John - Introduction
This is part 1 in a 23- part study on the Book of John. Below is a modified transcript of the audio lesson.
Ken Boa’s spiritual study series brings you a teaching journey through the gospel of John. This is the introduction to John.
Let’s begin with a prayer. Lord we thank You for this evening together. We ask that You would bless and guide our time and lift up our thoughts on things that are pleasing to You as we reflect on this marvelous revelation from You, a personal revelation of the personal Incarnate One, who is the Author of the cosmos and the Author of salvation. We pray in His name. Amen.
We’re going to be doing an introduction to the gospel of John. This is the beginning of a series of teachings throughout this wonderful gospel. Really the most unusual gospel, the most distinctive of the four gospels because of it’s distinct content and also a very distinctive style as we’ll see.
It truly can be regarded as a supplement to the three synoptic gospels. Synoptic comes from two Greek words, sune which means together and optikos which means to see. So it’s a way of seeing together. The synoptic gospels see through one point of view together. The three synoptic gospels, Matthew, Mark and Luke, are supplemented by this fourth gospel that gives us an account of Jesus’ life and ministry from a totally different perspective.
I think it’s easily the simplest and yet at the same time the most profound of the gospels. For many people it’s the greatest, most powerful and their favorite gospel. Some people love other gospels more but for me this is my favorite for various reasons. (Each of the four gospels appeals to different personality types in the Myer-Briggs if you break it down into four types. If you want to see more on that see Appendix A in my book, conformed to His Image, where I talk about that matter.)
This gospel is quite extraordinary because of the way it ties things together. It’s a gospel that was written for a very particular purpose. In fact it has the clearest purpose statement in Scripture that we will mention in just a moment. That purpose statement relates to bringing people to spiritual life through belief in the person and in the work of Jesus Christ.
Let me just say a word about the gospels as a whole and draw some comparisons between them. I think it would be very helpful for us to do that.
If we look at Matthew first of all, which is probably dated around 58-60 A.D. (we don’t know exactly when it was written but pretty close to that period of time) we see a gospel that focuses on what we call the Jewish mind. What I mean by that is that he is focusing on his basic audience, which is primarily Jewish. This is more of a religious gospel and the theme is of Jesus as Messiah and also as King. It presents Jesus as being Jesus the Messiah to a largely or originally Jewish readership. Its focus is on more of a religious mindset. Matthew was probably written from the province that the Romans called Palestine or possibly from Antioch in Syria.
Mark on the other hand which can probably be dated somewhere from 55-65 A.D., in that range, would have been written to a different mind. Mark probably wrote from Rome and he’s really writing to a Roman mindset, a different orientation. It reflects a different kind of mind. The Jewish mind has more of a religious orientation and a great deal of quotations from the Old Testament. In the gospel of Mark, focusing on the Roman mind, there is a much more pragmatic orientation. The word eutheos, (straightway or immediately), is used some 41 times in Mark’s gospel. It’s a very pragmatic culture and so we have a very crisp portrait of Jesus. There He’s presented more as the Servant and also the Redeemer.
I want you to understand that the gospels are not really biographies so much as they are thematic portraits of Jesus. They really give us portraits that come out of the same Person from different angles. It’s like looking at a gem from different perspectives and you’re looking through the various prisms of that one gem and the total is greater than the sum of the parts. When we put these four gospels together we see various aspects of our Lord’s life.
The gospel of Luke’s most probable date would be about 60-68A.D. My view for various reasons is that all three of the synoptic gospels were written prior to the fall of Jerusalem, which took place in the year 70 A.D. Luke, was written from either Rome or Greece, focuses much more on a Greek mindset. A Greek mind would be much more idealistic. So while the Jewish mind would be religious and the Roman mind pragmatic, the Greek mind would be more idealistic. We see in Luke the portrait of a perfect man. He is the perfect man, the ideal of all that the Greeks would have sought to epitomize. A great deal or stress in Greek culture was on character and the whole idea of virtue. Right now I have a classics reading group that meets about 5or 6 times a year. We read Roman and Greek classics together. It’s the only way I’ll ever read this stuff! This is stuff I’d otherwise never read! Right now we are reading Plutarch’s Lives. It parallels the lives of Greeks and Romans. He goes back and forth. Plutarch by the way was a big deal in European cultures for most centuries. We don’t hear much about him anymore but he was the big deal. His focal point is character. The ideals that the Greeks had of character and virtue are certainly going to be appealing in Luke’s gospel. It appeals to the perfect man.
John on the other hand would’ve been written probably around the range of 70-90A.D. If pressed I would say closer to 80-90A.D. It was written probably from Ephesus according to tradition. It was not written to a Jewish mind, which was religious, not a Roman mind that was pragmatic, nor a Greek mind, which is idealistic, but John wrote a universal gospel. What I mean by that is that there is a universal dimension that is found in his gospel and that is we see Him as the Son of God and not just a perfect man.
I want you to understand that all four gospels really complement one another. They complete one another. In fact they also have symbols that have been historically associated with the four gospels. For example, the Matthew gospel would focus on the lion, which is a symbol of strength and of power and authority. Mark’s gospel focuses on the bull because you can see the idea of power but also sacrifice and service. Luke’s symbol would be the perfect man so we have this image of a perfect man. Guess what John’s symbol would be? If you know anything about the four cherubim, the four faces that they had, they were in fact a lion, a bull, a man and the fourth one, an eagle. What we have here is a picture of deity in His personhood. We have a portrait here of the One who is both the Lion King as well as the Servant Sacrifice as well as the Perfect Man as well as the divine Son of God, who in fact is symbolized by the beauty of the eagle.
After looking at the four gospels what I want to do is draw a contrast between the first three gospels, the synoptic gospels, whereas John is a supplemental gospel. The first three, the synoptic gospels, Matthew, Mark and Luke,, remember optics, seeing together, as opposed to John which is supplemental. Partly I say that because clearly John was aware of the other gospels if he wrote it when he did and the evidence is that he wrote after the other gospels were being circulated and known. What we have in the synoptic gospels is the focus on man/God. In the supplemental gospel we have the focus on the God/man. Both are true. He is fully man and fully God, fully divine and human. If you wanted to pull something out, you’d see that John supplements the others by particularly focusing on His deity. It’s not to say that John minimizes His humanity. There are evidences of His clear and full humanity.
Another contrast we have is that the synoptic gospels tend to be more historical in their orientation whereas John’s gospel is more theological. Not to say it’s not historical but there’s a dimension to it that the other gospels may not have.
In fact the unique material of the other gospels goes as such. In Matthew only 42% of the material is unique to Matthew. In Luke only 59% is unique to Luke. In Mark only 7% is unique to Mark. In other words only 7% of the verses in Mark are found only in Mark. John’s material by contrast contains 92% of material not to be found in the other three gospels. We clearly have only an 8% overlap here.
It’s important for us to see how John is deliberately supplementing and layering and giving us understanding that we would otherwise have not known. We wouldn’t of known about Jesus’ early Judean ministry before his Galilean ministry. The other gospels don’t start with that. John tells us things we wouldn’t have known about the wedding in Cana and the miracle of the water and the wine. He tells us about Jesus’ encounter with Nicodemus. He tells us about Jesus’ encounter with the woman at the well. We wouldn’t of known about that. He talks about his relationship to Him. Behold the Lamb of God- the Agnus Dei- is only found here. There are many materials unique to this gospel.
There is another contrast even in terms of the Passovers. In the synoptic gospels only one Passover is mentioned whereas in John’s gospel 3 or perhaps 4 (depending on how we understand the feasts) are mentioned.
The synoptic gospels concentrate on the Galilean ministry and John’s gospel looks a great deal more at the Judean ministry of Jesus Christ. They do fit together.
The discourse material in John is more private. For example we have the Sermon on the Mount in Matthew and Luke, which is a very public discourse. But what is the key discourse in John? The third of the great discourses, the upper room discourses. This is revealed to only a handful of people. It is a good deal more private. If it were not for John’s gospel we would not have Jesus’ parting teachings to His own disciples to prepare them for His departure from this earth. That discourse gave His disciples an intimate portrait in the Upper Room and also it contains the seeds for the later epistles and teaches us about the spiritual life and the resources we have available to us. Again, materials we would of not otherwise have known are to be found in this book. We have parables that are repeated in the synoptic gospels but in the supplemental gospel we have allegories, for example, the allegories of the Good Shepherd and the Vine. We don’t have parables in John’s gospel. We have these allegories. It is a different approach that is taken. The teaching emphasis in the synoptic gospels is more an ethical and practical teaching. We have that dimension. Not that we don’t day it’s not focusing on the person of Christ but I would say that the supplemental gospel more on the person. It’s more of a personal application of the truth. It’s how do you embrace, it’s how do you become immersed in a relationship with the God who has loved us.
So we see that the synoptic gospels complement each other but this one supplements the others.
Next in our introduction, I would like to talk about authorship because it’s a highly debated issue, as some of you may well know. Jesus by the way nicknamed John and his brother, James. What did he call them? He called them the sons of thunder in Mark 3. Their father was Zebedee and their mother was Salome and they served Him in Galilee. Salome was also present at Jesus’ crucifixion. John was evidently among the Galileans, I take it that followed John the Baptist in John 1. Remember John opens up with disciples of John the Baptizer. Evidently John is writing from an eyewitness perspective and must’ve been among those. We then see later on that these Galileans were called to become full time disciples of the Lord in Luke 5. In Luke 5 it’s our first encounter with them but we have an earlier encounter with some of these men prior to the Galilean call. There was some history going on before He told them to leave those boats. John was among the 12 men in Luke 6 who were selected to be what were called the apostles or sent ones. After Jesus’ ascension John became one of the basic pillars of the church in Jerusalem along with James and Peter according to Paul in Galatians 2:9. Who were Peter, James and John? They were the inner circle if you recall. They were the inner circle of disciples. John’s mentioned in the book of Acts three times and each time he’s mentioned it’s in association with Peter. He had an intimate and close association with Peter right from the beginning and we still see that in the book of Acts.
Tradition tells us John apparently went up to Ephesus before the destruction of Jerusalem and had a ministry in Asia Minor. Ephesus was the capital city of Asia Minor. John was on a circuit. Remember the seven cities of Revelation? John was really an apostle to those 7 cities and he would send his messages out. If you look at a map they kind of follow a circuit. He would start out in Ephesus and go to Laodicea, Smyrna and so forth and come back after Philadelphia and so forth. He would eventually come back to Ephesus. He ministered to those churches. The Romans eventually exiled him for a time to the island of Patmos. We see that in Revelation 19 where he is given the revelation of Jesus Christ that takes place from the island of Patmos. It’s basically a small barren island.
In any case, I want to talk about the idea of John’s authorship. My own view is that it really is John the disciple who wrote this. I also argue that it’s the same John who wrote the 3 epistles that are attributed to him and the Book of Revelation. Some would say that it was the presbyter John and there are some theological assumptions that motivate critics to question whether John was the real writer.
Actually however John Reiland’s papyrus was discovered. In john Reiland’s library, Papyrus 52 contains portions of the book of John chapter 18 and this dates back to 135 A.D. It was found in Egypt so there had to be some time for it to have been copied and brought there. We have a manuscript that dates from within a few decades of the original that is by the way unparalleled in ancient materials. Only in the New Testament do we have dates that close. Typically in the Greek and Roman writings it is usually 4,5,6,7, 8, or more centuries after the original that copies or fragments are found. Here we have something that close. Furthermore it shows that it was not a 2nd century doctrine at all but actually quite clearly what it claimed to be- a first century document.
Here is a person who wrote evidently after the other gospels were written. His familiarity with the topography of Jerusalem, with the environs of Judea, Smyrna, Perea and the area of Galilee shows that he had an intimate knowledge of that area. Clearly he lived in that area.
It was written by what we would a Palestinian Jew, not an outsider. He gave meticulous attention to details such as the number of fish caught and people’s names. This affirms his claim that he was an eyewitness.
Other verses also verify his eyewitness claims. These illustrate this idea that this is not something second hand. This claims to be in it’s own terms an eyewitness account form one who had seen these things. I’ll be using the NASB bible. John 1:14, “And the Word became flesh, and dwelt among us, and we saw His glory, glory as of the only begotten from the Father, full of grace and truth.” It wasn’t they saw it. We saw it. He puts himself among those who saw this glory. Look at John 19:35. Near the end of the epistle he makes a very specific and explicit claim to this. John 19:35, “And he who has seen has testified, and his testimony is true; and he knows that he is telling the truth, so that you also may believe.” He also goes on to say in chapter 21 (the last chapter) verses 24-25, “This is the disciple who is testifying to these things and wrote these things, and we know that his testimony is true. And there are so many other things which Jesus did, which if they were written in detail, I suppose that even the world itself would not contain the books that would be written.” So he says, I’m the one. This is the disciple who goes unnamed as the one who wrote them.
How can we deduce that this is John just from the internal evidence? Well, here’s how we can do it. Remember there was an inner circle of three. The disciple whom Jesus loved is mentioned several times. That disciple whom Jesus loved is clearly part of the inner circle of the disciples and is closely associated with Peter. The synoptic gospels name this inner circle and we mentioned them before, Peter, James and John. Now Peter in John’s gospel is separate from the beloved disciple. For example go to John 21:7, “ Therefore that disciple whom Jesus loved said to Peter, “It is the Lord.” So it’s clearly the disciple he’s referring to which is also the disciple who is testifying to these things is not Peter. We also know it can’t be James from Acts12: 1-2 because James, John’s brother, was martyred quite early. So it has to be John.
Furthermore the external evidence supports this internal evidence. Irenaeus said this was John who wrote this. Irenaeus was a disciple of a man named Polycarp. Polycarp was a personal disciple of John. We have a clear succession. Irenaeus was a disciple of the disciple of John. There is a very personal connection there with no broken gap. He mentions this in his book against heresy and bears witness to John’s authorship. He not as well that John lived to the time of the emperor of Trajan. Now we know that the Emperor Trajan reigned from the year 98-117 A.D. There are other early church fathers, Clement of Alexander, Theopolis of Antioch, Origen and others, who ascribe this book to John.
Let me say a word about the purpose statement that I alluded to earlier. Here we have the clearest purpose statement in the bible for a book of the bible. John 20:30, “Therefore many other signs Jesus also performed in the presence of the disciples, which are not written in this book; but these have been written so that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God; and that believing you may have life in His name.” In other words he is saying, I was highly selective in the signs that I presented. By the way the word he uses is signs not miracles. We’ll talk about that later. They are signs that point beyond themselves to spiritual truth. He says there are many other signs but I chose these ones. These have been written and actually we only have eight of them. We have seven up through the point of chapters 2-12. Then the greatest sign of them all, the resurrection in chapters 20-21. These few signs were chosen, he said, so that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Anointed One, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have eternal zoe in His name.
The word zoe is used 40 times in John and he never defines it. This is very clever of him for various reasons but it’s very provocative. Seventeen of those appearances have the modifying adjective eternal. So the image 17 times is of eternal zoe. Remember what I told you before? Bios is one thing, zoe is another. Bios as we’ve observed has to do with biological life. Even the word bio- we took biochemistry or biology or at least some of us did- that has to do with physical life, physical existence. Zoe on the other hand has to do with spiritual life. What we see here is that bios is found in the first birth because everybody is born- by definition if they’re born they have biological life. But no one, according to this gospel and the testimony of scripture, is born with zoe, spiritual life. Because of the blast of the fall, because of our fallen condition, we are separated from God in this world and therefore there needs to be a new birth. We call it a second birth. He describes this in John 3. Jesus’ discourse with Nicodemus, one of the members of the Sanhedrin, when He says a man must be born again. Nicodemus takes it literally and Jesus says you’re missing the point here. There is a spiritual birth not just a physical one. We have to have this new birth so that we can have life with God Himself. And so in this theme his purpose is clear.
He has written these things so that you may believe. He uses pisteuo for believe. Pisteuo is a special word, which we’re going to look at in more depth starting next week. Pisteuo means more than intellectual assent. It does include the intellectual side but it also means a heart response. It means that a person must embrace, chose, come to know by trusting or entrusting one’s self to this Person. You see, Jesus is not nearly presenting propositions to be assented to; He presents himself as a person to be trusted and embraced. There is an idea of propositional truth that points to personal truth. That revelation, that scripture, was not only revealed to inform us but to transform us. It’ll only transform us if we personally respond. It’s one thing to believe about Jesus, it’s another thing entirely to entrust one’s self to this Jesus. That’s Johns point: so that you may believe He is the Son of God and by believing you may have what kind of life, zoe not bios. We already have that, but that you may have this new quality, new form of life.
John’s basically selected the signs that he would use with what we would call an apologetic purpose. Apologetics has to do with the defense of the faith and presenting it’s reasons, nature. He creates an intellectual case that you may believe and a spiritual case that by believing you may have life. It’s a conviction that’s both intellectual and spiritual because God is the author of both the mind and heart. He wants the two welded together so that there is a conviction that we are to embrace about the Son of God.
The key word believes requires knowledge. There’s a component of belief that involves knowledge, knowing the truth. Look at John 8:32, “ and you will know the truth, and the truth will make you free.” The word that is used there refers to this idea of pisteuo, that truth. He also says kind of the same thing in John 10:38, “Though you do not believe Me, believe the works that you may know and understand the Father is in Me and I am in the Father.” Okay, if you don’t believe in Me believe then the works that I do because these reveal I am who I claim to be. There’s this intellectual component but also there is more than that.
One of the most important verses in the entire gospel is John 1:12. We will look at the prologue to John’s gospel next week. I’m going to give you an assignment for next week. I want you to read John 1:1-18 many times. I’d like you to slowly and prayerfully read that throughout this next week. It’s not meant to be read quickly but it’s meant to be read in a contemplative way, a meditative way. The whole thing richly rewards slow meditation.
By the way, understand that you can all meditate. We’re doing it all the time. Usually we’re meditating about stuff we shouldn’t be thinking about like worries and fretting and anxiety. To meditate means to ruminate, to chew it over, and to mull over it. We’re always mulling something over. The best thing you can to do is not to stop thinking about something but rather replace that thought with truth. In other words you can choose what you think about. You’re not some kind of machine that can avoid that. You can make a choice, a volitional choice, to set your mind on the things above and not on the things below. So when you find yourself tempted and so forth instead of mulling that one over, because that will only make it worse, the better thing to do is to replace it with truth. I can’t stress this enough. It’d be very wise of you to carry a handful of 3x5 cards that have verses that have spoken to you in the past. Put them in your car and have one of them to be the theme of your day.
For example, I have a stack of these cards in my car. On my way over here I got fresh red. This means you got to the traffic lights just in time to get a fresh red light. I usually don’t like fresh red! This happened twice. Now I can look at it two ways. I can look at it as a hassle or I can look at it as an invitation. I thought of it as an invitation to a mini Sabbath. The mini Sabbath I had was at the red light. I took out one of those cards and I meditated particularly on Hebrews 1, the radiance of His glory, the Son of God, the exact representation of His nature, how He upholds all things by the word of His power. That’s enough right there to fill your mind; run that by again and again. It’s powerful truth. I’m suggesting that you have something so that when your mind wanders you can go back to that, especially during dead time.
John doesn’t mince around. Right from the beginning he comes in and begins his incredibly powerful prologue. In the beginning was the Logos, and the Logos was with God, and the Logos was God (John 1:1). The Logos, this Word, became flesh (v.14). So the Word who was with God and is God took on human flesh. The prologue is rich in truth and you can meditate on it with great profit. That is what I will be teaching next.
As we consider this concept, the predominant theme in this gospel is kind of a dual response, a back and forth as you’ll see. John structures this gospel so we see two kinds of responses to this Jesus. One is the response of faith and the other of unbelief. We’ll see him often presenting the signs and then in a narrative material we’ll find the response that would be that of some believed and some rejected Him. Then he goes on to another sign and some believed and some rejected. What are you the reader invited to do when you are reading about this? You have to make a decision. What do I do about this? One thing you can’t do is to ignore Him. You see you can’t spend much time with Jesus and ignore Him. You’ll either finally embrace Him or reject Him, ignoring Him is not an option. It was never meant to be. John’s gospel really brings us to the point where we’re forced to make some kind of a response to His claims. You can respond by receiving or rejecting. To ignore Him is tantamount to rejecting Him. So we’re in this uncomfortable position where response will in fact be made. You cannot ignore that. John is dealing with that whole theme.
In any case we see this theme of eternal life. He’s arguing again and again that those who reject Him are under the condemnation of God. John 3:36 does not mince these words. “He who believes in the Son of God has eternal life; but he who does not obey the Son will not see life, but the wrath of God abides on him.” Obedience to the Son of God is to receive His gift. Those who choose not to receive His gift then are actually under the wrath of God. Strong words these days. You probably wouldn’t preach well. But I’m not making this up. You have to understand this isn’t my idea. If you look at John 5:24-29 you see the same thing. “Truly, truly I say to you, he who hears My word and believes Him who sent Me (there’s that word again, pisteuo), has (present tense) eternal life (zoe), and does not come into judgment, but has passed out of death into life”. That is one of my favorite verses in the entire bible because, and we’ll look at this more, the conditions for having eternal life, not coming into judgment but coming out of the sphere of death into life are to believe His word and Him who sent Him, entrusting ones self. Again he goes on to say in John 5:25-26, “Truly, truly, I say to you, an hour is coming and now is, when the dead will hear the voice of the Son of God, and those who hear will live. For just as the Father has life in Himself, even so He gave to the Son also to have life in Himself; (not derivative life, divine life, a life that has no beginning, a life that has no end); and He gave Him authority to execute judgment, because He is the Son of Man.” Look at the kind of claims He is making. He is claiming that people, the dead, will eventually hear His voice and they will rise. He is the One who will judge. He goes on to say; “Do not marvel at this; for an hour is coming, in which all who are in the tombs will hear His voice, and will come forth; those who did good deeds to a resurrection of life, those who committed the evil deeds to a resurrection of judgment.” John defines the good and the evil. He describes this reality again in John 10:27-29, “My sheep hear My voice, and I know them, and they follow Me; and I give eternal life to them, and they will never perish; and no one will snatch them out of My hand. My Father, who has given then to Me, is greater than all; and no one is able to snatch them out of the Father’s hand.” We have this powerful portrait here of being in fact embraced in the grip of the Father and in the grip of the Son. There’s a portrait of security, a portrait as well of genuine hope in the age to come. That I really think summarizes the reactions of reception and rejection that are traced through the rest of this book.
The clearest one perhaps may be in John 1:11-12, “The One who made the world came to His own, and those who were His own did not receive Him. But as many as received Him, to them He gave the right to become children of God, even to those who believe in His name.” Here by the way he equates receiving and believing as one and the same. Its not only intellectual there is also a reception. How do you receive a gift? You may believe that I have a gift and I may say I have a fabulous gift I brought back from my trips and I’d like you to have it and you may believe I’ve got it. I hold it out to you and you see that it’s a nice gift and you want to have it and so I offer it to you. You say, that sure is a nice gift but you don’t do anything about it. That sure is a nice gift. Yah, why don’t you take it? That is a wonderful looking gift. You go on playing that game and you’ll never take it. There comes a point where you have to take it or it’s not yours. So it is here. He’s offering and offering and offering and a lot of people acknowledge it. That’s like coming up to the altar in a wedding ceremony and the part where it is asked; will you have this woman to be your lawfully wedded wife? Yah, I think she’d be a great companion for me. No, that’s not the answer were looking for. Would you have this woman to be your wife? Well, I think she’d be a wonderful provider and person to live with, a companion. This can go round and round. But it will never work until he says yes. Now you can just keep talking about it but at some point action is required. It comes down to that issue. What does it mean really to believe in Him? Now then John’s summary is this, those who were His own didn’t receive Him but as many as received Him. What we have here in those two little verses is a kind of summary of the gospel. In a sense that in Chapters 2-19 we have the context of those who, the majority, did not receive Him. His own people rejected him over and over again. However there were also people who did embrace Him. We see that portrait.
John is a subtle writer. His Greek is so simple. He uses the vocabulary of a child. That’s why if you ever take New Testament Greek, you’ll start with John. You won’t start with Luke or Paul. Their sentence structure is quite complex. Their vocabulary is more sophisticate. John’s Greek is very simple. It’s an easy one to translate. That’s why when I tested for the New York University they gave me the option of Greek and I could be pretty sure it wouldn’t be John. I figured they’d give me a couple of chapters in the New Testament and it’d probably be Luke. He is the most sophisticated of the Greek writers. Then to make it harder I figured it probably wouldn’t be a narrative but something a little more technical. I figured it might be chapters 1 and 2 so I particularly looked at that. Now it doesn’t always go that well but this time it did. They gave me those chapters to translate and it went well. I said, man this is great. The guy who read my translation wanted me to do some more stuff. It was a good thing but I want to tell you John is not the one you’d start with if you were going to take a test because it’s pretty simple Greek.
So it would seem. But the surface, under that apparent simplicity, lays profound technique. For example there are rich parallelisms; children of light, children of darkness; layering of meaning of life and of death. He uses very subtle images, multiple images that are used as he layers. So in some ways you might say John is very simple but it is also the most profound and theological of all the gospels. It’s actually harder to study than the synoptic gospels for those reasons. What appears to be simple actually has greater profundity. What does that remind you of? It should remind you of the teaching style of Jesus Himself. He used very simple parables but there’s an awful lot of layering underneath those parables if you really think about that. John knew Jesus best. He’s the beloved disciple. He imitated the Master. So what we have are images like truth, light, darkness, the Word, knowledge, world, believe, abide, love, witness, and judgment. All these words are used in very special ways, in layered ways. It’s a spiritual supplement as I say to the other gospels.
I want to stress something else about John before we go any further. John also uses the number seven not only in terms of seven signs but there are also seven I AM statements. I am statements are very powerful. He says, “I am the Bread of Life (6:35, 6:48), I am the Light of the World (8:12, 9:5), I am the Door (10:7-9 - the Doorway to life itself), I am the Good Shepherd (10:11&14), I am the Resurrection and the Life (11:25), I am the Way, the Truth and the Life (14:6), and I am the True Vine (15:1-5). He uses these wonderful graphic images of who He is. All these I am statements are also used by John to reveal that He really is the Christ, Son of the Living God.
Indeed we see a good deal of I am imagery in other passages for example, John 8:24, “ Therefore I said to you that you will die in your sins; for unless you believe that I am He, you will die in your sins.” The word He in my translation is in italics because it’s not in the original. It’s being supplied, really He means unless you believe that - ego eime means I am. What does that make you think of? What was the name that God gave to Moses at the burning bush to tell him to use before Pharaoh? God said tell them that I AM sent you. The Jews understood that name. Actually that could be translated, I shall be that which I shall be, the self-existent One. When we ask the question, by the way, where did God come from or what was around before God? It’s a category error, category because you’re trying to limit God to space and time. If He is the Author of space and time, He always is. He Himself created time as part of His created universe. To say where did He come from is to suppose that He has a beginning. He’s not self creating- God can’t create Himself. He’d have to exist before Himself to create Himself. That’s not correct. He is the uncreated One, the self-existent One. He exists. I am who I am. Jesus is really making this kind of claim. Look at John 8:28, “So Jesus said, ‘When you lift up the Son of Man, then you will know that I am He, and I do nothing on my own initiative, but I speak the things as the Father taught Me.” The most offensive verse to unbelieving Jews at the time was John 8:58, “Truly, truly I say to you, before Abraham was born ego eime.” And they took up stones to throw at Him (v.59). They understood that if He was not who He claimed to be then He was blaspheming the name of God and He deserved to be stoned. They would’ve been correct. They were taking the right action. My point is that they understood what He was saying and He made such a radical and dramatic claim.
The point is that we see a number of images here of the affirmations of His deity. This is very powerful. One of the most beautiful affirmations of the deity of Jesus in the entire New Testament is to be found on the lips of one of the most skeptical men, Thomas. Remember he is the one who said unless I can see this One, unless I can plunge my hand into His side and see the nail marks, I will not believe. When Jesus approached Thomas, He came and visited them again, the doors having been shut, they were locked, but there He appeared in their midst and said, “Peace be with you.” He said to Thomas, “Reach here with your finger and see My hands: and reach here your hand and put it in My side; and do not be unbelieving, but believing.”(John 20:27) At that point Thomas does not have to do any more investigating. Thomas answered and said to Him, “ My Lord and My God!” (John 20: 28) A powerful portrait of the deity of our Lord is emphasized.
Understand the other side of the coin is equally true that the Word was God but the Word also became flesh. (John1:14) The humanity of Jesus can be found also. He was weary, thirsty, and dependent. He showed grief. His soul was troubled. His anguish and death all revealed that He was not some phantom as the Gnostics would teach but rather that He was the Incarnate God come in the flesh. It’s the same John who said that the spirit of the antichrist denies that Jesus has come in the flesh. To affirm the two is to say that He is both fully God and fully man, a wonderfully balanced portrait. Next week we’ll launch into the prologue of John’s gospel.
Question: Why did Jesus’ own people not accept Him?
Answer: Frankly this was no surprise because it even said in the Old Testament that they would reject their own Messiah. Isaiah 53 is a perfect portrait. He came to us and we did not esteem Him. Scriptures predict that the Messiah would come. That’s why He said didn’t you understand that it was necessary for the Messiah to suffer and to die? Then remember going from Moses and all the prophets, He spoke to them of all the things concerning His death on the Emmaus road (Luke 24). He made as if He was going to go on further when the disciples were stopping for the evening. This is an important point. They had to invite Him in the house. He would have table fellowship with you but only if you invite Him in. So they invite Him in to sup with them and when they sit down to eat, He takes the bread, blesses it and He had a token image that they knew and when they saw this they recognized Him in the breaking of the bread. He disappeared from their sight and then they said, didn’t our hearts burn within us when we heard and spoke about the scriptures? Then they realized He was the One and they ran off to Jerusalem.
Answer: They had two understandings of Messiah. They couldn’t unify the two. The son of Joseph was not going to be a great king but a suffering servant. There’s also the messianic reigning king who’ll come in power. Zechariah talks about that. How do you reconcile these two? Who would’ve dreamed it’d be the same person? If you were a Jew under Roman oppression which one would you opt for? It’s pretty obvious. You’d go for the one who would deliver you from Roman oppression and bondage and set you free. In other words He didn’t offer them what they were looking for. They were looking for the physical. He was offering the spiritual. I use this analogy. A man was let down from a roof and Jesus said your sins are forgiven you. Imagine if at that point He said, “ Okay, take him up.” That’s not what they had in mind. They didn’t lower him just to have his sins forgiven him. They lowered him down so he would be healed physically. Am I correct? I tell you though if He just said your sins are forgiven you, he would have been far better off than if He had just said, rise, take up your pallet and walk. But then Jesus went on to say, so that you may know that the Son of Man has authority to forgive sins, they were questioning that, He then turned and said, rise, take up your pallet and walk. He is saying that’s a trivial pursuit compared to the bigger thing, the spiritual. Men look to the visible and treasure the visible over the invisible. That’s another reason He didn’t meet their expectations. There is in fact an enmity against the claims of God in the human heart. Paul discusses this in several passages. It’s evident through the scriptures that there is some unnatural bent because of our fallen condition that seeks some how to pursue our autonomy and avoid the claims of the living God.
Question: Where does Paul talk about the enmity?
Answer: One of those passages is in Colossians where he describes the enmity we have. Ephesians 2 talks about how we were by nature children of wrath. Romans 5 talks about even when we were enemies. A number of texts talk about the natural disposition. Ephesians 2 also talks about how we are spiritually dead. That’s a bad condition. You’re dead, your bound and your blind. Actually for a person to be regenerated, that is to say born again, it’s a greater miracle than to be raised from the dead. That’s what the text tells us.
Answer: My understanding is that he never speaks about himself but instead he refers to himself in that third person where as other gospels mention John directly. So you plug it all in and you see that it fits. The disciple that Jesus loved wasn’t Peter because they’re clearly distinguished in John’s gospel. He never mentions himself in that way. He mentions himself in the third person. James, the other one of the inner three intimate ones, died too soon to have been the writer of this epistle. That disciple whom Jesus loved was also the one to whom Jesus said, Woman behold your son and son, behold your mother. No others do that.
Let’s close with a prayer, “Lord, we thank You for this time and we ask that You would indeed cause us to understand through the power of Your Spirit, lead us into all truth. We pray that we would embrace and understand what it means in a deeper and deeper way in our own experience to walk in newness of life in Christ Jesus and to understand the One who spoke the worlds into being is also the One who invites Himself for us to sup with Him. We pray in His name. Amen.”