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The Apostle John And His Writings

II. The Gospel of John

Eugene P. Vedder Jr.

The Peculiarity of John's Gospel

The Synoptic Gospels had probably all been written before the fall of Jerusalem and so were in existence 25 or maybe 30 years before John wrote his Gospel. If human writers are going to write on a subject that has already been written on the general idea is to try to find something that has not been said on that subject, something that is original and going to characterize their book or article in contrast to the others. I do not believe that John wrote with those objects. "Holy men of God spake under the power of [the] Holy Spirit" (2 Pet. 1:21). Yet the Gospel of John in some respect is like the thumb compared to the fingers: it is one of the books that gives us the life of the Lord Jesus and yet it is quite different from the other three. We need it along with the other three just as we need our thumbs along with our fingers.

The Gospel of Matthew presents the Lord Jesus as the object of prophecy, the King and Messiah of Israel, the Promised One. A recurring phrase in Matthew's Gospel is "and it came to pass" or "as the prophet said" or "as it was written". Matthew alludes to prophecy and shows how prophecy was fulfilled in the Lord Jesus.

The Gospel of Mark presents the Lord Jesus as the perfect Servant here on earth and as the Prophet, the One who was God's mouthpiece here on earth. Mark therefore does not present us with a genealogy or an account of the birth of the Lord Jesus, for if you are hiring a servant you are not interested in where he was born or who his parents were. What you are interested in is if he can do the job or not. So there are very interesting reasons why the Spirit of God presents certain things through this writer.

Luke was used to present the Man Christ Jesus. Luke's genealogy goes back further than Matthew's does. He goes back to Adam and even to God. Luke presents the Lord Jesus numerous times as sitting at a table, being invited to meals - and if there is one place where people open up it tends to be when they are sitting at the table with a good meal before them. We find that the Lord Jesus, the Perfect Man, did much of His teaching in that kind of setting. There are many other things that present His perfect manhood, including His perfect boyhood.

John by contrast says nothing about His boyhood or birth or genealogy (except for recording a few derogatory remarks made by the Jews), but John presents us with the Son of God come from heaven. Let us turn to John 1 for a moment.

The Presentation of the Lord Jesus in John's Gospel

"In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God. All things received being through Him, and without Him not one thing received being which has received being. In Him was life, and the life was the light of men. And the light appears in darkness, and the darkness apprehended it not"   (John 1:1-5)

Let us consider Him as "the Word". A word is the expression of a thought and the Lord Jesus is the full expression of the mind of God.

Indeed He is God; yet He is a distinct Person in the Godhead. One tries to speak very carefully in regard to these things for they are holy. We cannot define God in any way and yet we want to fully accept and welcome and appreciate all that Scripture says on the subject of the Person of the Lord Jesus. He is before us in this Gospel in all His dignity and glory. This is the Gospel in which His cross is not borne part of the way by Simon of Cyrene; He bears His cross alone, as the Son of God is not viewed as needing the help that the man Jesus, humanly speaking, could use. I do not want to even say that He needed it, but His cross was put on another for part of the way. John, however, does not mention these things.

A good book that I would recommend to anyone who wants to go into the Gospels and see the Lord Jesus as He is presented in them, especially in view of these differences, is "The Divine Design in the Gospels" by brother Cor Bruins. He wrote it while he was still a missionary in Lebanon. He compares the accounts given in the four Gospels, not from the standpoint of tearing them apart as so many human critics do, but from the standpoint of showing the divine design in them, showing what the Holy Spirit is trying to bring out in each one, and why something is mentioned here and left out there, or why it is mentioned in this way here and perhaps passed over with half a sentence elsewhere.

Another book which I wish was available in English which was a help to me in studying this subject is a book by brother George Andre entitled "The Apostle John and his Ministry". It was written in French and has been translated into German. It does not go into the full scope of what we intend to go into but it is a beautiful book. I have borrowed a few thoughts from it. The thoughts the Lord gives He gives in various ways, sometimes through one's own meditation and sometimes through reading the meditations of others. One should not be afraid to pick up that which He has given to others.

We have seen as we read John 1:14-18 that John spoke of having contemplated the glory of the Word become flesh. We cannot get acquainted with the Lord by giving Him a fleeting glance once in a while. In order to appreciate and enjoy the Lord Jesus we have got to spend time looking at Him, He is the One whom we never tire spending time with, really contemplating, thinking about Him. We must give time to contemplating Him. Time is a commodity that is getting increasingly scarce in these days but if we really want to enjoy the Lord Jesus we have got to spend our time with Him.

John did not only contemplate the Lord during those brief three and a half years that he walked with Him, but he contemplated Him all his life. When the Lord Jesus turned abruptly to those two men who were following Him and asked them what they sought, and invited them to "Come and see" where He dwelt, they not only came and saw but they stayed with Him that day. They may have returned to their fishing for a while before the Lord called them to really follow Him but here in John's Gospel we see that John got acquainted with the Lord. There was a three and a half year period between this and the Lord's death when he could contemplate His glory while he walked with Him, when He could observe Him day after day in all kinds of situations. I believe the sixty-five or seventy years afterwards before the Lord took him home were spent in further contemplating the glory of the Lord Jesus.

The Signs of John's Gospel

"Many other signs therefore also Jesus did before His disciples, which are not written in this book; but these are written that ye may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that believing ye might have life in His name."   (John 20:31-32)

Here John comes to a conclusion. It almost seems that chapter 21 is an addendum to the book and yet the book certainly would not be complete without it; it is not only the conclusion, it is also the purpose of the book. John wrote with definite method. Just as Luke, being a medical doctor (Col. 4:14) and an excellent historian, wrote his Gospel in a moral order (Luke 1:3) bringing morally linked events together without necessarily following a chronological order so John also wrote with real method. (Acts, although also written by Luke, is written in a chronological order).

John's Gospel contains fewer of the Lord's miracles than any of the other Gospels although he mentions a number that are not mentioned by the others. The miracles are referred to as signs. He picked out certain miracles which showed who the Lord was in relation to creation, for example being able to turn water into wine (ch.2). In nature the grapevine sucks up water from the ground and the sun beating down on it starts chemical reactions in the vine creating the leaves, and grapes grow on it; eventually these grapes, if they are crushed, ferment and wine is produced. God can do this in creation through the process that He has designed but the Lord Jesus could do it instantaneously, for He is the God of creation.

Then in chapter 4 a nobleman went to see the Lord Jesus and asked Him to heal his son, and the Lord said, "Go home, he is well now". Now the Lord can and does use doctors (He even pointed out the value of a doctor saying that it was not well people who needed a doctor but sick people - Matt. 9:12, Mark 2:17), yet He is God and can act on sickness at a distance without medication or rest. So when the man went home his servants met him on the way and said, "Your boy is well". This happened at the very hour when the Lord said he was well. So each miracle recorded in this Gospel is a sign, although Jesus did many other signs as well, but "these were written that [we] might believe that Jesus is the Christ (the Messiah, the Anointed One sent by God), and that believing [we] might have life in His name".

The last of the signs that are given us is in chapter 11 where Lazarus, a close personal friend, died. There it specifically says that Jesus loved Lazarus and his sisters Martha and Mary so that when Lazarus became sick they sent word saying, "He whom Thou lovedst is sick". I am sure they were shocked when the messenger came back alone and nothing had happened; the Lord had not healed from afar nor did He come. Mary and Martha probably said, "What did He say? What did He do?" Well, He did not do anything.

You can imagine what those sisters felt like, and yet Scripture says that Jesus loved the three and mentions them by name. Then a couple of days later the Lord said to His disciples, "Let us go there" and He let them understand that Lazarus was not just sick: he had died. They could not understand why the Lord would put Himself in danger by going where the Pharisees would seek to kill Him. He arrived a few days after the funeral with His disciples and found that Lazarus had been buried four days already. Indeed, his sister Martha did not want the grave opened because he would stink. Yet in the Gospel of John Lazarus was the one man whom the Lord Jesus raised from the dead, and He did it in a way that showed His love and concern, for first the Lord wept with the sisters and mourning friends. This event had hit them very hard because four days after the funeral they were still mourning in the house with friends there to comfort them. In our society there is grief, but four days after a funeral we have usually all returned to work and are trying to carry on with life, so this must have hit these sisters very hard. The Lord called this dead man out of the grave and gave him life. This is the last of the public signs.

In John 21 we have still another one for the disciples' eyes that looks on typically to the Millennium and what the Lord will do there, but each miracle in John's Gospel is a definite sign for us. It is very profitable to meditate on them and to see what glory of the Lord Jesus is revealed in each one and how each one contributes to presenting Jesus as the Son of God, the Word become flesh who dwelt among us.

I can just imagine John writing this when he was past ninety years of age: 'To think that the Word, the full expression of the mind of God, became flesh and lived here among people like us, who were ordinary common people!' In Acts 4:13 the Sanhedrin took note that the disciples were "ignorant and unlearned" fishermen. When we see their writings we see that they were not ignorant, but as far as the Jewish scribes and Pharisees and priests were concerned that is what they were. They were Galileans who had not had theological training. They could not say like Paul, 'I have sat under the feet of Rabbi Gamaliel and picked up all his wisdom' (Acts 22:3). No, these disciples when the Lord called them were ordinary folk. They knew how to read and write but they did not have the scholarly training of the rabbis. However, they got on very well without it. Today when I look at seminaries and even many Bible schools I see that much of what is taught is critical of God's Word. Thank God there are places where the Word of God is faithfully taught in the measure that it is understood, but these places are few and far between.

John is very specific as to what the purpose of his Gospel is: it is to present Jesus as the One sent by God (the Christ). He presents Him as the Son of God for the purpose that "believing ye might have life in His name". John has to record, and I believe to his own shame (although he is no different from us), "Then entered in therefore the other disciple also who came first to the tomb, and he saw and believed" (20:8).

Later on in the chapter Thomas saw the Lord and made confession of His faith, seeing the marks of the nail prints in His hands and the spear print in His side, and the Lord said, "Because thou hast seen Me thou hast believed: blessed they who have not seen and have believed" (v.29). There is a greater blessing for us who have not literally seen but have simply believed the report. "Who has believed our report?" (Isa. 53:1). The book of Isaiah finds its answer here. This is why the Gospel was written, "that believing ye might have life in His name". The Lord knew and I am sure that John, as a very old man looking ahead, could see that there were going to be many more who had never personally seen the Lord and who needed to hear that He was the Son of God come into the world.

The Purpose of John's Gospel

At this time there had begun some very evil teaching called Gnosticism (from 'gnosis' meaning 'knowledge'). The apostle Paul had already written against it when he wrote to the Colossians. The Gnostics felt that they had a superior knowledge and that you had to have the right connections between yourself and God, but John pointed out that the Lord Jesus was the Word and that He was God.

John, in his writings, dispensed with all the intermediary beings between man and God. We do not have to go through this one, that one or the other one in our approach to God; no, we have direct access (cf. Heb.10:19-22). One of the things that the Lord Jesus did while here before He left was to put His disciples into direct contact with the Father, not just with God. An Israelite could pray to God (although normally he came through the priests with the offering and so on), but the Lord Jesus, in resurrection, told His disciples about praying to the Father in His name and then He told them those wonderful words, "The Father Himself loves you" (John 16:27). He did not use the ordinary word for the love of God, 'agapao' (God is love and that love has to manifest itself). He used as an exception the word which speaks of the love of friendship. For example, when I saw something attractive in my wife I was drawn to her. This is the thought the Lord uses here: the Father Himself has been drawn to you, He loves you in that sense because you have loved Me and have believed that I came out from God. Is not this wonderful? "God so loved ('agapao') the world that He gave", but God is also drawn to those whom He has drawn to the Lord Jesus, those who have responded to His call. He Himself loves us and we can therefore go directly to Him in the name of His Son, the One who is precious to Him. John brings this out in his Gospel.

The Gnostics believed they had a superior knowledge of God by coming to Him through angels and higher beings. The New Age movement today is one more revival of the ancient Gnostic heresies. Jehovah's Witnesses emphasize another aspect of the Gnostic heresies, saying that the Lord Jesus is not God the Son; He may be a Son of God they say, but He is not God, the Son; this is blasphemy. Satan has not come up with much that is new, he is a counterfeiter and every once in a while he revives some bad teaching. Men were fooled by it a long time ago and they are fooled by it today in some other guise. That is why the Gospel of John and his Epistles are particularly relevant for our day with all the teachings of New Age and Eastern religions which teach that man has somehow to work his way up to God.

It is good to know that God came down and dwelt among us and that we have direct access to the Father in the Person of Christ because the Lord Jesus is our Lord and Savior.

The Three Persons of the Godhead in John's Gospel

John in his Gospel presents very clearly each Person of the Godhead in a greater degree that the Synoptic Gospels. The Lord Jesus is, of course, the central focus of John's Gospel, and indeed of all the Gospels of the New Testament and of Scripture as a whole. Everything centers in Him, but in John's Gospel after a number of chapters that really center on the Lord Jesus we find the Lord concentrating on teaching His own who the Father is and the relationship that He is going to make possible for us to have with the Father.

He also spent time teaching His own who the Holy Spirit is and that when He went back to the Father He would send down the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit could not come to the earth as a Divine Person to live and to indwell people and the Church as a whole until the Lord Jesus was glorified (16:7). The Lord Jesus told His own about the Person and the mission of the Holy Spirit and we have more about this in the Gospel of John than we have anywhere else in Scripture. Each of the Persons of the Godhead is clearly and wonderfully set forth in this Gospel. Which Scripture has been used more than any other to bring persons to the Lord Jesus as their Savior? It is John 3:16: "the gospel in a nutshell", it has been called.

It is said that when the English preacher Henry Moorehouse came to the United States over a century ago he was invited to speak at what is now known as the Moody Memorial church in Chicago and the first night he spoke on John 3:16. He was so full of this verse that the second night he spoke again on John 3:16. When D. L. Moody returned after a week's absence, this brother having filled in for him, he found that the brother had spoken every night on John 3:16. That night too when Moody attended the meeting the brother got up and said, 'All Scripture is so full and has so much to give, but there is one Scripture the Lord has laid on my heart and I cannot speak on any other topic this night. Let us turn to John 3:16.' For a full week he had spoken on this verse, and I am sure he could have gone on well beyond the time that had been allotted to him.

Once a person comes to the Lord we tell him to read the Bible. If he asks, 'Where should I start?' a good answer is the Gospel of John. What single Gospel is used more to reach out to the lost? The Gospel of John. It is often given instead of a gospel tract. If there is anything that will lead a person to the Lord it is reading this Gospel.

And yet it is the most profound of the Gospels, it has the deepest teaching, it is the record of what an old, mature Christian in the faith experienced with the Lord. There is so much to see there. It is wonderful to have this book written in a way that the babe in Christ or the unsaved person who has not heard the Word before can grasp these stupendous truths, and yet it is also that which the father in Christ thoroughly enjoys

The Main Divisions of John's Gospel

The Gospel is divided into two main parts: chapters 1 to 12 bring before us the life and ministry of the Lord during the three and a half years of His ministry, and chapters 13 to 21 bring before us the events of the last night that the Lord was with His own, the day that He was crucified, the day that He rose from the dead and some other incidents after His resurrection (although these parts can, of course, be subdivided).

The last part of chapter 12 is really a summary of what has gone before in the Gospel, while the final verses we read at the end of chapter 20 and the whole of chapter 21 are like an addendum before we get John's summary at the end of chapter 21, "This is the disciple which testifieth of these things, and wrote these things: and we know that his testimony is true. And there are also many other things which Jesus did, the which, if they should be written every one, I suppose that even the world itself could not contain the books that should be written" (vv.24-25).

A supposition is one thing. I suppose one might say, 'John, you do not know how big the world is!' but even his, "I suppose" is written by inspiration. I believe God wants to tell us, 'You do not know how big My Son is, how great He is. If you go into every detail of what He has done the world itself would not hold the books'. This is a very fitting conclusion of the Gospel of the Son of God.

Approach to God in John's Gospel

Brother Georges André in his book points out a rather interesting analogy between the Gospel of John and the tabernacle. As one was in the tabernacle looking up at the curtains overhead or even the veil and the curtain at the entrance there were basically four colors to be seen. The first color to be mentioned is the blue, this is what John presents, the Lord come down from heaven. In Mark we have the scarlet, we have the blood of the Lord Jesus Christ shed for our sins. In Matthew we have the purple, His royalty. Then in Luke we have the fine twined linen, the white of His perfect Manhood. In one sense they bring before us the four Gospels, and yet they are intertwined, for we can find every one of them in John's Gospel.

Then as a person came into the enclosure of the tabernacle the first thing he would encounter would be the brazen altar, and we do not get very far into the John's Gospel after the introduction to the Person of the Lord Jesus before we get Nicodemus to whom the Lord said, "You must be born again" (3:3). And what is the way? "And as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, thus must the Son of man be lifted up" (3:14). When a man would go further into the court he would come to the laver. In the second part of John's Gospel we come into the sanctuary, in a sense, for in John 13 we find the Lord washing the feet of His own before they could enter into the holy place, that is, the things that He wants to tell them that are just for them. The second half of the John's Gospel is only for believers, the world is behind them, it speaks of the dealings of the Lord with His own. So we have the cleansing at the laver.

Then when a man entered inside that holy place there was so much more. Essentially there were three objects in the holy place, the table which had on it the showbread, the candlestick (or the lampstand) and the golden altar of incense. The lamp stand was the only thing that gave light inside the holy place, and the full light of heaven was shed by the Lord Jesus for His own in these chapters. We see how concerned He was for His own. In the showbread we see Him presenting them to God. These chapters speak of our worship and our relationship with the Father and so on.

Then in the most holy place there was the ark of the covenant where atonement was made. John 17 brings this before us. The prayer of the Lord brings us into the most holy place, and following this we have the death and the resurrection of the Lord Jesus, and the word sent by Mary "I ascend to My Father and your Father, and to My God and your God" (20:17). The veil was rent (Matt.27:51); in short, we have the presentation of our full access to God. The Lord said, 'He is not only My Father and My God, but He is your Father and your God too'. I appreciate our brother's writings on this. I am not presenting all that he gave but just this summary.

Patterns of Three in John's Gospel

The three days in chapters 1 and 2 present in a typical way the Lord at three separate times to three separate groups. These same times and groups are referred to in chapters 20 and 21 in the three post-resurrection appearances of the Lord to His disciples. The last of these three brings before us the millennial blessing of Israel, Philip and Nathaniel in chapter 1 and unbelieving Thomas in chapter 20. Before the millennium the first disciples as a whole and John and Andrew come believing. This is the framework because we have a thing mentioned in chapters 1 and 2 and repeated in chapters 20 and 21. In between there are five chapters characterized by three 'L's, chapters 3 to 7 emphasize the Lord Jesus being the life, "In him was life, and the life was the light of men" (1:4), "You must be born again" and so on. Chapters 8 to 12 emphasize particularly the light among many other things. Chapters 13 to 17 emphasize love. The crucifixion is the manifestation of these things coming together. Then chapters 18 and 19 stand by themselves. These are things which you can study for yourselves.

Summary of John's Gospel

The eight recorded miracles are signs[1] and are often followed up by and lead to the Lord giving teaching. The encounter with the adulterous woman in chapter 8 leads to the teaching "I am the light of the world", the encounter with the man born blind leads to the beautiful tenth chapter presenting the Lord as the Good Shepherd.

Seven times the Lord says, "I am"[2], and these are very precious and give us a very full picture. Seven is the perfect number of who the Lord is. "I AM" was the name by which God revealed Himself to His people in Exodus 3. "Moses said to God, Behold, when I come unto the children of Israel, and shall say unto them, The God of your fathers hath sent me unto you; and they shall say, What is His name? what shall I say unto them? And God said to 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" (vv.13-14). The Lord Jesus uses that name. He is God here on earth - 'I am whatever you need', essentially.

There are no parables as in the other Gospels though John makes reference to the Lord speaking in allegories. The Gospel of John gives us frequent encounters of the Lord with individuals and contains details of their conversation. To think that the Word who "became flesh, and dwelt among us" (1:14) took an interest in individuals here! Yes, He would talk with the theological expert (ch.3), He would also talk with the woman who was living with her sixth man and who was an outcast in society (ch.4). The Lord took time with individuals. In the other Gospels when the Lord was talking to an individual it was often with a very definite background of having others listening in, but in John's Gospel the Lord also deals with individuals on a purely individual basis. It is as if He had all the time in the world for that person, and that is precious, for He has that for us too.

Always before us is the cross. Verses such as "Behold the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world" (1:29) and "As Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, thus must the Son of man be lifted up" (3:14) show this. The shadow of the cross lies over the whole Gospel. This is why the Son of God had to come into the world.

The enemies of the Lord Jesus are referred to as "the Jews" again and again in this Gospel (e.g. 1:19, 5:16, 19:7). This Gospel was written after the destruction of Jerusalem, after the Jews had been dispersed, and John views them as the people who were against the Lord. The dispersion was the punishment for their enmity.

Chapters 14 to 16 present the upper room discourse and that which was spoken when they were on the way to Gethsemane. The thirteenth and seventeenth chapter belong to it too, and these are very precious.

Finally, John's writings stress the family of God. The Father is presented in a way that He is not in other books. He is spoken of elsewhere but His affections are particularly before us in John's Gospel, the fact that the Father loves the Son is distinctly stated (1:18, 3:35, 5:20). The Lord Jesus here in this world was very conscious and appreciative of the fact that the Father loved Him. We have commented already on the Holy Spirit's task here in the world, His Personality and His object. All these things are brought before us in John's Gospel.

[1]   John 2:11, 4:54, 5:8-9, 6:14, 6:19, 9:16, 12:17-18, 21:6.

[2]   "I am the bread of life" (6:35), "I am the light of the world" (8:12), "I am the door of the sheep" (10:7), "I am the good shepherd" (10:11), "I am the resurrection and the life" (11:25), "I am the way, and the truth, and the life" (14:6), "I am the true vine" (15:1).