From the House of The Nazarene. This will be a very in-depth deep dive study of the Book of John.
Let’s begin in a prayer as we continue our study of John. Lord, we thank You for Your goodness, for the hope that we have in Christ Jesus, for the grace, the truth and for the understanding that you’ve communicated to us through Your revealed word. We pray that we would be people who not only hear Your word but also respond, in Jesus’ name, Amen.
We’re going to continue our introduction to John, which I hope and pray you’ve read, and then launch into the prologue to the gospel of John and in doing that I want to talk about the contribution that John makes to the bible. Last time we looked at a number of themes; the structure of the book, its theme and purpose, the background, some things about John himself and the date.
How does this book make a unique contribution to the scriptures? My answer in part is that it provides an entirely theological gospel, more so than the rest. It is also very selective and highly topical in its very nature. I find John to be a profound gospel. It uses a very simple linguistic structure and a very, very simple vocabulary yet it’s layered in nuance. It provides more insight in the way that we can understand this book than other texts of scripture especially because of some unique contributions it makes.
About 90% of John is, in fact, unique to John. It supplements the other gospels, the synoptic gospels, which see together, that are really portraits of Christ written somewhat earlier as I take it. John was written somewhere between 80 and 90 A.D. Though it’s possible it was written somewhat earlier, my suspicion is a little bit later and probably written for Ephesus during the time when John was ministering as an apostle to a number of churches that were in Asia Minor. Ephesus, as you know, was the chief city of Asia Minor.
John, a very pastoral person indeed, was a man who really emphasizes love. You can see his pastoral dimension in the three epistles, I, II, and III John; a very profound desire that his children would walk in the truth. He always talks about this idea of walking in the truth and also understanding what that truth is as defined by the doctrine of the apostolic fellowship especially in view of the fact that there would be a great deal of error that keeps popping up. So much of the New Testament deals with erroneous thinking, doesn’t it? If you look at scripture, so many of the epistles have to deal with overcoming false doctrine and false practices.
When we look at this, John is no exception, especially in his first epistle. By the time He wrote I John, where he’s criticizing and actually condemning the error of those who believe that Jesus did not come in the flesh but came in some kind of a Gnostic form. Doceticism was a later doctrine that basically said that Jesus didn’t really come in a fully human form but rather that He was some kind of spirit who appeared to be human. That sort of doctrine was something that was really compatible with Greek thought. Greek thought was opposed to the idea of the body itself. The idea of Greek thought would be that the body is essentially something that is a product of some kind of demi-urge or some kind of evil, some kind of force, that the way things are that we have to get rid of this body and we want to be liberated from its shackles so that we can actually enjoy a disembodied existence (Socrates, and Aristotle’s teachings.) The gospel of the incarnation was an offense. It was also an offense to the Jews to say that God Himself has become one of us.
John wonderfully takes truth, combines it with love and communicates this. When we look at this prologue we have a backdrop that gives us insights we wouldn’t otherwise have, particularly about the pre-incarnate nature of Jesus Christ. His preexistence is going to be particularly stressed, the preexistence of the Word who came among us and took on flesh and pitched His tent in our midst.
I mentioned before John uses allegories whereas the Synoptics use parables. John uses themes, for example, and discourses that are actually more systematically developed whereas the sayings material in the Synoptics is not as systematically developed. You do have the Upper Room Discourse. In John, you have other discourses that discuss exactly what’s going on and they are very powerful pictures that help us understand how the signs in John’s gospel can be interpreted from God’s perspective. It shows us they are in fact symbolic of spiritual truth.
There are seven miracles in chapters 1-12 and of those seven miracles only the feeding of the multitudes and walking on water are found in the synoptic gospels, all the others are unique to John.
As we look at John, I want us to see it in several ways. I have a chart this is what we will see Christ Jesus performed innumerable healings and exorcisms (Matthew 8:16-17, Mark 1:32-34, Luke 6:17-19), the following chart lists specific miracles of Jesus Christ during his public ministry, before his Resurrection.
The Incarnation of the Son of God- It’s what we call the prologue verses 1-18 and it gives us an introduction to who the God-Man really is. In looking at that we have a portrait of Him that gives the backdrop for all that follows.
Presentation of the Son of God- (verses 1:19- 4:54) Here in the presentation He presents Himself. We have the first 2 of the 7 signs that are found in John. In presenting Himself to Israel, He’s presenting Himself through the 7 signs or miracles that communicate the truth about Him in powerful ways that point beyond themselves to spiritual truth. In my talk, Through the Bible, I mentioned that they symbolized the life-changing results of belief in Jesus.
I will mention the 7 miracles again. The turning of the water to wine symbolizes how the ritual of law is replaced by the reality of grace in chapter 2. Law is replaced by grace and we’ll see that the water to wine miracle of the kingdom both in quality and quantity and of radical abundance and of great joy as well. It’s a picture of the life to come. It’s an illustration that God will save the best for the last.
The second sign is the healing of the nobleman’s son (John 4) what we have here is that the gospel brings spiritual restoration the physical restoration points beyond itself to a spiritual restoration as well. There’s always the spiritual and physical in John but, keep this in mind so that we look in different ways at it. If we look at it from the physical standpoint we see one thing but the physical always points beyond itself to a spiritual truth about healing, physical but spiritual healing as well.
The third of those miracles, which begins in chapter 5, is the movement of opposition to the Son of God. In chapters 5-12 we see especially the theme of mounting opposition to the Man and His message. In view of the fact that the world itself is disposed to reject His actual offer, I want to say a word about the kosmos. John communicates the kosmos, the world, can be used in a positive, neutral or negative sense but John largely uses it in a negative sense. It is a way of seeing the world to be something, a system, which is organized to leave God out and to provide other alternatives. It pursues darkness over light.
The next miracle is the healing of the paralytic in chapter 5. In this case, we see that there’s going to be opposition to the miracles themselves. Some believe and some reject. Another miracle. Some believe and some reject. In reading it this way you’re kind of forced to draw your own conclusions and make your own decisions. What do you do about this Jesus? Reading John will force you to move beyond the position of assumed neutrality to a position of commitment either to know Him or reject Him. One of the things you see when people have an encounter with this Jesus is that they can’t spend much time with Him without either receiving or rejecting. They cannot ignore Him.
I’m intrigued by the fact that the Visual Bible is now coming up with the third in its series and it’s going to be the gospel of John. Their intention is to slowly work their way through the scriptures in a visual way. They use a word for word biblical reading and they’re not distorting the message but they’re simply conveying it. We also have Mel Gibson’s, The Passion, which has recently come out. I can promise you these kinds of things will not be happily received by the world. You’ll have more objections, especially to Gibson’s movie because you can’t ignore Him. John gives us a little better context of why that is. The world will certainly see no neutral system. It is not objective- especially when it comes to spiritual truth.
The fourth miracle is the feeding of the multitude. We have Christ satisfying our spiritual hunger, not just the physical. People are often looking for physical handout. He’s offering them something a good deal better than that.
The fifth sign is in chapter six when He walks on water. The Lord transforms fear into faith. Again in each section, we have these signs that are always pointing to spiritual truth.
The sixth miracle or sign is the sight to the man born blind where Jesus overcomes darkness and brings in light- one of the most interesting narratives in the entire Bible- the conflict between the man who was born blind and the Pharisees.
The seventh sign, the raising of Lazarus in chapter 11, is the gospel bringing people from death to a sphere of life.
Understand then if you put all these signs together we see how they converge. As you saw before in chapter 20 at the very end, John specifically says that there was a reason why he selected these. There are actually many other signs but he’s selected these so that you may believe that He is the Christ. His point is evangelistic. His desire is that people will come to know Him as the Son of God and that by believing Him they may have life in His Name.
I’ve drawn the contrast between bios and zoe. I was arguing that bios, physical life, we have all received at the first birth but zoe, spiritual life, no one receives in the first birth -that is a product of the second birth. This is the life of Christ, which is embedded in the life of the believer. I mentioned the word pisteuo, faith, which is not merely intellectual assent but personal reception that is the key to receiving the life of Christ in our lives. We have that important theme which runs throughout the gospel.
The next scene as we go through the opposition to the Son of God and looking at the reactions of belief and disbelief we then move into the preparation of Son’s disciples. In chapters 13-17 we have what is often called the Upper Room Discourse. We see how Jesus prepares His disciples for His imminent departure. He prepares them as well for the way they are going to live, empowering them to live according to what the resources are that God will provide. He Himself will be with them and the Holy Spirit will be with them and furthermore, the Father is in them.
We have an extraordinarily important section here in chapters 13-17. This is one of the most important sections in all of scripture in terms of really encapsulating the essence of the spiritual life. These are Jesus’ parting words to His disciples and you and I are privileged to listen in to those words. They were communicated only to a handful of men at the very end when He knew there would only be a few more hours before He would then be glorified, lifted up, which is His term really for crucified. It is very interesting how He uses that idea, now the hour has come for the Son of Man to be glorified when the Son of Man is lifted up then He will draw all men to Himself. This image here rather than portraying humiliation actually shows it ultimately will lead to true glory and victory. So we have this preparation, a season of revelation from Christ, followed by the narrative of the crucifixion and resurrection of the Son of God.
As we move from this little kernel of the epistles, all the patterns, and key principles, we now end up with this scene of the crucifixion and a glorious scene in the last chapter of the resurrected Christ communicating Himself to His disciples. We move from introduction to revelation to rejection and then we have another revelation and another rejection of Christ and so on.
There are 7 miracles in chapters 1-12, and then the Upper Room Discourse in chapters 13-17 followed by what I call the supreme miracle, which is the resurrection itself. This is the key miracle. All the gospels point to this and this is supreme. The point is that you may believe and that you may have life. These were written so that you may believe and that believing you may have life in His name. (John 21:31) So this theme of life becomes very critical.
In chapters 1-12 we have a few years in our Lord’s earthly life but then he slows the clock down to a few hours. All of a sudden everything hones into a few hours of teaching and really boiling that down to these chapters. Then there are a few weeks at the end of John.
In looking at this then I want to launch into the prologue to John’s gospel, chapter 1:1-18. There is good evidence especially if you examine the nature of this prologue, it gives such skill and remarkable profundity, an economy of words, that it may well have been John’s earlier draft of this because you can see that there may have been some sources that are evident. There are some scenes, literary scenes and so forth that can actually be seen to come together and there are bits and pieces here- some things seem out of order like chapter 6. Most scholars would seem to say it might have preceded chapter 5 and things of this sort. There are elements in here, which might cause us to see that originally he may have actually started with verse 19 as the other gospels essentially do. The other gospels essentially start with the ministry of John. Later on, it may be especially during the time when he was writing his other epistles that he added this material to emphasize the theological truth- and the Word became flesh. This is something he was wrestling with in some churches and it would make good sense to see it in that way.
There are other passages that are of this nature as well as we’ll see later on. For example, if you jump ahead with me just for a moment and you went from chapter 14:31 and you jumped to chapter 18:1 and skipped chapters 15, 16 and 17 it would move very smoothly. It may be that this was material that he later added. You’d have a very smooth transition because He really seems to imply that He’s going to be leaving now, “Arise, let us go from here” (John 14:31) and then “When He had spoken these words, He went forth with His disciples”(John 18:1) you see it would smoothly connect. It also may be, for example, that some scholars would comment it appears that John’s real ending may have been chapter 20:30-31 but then this extra material was also added then in chapter 21. It wouldn’t be likely that John just sat down in one sitting and wrote the whole gospel. It’s evident that like the other gospel writers, he used various sources. It was a product of a great deal of reflection. I think it was something that took a good deal of time for him to encapsulate so he goes back. Have you ever done this before yourself when you’re writing a paper? You write something and say hmm, I’m missing something here. I’d better add this here and that bit there. That sort of thing is done quite a bit. I think that is what we see in that structure.
Remember scripture is fully human, fully divine. What we have in the humanness of this gospel, which is an illustration, is it not- the process of revelation is actually an illustration in the written word, an analogy of what we have in the living Word. When you think about how Jesus, fully God and fully man is in fact without sin so the written word, fully God and fully man is without error in it’s original. You see the idea that there would be an analogy. What we have here is John’s style, his vocabulary and a variety of things indicative of the man himself, just like the gospel of Luke reveals a totally different style, a very different vocabulary, and a different approach and structure yet still superintended by the life of the living God.
I’ll point ahead to II Peter 1:20-21 just to see about this process of inscripturation (preserved,) which is the closest we may get to the process of inscripturation, “But know this first of all, that no prophecy of Scripture is a matter of one’s own interpretation, for no prophecy was ever made by an act of human will, but men moved by the Holy Spirit spoke from God.” Men moved by the Holy Spirit spoke from God. It’s not dictation. It was actually something that fused to the life of the person himself. We see John’s character come through and so does Jesus. That’s why the four gospels reveal those four aspects of different facets of His life and character.
As we look at the prologue some scholars have suggested the first 18 verses may in some aspects of it at least, have been an early Christian hymn. We have those in Ephesians 5, Philippians 2 and Colossians 1. We have some evidence that some early Christian hymns would be memorized and this may well have been used here. I’ll tell you this though, it was known right away. This is so significant. The medieval church venerated these 18 verses. In fact, some people actually wore them in amulets. It was written out and put in an amulet around their neck or it would be read over the sick and newly baptized. It was actually used as the final prayer in some Roman Masses. It was that important, very, very critical because what we have here is an overture to the rest of the gospel. Themes that are wonderful that are going to be developed in John’s gospel in full are already hinted at here. For example, the theme of the preexistence of Christ is going to be seen here but we also have the theme of light versus darkness that immediately appears here and then is developed throughout the gospel especially in John 3.
I also think about the idea of the only Son. Christ is God’s only Son. Jesus is the only Son of the Father. He had a divine birth and His life and ministry is characterized by glory.
Let’s take a look then at the very beginning and look at the first portion of this. It’s kind of like a stanza almost. Let us hone in on the Logos which is found especially in chapter 1 and then after that, we don’t have that theme of the Word or the Logos being developed in John but we see Him here. John 1:1-2, “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God.” We have here His relationship to God Himself. We are invited to see the parallels between this and Genesis 1. In Genesis 1 we have the theme where you have the darkness and then the light appears and illuminates the darkness, the Spirit of God brooding over the face of the waters and so forth. In Genesis 1 we also have God who breathes into the nostrils of Adam the breath of life and the whole idea here of a new breath as well.
Something very significant here is that John 1:1 precedes Genesis 1:1. You have to understand that. Effectively the bible begins now with John 1:1. This precedes the creation of the heavens and the earth. This brings us back far before the created order itself. In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth but this is prior to the beginning when there was simply the Word and the Word was with God and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God.
John 1:3, “All things came into being by Him, and apart from Him nothing came into being that has come into being.” He is the very source, the very wellspring, and the very fountainhead of life itself in all things. Looking at the parallels, I’d like you to turn to Hebrews 1 and also Colossians 1 just to see two important New Testament parallels. “God, after He spoke long ago to the fathers in the prophets in many portions and in many ways, (of course portions and ways would include dreams, visions, prophecy and other ways in which He revealed Himself to them- through narrative and poetry, song, historical events of the deliverance, miracles – all these were revelatory acts in which God manifested Himself to the fathers and prophets) in these last days (the highest form of revelation) has spoken to us in His Son, (The most decisive revelation because it’s personal revelation. It’s not merely revealing an idea; it’s not even revealing God’s power in nature or miracles or in redemptive acts. There’s something even bigger than that, it’s God revealing Himself and coming among us. He has spoken to us in His Son. Notice how He refers to the Son.) whom He appointed heir of all things, through whom also He made the world.”(Hebrews 1:1-2)
Hebrews 1:3a, “And He is the radiance of His glory and the exact representation of His nature, and upholds all things by the word of His power.” That’s well worth reflecting on. The more you put that together the more you are impressed by the vastness of the created order and the more you are impressed by the humility that was involved in the Incarnation. The more you are impressed also by the reality of Christ in you the hope of glory, which is profoundly mysterious. That this One who crafted the heavens is now making His dwelling in us. We become the temples of His very life. It’s deeply profound. Who could’ve made something like that up? It’s without parallel in the world. There’s nothing like it.
In Colossians 1 an additional portrait of the cosmic Christ in this regard is given and I have particularly in mind verse 15 speaking of the One in whom we have redemption and the forgiveness of sin (v. 14) Verse 15 calls Him the image of the invisible God, (very similar to the image in Hebrews 1 isn’t it?) the first-born of all creation. This means the One who is pre-eminent over all things, the Word, the first born, has authority, preeminence over all things –the heir of all things as Hebrews puts it. “For by Him all things were created, both in the heavens and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or authorities – all things have been created by Him and for Him.” (v. 16) This particular text invites us to see that these are apparently referring to various orders of angels and the medieval thought eventually arrived at seven orders of angels. Satan, by the way, imitates God’s hierarchy because if you go to Ephesians 6 it talks about the forces in the world and he calls them the rulers, the powers, the world forces of this darkness, spiritual forces of wickedness in the heavenly places. My own belief here is that the enemy will typically counterfeit what God has done and distort it in various ways so that they too have a kind of hierarchal order and a sequence as well.
The point is Jesus, who spoke all things into being, spoke into existence that which is seen and unseen, both the heavens and the earth, both the realm of men and the realm of angels, all these things are under His authority. Furthermore, it says all things have been created by Him and for Him. In verse 17, “And He is before all things, and in Him, all things hold together.” That word, sunistemi, means that He keeps it together and keeps it from dissolving, from dissipating. When I did my Powers of Ten presentation I mentioned my theoretical speculation that it may well be that one thing that He could certainly or that would be related or pertinent to this is what we in our ignorance call the “strong force”. This binds the nuclei of atoms together especially in so far as they are positively charged particles and the protons with the neutrons which are neutral in their charge, what on earth holds those protons together when they’re so incredibly close because the closer they get the more repulsive force there will be? Well, we call it the “strong force”. That’s nice but nobody knows exactly or really what that is, where it comes from or how it works. I promise you this though if that “strong force” were removed even for a microsecond the whole universe would turn from matter into energy that quick. When we look at it all that we call matter is slowed down energy. What is energy? Nobody knows the answer to that. It manifests itself in different ways, heat, mechanics and such but nobody what energy itself is. That’s why Hebrews tells us the things that are seen are made of that which are unseen. Here, Jesus holds it together.
One other test that supports these ideas would be I Corinthians 8 where Paul talks about this theme in verse 6, “yet for us there is but one God, the Father, from whom are all things, and we exist for Him; and one Lord, Jesus Christ, by whom are all things, and we exist through Him.” I the gospels, the epistles, and the scriptures they teach us that all of human life is derivative existence. You owe your biological life as well as your spiritual life to the One who is life. (I am the way, the truth, and the life.) This is a very high Christology (the branch of Christian theology relating to the person, nature, and role of Christ); we’d call this a portrait of who Jesus Christ really is.
This Word, this Logos, which you see in the beginning wasn’t just matter and energy and the impersonal plus time and chance as Francis Schaffer used to put it. If you’re a naturalist that’s all you’ve got. You don’t have anything more than that. Here it says, in the beginning, you have Personhood. In fact, when it says, the Word was with God, the Word was God you right here have a portrait of Trinitarian theology. We’ve all seen this chart (above) before but it bears repeating. When we look at this ancient chart where we have the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit and we can certainly say that the Father is not the Son, the Father is not the Holy Spirit and neither is the Holy Spirit the Son. They are not each other but we could also say on the other hand that they are all God. So the Son is God, the Father is God and the Holy Spirit is God but they are not each other. That’s really a great way of summarizing this Trinitarian truth. In the deep abundant mystery of the Trinity, we see that God is not a monad but a trinity. Because He is a trinity we have an ultimate foundation for the Lover and the Beloved and the love that flows between them. We have an ultimate basis for unity as well as diversity; for oneness and community- the idea of relationship and of communication.