On October 1, Sound City will begin studying the gospel of John on Sundays. The gospel of John is the most unique of the four gospels. Likely written last, John offers a perspective on Jesus that is very different from Matthew, Mark, or Luke. While it is commonly accepted that John’s gospel is the most personal and relational perspective on Jesus, it is the absence of certain things that make John truly stand out. In John, there are no demons or conflicts with evil spirits. The gospel of John does not use the words “repent” or “forgive,” and only uses the phrase “Kingdom of God” twice in 3:3—5 during Jesus’ conversation with Nicodemus. There is hardly any mention of the return of Christ (the end times being mentioned once in John 5:28), and there are no parables. All of these differences, along with some seeming discrepancies with the synoptic gospels, have often led critical scholars to doubt the veracity of the book of John. However, when properly understood, the gospel of John brings a perspective on the life and ministry of Jesus that not only aligns with the other gospels, but enhances and enriches it.
Now Jesus did many other signs in the presence of the disciples, which are not written in this book; but these are written so that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in his name. — John 20:30-31
The Purpose of John's Gospel
At the end of the book, John makes his purpose statement clear: he is writing his gospel so that people will know who Jesus is, that they will believe in him, and receive eternal life. This purpose statement also encapsulates four of the main themes of the book:
- The divinity of Jesus. Both the words of Jesus (the seven “I am” statements) and the actions of Jesus (the seven signs) clearly demonstrate that although Jesus is truly human, he is no mere mortal: he is the very incarnation of God himself.
- The Messiahship of Jesus. Jesus is the fulfillment of the story of Israel, and he is the one true anointed King of Israel.
- Eternal life. Whereas in other gospels, the main problem is sin and rebellion of God, the gospel of John more often presents the main problem as spiritual death. In short, we are in need of a new life, a new way to be human. (Incidentally, this likely explains why John never uses the words “repent” or “forgive,” because he is addressing a different perspective on our spiritual problems.)
- Belief and disbelief. The Greek word for “believe” and its cognates appear ninety-eight times in John’s gospel. Again, John explicitly states in his thesis (20:31) that this book was written in order that people would believe in Jesus.
Why Study John?
What is the reason why we would commit such an extended period of time to studying John’s gospel? There are two very simple reasons.
- Balanced biblical “diet.” One of our primary commitments as a church is that we will spend our time on Sunday mornings looking at the book that God gave us. In the past few years, our major book studies have been Hebrews and Judges. While both of these books are incredibly important and helpful, it is good to often return to one of the gospels, the books that speak most directly of the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus. From a long-term perspective, this book provides a balance in our “diet” of biblical books studied.
- Evangelistic emphasis. The purpose of the book is explicitly stated in 20:31, that people would read these words and come to believe in Jesus the Messiah. By studying the book of John, we will have an “every single week” opportunity to invite people who have yet to meet Jesus to look at him, his teaching, his claims, and his call to follow him. This book, while full of deep, complex truths, is still quite accessible and provides a good “onramp” for those who are unfamiliar with the teachings of Jesus.
For a more in-depth overview and explanation of the structure and themes of the gospel of John, check out these excellent videos from The Bible Project!