Unlike the books of Matthew, Mark and Luke, the book of John is not a Synoptic Gospel. This means that this Gospel does not adopt the same perspective as the first three. John specifically wants the reader to know Who Jesus is, rather than what happened when.
He describes a number of events that illustrate this (Who Jesus is) and arranges them not in a chronological order, but in the order that best supports his narrative. His opening chapter reveals that Jesus, before He became flesh, was the Word That was with God the Father at the beginning of time. John includes many detailed and fascinating dialogues in his Gospel.
Jesus is the Way, the Truth, the Life, the Door, the Good Shepherd, and more
The Gospel of John contains what must be the two of the best-known Bible verses in the world.
- John 3:16, because it establishes how much God and Jesus loved mankind when all people were still sinners.
- John 14:6, because this is where Jesus teaches us that He, and He alone, is the True Way to Life with God the Father. He is the Door (John 10:7) that His followers have to enter to get to Heaven. He, the Good Shepherd, leads us, the sheep, into God’s presence.
It is Jesus Himself Who says: “I am the Way, the Truth and the Life.”
In other verses, He refers to Himself as the Light of the World (John 8:12; 9:5), the Bread of Life (John 6:35; 6:41; 6:48; 6:51) and the Resurrection and the Life (John 11:25). The final “I Am” statement by Jesus is in John 15:1. Jesus says that He is the true Vine, and explains this in: “Remain in Me, and I will remain in you. Just as no branch can bear fruit by itself unless it remains in the vine, neither can you bear fruit unless you remain in Me.”
He elaborates on this in, where we find that continuously keeping Jesus’ words close to our hearts, contemplating them, praying over them, keeping His commandments and eating His Bread of Life, will make us “remain in Him”. If we were to distance ourselves from Him and His Word, we will no longer bear fruit. Only if we keep His commandments, we remain in Him, and can expect our prayers to be effective, as promised in John 15:7.
The essence of Jesus’ ministry
John’s Gospel comprises all the key elements of Jesus’ ministry.
- The testimony of John the Baptist (who saw the Holy Spirit descend on Jesus following His baptism) makes the crucial observation “Behold, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world!” in . This sums up Jesus’ entire mission on earth. The synoptic writers do not summarize Jesus’ mission like this, but John is believed to have written his Gospel later than Matthew, Mark and Luke; he may have read their Gospels, and felt this crucial aspect deserved more emphasis.
- John confirms that Jesus is the Messiah (John 4:26).
- From John’s account of a private night-time conversation between Jesus and a Jewish leader, the Pharisee Nicodemus (a member of the Sanhedrin Council) we learn of the need to be born again. Although Nicodemus is a teacher himself, he does not understand that to enter God’s Kingdom, we require a second birth. The birth of our flesh has already taken place but now, our spirit needs to be “born from above”. This new birth is the essential renewal of our spirit by the Spirit. John 1:12 tells us how this can be achieved: “But to all who did receive Him, who believed in His Name, He gave the right to become children of God” (see also 7:39). Jesus shares essential information with Nicodemus in .
- Apart from worshiping God in spirit and truth, we need to worship Him in obedience (John 4:23). When Jesus says in : “I seek not my own will but the will of Him who sent Me” we should not assume that this applies only to Jesus Himself!
- John 14:9 – “Whoever has seen Me has seen the Father.” When we read the Old Testament, in particular, we may, at times, have doubts about the character of God and His intentions with us. But Jesus confirms that the goodness He embodies, and the self-sacrificing love for us that He has, is the same greatest love as the Father’s. It is God’s will “that everyone who looks to the Son and believes in Him shall have eternal life” (John 6:40).
Many of the events described by John are also found in the synoptic gospels. However, three stories stand out and are only found in the Gospel of John.
- The adulterous woman ( ) – Jesus shows that due to our own shortcomings, we are not qualified to judge another human being. Although He Himself does not condemn the woman either, He does tell her to leave her life of sin.
- The healing of the blind man who is sent to the Pool of Siloam (not to be confused with Bartimaeus, who was sat by the roadside) in – John spends an entire chapter on the initial healing and “follow-up conversations” (which, presumably, he attended himself).
- The resurrection of Lazarus ( ) – Events leading up to this include the shortest verse in the Bible – .
The final nine chapters
John devotes a full nine chapters on Jesus’ last week. Jesus is clearly aware of what is going to happen and shares essential truths: His own imminent death and our willingness to sacrifice, in; faith in Him and Father ( ); the fact that if we reject Him, we will be judged ( ); the need to serve ( ) and to love fellow believers ( , ), and the advent of the Holy Spirit ( ; ). When Jesus is being interviewed by Pilate, He summarizes His mission as: “to testify to the truth” ( ).
In John 19, John also establishes that a number of details to the crucifixion were foreshadowed in the Old Testament, such as in Psalm 22:16, Zechariah 12:10 and Psalm 34:20.
John himself says inthat he did not write down everything that happened in the years he followed Jesus. That would just be too much! Therefore, he selected the most important stories “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 20:31).