Posted on May 22, 2013 by David Holder
With his Gospel, the apostle John makes a unique contribution to the New Testament and to our understanding of Jesus. John presents the same Jesus as do Matthew, Mark, and Luke, but his portrait is independent and distinctive. John states in so many words his purpose: “Many other signs therefore Jesus also performed in the presence of the disciples, which are not written in this book; but these have been written that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God; and that believing you may have life in His name” (20:30-31). This purpose controls the material John includes and the shape or structure of his work.
Let’s begin this segment of our journey by considering John, the apostle of Christ and author of several New Testament books, including the Gospel that bears his name. The writer of the fourth Gospel never identifies himself directly, though he drops some hints along the way as to his special relationship with Jesus. He claims to have been an eyewitness to the even¬ts recorded: “we beheld His glory” (1:14), though he sometimes speaks of this connection with Jesus oblique¬ly in the third person: “And he who has seen has borne witness, and his witness is true; and he knows that he is telling the truth, so that you also may believe” (19:35).
The writer of the fourth Gospel also refers to himself as “the disciple whom Jesus loved,” which has been traditionally understood as the apostle John. This generates the question if John would describe himself in this way? If the phrase indicates preferential love on Jesus’ part toward this disciple, it would be difficult to think John would note this. Yet, “it might conceivably be used by John in modesty.” As Leon Morris notes, “On this view, he does not even mention his own name but uses an oblique form of speech which emphasizes that he owes everything to the love of Jesus” (Leon Morris, ISBE Rev’d., vol. 2, p. 1099). It seems likely that John, the disciple whom Jesus loved, was the writer of the Gospel traditionally bearing his name – a Gospel he wrote to promote and support believing in Jesus as the Christ, the Son of God.
Now, let’s consider the contours and contents of the Gospel of John. John’s accounts of Jesus’ miracles that he calls “signs” cluster in what is roughly the first half of his work. He dramatically introduces Jesus as the Word who was God and became flesh in order to explain God (1:1-18) and as the Lamb of God (1:19-51). Jesus’ changing the water to wine is called “the beginning of His signs” (2:1-11), and this initiates the first half of the Gospel (chs. 2-12) in which all signs are included, that it, except the greatest sign of all – Jesus’ resurrection. John includes seven of Jesus’ signs:
• Changing the water to wine (2:1-11)
• Healing the official’s son (4:46-54)
• Healing the lame man (5:1-18)
• Feeding the five thousand (6:1-14)
• Walking on the water (6:16-21)
• Healing the blind man (9:1-41)
• Raising Lazarus from the dead (11:1-57)
Interspersed with the signs are various discourses, some of which are directly related to signs, and all of them may be. Most likely, the surrounding discourses explain the signs’ meaning or significance. This is obvious in some cases, and perhaps not as clear in others, but overall it seems that John arranged Jesus’ encounters and teaching around the signs to explain and elucidate them. You may see the Route 66 John blog post for the exact references of these surrounding discourses.
• The new birth (3:1-21)
• The water of life (4:1-42)
• The divine Son (5:19-47)
• The bread of life (6:22-65)
• The life-giving Spirit (7:1-52)
• The light of the world (8:12-59)
• The good shepherd (10:1-42)
The first main division of the Gospel may be cal¬led “The Book of Jesus’ Signs” (chs. 2-12). John’s emphasis shifts at 13:1 corresponding to the arrival of Jesus’ hour. Before this, His hour had “not come” (2:4, 7:30, 8:20), so it is notable when it does (12:23, 27). According to John’s record at 13:1, Jesus’ hour arrived: “Now before the Feast of the Passover, Jesus knowing that His hour had come that He should depart out of this world to the Father ….” The second main division may be cal¬led “The Book of Jesus’ Hour” (chs. 13-20).
We now come to the themes John emphasizes in his Gospel. John sets forth his own agenda in his purpose statement (20:30-31), which states the primary themes he presents and something of the method he employed. John’s purpose and method in writing were to present signs demonstrating Jesus as the Christ, the Son of God, giving people reason to believe and through believing have life.
• In his purpose statement, John actually names five primary themes: signs Jesus performed, Jesus as the Christ, Jesus as the Son of God, believing in Jesus, and life in Jesus’ name. Each theme somehow relates to Jesus Christ.
• Merrill Tenney notes that the word “believe” appears ninety-eight times in the Gospel of John, more often than any other word (Expositor’s Bible Commentary, vol. 9, p. 12). To those who believe Jesus gives the right to become children of God (1:12). Specifically, we are to believe that Jesus and the Father are one (14:10-11), that Jesus came forth from the Father (16:28-30), being sent by the Father (11:42; 17:8, 21). As such, Jesus is the Savior of the world (4:41-42) and the Christ, the Son of God (11:27).\
• Only John presents the great “I am” statements of Jesus, which serve to define what should be believed about Him:
o 6:35, 48, 51 I am the bread of life/living bread
o 8:12, 9:5 I am the light of the world
o 8:58 I am
o 10:7, 9 I am the door of the sheep
o 10:11, 14 I am the good shepherd
o 11:25 I am the resurrection and the life
o 14:6 I am the way, and the truth, and the life
o 15:1, 5 I am the true vine
• The signs of Jesus were to produce belief, as they did on many occasions (2:11, 23; 3:2; 4:53; 7:31; 9:38; 11:45; 12:11), though not in every case (12:37).
• Believing in Jesus as the Christ, the Son of God issues in “life” — in Jesus was life (1:4), He is the bread of life (6:33), and the life (11:25, 14:6); He came to give abundant life (10:10). Whoever believes in Jesus may have eternal life (3:14-16, 36; 6:47), indeed Jesus said, “Unless you believe that I am [He], you shall die in your sins” (8:24). John, of course, wanted this to happen to no one, so he composed his unique portrait of Jesus so each of us may believe and in Him have life.