A study in the Gospel of John by John Dugas
Grace Bible Church, Tulsa
Introduction to The Gospel of John
14 September 2014
Full Audio Message
Perhaps the most famous Bible verse in America is John 3:16, although it may have been displaced in our day by Mt 7:1 “Judge not lest you be judged”! John’s Gospel is a favorite among believers when introducing people to Jesus. It was a great support to the early Church in the 4th century during the controversy surrounding the nature of Christ. In our day, it is a powerful tool against cults who deny the deity of Jesus. How many hundreds of thousands of Gospels of John have been given away?
Another reason why John’s Gospel tends to be a favorite is that it is written in everyday language. John’s Greek is good Greek, but it is not considered “elegant” Greek like the letter to the Hebrews. But this perfectly suited both author and audience for whom Greek was likely their second language.
John wrote his Gospel for two primary reasons. The first we all understand. He wrote with an evangelistic purpose. Sadly, most readers and preachers stop there. But John clearly says that he wrote this Gospel, also to those already saved. John says that he wrote it so that we may have life. Now we tend to do this: we say that life = eternal life = salvation = a ticket that will get us into heaven. That’s unfortunate. In fact, that’s tragic! “Life” refers to SO much more than that in Scripture. John will help us to understand what all this concept of “life” means.
“Life” is living now and forever as a disciple of Jesus. If you call yourself a disciple, do you understand what is required? Are you clear on what living as a disciple looks like? Do you realize that living as a disciple is a rich, robust experience? Does that describe YOUR life? Are you eager to hear more? Let’s get started! Begin by reading John 20:19-31.
Who wrote this? The author refers to himself as “the disciple whom Jesus loved.” Here is a man amazed that Jesus would love someone like him. From evidence in this book, we conclude that the author was an eyewitness to these things (Jn 19:26, 35; 21:24) and one of the inner three: Peter, James and John. The author distinguishes himself from Peter (Jn 20:2; 21:20) and James died much too early (A.D. 44) to have written this. That leaves us with John, one of the sons of the fisherman, Zebedee.
Outside of Scripture, the early Church testifies that it was written by the apostle John. Polycarp (ca. A.D. 60 – ca. A.D. 155) knew John and through him, Irenaeus (ca. 130 – ca. 200) testified that the author was John. Other Church fathers testified that this was the understanding of the early Church.
When was this written? Most likely, John wrote his Gospel between A.D. 70 and 90. It’s difficult to be more precise, but it does seem to come earlier than John’s letters because the Gnosticism that John deals with in 1, 2, 3 John is much more developed. I date this Gospel around A.D. 70.
To whom was this written? We don’t know. Some scholars assumed that John’s language pointed to a Greek way of thinking, but we have since discovered in the Dead Sea Scrolls that his terms like “the Logos,” “the Light,” were from very Jewish ways of thinking. Also, closer examination John shows that it bears a much stronger likeness to Jewish thinking as we will see as we move through it.
Who will we encounter? Jesus, His mother Mary, His brothers, John the Baptist, the Twelve, an ever expanding and shrinking band of disciples, a traitor!, religious leaders, soldiers, Pilate, Jesus’ heavenly Father, the Holy Spirit, crowds, and “the Jews”. That last group needs some explanation. Often John uses it specifically for the religious leaders who were hostile to Jesus and His message.
What prompted John to write this? If John wrote about 40-50 years after Jesus walked the earth, many of his readers may have been believers for quite some time. What did they need to hear? We may not know the precise situation that gave rise to this Gospel, but it’s clear that they needed help introducing people to Jesus and help for themselves in living as Jesus’ disciples.
Many of us have been believers for quite some time. What do we need to hear? Each generation needs guidance in introducing their world to Jesus and for living as disciples the way that Jesus intended. This is “generational reset.” Each generation must come to Christ by faith and cannot ride in on their parents’ coattails. And each generation needs to be freshly convicted to live the way Jesus intended for His disciples to live.
Why then did John write this? ( His Purpose). He makes it easy. In John 20:31 the apostle tells his readers that these various signs that Jesus performed were recorded here “that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God; and that believing you may have life in His name.”
As we work our way through the Gospel of John, we will answer a few significant questions. The chief question is this: Who is the Messiah? It is a question of identity. It’s as if some of John’s readers are saying to him, “You claim to know who is the Messiah. Prove it!” (Carson, p. 90). And so, we will be on the lookout to see how John shows us that the Messiah is Jesus and no one else.
Along with that, we need to watch for the way John will answer two more important questions: “Why should I believe [become a Christian]?” and “How do I become a Christian?”
Finally, we need to watch for the ways John answers a question which comes from the second part of his purpose: “What does it mean to be a disciple?” or “What does a Christian look like?” John wanted Jesus’ disciples to understand what it meant for them to “have life in [Jesus’] name.” Discipleship is an important theme. A disciple is one who experiences this “life” in his or her daily walk. We’ll have more to say about this “life” in a moment. Message: John wrote his Gospel to prove that Jesus is the Messiah and to show those who believe this how they should live.
At the Fall, man’s sin turned the kingdom upside down. Man sought his own good rather than God’s. What I’d like us to watch for is how Jesus turned our fallen world upside down. In other words, Jesus turned things right side up! He taught us how to operate for His kingdom rather than for ours. To our minds, Jesus’ way will seem upside down. Jesus intentionally said things that offend our earthly thinking. They may be hard to understand. They certainly will be hard to accept.
What is a Gospel? A Gospel is an historically reliable and faithful witness of the truth. But a Gospel is a unique class of literature. It uses the facts of history but is more than history. A Gospel doesn’t merely tell a true story. Gospels tell the true story about Jesus so that people might come to believe in His message of salvation. Each Gospel writer chose his material carefully to best tell the Gospel story in his own words that would have the strongest impact upon his readers.
How will this affect the way it is preached? Since a Gospel is more similar to history than letters, I’ll be normally preaching from larger units of material. When possible, we’ll study an entire periscope [a story unit]. John’s Introduction (John 1:1-18) is more theologically packed, so we will take that up in smaller chunks. But a Gospel presents the author’s thoughts in larger units most of the time.
How should we outline John? We can keep this simple. Chapters 1-12 “Signs,” chapters 13-17 “Shepherding,” and chapters 18-21 “Saving Work.” John presents seven signs that Jesus performed which confirm that Jesus is the Messiah. Sometimes, Jesus will explain why those signs were so important. But chapter 12 is clearly a turning point when Gentiles come seeking Jesus. At that point, Jesus declares, “The hour has come for the Son of Man to be glorified” (12:23). What then follows in 13-17 is Jesus’ preparing His disciples for what was to come, and in 18-21 we encounter Jesus’ betrayal, suffering, death, resurrection and appearances to His disciples.
Why is John so different from Matthew, Mark and Luke? Mathew, Mark and Luke are called the Synoptic Gospels because they can be laid side-by-side to provide a running “synopsis” of Jesus’ life. One of my Greek tools is a book that lays the four Gospels side-by-side where they line up with each other. For most of the book, John’s column is blank. And often, when there is text in John’s column, the other three are blank! John covers a lot of different material than they do.
Each man presented the truth in his own words and selected events and teachings for his own purposes and to reach his particular audience. We can learn from them: Preach Gospel truth, but preach it in your own words. Choose material that will have the strongest impact on your hearers.
What will we encounter that is different from the Synoptics? Concepts like love (agape), truth, knowing, abiding, the Father (God), light and life. He gives seven “I am” statements: “I am the Bread of Life (6:35), the Light of the world (8:12), the Door/Gate for the sheep (10:7), the Good Shepherd (10:11, 14), the Resurrection and the Life (11:25), the Way and the Truth and the Life (14:6), and the true Vine (15:1).
Eternal life is so much more than getting a free pass into heaven. What exactly did John mean by this term ‘life’? It’s a rich term that spans from the moment of conversion all the way to life throughout eternity. Jesus said that He came so that we might have this life abundantly [now!]. Here is a preliminary definition: The life that Jesus gives is living now and forever in deep relationship with Father, Son and Holy Spirit as they abundantly supply more than is necessary for our enlightenment, obedience, service and following Jesus in a rich and ever-increasing personal relationship. Does that leave you hungry for more? Does that describe your experience?