The True Light Has Come Into The World
Survey of the Gospel of John
by Scott deBeaubien – 2014/08/22
HCMI Course: Gospel of John, Summer 2014
The Gospel of John stands unique among the four gospels. It is different in the sense that it does not seek to prove to the world that Jesus is the Christ, the awaited Messiah. Rather, the evangelist John embarks on a journey where he assumes Jesus to be God and sets off to put the world on trial. It is with good reason then that we, in our modern Christian thinking ask new believers to go through this gospel first, as it deals with the issue of sin in a more direct fashion than any of the other gospels.
John’s gospel is also unique in the sense that it presents the reader with a series of seven signs, or proofs of Jesus’ deity, signs which He provided as a testament to us that He is the Son of God. In addition to these signs there are seven discourses and seven “I am” statements that provide us with the final declaration from Jesus Himself that He is indeed equal with the Father in Heaven – the Great I AM.
If one were to dissect the gospel, it would break down roughly into a prologue (1:1 – 18); followed by what is referred to as “The Book of Signs” (1:19 – 12:50); and then there is “The Book of Glory” (Chps. 13-20); and finally, there is an Epilogue in Chapter 21. Again, the book unfolds like a map that points both at Jesus as the Christ, but also at us to convict us of our sin and need of a Savior.
One of the most interesting aspects of the book for me are the personal encounters. There is, of course, the encounter with John the Baptist in the first chapter. In this earliest encounter, we see the evangelist John setting up a theme that will be carried on through the rest of the book. John the Baptist declares “Look, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world!” (1:29). This makes us aware that the Christ has come to the world, or as was already said in the prologue: “The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us.” (1:14).
By announcing to the world Jesus’ deity, the evangelist John was seeking to combat a growing heresy in the church at the time. There was a movement that had been around for some time known as Gnosticism that claimed all matter was evil and therefore Jesus was “Indwelt” with the Spirit, but was not himself God. The dramatic portrayal of Jesus as God from the very first verse in this gospel attests to the fact that John was refuting this claim vehemently and resolutely in order to, as he himself tells us in the watershed statement in 20:31 “that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in his name.”
This gospel was written later than the other gospels, which gives us further evidence that the author was seeking to put to rest a dispute that had grown in the early church. Some other features that characterize the author’s meaning are the ideas that eternal life is not referred to strictly as something that will happen when you die, but rather as something that happens here and now as we obey and follow Jesus. This gospel, therefore, is a very personal and practical guide to how Christianity should be lived out on a daily basis for the believer.
The encounters in the Book of Signs go on to stress this point as Jesus interacts with a “Ruler of the Sanhedrin” (Nicodemus in Chp. 3) who came to Him at night, and then very shortly after Jesus encounters a Samaritan woman at a well in the town of Sychar (Chp. 4). Jesus makes clear to us that He is not interested in what the Pharisees and Jewish leaders of their day were teaching. Rather, He is interested in faith (the keyword believe or belief is used 98 times, and should be considered as synonymous with faith), true repentant faith, evidenced by what He refers to as “Being born again” by the Spirit. This gives rise to the notion that it is God who saves us, our salvation being a gift that we could not earn.
Further encounters such as the healing at the pool of Bethesda (Chp. 5), and the healing of the man born blind (Chp. 9) bring us to some crucial issues that lead ultimately to open conflict with the Jewish leaders. As Jesus teaches that their “Religion” is empty and really revolves around keeping its adherents in spiritual bondage (darkness), we see that Jesus came not to affirm their place as leaders of the church, but rather to bring about something completely new and different.
This radical transformation of religion is characterized by Jesus’ amazing “I am” statements. When taken individually, they merely point to Jesus authority but collectively they affirm Him as being God, since only God Himself could be the essence of truth, goodness, and literally be “The way” of salvation. The end result is the decision in the heart of the believer to have faith that no longer is “Religion” the way to Heaven, but rather Jesus Christ is the only way to eternal life.
In the second major section of the book, Jesus institutes this “New Covenant” with His disciples, and spells out how it is to be practiced. He institutes the sacrament of communion with His disciples, as well He instructs them and prays for all believers (Chp. 17). Following this, we have the passion narrative (Chps. 18-19) and finally the Risen Lord – victorious – in Chp. 20.
Of these later chapters, it is Jesus’ prayer for unity that most strikes me as the “Way of the church.” It appears that our enemy has had his way in the division and conquering of our church, first by creating divisions and factions and great worldliness in the Roman Catholic Church, followed by splintering and bickering down through the last 400 years in the modern Protestant Church. This is a testament, at least in my mind, that we’ve gotten away from the true gospel.
As I see it, we have fallen far, and are strayed far away from what Jesus envisioned for His church. However, as He prayed, we can still respond. As the evangelist John wrote “For our belief” we can still have faith! As Jesus calls us, we can still go where He would send us. The church is far from dead! Jesus is alive and active in many believers and bodies of believers, but there are also great heresies out there, as well as tremendous opposition to His message of peace and salvation through faith in His finished work on the Cross at Calvary.
In closing let me say that one of the greatest concepts in John is truth (light). There are many testimonies given in the book concerning Jesus and his deity, in addition to the contrasted darkness (or spiritual blindness) of the world. Jesus himself tells us in Chp. 16 “All this I have told you so that you will not go astray. They will put you out of the synagogue, in fact, a time is coming when anyone who kills you will think he is offering a service to God.” (vs. 1-2).
This is not the only warning that following Jesus will have costs, possibly even our physical life on this earth. However, if for no other reason than simply knowing the truth of the Universe, knowing the eternal God, being able to hear His words and follow in His footsteps by being obedient to His commands, then it is all worth it. It is the truth that draws us. In the end analysis, those who have the capacity for belief, i.e., those drawn by God the Father, will believe Jesus’ message and have life.