January 31st 2010

The Gospel of John

“In the beginning was the Word.”

John 1:1 (NIV UK)

The Gospel of John is one of the most beloved books of the New Testament. It is unique among the four Gospels—different from the other three in several ways. Unlike Matthew, Mark and Luke, John has no account of the birth, baptism, or temptations of Jesus. It doesn’t mention the Last Supper, the Garden of Gethsemane, or the ascension. Accounts of Jesus’ many healings and casting out demons are not included in the Gospel of John. Nor do we find in John the many short and memorable parables in which Jesus teaches profound lessons about the kingdom of God and godly living.

Instead of parables, the fourth Gospel records long speeches of Jesus that sometimes range more than a chapter in length, and often involve complex arguments and reasoning.

John not only leaves out much that the other Gospels mention, but he also tells us much that they do not include. Only John tells us of the marriage feast at Cana, of Nicodemus’ visit to Jesus, of the Samaritan woman, of raising Lazarus from the dead, washing the disciples’ feet, and the teaching about the Holy Spirit.

The Gospel of John was written in Ephesus around A.D. 100. By that time, perhaps 30 years after the other three Gospels had been written, an important change had occurred in the church: the good news had been proclaimed to the Gentiles.  It was important that the story of Jesus be told in ways that Gentiles were more likely to understand. After all, by this time the vast majority of new converts were coming from a Greek Hellenistic cultural background and not from a Jewish background.

Nothing about the message itself had changed, but the ways by which the good news was expressed and explained needed to be broadened to accommodate the new audience. For example, the genealogies included by Matthew and Luke in their Gospels were of great importance to Jews, because the Messiah was to be a descendent of King David. In Greek culture, however, King David had no status, and even if a Greek had heard of King David, being descended from him had no significance.

But Greeks did have a concept of the Logos, translated as “the Word” above. Logos referred to the word and reason behind the universe. To Greeks, the Logos was the mind of God, responsible for the order in the universe and giving rational thought to human beings. John used this concept of Logos to reach Greeks in a way they could more easily relate to. Educated Greeks thought in terms of the two worlds taught by Plato—the shadow world in which we live and what he called the real world, of which everything in our world is only a pale copy. The greatest reality of all in the real world was God. In Greek thinking, the problem facing humanity was how to get from our world of copies and shadows into the world of reality.

John’s Gospel declared that Jesus is the true reality come to earth. In John, Jesus is the real Light. He is the real Bread. He is the real Vine. He is the Resurrection and the Life. He is the Truth, and he is the Way—concepts that Greeks could readily understand.

In Matthew, Mark and Luke, Jesus’ miracles demonstrate his compassion and love. In John’s Gospel, Jesus’ miracles are presented as signs pointing to the Reality that is God, and demonstrating the glory of God breaking into our world. The miracles are insights into the way God always is and how he always acts. In John, Jesus does not merely heal a blind man, he is the Light of the World. He does not merely feed 5,000 with a few loaves of bread, he is the Bread of Life.

The Gospel According to John goes beyond the facts of Jesus’ life—to the spiritual meaning of Jesus’ life. Matthew, Mark, and Luke wrote historical Gospels as testaments to the truth of the facts about Jesus’ life death and resurrection. John, on the other hand, wrote a spiritual Gospel about the meaning for humanity of Jesus’ words and Jesus’ life.

Together, the four Gospels—Matthew, Mark, Luke and John—present Jesus as the fulfilment of the great messianic prophecies of the chosen people and as the mind of God in person—as one of us—who draws us out of the shadows of this life into the true life of the kingdom of God.

Prayer

Father, thank for the spiritual richness of the Gospel accounts and for the fact that Jesus is the reality of who you are.

Amen

Study by Joseph Tkach

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