Introduction to the Gospel of John

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Pastor Scott L. Harris

Grace Bible Church, NY

October 17, 1999

Introduction to the Gospel of John

This morning we begin our journey in the Gospel of John. Before we can begin this journey we need to be introduced to our guide and get a brief description of what we will encounter on our way to our destination. We also will want to know why we should undertake this journey. Today will be an Introduction to the Gospel of John.



One of the first things we need to deal with is the authorship of this gospel account. I will not spend a lot of time with this because the evidence is overwhelming that this book was written by the Apostle John. However, there are liberal scholars that will argue against it because they must. As Philip Schaff points out in his introduction to Lange’s commentary, “Were the Gospel of John not a Gospel, but some secular story, it would, with half the evidence in its favor, be admitted as genuine by scholars without a dissenting voice. For it is better attested than any book of ancient Greece and Rome, or modern Germany and England.” But since it is a Gospel, such opponents of the traditional view cannot leave the authorship unchallenged otherwise they would be forced to accept what it says as true. Thus it is with those want to think themselves as wise but refuse to believe even what is obvious. The nature of the book is such that either the whole of it will have to be accepted as the true report of the apostle or all of it must be rejected as a conscious fiction of an obscure, unknown, pseudo-John of the second century.

Part of the reason for a question as to authorship is because the author does not identify himself by name, but as “the disciple whom Jesus loved” and who “leaned back on [Jesus] breast at the supper” (21:24 cf. 21:20). This alone proves that the writer must have been one of the twelve disciples. Other evidence within the book prove that the write must have been a Palestinian Jew who was an eye witness of the events recorded. A careful study of the other disciples eliminate them as the writer and so leave John as the “one whom Jesus loved” who wrote the gospel.

In addition, the attestation of all the early church fathers including Eusebius, Origen, Clement of Alexandria, Tertullian, Ireneus (who was the disciple of Polycarp, a disciple of John) and Papias, who was a direct disciple of John, all agree that the apostle John wrote the Gospel account given his name. (For any that may be interested, I can provide the arguments refuting the liberal scholars claim that someone other than the apostle wrote the book. Just let me know).


Now that the John the Apostle is established as the author, we need to learn a bit more about this remarkable man.

John was the son of Zebedee and Salome (Mark 1:19; 16:1 cf. Mt. 27:56). Zebedee seems to have been a prosperous fisherman, since he had hired servants (Mk. 1:20), who was from either Bethsaida or Capernaum in Galilee. Luke 5:10 records that Simon Peter was in a partnership with Zebedee.

John’s mother, Salome, was present at the crucifixion of Jesus (Mk 15:40) and later was one of the women that brought the spices for anointing Jesus after His bruial (Mk. 16:1) and so was one of the first to be made aware by the Angel that Jesus was alive. In comparing the lists of those present at the crucifixion with John 19:25 it becomes clear that Salome is the sister of Mary, Jesus’ mother. This would make John and his older brother, James, cousins of Jesus.

James and John were both involved in their father’s fishing business and both seemed to be men of strong character and great emotion that would flash forth on occasion which may be the reason Jesus called them “Sons of Thunder” (Mk. 3:17). They had great jealousy for the Lord’s honor and glory that occasionally got out of hand such as in Luke 9:52-56 when Jesus has to rebuke them for wanting to call fire from heaven down upon a Samaritan village that would not receive Jesus. Of the two, John seems to have been the more spiritually sensitive. Before John became a follower of Jesus, it appears that he was a disciple of John the Baptist and recalled his declaration that Jesus was “the lamb of God” (Jn 1:35f). He and Andrew, Simon Peter’s brother, then spent the rest of the day with Jesus. Jesus later called James and John to be His followers and both of them along with Peter became part of Jesus’ inner circle who were present at such events as the Transfiguration (Mt. 17) and Jesus prayer in Gethesamane before the crucifixion.

It is thought that John was the disciple known to the High Priest mentioned in John 18:15 and therefore was present at Jesus’ trial. John is also present at the crucifixion itself and while there Jesus entrusts the care of his mother, Mary, to him (Jn. 19:26,27).

Peter and John were together when Mary Magdalene reported to them that the stone was rolled away from Jesus’ tomb and His body was not there. John ran ahead of Peter and reaching the tomb first he stood looking in at the linen wrappings lying there. Peter then entered the tomb and John followed. John then says “he saw and believed,” (19:8). John interacted with Jesus after the resurrection and was present at His ascension.

John is a humble man who does not care to be the center of attention. He never calls himself by name throughout the book, but refers to himself as “the disciple whom Jesus loved.” He is captivated by the fact that Jesus loved him. After the ascension, John is often with Peter as they proclaim the gospel throughout Jerusalem (Acts 3 & 8). Peter does the speaking and John helps Peter. John is one of the “pillars of the church” in Jerusalem (Gal. 2:9; Acts 15:6) for many years. It appears that John left Jerusalem just before the Jewish War and possibly as early as 59 A.D. There is speculation about where he spent the next several years, but there is indication that he was in Asia Minor by at least 69 A.D. where he was instrumental in the conversion and discipleship of Polycarp.

John lived in Ephesus for several years, and then sometime during the reign of Domitia (81-96) he was banished to the island of Patmos in the Aegean Sea which is about 75 miles southwest of Ephesus. It was during this time that he received and wrote Revelation. He was allowed to return to Ephesus during the reign of Nerva (96-98) and died in Ephesus at the beginning of Trajan’s reign (c. 98). John’s close relationship to the Ephesian church can be seen in his three Epistles, especially 2 & 3 John written to individuals Ephesus.


Tradition holds that John wrote his gospel from Ephesus, which would place the writing either before or after his exile to Patmos. This would mean that it could be as early as 80 A.D. and as late as 98 A.D. The question can not be answered with certainty. I favor the earlier date only because it would seem logical to have the gospel written before the 1 epistle, which seems to pre-suppose a knowledge of the gospel. The Apocalypse would then be written last.


While authorship and date and place of writing are helpful to our understanding of the book, as is a brief sketch of John’s life, but more important to us is the purpose of the gospel. It is in the purpose of his writing that we will find the practical applications that will affect how we live. There have been several ideas suggested as reasons John wrote this gospel. Let me go over them with you.


Some have suggested that John, writing toward the end of his life, after having already become familiar with the gospel accounts of Matthew, Mark & Luke wanted to supplement what they wrote with additional material to give a broader picture of the life of Christ as well as to make special emphasis on Jesus’ deity.

MATTHEW – was written around 50 A.D. by the apostle primarily to Jews living in Palestine. Matthew emphasized Jesus as the King. Matthew demonstrates Jesus fulfilling the prophecies concerning the Messiah and presents Jesus’ kingdom program.

MARK – was written about 60 A.D. by Peter’s companion, Mark, from Rome to Romans. It is the briefest account and very quick paced. Mark gives rapid sketches of events without extensive interpretation. He emphasizes Jesus as the mighty Son of God, the startling Wonder-Worker and victorious conqueror of death.

LUKE – was also written about 60 A.D. or slightly earlier. Luke is the companion of the Apostle Paul and writes to his Greek friend, Theophilus, a researched historical and chronological account Jesus as the perfect man who came to seek and save sinful men.

These three gospels are often called the “synoptics” because the report many of the same events. For example, 93% of what is recorded in Mark is also recorded in either Matthew or Luke. Each gives a brief account of the beginning of Jesus’ ministry, but gives greater detail to the middle and ending years of Jesus’ ministry.

JOHN’s gospel account differs from the other accounts in this respect. It gives much more attention to the early part of Jesus’ ministry and reports on many events not recorded in the other three accounts. John then gives great detail in chapters 13-19 to a period of less than 24 hours that precede the crucifixion. John makes a great emphasis throughout his account on Jesus being the Son of God. John writes some 30 to 40 years after the earlier gospel accounts, and he writes to Christians.

These things have led some to believe John was simply giving a supplement to the earlier gospel accounts. While it is true that John does give us much additional information and some passages would even indicate a pre-supposed knowledge of other gospel accounts (3:24; 11:2; 18:13), John’s own statement (20:30,31) would exclude that from being his purpose. Supplementing the synoptics must be considered a secondary to fulfilling his main objective.


There are others that suggest that John wrote his gospel account to battle the early Gnosticism of Cerinthus. Cerinthus taught that Jesus was merely human and was the natural son of Joseph and Mary but who was more just and wise than anyone else. He further taught that “the Christ” came upon Jesus in the form of a dove at his baptism, but that it left him again on the eve of his sufferings so that it was Jesus, and not “the Christ” that suffered, died and rose again.

Ireneus states that John wrote the gospel to remove the error of Cerinthus and it is entirely probable that the apostle had the error of Cerinthus in mind as he wrote. The epistle of 1 John does seek to correct this error. This can explain John’s emphasis on Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that “the Christ” actually assumed human nature and never laid it aside. However, this purpose must also be secondary to the central purpose John gives for his writing. The negative purpose of battling the error of Cerinthus is subordinate to the positive purpose John states in 21:30,31.


John 20:30, 31 (NASB) Many other signs therefore Jesus also performed in the presence of the disciples, which are not written in this book; 31 but these have been written that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God; and that believing you may have life in His name.

Yes, there was danger in the teachings of those like Cerinthus that denied that Jesus really was God and that the Christ had come in human flesh. As Hendriksenn well states, “The apostle, seeing this danger and being guided by the Holy Spirit, writes his Gospel in order that the church may abide in the faith with respect to Christ.

John did not purpose to write a complete biography of Jesus, for as he states in 21:25 that would be impossible for “there are many other things which Jesus did, which if they were written in detail, I suppose that even the world itself would not contain the books which were written.” John writes to confirm believers in the doctrine they had already received.

The material that is found in John that does not occur in the synoptics center on Jesus being the Christ, the Son of God. For example: The wedding at Cana (Jn 2:11) was the beginning of Jesus’ signs which manifested His glory and “His disciples believed in Him.” The conversation with Nicodemus in John 3 was to declare that “whosoever believes in Him should not perish but have everlasting life.” The conversation with the Samaritan woman at the well in John 4 was to manifest Himself as the Messiah. After Jesus healed the man at Bethesda He declares My Father is working until now, and I too am working” at which, John points out, that the Jews sought to kill Jesus because in calling God His own Father He was making Himself equal with God (5:17,18). In chapter 6 Jesus feeds the five thousand and then states, “For this is the will of My Father, that everyone who beholds the Son and believes in Him, may have eternal life; and I Myself will raise him up on the last day.” In chapter 8 Jesus gives His discourse about living water and declares, “If any man is thirsty, let him come to Me and drink. “He who believes in Me, as the Scripture said, ‘From his innermost being shall flow rivers of living water'”
(8:37,38). Jesus heals the man born blind and then receives his worship (9:38). In chapter 10 Jesus gives His discourse on the Good Shepherd and declares that “I and the Father are one.” Jesus raised Lazarus from the dead specifically for the purpose of showing the glory of God and that those seeing it would believe that God the Father had sent Jesus (11:40,42). Throughout the Upper Room Discourse and the High Priestly Prayer in chapters 14-17 Jesus makes many statements declaring His deity and the nature of believing in Him. John even records the Thomas exclamation, “My Lord and My God,” upon seeing the resurrected Lord.

Consider as well the miracles that John records. Each of them magnify the divine power of Jesus. In John 4 the nobleman’s son is not just healed, but healed from a distance! The man at Bethseda in John 5 had been lame for thirty-eight years and the in John 9 the man Jesus healed from blindness had been born that way. When Lazarus was raised from the dead, it could not be a case of someone who had passed out and was in a comma. Lazarus had been dead for four days. People in comma’s can live in that state a long time now because they receive medical attention. Lazarus had spent four days in a tomb wrapped up in grave clothes. Mary did not want the stone rolled away from the tomb because she was sure his body would be stinking. These could not be psychosomatic healings, or forms of trickery. Each of these displayed the awesome power of God.

John emphasizes Jesus’ deity throughout his Gospel account and records the calls for people to believe on Jesus as the Christ. John is writing to Christians to strengthen their faith in Jesus. That is why I am excited about our journey through this gospel. I believe it will challenge each as it presents Jesus’ claims and calls us to a deeper faith in Him.


I have placed in your bulletin notes a brief outline of John. It is presented in two basic sections as shown with subdivisions under each. In the first section (1-12) there are two themes being developed side by side. Jesus gives and expanding revelation of Himself as the promised Messiah along with various proofs of the reality of His claim. At the same time there is an increasing rejection of His claim by the religious leaders. What begins in the opening chapters as skepticism and doubt develops into rejection and then a plot to murder Jesus by the end of Chapter 11.

I. Public Ministry – That You May Believe (1-12)

A. Revelations of the Son of God / Rejected by Leaders (1-6)

B. Appeals to Sinners / Rebukes to Resistant Leaders (7-10)

C. Miracle & Multitudes / Conspiracy to Murder (11-12)

In the second section (13-21) the focus is on Jesus’ private ministry as He prepares His disciples for what was to come. This section includes the trial, crucifixion and resurrection of Jesus and concludes with His restoring and commissioning the disciples to ministry.

II. Private Ministry – That You May Have Life (13-21)

A. Preparation of His Disciples (13-17)

B. Sacrificial Atonement (18-19)

C. Resurrection Triumph (20,21)

Let me point out a few other characteristics of the Gospel of John before I conclude this morning.

First, John is much more exact than the Synoptics indicating the timing and place of events. This has allowed us to determine the length of Christ’s ministry.

Second, the teaching of Christ dominates the Gospel of John, but the teaching is not given in parables, as often found in the synoptics, but rather it is in elaborate discourses. This again demonstrates the emphasis John was making. John gives emphasis to Jesus’ early ministry and to His personal ministry to His disciples. Jesus started using parables in His public teaching after the religious leaders had rejected Him and accused Him as being from Beelzebub (Mt. 12). Jesus used parables to reveal the truth to His followers while hiding it from His enemies (Mt. 13:10f). Direct discourse was His method in His early ministry and the appropriate form when privately teaching His disciples.

Third, the main topic of the Gospel of John is not the kingdom, but the King Himself. The focus is on the person of Jesus Christ Himself. with special emphasis on His deity. It is my hope that as we go through this book you will not only increase in knowledge and understanding of Jesus Christ, but that you will increase in love for Him. True Christianity is about Jesus Christ and following Him.

It is my solid conviction that the greater you know and love Jesus Christ the more you will live for Him. You will become more sensitive to and repulsed by sin because it offends the one you love. You will increase in personal holiness because it pleases the one you love. You will serve the Lord with excitement and vigor because it brings honor and glory to the one you love. It is a simple fact that we will arrange our priorities around and sacrifice for that which we love. As our love for Jesus Christ increases, then He will be our priority and what we do with our lives will center around Him. We will then gladly follow Paul’s admonition in Romans 12 to be living sacrifices for Him.

Let me conclude by telling you what godly men of the past have said about the Gospel of John.

Origen, the father of Biblical exegesis, calls John the main Gospel and that only those who lean on the bosom of Jesus can comprehend it.

Chrysostom, the ablest expounder and greatest pulpit orator of the ancient Greek Church extolled the Gospel of John it is “a voice of thunder reverberating through the whole earth; notwithstanding its all-conquering power, it does not utter a harsh sound, but is more love-betwitching and elevating in its influence than all the harmonies of music. It awakens the awe-inspiring consciousness, that it is pregnant with the most precious gifts of grace, which elevate those who appropriate them to themselves above the earthly pursuits of this life, and constitute them citizens of heaven and heirs of the blessedness of angels.

Augustine said, “John did but pour forth the water of life which he himself had drunk in. For he does not relate the fact without good reason, that at the Last Supper the beloved disciple laid his head on the Lord’s bosom. From this bosom his soul drank in secret. Then he revealed this secret communion the world, that all nations might become partakers of the blessings of the Incarnation, Passion and Resurrection.”

Luther speaks of John as being “the unique, tender, genuine, leading Gospel, that should be preferred by far to the others. John records mainly the discourses of Christ in His own words, from which we learn truth and life as taught by Himself.

Calvin designated John as the key that opens the way to aright understanding of the other Gospels. He states that this gospel reveals the soul of Christ; the others seek rather to describe the body.”

And Lange calls John “the diamond among the Gospels which is most fully penetrated by the light of life, and which reflects the glory of the Godhead in flesh and blood, even in the crown of thorns.”

I pray that you will be diligent to join me as we study this wonderful book that we not only will understand Jesus Christ, the light of life, but that we will increase in our love for Him and become diamonds ourselves that will reflect His light to all that are around us.

Sermon Study Sheets

Parents, you are responsible to apply God’s Word to your children’s lives. Here is some help.

Young Children – draw a picture about something you hear during the sermon. Explain your picture(s) to your parents at lunch. Older Children – Do one or more of the following: 1) Write down all the verses mentioned in the sermon and look them up later. 2) Count how many times the term “Gospel” is used in the sermon. Talk with your parents about what the gospel is.


Questions to consider in discussing the sermon with others.

Who is the author of the Gospel of John? What evidence leads you to believe this? Why do liberal scholars deny that the Apostle John is the author? What do you know about John’s family? – Dad, Mom, Brother? What is John’s relationship to Jesus? How would you describe John’s character? When and where was the Gospel of John written? What was the purpose of each of the gospels? How does John differ from the Synoptics (Matthew, Mark & Luke)? What was the early gnosticism that present in Ephesus at the end of the first century? Why does John say that he wrote this gospel account? What evidence in the book demonstrates that purpose? What themes do you find in John? What do you think would change in your life if you loved Jesus more than you do now? What would help you love Jesus more? What do you think a study of the Gospel of John will affect your life? What can you do to enhance the effect of the pastor’s sermons? Will you do it?


Sermon Notes – 10/17/1999 a.m.



“Introduction to the Gospel of John”



Establishing Authorship

The Character of John

Time and Place of Writing

Purpose of Writing

Supplement Synoptics




Emphasis of John

Battle Early Gnosticism

Establish Faith in Jesus Christ, The Son of God

Themes and Outlines of the Gospel of John

I. Public Ministry – That You May Believe (1-12)

A. Revelations of the Son of God / Rejected by Leaders (1-6)

B. Appeals to Sinners / Rebukes to Resistant Leaders (7-10)

C. Miracle & Multitudes / Conspiracy to Murder (11-12)

II. Private Ministry – That You May Have Life (13-21)

A. Preparation of His Disciples (13-17)

B. Sacrificial Atonement (18-19)

C. Resurrection Triumph (20,21)

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