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New Testament: John

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Summary

Agony in the Garden,  Andrea Mantegna ( circa 1460) The Gospel of John begins by announcing that God's Word, which brought all things into being, became flesh in Jesus of Nazareth. During his ministry, Jesus reveals the power of God by performing seven miraculous signs, including turning water into wine, healing the sick, and raising the dead. In his preaching he identifies himself as the bread of life, the light of the world, and the good shepherd. Through his crucifixion, Jesus lays down his life, giving God's love to the world. By rising from the dead he shows that those who believe in him have everlasting life.

So What?

John's Gospel presents readers with a portrait of Jesus that is at once engaging and profound. By identifying Jesus as the light of the world and good shepherd, the Gospel gives readers accessible ways to begin thinking about who Jesus is, while inviting them to go deeper, so that readers continue growing in their understanding of who Jesus is and what it means to be related to God through him. The purpose of the Gospel is that people might have faith, and faith is a relationship of trust in God and Jesus Christ. People were created for relationship with God, and as the Gospel tells the story of Jesus in compelling ways it helps to bring people into that relationship, which is true life.

Where Do I Find It?

 

The Gospel according to John is the fourth book in the New Testament.

 

Who Wrote It?

John's Gospel is based on the testimony of "the disciple whom Jesus loved" (John 21:20-25). The Gospel does not identify this disciple by name. Many early Christian writers thought he was John the son of Zebedee, although many recent scholars conclude that the beloved disciple's identity remains unknown.

When Was It Written?

The Gospel of John was probably completed around 90 C.E., after the death of the beloved disciple (John 21:20-25). Although John is traditionally said to have been the last Gospel completed, it is probably not much later than Matthew and Luke.

What's It About?

 

John's Gospel was written that people might believe that Jesus is the Messiah and Son of God, who gives people the gift of eternal life through his life, death, and resurrection (John 20:30-31).

 

How Do I Read It?

 

John's Gospel begins with a poetic introduction that places the story of Jesus within the wider story of the Word of God. A word is a form of communication, and as John tells the story it stresses ways in which God speaks to the world through Jesus. Readers will find that Jesus communicates the will of God by the words he speaks, by the miracles he performs, by the death he dies in love for others, and by rising to life. The gospel story takes place on the earth, but at its heart is the way God is made known to the people of the world.

AUTHOR: Craig R. Koester, Professor of New Testament

I. Jesus' Public Ministry (John 1:1-12:50)

Jesus, the Word of God become flesh, manifests God's glory as he calls disciples, performs signs, heals, and teaches.

A. Prologue (John 1:1-18)

The Word of God, which brought all things into being, becomes flesh in Jesus of Nazareth.

B. Call of the First Disciples (John 1:19-51)

John the Baptist bears witness to Jesus as the Lamb of God, prompting his own followers to go to Jesus. These early disciples soon introduce others to Jesus.

C. Wedding at Cana and Cleansing the Temple (John 2:1-25)

Jesus performs his first miracle or "sign" at a wedding at Cana in Galilee, revealing divine glory, then drives out the merchants in the Jerusalem temple, indicating that in the future his crucified and risen body will be the center for worship.

D. Jesus and Nicodemus (John 3:1-21)

Nicodemus, a Jewish teacher and ruler, goes to Jesus by night and becomes confused when Jesus speaks about being born anew.

E. John the Baptist and Jesus (John 3:22-36)

John the Baptist calls Jesus the bridegroom, that is, the one who brings people into true relationship with God, whereas John the Baptist is simply an assistant, like the best man at a wedding.

F. Jesus and the Samaritan Woman (John 4:1-42)

Jesus meets a Samaritan woman by a well and tells her about the gift of living water, which brings people into true life with God.

G. Healing the Official's Son (John 4:43-54)

An official travels to ask Jesus to heal his son and upon returning home finds that his son was made well at the time Jesus spoke.

H. Healing the Lame Man at Bethesda (John 5:1-47)

Jesus heals a lame man at the pool of Bethesda on the Sabbath, then explains that he is giving life on the Sabbath just as God gave life each day of the week.

I. Feeding the Five Thousand and Walking on the Sea (John 6:1-21)


Jesus feeds five thousand with bread and fish, then flees when they want to force him to become king. When his disciples set out on the sea in a boat, he comes to them, assuring them of his presence with the words "I am" (rendered "It is I" in the NRSV), which echo the name of God.

J. Bread of Life Discourse (John 6:22-71)


After the feeding of the five thousand, Jesus identifies himself as the true bread, which God gives to the world to bring eternal life.

K. Debates about Jesus' Identity (John 7:1-52)

Jesus goes to the temple in Jerusalem during the Feast of Booths and announces that he is a true teacher, because he teaches what he has received from God, and that he is the giver of living water.

L. The Woman Caught in Adultery (John 7:53-8:11)


This story does not appear in the earliest manuscripts of the Gospel, but is printed in most Bibles. A woman is caught in adultery and brought to Jesus for judgment, yet he asks that the one without sin cast the first stone at her--alluding to the fact that all had sinned by singling her out for condemnation while letting the adulterous man go free, which was unjust.

M. The Light of the World (John 8:12-59)

By identifying himself as the light of the world, Jesus points to his identity as Messiah and as God, since God was commonly associated with light. The debates that follow include sharp challenges to Jesus, and in the end the crowds try to stone him because they think his claims are blasphemous.

N. Healing the Man Born Blind (John 9:1-41)


By healing a man who was blind from birth, Jesus shows that he is the light of the world, and the man steadily becomes enlightened about Jesus' true identity.

O. The Good Shepherd Discourse (John 10:1-42)

Jesus identifies himself as the gate or door through which people find life with God and the good shepherd who lays down his life for the sheep.

P. Jesus the Resurrection and the Life (John 11:1-57)

When his friend Lazarus dies, Jesus tells Martha, "I am the resurrection and the life," then shows his power by calling Lazarus back to life. Yet, the Jewish authorities become alarmed by his popularity and determine to put the life-giver to death.

Q. Mary Anoints Jesus' Feet (John 12:1-8)

Mary, the sister of Lazarus, pours expensive ointment on Jesus' feet, prompting Judas to object that the ointment has been wasted, but Jesus indicates that it foreshadows his coming death and burial.

R. Approaching Jerusalem (John 12:9-26)

As Jesus approaches Jerusalem, crowds wave palm branches and acclaim him king, but Jesus indicates that his glory will be that of a seed falling into the earth and dying before it bears fruit.

S. The End of Jesus' Public Ministry (John 12:27-50)

Jesus tells the crowd on Palm Sunday of his being "lifted up," which looks ahead to his crucifixion, yet the crowd cannot comprehend this, so Jesus departs and hides from them.


2. The Last Supper (John 13:1-17:26)

Jesus washes his disciples' feet to show his love and to foreshadow his death, speaks about his return to the Father and the coming of the Holy Spirit, then prays for his followers and those who will believe because of their witness.

A. Washing the Disciples' Feet (John 13:1-17)

At his last meal with the disciples Jesus assumes the role of a slave and washes the feet of his disciples to show his love for them, giving them the command to serve others in the same way.

B. The Departure of the Betrayer (13:18-38)

Jesus announces that one of the disciples will betray him, giving Judas a piece of bread to identify him. Judas then departs into the night.

C. Jesus' Departure and Return (John 14:1-14)

At the Last Supper the disciples are troubled by Jesus' announcement of his return to the Father, and he reassures them by telling them that he will prepare a place for them in the many rooms in his Father's house.

D. The Coming of the Spirit (John 14:15-31)

Jesus tells his disciples that he will not abandon them but will send them the Spirit, or Advocate, who will be with them forever, enabling them to comprehend the full meaning of what Jesus has given them.

E. The Vine and Branches (John 15:1-27)

Jesus is the true vine, in whom the disciples find life, and it is by abiding in him that they are able to bear the fruits of love, despite opposition from the world.

F. The Work of the Spirit (John 16:1-33)

After Jesus' return to the Father, the Spirit will continue to confront the world's unbelief, while guiding the disciples in the truth, thereby glorifying Jesus.

G. Jesus' Prayer at the Last Supper (John 17:1-26)

At the conclusion of the Last Supper, Jesus prays that God will glorify him, that God will preserve Jesus' followers as they are sent into the world as witnesses, and that God will bind the believing community together as one.


3. Passion and Resurrection (John 18:1-21:25)

Jesus is arrested, questioned by Jewish leaders and Pilate the Roman governor, then crucified and placed in a tomb. Rising from the dead, he appears to Mary Magdalene, Thomas, and other disciples in Jerusalem and by the Sea of Galilee.

A. Jesus' Arrest (John 18:1-11)

Jesus goes to a garden, where Jewish and Roman soldiers seek to arrest him, but Jesus does not go with them until he has secured the release of his disciples.

B. Hearings before the Jewish Authorities (John 18:12-27)

Jesus is taken to Annas, a high priest, where he is questioned about his teachings, and, as Jesus denies nothing, Peter stands outside and repeatedly denies that he is a disciple of Jesus.

C. Hearings before Pontius Pilate (John 18:28-19:16)

Pilate, the Roman governor, questions Jesus about kingship and power, and even though he recognizes that Jesus is innocent, he hands Jesus over for crucifixion, showing that Pilate himself is powerless to follow the truth.

D. The Crucifixion (John 19:17-42)

As Jesus is crucified, he entrusts his mother to his beloved disciple, then drinks sour wine and declares that his work is complete, so that he dies as the Passover lamb, taking away the world's sin.

E. At the Empty Tomb (John 20:1-18)

Mary Magdalene discovers the empty tomb and concludes that someone stole Jesus' body, but comes to recognize the risen Jesus when he calls her by name.

F. Appearances to the Disciples (John 20:19-31)


The risen Jesus appears to the disciples, giving them the Spirit, and a week later appears to Thomas, pronouncing a blessing on those who believe without seeing.

G. The Great Catch of Fish (John 21:1-14)

The risen Jesus appears to his disciples beside the Sea of Galilee, empowering them to bring in a great catch of fish as a sign that their witness will bring many to Christ.

H. Peter and the Beloved Disciple (John 21:15-25)

Peter had denied Jesus, but now confesses three times that he loves Jesus, and Jesus directs him to feed the flock of believers, even as the beloved disciple will serve as a special witness whose testimony is preserved in the Gospel of John.

AUTHOR: Craig R. Koester, Professor of New Testament

John's Gospel was composed in a context where the identity of Jesus was disputed. Some considered claims that Jesus was the Messiah and Son of God to be incompatible with Jewish tradition, creating friction between Christians and synagogue members who did not share their views (John 9:24-34). A central issue in the debate was whether Jesus was really from God or whether his claim to be one with God was blasphemy (10:30-33). Accordingly, the Gospel emphasizes that Jesus works in harmony with God by giving life to people as the Creator does. Therefore, Jesus speaks the truth about his relationship with God when he uses the divine name "I Am" for himself. The experience of conflict is reflected in the attention the Gospel gives to questions about Jesus' identity. The Gospel allows readers to hear people challenge Jesus' claims and to listen to Jesus' replies. There are intense discussions of what it means to testify rightly and to judge with right judgment. The experience of conflict helped to shape a Gospel that is passionately committed to the question of truth (8:32; 14:6).

At the same time, the Christian community had become more ethnically diverse by the time this Gospel was written, including now people of Jewish, Samaritan, and Greek background (1:35-51; 4:39-42; 12:20-21). Distinctions between Jews and Gentiles fade as the Gospel speaks broadly of the opposition that comes from "the world" (15:18) and of God's love for "the world" (3:16). In order to communicate Jesus' identity to a widening readership, the Gospel uses language that would have been broadly accessible. Jesus is identified as the bread of life, the light of the world, the good shepherd, and the true vine--imagery that was rooted in Israel's Scriptures yet engaging to a diverse readership. This helps the Gospel remain a compelling book for readers today.

AUTHOR: Craig R. Koester, Professor of New Testament

Beloved disciple. One of the most enigmatic figures in John's Gospel is the disciple whom Jesus loved. This disciple appears beside Jesus at the Last Supper and at the foot of the cross (13:23; 19:26). He visits the empty tomb and recognizes the risen Jesus by the Sea of Galilee (20:2-10; 21:7). Traditionally, the beloved disciple is identified as the apostle John, the son of Zebedee. Nevertheless, the Gospel never gives the name of this disciple, which makes it difficult to identify him with certainty. The beloved disciple's testimony is preserved in the Gospel of John, though the Gospel was apparently completed after his death. The final chapter assumes that the beloved disciple has died (21:20-23). What is most important is not the identity of this disciple, but the testimony that he gives concerning Jesus.


Chronology of Jesus' ministry. The sequence of events in John's Gospel differs from those in the other Gospels. The temple cleansing occurs in John 2 rather than at the end of Jesus' ministry, and Jesus is crucified on the day before the Passover meal, rather than on the day after the Passover meal, as in the other Gospels. Some assume that the first three Gospels always preserve the correct order of events and that John changes it. It is better to recognize that all four Gospels preserve historical tradition, yet each tells the story of Jesus in a distinctive way. On the historical level, many think it probable that Jesus cleansed the temple at the end of his ministry rather than at the beginning, as John tells it. Yet many also find it plausible to think that John's placement of the crucifixion on the day before Passover is historically accurate.


Fulfillment of Scripture. John's Gospel sometimes says that something in Jesus' ministry was done "to fulfill the Scripture." What is surprising is that the Old Testament passages that are quoted rarely sound like predictive prophecy. For example, Jesus says that his opponents fulfilled the Scripture that says, "They hated me without a cause," something that other people also experienced (John 15:25; Psalm 35:19). In John's Gospel the fulfilling of Scripture often means that something discloses the full meaning of Scripture. In the case just cited, opposing the Son of God reveals the full extent of human hatred. The quotations of Scripture help to show the meaning of something, rather than simply functioning as predictions that are fulfilled.


Jesus' crucifixion. John's account of the crucifixion differs in some ways from those of the other Gospels. Mark's Gospel, for example, tells of the darkness and mockery surrounding Jesus' death and records his final words as, "My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?" By way of contrast, John tells of Jesus entrusting his mother to the care of his beloved disciple and says that his final words were, "It is finished." John's account may not dwell on the brutality of the crucifixion, but it does take its painful reality into account. John tells of Jesus being scourged, forced to carry his cross in public, and having his side pierced with a spear. Since John's readers would have understood the horror of the process, the Gospel does not emphasize it. Instead, it tells the story in a way that helps to disclose the meaning of the crucifixion as a gift of divine love.


Jesus' humanity and divinity. John's Gospel gives special attention to the divinity of Jesus, identifying him with the Word that was with God and was God (1:1). In conversations, Jesus calls himself the "I Am," echoing the name of God given in Exodus 3:14, and even says, "The Father and I are one" (10:30). At the same time, the Gospel is also clear that Jesus is a human being, for in him God's Word became "flesh" (1:14). Jesus becomes tired and troubled; he weeps and dies (4:6; 11:35; 13:21; 19:30). The Gospel writer did not need to emphasize Jesus' humanity, since everyone took it for granted, but he did have to argue that Jesus truly was from God and embodied the Word of God, since that was the disputed issue. When reading the Gospel, it is important to keep in mind that the humanity of Jesus is assumed throughout the story.


The Jews. John's Gospel often refers to Jesus' opponents as "the Jews," which can give the impression that the Gospel speaks negatively about Jews in general. Nevertheless, it is clear that Jesus himself is Jewish. Jesus is called a rabbi and he teaches in synagogues and the temple (1:38; 18:20). Since Jesus is Jewish and brings salvation, he can say that salvation is from the Jews (4:22). It is also clear that many of his followers are Jews, who know the Jewish Scriptures (1:45). According to the Gospel, some Jews responded favorably to Jesus and others did not. This was also true of non-Jews, since some Greeks wanted to see Jesus, whereas a Roman like Pilate had Jesus put to death (12:20; 19:10).


Lord's Supper. The other Gospels and 1 Corinthians say that on the night of his betrayal Jesus gave his disciples bread and wine, saying, "This is my body," and, "This is my blood." These are called the words of institution. John's Gospel does not include this in its account of the Last Supper but focuses instead on Jesus washing the disciples' feet. Earlier in John, Jesus calls himself the bread of life, and speaks of people consuming his flesh and blood (John 6:32-35, 48-58). Many assume that this alludes to the words of institution, since the theme is similar. Others do not think this is the case, interpreting the passage as a vivid way to speak about believing in the crucified Christ.


Post-Easter perspective. John's Gospel tells the story of Jesus' life, death, and resurrection from a post-Easter perspective. The Gospel is not simply a record of what Jesus said and did, but an account that includes insights from the time after Jesus' resurrection. In the account of the cleansing of the temple, Jesus speaks about the temple being destroyed and raised up. The Gospel says that the disciples did not understand this at first, but later realized that he was speaking about the temple of his body, which would be crucified and resurrected (John 2:18-22). Similarly, they did not understand what it meant for Jesus to ride toward Jerusalem on a donkey, but after his resurrection they understood it in light of the Old Testament passages concerning a ruler of Israel coming on a donkey (John 12:14-16; Zechariah 9:9). These later insights are included in order to help readers understand the meaning of what Jesus said and did.


Seeing and believing. At the end of John's Gospel, a disciple named Thomas demands proof of Jesus' resurrection, and when Jesus appears to him, Jesus says, "Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have come to believe." Seeing miracles or resurrection appearances is not a necessary basis for faith. The first disciples follow Jesus when they hear others speak about him. Later, they respond favorably to the miracles, but the miracles are not the basis for their faith. Moreover, the Gospel recognizes that people easily misunderstand the meaning of miracles. For example, Jesus heals a blind man on the Sabbath, which reveals the power of God, but many argue that doing this breaks the law of God and shows that Jesus is a sinner. Seeing does not guarantee believing.

AUTHOR: Craig R. Koester, Professor of New Testament

Believing. The purpose of John's Gospel is that people might believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that by believing might have life in his name (20:30-31). Throughout the Gospel, Jesus' words and actions are designed to bring about faith.


Glory. In a simple sense glory is the honor that people receive from other people (12:43), but in the fuller sense glory is the revelation of divine power and presence. Jesus reveals divine glory by works of power (2:11) and by laying down his life, which reveals the glory of divine love (12:23-25). After his resurrection, Jesus resumes his heavenly glory and prepares a place for his followers to share in it (17:1, 24).


Jesus as Messiah. The Messiah or "anointed one" was expected to be a king, who would rule over God's people. The hope for the Messiah grew out of God's promise that the heir to David's throne would have an everlasting kingdom (2 Samuel 7:12-13). John declares that Jesus is the one in whom God's promises are fulfilled.


Jesus as Son of God. The expression Son of God was associated with kingship in the Old Testament (2 Samuel 7:13-14; Psalm 2:7-8). In John's Gospel, it also points to Jesus' heavenly origin. He is the Son of God since he has come from God and embodies the power and presence of God.


Judgment. People come under God's judgment by rejecting the Christ whom God has sent. By way of contrast, they find life by coming to faith, since faith is the way people relate rightly to God. John's Gospel sometimes speaks of a final judgment at the end of time (5:28-29) but also says that judgment already occurs when people refuse to believe.


Life and eternal life. People have life in one sense as long as they are alive physically, yet true life is found only in relationship with God. Faith is the means to life because through faith people relate to the God who made them. This life is called eternal life because it is life in relationship with the eternal God (17:3). Life begins now in faith and continues beyond death through the power of resurrection (5:24; 11:25-26).


Love. Love for the world is the reason God sent Jesus into the world (3:16). Jesus in turn shows love for others by washing his disciples' feet and ultimately by laying down his life (13:1; 15:13). The love that Jesus gives to others is the source and norm for Christian life, which is shaped by the command to love one another as Jesus has loved them (13:34).


Satan. Satan is also called the devil, the evil one, and the ruler of this world (8:44; 12:31; 13:2; 14:30; 16:11; 17:5). John's Gospel understands that the power of evil works through deception, hatred, and death. Jesus defeats the evil one, therefore, with truth, love, and the gift of life.


Signs. Signs are things that point beyond themselves. The miraculous actions that Jesus performs are called "signs" because they point beyond, to the power and the presence of God (2:11).


Sin. At its most basic level sin is a broken relationship with God, and this in turn is expressed in sinful actions against other people. The opposite of sin is faith. Therefore, identifying sin as unbelief is another way of saying that it is rooted in a broken relationship with God (16:9).


Spirit. The Spirit reveals Jesus' identity (1:33-34) and brings people to faith, which is called new birth (3:3-8). The Spirit is sometimes called the Advocate or Counselor, because it brings people to a deeper understanding of who Jesus is and empowers them in witness (14:26; 15:26-27).


World. The world was created by God through the Word, yet the world has become estranged from God and does not know the one who made it (1:10). The world is hostile to God, Christ, and the community of faith (15:18-19), yet God continues to love the world, sent Christ to redeem it, and sends Christ's followers into it to bear witness to the truth (3:16; 17:18).

AUTHOR: Craig R. Koester, Professor of New Testament

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