The Fourth Gospel

“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 20:30–31

A pool shallow enough for a child to wade in yet deep enough for an elephant to swim in—that is how many people have described the gospel of John. Indeed, just a brief look at how John’s gospel has been approached proves this to be the case. It is at the same time a text often used to disciple young children and new converts and a text that requires of commentators more than a lifetime of study if they are to expose all its treasures.

Known for its distinctive style, John stands apart from the Synoptic Gospels—Matthew, Mark, and Luke—in many ways. Whereas the Synoptics focus much of their attention on Jesus’ ministry in Galilee, John also tells us of the visits Jesus made to Judea and Jerusalem before His final journey to Jerusalem for His passion. The Synoptics have Jesus teaching mostly in parables whereas John records many lengthy teaching discourses given by our Savior. These differences are not real contradictions but choices of emphasis. As an observant Jew, Jesus certainly would have gone up to Jerusalem several times in His life to observe festivals such as Passover. The Synoptics choose not to cover some of those visits. There are also extended teaching discourses in the Synoptics (for example, the Sermon on the Mount in Matt. 5–7) and metaphorical sayings in John that are similar to parables in John (John 10:1–5, for instance).

Still, it is true that John is distinctively the “most theological” of the four Gospels, as Dr. R.C. Sproul writes in his commentary John. Certainly, all of the Gospels and all of Scripture give us a theological perspective, but John does this quite directly by recording for us extended teaching sections that explicitly present and unfold key doctrines such as the person and work of the Spirit (14:15–31; 16:4–15) and the incarnation (1:1–18). No doubt this is due to this gospel’s coming from “the disciple whom Jesus loved” (13:21–24; 21:20–24), who, because of his being a member of the twelve disciples, heard much private instruction on these matters from the Savior to which the crowds were not privy. Early tradition is unanimous that this disciple was none other than John the son of Zebedee, part of the trio of disciples who were with Jesus at key points in His life and ministry (Matt. 10:1; 17:1–8; Mark 14:33–42).

John gives his purpose in writing his gospel in today’s passage. He chose key miracles and teachings of Jesus to prove He is the Savior so that we might know and believe in Christ (John 20:30–31).

Coram Deo

Over the course of the year ahead, we will seek to plumb the depths of John’s gospel and explore its teaching on the person and work of Christ and their consequences for us. Take some time today to pray for our study that it would help us better know our Savior and equip us to follow Him more faithfully and love Him more deeply.

Passages for Further Study

Luke 8:49–56
John 19:26–27; 20:1–10; 21:25
1 John 1:1–4

First published in Tabletalk Magazine, an outreach of Ligonier. For permissions, view our Copyright Policy.