NextLevel Online: John

Session 1: Intro & Chapter 1

Identity: This first session is an introduction to the Gospel of John, the author, and what is unique about this book.


Classroom Instructions

Materials: Lesson Outline

Who Wrote John?

None of the four Gospels is signed by its writer. Yet the early church had no uncertainty about who wrote them. Only the pseudo-Gospels, which began to appear in the middle of the second century, needed to claim authorship by some well known figure.

The Gospel of John does, however, give important clues about its author. These clues draw a tighter and tighter circle, finally centering on John, the son of Zebedee. First, the author is obviously a Jew. He is familiar with Jewish customs, Jewish holy days, and Jewish terms (“messiah,” “rabbi,” etc.). Second, the author appears to be a Palestinian Jew. He speaks of locations in Jerusalem and the Palestinian countryside with firsthand knowledge. Third, he is an eyewitness. He was present at the momentous events that he narrates (such as the crucifixion, John 19:35). Fourth, and most importantly, he calls himself “the disciple whom Jesus loved” (John 21:24).

By the process of elimination, this unnamed “disciple whom Jesus loved” can be singled out from the other apostles:

  • Peter—named in 1:40, etc. Andrew—named in 1:40

  • Philip—named in 1:43

  • Nathaniel (also called Bartholemew)—named in 1:45 Judas Iscariot—named in 6:71

  • Thomas—named in 11:16

  • Judas, not Iscariot (also called Thaddeas)—named in 6:71 James—killed much earlier in Acts 12:2

  • Matthew—wrote his own Gospel in a much different style

Only Simon the Zealot, James the Less, and John remain. Since John is shown in the Synoptic Gospels to be one of the inner three, present at the Transfiguration and at Gethsemane, he is the obvious choice. The early Church Fathers (Theophilus, Irenaeus, Clement of Alexandria, Tertullian) confirm John as the author.

What Is Unique about the Gospel of John?

John is surprising in its omissions. This story of Jesus does not include his birth, temptations, transfiguration, Last Supper, or Gethsemane. It does not include any of his parables, or the Sermon on the Mount, or most of his miracles. In fact, only 9% of John overlaps the material of the Synoptic Gospels—Matthew, Mark, and Luke. John appears to be familiar with the other Gospels and sees no need to duplicate the parts of Jesus' life story that has already been recorded.

John has its own striking features.

  • It is the Gospel of “signs” (a word used 17 times, especially in John 20:30).

  • It is the Gospel of seven “I am” statements (bread of life, light of the world, gate of the sheep, good shepherd, the resurrection and life, the way—truth—life, vine).

  • It is the Gospel that marks the Passovers (John 2, 5?, 6, 12). Counting the feast of chapter 5 as a Passover, the ministry of Jesus is three years long. John is our only reason for thinking this!

  • It is the Gospel of the deity of Jesus. While the Synoptics show his deity in acts of supernatural power, John states it as categorical fact. (See 1:1, 18, 34, 49; 5:16-40; 10:30; 20:28.)

  • It is the Gospel of the physical humanity of Jesus. He becomes flesh (1:14) gets weary (4:6), he weeps (11:35), he washes feet (13:5), he dies (19:30), he pours out blood and water (19:34), he rises in a body that can be touched (20:27). Note that John warned in 2 John 7 about those who deny that Jesus came in the flesh.)

  • It is the Gospel of believing. The verb “believe” is found 11 times in Matthew, 14 times in Mark, 9 times in Luke, and a whopping 98 times in John. The noun “faith” is not used at all in John

  • It is the Gospel with its own vocabulary. Words that are used far more in John than in the Synoptics include: life, truth, witness, light, darkness, sent.

  • It is the Gospel with its own purpose statement: “That you may believe . . . and by believing you may have life in his name” (20:31).

John 1

“In the beginning” deliberately connects the Word with the God of creation in Genesis 1:1. This Word was the Logos, a term that reminded Greeks of the principle of reason or order underlying the universe, and reminded Jews of “the word of the Lord” when God spoke to them in the O.T. Therefore, the Logos was the creative and governing force behind nature, but more, he was God speaking to them in person! To say that the Logos was with God and was God— separate in identity and yet the same in essence—is as close as we can get to explaining the relationship of God in the Father and God in the Son.

“The Word became flesh” (v. 14) is the shocking reality of the incarnation. Jesus laid aside the privileges of being God (as in Phil 2:6-8), yet in human form was still the same divine person. When he “made his dwelling among us,” he “pitched his tent,” an expression that points back to the “tabernacle” in the days of Moses. Jesus came as the new Moses (see John 6), not merely renewing the Mosaic covenant, but replacing it. Here is an essential distinction: the law was given through Moses; grace and truth came through Jesus Christ (v. 17). The climax of the incarnation is in 1:18, where Jesus is called (literally), “Unique God, the One being in the bosom of the Father.” The NIV interprets this as, “the one and only Son, who is himself God and is in closest relationship with the Father.” He is the One who came to show us what God is really like.

John the Baptist was clear about his own identity (vv. 19-21). He was not the long- awaited Messiah, nor Elijah (expected from Malachi 4:5), nor the Prophet (expected from Deut 18:15). He was also clear about who Jesus was, since the descending Spirit at Jesus' baptism confirmed it (1:34-35). That is how John could introduce Jesus to the world, saying, “Look, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world!” (1:29).

As Jesus is introduced in chapter one, it is striking to notice that this Gospel needs to explain Jewish terms to the reader: Rabbi is “teacher” (1:38), Messiah is “Christ” (1:41), and Cephas is “Peter” (1:42). This seems to identify the original readers as non-Jewish.

As Jesus gathers his first disciples, they add to a growing list of statements in this chapter about who Jesus is:

  • He is God (v. 1)

  • He is the maker of everything (2)

  • He is the true light (9)

  • He is the Son (14)

  • He is the Lamb of God (29)

  • He is God's Chosen One (34)

  • He is Rabbi (Teacher) (38)

  • He is Messiah (41)

  • He is the one Moses wrote about (45)

  • He is Rabbi, the Son of God, the King of Israel! (49)

  • He is (by his own designation) the Son of Man (51)

About NextLevel Online

The vision of Ozark Christian College is to glorify God by evangelizing the lost and edifying Christians worldwide. The mission of Ozark Christian College is to train men and women for Christian service as a degree-granting institution of biblical higher education.