Lesson 108: John: A Final Flyover (John, Various Texts)Related Media
October 25, 2015
When Marla and I have flown from Flagstaff to Phoenix, we have enjoyed looking down on all the trails in Sedona where we have hiked. When you’re hiking on a trail, you see details that you can’t see from the air. But when you fly over a trail, you see the big picture in a way that you can’t see from the ground.
We been “hiking” through John for the past two years, enjoying the details along the trail. But before we move on, I thought that it would be helpful to do a final flyover, getting the big picture of the whole, especially for those of you who were not here when I did an introductory flyover back in February, 2013.
John begins his Gospel by speaking of Jesus, the eternal Word of God who became flesh and dwelt among us (John 1:1, 14): “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God…. 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.” John ends his Gospel describing the encounter between the risen Lord Jesus and seven of His disciples, calling Peter (and through him, all disciples) to follow Him.
John’s Gospel is a testimony or witness to Jesus Christ. It begins with the testimony of John the Baptist to Jesus as the Light (John 1:6-8). John ends with an affirmation of the trustworthiness of his own testimony to Jesus (John 21:24): “This is the disciple who is testifying to these things and wrote these things, and we know that his testimony is true.”
The crucial question that John answers is, “Who is Jesus?” John’s answer (John 20:31): “He is the Christ, the Son of God.” But John also wants us to know who we are and what we should do in light of who Jesus is. John clearly states his purpose for writing (John 20:30-31): “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.” To sum up:
The Gospel of John is a selective, reliable testimony that shows us who Jesus is, who we are, and how we must respond.
I’m going to divide this into John’s method and his message:
1. The Gospel of John is a selective, historical, symbolic, and purposeful testimony to the person and work of Jesus Christ.
A. John is a deliberately selective testimony.
We’ve already seen this in John’s purpose statement for writing, where he acknowledges that Jesus performed many other signs which His disciples witnessed. John repeats this in the final verse of his gospel (John 21:25): “And there are also 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.” In other words, John did not intend to write a comprehensive biography of Jesus, but rather a selective account for the purpose of leading his readers to the personal faith in Jesus that brings eternal life.
John omits any mention of Jesus’ birth. He does not cover Jesus’ baptism, His temptation by Satan, the transfiguration, the Lord’s Supper, Jesus’ agony in the Garden of Gethsemane, or His ascension. Writing toward the end of the first century, John probably assumed that his readers had access to the other gospels, as well as to the Book of Acts. Here is a broad outline that we have followed, centered on the idea of “belief”:
1. John 1:1-18: Prologue: The Son of God, the object of belief: “The Word became flesh and dwelt among us” (John 1:14).
2. John 1:19-12:50: Testimony for belief in the Son of God: “We have found the Messiah” (John 1:41).
A. John 1:19-4:54: Initial belief in the Son of God.
B. John 5:1-12:50: Subsequent unbelief in the Son of God.
3. John 13:1-17:26: The Son of God’s teaching for His followers, that they might believe: “Believe in Me” (John 14:1).
4. John 18:1-19:42: The tragedy of unbelief in the Son of God: “We have no king but Caesar” (John 19:15).
5. John 20:1-31: The triumph of belief in the Son of God: “My Lord and my God!” (John 20:28).
6. John 21:1-25: Epilogue: The consequence of belief in the Son of God: “Tend My sheep” (John 21:17).
B. John is a historically factual testimony.
Although as I will mention, John is symbolic, it is not a myth or fable. John emphasizes that he and the other disciples were eyewitnesses of the events that he reports. Other than having an a priori bias against miracles, there is no reason to doubt John’s testimony. Skeptics sometimes say, “If I saw a miracle, then I’d believe.” But that’s not true. John makes it clear that being present as a witness of some spectacular miracles does not automatically result in faith in Jesus. Those who saw the lame man whom Jesus healed did not believe in Jesus, but sought to kill Him (John 5:1-18). The religious leaders who talked with the man born blind, whom Jesus healed, did not believe in Jesus as a result (John 9). After Jesus raised Lazarus from the dead, some reported it to the Jewish leaders. Instead of repenting and believing in Jesus, the leaders plotted how they could kill Him (John 11:46-53).
We’ll look in a moment at why otherwise rational people reject these factual accounts of Jesus’ miracles. But the point here is that John wasn’t making up fabulous stories. He was reporting what he and many other witnesses saw happen. These historically verifiable accounts testify to who Jesus is.
C. John is an obviously symbolic testimony.
John is full of symbolic words and events that cause you to think about the deeper meaning of what he is saying. This does not negate the factuality of what John reports. Rather, John wants us to look beyond the words or events themselves to discern their true significance with relation to Jesus. John uses the word “signs” to refer to Jesus’ miracles: they point us to something deeper. Out of hundreds of miracles that he could have chosen, John picked seven signs, not counting Jesus’ resurrection and the miraculous post-resurrection catch of fish (John 21:1-14): (1) Changing the water into wine (John 2:1-11); (2) healing the nobleman’s son (John 4:46-54); (3) healing the lame man by the Pool of Bethesda (John 5:1-9); (4) feeding the 5,000 (John 6:1-14); (5) walking on the water (John 6:16-21); (6) healing the man born blind (John 9:1-12); and, (7) raising Lazarus from the dead (John 11:1-46).
In at least three of these miracles, their significance is obvious, because Jesus tells us. After He feeds the 5,000, Jesus proclaims (John 6:35), “I am the bread of life ….” Before opening the eyes of the man born blind, Jesus asserts (John 8:12), “I am the Light of the world ….” Before He raised Lazarus from the dead, Jesus told Martha (John 11:25), “I am the resurrection and the life; he who believes in Me will live even if he dies.”
These are three of seven “I am” claims that Jesus makes in John. The others are, “I am the door of the sheep” (John 10:7); “I am the good shepherd” (John 10:11, 14); “I am the way, and the truth, and the life; no one comes to the Father but through Me” (John 14:6); and, “I am the true vine” (John 15:1, 5). Obviously, Jesus is not literally bread or a door or a vine. Rather, these symbols tell us something important about who Jesus truly is.
John uses many other words that are loaded with symbolic significance: “life” (e.g. John 1:4; 11:25; 14:6; 20:31); “the new birth” (John 3:3-7); “light” and “darkness” (e.g. John 1:4, 9, 3:19; 8:12; 12:46); “the world” (78 times, e.g. John 1:10; 3:16; 12:31; 14:30; 16:11; 17:15, 16); “witness” or “testify” (14 times as a noun, 33 times as a verb, e.g. John 1:7, 8, 15, 19, 32, 34; 3:26; 5:31-34, 36, 37, 39); “truth” (25 times, e.g. John 1:14, 17; 5:33; 8:31-32, 40, 45-46; 14:6); “sent” (33 times, e.g. John 4:34); and “hour” (e.g. John 7:30; 8:20; 12:23).
D. John is a profoundly simple testimony.
On one level, John is simple enough for a child to understand, yet on another level, John is so deep that you can study it all your life and never get to the bottom of its riches. Children can understand the simple message of John 3:16 so as to believe and be saved: “For God so loved the world, that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him shall not perish, but have eternal life.” And yet the theological concepts which that verse raises are deep enough for scholars to debate: Does God love everyone in the world equally? If so, why didn’t He devise a way of getting the gospel to everyone? What does it mean that Jesus is God’s “only begotten Son”? What does it mean to believe in Jesus? What does it mean to perish or to have eternal life? The same could be said of many texts in John that on one level are fairly simple, but on another level are deeply profound.
E. John is a deliberately purposeful testimony.
We have already seen that John’s purpose is that his readers may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, so that we may have life in His name (John 20:31). In other words, John didn’t write so that you could say, “How interesting!” and go on with your life as usual. He didn’t write so that scholars could write volumes debating his meaning or theology. He wrote so that everyone who reads his testimony about Jesus would personally believe, receive eternal life, and spend eternity in heaven, not in hell. So his purpose is the most serious purpose that you could imagine! Don’t leave John’s Gospel without applying it!
Thus, the Gospel of John is a selective, historical, symbolic, and purposeful testimony to the person and work of Jesus Christ.
2. The Gospel of John reveals who Jesus is, who we are, and how we must respond.
A. The Gospel of John reveals who Jesus is: God in human flesh, the Christ, the only Savior of the world.
There are three parts of this:
1) Jesus is God.
John opens with this essential truth (John 1:1): “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.” He quickly adds that Jesus is the Creator of everything (John 1:3), “All things came into being through Him, and apart from Him nothing came into being that has come into being.” This means, of course, that contrary to the Arian (or Jehovah’s Witness) heresy, Jesus Himself could not be the first created being. Three lines of evidence establish the deity of Jesus: His words, His works, and the witness of others to Him.
*Jesus’ words show that He is God. He told Nicodemus that He had come down out of heaven and that whoever believes in Him has eternal life (John 3:13, 15). No mere man or created being could make such a claim. When the Jews accused Him of making Himself equal with God, Jesus didn’t correct them, but rather went on to make a string of claims that only God could make (John 5:18-29). He said that all will honor Him, even as they honor the Father (John 5:23). All who believe in Him have passed out of death into life (John 5:24). He claimed to have life within Himself and to be able to give it to whomever He wishes (John 5:21, 26). He claimed to have the authority to judge all people (John 5:22, 27). He claimed that someday He will speak the word and all who have died will come forth, either to eternal life or to judgment (John 5:28-29).
He also claimed (John 10:30), “I and the Father are one.” He said (John 14:9), “He who has seen Me has seen the Father.” Many other claims, such as to be the bread of life, the light of the world, and the resurrection and the life, are clear claims to deity.
*Jesus’ works reveal that He is God. As already mentioned, John selects seven signs (or miracles), plus Jesus’ resurrection and the miraculous catch of fish (John 21:1-14), to show that He is God. As Paul later contended (1 Cor. 15:1-19), if Jesus is not risen from the dead, the entire Christian faith is worthless. As I said, it’s not just the miracles themselves—other men of God performed some amazing miracles—but also the significance behind the miracles, that testify to Jesus’ deity. He not only fed the 5,000, but He also claimed to be the bread of life who gives eternal life to all who eat His flesh (John 6:35, 54). He not only opened the eyes of the man born blind, but He also claimed to be the light of the world (John 8:12; 9:1-41). He not only raised Lazarus from the dead, but He also claimed to be the resurrection and the life, able to give life to all who believe in Him (John 11:25).
*The witness of others to Jesus shows that He is God. It is remarkable that John, a Jewish monotheist, a man who knew Jesus intimately as a man during His three-year ministry, would begin his Gospel by affirming that Jesus is God! He also reports the witness of John the Baptist to Jesus as the Light (John 1:7-9; see, also, John 5:33-35). Nathaniel testifies (John 1:49), “Rabbi, You are the Son of God; You are the King of Israel.” Peter confesses (John 6:69), “We have believed and have come to know that You are the Holy One of God.” At the climax of John, the formerly doubting but now believing Thomas exclaims (John 20:28), “My Lord and my God!”
2) Jesus is human.
As John 1:14 declares, “And the Word became flesh, and dwelt among us….” Jesus often refers to Himself as “the Son of Man,” a phrase from Daniel 7:13-14 that emphasizes both His humanity and His deity (John 1:51; 3:13; 6:62). John shows that Jesus was weary (John 4:6), hungry (John 4:8, 31, 33), and thirsty (John 19:28). He had genuine human emotions (John 11:35; 12:27). And He was subject to death (John 19:30). As God in human flesh, Jesus is the only one who could bear our sins. Thus …
3) Jesus is the Christ, the only Savior.
“Christ” refers to God’s Anointed One, the one promised in the Old Testament as the Son of David who would bear our sins and eventually reign over all the world (Psalms 2, 110; Isaiah 53). John the Baptist announces (John 1:29), “Behold, the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world!” The jubilant Samaritans proclaim (John 4:42), “This One is indeed the Savior of the world.”
But why do we need a Savior? Why not just someone to be our moral example? John’s Gospel not only reveals who Jesus is, but also who we are:
B. The Gospel of John reveals who we are: sinners in need of a Savior.
The reason that the Jews needed a sacrificial lamb was to atone for their sins. Jesus is that lamb, not just for the Jews, but for the whole world. John begins by testifying, however, that the world did not know Jesus (John 1:10). Even His own Jewish people rejected Him (John 1:11). The reason is plainly stated (John 3:19-20), “This is the judgment, that the Light has come into the world, and men loved the darkness rather than the Light, for their deeds were evil. For everyone who does evil hates the Light, and does not come to the Light for fear that his deeds will be exposed.”
As I have often mentioned, “Savior” is a radical word. You don’t need a savior if you’re doing okay by yourself or if you just need a little help. You only need a savior if you’re helplessly lost and unable to do anything about your desperate condition. Nicodemus was a good religious man, “the teacher” in Israel. Yet Jesus told him (John 3:3), “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born again he cannot see the kingdom of God.” In John 5:24, Jesus talks about those who believe in Him as having passed “out of death into life.” Those who are dead in sin cannot do anything to save themselves. They need a God-sent Savior, and Jesus is that Savior.
So John tells us that Jesus is God in human flesh, the Christ, the only Savior. He shows that we are sinners who love darkness rather than light; dead in our sins, needing new life from God.
C. The Gospel of John reveals how we must respond to this testimony about Jesus: Believe in Him, grow in Him, and serve Him.
1) We must believe in Jesus Christ.
John 3:16 does not say that God so loved the world that He saved everyone. Rather, it clearly limits salvation to those who believe in Jesus Christ. Those who do not believe will perish. John’s purpose in writing (John 20:31) is “so that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God; and that believing you may have life in His name.” The verb “believe” occurs 11 times in Matthew, 14 times in Mark, 9 times in Luke, and 98 times in John. Clearly, John wants you to believe in Jesus so that you may have life in His name!
Such saving faith is not generic; it has specific content: You must believe the truth about Jesus: that He is the Christ, the Son of God, the Savior who died to pay the penalty for your sins. Saving faith also involves personal commitment to Jesus Christ. It’s not enough to believe intellectually (John 6:64, 66; 8:31-58). You must personally trust in Christ as your only hope for eternal life.
For example, you probably believe that airplanes can fly. You’ve seen them fly and you know that they’re very safe. But that sort of belief won’t get you anywhere. To get to a destination, you have to commit by getting on board. To get to heaven, you must commit your eternal destiny to Jesus. You trust in His shed blood to pay the penalty that your sins have incurred. You don’t trust in your good deeds or anything else, but only in Jesus Christ.
2) We must grow in Jesus Christ.
John shows that belief in Jesus Christ is both initial and ongoing (John 1:50; 2:11; 11:15; 14:1; 20:8, 27). Our faith in Him grows stronger as we abide in Him and obey His commandments (John 15:1-11). Just as knowing another person is a process, so knowing Christ requires time spent in His Word, learning to obey His commandments, and deepening your love for Him (John 14:21, 23). Growing in Christ is a lifelong process that begins when you trust in Him as your Savior and Lord.
3) We must serve Jesus Christ out of love for Him.
This is obvious in the analogy of the vine and the branches, where Jesus says that we are to abide in Him and bear much fruit (John 15:2, 5, 8). It is also the point of John 21:15-17, where Jesus restores Peter by asking three times, “Do you love Me?” and by responding to Peter’s affirmation of love by commanding, “Tend My sheep.” Jesus didn’t save us to live for ourselves, but to glorify the Father by bearing much fruit.
John’s Gospel gives us the wonderful news that God loved us and sent His Son to die for our sins. But it also warns us that some who saw God’s Son, heard His teaching, and witnessed His miracles, still did not believe in Him. Some of Jesus’ disciples turned away from Him because they could not accept His hard sayings (John 6:66). Some of the Jews seemingly believed in Jesus, yet they were still of their father, the devil (John 8:31-58). Judas Iscariot, one of the twelve, was a devil who betrayed Jesus for thirty pieces of silver (John 6:70-71; 12:4-6; 13:21-30; 18:2-3). John gives us these negative examples so that we will not make the same eternally fatal mistake! John draws the line in the sand: Believe in Jesus Christ so that you will not perish, but have eternal life!
- What are some of the lessons that you’ve learned from our study of John? How will you use John in ministering to others?
- Why is the matter of Jesus’ identity crucial for saving faith? Can a person who denies His deity be saved?
- Some argue that if you say that saving faith involves commitment, you’re adding works to faith. Why are they dead wrong?
- Why is Jesus’ bodily resurrection essential to the Christian faith?
Copyright, Steven J. Cole, 2015, All Rights Reserved.
Unless otherwise noted, all Scripture Quotations are from the New American Standard Bible, Updated Edition © The Lockman Foundation