Hey I'm Josh Hawkins and this is episode 10 of Opening Up the Gospels. In the last 3 episodes I've given a really brief overview of Matthew, Mark, and Luke, just to help you see that each of those Gospels really matter in their own respect to the story of Jesus and His life. They're not bedtime stories or fairy tales or just random collections of Jesus sayings and miracles. They were written for all Christians to know, to love, and to treasure because of the Person they all speak about. As I said at the end of the last episode, don't listen to these overviews and walk away with an academic stench in your nose. Let them actually stir you to love your Maker. You may say "well, what does it matter that Mark was written in the mid 50s AD?" Well just think about it and marvel for a second. God allowed the Gospels to come into our hands almost 2000 years after they were written. How much zeal does the Father have for us to know how beautiful His son is?
In this final introductory episode today, we're going to look at the Gospel of John. The first three Gospels in our Bible, Matthew, Mark, and Luke, are known as the "Synoptic Gospels" simply because they view the life and ministry of Jesus from a similar perspective and share a large amount of common material. However, the fourth Gospel, John's Gospel, is strikingly different. It leaves out a lot of the narrative and discourse in the Synoptics and fills in many of the gaps in Jesus' story, focusing heavily on the time He spends in Jerusalem. We'll talk more about this in a minute.
Let's jump in and look at the Gospel of John. First, who wrote it?
Well, it shouldn't come as a surprise, but just like the other 3, this Gospel doesn't name its author. However, we have some very good clues that can help us have a high level of confidence that the author was one of Jesus' twelve disciples, the Apostle John, the son of Zebedee. In John 21:24, it says:
“This is the disciple who is bearing witness about these things, and who has written these things, and we know that his testimony is true.” (John 21:24 ESV)
Just a few verses earlier, the author used the phrase "the disciple whom Jesus loved", a phrase used often throughout this Gospel. Whoever the author of this Gospel is, they leave their name out and replace it with that phrase, "the disciple whom Jesus loved". Now of course that doesn't mean much, but there are some bigger clues about who the author might be, and they're always linked to that phrase. There's so many passages throughout this Gospel that claim that the author was an eyewitness of the events, sometimes recounting things with very particular detail. The author talks about very intimate moments with Jesus at the last supper, His prayer in the Garden, or at His tomb with Peter. In fact, he always seems to be a very close associate of Peter, which suggests he was in the "inner circle" of Jesus' disciples. These plus several other things have given the church throughout history confidence that John of Zebedee was indeed this Gospel's author.
When was John written? Church tradition dates this gospel late into the first century, perhaps between 90-100AD, and puts John in Ephesus at the time of its writing.
What about the structure of John? John, like Mark and Luke, is arranged linearly and chronologically. John narrates key portions of the Gospel story like the ministry of John the Baptist as well as Jesus' cross and resurrection. But one main thing you'll notice when you read John and compare it to Matthew, Mark, and Luke is that there is so much He says about Jesus' words and deeds that the other three don't include at all. For example, John is the only one who talks about Jesus healing the paralytic at the pool of Bethesda. That's in John 5. He's also the only one who talks about Jesus in Jerusalem for the Feast of Tabernacles. That's in John 7. Then also the washing of His disciples feet, the last supper, and the temple exhortation right after and all of the extended dialog there in John 13 through 17. Why aren't those things recorded in the other Gospels? Well, think just for a second about where all of those things took place. John 5 and the pool of Bethesda is in Jerusalem. John 7, Tabernacles, in Jerusalem. Last supper, temple discourse, in Jerusalem. These aren't the only things that are distinct to John, I just picked a few to make my point. John is primarily focused on narrating Jesus' story in Jerusalem. Remember that Matthew is not arranged chronologically, Mark primarily narrates Jesus' ministry in Galilee, and as I said in Episode 9, Luke focuses on Galilee but also includes His ministry in Judea and Perea beginning about 6-8 months before the cross. So John is "filling in the gaps", focusing on Jesus' activity in and around Jerusalem throughout His two year ministry. So what does this look like in terms of a structure? Well in John 1, we have an introduction, John the Baptist, and Jesus' first disciples. John 2-3 we see the wedding at Cana in Galilee, then Jesus in Jerusalem to cleanse the temple, and His meeting with Nicodemus. It's so significant that He cleanses the temple as the very first act of His public ministry in Jerusalem. We'll talk about this at length in a future episode. John 4 is the woman at the well in Samaria on His way back to Galilee, but then John 5 we see Jesus back in Jerusalem again for another feast of the Jews. John 6 he's back up in Galilee again in Capernaum giving the "eat my flesh, drink my blood" sermon, and this is already about a year into His ministry, close to the Passover in April. John 7-8 is the Feast of Tabernacles in October, John 9-11 is the Feast of Dedication in December and some events following that, and then John 12 through 19 narrates Passion Week in April. See the huge time gap between all of these events? This is so important to see as we develop a chronology of Jesus' life.
Ok, now for some of the themes and distinguishing features we see in John.
John opens His gospel with a profound statement about Jesus' true identity. More than just an ordinary man, Jesus is the one true living God. The study of this is just called Christology, and this is a huge theme of John's Gospel. John presents Jesus as the "Word" and asserts His divinity by saying that He existed before all things and created all things. Throughout the Gospel of John we see Jesus asserting His own divinity so often - whether it be through things like His "I am" statements or other times when He says things like "I know where I came from, and I know where I'm going" or when He forgives sins. He constantly declares Himself to be the LORD, Yahweh, the one true God of Israel. The Pharisees and leaders of the Jews knew exactly who He had claimed to be... They didn't believe Him, and so they crucified Him.
John also focuses on many of the signs Jesus does that prove His identity as Lord and Messiah. When he does narrate events outside of the temple in Jerusalem, like the Wedding of Cana in John 2, the healing at the pool in John 5, or the feeding of the 5,000 and the walking on the water in John 6, the healing of the blind man in John 9, or the raising of Lazarus in John 11, he's furnishing them as evidence to support Jesus' claims.
John also focuses on many of the Jewish feasts in his Gospel - He narrates 3 separate Passover feasts which are all in April, the Feast of Tabernacles in John 7 and 8 in October, and the feast of Dedication (also known as Hanukkah) in John 10 in December. At each of these feasts, John shows us how Jesus always points to the meaning of them in Himself. He is the Passover lamb, He is the one who led Israel out of Egypt and will bring them into their promised inheritance, and He is the light of the world and the good shepherd of the sheep.
John also shares a special interest in the Holy Spirit, like we saw with Luke in his gospel and the book of Acts. Jesus' presence would be with us by the Holy Spirit as a token and a down payment of His presence in our exile of this present evil age until He returns and dwells with us.
Finally, John states the entire purpose of his gospel so clearly in John 20 verses 30 and 31: “Now Jesus did many other signs in the presence of the disciples, which are not written in this book; but these are written 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's Gospel is a call to make a decision - do we really believe Jesus is the rightful King of Israel who will sit on David's throne in Jerusalem? And do we believe that we will inherit the resurrection and live eternally here on the earth if we put our faith in Him?
This was not only the call of John in his gospel, but was actually the purpose and motivation behind all of the Gospels. They offer us snapshots and summaries of Jesus for one purpose - that we might believe. If they were trying to offer a comprehensive biography of Jesus, they were doing a terrible job. They omit huge portions of His life. We don't know a single thing about what Jesus said or did between the ages of 12 and 30. Why? Because the Gospels are focused on telling us certain things to cause us to believe certain things about Jesus.
Why is this important to know, especially as we move forward into the narrative starting in next week's episode? If we see this, it disarms so many unnecessary questions. We often look at the Gospels with a certain expectation that the writers are actually not trying to fulfill. We can't forget that they are giving snapshots, glimpses, and episodes, all to cause us to say “there it is, I believe”.
Well, there's so much more that could be said about each of the Gospels, but starting next week I want to jump in to the narrative with you. We'll start with the birth of John the Baptist in Luke 1:5-25. If you have some time this week, I'd encourage you to spend some time reading and meditating on these verses.
As always, you can check out any of the past episodes and see more resources on the Gospels on my website, www.joshuahawkins.com/gospels. Thanks so much for the encouragement I've received from many of you thus far. If this series has been impacting for you, share the videos on social media and tag your posts with the hashtag #gospels. Well bless you, and I hope you tune in next week.