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New Testament Survey



The Gospel of John

Key Verse(s):

Key Chapter(s):

Key Word(s) or Concept(s)


            Who is the author?

How do you know this?

            Who is the audience?

How do you know this?

            How does John’s presentation differ from the other Gospels?

            Is there a key theme to the book?

            How is Jesus presented?

Suggested Reading beyond the Key Chapter(s):


This is my favorite book of the New Testament. John’s language is simple and straight forward, allowing everyone to enjoy the message of this book. At the same time, John’s concepts call for serious study and consideration. His is the Gospel of Jesus as God. Certainly all of the Gospels present Jesus as the God-man appearing on earth, but John’s is the Gospel designed to fully prove the Divine side of this dual nature of Jesus, Deity and man. John’s “Christmas” story is simple.

And the Word was made flesh, and dwelt among us, (and we beheld his glory, the glory as of the only begotten of the Father,) full of grace and truth.
John 1:14

Theme and Purpose


John states his own purpose in writing, but not until you have read almost his entire Gospel.

30 And many other signs truly did Jesus in the presence of his disciples, which are not written in this book: 31 But these are written, that ye might believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God; and that believing ye might have life through his name.
John 20:30-31

A review of the book shows this account reflects the purpose in the same fashion. The first section of the book, say through chapter 12, is designed to give the people the ability to believe in Jesus. These chapters are an apologetic so that people “might believe” (How to Find God!).

The last portion of John’s Gospel is written so that the believer may understand what it means to “have life in his name” (How to Live!). These chapters explain to the believer the need for close fellowship with Jesus, the need to “abide in me” (John 15:5). Eternal life as presented by John involves not only a quantity of life but also a quality of life (cf. 5:24 with 17:2-3). The last chapter of the book, which comes after the purpose statement, serves to act as an epilogue which demonstrates the restoration of the sinner into a more abundant life (John 10:10). This is the result of faith, of believing.

As indicated above, the purpose is deeply tied into John’s theme. John sets out to explicitly reveal the Person of Jesus. The synoptic Gospels approach the character of Christ’s Person in a more inductive (from the ground up) fashion. The synoptics leave it to the thought process of the readers to conclude that Jesus is God. John’s Gospel provides no room for doubt on this point. John reveals from heaven down, a more deductive approach. Jesus is the Logos, the Word of God. Jesus is also the "Messiah," the "Son of God," "God," and "Man." It is very possible that a major reason for the writing of this Gospel was John’s battle with the early Gnostic and docetic views of Cerinthus and others. The Gnostic approach was to see Jesus as two parts – Jesus and the Christ. Jesus the man denied His deity. Christ the God denied His humanity. John’s Gospel shows that Jesus is the God-man – both in one, a mystery of the New Testament.


Cerinthus was a false teacher in Ephesus while John was bishop of the church there. The story is told of John and some of his disciples being in the bath house when in walks Cerinthus. John, so the story goes, grabs the arms of his companions and runs from the bath house yelling, “Flee, here comes that heretic Cerinthus.” This is an extreme of example of the command to be separated from the evil of the world (2 Cor 6:17).

The Relation of John to the Synoptics


Please do not become confused over all of the discussion about the differences between the synoptic Gospels and John’s work. All four are about the same Jesus Christ and cover the same time period. The difference lies in the story telling, the literary approach, and the purpose and audience of each account. John’s Gospel supplements and interprets the other four. As will be seen from the discussion which follows as to the date of this work, John may well have been benefitted from the reading of all three of the synoptic Gospels. John knew what they said, how they reported the Good News of Jesus, and to whom they were originally written. Further, John had the benefit of watching the development of the church. He can, as is the case with Cerinthus, focus on the heresies which have obtained strongholds in the church body. Read John’s three letters. They, too, focus on problems within the church and warn of false teachers.

The doctrine of who Jesus is forms the foundation of all Scripture. John writes to the church body to assure that they understand the importance of Jesus being God. Both John and the synoptics follow the same pattern, from “birth” to the Crucifixion and Resurrection. In so doing, Matthew, Mark, and Luke present materials that John does not (and, of course, the three each present some materials the others do not). Likewise, John presents much material not found in the other three Gospels. Over 92% of the material in John is unique to this Gospel. These differences go to the audience and purpose, not a concept of a different gospel.


John’s arguments are much more philosophical in nature. The course of his arguments follow the pattern of debate used by the rabbis. There is less narrative materials and more discourses in this account. And, especially compared to Mark, there are fewer “actions” contained in this book.


But note, John’s arguments are not unique to John! Try reading Matthew 11:25-27 or Luke 10:21-22. These passages are known as the Johannine thunderbolts. Can you see why? Close your eyes. When you listen to these passages being read, don’t you think John wrote them?

Author and Date – Who is John?


John the Apostle, the son of Zebedee, is the traditional author of this book. There is much early testimony to support this tradition. As with all of the Gospels, this one is anonymous. There is, however, much internal evidence which may be used in support of the tradition.

The author was clearly a Jew. He understood and quoted from the Old Testament. He understood the Jews ceremonies (marriage, feasts, burial). There is clear evidence that the author was familiar with the expectations of the Jewish nation as to the coming Messiah. And there is a clear understanding of the religious and social differences between Jew and Samaritan.

Geographical details make it clear the author was from Palestine. The frequent use of “we” and similar phrasing makes it certain the author was an eyewitness to the ministry of Jesus (1:14; 2:6; 12:5; 19:33-35; 21:8, 11, 24).

The author was an Apostle. He refers to himself as the “one whom Jesus loved” (13:23; 19:26; 20:2 21:7,20). The language of 21:7 restricts this Apostle to one of the seven persons named in 21:2. He must be one of the Apostles because only the twelve were present at the Last Supper. Peter is immediately eliminated since he is distinguished in 21:20ff (and see 13:23-24). The author is closely associated with Peter. This logically makes the author one of the inner three, James the Son of Zebedee, John his brother, and Peter (20:2-10; cf. Mk. 5:37-38; 9:2-3; 14:33). Since James is killed by Herod (Acts 12:2) prior to the writing of any of the New Testament books, especially this Gospel, only John is left as the author.


The date of the Gospel is probably between A.D. 85 – 95, although it could be as late as 100. The earliest fragment of a New Testament manuscript is the Rylands Fragment which contains John 18:31-33 and 37-38 and may be dated as early as A.D. 100. This fragment was discovered in Egypt and other Egyptians copies support the contention that the Gospel was known in that region early in the second century, so the Gospel dates before A.D. 100. An early church father, Irenaeus, says that John was in Ephesus until the time of Trajan (AD 98-117). This, too, requires that the Gospel be written before A.D. 100.

While some internal evidence may be used to argue for a date before the destruction of the Temple, both Irenaeus and Eusebius affirm that John wrote from Ephesus, his city of refuge after Titus conquered Jerusalem (AD 66-70). This fits with some of the terms used by John. Ephesus was a Gentile city and explains the need for identification of the various Jewish feasts and geographical locations. John further explains other Jewish customs and usages to his readers and translates Jewish name. The introduction of “Greeks” into the narrative (Chp 12) may be a reaction to his initial audience.

All of these factors support John being the last Gospel written. They also support a late date for its writing.


As a note of interest, there is a developing theory amongst some scholars for an earlier date for John, at least in so far as the writing of what might be called the rough draft. Since John shows little affinity for the use of Matthew, Mark, and Luke, the theory is that he wrote about the same time as the other three. However, before John could finish his draft, Paul is killed. The Apostles then determine that someone must write an account to Paul’s churches to assure they understand fully the entire story of Jesus. This is prompted because Paul had not been an eyewitness. Before this could be accomplished, Peter is also killed. This resulted in John adding the 21st chapter to his manuscript in Peter’s memory. John had to flee to Ephesus as the result of Titus’s invasion of Jerusalem. In Ephesus, John completed the manuscript where it was copied and distributed to Paul’s churches. This all would have occurred early in John’s stay in Ephesus resulting in a date in the late 60s or early 70s. The idea of an initial rough draft accounts for some of the internal evidence of the Gospel, which speaks to an early date.

Special Considerations


John’s Gospel is the Gospel of belief. The verb “believe” is used 98 times by the Apostle, while he never uses the noun “faith.” John presents the Good News as a choice – believe in God or fall into the realm of darkness. The simplicity of the choice accounts for the contrast of light and darkness which flows through not only the Gospel but John’s letters, especially 1 John. Jesus came into the world, but His own people did not believe in Him (1:11-13) so He turned His promises to the Gentiles. Chapter 3 on Nicodemus and the new birth is the example and statement of this choice.

Jesus is the Word, God Incarnate (1:1, 14). This is the entire point of John’s approach. If Jesus is God, then His choice of believing on His name is a valid choice. John continually promotes this theme of Deity. In John 1:18 He is called “only begotten Son” (KJV), “God the only Son” (NCV), “only begotten God” (NASB), “only Son, who is himself God” (NLT), and “God the One and Only” (NIV). In John 6:69 Jesus is called the “Holy One of God” (NIV, NASB), “Holy One from God” (NCV), and “Son of the living God” (KJV).

Jesus identifies Himself as the Messiah (4:26) and God (8:58).

God called Moses to His service at the burning bush. Before accepting the challenge, Moses asked who he should tell the Israelites had sent him on this mission. God’s response is found in Exodus 3:14:

And God said unto Moses, I AM THAT I AM: and he said, Thus shalt thou say unto the children of Israel, I AM hath sent me unto you.

The Jewish Nation came to well know the “name of God” as “I AM.” Jesus applies this name to Himself, particularly in John 8:58. Indeed, the Jewish people recognize this claim to Deity, for the next verse records they attempt to stone Jesus for blasphemy. But, Jesus goes farther than this in John’s Gospel. In the Old Testament, compound names for God are used to display His character.

Jesus applies compound names to Himself in the form of seven “I AM” sayings, each designed to convey a piece of knowledge about the Person of Christ. These sayings tell us not only that Jesus is God but what it means to be God.


I am the bread of life – 6:35

I am the light of the world – 8:12

I am the gate – 10:7, 9

I am the good shepherd – 10:11, 14

I am the resurrection and the life – 11:25

I am the way, the truth, and the life – 14:6

I am the true vine – 15: 1, 5

It should be noted that in other contexts Jesus applies the “I AM” name to Himself in less dramatic fashion (4:25-26; 8:24, 28: 12:19; 18:5, 6, 8).

John carefully picks the miracles recorded to shows the sovereignty of Christ. To John, miracles are signs which support Jesus’ contention of Deity. The miracles each operate in a slightly different area of God’s powers and are displayed to reveal different character traits.

The other distinctive feature of John’s Gospel is the use and concept of the five witnesses. Under the law, two or three witnesses were required to verify the truth of a matter. John uses a discourse of Jesus to record five witnesses against the Jews as to the truth of what Jesus tells them. The witnesses are:

While John omits the discourses, such as the Sermon on the Mount, the discourses he does include reflect materials not found in the synoptic Gospels. Some of these are directly related to the great “I AM” names, such as discourses on the bread of life, the light of the world, and the good Shepherd. Others include:


There are two textual questions connected with John’s Gospel. First, in Chapter 2, very early in Christ’s ministry, John records a cleansing of the Temple. This seems to conflict with the synoptic Gospels which have this event during Passion Week. The simple answer is that there were two cleansings. There is nothing in any of the Scriptures which would prevent this. The details are slightly different, so this would also support the contention of two different events.


The second issue is the story of the woman caught in adultery, John 8:1-11. Many of the early manuscripts do not contain this story. Others have it in a different place. The issue, of course, is whether or not it should be part of the Bible. The story fits with John’s presentation of Christ. There is no manner in which to actual solve this issue, so it is best here to accept tradition and include it in Scripture.

Another point of immediate interest is Christ’s statements in John 13:34-35. In 1 John 4:16, the Apostle tells us God is LOVE. This is an important theme throughout Scripture. God is love, balanced with all of His other attributes. But if there is a single quality that the saints of God should display to the world, it is this trait of love.

34 A new commandment I give unto you, That ye love one another; as I have loved you, that ye also love one another. 35 By this shall all men know that ye are my disciples, if ye have love one to another.

John’s Gospel is also the Gospel of the Holy Spirit. No where else in the Gospels is the role of the Spirit detailed as much. His work in the life of the believer and in the life of the world at large may be found in the discourse covered in chapters 14-17. Note especially the descriptions of the work of the Holy Spirit found in John 16:5-11:

5 But now I go my way to him that sent me; and none of you asketh me, Whither goest thou? 6 But because I have said these things unto you, sorrow hath filled your heart. 7 Nevertheless I tell you the truth; It is expedient for you that I go away: for if I go not away, the Comforter will not come unto you; but if I depart, I will send him unto you. 8 And when he is come, he will reprove the world of sin, and of righteousness, and of judgment: 9 Of sin, because they believe not on me; 10 Of righteousness, because I go to my Father, and ye see me no more; 11 Of judgment, because the prince of this world is judged.

Note one other feature of this discourse. We are all familiar with The Lord’s Prayer, which is found in Matthew 6:9-13 as part of the Sermon on the Mount. This prayer is really a model prayer for believers. The true Lord’s Prayer is found in John 17 where Christ, the High Priest, pours out His heart to the Father.

To complete our review of sayings from the Cross, three of these are found in John.


When Jesus therefore saw his mother, and the disciple standing by, whom he loved, he saith unto his mother, Woman, behold thy son!
John 19:26

After this, Jesus knowing that all things were now accomplished, that the scripture might be fulfilled, saith, I thirst.
John 19:28

When Jesus therefore had received the vinegar, he said, It is finished: and he bowed his head, and gave up the ghost.
John 19:30

Lastly, as we have noted, take care to review the last chapter, the epilogue of this Gospel. John’s promise of the Second Coming lies within the discussion between Peter and Jesus over the fate of Peter and the ‘Beloved Disciple.” This is the final step in the progression of salvation history as recorded in the Gospels – from Resurrection, to Ascension, to the indwelling and power of the Holy Spirit, to the Second Coming of Christ.

Then went this saying abroad among the brethren, that that disciple should not die: yet Jesus said not unto him, He shall not die; but, If I will that he tarry till I come, what is that to thee?
John 21:23


I          Prologue of the Gospel

II         The Ministry and Presentation of Jesus 1:19-12:50

III        The Ministry of Instruction to the Disciples 13:1-17:26

IV       The Ministry of Redemption to the World 18:1-19:42



What traits do the miracles speak to?

What miracle is recorded in all four Gospels?

                  Why this one?


Now that we have reviewed all of the sayings from the Cross, why do you think the different authors chose the ones they did?

Why did John chose the miracles he did?

Based upon John’s Gospel, describe Jesus.

Do you have five witnesses who could testify to your Christianity?


What are the advantages of having four Gospels?

Is the book of John a good one to give to someone who is lost?





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