The Witness of John

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I have just again read through the gospel of John. Yes, it is an amazing book at many levels. At the level of literature, it is enjoyable to read. The vocabulary is fairly simple, but the repeated use of similar expressions is profound (for example, the “I am” statements). Although there are not many explicit Old Testament quotations, John is full of Old Testament themes and allusions (such as “shepherd,” “bread,” “lifted-up serpent”). There are many examples of irony (for instance, the blind man “sees” Jesus, but those who “see” cannot, John 9; Caiaphas’ prediction about Jesus’ death was more profoundly true than he knew, John 11:50). Often a saying of Jesus confuses the historical audience, but the reader is able to understand (for example, “Destroy this temple, and in three days I will raise it up,” John 2:19). The book has an interesting plot line that includes Jesus, the sometimes confused disciples, and the antagonistic “Jews” and Pharisees.  

More than at the level of literature, I was yet again amazed by the laser focus that John has upon our Lord Jesus Christ. Virtually in every paragraph, the reader is not only aware of the almighty power of Christ but also of His compassion for sinners. Truly, the wonders of Jesus our Savior are shown in John.

In broad strokes, John has a similar outline to the other canonical gospels. All the Gospels concentrate on Jesus and include John the Baptist, the adult ministry of Jesus, and then a large section on the last week in Jerusalem that includes the Passover, trial, and death of Christ. On the other hand, Matthew, Mark and Luke’s outlines are more similar to each other than to John’s. The following is a brief outline:

  • Prologue: 1:1–18
  • John the Baptist: 1:19–51
  • Public Ministry of Christ: 2:1–12:50
  • Upper Room through Resurrection: 13:1–20:29
  • Purpose of Book: 20:20–31
  • Peter in Galilee: 21:1–25

Jesus is the “Son” 

Of all the books of the Bible, John is the one most focused upon the person of Jesus. However, one should not overstate the case. The whole Bible, both the Old Testament and the New Testament, speaks of Jesus (Luke 24:44–47; John 1:45, 5:39; 1 Cor. 2:2). Also, the other three gospels concentrate on the person and work of Jesus. Nevertheless, it is true that John is most focused upon the person of Christ.

Within John itself, the most emphasized aspect of Jesus’ person is that He is the Son. Sometimes Jesus is referred to as simply the “Son” (John 3:35–36), or the “Son of God” (1:34, 11:4, 20:31), or the “only (begotten/unique) Son (of God)” (1:14, 3:16–18). These “Son” related expressions are all clearly related to Jesus’ divinity (within a Trinitarian understanding) as confirmed in John 1:1–3, 18; 5:18; 10:30; 20:28.

In addition to showing divinity and dovetailing with it, this “Son” emphasis further explains the close relationship and love between God the Father and God the Son. As on a human level, fathers normally love their sons; so even more among the Trinity is there a perfect love between the Father and Son. “The Father loves the Son and has given all things into his hand” (3:35). “I do as the Father has commanded me, so that the world may know that I love the Father” (14:31). In John, there are many extended paragraphs in which Jesus discusses some aspect of His relation to the Father and the work that the Father has given Him (5:19–24; 8:16–29; 10:24–29; 14:6–13; 17:1–26). Also, there are several texts that discuss the relationship between God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit (14:16–17, 26; 15:26; 16:13–15). 

The person and work of Jesus

Another aspect of the relationship between God the Father and God the Son is that in certain ways Jesus is presented as equal to the Father; in other ways, He is presented as subordinate. Theologians use the terms “ontological” (equal in matters of being) and “economic” (subordinate in matters of work) to distinguish these two types of texts. Concerning God the Son’s divinity, He is fully equal in being, power, and glory with the Father (ontological Trinity). John shows this, for example, in his great opening of his gospel that declares that the Word (Jesus) was both “with God” and “was God” (1:1–2). This is also shown in the climax of the book (just before the purpose statement) where Thomas exclaims, “My Lord and my God” (20:28).  

When Jesus is describing His mission and work on earth, He considers Himself subordinate to the Father (economic Trinity). To give one example: “For I [Jesus] have not spoken on my own authority, but the Father who sent me has himself given me a commandment…. I say as the Father has told me” (12:49–50; also see John 5:30; 8:29; 14:28). This Trinitarian relationship that the three persons of the Trinity are equal in being but have different work is patterned in the church. All Christians are equal in God’s sight, but they do have different gifts and authorities within the church.

Given the emphasis on the divinity of Jesus, His eternal existence, and His almighty power, the gospel of John also boldly proclaims Jesus’ humanity. In the prologue are the famous words that the “Word [Jesus] became flesh” (1:14). Jesus’s humanity is shown as He is crucified and dies (19:30). His humanity continues post-resurrection as Jesus has Thomas touch His hands and side (20:27). Yes, Jesus is fully divine and fully man and continues to be forever. As the Westminster Shorter Catechism 21 puts it: “The only Redeemer of God’s elect is the Lord Jesus Christ, who, being the eternal Son of God, became man, and so was, and continueth to be, God and man in two distinct natures, and one person, for ever.” We have an amazing Savior!

Above I have mostly spoken about the “person” of Jesus, “who” He was and is. But what of His “work”? Obviously, the primary work of Jesus in John is to be the redeemer of God’s elect, climaxing in his death and resurrection. Less emphasized, but important nonetheless, is Jesus’ work as Creator. The prologue of John opens with statements about Jesus’ divine nature (1:1–2). Immediately after this, Jesus (in conjunction with the Father and Holy Spirit) is the Creator (and sustainer) of the universe. “All things were made through him [Jesus], and without him was not anything made that was made” (1:3). A little further in the prologue is the sad note that Jesus was generally rejected by the world that He made. “He [Jesus] was in the world, and [though] the world was made through him, yet the world did not know him” (1:10). This opening emphasis on Jesus as Creator is the backdrop for many of the miracles that Jesus does throughout John. (For other New Testament texts where Jesus is Creator, see 1 Cor. 8:6; Col. 1:15–18; Heb. 1:1, 10–12.)

Our relationship to Jesus patterned after the Father and Son’s relationship 

In the gospel of John, God the Father and God the Son certainly have a unique relationship. On the other hand, in a seemingly contradictory manner, the Christian’s relationship to Jesus is partially patterned after the unique relationship between the Father and Son. “Just as you, Father, are in me [Jesus], and I in you, that they [Christians] also may be in us” (John 17:21). The close and intimate relationship (“in”) between the Father and Son is a pattern for how Christians are related to their God. The true vine discourse reflects this union (15:1–11).

There are several verses that connect the unique love between the Father and Son to the love between the Son and us. “As the Father has loved me, so have I loved you [Christians]. Abide in my love. If you keep my commandments, you will abide in my love, just as I have kept my Father’s commandments and abide in his love” (15:9–10; also see John 14:21, 17:26). In addition, the love between Christians is patterned after Jesus’ love for us (13:34).

The manner in which Jesus and His sheep “know” each other is patterned after the intimate knowledge that the Father and Son have toward each other. “I am the good shepherd. I know my own and my own know me, just as the Father knows me and I know the Father” (10:14–15).

An aspect of being a Christian is being sent into this world to perform good works in Jesus’ name. “As you [the Father] sent me [Jesus] into the world, so I have sent them into the world” (17:18; 20:21). Jesus was “sent” and had a “work” to do. Jesus’ accomplishing His task is a helpful model for accomplishing our tasks.

Finally, the unity of Christians is further explained when we realize that it is patterned after the unity of the Father and Son. “They may be one, even as we are one” (17:11b). To state the obvious, the gospel of John is an amazing book. Read it straight through. Reflect upon Jesus as the “Son” and how your relationship to Jesus is partially patterned after the relationship between the Father and Son.

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