“God’s love letter to the world” – Martin Luther
There are a few things that make the Gospel of John so unique among the other gospels. First, it has a different style than the other gospels. It is less concerned about the narrative than the message itself of who Jesus is. Second, it is missing many of the things that a the other gospels have, namely the birth of Jesus, no ascension, no institution of the last super, no account of His baptism, and, as James Montgomery Boice points out, there are no parables. But John also has many things that the other gospels do not have. Namely, he gives a detailed account of his early ministry, of Nicodemus, of the Samaritan Woman, and of the discourses during the last super.
One of the reasons I’m so excited about teaching and studying the book of John has to do with the fact that its changed my own life in great ways. I recall with great clarity the days I spent pouring through this book as a young man working my way through college. I read through it a few times, once came during my work as a valet car parking attendant at the Wyndham Hotel in downtown Toledo. I had the second shift during several consecutive days of work, and my job was primarily to sit in the security booth at the car lot a few blocks away from the hotel. This was a very tedious, and often unwanted job at the valet station. During this particular week, I studiously read the book of John through very carefully, and at that time I discovered many of the truths I’ll be relating now (below). Although my understanding of these truths was merely in its infancy, this was the beginning of a love affair with this gospel that has continued until this day.
Another reason this book is so thrilling to study, is the realization of how impactful it’s been on the lives of so many Christians. Boice points out that, “It has probably been the means by which more persons have come to know Jesus Christ as their Savior and Lord than any other single portion of Scripture.” Martin Luther, the great 16th century reformer, preached many a message from its pages, and called the book “God’s love letter to the world.” Augustine said that the “the Gospel of John is deep enough for an elephant to swim and shallow enough for a child not to drown.”
As I have started to study the introduction to John, I have noted the richness of the first chapter. This book is unlike any other gospel, or any other book of the New Testament for that matter. I’m looking forward to exploring both what the Spirit has to teach me through the study, and what others learn from my teaching of it to them.
There are so many wonderful doctrines embedded within the richness of this gospel. It is food for the mature, and milk for the new Christian as well. The whole book can probably be best seen as a study in Christology. Christology is, as you might have guessed, the study of the person and work of Christ Jesus. And that is exactly what we have here. We see here a work so magnificent, that those hoping to teach what lies within its pages have both a sweet, yet daunting task before them.
My own reflections on these verses will be aimed with humility and focus at getting to the truth presented by the text. My prayer is that I add nothing to the writer’s design, and help learners clearly understand the mysteries and joys of the gospel.
John spent most of his focus not on miracles or parables (in fact no parables are recorded herin), but on the key teachings of Christ. John MacArthur aptly summarizes what is “missing” when he lists a number of items you won’t find. “John contains no narrative parables, no eschatological discourses, no accounts of Jesus exorcising demons, or healing lepers, no list of the twelve apostles, and no formal institution of the Lord’s Super. John also does not record Jesus’ birth, baptism, transfiguration, temptation, agony in Gethsemane, or ascension.”
There are, however, many many things, which John includes which are not found in any of the synoptic gospels. MacArthur notes that over 90% of John’s material is not found in the other gospels. John, who wrote this gospel well after the other three had been written (probably 80-90AD), was perhaps filling in the gaps. As a whole the gospels complement each other, and as DA Carson says, They “represent an interlocking tradition, that is…they mutually reinforce or explain each other.”
Author Pink says, “In this book we are shown that the one who was heralded by the angels to the Bethlehem shepherds, who walked this earth for thirty-three years, who was crucified at Calvary, who rose in triumph from the grace, and who forty days later departed from these scenes, was none other than the Lord of Glory. The evidence for this is overwhelming, the proofs almost without number, and the effect of contemplating them must be to bow our hearts in worship before ‘the great God and our Savior Jesus Christ’ (Titus 2:13)”
It seems like the authorship has been debated, settled, re-debated and so on. There are two main proofs, one external, one internal, that seem to be worth mentioning here. The external proof is that the early church fathers – notably Irenaeus, said that John wrote this gospel. This is important because Irenaeus was the disciple of Polycarp and Polycarp was one of John’s disciples. He would have known with certainty who his mentor was studying. The internal evidence is that this gospel was written by John is probably best laid out in a logical fashion by John MacArthur who is citing B.F. Westcott who laid out the evidence in several points:
- The author was a Jew
- The author was a Palestinian Jew
- The author was an eyewitness
- The author was an apostle
- The author was the apostle John – as Morris says, “its is not easy to think of a reason why any early Christian, other than John himself, should have completely omitted all mention of such a prominent Apostle”
For the skeptitics…
Some have said that the gospel was written by a 2nd century Gnostic. We now can totally through that out the window. John MacArthur explains:
The earliest extant portion of any New Testament book is a tiny fragment (P52) containing a few verses from John 18 and dating from about AD 130 (or earlier). (Another early fragment, known as the Egerton Papyrus 2, also quotes portions of John’s gospel. Scholars date is no later than the middle of the second century.) Nineteenth-century critics confidently dated the gospel of John in the second half of the second century. The discovery of P52 early in the twenthieth-century sounded the death knell for that view. The fragment was found in a remote region of Egypt. Allowing time for John’s gospel to have circulated that far pushes its date of writing back into the first century.
There are also archaeological reasons for believing the book was written in the first century. Boice notes that “the late Near Eastern archaeologist William F. Albrght, are willing to date the book in the AD 60’s, this is, within thirty or forty of Christ’s death and resurrection.”
There have been two key discoveries that have been unearthed in the last hundred or so years that also give us reason to believe in the historical trustworthiness of this gospel. Boice explains:
“In John 5:2 where John mentions a poll called Bethesda that, he says, had five porches. For years no one had ever even heard of this pool. What is more, since John’s dscription made it sound like a pentagon, and since there had never been ay pentagon-shaped pools in antiquity, the existence of this pool was thought by many New Testament scholars to be doubtful. Now, however, approximately fifty to seventy-five fee below the present level of the city of Jerusalem, archaeologists have uncovered a large rectangular pool surrounded by four covered colonnades and having an additional colonnade crossing it in the middle somewhat like a bridge. In other words, there was a pool with five porches, as John said. The second archaeological discovery involved the probably identification of Aenon near Salim, which John mentions in 3:23, as having “plenty of water” in the Jordan valley. It was obviously the place where John the Baptist found adequate water for his baptizing.”
Occasion – Why was this written?
I believe that this is simply laid out by John himself when he states, “these are written so that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in his name” (John 20:31).
His mission was evangelistic. He was writing these things to show you that Jesus was the Son of God. To prove the deity of Jesus Christ – that is why John spends so much time up front laying out the divine genealogy!
The second reason that we see in verse 31 above is that in Chris was have “life in his name.” I see this in two ways. First, eternal life, and secondly a more fulfilled life here on earth. Christ said in John 10:10 that, “I came that they may have life and have it abundantly.”