Two Posts to Help You Get Started with John
A Unique Gospel
Of the four Gospels, John’s is the most unique. As you can see in the drawing, Matthew, Mark, and Luke are called the Synoptic Gospels because they share a very similar view of Jesus’ life and ministry. While each paints a slightly different portrait of Jesus, each is a variation of the same basic theme. In the Synoptics, Jesus spends the first half of His ministry in Galilee and then moves to Jerusalem for the final showdown. The Synoptic Gospels are all based upon this basic outline and share many of the same stories.
There are two important reasons why John’s Gospel is unique.
- The others had already told the same story in three different ways. It was time for a new angle on the story to give new perspective on the life and ministry of Jesus.
- John was an old man when he wrote the gospel. While the synoptics were written relatively soon after Jesus’ ministry (30 years), John wrote his 60 years after the events. When the synoptics were written, it is most likely that Jerusalem had not yet been destroyed. John, as an old man, having lived with Jesus, having been persecuted and exiled in His name, having witnessed the destruction of Jerusalem, he had a very different perspective on who Jesus really was. The Synoptic Gospels have a very earthly, physical quality to them. Especially Matthew’s Gospel is still wrapped up in a system of rewards and punishments, blessings and curses within the Kingdom of Heaven. John’s Gospel sees Jesus’ teaching at a deeper, spiritual level. John realized that Jesus never intended on setting up a physical kingdom but had been speaking, from day one, about the true, spiritual Kingdom of God which resides in the heart of man and flows outward. While this message is present in the synoptics, it is still somewhat obscured by the authors temporal perspective. John removes the veil of temporality and demonstrates that the Word – the eternal, life-giving essence of God — became flesh and dwelt among us, and we beheld His glory. In Him was life, and that life was the light of men. Praise God for John’s vision
John’s gospel is radically different. While he still shows a thematic contrast between the freshness and life of Galilee as opposed to the death and oppression of Jerusalem, John shows Jesus bouncing back and forth between. Actually, the book can be divided into its major sections based upon Jesus’ movement between these two regions.
Introduction (John 1)
In this section John sets the theological tone of the book from the outset. He is not mincing any words or holding anything for the punchline. Jesus is the Son of God, the light of the World, the Word became Flesh.
Two Dwelling Places (John 2)
In this section we see our first contrast between Galilee and Jerusalem. In the preceding scene at the end of John 1, the disciples ask Jesus, “Where do you abide,” or “where are you staying?” Chapter 2 answers that question. Jesus abides in places like a wedding celebration, where he lavishes the best wine in great abundance. He then goes to Jerusalem where he says that God does not dwell in the temple and the commercialization of worship, but dwells in the body of Christ.
Two Conversations (John 3-4)
In this section John contrasts the conversation Jesus had with Nicodemus, a teacher of the Law, with one He had with a Samaritan women by a well. These conversations typify the message and the intended audience of the Word. The Jews did not understand and rejected the Word, the Samaritans and the “rejects” accepted the Word and found eternal life.
The Testimony of the Word (John 5-6)
In these two chapters Jesus demonstrates the evidence that He is who He says He is. In Jerusalem He demonstrates that Moses testified about Him in the Law. In Galilee His miracles are testimony to His power and authority over nature.
The Word vs. The Teachers (John 7-11)
In this group of scenes and exchanges between Jesus and the teachers of the Law, we find Jesus condemning the leaders of Israel. Simply put, Jesus says, “I AM the leader, you aren’t.” Obviously the leaders did not like this very much and they came after Jesus. Jesus then fled across the Jordan, not to Galilee, but to another region outside Judea called Ephraim. From here He launches His final approach to Jerusalem to bring fulfillment to His mission.
The Climax of the Story
In a wonderful scene of emotion, tension, and victory, we find John presenting an alternate climactic peak in the story. Where the Synoptic Gospels led the first half of the story up to a peak moment at Jesus’ transfiguration, John leads the readers to a peak moment at Lazarus’ resurrection. Here Jesus presents the true nature of His mission and His Kingdom. He has come to bring LIFE!
The Triumph of the Word (John 12-21)
As Jesus enters Jerusalem, the fickle crowd greets Him with shouts of “Hosanna” while Jesus knows that the plot to kill Him is already underfoot. Quickly the crowd turns on Him, He is arrested, tried, and crucified. After He is buried, He conquers death and rises from the tomb. Jesus then, being the Word, breathes the Holy Spirit onto His disciples and empowers them to be His witness and Light in the world. The final scene shows the “resurrection” of Peter as he is reinstated into the charge of feeding Jesus’ sheep. In this final scene, we see the commission and challenge to the church today. We are to be fishers of men and feeders of sheep. We bring them in and we raise them up!
The Word in the Upper Room (John 14-17)
In these four chapters, John takes an opportunity to teach us what the true nature of the Kingdom of God is all about. Jesus teaches the disciples in the upper room about being servant leaders, about remaining in the Vine, about the coming ministry of the Holy Spirit, and about the charge to bring light to the world and to glorify the Father. Intense study of these chapters is essential for all church leaders.
Watch the Bible Project Videos on John