We’re starting what I anticipate to be an incredible journey through the Gospel of John. If you open a Bible to the start of this book, you will most likely see the words, “The Gospel of John” at the top of the first page. Gospel means “Good News.” For years, I had heard that the four gospels had these titles added much later, but there has been some recent research arguing strongly that the titles were added rather quickly after the Gospels were being circulated. John is the Author. Not John the Baptist, but one of the 12 disciples. He was the brother of James, the son of Zebedee, and a nephew of Mary the Mother of Jesus, making him and his brother first cousins of the Lord Jesus Christ.
John was the only one of the 12 remaining disciples to die a natural death. Scripture records the suicide of Judas, history tells us the other 10 were all martyrs. He was also the last one to die, leaving this life near the end of the 1st century at a very ripe age of nearly 100.
He is the second most prolific author of the New Testament, writing five NT books: this Gospel, 1st, 2nd, and 3rd John, and the book of Revelation. The theme of all five of these books is the Lord Jesus Christ himself. The Gospel is a look back to the past, when John himself followed Jesus and witnessed his amazing life, ministry, death, and resurrection. The three letters of John are the apostle dealing with current issues in church life. The fifth book he wrote, Revelation is at Jesus in the future. This makes John unique as a Biblical writer, being the only one to write books in the past, present, and future tenses.
Scholars believe that John wrote his Gospel while living in Ephesus, prior to his banishment by the Romans to the isle of Patmos. Here is why: An early church father named Iranaeus (c.125-c.205) was a student of another church father named Polycarp (c.69-c.155). It is widely held that Polycarp was personally mentored by the apostle John. This makes Iranaeus a pretty trustworthy authority on the subject of John’s Gospel. It is Iranaeus who said that John wrote the fourth Gospel while he was living in Ephesus.
This fourth Gospel is unique from the other three, sharing only a small percentage of the words and works of Jesus in common. Being written decades after the other three Gospels, it’s as if John, being familiar with Matthew, Mark, and Luke, wanted to share some of his memories of Jesus that didn’t make it into the other Gospels. We, believe, of course, that God wanted these words and stories written down for those who would live on after John was gone.
Before we dive into this Gospel verse-by-verse, I want to give some distinctions between this Gospel and Matthew, Mark, and Luke, which are known as the Synoptics:
Synoptics – Focus on Christ’s ministry in the region of Galilee
John – Focus on Christ’s ministry in the region of Judea
Synoptics- Jesus’ sayings are generally short (e.g. the parables)
John – Long discourses of Jesus (e.g. John 13-17)
Synoptics- only mention one Passover
John – mentions 3 Passovers, providing for us an estimated time lapse of Christ’s public ministry (about 3 to 3 and a half years)
Synoptics- much emphasis on the “kingdom”
John – much emphasis on eternal life
This Gospel is also unique in that it is heavy in theological reflection. The first three Gospels tend to focus on the facts of Christ’s ministry. John delves into the meaning and application of Christ’s ministry. John is also purposefully evangelistic. He states clearly that his goal in writing the book is that by seeing the Jesus of this Gospel, his readers might believe and therefore have life in his name (John 20.30-31).
Yet as theologically profound as John’s Gospel is, he uses the simplest Greek vocabulary of the four Gospels. Someone said that John’s gospel is “shallow enough for babies to wade in, but deep enough for elephants to drown in.”
John himself had come to believe in Christ and experience life in his name. A short biography of John reveals a powerful testimony of transforming grace of Jesus. John and his brother, James, were popularly known as the “sons of thunder,” due to their aggressive zeal for God’s honor. They were the ones who wanted Jesus to call fire down from heaven on their perceived enemies. But this young, zealous, idealist young follower of Christ was transformed into the mature, patient, respected apostle of God’s love. More than any other Biblical writer, John emphasized the love of God. It was a love that transformed him personally and a love that can transform us as well as we encounter Christ in the Gospel of John.