Introduction to John
The Gospel of John stands alone among the four gospels. Matthew, Mark and Luke are called the “Synoptic Gospels,” because they all exhibit the same “general” approach to presenting the life and teachings of Christ, though each has a particular and distinctive emphasis. John’s gospel, on the other hand, is very different from all the others. It was written almost thirty years after the others, under much different conditions, for a different audience, with a different purpose, and with a vastly different theme and emphasis.
All of the original apostles, including Paul, had been martyred by this time, and only John was left. In fact, John’s long survival had been predicted by the Lord Jesus after His own resurrection (John 21:20-23). Jerusalem and its temple had been destroyed by the Romans in A.D. 70, and most of its inhabitants either slain or scattered, John obviously was not writing for Jews but neither for any other particular nation. His purpose was evangelistic (John 20:31) and His message addressed to “whosoever believeth” (John 3:16).
John’s vocabulary itself indicates His purposes. The words “believe” and “life” are used more in John than in all three other gospels put together. The same is true of many other words of evangelistic significance, such as “love,” “truth,” “eternal,” “grace,” “know,” etc.
Matthew had emphasized Christ as King, Mark as Servant, and Luke as Man. John presents Him as God. He is the Creator of all things in the beginning, Judge and Rewarder of all in the end (John 1:1-3; 5:22). Perhaps as an answer to the pagan philosophies that dominated the whole Gentile world of the day, the Gospel of John portrays the full deity of Christ in unmistakable terms—while confirming His true and perfect humanity as well.
Apart from the events associated with John the Baptist and then with the death and resurrection of Christ, the only event described by John which is also in the Synoptic Gospels is the multiplication of the loaves and fishes. Furthermore, the record of each event and each miracle as recorded in John is accompanied by a doctrinal discourse not found in the other gospels. It is in John that the seven great signs or miracles demonstrating His deity are given (John 20:31), and also the seven great “I am’s” are recorded.
John himself was the beloved disciple, a fisherman by trade and brother of James, who was also one of the twelve. Although he does not identify himself by name in his gospel, the dominant belief of the early church was in the Johannine authorship, not only of his gospel, but also of the three epistles of John and the book of Revelation. According to extra-Biblical tradition, he later spent many years supervising the church in Ephesus and the other churches in Asia Minor, finally dying as a very aged man.
Some 19th century liberals attempted to dispute John’s authorship, claiming that the book must have been written three hundred or so years after Christ. This idea was overturned by the discovery of papyrus fragments of John’s gospel dating from early in the second century.
Its message, in accordance with its own stated purpose, has been used to win multitudes throughout the centuries to saving faith in the Lord Jesus Christ, and this is perhaps the crowning proof of its authenticity and divine inspiration.
1:1 In the beginning. It is significant that the Apostle John began his gospel with the words: “In the beginning.” He obviously intended that his record should start with the same words as Genesis, that is, with creation. Since his explicit purpose in writing was to win his readers to Christ as Son of God and Savior (see John 20:30-31), he realized the foundational importance of prior belief in special creation of all things by God. People need to know Jesus Christ as offended Creator before they can believe with understanding on Him as sin-bearing Savior and Redeemer. A foundation of true creationism as the only meaningful context for true evangelism is thus revealed through John, under divine inspiration.
1:1 Word. The “Word” (Greek logos) is the first of at least a dozen titles given to Christ in this first chapter of John’s gospel. Note the others: “the Light” (John 1:7-9); “only Begotten Son” (John 1:14, 18); Jesus Christ” (John 1:17); “the Lord” (John 1:23); “Lamb of God” (John 1:29, 36); “Master” (John 1:38); “King of Israel” (John 1:49); “Son of God” (John 1:34, 49); “Son of man” (John 1:51); “Jesus of Nazareth” (John 1:45); Messiah” (John 1:41). Probably, “the Word of God” (a phrase used 1200 times in the Old Testament) is the most meaningful. Note Psalm 33:6; Hebrews 11:3; II Peter 3:5.
1:1 Word was God. This is a very strong assertion that Jesus is God. The eternal Word, who was to be made man (John 1:14), is God (not merely “a god” as some have alleged), and is the same God who created heaven and earth in the beginning. In fact, He is the only “true God” (I John 5:20), who was there “in the beginning.”
1:2 beginning. The definite article has been supplied. The actual Greek is en arche—that is, “in beginning.” The “Word of God” thus was there before the creation of the space-mass-time universe, so that John’s “beginning” even antecedes the Genesis “beginning,” extending without an initial beginning into eternity past, before even time was created. Note also John 17:24, where Jesus, in His humanity, acknowledged that He was with the Father, and loved by the Father, “before the foundation of the world.”
1:2 with God. The “Word of God” (i.e., Jesus Christ) was God, yet also “with God.” Thus God is both personal and plural (in a uni-plural sense only, however, a mysterious category that makes sense only in terms of the doctrine of the Trinity).
1:3 made by him. This is an emphatic statement declaring that Jesus Christ, before His incarnation, had made everything in the universe. He is the God of Genesis 1:1, the God of all creation. Furthermore, note that “all things were made.” They are not now being made, as the concept of evolution requires. The Creator rested from all His work of creating and making all things (Genesis 2:1-3) after the six days of the creation week. Also, note the past tense in such passages as Colossians 1:16; Hebrews 1:2-3; and other verses dealing with creation.
1:4 life. The last part of John 1:3 and the first part of John 1:4 can also be read as follows: “That which was made was life in Him.” As Paul said: “In Him we live, and move, and have our being” (Acts 17:28).
1:5 comprehended. The darkened minds of sin-blinded men could not (because they would not!) come to the light when it was offered to them. “Men loved darkness, rather than light, because their deeds were evil” (John 3:19). Note II Corinthians 4:6; Genesis 1:3.
1:7 for a witness. The gospel of John is uniquely designed to bear “witness” to the deity and saving work of Christ. This verse has the first of forty-seven uses of this word or its derivatives (“record,” “testimony,” etc.) all from the Greek marturia in John’s gospel, as well as seventeen times in his three epistles and sixteen times in Revelation—far more than by any other Biblical writer.
1:8 not that Light. What a testimony to John the Baptist! He was so Christlike in his life and teachings that people kept mistaking him for the promised Messiah, requiring John in his gospel (inspired by the Holy Spirit) to assure people that, despite all appearances, John the Baptist was not Christ.
1:9 lighteth every man. Even though some people live and die without ever hearing of Jesus, the witness imprinted by Him on His creation is such conclusive evidence that there is a Creator who is omnipotent, omniscient, holy and loving, that those who reject or ignore it are “without excuse.” See notes on Romans 1:20; Psalm 19:1-6; etc. He has also placed the light of conscience in each person (Romans 2:14-15), but that too is rejected in most instances.
1:10 by him. Here is yet another assertion that “the world was made by Him;” yet the men and women who were made by Him refused to recognize Him. “They did not like to retain God in their knowledge” (Romans 1:28). He was the true light physically as well as spiritually, for He is the very energizer of the world (“upholding all things by the word of His power”—Hebrews 1:3), but the world preferred an evolutionary explanation.
1:11 his own. “He came unto His own things”—that is, the earth and its fullness (Psalm 24:1)—which He had created. But then “His own people”—even His chosen people—rejected Him. The people He made knew Him not, and the people whom He chose rejected Him, when He came as one of them.
1:12 power. “Power” here is the word for “authority” or “right.”
1:12 believe. Note also that “receiving Him” is here defined as “believing on His name,” with all that the latter implies (see the first note on John 1:1).
1:14 made flesh. This is the great verse of the incarnation, when the eternal Word took on human flesh. Since this verse, and the following verses, unequivocally refer to “Jesus Christ” (John 1:17), there is no legitimate escape (though many have tried) from the great truth that Jesus was the great God and Creator, as well as perfect Man and redeeming Savior. Furthermore, He has assumed human flesh forever, while still remaining fully God. He is not part man and part God, or sometimes man and sometimes God, but is now and eternally the God-Man. He is fully and always true God and perfect Man—man as God created and intended man to be. On the reality and importance of the incarnation, see also Philippians 2:5-8 and I John 4:2,3.
1:14 dwelt. This is not the usual word for “dwelt” but rather is the Greek word for “tabernacled.” As in the tabernacle (or tent) in the wilderness, where the glory of God was resident for a time, so God in Christ dwelled on the earth for a time, in a body prepared by God (Hebrews 10:5). Eventually, when the Holy City descends out of heaven to the new earth, then “the tabernacle of God” will forever “be with men,” and He “will dwell with them” and “be their God” eternally (Revelation 21:3).
1:14 beheld his glory. The Greek word for “tabernacle” (skene) is a cognate word to shakan, the Hebrew word for “dwell,” both being related to what has come to be known as the shekinah glory cloud that filled the ancient tabernacle (Exodus 40:34). The latter term is not directly used in either Testament, but was used in Talmudic literature with this meaning. It is thus commonly associated with the glory of God dwelling in either the tabernacle (or the later temple) or in Christ’s human body. In this sense, the disciples “beheld His glory” while He was on earth, and Christ prayed that we would also behold His glory in heaven (John 17:5,22,24). Even now, we can, in a spiritual sense, behold His glory as we see Him in the written Word, just as the disciples recognized Him as the living Word (see II Corinthians 3:18).
1:14 only begotten. “Only begotten” is the Greek monogenes, which precisely means “only begotten,” not just “only,” as some translators render it. God has many “sons” and “daughters” (e.g., John 1:12), but Jesus Christ is the only begotten Son; in fact, He eternally proceeds from the Father, manifesting and revealing Him.
1:14 grace and truth. “Grace and truth came by Jesus Christ” to mankind (John 1:17).
1:15 witness. In his five books, John uses the Greek word martureo (translated “witness,” “testimony,” “record,” “report,” “martyr”) over sixty times.
1:15 before me. Even though John the Baptist was born six months before Jesus, he knew that, as the only begotten of the Father, Christ had existed eternally.
1:16 fulness. That is, from His fulness, we receive “grace upon grace,” endless and inexhaustible grace.
1:17 the law. Some would say that the Old Testament God was harsh and legalistic, whereas the New Testament God is one of grace and love. However, they are really the same God. The Hebrew words for “grace” and “gracious” occur at least 166 times in the Old Testament, and the word for “mercy” (same as “lovingkindness”) occurs over 200 times.
1:18 at any time. This passage confirms that on any of the many occasions in ancient times when God showed Himself in one way or another to man (e.g., Genesis 18:2; Job 42:5), we can be sure that each time it was a theophany, in which the triune God manifested Himself through the Second Person of the Godhead, the Word of God.
1:18 bosom of the Father. The Son is eternally in the Father’s “bosom” and eternally proceeding therefrom as the “only begotten Son” (Greek monogenes), uniquely different from the many other sons of God (angels are also called sons of God as are all those men and women who have been born again through faith in Christ). Those modern translators who delete the word “begotten” here are not only wrong in translation, but also in allowing dangerous heresy in the understanding of the nature of Christ.
1:18 declared. As the living Word, the Son reveals and speaks for the Father.
1:19 from Jerusalem. The officials were concerned because of John’s great influence. Note Mark 1:5.
1:20 not the Christ. Many people thought John was the promised Messiah (Luke 3:15).
1:21 I am not. Many more (even many modern Bible teachers) have said that John was Elijah returned (Malachi 4:5), but John explicitly denied this.
1:21 that prophet. The reference is to the promise of a prophet like Moses (Deuteronomy 18:18,19).
1:23 prophet Esaias. John is here quoting Isaiah 40:3, applying it to the very soon appearance of Jesus to his listeners. In that connection, it is significant that this Messianic prophecy in Isaiah calls the coming one both “LORD” (Jehovah) and “God” (Elohim). John thus recognized that this one who was “before me” (thus, preexistent in eternity— John 1:15) was also the Lord of life and the God of creation.
1:25 why baptizeth thou. This question indicates that the baptism ritual was what concerned the Jewish leaders, rather than John’s preaching of repentance. They recognized baptism as indicating some kind of new beginning, of change of belief and life-style, and were fearful it might undermine their own authority and privileges. There is no indication of such a practice in the Old Testament, nor any firm evidence of so-called “proselyte baptism” in the inter-Testamental period. Indications suggest baptism as something entirely new, symbolizing somehow that the coming Messiah would begin a new kingdom with those who would follow Him, indicating their new life by submission to baptism. All John’s converts were “baptized of him in Jordan, confessing their sins” (Matthew 3:6). All of this, especially the fact that it was done “in Jordan,” together with the literal meaning of baptizo (i.e., to “dip” or “immerse”) favors the conclusion that this act, which so disturbed the Pharisees, was one of immersion, representing death to an old life and resurrection to a new life. This would acquire much greater significance later when they came to understand that it pictured the literal death, burial, and resurrection of the Coming One about whom John was preaching.
1:26 whom ye know not. Nor did the Pharisees want to know (John 1:10-11)! This conversation evidently occurred sometime after Jesus’ baptism, but either they had not been present on that day, or had not understood what was happening. Jesus had now returned, however, and was there standing among them as they interrogated John.
1:28 Bethabara. Bethabara was about twenty miles east of Jerusalem, on the Jordan, representing quite a trip for the throngs which came out from Jerusalem to hear him preach, including these Pharisees.
1:29 next day. This may have been about six weeks after Jesus’ baptism following the forty-day testing in the wilderness (Mark 1:11-12), and shortly before Passover (John 2:13), when the people would be thinking about the coming slaying of the Passover lambs.
1:29 Lamb of God. Jesus is called “the Lamb” by the Apostle John twice in his gospel (John 1:29,36) and twenty-eight times in Revelation. The title is derived from the multitude of sacrificial lambs offered in atonement for sins in the old dispensation, soon to be superseded by Christ’s “one sacrifice for sins for ever” (Hebrews 10:12). Note also Isaiah 53:7; Acts 8:32; and I Peter 1:19, where Christ’s substitutionary sacrifice is also compared to the shedding of the innocent blood of a lamb.
1:29 taketh away. The figure here is that of the two goats (Leviticus 16:7-22), offered on the annual Day of Atonement. One would die for the sins of the people; the other (“the scapegoat”) would carry away all their sins into the wilderness. But “it is not possible that the blood of bulls and of goats should take away sins” (Hebrews 10:4). Sacrifices were offered every day, but they could “never take away sins” (Hebrews 10:11). Their blood could only provide a temporary “atonement” (or “covering”), until the one capable Lamb of God could come to take away the “sin,” not just “sins” of the whole world!
1:34 I saw. John gives his final, definitive answer to the Pharisees who were challenging his right to baptize in water. God Himself had sent him to do so (John 1:33), so that when Jesus also would come for baptism (Luke 3:21-22) to “fulfil all righteousness” (Matthew 3:15), God could identify Him by sending the Holy Spirit upon Him in the form of a dove (John 1:32-33), in order that “He should be made manifest to Israel” (John 1:31).
1:34 bare record. Six times in this first chapter, John the Baptist “bears witness” concerning Christ (John 1:7,8,15,19,32,34).
1:34 Son of God. John thus recognizes Jesus Christ as Creator (John 1:1), as the life and light of all men (John 1:4, 9), as the Word incarnate (John 1:14), as preexistent (John 1:15,30), as the One bringing God’s grace and truth into the world (John 1:14,17), as the Savior of those who believe (John 1:12), as the One in whom sinners could be born again to become children of God (John 1:13), as the One who reveals the Father (John 1:18), as the only begotten Son of God (John 1:14,18), as the sin-bearing, sin-removing Lamb of God (John 1:29), and as the One who would baptize with the Holy Spirit (John 1:33). This is surely a fully developed Christology, not an Old Testament prophecy, as many expositors have claimed. John was indeed a prophet, but not of the Old Testament. John the Baptist was the first Christian prophet, the first Christian gospel preacher, the first to administer Christian baptism, the first Christian witness, the first Christian filled with the Spirit, the first Christian missionary, the first Christian pastor and, finally, the first Christian martyr! It is remarkable that so few Christians recognize his unique greatness, as Christ did (Matthew 11:9-11).
1:35 two of his disciples. It is probable, in light of Peter’s statement in Acts 1:21,22 (along with Matthew 3:13; Luke 1:17; and Acts 10:37) that not only these two disciples but all of those who soon comprised the twelve disciples of Christ had first been won, baptized, and trained as John’s disciples before he directed them to Christ.
1:36 Behold the Lamb. The clear implication of this command was: “Therefore, now you must follow Him!” “He must increase, but I must decrease” (John 3:30).
1:39 where he dwelt. The place where Jesus dwelt was probably not His family home, which was far to the north, in Nazareth, whereas John was baptizing east of Jerusalem. It is likely He had no real dwelling place, for He said not long after this time that “the Son of man hath not where to lay His head” (Matthew 8:20).
1:40 One of the two. The second was undoubtedly John, who wrote the gospel, but who never identifies himself by name.
1:40 Andrew. Andrew never performed a miracle, never preached great sermons, and never wrote an inspired epistle, as far as the record goes. Yet he led Peter to Jesus, and Peter did all those things. He led the lad with the loaves and fishes to Jesus, and also certain Greeks (John 6:8-9; 12:20-22). The one fed a multitude; the other led to a voice from heaven. Andrew had a quiet but noble ministry.
1:41 being interpreted. The need to explain the meaning of Messias shows that John’s gospel was written for Gentiles. Note also John 1:38; John 5:2. John wrote his gospel long after the other three gospels and, in fact, well after the destruction of the temple and the scattering of the Jews in A.D. 70.
1:43 Galilee. At this time, Jesus was apparently still in Judaea, where John had been baptizing (John 1:28), preparing to travel north nearer to His family home in Galilee. A wedding had been scheduled there in Cana, to which He had been called (John 2:1-2). Yet he called John, Andrew, Peter, Philip, Nathanael, and presumably James (John’s brother) as His disciples during these two days. All of these men lived far north in Galilee, yet Jesus first encountered them in or near Bethabara, east of Jerusalem, far from their homes. The inference seems to be that all were disciples of John the Baptist, and were with him as he preached and baptized near Jerusalem in those days.
1:46 Nathanael. Nathanael is probably the same as Bartholomew (Matthew 10:3).
1:46 Nazareth. The town of Nazareth is not mentioned in the Old Testament or in any of the extra-Biblical literature of the period, so it is not known why Nathanael made such a remark. As a fellow Galilean, Nathanael undoubtedly had some knowledge about its citizens, and that was his feeling about them. The Nazarenes’ ill-tempered reaction to Jesus when he returned to preach in their synagogue, even attempting to kill Him (Luke 4:16-30) gives some insight.