The Gospel of John — Jesus, the Son of God
The fourth and last gospel of Jesus Christ is also one of the most loved in Christendom. Also written anonymously, this gospel has been attributed to John, the brother of James and son of Zebedee, because he refers to himself as “the disciple whom Jesus loved” (John 20:21 & 24), and because he describes things only he, Peter and James would have been privy to. He also used the same words and phrases to refer to Christ in this gospel as are employed in the book of Revelation, wherein John identified himself as the author.
Nelson’s Complete Book of Bible Maps & Charts states, “The church father Irenaeus explicitly testifies that John wrote the gospel while residing in Ephesus (A.D. 66-98)…” [© 1996, by Thomas Nelson, Inc., p. 345].
Arranged both chronologically and topically, John’s Gospel “is built around seven miracles and seven ‘I am’ statements of Christ” [Nelson’s p. 347]. Written by a devout Jew who was known and respected by members of the Sanhedrin, John’s Gospel follows Jesus’ ministry in reference to the Jewish feasts and focuses mainly on the part of His ministry that took place in Judea and Jerusalem. Nevertheless, this gospel is written in magnificent Koine Greek and seems geared toward a non-Jewish audience. Most likely written after the other gospels, John includes significant events from the other synoptics, but his focus is primarily on the teachings and the identity of Christ—some of which is still very mysterious and difficult to understand today.
John Chapter 1
‘John the Beloved’ opened his gospel by giving us the ‘back story’ about Jesus before the dawn of time. Using the same phrase as the very first verse of the Old Testament, he introduced Jesus as Logos—which is Greek for “the spoken word”—immediately asserting the deity of Christ and His preexistence long before He made his appearance on the earth. In John 1:1, we read, “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.” What is not evident in our English Bibles is the importance of the Greek preposition, pros, translated “with,” which actually means, “toward/beside/near.” Strong’s Greek & Hebrew Dictionary says pros is “a preposition of direction,” relationship, movement or proximity. In other words, the Word was facing, close to, or equal to God.
You have to keep reading down through verse 17 to find out who this Word was. Meanwhile John provided further information regarding this person:
- He was with God in the beginning and was an integral part of the creation process (vv. 2-3). According to Genesis 1:1-27, the Creator spoke, and then each aspect of the cosmos came into being. The Logos, or spoken word of God, made the concepts from the Lord’s mind a reality.
- He was the source of life and light for mankind (John 1:4 & 9). King David previously expressed the same idea in Psalm 36:9, when he said to YHWH, “For with You is the fountain of life; in Your light we see light.” Jesus asserted that He was the Life in John 5:21, 11:25 and 14:6. He said He was the Light in John 3:19-21 and 9:5.
- His light penetrated the darkness and could not be seized, possessed, overcome or overpowered by it (Jn. 1:5).
Next, John the Beloved focused on John the Baptist, who was sent from God to testify about this Light from heaven, so that people would believe in Him (vv. 6-7). John the Baptist was not the Light, but a witness regarding the Light (8).
Verse 10a reiterates that the world was made by or through the Light. The little preposition, dia, in the Greek indicates agency. As Strong’s Concordance explains, dia is “a primary preposition denoting the channel of an act.”
Sadly, John informed us that, even though everyone on earth owed his/her existence to this Person, “the world did not know Him” (Jn. 1:10b). Not only that, but His own people did not accept Him (v. 11). However, the good news is that “…to all who received him, to those who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God” (John 1:12, NIV). Nevertheless, this birth is not something we decide or bring about, but God desires it and makes it happen (v. 13).
Verse 14 finally starts to unveil the identity of the One John was talking about. It says, “And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we beheld His glory, the glory as of the only begotten of the Father, full of grace and truth.” The Word was the Son of God who took on human form to live among mankind. That word translated, “dwelt,” in the New King James Version is sk?no?. It is the Greek word for tabernacle, which means to camp or pitch a tent. This was a fulfillment of the prophecy in Ezekiel 37:27, where God promised, “My tabernacle also shall be with them; indeed I will be their God, and they shall be My people.” Previously YHWH had manifested His presence in the midst of Israel by appearing as a pillar of cloud or fire that hung over His sacred tent in the wilderness (Exodus 40:34-38). In New Testament times, He came and walked among them as a Man. This verse may also be John’s way of indicating that Jesus was born during the Feast of Tabernacles (Leviticus 26:11-12).
When John the Baptist saw the One he was sent to herald, he “cried out, saying, ‘This was He of whom I said, “He who comes after me is preferred before me, for He was before me”’” (Jn. 1:15). Even though Luke’s Gospel makes it clear that Jesus was conceived and born after his cousin (c.f.—Lk. 2:26-38), John understood that Jesus existed as the Son of God long before he ever came on the scene in Judea.
John the Beloved said that this Man John the Baptist testified concerning was also the source of God’s grace for mankind (Jn. 1:15-16). We are finally given the name of the Word/Life/Light in verse 17, where the gospel writer said, “For the law was given through Moses, but grace and truth came through Jesus Christ.” He added, “No one has seen God at any time. The only begotten Son, who is in the bosom of the Father, He has declared Him.” (v. 18).
In other words, Christ was unique in that He came from the intimate position near God’s own heart to make Him known to us! Exodus 33:18-23 tells us no human being can look at YHWH’s face and survive. Therefore, He had to send someone who knew Him personally in human form. Stone tablets and scrolls recording God’s laws and the history of His interaction with men was not enough. He wanted His chosen people to experience His presence, His power and His love ‘up close and personal.’
Having made this rather lengthy introduction, filled with deep theological insight, John the Beloved then began his narrative on how the Son of God was introduced to the people of God, the Jews. Every one of the gospels gives us some background on John, the son of Zecharias, who was the bridge between Old and New Testament prophets. All agree John the Baptist was the fulfillment of Isaiah 40:3—“The voice of one crying in the wilderness: ‘Make straight the way of the LORD.’” (c.f.—Jn. 1:23, Lk. 3:4-6, Mk. 1:23, Mt. 3:1 & 4). He preached and baptized people in the Jordan River in the territory of Judea in the land of Israel prior to Jesus’ appearance.
When the Jewish leaders “sent priests and Levites from Jerusalem to ask him, ‘Who are you?’” (Jn. 1:19), John the Baptist immediately admitted he was not the Messiah (v. 20). When they asked whether he might be Elijah (Jn. 1:21a), they made reference to Malachi 4:5, which foretold the appearance of Elijah before “the coming of the great and dreadful day of the LORD.” Although Jesus later said that John was this long-expected precursor to the Christ (Mt. 11:14 & 17:10-12), John made no such claim concerning himself. So then the Jewish messengers asked if he was the Prophet (Jn. 1:21d). With this question, they referred to Deuteronomy 18:15-19, where Moses said God would send a Prophet like him, who would speak in YHWH’s behalf. Again John said, “No.” In answer to the question, “Who are you? …What do you say about yourself?” (Jn. 1:22), John quoted the passage from Isaiah that indicated he was merely the one preparing the way for the Messiah (v. 23).
Those representing the sect of the Pharisees were all about credentials. They wanted to know why John thought he was justified in baptizing people, if he was neither the Christ, nor Elijah or the Prophet (24-25). John’s reply was not as direct as the Jewish leaders would have liked. He said, “I baptize with water, but there stands One among you whom you do not know,” and indicated that this other Person coming after him was of greater rank and importance to him (26-27). By saying he was not worthy even to untie Jesus’ sandal strap, John made himself lower than a household servant in comparison to his master. That is the expression of a man who is truly humble and godly in character!
The very next day, Jesus came along, and John identified him as “The Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world” (29). John admitted that he didn’t know the exact identity of the One he was expected to introduce to everyone (30-31). However, when God sent him to baptize people with water, he was given a sign: The Lord told him, “Upon whom you see the Spirit descending, and remaining on Him, this is He who baptizes with the Holy Spirit” (33). John testified that this very thing happened when Jesus came to him to be baptized. “I saw the Spirit descending from heaven like a dove, and He remained upon Him.” (32). Therefore, he was able to say with confidence, “this is the Son of God.” (34).
Imagine the astonishment of the Jews who heard this. For hundreds of years, these people had read the Old Testament prophecies that a special Agent from God was coming to set everything right for their nation. Finally, the day had come! There were skeptics, to be sure—just as there always are—but those who loved the Lord and longed for His righteous leadership would have been ecstatic!
There is good indication that the author of the Gospel of John was one such person. He wrote that two of John’s disciples were standing with him when Jesus appeared along the banks of the Jordan the next day. When the baptizer said this time, “Behold the Lamb of God!” these two men immediately left their leader and followed Jesus (35-37). Jesus must have heard their footsteps behind Him, for He turned and asked what they wanted (38). The fellows called Him Rabbi, which means “teacher,” and asked where Jesus was staying. After receiving an invitation to come with Him and see, the men spent the rest of day with Him—from about 4:00 pm on (39).
The gospel writer tells us “One of the two who heard John speak, and followed Him, was Andrew, Simon Peter’s brother,” and says he immediately tracked down his sibling and brought him to Jesus, identifying Him as the Messiah (41-42a). Quite likely before the man was introduced, Jesus said to Andrew’s brother, “You are Simon the son of Jonah. You shall be called Cephas” [an ancient Chaldean word for a piece of stone] (42b). We are not told the identity of the second disciple. Nevertheless, the fact that he knew exactly what was said by these men is a strong indicator that the gospel writer was there.
Next day, en route to Galilee, Jesus invited Philip of Bethsaida (where Andrew and Peter were residents), to follow Him (43-44). “Philip found Nathanael and said to him, ‘We have found Him of whom Moses in the law, and also the prophets, wrote—Jesus of Nazareth, the son of Joseph’” (45). Nathanael, a bit of a skeptic, asked his friend, “Can anything good come out of Nazareth?” (46). Part of the northern territory of Israel, this area was rife with Gentiles, half-breeds and ne’er-do-wells. Undaunted, Philip challenged Nathaniel to come see for himself. As Nathaniel approached Him, Jesus observed, “Behold, an Israelite indeed, in whom is no deceit!” (47) When the surprised fellow asked how Jesus could know him, the Lord further amazed him by saying, “Before Philip called you, when you were under the fig tree, I saw you.” (48). Jesus may have made this remark out of a divine awareness of where Nathaniel had been when his friend came to talk to him. It may also have hinted at Jesus’ supernatural knowledge of the man’s messianic hope, since the fig tree is mentioned in connection to Messiah in both Micah 4:1-5 and Zechariah 3:8-10. Whichever the case may be, this was enough to convince the skeptic that Jesus was not only a teacher, but the Son of God and King of Israel (49). Christ assured Nathaniel he was in for even greater spectacles than this foreknowledge of him—including seeing heaven opened and “the angels of God ascending and descending upon the Son of Man” (50-51).