John is not alone in telling the story of Jesus. The other three Gospel accounts of Jesus’ life have been published long before. Mark first, then Matthew and Luke soon after. They are all very similar to one another, so John decides to go in a different direction. There is nothing wrong with the other three, but John wants other aspects of Jesus to be remembered by the succeeding generations of disciples. How is John’s account unique?
In some ways, John’s account is more personal and more spiritual, you could even say more theological, than the other Gospels. John wants people to believe in Jesus, and he takes great pains to convey that to his readers. The most famous instance of this is John 3:16, “For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only son, that whoever believes in him will not perish, but have everlasting life.” That’s why one of our primary goals through this series will be to grow a deeper faith in Jesus that works itself out in a life of faithfulness to Jesus. We will see John use the word “believe” repeatedly.
Before I talk further about John’s emphasis on belief, let’s take what might seem to be a bit of a sidetrack. Some people believe it is possible that John did not write as an old man. They claim John wrote as a middle-aged man, perhaps in the 50s to 70CE due to his references that make it seem Jerusalem had not yet been destroyed. For example, in John 5:2, he writes that there “is” a pool in Jerusalem. Jerusalem was destroyed by Rome in 70 CE, so if John was writing after that date, you’d think he would have written that there “used to be a pool”. Adherents to this early date of publication also suggest it is much more likely that a younger John could author a book compared to an elderly John.
But as I suggested, it seems to me that evidence points to John as writing much later in life. We know that as the years went by, John had a ministry tenure in Ephesus. Perhaps the Gospel of John was written from there or to the church in Ephesus. All those years in ministry have given John time to reflect, to mature in his thinking about his old friend, and what the next generation needs to know about Jesus.
As John attempts to give us a strong case for believing in and following Jesus, we’ll see him be very intentional about proving to us that Jesus is who he said he was. We’ll see this in lists. John loves lists. He includes a list of testifiers/witnesses about Jesus. He includes a list of “signs,” miracles which point people to believe in Jesus. As I mentioned early, he also includes a list of “I am” statements which point people to see that Jesus is God. For eight of the I AMs, Jesus compares himself to something, using figurative language. Then there are more I AMs that are not figurative but explicit, literal statements of who Jesus is. John wants us to believe in, know and live for Jesus.
John is an excellent book to study if you want to grow in your knowledge and love of Jesus. Therefore, John is recommended as a starting point for people interested in learning about Christianity because of its emphasis on belief, on Jesus as the Divine Christ who is 100% human and 100% God, as authenticated by the testifiers, the signs and the “I am” statements. Yet its themes are also deep, often very theological and philosophical.
Check back in for the final post introducing the Gospel of John, as we need to talk about John’s nickname.