The key purpose of the Gospel of John is that those who read it might believe in who Jesus is (Messiah and Son of God), and by believing, have life in His name (John 20:31). Chapter 1 introduces this clear purpose as it outlines the main message of the Gospel (Believe in Jesus and become a child of God (v12)), as well as introduce all the key truths about Jesus which we must believe in order to be saved. That is, that Jesus is God (v1), God become man (v14), Son of God (v18), Christ/Messiah (v17), and Saviour (v29).
Alongside these grand and compelling truths about Jesus, the Gospel details the ministry of one who is deeply interested and invested in people. The Gospel contains a number of distinctive extended interactions between Jesus and both individuals (e.g. Nicodemus (ch3), the Samaritan woman(ch4)) and groups (the disciples (13-17), and “the Jews”).
Based on these truths about Jesus and the account of his life, the Gospel author John masterfully brings the thoughtful reader to a compelling choice – reject Him or receive Him. The one option that is not available to us is to remain indifferent to him (1).
Some other distinctive characteristics of this Gospel:
- The clarity with which the divinity of Jesus is argued, not only in 1:1 but later in the “I am” phrases, clearly equating Jesus with the God of Israel (Exodus 3:14) (2).
- The Gospel is full of repeated images, patterns, ideas and emphasis that all contribute to the strong and clear case for belief in Jesus as God. For example, Jesus calls us to drink from the well of life (Ch4) and eat the bread of life (Ch6), He calls us to walk in the light Ge provides (Ch8), and live in the vine (Ch15) which is Himself.
- The dualism that emerges in the opening chapter and then continues throughout – light/darkness (1:5), life/death, in the world/not of the world, receive/reject etc (3).
- Many familiar accounts from the other Gospels are absent (parables, the sermon on the mount, the transfiguration) yet Blomberg argues that “almost every distinctive passage in John finds at least short conceptual counterparts in one or a handful of much shorter Synoptic sayings somewhere”. (4)
As a Christian, it’s hard not to be be moved by Jesus’ prayer for all believers (me!) in Chapter 17, and then to be struck by the distinctly tender finish to the Gospel in chapter 21 as Jesus repeats the phrase ‘Peace be with you’, and then as Jesus cooks breakfast for the disciples and charges Peter to ‘feed his lambs’.
As a slight aside, I was also struck by how John records the start of Jesus’ public ministry, by selecting the contrasting scenes of Him turning water into wine and then clearing the temple. Could you imagine a religious leader within the reformed evangelical tradition announcing their public ministry by promoting alcohol consumption, and then causing a public disturbance in a church meeting?
Structurally, there is a distinct beginning (1:1-19) and end (chapter 21), although chapter 21 may be a later addition (5). The Gospel opens and closes with Christ’s command to follow him (1:43, 21:19), again confirming the main purpose of the Gospel. I would divide the rest of the Gospel into 3 sections, split by Jesus’ long discourse with his disciples in chapters 13-17. The first section contains the main part of His earthly ministry and the latter section dealing with His arrest through to resurrection.
1. Elena Bosetti, John (n.p.: Pauline Books and Media, 2011), 8.
2. Joel Green, Jeannine Brown and Nicholas Perrin, ‘The Dialectical Theology Of John’, Dictionary Of Jesus And The Gospels (USA: InterVarsity Christian Fellowship, 2013), 400.
3. John Ashton, Understanding the Fourth Gospel (New York:Oxford University Press, 2007), 387-418.
4 C. L. Blomberg, Jesus and the Gospels: An Introduction and Survey (2nd Edition. Nashville, TN: B&H Academic, 2009) , 178.
5. Graham Stanton, The Gospels And Jesus (2nd ed.; n.p.: Oxford University Press, 2002), 98.