Introduction to John
The Gospel of John is different from the Synoptic Gospels—Matthew, Mark, and Luke—in that more than ninety percent of its material is unique. John’s Gospel does not focus on the miracles, parables, and public speeches that are so prominent in the other accounts. Instead, the Gospel of John emphasizes the identity of Jesus as the Son of God and how we, as believers, should respond to his teachings.
CIRCUMSTANCES OF WRITING
AUTHOR: A close reading of the Gospel of John suggests that the author was an apostle (1:14; cp. 2:11; 19:35); one of the Twelve (“the disciple Jesus loved,” 13:23; 19:26; 20:2; 21:20; cp. 21:24-25); and, still more specifically, John, the son of Zebedee (note the association of “the disciple Jesus loved” with Peter in 13:23-24; 18:15-16; 20:2-9; 21; and in Lk 22:8; Ac 1:13; 3-4; 8:14-25; Gl 2:9). The church fathers, too, attested to this identification (e.g., Irenaeus). Since the apostolic office was foundational in the history of the church (Ac 2:42; Eph 2:20), the apostolic authorship of John’s Gospel invests it with special authority as firsthand eyewitness (Jn 15:27; 1Jn 1:1-4).
BACKGROUND: The most plausible date of writing is the period between AD 70 (the date of the destruction of the temple) and 100 (the end of John’s lifetime), with a date in the 80s most likely. A date after 70 is suggested by the references to the Sea of Tiberias in 6:1 and 21:1 (a name widely used for the Sea of Galilee only toward the end of the first century); Thomas’s confession of Jesus as “my Lord and my God” in 20:28 (possibly a statement against emperor worship in the time of Domitian); the reference to Peter’s martyrdom, which occurred in 65 or 66 (21:19); the lack of reference to the Sadducees, who ceased to be a Jewish religious party after 70; and the comparative ease with which John equated Jesus with God (1:1,14,18; 10:30; 20:28).
The testimony of the early church also favors a date after AD 70. Clement of Alexandria (cited in Eusebius, Hist. eccl., 6.14.7) stated, “Last of all, John, perceiving that the external facts had been made plain [in the other canonical Gospels] . . . composed a spiritual gospel.” The most likely place of writing is Ephesus (Irenaeus, Haer., 3.1.2; cp. Eusebius, Hist. eccl., 3.1.1), one of the most important urban centers of the Roman Empire at the time, though the envisioned readership of John’s Gospel transcends any one historical setting.
John’s original audience was probably composed of people in the larger Greco-Roman world in Ephesus and beyond toward the close of the first century AD. Hence John frequently explained Jewish customs and Palestinian geography and translated Aramaic terms into Greek.
MESSAGE AND PURPOSE
The purpose statement in 20:30-31 indicates that John wrote with an evangelistic purpose, probably seeking to reach unbelievers through Christian readers of his Gospel. If the date of composition was after AD 70, the time of the destruction of the Jerusalem temple, it is likely that John sought to present Jesus as the new temple and center of worship for God’s people in replacement of the old sanctuary.
THE DEITY OF JESUS: John emphasized the deity of Jesus from the beginning of his Gospel. The prologue affirms that he is the eternal Word (Gk logos) who was with God and was God. Jesus used the significant phrase I am seven times in John, claiming the personal name of God as his own. In John, Jesus is always in charge and knows what will happen in advance.
KNOW AND BELIEVE: Eternal life is knowing God and Jesus Christ (17:3). Further, knowledge of God comes from believing and knowing Jesus. Knowing and believing are key terms for John. Both occur more than ninety times in this Gospel and are always used as verbs. Jesus’s teaching in John reminds us that knowing God and believing in Jesus are expressed in action.
CONTRIBUTION TO THE BIBLE
Of all the Gospels and any of the New Testament books, the Gospel of John most clearly teaches the deity and preexistence of Christ (1:1-2,18; 8:58; 17:5,24; 20:28). Together with the Gospel of Matthew, it provides the most striking proofs of Jesus’s messiahship. It does so by narrating seven messianic signs (see note at 2:11), by seven “I am” statements of Jesus (see note at 6:35,48), by specific fulfillment quotations, especially at Jesus’s passion, and by showing how Jesus fulfilled the symbolism inherent in a variety of Jewish festivals and institutions. Jesus’s messianic mission is shown to originate with God the Father, “the One who sent” Jesus (7:16,18,28,33; 8:26,29; 15:21), and to culminate in his commissioning of his new messianic community in the power of his Spirit (20:21-22). John’s Trinitarian teaching is among the most overt presentations of the tri-unity of the Godhead—Father, Son, and Spirit—in the entire New Testament and has provided much of the material for early Trinitarian and Christological formulations in the history of the church.
John is divided into two main parts. In the first section (chaps. 2-11) the focus is on both Jesus’s ministry to “the world” and the signs he performed. Jesus performs seven signs that meet with varying responses. The second major section (chaps. 12-21) reveals Jesus’s teaching to his disciples and the triumphant “hour” of his passion. John’s record of the passion focuses on Jesus’s control of the events. He had to instruct his adversaries on how to arrest him (18:4-8). Pilate struggled with his decision, but Jesus knew what would happen. Jesus died as the Lamb and was sacrificed at the very time lambs were being sacrificed for Passover (19:14).
I.Prologue: Christ as the Eternal Word (1:1-18)
A.The Word (1:1)
B.The Word and creation (1:2-5)
C.The Word and the world (1:6-18)
II.Presentation of Christ as the Son of God (1:19-12:50)
A.By John the Baptist (1:19-34)
B.To his disciples (1:35-51)
C.Through miraculous signs (2:1-12:50)
III.Instruction of the Twelve by the Son of God (13:1-17:26)
A.The Last Supper (13:1-38)
B.The way to the Father (14:1-31)
C.The true vine (15:1-27)
D.The gift of the Spirit (16:1-33)
E.Jesus’s high-priestly prayer (17:1-26)
IV.Suffering of Christ as the Son of God (18:1-20:31)
A.His arrest, trial, and death (18:1-19:42)
B.His triumph over death (20:1-31)
V.Epilogue: The Continuing Work of the Son of God (21:1-25)
A.Appearances to his disciples (21:1-14)
B.Assignment to his disciples (21:15-25)
Caiaphas is high priest. 18-36
Pontius Pilate is prefect of Judea. 26-36
John the Baptist’s ministry begins. 29
Jesus’s baptism 29
Jesus’s wilderness temptations 29
Jesus’s call of his first disciples 29
Jesus cleanses the temple at Passover. 30
Jesus’s ministry in Galilee Autumn 30 to Spring 32
Jesus’s feeding of the 5,000 during Passover 32
Jesus’s teachings at the Festival of Shelters Autumn 32
Growing opposition to Jesus at the Festival of Dedication Winter 32/33
Jesus raises Lazarus from death. Winter 33
Jesus’s last journey to Jerusalem by way of Samaria and Galilee late Winter 33
Jesus’s triumphal entry into Jerusalem Sunday, Nisan 9, 33
Jesus’s second cleansing of the temple Monday, Nisan 10, 33
Jesus teaches in the temple and prophesies the destruction of Jerusalem. Tuesday, Nisan 11, 33
Judas bargains with the Jewish leaders to betray Jesus. Tuesday evening, Nisan 11, 33
Jesus celebrates Passover with his disciples. Thursday evening, Nisan 13, 33
Jesus’s trials and crucifixion Friday, Nisan 14, 33
Jesus’s resurrection Sunday, Nisan 16, 33
Jesus’s ascension; forty days after his resurrection 33
Day of Pentecost; seven weeks following Jesus’s resurrection May 24, 33