signs before them (12:37). In the end, Jesus was handed over to the Jewish leaders, who put Jesus on the cross out of their utter unbelief (cf. 19:7, 15).

Nevertheless, the Lord’s sheep listen to His voice and know Him (10:4, 14, 16). These are the believers who follow the Lord to the end, and the Gospel gives particular attention to their faith in Christ (2:11, 22; 6:66–69; 13:19; 14:1, 10–12, 29; 16:27; 17:8, 20; 20:8). They are given to the Lord Jesus by the Father and are kept by the Lord in His love (6:39; 13:1; 17:6, 9). They have received the right to be children of God (1:12, 13), have a part in Christ (13:8), and have the abiding presence of the Lord through the Holy Spirit ( Jn 14:15–18; 26, 27). The glorious promises that await the disciples extend to believers of all ages whose faith does not rest on sight (17:20; 20:29). Just as they have passed from death into life through faith in Christ, they will be raised to everlasting life (5:24–29) and be with the Lord forever in glory (17:24).

Signs

Signs in the Gospel according to John are pointers that reveal Jesus’ identity. Through Jesus’ signs, Nicodemus concluded that Jesus was a teacher come from God (3:2). Through the miracle of feeding the great multitude, the Lord demonstrated that He is the bread from heaven (6:35). Jesus’ healing of the blind man occasioned the teaching about Him being the light of the world (9:5). When asked to show a sign as proof of His authority, the Lord pointed to the ultimate sign, which is His own resurrection (2:19, 21, 22).

Because of their revelatory function, signs serve to lead people to faith in the Lord. The disciples believed in Jesus after witnessing the sign of turning water into wine (2:11). The nobleman and his household believed at the sign of his son’s healing (4:46–54). The man healed of his blindness believed in the Lord and worshipped Him (9:35–38). Many of the Jews believed in Jesus when they witnessed His raising of Lazarus from the dead (11:45). At the end of the book, the author makes it explicit that he recorded all these signs so that we the readers may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God (20:30, 31).

Glory

One manifestation of Jesus’ identity as the Son of God is His divine glory (1:14). Unlike the glory that men seek, the glory that Jesus sought was from the Father (5:41, 44; 7:18; 8:50, 54). Through His signs and works, the Lord revealed His glory and brought glory to God (2:11; 11:4; 17:4).

As appointed by the Father, the hour in which Jesus was glorified came when He was facing death on the cross and the final exaltation (12:23–33; cf. 7:39). The moment when darkness seemed to prevail turned out to be the moment of glory for the Son of Man (13:31). When exhorting His disciples, Jesus spoke of the glory He shall receive from the Holy Spirit (16:13, 14). He also taught them that the Father would be glorified when the disciples bear much fruit and when Jesus would do whatever they ask in His name (15:7, 8). In His prayer to the Father, Jesus declared that He had glorified the Father, and He now asked the Father to glorify Him (17:1, 5). He further asked that those who believe in Him may be with Him where He is, that they may behold His glory (17:24).

Submission to the Father’s Will

While Jesus was one with His Father, He also made it clear that His Father was greater than He (14:28). As the One sent from His Father (8:42), He obeyed His Father unconditionally by completing the work for which He had been sent (4:34; 5:30). He honored His Father (8:49), spoke as His Father had commanded Him (7:16; 12:49), and sought the will of His Father (5:30; 6:38). He lost none of those whom the Father had given Him (6:39; 10:28, 29). According to the command of His Father, He laid down His life in order to take it again (10:18).

The surpassing will of the Father can be seen in the use of the word “hour” in the Gospel to represent the timing God had foreordained. Jesus honored the hour established for Him and acted accordingly (2:4). No one could take His life before His hour had come (7:30; 8:20). The saving works of Christ as well as what the disciples must encounter are also in accord with God’s appointed time (4:21, 23; 5:25, 28; 16:2, 4, 21, 25, 32). The very hour for which the Lord Jesus came was the hour of His death, exaltation, and return to the Father (12:23, 27; 13:1). Even in the moments of great suffering, Jesus acknowledged and obeyed the Father’s will (18:8, 9, 11; 19:11). His words on the cross, “It is finished!” ( Jn 19:30) perfectly summed up His total devotion to completing His Father’s will.

Modern Relevance

Although the figurative language of the Gospel according to John may seem abstract, again and again the Gospel expounds profound spiritual truths in tangible ways we can relate to. The bread, the light, the door, and the good shepherd are all concrete things that help us understand who Jesus is. Just as the Word became flesh and dwelt among us so that we may know the God whom we cannot see, the words written in the Gospel have made the essential doctrines of salvation accessible to us all.

The claims Jesus made about who He is and the many promises He offered to those who believe in Him are just as true today as they were back then. The hope of the gospel lies in our transformation, and Jesus is the source of our transformation. Jesus alone can change water into wine, sorrow into joy, death into life. So at its heart, the good news of John is that Jesus is the source of everlasting life, joy, and fulfillment. We may draw freely from this fountain when we come to Him in faith. We who believe in the Lord Jesus can also personally experience the promised indwelling Spirit today because Jesus has been glorified (7:37–39). We have the Lord’s continual presence through the Helper, and we are able to understand the words of Jesus because we have the Spirit as our personal teacher (14:16–18, 25, 26).

The Gospel according to John is also applicable to the church as a whole. Important truths about the sacraments of baptism, footwashing, and the Holy Communion are all explained in John. The True Jesus Church, having been sent by the Holy Spirit (cf. 20:20–23), administers the sacraments through faith in the words of Christ. The Gospel also reminds us that the Lord Jesus has also equipped us to carry out His commis – sion. Because He has returned to the Father, we as believers will do greater works than what Jesus did (14:12). Whatever we ask in His name, it will be done for us (14:14; 15:7, 16). Jesus’ prayer concerning the unity of believers is especially relevant for life within the church (17:20–23). When we love one another as commanded by our Lord Jesus, all will know that we are Christ’s disciples (13:34, 35).

Map & Chart

Chart A: Life of Christ

Map A: Palestine in the Time of Christ

PALESTINE IN THE TIME OF CHRIST