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.

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