Introduction to the Gospel of John
Tim Temple

Introduction

Turn in your Bibles to the Gospel of John, chapter 14. This is a book with which we are familiar, but I think that it will do all of us good to go through it verse by verse and see some of those verses that we are very familiar with in the context in which they occur. As we begin our study, we want to read in chapter 14, verses 1-11:

John 14

1Let not your heart be troubled: ye believe in God, believe also in me.
2In my Father's house are many mansions: if it were not so, I would have told you. I go to prepare a place for you.
3And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again, and receive you unto myself; that where I am, there ye may be also.
4And whither I go ye know, and the way ye know.
5Thomas saith unto him, Lord, we know not whither thou goest; and how can we know the way?
6Jesus saith unto him, I am the way, the truth, and the life: no man cometh unto the Father, but by me.
7If ye had known me, ye should have known my Father also: and from henceforth ye know him, and have seen him.
8Philip saith unto him, Lord, shew us the Father, and it sufficeth us.
9Jesus saith unto him, Have I been so long time with you, and yet hast thou not known me, Philip? he that hath seen me hath seen the Father; and how sayest thou then, Shew us the Father?
10Believest thou not that I am in the Father, and the Father in me? the words that I speak unto you I speak not of myself: but the Father that dwelleth in me, he doeth the works.
11Believe me that I am in the Father, and the Father in me: or else believe me for the very works' sake.

These verses are typical of the kinds of things that this Man, Jesus of Nazareth, said to people while He was here on this earth, and obviously a man who would say these kinds of things was either a liar or a lunatic or the Lord of glory, as He claimed to be. I think that we overlook the frustration and the significant situation that those first hearers of Jesus must have found themselves in as they heard a man say things like this that Jesus said to these men: “Believe Me, I am in the Father,” and “If you have seen Me, you have seen the Father.” We have heard those things all of our lives, but those men were hearing that for the first time. Here was a man who was making what seemed to be extravagant claims about Himself. We launch into the study of a book written by a man who had hundreds of opportunities to observe Jesus up close; and over a three year period he concluded that He was, in fact, the Lord, not a liar nor a lunatic.

We want to follow our usual custom of reading the flyleaf, more or less, and find out what the book is about and where the author is going. We do this with nearly any secular book that we buy, and it is equally important to do it when we begin a study of one of the books of the Bible.

The Reason for the Book

The first thing that we want to think about is the reason for the book—why it was written in the first place. The background of that question for New Testament readers is, “Why another Gospel? After all, we have Matthew, Mark and Luke. Aren't three Gospels enough? Why do we have four? Why not just have one?” The answer to that question has to do with the whole surrounding of this momentous occasion of Christ's thirty-three years on the earth. God's wisdom and God's thoroughness in providing our Savior is shown in the fact that not only did He Himself become a man, not only did He take upon Himself a body, but He provided up-close exposure of Himself to other human-beings on a day-to-day basis. All through His life there were witnesses to what He was doing, to who He was with, and the kinds of things that He said.

It would have been simple enough for God, in human form, to show up on momentous occasions, make appearances here and there, and then go off and do whatever He wanted to do in private. After all, it was quite a lowering of Himself to come and live in human form, and we would not have been surprised if He had just come down from the mountain top just once in a while on special occassions, but God didn't do it that way. God not only became a man, but He allowed other people to be around Him all the time. Jesus had very little privacy when He was on earth. In those years, He was growing up with those brothers and sisters and parents and customers in the carpenter shop where He was working with His daddy. Then in the last three plus years of His life, He chose twelve men who were literally with Him day and night. So we have ample evidence of who Jesus was and what He did and what He was like.

John was one of those men who were with Jesus in those last years of His life here on this earth. Because of the plan that God had of having these twelve men follow Jesus around, He was able to use eleven of those men after the death of Christ and during the early days of the New Covenant. Eleven of those men were authorities and, in some cases, referees on what Jesus did and what Jesus said.

For the first several years after He went back to Heaven, they represented Him. In the first years it mainly consisted of going around and preaching about Jesus and quoting from things that He said and answering questions from people who had not had the opportunity to be with Him. They were the ones who established the knowledge of Jesus all through the known world during their day.

Later, three of those men were to either write or supervise the writing of the books about the life of Christ. Two of them wrote other books as well, but in terms of these Gospels, Matthew and John actually wrote books in their own names. Peter had a protegee by the name of Mark whom he supervised in writing the third of those Gospels, the Gospel of Mark. Peter later wrote two letters that were included in the New Testament.

The fourth Gospel was written by Luke, who was taught and supervised by Paul. Paul was the apostle who was appointed out of due time. He was not appointed an apostle as the other eleven were. He was saved on the road to Damascus and God Himself appointed Paul to be an apostle along with the others. Paul supervised Luke and gave him a lot of the information he used in writing his Gospel.

An important thing to remember out of these four Gospels is that these men didn't just sit down and write their Gospels simultaneously. It wasn't a matter of Matthew writing a Gospel and John hearing about it and saying, “Hey, I think that I will write one too,” and Luke saying, “That sounds good to me.” We think that these four books just sort of appeared in the book store simultaneously, but that really is not the case at all. All four of these Gospels were written at a particular time over the course of fifty or sixty years after Christ returned to Heaven, and each one of them was written for a particular purpose to answer questions or to settle controversies that arose at various times. As those things came up, one or the other of these men would write their Gospel to clarify some aspect of the life of Christ.

Matthew, for example, wrote to answer the question of people who really wondered if Jesus was the Messiah, the King of the Jews. He addressed the question of whether or not Jesus was the King of the Jews. It is a biography, pretty much, of the life of Christ, but everything that he included in his Gospel had to do in one way or the other with the fact that Jesus of Nazareth was, in fact, the Messiah, the King of the Jews.

Mark wrote his Gospel at a later time to address the fact that even though Jesus was the Messiah, the King, He was also the great Servant of God and the Servant of men. He wrote in answer to questions and controversies that were coming up among the early Gentile believers. The first believers were Jews, but along the way more and more Gentiles began to trust Christ, so Mark wrote his Gospel, after Matthew had already written his, with a focus on these Gentiles. It was addressed primarily to Roman citizens who wouldn't really understand a lot of the flavor of Matthew's Gospel.

Luke, in the same way, wrote his Gospel to settle a controversy about whether or not Christ was really human. There were many Christians who were willing to accept that He was God—you have to accept that to become a Christian—but there were some who said, “Yes, He was divine, but was He really human?” Luke was chosen to write the third Gospel. Even though it was primarily a biography, the focus was that He was really human. He was God, as Matthew said, but He was also a human-being. The focus of the book of Luke was on the humanity of Christ.

Finally, John was the one who wrote last, and he wrote to stress the deity of Christ, which was similar to Matthew's focus, because the Messiah, whoever He turned out to be, would be God. John's focus is not so much on the Messiah aspect of Jesus as just the fact that He was God.

Matthew, Mark and Luke fulfill their purpose by writing a biographical type of literature, but John is very different from the others. John accomplished his purpose and builds his book around just selecting things from the life of Christ. Some of it is chronological but some of it is not, so if you want to study something about the chronology of the life of Christ, you need to study one of the first three Gospels, because they focus on His life. John brings in a lot of information about the life of Christ, but his purpose, primarily, is not to write a biography. He just picks and chooses things that demonstrate the deity of Christ.

That is the reason we have four Gospels. It is not just that we have overkill and God couldn't decide which one was best so He put all four in. It was that each one had a different purpose. They were written at different times for different reasons, and each one of them is valid. Each one is very important even to us today.

John was the last Gospel to be written, and most Bible scholars think that it was written about 85 or 90 AD. During the last part of the first century these individual books—Matthew, Mark, Luke and John—that had been circulating among Christians were just passed around from church to church. They were not bound together. They were separate books, probably in scroll form, and copies were made by scribes. Finally, toward the end of the first century, these were bound together as one book and began to be circulated on that basis. Then later there were several church councils that met to decide which of the many religious books that had been written during the first century or so were actually Scripture.

These men had been charged by Jesus with establishing His Church, and Paul had written that these men were the foundation of the Church and their writings needed to be set apart and canonized—put into the standard of acceptability as a part of the Bible—so there were several church councils that met and looked at these books with several very strict criteria in mind and decided which of the books were actually inspired by God and which were not. Some of the books that were not inspired were still very valuable books and very helpful books, but because of God's superintending all of that, we have all the books that we believe were inspired by the Holy Spirit and are part of the Bible.

The reason for the writing of this book was to give an authoritative statement by an eyewitness that Jesus Christ was, in fact, the Son of God. John states this very succinctly in John, chapter 20, verse 31. It is a verse that is very familiar to you:

John 20

31But these are written, that ye might believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God; and that believing ye might have life through his name.

He is wrapping up his book as he comes to chapter 20, and he is putting it together. He states in the previous verse that many things that Jesus did were not written in this book. He is stating his selectivity in writing the book. He says that if everything that Jesus did was written down, all of the books in the world couldn't contain the things that He did, but he said, “These are written that you might believe…” Verse 31, in the context of verse 30, is a clear statement of his reason for just choosing things that would demonstrate that Jesus Christ is the Son of God and that will furthermore teach that, believing in Him, we can have life through His name.

A good way to see the technique that John uses is to notice several places where John quotes Jesus Himself saying that He was the Son of God. What I want us to do for a few minutes is to go back through some of these places. Go back to John, chapter 6, and notice verse 35, where He says:

John 6

35And Jesus said unto them, I am the bread of life: he that cometh to me shall never hunger; and he that believeth on me shall never thirst.

Just look at that one verse. First, the focus of the verse is on the fact that He is the Bread of life. He, as the Son of God, is able to sustain life and make life satisfactory. The term bread is used as a euphemism for food in general, and it is food that keeps us alive. It is food that makes us satisfied with life, and Jesus said, “I am come to take that place in the lives of My people spiritually. To those who believe in Me, I am food; I am bread; I am what makes life worth living.”

A more important point in the day in which Jesus lived was the way that He said it. He said, “I am the bread of life.” In the Jewish world in which Jesus lived, everybody knew automatically that that was the Old Testament identification of God. Back in Exodus, chapter 3, God was commissioning Moses to go and lead the people out of their slavery;and it is fascinating to me how all the way through Exodus, chapter 3, the verses will say, “God said this,” and “God said that,” in the process of telling Moses that He wanted him to be His spokesman. But in the middle verses of the chapter, Moses says, “Lord, what will they say when I go to them?” Isn't that just like us? God tells us something authoritative and we worry about what people are going to say about that, don't we? That is exactly what Moses said:

Exodus 3

13And Moses said unto God, Behold, when I come unto the children of Israel, and shall say unto them, The God of your fathers hath sent me unto you; and they shall say to me, What is his name? what shall I say unto them?

That is where God said to Moses, “Tell them, I AM has sent you to them. That was the name God used over and over again to identify Himself to Pharaoh and to the Israelites. That became known as one of the basic names of God. Here is Jesus saying, “I AM God.” He doesn't use the word God here in this verse, but when He says, “I AM,” He is saying, “I am God.” Then He talks about this unique aspect of Himself as God.

John's purpose was to show that Jesus was the Son of God, and one of several ways that he does that is to quote Jesus Himself saying that. Look in chapter 8, verse 12, where Jesus said:

John 8

12Then spake Jesus again unto them, saying, I am the light of the world: he that followeth me shall not walk in darkness, but shall have the light of life.

This walking in the light was the subject of most of John's first epistle that he was going to write a few years later. He emphasized the fact of fellowship with God and walking in the light that Jesus provides. As God, Jesus was the One who shed light on all of the mysteries of life, and He says in this verse, “He who follows Me shall have the light of life.”

Turn over to chapter 10, and here is another quotation of Jesus in verse 9. There we find Jesus saying:

John 10

9I am the door: by me if any man enter in, he shall be saved, and shall go in and out, and find pasture.

Jesus, as God, is a passageway into a more meaningful life. Those who have a sense of lack in their lives—a longing for something more—find that satisfaction when they find Christ. Many times you have probably heard testimonies of people who said that they had all of these things that life can afford, but they still had emptiness in their lives. Then they met Christ, and their life was complete and fulfilling. Even though in many of those testimonies they will talk about how physically and materially they got worse after they met Christ, they had a joy and a satisfaction that they did not have before they knew Him. That is what He is talking about here. He is the passageway into eternal life, and anyone who enters through that will go in and out and find pasture.

Look down to verse 11, where He says something very similar. He says:

John 10

11I am the good shepherd: the good shepherd giveth his life for the sheep.

Jesus says, “As God, the good Shepherd, I am able to steer an individual through life.” Psalm 23 elaborates on that: “The LORD is my Shepherd.” The Psalmist mentions all of those things that God does for us. Here Jesus says, “I AM the good Shepherd.”

Then we notice in chapter 11, verse 25, the sixth place where Jesus said that He is God. In this verse Jesus is speaking to Martha, the sister of Lazarus, and He says to her:

John 11

25Jesus said unto her, I am the resurrection, and the life: he that believeth in me, though he were dead, yet shall he live:

Then, in a few minutes, He demonstrated that by raising her brother from the dead. Resurrection demonstrates absolute power over life and death, and Jesus uses it here to show that His power can work when everything else has failed. It is interesting that He made this statement in the context of getting ready to raise Lazarus from the dead.

Finally, turn over to chapter 14. We find the seventh place where Jesus said that He was God and with it gave an insight into what God does. Look at verse 6, where He said:

John 14

6Jesus saith unto him, I am the way, the truth, and the life: no man cometh unto the Father, but by me.

As God, Jesus is the ultimate source of everything: the way, the truth, and the life. In chapter 15, He is going to say the same thing in different words, for there He says, “I am the vine and ye are the branches. He that abides in Me will bear much fruit. Without Me, you can do nothing.” In these seven places Jesus specifically said that He was God.

For some reason that I have never understood, one of the more commonly stated principles of liberalism is that Jesus never claimed to be God. They say that was just something that His disciples ascribed to Him later, and the rumor just grew and people began to believe that He was God. How anybody can believe that if they read the New Testament I cannot understand, because here are at least seven places where Jesus, using Jewish terminology, said that He was God.

He says it very clearly in other places too. In John, chapter 4, He was talking about the Messiah to this woman at the well, and He said, “I who speak unto you am He.” You could not have any more clear statement of Jesus saying that He was God. That was the reason that John wrote this book. It was to demonstrate this kind of thing about Jesus Christ.

The Writer of the Book

Another important thing you need to know about this book is something about the writer of the book. We always like to know that when we are reading a book. We want to know what kind of background he has and if he has the authority to write this kind of thing. This was written, of course, by one of the disciples who was one of the closest, if not the closest, to Jesus. There were several occasions when Jesus took Peter, James and John away from the other disciples and allowed them to see things that even the other disciples weren't allowed to see. John was one of those. He was included in the transfiguration experience when Jesus took His glorified body and allowed them to see Him that way. He was with Peter, James, and John when He raised Jairus' daughter from the dead. Just the three of them were there.

In Luke, chapter 22, we read that he and Peter were the only ones who were entrusted with the secret mission of preparing the last Passover supper. Even James was not allowed to be in on that. In John, chapter 19, it was John to whom Jesus committed the care of His mother. John was one who knew Jesus extremely well, and he was with Him all the time. If anyone would have had the opportunity to see if Jesus was a hoax, it would have been John. He writes, instead, very vehemently that Jesus claimed to be God and that He was God.

It is interesting as we read through the Gospels how little we ever hear John say. There is very little attributed to John in contrast to Peter, who was always talking. There are those places where Peter said something, then the writer will say, “So say they all.” It wasn't that John never said anything, but there is very little attributed to him as having been said. Peter is always presented as doing the talking, and John is always apparently observing and listening and sometimes agreeing with what Peter said. Sometimes what he said is not quoted; it is just noted that he participated in the discussion.

That may be why John had the insight to later refer to himself as the disciple who Jesus loved . Through the latter part of his book that is the way he refers to himself. He presents deeper insight into Jesus than the other Gospels do. That does not mean that the other Gospels are not as good or not as important or not inspired; it is just that John tells us things about Jesus as God that the others don't bring out. Of course, the reason for that is that John wrote for a different reason than did the other Gospel writers.

Probably the reason that he was able to have those insights and the Holy Spirit was able to inspire him that way was that he was reflecting and thinking, just taking it in and letting it gel and getting it straight in his mind. When he referred to himself as the disciple Jesus loves , it wasn't that Jesus loved John more than the others, and it wasn't that John was being egotistical or that he thought Jesus loved him more than the others, but I believe that as John kept these things in his heart, he had an insight into the significance of the fact that Jesus loved him. Any of the disciples could have legitimately said that they were the disciple whom Jesus loved and they would have been truthful in that, but John was the one who articulated it. That was probably because he was so introspective and reflective. He thought these things through. It would probably be better for some of us to be more reflective and not say as much, and I include myself as first in line in that number.

We can piece a few things together about John's personal history from things that are said here and there in the New Testament. I think that it is interesting to notice that he was from a family of at least four. His older brother James is always mentioned first, because that was the Greek structure of writing things. His father was Zebedee, and he was a fisherman, and Scripture seems to indicate that Peter and James and John were partners in that business.

His mother's name was Salome . She is mentioned in Matthew, chapter 27, verse 26, and Mark 15, verse 40. His mother became an ardent believer in Christ, even to the point that she made the bold request that her two sons be allowed to sit on Jesus' right hand and His left. We always sort of laugh at Salome for being so brazen as to ask something like that, but at least it showed her belief in Christ. She had no doubt that Jesus Christ was going to sit on the throne of Israel, and she was just taking care of her boys. It is also demonstrated in the fact that Salome was one of the few disciples to follow Jesus all the way to the Cross. She is listed in that list of women who stood at the foot of the Cross until He was gone. Matthew and John both mention that.

There are hints here and there that John's family was well-to-do. Mark, chapter 1, verse 20, speaks of Zebedee's hired servants, and Mark, chapter 15, verses 40-41, speak of some women who ministered to Jesus with their substance. Apparently, they gave Him food and clothing. When you look in Luke, chapter 8, verse 3, along with the other verse, we see Salome mentioned in that group. There was apparently enough money in the grocery account for her to feed Jesus along with her family.

John apparently outlived all of the other disciples. Church history says that he was the pastor or the overseer of several churches in Ephesus in his old age. He pastored one of them and probably that church had planted these others, and he was overseeing several of these churches when he died as an old man. Unlike some of the other disciples, he did not die a martyr, but we know from the book of Revelation that he did spend some time in exile because of his testimony. When he wrote the book of Revelation, he was on the Isle of Patmos for the testimony of Jesus Christ, which would indicate that he was there because of his testimony. But after he served his time in exile, he came back and lived to be an old man and ministered until the end of his life.

One of the reasons that we think his family may have been well-to-do is that after the crucifixion, John took Mary, whom Jesus had committed to his care, to his own house. He was still a relatively young man and he owned his own home. There he lived and died as an old man.

He ministered with Peter in the early years after the Ascension. Acts, chapters 1-8, mentions Peter and John primarily as the ones who are ministering. After chapter 8 of the book of Acts, he seems to disappear from history until he is mentioned in Galatians, chapter 2, as one of the pillars of the church who officially approved of Paul's work among the Gentiles. There is no record of when or why he left Jerusalem. The next time we see him is in the book of Revelation when he was in exile on the Isle of Patmos. Here is a man who spent his entire adult life in faithfully serving Jesus Christ in various capacities.

The Outline of the Book

We have talked about the reason for the book and the writer of the book. Now I want us to think quickly about the arrangement of the book. By that, I mean the outline of the book. First, in chapter 1, verses 1-18, we have the introduction to the Son of God. His identity is in verses 1-5, the fact that He was the Word of God. That is too intricate a subject to get into in this lesson, but we will talk about that in the next lesson. That was His identity. He was the Word of God. He was the living Word of God.

His introduction is in verses 6-8, where John the Baptist is His forerunner and introduces Him to the people. Probably John the Baptist was such an outlandish looking character that people came out to hear him, and also because the power of God was upon him.

After having these crowds come out to hear John the Baptist, we would expect that Jesus would immediately be accepted, but His reception in John, chapter 1, verses 9-13, is that He was rejected almost immediately by the leaders. Some of the people followed Him, but He was rejected by the leaders. How the leaders kept rejecting Him at every turn is really the continuing theme of the book of John.

In chapter 1, verse 19, and going through chapter 12, verse 50, we have what I am calling the incarnation of the Son of God , and that is His life. In that section, we have most of the details John uses about His life. It is interesting to note how all of that was in fulfillment of prophecy. Jot down these references if you want to pursue this a little more thoroughly. Isaiah, chapter 61, verses 1-2, had specified certain things the Messiah would do, and in Luke, chapter 4, Jesus read that passage from Isaiah in the synagogue and said, “This day are these things fulfilled in your ears.” John takes this section of his Gospel and shows specifically how that prophecy from Isaiah was fulfilled in the life of Jesus Christ. In Isaiah, chapter 62, it said He would preach good tidings to the poor and heal the brokenhearted and proclaim liberty to the captives and open prison to those who were bound. He would proclaim the acceptable year of the Lord and the day of vengeance of our God.

John very carefully picks incidents from the life of Jesus here and there that demonstrate how Jesus fulfills every one of those prophecies from Isaiah, chapter 61. We will talk about all of those things in more detail as we work our way through the book.

The third section of the book is the instructions of the Son of God in chapters 13-17. There John picks and chooses from the various teaching situations in which Jesus participated in the results that came from the teaching. He doesn't try to record everything that Jesus ever taught; he just picks various things that show that just in the way that He taught, He was the Son of God.

The fourth section of the book is in chapters 18 and 19, and covers the rejection of the Son, and here we have the record of His betrayal, then His trial; and then the crucifixion itself is in the last part of chapter 19.

Then in the fifth section, he winds up the book with the Resurrection of the Son of God in chapter 20. He talks about the facts of the Resurrection, and he gives specific details about what it was like.

In verses 11-23, he talks about the Person in the Resurrection and the fact that Jesus actually communicated with people, and then we have the response to the Resurrection in verses 24-31, and how this galvanized the followers of Jesus in a way that nothing else had ever done in their lives. It has galvanized people all down through the years when we really come to grips with the Resurrection.

There is almost a postscript but I am calling it the requirements of the Son of God in chapter 21. In verses 1-14, the disciples, even though they had seen the Resurrection, were disappointed that Jesus didn't usher in the Kingdom immediately. They had gone back to fishing and as they were out fishing, Jesus appeared to them in His glorified body on the beach. I refer to verses 1-14 as the meaning of service, because Jesus actually cooked breakfast for the disciples on the beach, and the resurrected Son of God demonstrated what it means to serve others.

Then we have that famous passage in the last part of chapter 21, when Jesus took Peter and asked him, “Do you love Me? Then feed My sheep.” That is a linguistically complicated passage and we will talk about it later, but the focus of those verses is that the motive for service is our love for Christ. If we really love Christ, we will serve others. Many times the liberals say, “All you do is talk about loving Jesus. You don't talk about meeting the needs of people.” If we really love Jesus, then our love for Jesus will cause us to serve other people. That is the way the book ends, talking about how if we know the Son of God, then that should result in our serving others, bringing others to Him in honor of Him and in His name.


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