Bible study of the Gospel of John

The Fourth Gospel?

The Gospel of John is the fourth part of what some call the four-fold gospel. We have four different writers with four voices giving different perspectives on the life of Jesus of Nazareth. Christian writers as early as Origen (a.d. 185-254) understood that there are not really four gospels, but there is one four-fold gospel. There is only Gospel!

The Gospel of John was most likely the last of the four written, and written in view of what the previous three had already said. This is one reason why John’s account of the life of Jesus is in many ways different from Matthew, Mark, and Luke.
There are significant events in the ministry of Jesus that Matthew, Mark, and Luke all include yet John leaves out, including:
  • The birth if Jesus,
  • His baptism,
  • The temptation in the wilderness,
  • His confrontations with demons,
  • Jesus teaching in parables
  • The Last Supper,
  • His agony in Gethsemane,
  • The Ascension of Jesus.
The first three Gospels center on Jesus’ ministry in Galilee. On the other hand, John focused his Gospel on what Jesus said and did in Jerusalem.
Each of the Gospels emphasizes different aspects of the ministry of Jesus Christ:
  • Matthew presents Jesus as Messiah the King.
  • Mark presents Jesus as the Suffering Servant who is later exalted.
  • Luke presents Jesus as the Perfect Man.
  • John presents Jesus as God.
 However, it is wrong to think that the Gospel of John completes the story of Jesus. John wrote that the story of Jesus is so big that it can never be completed (John 21:25).
Matthew, Mark, and Luke are known as the synoptic gospels. The word synoptic means “seeing together as a whole” and, as such, the first three Gospels present the life of Jesus in pretty much the same format. The first three Gospels focus more on what Jesus taught and did; John focused more on who Jesus is:
  • John shows us who Jesus is by highlighting seven signs (miracles) of Jesus. Six of these miracles are not mentioned in the first three gospels.
  • John shows us who Jesus is by allowing Jesus to speak for Himself in seven dramatic I Am statements, which were not included in the first three gospels.
  • John shows us who Jesus is by giving the testimony witnesses who testify about the identity of Jesus. Four of these witnesses speak in the first chapter alone.

John is a Gospel written for a specific purpose: that we might believe. A key verse for understanding the Gospel of John is found at the end of the book: But these are written that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that believing you may have life in His name (John 20:31).

The Gospel of John has even helped scholarly skeptics to believe. The oldest surviving fragment of the New Testament is a portion of John 18, found in Egypt and dating well before a.d. 150 indicating wide circulation by that early date.

John doesn’t tell us much about himself in the Gospel record he wrote, but we can put a few things together about him from the Gospel records:

  • John’s father was Zebedee.
  • John’s mother was Salome, one of those to go to the tomb early on the morning the resurrection of Jesus was discovered.
  • John’s brother was James.
  • John was a partner in the fishing business with Peter.
  • John and his brother James were given the nickname, “Sons of Thunder.”

The Gospel of John is a beloved gospel. Because of its paradoxical combination of both simplicity and depth, John has been called “a pool in which a child may wade and an elephant may swim.”

“Its stories are so simple that even a child will love them, but its statements are so profound that no philosopher can fathom them.” (Erdman)

So, if we give diligent attention to entertainment, sports, music, or the news, how much more should we give careful attention “when a man is speaking from heaven, and utters a voice plainer than thunder?” (John Chrysostom)

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