Let’s play a word association game. I’m going to write a word, and you write down the first word that comes to mind. What one word comes to mind when I say, “Jesus”?
God, Son of God, Cross, Resurrection, Christmas, Easter, Love, Friend?
All very good words that are associated with Jesus. But what words did Jesus use to describe himself?
I’ll give you a prompt, and you fill in the blank.
I AM __________.
I am the Good Shepherd. I am the Bread of Life. I am Living Water. I am the Vine.
Do you know where all of these I AM statements come from? The Gospel of John.
In this post we start a sermon series studying the life and ministry of Jesus, as told to us in the Gospel of John. This week we are going to get our bearings by trying to answer, “What is the Gospel of John?”
We get started with the author. If you read the Gospel of John from start to finish you will notice that the author never identifies himself. When I say, “himself,” I am intentionally identifying the author as a male. Though the author is technically unidentified, it is highly likely that the author is male, given the patriarchal culture of the era. It was exceedingly rare that women wrote books. Furthermore, the tradition of bible scholarship going way back tells us that it was Jesus’ disciple John who wrote this Gospel. There are multiple people named John, so which one are we talking about? Not John the Baptist. Instead we are talking about John who is identified in the other gospel accounts as John, the Son of Zebedee. Or John, one of the Sons of Thunder. The other Son of Thunder was his brother, James. They got that name because they could be a bit rambunctious. That alone tells you something about John. And we’ll come back to that in the final post this week.
In the Gospel itself, the author often refers to one of Jesus’ disciples by the title, “the disciple whom Jesus loved.” The traditional viewpoint is that this disciple who Jesus loved is John, and it is he who is the author. So that phrase, “the disciple whom Jesus loved,” we believe is John’s coded way of talking about himself.
But do you find that phrase odd? Is John being arrogant? “I am the disciple whom Jesus loved, look at me, listen to me, and love me!” If John is the author, and he is talking about himself that way, and he certainly doesn’t talk about the other disciples that way, it can sound like he is being a bit arrogant.
Can it be that Jesus didn’t love the others? Obviously that’s not true. Jesus loves all. But is it possible that Jesus loved John more than the others? Maybe, but doubtful. Within the Twelve, Jesus had a special relationship with Peter, James and John. There are numerous times when Jesus gave extra attention to those three. One time he invited them to join him as he entered a house to resurrect a girl who had died. Another time he invited them to hike with him up a mountain where they experienced the astounding miracle of Jesus’ Transfiguration. And if you aren’t familiar with what the Transfiguration is, check out what I wrote here. That event was wild, to say the least. Then at the end, right before he was arrested he chose Peter, James and John to stay closer by him, while he prayed in the Garden.
Of the three, while he groomed Peter to take over leadership, it seems he had a close personal relationship with John. It was potentially similar to a best friendship. Some scholars believe that John was just a teenager or young adult during the years of discipleship to Jesus, so perhaps John viewed Jesus from a fatherly perspective. What is clear is that John would have had a very unique experience of being close to Jesus.
But did this beloved disciple John write the Gospel of John? Possibly. We can’t say for sure. Some scholars talk about a community of the beloved disciple, who years later gathered his teaching and wrote it down. Maybe they were followers of the beloved disciple, who might have been John. For the purposes of this blog series, I am going to go with the traditional viewpoint, that it was this same John, the beloved disciple of Jesus, who wrote this account of Jesus’ life.
The same person wrote other parts of the New Testament as well: We believe it was John who wrote three letters, which are titled “1st, 2nd, and 3rd John.” We also believe it was this same John who wrote the prophetic book of Revelation. John’s three short letters show many similarities in language and purpose to his Gospel. If you read the Gospel of John, then read the three letters, you will likely sense that resonance. They just sound similar. His writing style, and you will find it the Gospel of John and the letters of John, has led some people to call John “The Dr. Seuss of the NT.” Why? His vocabulary is much smaller than other writers, and he often repeats phrases and ideas. That’s why, just as beginning readers will often read Dr. Seuss, students beginning to learn New Testament Greek often start with John.
Another important question we’ll begin to address in the next post is: When did John write this Gospel?