John was the last writer of the gospels, his three epistles and Revelation were all assumed to be written late in the first century A.D. Therefore, the Word of God became complete with the apostle John’s writings. John was a disciple and a Jew, and he was one who knew and appreciated the love of Jesus Christ and in this gospel, John was close to the Lord Jesus. John writes to the whole world about Jesus Christ as the Lamb of God whose blood is sufficient to save everyone from their sins, all they must do is believe and accept it for themselves.
John was one of the earliest disciples called by the Lord Jesus along with his brother James. Their father was Zebedee, a known fisherman and they left their father’s business and became fishers of men, along with Peter and Andrew. John was an eyewitness of the reported events in his gospel, as he himself writes (John 1:14; 19:35). In fact, only an eyewitness would be able to give such clear details as “about the tenth hour” (John 1:39), “six water pots of stone” (John 2:6) and “153 great fishes” (John 21:11). John is called “the disciple whom Jesus loved” about 5 times in the gospel, and in some other times when he was not in the right place, or right spiritual condition, refers to himself as “the other disciple” (John 18:15; 20:2,3,8). Did the Lord Jesus love John especially above the others? Not at all! The difference is that John was close to the Lord and came to appreciate the love of the Lord Jesus. Therefore, John writes about love more in this gospel than in any other gospel. I am sure the other disciples (except Judas Iscariot) loved the Lord Jesus, but John appreciated His love that he was able to write about it in the gospel and in his three epistles.
John’s calling to be a disciple of the Lord is presented in the three Gospels (Math. 4:21-22; Mark 1:19-20; Luke 5:10-11). John and his brother James were full of zeal for the Lord Jesus. This may be why He named them Boanerges (the sons of thunder, Mark 3:17). Luke records two occurrences where John shows great zeal (Luke 9:49.54).
John, his brother James and Peter belonged to the inner circle of the disciples. These three only were allowed to be with the Lord Jesus at the resurrection of Jairus’ daughter, at the transfiguration on the mount and in the garden at Gethsemane (Luke 8:51; 9:28; Math. 26:37; Mark 13:3). Peter and John were sent to prepare the last Passover (Luke 22:8); they were also the first disciples whom Mary Magdalene met on the resurrection day of the Lord Jesus and who saw the empty sepulchre (John 20:2-10). John was closest to the Lord Jesus in the upper room (chapters 13-17) in Jerusalem when the disciples last met and, finally, he was the only one to be ‘standing by’ the cross of his Lord (John 13:23-25; 19:26-27). The Lord had a message for him while He was on the cross, one of the seven utterances of the cross. John also first recognised the Lord when He appeared to them at the sea of Tiberias (John 21:7).
After the Lord’s ascension we find John in Acts 3 and 4, together with Peter, witnessing for the Lord Jesus. Then we see him as the apostles’ deputy to Samaria (Acts 8:14). According to Galatians 2:9 Paul met John at his second visit in Jerusalem.
John wrote his gospel using very simple words and language but are very hard to explain in an article or even a book. The words are: love, life, light, believe, and so on. The first chapter of the gospel presents seven titles of the Lord Jesus and at the outset presents that “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God” (Chapter 1:1). The beginning here is from eternity past. The seven titles of Christ are:
- The Word (chapter 1:1).
- The Lamb of God (chapter 1:29, 36).
- The Son of God (chapter 1:34, 49).
- Rabbi, meaning Teacher (chapter 1:38, 49).
- Messiah (chapter 1:41).
- King of Israel (chapter 1:49).
- Son of Man (chapter 1:51).
In chapter 1, Nathanael give the Lord Jesus Christ three of these titles in the same verse (Jn 1:49).
Furthermore, in light of the seven titles of the Lord in chapter 1, there are seven different occasions when the Lord Jesus says “I am the”, and followed by a statement, and another three occasions where He simply says, ‘I AM’, using the title of God that He gave to Moses in Exodus 3, proving that Jesus Christ is God Himself.
- Ch 6:31-35 the bread of life
- Ch 8:12 and ch 9: the light of the world
- Ch 10:7 the door of the sheep
- Ch 10:11, 14 the good shepherd (twice)
- Ch 11:25 the resurrection and the life
- Ch 14:6 the way, the truth and the life
- Ch 15:1 the true vine
- Ch 8:24 He tells the people ‘unless you believe that I AM’, (the word ‘he’ is not in the original manuscript) they will die in their sins
- Ch 8:58 before Abraham was, ‘I AM’
- Ch 18:5-8 ‘I am He’ – in the garden before His arrest. The original text here reads “I AM”. In fact, the word ‘he’ is in between square brackets, like this [he]. If we read without the square bracket, it simply reads ‘I AM’. This is proof that the Lord Jesus Christ is God Himself.
These above titles found in chapter 1 and the ‘I am’ sayings are not found in any other gospel, thus presenting the uniqueness of the gospel of John.
Another unique feature in this gospel is the miracles recorded, or in this gospel, it is called a sign rather than a miracle. We may find 9 signs in the gospel of John.
- Water into wine ch 2:9. This is recorded as the first ‘sign’.
- Healing courtier’s son ch 4:46
- Lame man in Bethesda ch 5
- Feeding the five thousand ch 6:5
- Walking on water ch 6:19
- Healing the blind man ch 9
- Raising Lazarus ch 11
- Christ’s appearing (ch 21)
- Second catching of the 153 fishes (ch 21)
John calls these ‘signs’ and tells us that Jesus did many other signs that are not written in his gospel, but the purpose of recording these signs in detail is in chapter 20:31, that we may all believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that believing we all have life in His name.
The gospel of John is also presented in ‘sets of 3’, meaning that there are three instances, or three times something is mentioned in the gospel of John. There are three major sets of 3 that reveal Christ as the Son of God (in relation to the Church), Son of David (in relation with Israel) and Son of Man (in relation to the Nations and the blessings on earth).
- Three morrows. Jn 1:29; 1:35; 1:43. Three days ch 1:29-42 (the first day representing the Church and picture of Pentecost); ch 1:43-51 (the second day representing Israel picture of blessings for Israel); ch 2:1-11 (the third day representing the Nations picture of blessings for the nations).
- Three times Jesus appears to His disciples after resurrection ch 20:19 picture of the Church; ch 20:26 picture of Israel; ch 21:1-14 picture of the Nations.
- Three lifting up. Jn 3:14 picture of the Christian; ch 8:28 picture of Israel; ch 12:32 picture of the Nations.
Some other known ‘sets of 3’ are:
- Signifying ch 12:33; ch 18:32; ch 21:19
- Abide in me ch 15:4,6,7
- Fruit, more fruit, much fruit ch 15:1-5
- Come and see ch 1:39,46; ch 11:34
- Andrew seen bringing someone to Christ ch 1:40, ch 6:8, ch 12:22
- The Lord was troubled ch 11:33; ch 12:27; ch 13:21
- Peter denied Christ ch 18
- Jesus asking Peter if he loves Him ch 21
- Peter responding to Jesus’ question of his love for Him ch 21
- Feed my lambs, shepherd my sheep, feed my sheep ch 21
- Disciples mentioned by name as they gave a testimony of Jesus in the gospel ch 21:2
- Nathanael gives Christ three titles ch 1:49
- Three utterances on the cross ch 19:26, 28, 30
- Nicodemus is mentioned 3 times ch 3 (by night); ch 7:50ff (towards end of the day); ch 19:39ff (afternoon)
- Languages of the title of Christ on the cross; Hebrew, Greek, Latin ch 19:20
- Old Testament quotations during crucifixion ch 19:24, 28, 36
There are many other sets of 3 in the gospel of John for a very worthwhile personal study.
There have been several suggested divisions of the gospel of John but I would like to draw attention to perhaps the most famous verse in the Bible which is John 3:16. The key phrase is “only begotten Son” and the key words are: life and believe.
Therefore, there are three sections in John that are based on the famous verse.
- Chapter 1-2:22 the only-begotten, the Eternal Word, His Glory and His manifestation.
- Chapter 2:23 to17 Eternal life imparted, what it is and what it includes.
- Chapter 18 to 21 “I lay down My life that I may take it again”.
I would like to share with you a section of a song that we sometimes sing with the children before they go to Sunday School, which is the section of the gospel of John.
John, at last, took eagle flight – John 1
Saw the Christ with eagle sight. – John 1
Saw the glory of the Lord, – John 1:14
Knew Him for God’s mighty Word, – John 1:1
Jesus, the living Vine – John 15
Light that will forever shine, – John 1:5; 8:12
Grace, Truth, in God’s dear Son, – John 1:14
He who seeks to make us one. – John 17
This outline is adapted from, but not intended to copy the works of, Arend Remmers and Arno Gaebelein’s notes and outlines of the gospel of John. The full outline and notes from the above authors are available on www.biblecentre.org, a website highly recommended and full of rich resources.