The Gospel of John was written by John, one of the twelve disciples of Jesus while He was on earth.
He was an eyewitness of Jesus, who witnessed the events recorded here, first hand. How do we know this?
Five times in this Gospel we find one of Jesus’ disciples referenced as: “the disciple whom Jesus loved” (John 13:23, John 19:26, John 20:2, John 20:7, John 21:20). For example, we see him leaning on Jesus’ shoulder during the last supper (John 13:23). Then, at the very end it says, “Peter turned and saw the disciple whom Jesus loved following them” (John 21:20). And finally the author identifies himself! Four verses later he says, “This is the disciple who is bearing witness about these things and who has written these things” (John 21:24).
There are other interesting curiosities. This Gospel never mentions the disciple John anywhere. This would not make sense, unless John himself was the author! Also, he refers to John the Baptist as just John. The other Gospel writers distinguish him to avoid confusion.
Inspired By God to Write
One of the reasons that I say it is divinely inspired is that this is what Jesus promised to do. He said: “The Helper, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, he will teach you all things and bring to your remembrance all that I have said to you” (John 14:26) And He also said, “When the Spirit of truth comes, he will guide you into all the truth, for he will not speak on his own authority, but whatever he hears he will speak” (John 16:13).
In other words, Jesus chose his apostles as his representatives, saved them, taught them, sent them, and then gave them, through the Holy Spirit, divine guidance in the writing of Scripture for the foundation of the church (Ephesians 2:20). We believe that John’s Gospel is therefore, the inspired word of God.
When was The Gospel of John Written?
There is nothing in the gospel itself that helps us see when it was written. For this we need to look at external evidence.
A papyrus fragment was found in Egypt in the early 2nd century, which gives us an upper bound to the date of John, given that it also needs to have been copied and to have been available in Egypt. The advanced theology in John makes it likely that it was written later. Many place it in the last decade of the 1st century, when John was an old man. However, other scholars think it had to be before AD 70 for two reasons. First, the destruction of Jerusalem is not mentioned here, and second, John does not use any of the material of the other three gospels. Regardless of when it was written, John had ample time to digest the significance of all that he had been an eye-witness of (and let us not forget, Jesus promised that the Holy Spirit would aid him in that), and that is clear from his choice of material.
Purpose – That We May Believe
The Gospel of John is a portrait of Jesus Christ and his saving work. It focuses on the last three years of Jesus’s life and especially on his death and resurrection. It’s purpose is clear near the end of the book: “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” (John 20:30-31).
Since John wants us to believe in Jesus, we find another theme running through the book. He peppers it with incidents of people who believe. Some have false belief, and some have true belief that saves. By providing us multiple examples, John is explaining what it means to truly believe in Jesus. We will point this out as we go through the gospel.
The book is written to help people believe in Jesus and have eternal life. Reading this gospel, we are confronted with a magnificent portrait of Jesus, and are also confronted with whether we choose to believe that He is who He said He is, or if He was an imposter or blasphemer. In order to do this, John records selected incidents and discourses from the life of Jesus, along with different people’s reactions to Him. All the while, John is inviting us the readers to make our own decision about Jesus. His hope is that we will conclude that Jesus was really who He said He was, “the Christ the Son of God, and by believing we will have life in His Name”.
Intended Readers – Non-Christians and Christians
John carefully selects a few miracles of Jesus that he calls “signs”. They were intended to not just be miraculous acts, but things that Jesus did that acts as signposts to who He was.
John also lists a few statements called “I am” statements. This harks back to God speaking to Moses through the burning bush and revealing Himself as the “I am”. Jesus naturally takes up this title, and thus claims to be God. He even once said “Before Abraham was, I am” (John 8:58). We will be keeping our eyes out for these as well.
However, we should not assume that the book is meant just for unbelievers. Believers in Jesus must go on believing in Jesus in order to be saved in the end. Jesus said in John 15:6, “If anyone does not abide in me he is thrown away like a branch and withers; and the branches are gathered, thrown into the fire, and burned.” And in John 8:31, he said, “If you abide in my word, you are truly my disciples”.
In addition to awakening faith in people who have not put their faith in Jesus, it also sustains and strengthens the faith of those who do. And there may be no better book in the Bible to help us keep on trusting Jesus. Even as I study this book to teach it, my own faith is getting strengthened, as I pray will happen to each of you over the next few months.
In The Beginning Was The Word (John 1:1-3)
In this study, we will focus on the first three verses of John 1: “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God. All things were made through him, and without him was not anything made that was made” (John 1:1-3).
Jesus is “The Word”
The first statement is. “In the beginning was the Word.” What or who is this “Word”? The answer is made clear in verse 14: “And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we have seen his glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father, full of grace and truth” (John 1:14) The Word refers to Jesus Christ.
In this book, John is going to tell us the story of what Jesus Christ did and what he taught. This is a book about the life and work of the man Jesus Christ — the man that John knew and saw and heard and touched with his hands (1 John 1:1). He was a human being, and not a ghost or an apparition. He ate and drank and got tired. John knew this man intimately by having lived with him for three years. In addition, Jesus’s mother lived with John in the last part of her life (John 19:26).
John wants to tell us who Jesus is before we start reading about Him. For John it took over three years to really understand who Jesus was. He does not want his readers to play this guessing game. He tells us right up front. He wants us to have in our minds, fixed and clear, from the very beginning of his Gospel, about the eternal majesty and deity of Jesus Christ, and that He is the Creator of the universe.
Jesus in His Infinite Majesty
John wants us to read the gospel worship-fully, humbly submissively and full of awe at the man at the wedding, at the well, the one who could control the seas, heal a paralytic and make a man born blind to see – that He is the Creator of the universe. This is what John wants us to see and to feel as we read this. He wants us to think about the stupendous fact that this man was God. This is why John starts the book this way – the way God meant for him to put it together. You or I may have written this story along with a detailed commentary on the meanings of various events. John does none of that. He just lays it up front as to who Jesus is, and then invites us to see for ourselves. This is what Jesus told the first two disciples who approached Him: “Come and see” (John 1:39). This is what we are invited to do as well. To come, to see and to believe!
John says, “In the very first words out of the end of my pen, I will stun you and blow you away with the identity of this man who became flesh and dwelt among us.” John means for us to read every word of this Gospel with the clear, solid, amazed knowledge that Jesus Christ was with God and was God and that the one who laid down his life for us (John 15:13) created the universe. John wants us to know and believe in a magnificent Savior. Whatever else you may enjoy about Jesus, John wants you to know and see Jesus in his infinite majesty. This is why he says speaking of himself and the other disciples “We have seen His glory” (John 1:14). He wants us to see His glory too!
But still, we may wonder: why did he choose to call Jesus “the Word?” “In the beginning was the Word” (John 1:1). For one thing, John has both Jewish and Gentile readers. He has his Gentile readers in mind, because he often explains Jewish customs in his narrative. Greek philosophy elevated reason to the highest place as the cause of the universe (the Greek word is Logos). Jewish readers thought about the creation of the world as described in Genesis and arising from God’s Word (“and God said … “). So by using this term, He was using a term that would be understood by all his readers. But John makes this “Word” personal. John had come to see the words of Jesus and the Person of Jesus as the embodiment of the truth of God in such a unified way that Jesus himself — in his coming, and working, and teaching, and dying and rising — was the final and decisive message of God. Or to put it more simply: what God had to say to us was not only or mainly what Jesus said, but who Jesus was and what he did. His words clarified himself and his work. But He Himself and his work were the main truth God was revealing. Jesus said, “I am the truth,” (John 14:6).
Jesus came to witness the truth (John 18:37) and he was the truth (John 14:6). His witness and his Person were the Word of truth. He said, “If you abide in my word, you are truly my disciples” (John 8:31), and he said, “Abide in me” (John 15:7). When we abide in him we are abiding in the word. He said that his works were a “witness” about him (John 5:36; 10:25). In other words, even in everything He did, He was the Word.
Jesus: God’s Decisive, Final Message
In Revelation 19:13 (by the same author as the Gospel), he describes Jesus’s glorious return: “He is clothed in a robe dipped in blood, and the name by which he is called is the Word of God.” Jesus is called The Word of God, as he returns to earth. Two verses later John says, “From his mouth comes a sharp sword” (Revelation 19:15). In other words, Jesus strikes the nations in the power of the word of God that he speaks — the sword of the Spirit (Ephesians 6:17). But the power of this word is so united with Jesus himself that John says that he doesn’t just have a sword of God’s word coming out of his mouth, but he is the Word of God.
So as John begins his Gospel, he has in view all the revelation, all the truth, all the witness, all the glory, all the light, all the words that come out of Jesus in his living and teaching and dying and rising, and he sums up all that revelation of God with the name: he is “the Word” — the first, final, ultimate, decisive, absolutely true and reliable Word. The meaning is the same as Hebrews 1:1–2: “Long ago, at many times and in many ways, God spoke to our fathers by the prophets, but in these last days he has spoken to us by his Son” (Heb 1:1-2). The Son of God incarnate is God’s climactic and decisive Word to the world.
What does John Say About Jesus?
What does John want to tell us first about this man Jesus Christ whose deeds and words fill the pages of this Gospel? He wants to tell us four things about Jesus Christ: (1) the time of his existence, (2) the essence of his identity, (3) his relationship to God, and (4) his relationship to the world.
The Time of His Existence
John begins with: “In the beginning was the Word” (John 1:1). This is similar to how the Bible begins in Genesis: “In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth” (Gen 1:1). That is not an accident, because the first thing John is going to tell us about what Jesus did is that he created the universe. That’s what he says in verse 3. So the words “in the beginning” mean: before there was any created matter, before time existed there was the Word, the Son of God.
Remember: “These are written so that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God” (John 20:31). John begins his Gospel by locating Jesus, the Christ, the Son of God, even before time. Jude exults in this truth with his great doxology: “To the only God, our Savior, through Jesus Christ our Lord, be glory, majesty, dominion, and authority, before all time and now and forever. Amen” (Jude 1:25). Paul says in 2 Timothy 1:9 that God gave us grace in Christ Jesus “before the times of the ages.” So before there was any time or any matter, there was the Word, Jesus Christ, the Son of God. That is who we will meet in this Gospel.
The Essence of His Identity
Verse 1 ends: “The Word was God” (Gen 1:1). One of the marks of this Gospel is that the weightiest doctrines are often delivered in the simplest words. Someone has said that it is good for a child to wade and an elephant to swim! This could not get simpler — and it could not get deeper. The Word, who became flesh and dwelt among us, Jesus Christ, was and is God.
Every Christian worships Jesus Christ as God. We fall down with Thomas before Jesus in John 20:28 and confess with joy and wonder, “My Lord and my God!”
When we hear the Jewish leaders say in John 10:33, “It is not for a good work that we are going to stone you but for blasphemy, because you, being a man, make yourself God” we are invited to think, “No, this is not blasphemy. This is who our Savior really is! Our Lord, our God.”
Think about this for a moment. This means that as we study this Gospel, we are getting to know God, because getting to know Jesus is getting to know God. Do you see what this means for our series on the Gospel of John? It means that we are going to spend week after week getting to know God, as we get to know Jesus. Do you want to know God? Then “Come and see”!
His Relationship to God
The middle of verse 1 says: “The Word was with God” (John 1:1). This is the heart of the Christian doctrine of the Trinity. Jesus was with God. He was different to God, yet He was also “God”.
Let this statement sink in your minds. The Word, Jesus Christ was with God, and he was God. He is God, and he has a relationship with God. He is God, and he is the image of God, perfectly reflecting all that God is and standing forth from all eternity as the fullness of deity in a distinct Person. There is one divine essence and three persons. Two of them are mentioned here. The Father and the Son. We learn those names later on in the book. The Holy Spirit will be introduced later.
This may be hard to understand, but God has given us this truth for a reason. Let us not discard it because we do not understand it. If Jesus Christ is not God, he could not have saved us. But because He is God, He will be able to satisfy the deepest longings and aspirations of our souls for all eternity. This is why He describes Himself as Living Water, so that if we drink of Him we will never thirst again. As Piper says: “If you throw away the deity of Jesus Christ, you throw away your soul and with it all your joy in the age to come”.
His Relationship to the World
John continues: “He was in the beginning with God. All things were made through him, and without him was not anything made that was made” (John 1:2-3). The Word who became flesh and dwelt among us, taught us, healed us, rebuked us, protected us, loved us, and died for us, created the universe. Remember to retain the mystery of the Trinity from verse 1. Don’t leave it as soon as you get to verse 3. “All things were made through him.” Yes, another was acting through the Word. God was. But the Word is God. Therefore, don’t let yourself diminish the majesty of the work of Christ as Creator. He was the Father’s agent, or Word, in the creation of all things. But in doing it, he was God. God, the Word, created the world. Your Savior, your Lord, your Friend — Jesus is your Maker.
John makes one more statement here, that affirms that Jesus is God Himself. Muslims and Jehovah’s Witnesses teach that Jesus was not God, but was the highest created Being. John 3 sets that to rest once and for all. He did not just say, “All things were made through him.” You might think that is enough to settle it. Jesus is not a creature he created creatures. But someone could conceivably argue, “Yes, but ‘all things’ does not include himself.” It includes everything but himself. So he was created by the Father, but then with the Father created all other things.
But John did not leave it at that. He said, in addition “and without him was not anything made that was made” (John 1:3). What do these final words “that was made” add to the meaning of “without him was not anything made”? They add this: they make explicit and emphatic and crystal clear that anything in the category of made, Christ made it. Therefore, Jesus was not “made”. He always was! He is the eternal “I am”.
May God enable us to see His glory!