A fresh look at Jesus and how we may share God’s Life
- Session 1: John 1.1-2.11
- Session 2: John 2.12-4.42
- Session 3: John 4.43-5.47
- Session 4: John 6.1-9.41
- Session 5: 13.1-16.33
- Session 6: John 10 -13
- Seminar 7: John 20.1-21.25
#1 – A spiritual Gospel – special words
Most people have read something of the other Gospel writers Matthew, Mark and Luke before they come to read the offering of our writer, John. Indeed, he assumes that we have. When we start to read we are aware that we have entered a new atmosphere; it is more reflective and solemn. It has some repeating words that are the centre of the story that John wants to present. Words like Word of God, life, light, darkness, witness [testimony], believe, receive and authority. John uses these words right through the Gospel. And as we read we shall see that the words are being used differently, so that there meanings alter according to each setting or encounter. Have a look at chapter 1, verse 9. Think about the word “world” . See if you can say the three different ways it is used in this one verse!!
#2 – A fresh and different look at Jesus
Matthew, Mark and Luke have considerable variety in the situations they record of Jesus’ encounters and conversations with people. They centre their reports of Jesus around Galilee in the north and then finally present Jesus as resolutely setting his face towards Jerusalem.
John, however, centres the action really around Jerusalem and only has a couple of forays into Galilee. In the other Gospels Jesus speaks in short, sharp pointed sentences in response to a variety of situations; inJohn we find set discourses that use the favourite words John has for us as themes; there are also puzzling allusions. Overall we return constantly to Jesus’ relation with the Father. All this makes for a very fresh look at Jesus.
#3 – God come to us as man
As John presents him to us, we find Jesus farther apart from the world of men and women than in Matthew Mark and Luke. From the start, John presents his ministry as less affected nay human motives. He speaks as the Son of God who has come down to us from heaven.
Indeed, it is because, as the opening prologue tells us, He is really the Word of God, the second Person in the Trinity of the Godhead, who has taken flesh like ours so that He can save us. So He was in the beginning with God.
John wants us to know this right from the start, so that the background to all our thinking about what Jesus says and does we hold the secret in our mind and heart that Jesus Christ is really God come to us as man.
#4 – Our writer is inside Jesus’ head; he knows Him
One thing you will notice about our writer John, is that his writing makes it hard to distinguish between the words he puts into the mouth of Jesus, his central character, and his own words. This is intentional. He knows what Jesus is thinking, he knows why certain things don’t happen yet, but they will later. He explains things ‘after the fact’ and in the light of the resurrection of Jesus.
He has a ‘plotted presentation’ to offer and we are right to read his Gospel as a very carefully thought out display of Jesus for us.
The other Gospels give us the external story-line of happenings, in which Jesus interacts with the participants of the story. John records events too, but in a way that leads into long discourses about the deep themes involved. He wants us always to be focussing upon who Jesus is – for it is the central issue for us, his readers. How we answer that will decide if we will begin to share God’s life or not.
#5 – Our writer is an eyewitness who personally knows Jesus
Another thing you will notice about our writer John, is that he claims to be an eyewitness among other eyewitnesses. He wants to tell us what “we” have seen. He is one of the first Christians, bearing the testimony of what he has seen himself as the ‘disciple who Jesus loved’; but not only him, but also the testimony that everyone can make who has seen that ‘glory’ of Jesus. He also includes the testimony of Jesus as speaking of what ‘we’ know. So the witness of Jesus and the witness of the early Christians is a matter of common experience.
So this Gospel is a presentation of those who have seen Jesus for who He really is and He is really glorious. They are eyewitnesses, but not simply of some data they report, but also of what they have come to know. They know someone, they know the Father through the Son and this is what has drawn them to have eternal life – the life of God. Their eyewitness is about what happened and also about what they have seen and come to know. Both forms of ‘testimony’ are included here.
#6 – Our writer is an eyewitness of the open life of God
Matthew, Mark and Luke, are often called the ‘synoptic’ gospels, for much of their material is similar. They give us eyewitness accounts of things that happened. John does this as well – and he has special data which is not contained in the other three Gospels.
John however, is an eyewitness who explains to us the deeper things. He offers the unusual angle that opens for us the depth of the relationship between the Father and the Son of God. He opens for us the inner life of the Trinity. A matter the other Gospels only mention in Matthew 11.27; Luke 10.21-22.
This doesn’t make it less historical, rather, it speaks to us of John’s most important theme – the revelation of the inner life of God and how we access and share that life through Jesus.
#7 – John’s writing is an intentionally different presentation
John assumes that his readers are familiar with the story-line and content of Matthew, Mark and Luke. He writes for those who know the data [3.24, 4.2]. This fact alone means that when John does things differently – and he does – then what he does stands out for us readers. John’s presentation also omits certain key events found in the narratives of Matthew, Mark and Luke. He also has events to include that they do not, such as Lazarus rising. So he spends his time in other places, not simply repeating what is known. This opens doors for his readers.
We look at some comparisons in what follows, bearing in mind that Mark’s gospel narrative is a basic resource for Matthew and Luke from which they seldom depart. This is true, even as they include material not drawn from Mark, or group together the teachings of Jesus; nevertheless, they still maintain the Markan order.
#8 – John’s different presentation: starting with Mark
Mark’s narrative breaks the history of Jesus adult life and work into two sections.
The first presents Jesus, called as God’s Son. He is endowed with the Holy Spirit as he stands with sinners in John the baptiser’s baptism in the Jordan River. He testified, taught and healed in Galilee, sending his disciples out on their announcing mission which derived from his.
Second, Jesus after not being well-received in Galilee, is presented as Messiah where he is decisively condemned and rejected by the religious heads of the nation. He was glorified after his ignominious death by his resurrection and ascension.
We need to have this rough order of Mark’s in our mind as we consider John’s offering. We have already suggested that John assumes that material such as Mark has assembled is know to his readers. Even if you have never read Matthew, Mark or Luke before coming to John, it is good to know that you are reading a Gospel quite consistent with what those writers present, yet it is, at the same time, a very different presentation.
#9 – Mark’s ‘stand-out’ events, most of which John omits.
There are definite turning points, for Jesus and the disciples, presented in Mark’s narrative. They are also common to Matthew and Luke. We list eight of these important events.
1.The birth of Jesus.
2.The baptism in the Jordan. This is followed by the coming of the Holy Spirit upon Jesus as the pleasure of the Father is expressed over the obedience of his beloved Son.
3.The temptation of Jesus in the desert by the devil.
4. The confession of Peter that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God.
5. The transfiguration of Jesus. This states that he is the perfect man for our sakes, but also that he is the goal and fulfilment of the ministries of Elijah and Moses, who give place to Him, as he embarks now on a new ‘exodus’, a new way out for his people.
6. The institution of the Lord’s Supper. Jesus will give his life a ransom for many.
7. Jesus’ agony in the garden. His victorious decision to go through the death.
8. The desolate experience of Jesus on the cross is recorded.
John assumes these but does not include in his presentation 1,3,5,6,7 or 8. He does mention, although briefly, numbers 2 and 4.
#10 – John’s revelation of the interchanges between the Father the Son.
We noted the incidents in Jesus’ life that were foundational to Mark’s presentation. These unfolded the important matters that moulded Jesus’ early ministry and were central to the witness about that life for Mark’s readers.
For John, these are not the main elements of the testimony that he wants set forward. Rather than the encounters between Jesus and the people that Mark might present, John understands the fundamental interchange to be the deep inner relationship between the Father and the Son. This constant theme of Jesus’ talk opens to us the inner mind and motives of Jesus as they reflect what He knows of the mind of the Father. As readers, this is where John wants to take us in our ever-growing knowledge of Jesus as his narrative unfolds.
Further, if we as readers can be opened to the relations between the Father and the Son, we can get to know the Father through the Son – for we are constantly being exposed to it through all that happens.
#11 – Jesus’ participation upstages the Jewish festivals.
As to location, Matthew, Mark and Luke make for us a clear division between the Galilee and Jerusalem. In John’s gospel his simple layout is intersected by another, which overlays the happenings at the Jerusalem location.
John brings Jesus, at least five times, to Jerusalem at the time of significant Jewish festivals. They are presented to us in an order: Passover, Pentecost [5.1], Tabernacles, Dedication and Passover again. The great discourses of Jesus are grouped around these feasts, as well as another Passover, this time in Galilee [6.4]. Discussions placed within the setting of these festivals shows Jesus taking over the main thing of each festival. John indicates that Jesus participates, not simply as one Jewish man with his fellow Jews, but as the really central person in the meaning of what God was doing in those ancient events.
Such festivals, commemorating past history of the Jewish people of God, direct us through John’s discourses, to appreciate how Jesus is the culmination and final meaning of the historical events that took place between the Jewish people and their God. They all point to Him.
#12 – John’s way of constructing the testimony.
Often our writer starts with some act of Jesus, or some word or parable. He then adds a discourse of Jesus, which opens up the inward, spiritual meaning of that act, word or parable.
In the middle of the discourse John can effortlessly glide into an explanation or a comment of his own [1.24; 2.9c,11,21; 4.8 etc]. So much so that it is often quite difficult for the reader to know when the words of Jesus, or another of the writer’s main characters, stop and the words of the writer’s own comment begin. See the example of John the baptiser at 4.34-36.
An example of this is seen in the conversation with Nicodemus and Jesus [3.1-15] where, at 3.16-21 we must ask are we hearing the words of Jesus or of John?
Of course, it won’t matter. For indeed, this suggests that our writer has thought much about the good news he has heard and seen in standing so close to Jesus. And he has no doubt, passed it on to the local disciples where he lives many times. But the driving energy of his testimony now, is the Holy Spirit of Jesus, Who takes the things of Christ and reveals them progressively to the Church [14.25-26; 15.26; 16.12-15]; the mind of Jesus and this writer, under the influence of the Spirit, are in sync.
#13 – John the well connected, Jerusalem-based and beloved, disciple.
By identifying himself in the story by the label “the disciple whom Jesus loved”, of course, John does not mean that others were not loved by Jesus. After all, his whole Gospel is given to convey the love of God to all mankind in providing us Jesus as the Saviour of the world [4.42]. But he does describe occasions when he is especially close to Jesus.
He is also a Jew by birth and a Palestinian – he is careful with geography and local scenes. He has a mind acquainted with classical Judaism and his witness is that of someone who has connections within Jerusalem, some of which reach into the high-priest’s circle and family.
And our writer sees Jerusalem as the place where his lord was crucified. So he selects for us, his readers, Jerusalem as the historically important, central location for his presentation of his understanding of Jesus.
We would not want to forget also the Revelation to John – that book really presents Jesus as the alpha – the beginning, and the omega – the end. The one with authority over Hades and death. The opening of the seals of the future reveal how the cross of Jesus has entered and changed the field of human history. It is the basis for the conquering of the beast of which dominates the world by God’s victorious Lamb, as John the baptiser called Jesus [1.29,36].
#14 – John’s fresh language, stating Jewish ideas in re-minted Greek words.
Mark has Jesus beginning his service preaching the good news of the kingdom of God. He also has demons indicating that Jesus is the ‘holy One of God’. That Jesus is the Messiah, Mark keeps in reserve as a secret to be revealed by Peter’s confession that Jesus is the Christ the Son of God [Mark 8]. A matter which Jesus says the Father has revealed to Peter.
By contrast, John has taken us straight to the titles of Jesus by the end of chapter 1. Look at 1.19-51 and see if you can make a list! Throughout his Gospel he has Jesus speaking metaphors and statements about himself introduced by “I am…” There is nothing secretive here.
He presents the rule [kingdom] of God as now already come in the lives of Christians; he calls it “eternal life”. It is about a known relationship with God and John says it is a sharing God’s life as a father does with his children – children who have been regenerated, born from above, now with an authority to become ‘children of God’.
And John has special themes he brings forward through the use of special words, all of which he has introduced in his prologue. These words recur and permeate his Gospel, turning up in differing contexts which subtly enhances their meaning. Words such as life, light, darkness, witness, world, receive, believe, become, children of God, flesh and spirit.
#15 – The new life is an inward matter.
Paul, the apostle of Christ, as a former Pharisee, in his attempt [successfully, he says], to keep the externals of the law, was undone by the internal nature of the 10th commandment – “You shall not covet” [Romans 7.7-12]. He understood that externals were not the issue, there was something more fundamental.
He was registering within himself what the prophets and the Lord had already taught, that sin was a power sitting at the heart of every man and woman. It was known internally be the person themselves. Paul came to see that a true Jew was one inwardly, and circumcision was not an external matter, but a matter of the heart [Romans 2.28-29].
Placing the cleansing of the temple early in his Gospel, John uses it almost as a heading to state that the externally driven religion of Judaism has been superseded.
There is now a new temple [2.18-21] requiring a new worship [3.1-21].Worship that can now be offered because there are new worshippers, including Gentiles, with intimate access to the Father [4.1-42].
This “inwardness” of John’s presentation of eternal life is central to his witness. It stands shoulder to shoulder with Paul’s understanding. While they both have similar ideas – they use different words.