The Gospel of John is like a photo album containing selected snapshots from the life of Jesus—scenes from everyday life. John included a photo of Jesus at a wedding. On another page he mounted a photo taken at night in which we can make out the figure of Jesus conversing with a nervous religious leader.
John included a photo of a woman at a well who discovered how to find living water and a panoramic photo of Jesus feeding bread to thousands on a mountainside. John took a close-up of Jesus weeping at a friend’s funeral and included a rare photo of Jesus’ washing the dirty feet of His disciples.
He chronicled the gruesome death of Jesus and took a snapshot of His empty tomb in early morning light. John’s candid snapshots help us to understand exactly who Jesus is—the Son of God who came to help real people find real life in the real world.
Contents — John introduced Jesus as God in human flesh. He showed how Jesus related to ordinary people in need. The first twelve chapters of his Gospel cover events that occurred during the three years of Jesus’ public ministry. The last nine chapters of John’s Gospel describe the final days and private ministry of Jesus to His disciples. John recorded intimate details about the twenty-four hour period immediately preceding the crucifixion.
All of the Gospel writers recorded that Jesus observed the Last Supper with His disciples. However, John’s account ushers us in to the upper room and allows us to hear the final words of Jesus to those He dearly loved. Following the crucifixion, John recorded the appearance of Jesus to His disciples as they were fishing on the Sea of Galilee.
Purpose — John clearly stated his strong evangelistic purpose for writing in John 20:31: “But these are written 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 carefully selected and recorded details of events, miraculous signs, and personal conversations between Jesus and others so that his readers would realize that Jesus is God.
John repeatedly used his favorite word to describe the response he wanted from his readers—“believe.” The term “believe” appears in John’s Gospel more than in the other three Gospels combined. We cannot escape the fact that John wanted his readers to believe in Jesus—to acknowledge the facts about Jesus and to abandon themselves to the truth of those facts.
Themes — John presented Jesus as the second Person of the Godhead (1:1) who came to take away “the sin of the world” (1:29). In keeping with his evangelistic purpose, John shared facts about Jesus that would lead people to believe “that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God” and thereby “have life in His name” (John 20:31). John made it clear that real life is found only in Jesus.
John’s portraits of real people searching for meaning in life provide solid answers and hope to earnest seekers today. John also honestly portrays the difficulties Jesus’ followers can expect to experience as they seek to truly follow Christ in the real world. His Gospel challenges us to live out our faith in a real way in the real world.
Author and Date — John the Apostle is considered the writer of the Fourth Gospel. He was one of the closest friends of Jesus. Although his name is not written anywhere in the Gospel, John identified himself in other ways. The author of the Gospel identified himself as the “disciple whom Jesus loved” (John 13:23; 21:20). At the conclusion of the book we read that this was the same person “who testifies to these things and who wrote them down” (John 21:24).
The early church believed that John is the author of the Gospel that bears his name. Irenaeus, an early church leader, identified John as the disciple who had leaned upon the breast of Jesus at the Last Supper (John 13:23). He testified that John had published a Gospel while living in Ephesus in Asia. The Gospel itself does not give us a precise date, but most Bible scholars believe it was written between A.D. 85–95.