The Gospel of John is perhaps the most unique of the four in the canon of Scripture. Unlike its three predecessors, this Gospel is comparatively not synoptic in nature. While Matthew has been styled as a Gospel directed toward Jewish reader, Mark toward Romans, and Luke toward Greeks, John is usually styled as a Gospel for everyone. While I believe every Gospel is for everyone, John’s in particular appeals to the masses in its content and purpose.
The fourth Gospel’s thesis statement is important. It was written, “so that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in his name” (Jn. 20:31). This invitation to examine the evidence, believe Jesus to be the Son of God, and have life through his name is indeed for everyone.
Author and purpose
There has been discussion over who wrote the Gospel of John in some scholarly circles. The Gospel doesn’t bear John’s name, leaving some room for debate. However, there is internal evidence that points to the author being an eyewitness of the events in the Gospel, and even being John, the beloved disciple (Jn. 19:26, 35, 20:2, 8, 21:7, 24-25). As Donald Guthrie maintains, “there are no irrefutable historical grounds for rejecting the identification of the beloved disciple as John the son of Zebedee” (260). Also, there is hefty external evidence pointing to John’s authorship. Church Father Irenaeus wrote that the Gospel was written by the apostle while he was in Ephesus. Church historian Eusebius confirms that Irenaeus received this information from Polycarp or some other presbyter who knew the apostle personally (Guthrie 270). All church writers subsequent to Irenaeus accept John’s authorship without question.
The apostle John was called early in Jesus’ ministry. He and his brother James were fishermen, the sons of Zebedee, and were later nicknamed “the sons of thunder” (Mk. 1:19, 3:17). He is sometimes described as being in Jesus’ “inner circle,” often being near Jesus with Peter and his brother (see Mk. 5:37, 14:33; Lk. 9:28). Likewise, John is seen as an influence on the spread of early Christianity with Peter (Acts 3:3-11, 4:7-20, 8:14). Paul described him as a “pillar” in the early church at Jerusalem (Gal. 2:9) and he is also the author of the three epistles that bear his name and Revelation. As previously stated, the purpose of John’s Gospel is clearly written in John 20:30-31: “Now Jesus did many other signs in the presence of the disciples, which are not written in this book; but these are written so that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God and that by believing you may have life in his name.”
This Gospel is filled with several motifs. One such theme is the contrast of light and darkness. This theme starts out very apparent in the beginning of the Gospel (Jn. 1:4-9) and continues throughout the narrative (Jn. 3:19-21, 8:12, 12:35-36, 46). Another theme is the “I am” statements of Jesus. Through these “I am” statements, readers receive greater insight into the humanity, divinity, and character of our Lord (Jn. 6:35, 8:58, 9:5, 10:7-17, 11:25, 14:6, 15:1). In fact, some of Jesus’ most well-known sayings are his “I am” statements found only in John’s Gospel. The third theme is that of the Spirit of God. John spends considerably more time discussing the Holy Spirit than the synoptic writers, especially the work of the Holy Spirit once Jesus has departed (Jn. 14:15-26; 16:4-15). A fourth and final theme is love—both love of God to mankind and love between mankind (Jn. 3:16; 5:42; 13:34-35; 17:23-26). While the English words “love” or “loved” appear 11 times in Matthew, 5 times in Mark, and 13 times in Luke, these two words appear 49 times in John’s Gospel (in the ESV).
Key verses and unique details
-The eternal and divine nature of Jesus (Jn. 1:1-3)
-Jesus’ first sign (Jn. 2:1-11)
-The rebirth (Jn. 3:1-8)
-God’s love (Jn. 3:16-17)
-Jesus’ comment on worship (Jn. 4:23-24)
-The woman caught in adultery (Jn. 7:53-8:11)
-Liberating truth (Jn. 8:32-36)
-Jesus is the good shepherd (Jn. 10:1-18)
-Lazarus is raised (Jn. 11:38-44)
-The promise and the way (Jn. 14:1-6)
-The promise of the Spirit (Jn. 14:15-26)
-Jesus is the vine (Jn. 15:1-17)
-Jesus’ prayer in the garden (Jn. 17:1-26)
-Jesus and Thomas (Jn. 20:24-29)
-The abundance of Jesus’ deeds (Jn. 21:25)
Overall, John’s Gospel is unique, intriguing, and important. It is within the fourth Gospel that the divine and eternal nature of Jesus are so blatantly displayed. John’s recording of several signs and interactions not found in the previous three Gospels make John’s work a real treasure. He wrote, as inspired by the Holy Spirit, to produce faith in us when we read his words. I encourage you to delve into this Gospel account and drink from the refreshing life-giving water only available through the redeeming work of Jesus.
Guthrie, Donald. New Testament Introduction. IVP Academic, 1990.