Date: c. A.D. 95
The Gospel of John does not have a name attached to it, but from earliest times it has been attributed to John the beloved apostle, one of the followers of Jesus. John had been a rather violent youth, getting a nickname somewhat akin to “Loudmouth”–“Son of Thunder,” to be exact. His personal knowledge of Jesus, and the many years that had passed between Jesus’ death and resurrection and the writing of his gospel, had transformed him into an apostle of love. No one speaks with more understanding about that aspect of God’s nature than does John. He asserted that “God is love” (I John 4:8), and that God loved the world so much that he gave his only Son for it (3:16).
It is all the more striking that John should stress this in the light of the turbulent years through which he lived. Ultimately, John was sent to live on a deserted island, there to die.
John began his Gospel with an unusual prologue that is in effect a cosmic genealogy. It takes us back before the dawn of time, when only God existed, and there we are told that Christ, identified as “the Word,” also existed. He was with God and was God (1:1). That proposition creates the foundation for what Christians have asserted from the earliest days of their existence, that Jesus was no less than God himself. Jesus, before coming to earth, was the possessor (and creator) of life, the one who conquered darkness (all forces of evil). He is the light that enlightens human minds (1:9) and opens the door to become children of God to those who take God at his word (1:12).
John continued his Gospel by recounting many of the facts also found in the other three Gospels, but with an extensive interpretation woven into it that draws out their inner meaning. He also recorded some incidents that were not mentioned by the others. There must have been a large number of stories circulating at that time, and John notes that if everything Jesus did was written down it would be hard to find room enough in the world for all the books about him (21:25).
One special section, Chapters 14-17, in John’s gospel has no parallel in the other Gospels. Only John has the section known as the “upper room discourse.” In it Jesus speaks in the most personal terms imaginable about life, spirituality, prayer, hope, comfort, God, heaven, and joy. It is one of the favorite sections of the Bible, containing such familiar words as “I am the way, the truth, and the life (14:6), and “Greater love hath no one than this, that a man lay down his life for his friends” (15:13).
Theological Themes in the Gospel of John
By writing his Gospel, John was trying to accomplish several things in addition to giving us some basic facts of Jesus’ life. First, he was trying to show that Jesus was God. Many in his day (and in our own, too, for that matter) doubted this. It does seem to be an almost impossible thing to believe, but nothing less will do. Jesus was, and is, the eternal God of the universe, along with the Father and the Holy Spirit.
Second, John was stressing the human nature of Jesus. He was a man as well as God. He was born, lived in Palestine, drank water and ate food, grew weary with travel, suffered, and died. It was necessary for John to emphasize the humanity of Jesus because some thinkers in his day were looking on Jesus as merely passing through this world ghost-like, never really becoming part of it. John was stressing that only a real human being could save humankind.
Third, the Gospel was written specifically so that we might believe in Jesus and “have life in his name.” John was concerned that those who heard of Jesus should benefit by that knowledge.
Finally, John wanted to emphasize the close relationship between Jesus and his followers. He is the good shepherd and we are his sheep; he is the door through which we enter life; he is the bread of life that feeds our souls; he is the water of life that cures our deepest thirst; he is the vine of which we are the branches. All those figures of speech were intended to help us see that without Jesus we can do nothing. As we live in that realization, our joy will be complete (15:11).
Outline for the Gospel of John
- Prologue John 1:1-18
- Jesus’ Galilean ministry John 1:19-2:50
- Jesus in Jerusalem for the last time John 13:1-38
- Upper room discourse John 14:1-17:26
- Jesus’ death, resurrection, and appearances to his disciples John 18:1-21:25