For many, the Gospel of John is their favourite Bible book. Attracted by the long passages of Jesus’ teaching and his discourses with a wide variety of people, they love and value the opportunities to ‘sit and listen’ to the saviour of the world.
Perhaps this book above all others should be allowed to simply speak for itself. As the journalist Bernard Levin wrote in the Times: ‘Is not the nature of Christ in the words of the New Testament enough to pierce to the soul anyone with a soul to be pierced? He still looms over the world, his message still clear, his pity still infinite, his consolation still effective, his words still full of glory wisdom and love.’
Click on the link above for an audio version of the Gospel of John.
Download a Bible app for your smart phone and listen when you’re at the gym, travelling etc …
Listen to the Bible for Life podcasts on John in the Starter Course.
Read John through in one sitting. Try reading it with friends, rotating round the group and each one reading the next chapter aloud.
Read John several times – make your own notes.
Watch ‘The Passion of the Christ’ directed by Mel Gibson (2004).
Study the introduction to John’s Gospel in a Study Bible.
Suggested verses for meditation …
Meditating on one of Jesus’ conversations, for example, with the woman of Samaria (John 4) or with Nathaniel (John 1).
Summary and exhortation
If the letter of Romans is the Everest of the Bible, then the Gospel of John is the Pacific Ocean. It is the favourite book of many Christians. The author, who describes himself as the ‘disciple whom Jesus loved’ (13:23) clearly states that he is writing this account of Jesus’ life and ministry ‘that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in his name’ (20:31).
John divides his gospel into two halves. In the first twelve chapters Jesus reveals himself as the ‘Son of God’, first to his apostles, and then to the world. John records seven (miraculous) signs, culminating in the raising of Jesus’ friend Lazarus. Built around the “I am” sayings of Jesus, there are discourses where Jesus teaches and interacts with many different types of people, and a number of conflict stories are recorded in the context of a public ministry. In the second half, which runs from chapter 13 to 20, John describes the very last hours of Jesus’ life, from just before his death to just after his resurrection. The context is private, and Jesus’ friendship with his disciples is described vividly. Throughout the gospel John records the narrative of Jesus in the context of the Jewish feasts and, in each case, Jesus is the fulfilment of the wide variety of Jewish religious expectations.
Although John does not record Jesus’ teaching about the Lord’s supper, or casting out demons, or specifically teaching parables, there are other subjects that are described in depth. For example, John describes the person and work of the Holy Spirit in very similar terms to Jesus himself: just as Jesus reveals the Father, so the Spirit reveals Jesus. There is a good deal of teaching about discipleship, because it is into this Trinitarian community of love that the disciple of Jesus is called to enter and live. This is the focus and intention of Jesus’ final discourse with his disciples and the prayer he then prays for them in John 17, ‘that they may be one, …, just as you are in me and I am in you.’ Faith is also a prominent subject throughout John, as are other topics such as judgement, eternal life, and Jesus as the incarnate word of God: to hear his words is to hear God himself.
The calling on the disciple is first and foremost to believe in Jesus. The one who believes is born again into a new life where the new command is to ‘love one another’ just as Jesus has himself loved us.
Question 1 -
What is faith? How does a person ‘believe’ (3:16, 20:31)?
Question 2 -
Read 13:34-35 and describe how you would recognise love if and when you saw it.
Question 3 -
What else could Jesus have done to show the world he is the Son of God?
Question 4 -
John: Jesus Christ is the Son of God
John: Chapter 5 - the Divinity of Christ
John: Chapter 6 - the Nature of Belief
John: Chapter 11 - Jesus' Greatest Miracle
John: Chapter 13 - The Last Supper
John: Chapter 17 - Jesus' Prayer: Glory and Unity
John: Chapter 18 - Jesus' Two Trials
John: Chapter 21 - Jesus Restores Peter
Author: The gospel states that it is written by ‘the disciple whom Jesus loved’ (21:20-24 – where the ‘we’ implies the assistance of at least one other). This has historically always been understood as John, son of Zebedee, one of Jesus’ closest apostles. The internal evidence is that the author was an apostle (1:14, 2:11 etc), and one of the twelve (13:23, 19:26).
Date: John’s Gospel is difficult to place, but almost certainly after CE70 when the temple was destroyed (and the Sadducee party ceased to exist – there are no references to them in John). Probably around CE95, and probably written from Ephesus alongside the three letters of John and Revelation.
The main literary genre is “gospel”, that is, the recording of what Jesus did and said, and the different reactions these evoked. While the framework is narrative and story, there are other sub-genres: calling stories, witness stories, conflict and miracle stories, discourses and a long passion narrative. There is a conscious use of contrasts: life/death, above/below, light/dark, truth/lie, sight/blindness.
Although the content of the book is deeply profound and spiritual, the structure is essentially simple:
|1:19 - 12:50||The Messiah’s ministry and identity; 7 signs discourses*, conflicts; public ministry.|
|13:1 - 20:31||The farewell discourse and Jesus’ passion; private teaching for his disciples; suffering, atonement, and vindication.|
|21:1 - 25||Epilogue|
*The 7 signs:
3 physical miracles:
4 personal miracles:
7 ‘I am’ statements:
Jesus also made absolute “I am” statements about himself (6:20, 8:24, 28, 58, 18:5).
Question 1 -
Look at John 5:19f – why do you think Jesus did not say bluntly “I am the Son of God”? (See also 20:31.)
Question 2 -
What does John mean by the phrase ‘eternal life’ (3:16)?
Question 3 -
How does Jesus define discipleship (8:32, 13:34-35, 15:8)?
Chapter by Chapter
With a start that consciously echoes the first words of the Old Testament – ‘in the beginning God made the heavens and the earth’ (Gen 1:1) – John writes one of the finest passages of Scripture stating that Jesus is God and he has come and lived on earth. John the Baptist was his leading witness and forerunner, and twice gives the prophetic witness that will drive the direction of the gospel: ‘Behold the lamb of God that takes away the sin of the world’ (v29).
The second part of the chapter lists the calling of some of the central disciples: Andrew, Simon Peter (Cephas), Philip and Nathanael. In a pattern that mirrors John’s statement about Jesus, here Jesus now prophesies over his new disciples. The prophecy for Cephas and Jesus’ prophetic insight into Nathanael’s godly heart receive central attention.
The beautiful story of the provision of wine for the wedding party demonstrates that God’s banquet for the world is now available and his party has begun. John does not use the phrase Kingdom of Heaven here, but he is talking about it, and addresses it directly in John 3. From the beginning, Jesus offends the religious by providing in abundance something humanity has difficulty handling. It is fascinating that Jesus takes this risk. It is his mother Mary who is the first to demonstrate and act on her faith in him; ‘do whatever he says’ (v5). This is the trigger, the sign from the Father, that indeed his hour has now come. So this first miracle is birthed by faith in a context of love – the two features that cradle all Kingdom ministry and the dynamic life of the Spirit (Galatians 5:6).
Jesus clears the Temple of all the rubbish, corruption and consumerism and the plethora of human religious garbage that the human spirit always places so quickly in religious systems. It is to be free and clear for prayer, and prayer alone! This leads directly into statements about his death and resurrection as evidence of his authority. The strident and glorious authority and power of the Son of God is contrasted by the insidious sin and fallen-ness of a tortured, vile and corrupted humanity and religion.
The account of Jesus’s conversation with Nicodemus is one of the great narratives in the gospels because it unveils several penetrating truths: the wind of the Spirit and the behaviour of Spirit led people (John 3:16), the process of faith and salvation and the coming of Christ to save and not condemn. Jesus addresses the Kingdom of God, how to be born again from above, man’s propensity to love darkness because our deeds are evil, his calling, and the necessity for him to be raised up so all men are drawn to him.
There is a lot in this gospel about John the Baptist. Here he models godly leadership in his preferment to step down so Jesus’ ministry can take centre stage in Israel.
This is a delightful story in which Jesus leads this cynical, puzzled woman to a place where she believes in him. The conversation is first about water, and Jesus promises to give her water that never runs out. Then it turns to worship, and he teaches about true worship in the Spirit. Then he states openly that he is the Messiah. This leads to the conversion of the whole town. This leads into further teaching about the continual readiness of humanity to engage with the truth that Jesus embodies.
The second story of the healing of the royal official’s son is important because this is a strategic healing. This crucial point is almost always overlooked, but we saw this clearly in Zimbabwe where we saw Jesus heal in order to open a gate to effective ministry in a family, or in a church of another denomination. Here, this healing has a protecting effect from the aggression of Herod and his family for Jesus’ ministry in Galilee. This is also one of the results of the healing of Jairus’ daughter. Jairus and his fellow synagogue elders would have shielded Jesus from criticism as a direct result of the healing. Even if they had concerns about him they would have hesitated to speak against him. The point of the inclusion of this healing story here is that the Lord is protecting the spread of his message of the gospel (about him).
It would be difficult to compose a more penetrating critique of the unbelief of the religious leaders than that described in this discourse recorded by John after the healing of the invalid at the Bethesda pool. Although these religious leaders knew the scriptures (v39) and were disciplined in the corporate application of them (v10), they utterly failed to recognise the Son of God when he was standing and talking with them, even though Moses had specifically taught them about him. These verses (v19-30) not only state that Jesus is divine, but, even more significantly, they describe in detail Jesus both claiming and doing the very defining acts of God himself. Jesus does the very works of God (v19-20). He gives life (v21), just as God himself gives life (Genesis 2:7). He is the judge of all humanity, because God has entrusted all judgement to him (v22). He is to be honoured (worshipped), just as God is honoured (v23). It is his word that saves men and women, in other words, Jesus is speaking the very words of God (v24) with all the authority of the Old Testament word of God. Jesus even states that the very dead will hear his words and live (v25), and then he says that he is the Son of God! In v26 he asserts for a second time that he has the power and authority to give life (v21), and in v27 again claims the authority to judge (v22), because he is the Son of Man. At this point Jesus is clearly and emphatically claiming to be the Son of Man that Daniel prophesied would ‘come on the clouds of heaven’, would be given authority and power by God himself, would be worshipped by all humanity, and would be sovereign over a kingdom that would never be destroyed (Daniel 7:25). Daniel 7:27 adds that ‘all rulers will worship and obey him’.
The only proper response is extreme shock and worship! Jesus’ response to the pathetically trivial criticism that he should not heal on a holy day is to state in terms that only those who are truly spiritually deaf, blind and stubborn cannot hear that he is the Son of God, and he not only has the authority and power to DO ALL the main acts of God, but he IS DOING them. He gives life, and is therefore the creator. He is the judge of all humanity, and therefore has the authority of the only God! He must be honoured (worshipped) along with God himself as per the first four of the ten commandments (Exodus 20:2-7). His words not only have equal authority with the very words of God himself, but even the dead are going to hear them and live, because he is the Son of God (v25, 29)! But all this is predicated on the primary contextual and deeply beautiful and moving truth that ‘the Father loves the Son’ (v20).
Unsurprisingly, his opponents are left exposed and speechless.
John 6 is a quite astonishing chapter about the nature of belief. The feeding of the 5,000 and then Jesus walking on the water are exceptional enough, but the subsequent discussions and the peculiarity of Jesus’ teachings and claims leave every apprentice reeling. The first basic observation is that John uses the miraculous feeding of the multitude as the foundation for Jesus’ teaching on the sacraments (v53-57); there is no ‘last supper’ in John. Second, this chapter contains two of the greatest claims Jesus ever made: ‘I am the bread of life‘ (v35, 51), and ‘I will raise him (the believer) up at the last day‘ (v44). No other man or woman in history, no matter how religious or pious, has ever dared even in their highest moments to seriously make such a staggering claim – “I will personally bring every believer back to life at the end of the age”. Such a claim is nothing less than high insanity, besides being breathtakingly arrogant, and if it was not Jesus himself making this claim we would immediately ignore the claimant, judging them mad at best and, at worst, dangerous.
The whole chapter seems to turn on v29-30, just as John 5 turned on the complaint of the religious people that Jesus was abusing the holy day (5:16). The issue is belief, and the vital importance of faith (v29, 36, 47, 64, culminating in v69). The root problem is that Jesus’ followers are believing, but on the wrong basis. They are believing and following Jesus on the basis of the miraculous provision of food (v26), so Jesus makes a series of claims that are somewhere between nonsense and so unbelievably absurd and extreme (v35, 41, 44, 53, 55) that the majority of his disciples leave him (v66). The point is this: if our faith is based on the latest miracle or astounding event, we will never have enough faith, and we will always be looking for further substance to underpin our faith, and therefore our faith will always be vulnerable. This is exactly what the crowd ask for in v30. In effect Jesus then spends the rest of the chapter demolishing their faith in miracles and events, and directing them to believe in him and his words simply because of who he is, ‘the bread that came down from heaven‘ (v41). This is why the chapter culminates in Peter’s statement, ‘Lord to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life. We believe and know that you are the Holy One of God‘ (v69), which for John is the fulcrum of the narrative in John’s gospel in exactly the way that Peter’s confession ‘you are the Christ‘ (Mark 8:29) is the fulcrum of the whole of the gospel narrative in the synoptics. Follow Christ and your faith will be tested to the limit, you will experience failure, discouragement, difficulty and hardship, and all the time you will be called to trust and hold onto this remarkable man simply because of who he is and what he said. Peter did not say, “Lord to whom shall we go? You do the biggest miracles”! In my experience, every single apprentice of Jesus, and especially those called to oversee other apprentices in the community of believers, has to go through the test that the disciples faced that day until we can say v69 willingly, freely, of our own volition and from our hearts, because ‘the words I have spoken to you are Spirit and they are life’ (v63). This is the faith Jesus looks for in us because this faith will last.
V2 – John uses the framework of the Jewish feasts throughout his gospel to emphasis Jesus as the lamb slain at Passover.
V6 – There is a repeated emphasis on Jesus being protected because his time had not yet come (v8, v30).
The depth of spiritual blindness in the religious leaders and the crowd is shown in their perplexing discussion about the geographical origin of the Messiah, culminating in v52. Their fixation with Micah 5:2 blinds them to the even more staggering Messianic prophecy of Isaiah 9:2-7. While they are stumbling over religious minutiae, Jesus points them to his origin in the Father (v29). Here is a religious system that demonstrates an inability to rise above an almost trivial literal fulfilment. Because of this, they are blind to the Messiah standing in the Temple!
In contrast, Jesus appeals to the discerning heart: ‘if anyone chooses to do God’s will, he will find out whether my teaching comes from God or whether I speak on my own’ (v17). Once again, as in 6:68, our faith must rest in Jesus and his teaching, and not in the apparent fulfilment of a detail, even if, as in this case here, the detail was in fact accurate – Jesus was a direct descendant of David and was registered in Bethlehem in the Augustan Census (Luke 2:4-7).
As in Chapter 6 (v62-63) there is a brief reference to the Spirit (7:37-39). The reference to the water is a reference to the water that will flow from the Temple (Ezekiel 47) out into the desert, and to the ends of the earth. This was celebrated on the eighth day of the feast. Jesus is the Temple, and when we are joined with him in spirit, his life flows through us into the world.
Twice in this chapter the religious leaders take up stones to kill firstly the woman in adultery (v5), and secondly Jesus himself (v59). Jesus’ handling of the woman in adultery so perfectly reveals his compassion and mercy, and his sheer masterful brilliance of handling an aggressive, religious, self-righteous mob, while still keeping to what the Law commanded. All that this gospel teaches of Jesus’ mercy and love as the judge upholding the Law is perfectly revealed in both his refusal to condemn, and his exhortation that she go and sin no more. It is the most winning story because every person knows in their heart of hearts that we all stand where that woman stood.
V8 – It makes very good sense to understand that Jesus was writing in the sand the names of the women that the religious leaders had had committed adultery with. He wrote their names down, Elizabeth, Miriam, Sarah, etc. etc, starting with the eldest and showing that he knew exactly what they had each done.
The substance of the chapter is a dispute which revolves once again around the identity of Jesus (v25, 53), but here the issue is tilted to his spiritual origin (in chapter 7 it was the geographical location and the fulfilment of prophecy). They claim they are children of Abraham (v33). Jesus states that he has come from God the Father (v42, 49, 54), and ultimately uses the very name of God to describe himself: “I am” (v58). Jesus also states that they are children of the devil. Their religion was about power, control and using a religious system, while their hearts were evil. They demand straightforward answers from Jesus, but he deliberately replies with statements that beg and challenge them to think, and direct all who hear to the spirit not the letter of the Law. The chapter has some remarkable statements: ‘I am the light of the world‘; ‘if you hold to my teaching you are truly my disciples and you will know the truth and the truth will set you free‘; ‘if the Son sets you free you will be free indeed‘.
This chapter again describes a dispute between Jesus and the religious leaders about the nature of Jesus. Once again it is triggered by a healing on the Sabbath, but here the theme throughout is the contrast between light and darkness, expressed specifically in the tension between seeing and being blind. Jesus again states that he is the light of the world. The healing is of a man born blind who then not only sees with his natural eyes, but sees clearly that Jesus is from God (v33). In contrast, the religious leaders not only can’t see the true nature of Jesus, but won’t see because they don’t want to. The story therefore ends with the religious leaders voluntarily and petulantly blind because they refuse to acknowledge Jesus’ divinity. Jesus then states that their sin remains.
The courage of the man born blind contrasts with the fear of his parents. Having been shut out all his life, it cannot have been much of a hardship to be shut out again. Of course the reality is that actually the religious leaders are shutting themselves out. This is the judgement (v39), and in one sense every person decides their own judgement, because every person in their heart makes a deep decision about whether or not to follow Christ (3:19-21, 12:47-49).
V16 – The other sheep are the Gentiles, the non-Jews. Ephesians 2 argues powerfully about the unity of Jews and Gentiles in one family; one flock.
The theme is Jesus as shepherd leading his sheep, and dominates the chapter so strongly that it binds the two occasions of Jesus’ teaching together making them virtually indistinguishable. Once again, the underlying question is Jesus’ identity, and the challenge of the religious leaders to Jesus is “who are you?” (10:24). Jesus makes several axiomatic statements about himself: ‘I am the gate’ (v9); ‘I am the good shepherd’ (v11); ‘I and the Father are one’ (v30); ‘…because I said, “I am God’s Son”’(v36); ‘the Father is in me and I in the Father’ (v38). Once again, the chapter ends with the religious leaders trying to kill Jesus (v31, v39), although this time it must have been a more committed attempt because Jesus leaves the area (v40) and very significantly goes to the place where the Spirit of God had come upon him at his baptism. In other words, when faced by aggression and the reality of what the crucifixion will actually involve, he returns to the place where God supernaturally spoke and affirmed him.
Part of the problem is categories, or rather, the meaning of titles. There are several clear reasons why Jesus chooses not to answer the repeated straight questions such as 8:53, 10:24, but one is simply because Jesus’ understandings of the title “Messiah” is so very different from that of the religious leaders. Jesus is redefining both the title and answer. He does this by describing his own relationship with the Father. This is why his answer in verse 34 is important; the scriptures themselves describe humans as gods. Because we are the icons of God, the viceroys of God on earth, as per Genesis 1, we are made in the image of God and bear the likeness of God and therefore in one most true sense we are ‘gods’. Scripture acknowledges this. Jesus is answering their challenge of v33 by trying to help them to think in more scriptural categories.
The description of the relationship between the shepherd and the sheep is rich, powerful and winning. This passage is rightly mined by Christ’s followers seeking to understand the issues of identity, guidance, redemption, fulfilment, spiritual deception and attack.
Jesus’ raising of his friend Lazarus from the dead is the most powerful miracle in the gospels; Jairus’ daughter had only just died, the widow of Nain’s son had probably died only a few hours earlier, but Lazarus’s body had been in the tomb four days. The account contains the greatest “I am” saying: ‘I am the resurrection and the life ..’. The miracle not only brings Jesus’ ministry outside Jerusalem to a final crescendo, but it leads directly into Jesus’ own resurrection about ten days later. It must have been such an assurance and encouragement to Jesus as he suffered and died on the cross to know that, only a week earlier, God had brought Lazarus back from the dead. Martha and Mary both make great statements of faith in Jesus (v22, 27), and Thomas’ declaration of loyalty and discipleship (v16) is impressive and shows he had understood something from Jesus’ three passion predictions (recorded in the synoptics). Jesus’ challenge to Martha speaks to everyone who has ears to hear: ‘Did I not tell you that if you believed you would see the glory of God?’ (v40). This is a challenge to all humanity at all times: have faith in Jesus! Whatever your situation – even in the face of death itself (in her case, her own brother four days dead) – have faith in Jesus!
The resurrection miracle of v1-44 contrasts with the death plans of the priests (v45-57). Although other groups have plotted against Jesus before, here it is the high priest himself and the highest religious council, the Sanhedrin. V51-52 foretell the atoning work of Christ, first for the Jews, and second for all peoples. Jesus, the Messiah, the anointed servant King, would die for, and on behalf of, his own people. Because the Jews are the chosen race representing all humanity, Jesus’ death will be for all humanity.
This chapter brings Jesus’ travelling ministry to a conclusion and leads into the second part of the gospel which, from chapter 13, describes his death. The anointing of Jesus by Mary leads into the triumphal entry into Jerusalem, where Jesus predicts his death. The chapter closes by bringing the unbelief of the general population together with some final teaching about the way that judgement will take place. Matthew’s gospel similarly closes with four parables describing judgement (24:45- 25:46).
Jesus teaches that judgement will be on the basis of how a person has responded to Jesus’ teaching. A person’s future is determined by their own choice of obedience, or otherwise, to the teaching of Jesus. Jesus came to save the world, not to judge it, so a person who chooses not to obey Jesus’ teaching condemns themselves.
This moving and personal narrative is rightly loved and used often in Christian worship, especially on Maundy Thursday. Jesus’ example modelling and teaching of servant leadership is impressive, challenging and in direct contrast to political and business models, and even the examples of other spiritualities and religions. It is the literal outworking of his teaching in Matthew 20:26: ‘whoever wants to become great among you must be your servant, and whoever wants to be first must be your slave”. Who could imaging the chairman of NatWest washing the feet of the board members, or the Mayor of Bristol washing the feet of the Council members, or the manager of Manchester United washing the feet of the squad? But Jesus, whose influence far exceeds all such historically minuscule individuals, washes his disciples feet; even the feet of Judas who was about to betray him.
Verse 13 is the only time that Jesus refers to himself as Lord, although others use this title when addressing him, and he does so only in this context. So the husband should wash the feet of his wife, and then lay down his life for her. When leadership is considered, the church leader must wash the feet of his/her church members, starting with the eldership. This is the defining feature of all church leadership: “wash and die”, or, “wash them, then die for them”.
Jesus then predicts his betrayal, and then Peter’s denial. Again, the timing of the teaching of the new commandment is astonishingly significant. Jesus teaches his disciples to love one another (the extrapolation of what he has just done for them) precisely at the point when Judas’ betrayal will potentially set them distrustfully against each other, thereby fracturing the entire movement. At this precise point, Jesus binds them together with the new commandment which has defined Christianity from that point to this day. Jesus’ strategy should be studied carefully as a perfect response to spiritual warfare and attack. His wisdom and strategy in the face of evil is truly astonishing.
This discourse with the disciples (which effectively runs from the beginning of chapter 13 into the prayer of chapter 17), is among the best loved of Jesus’ teachings and stands alongside the Sermon on the Mount in its significance for discipleship. Throughout Jesus’ teaching, his strategy is to take a truth and teach from it in ever-widening circles. He is often portrayed as teaching in this way in John’s gospel.
This chapter begins and ends with Jesus specifically teaching that he is about to leave them (v1-3 and 28-31). The initial statement that he is about to leave the disciples and prepare a place for them leads, quite naturally, into questions about where he is going and from there into (yet) another Johannine description of Jesus’ unity and interrelation with the Father (v7-11): ‘I am in the Father and the Father is in me’. Then Jesus teaches specifically about the Comforter and his work of truth, companionship and testimony, before returning again to the interaction of the three persons of the Trinity, an interaction that now includes all who believe in Jesus and obey his teaching. At this point, the Trinity appears to be more of a “quadrilateral”, or, perhaps even more accurately, building on the reference to orphans (v18) and the home (v2, 23), “the divine family”, as per Ephesians 3:15-19. Here is an interrelating community of love and obedience, bounded by the truth in the Holy Spirit, where ‘we (the Father and the Son) will come to him (the person who loves Jesus and obeys him), and make our home with him’ (v23). The Spirit will teach and remind us and in all things point us towards Jesus.
The chapter ends with a very clear statement by Jesus that he knows he is leaving them and that his departure is the Father’s specific will. He understands the nature of the spiritual attack that is about to take place, and he teaches his disciples the axiomatic importance of obeying the Father.
The powerful image of the vine, built upon Jesus’ final “I am” statement, is extrapolated by Jesus to describe first the Father’s cultivation of Jesus’s community and influence, and then our own participation and activity within that relationship and community. It is essentially a beautiful meditation on the relationships within the Father’s home and family described a few verses earlier in 14:15-24. Once again, the trinitarian relationships are expanded by the introduction and involvement of the branches, that is, the apprentices of Jesus (v8). Building upon the concept of ‘remaining’ or ‘abiding’ in him, Jesus adds the axiomatic arenas of “word”, “prayer” and “fruit” (v7-8). Onto these are built the command of agape love, the fruit of joy, and the relation of honest, open and truthful genuine friendship (v9-17).
Since the vine is a symbol of the Jewish people, Jesus’ claim to be the true vine should be understood as a claim that he, and he only, is the true Israel. Perhaps this is why it is the last “I am” claim. As the Messiah (the anointed King), he not only represents the nation and rules it, but embodies it.
Having described the family of prayerful love which lives in joyful and fruitful obedience to him (v1-17), Jesus then describes those outside who are essentially hostile to this community (v18-25). The community of the world has rejected Jesus, and they will therefore reject Jesus’ followers. There is no leading explanation given at this point, although there are at other places in John’s gospel.
The chapter ends with Jesus again speaking about the gift of the Holy Spirit, the Comforter, who comes from the Father and is described as the Spirit of truth. He will witness to Jesus, and Jesus’ apprentices (his friends) must also witness to the world about him.
In this final part of his “leaving discourse”, Jesus speaks about the opposition his disciples will experience, the gift and work of the Spirit of truth, and his own departure and return, and he exhorts them to pray in his name. The discourse ends with the disciples stating that they believe Jesus came from God. Part of the power of this discourse, and the reason why it is loved so deeply, is because the narrative teaching keeps addressing, leaving and then returning to the same subjects, albeit with slightly different and deeper perspectives.
In terms of subject matter, this discourse states that:
Apprentices of Jesus should study and meditate carefully on each of these subjects because they are the final, and therefore the priority, words of our Lord and Saviour. These six topics are at the heart and centre of the Christian life.
This chapter records Jesus’ prayer and petitions to the Father before his death. The two themes of glory and unity run throughout the chapter.
V1 – The request that God be glorified is always the leading request (it is the first petition in the Lord’s prayer, and a repetition of 12:28) because the revealing and honouring of God is always the very best possible thing that can happen in every situation we shall ever face. V1-5 are an insight into the mutual honour and love between the persons of the Godhead. The most powerful thing in all creation is the love between the Father and the Son.
From v6-19, Jesus prays for his disciples. V11 is the first petition, that they will be protected by the Father through the power of the name, but the purpose is that ‘they may be one as we are one‘. Jesus is praying for the very thing he has taught throughout John, that we are invited to participate in the life and fellowship of the trinity. We should study why Jesus places such authority and power in ‘the name’, because it is the means of our protection. The name is our identity, in the same way as the name “Windsor” carries respect and fear in Britain – no one attacks or harms the Queen’s family! Although peculiar, my true and real name in heaven is Nick Jesus! (What’s yours?)
Jesus’ second petition is that ‘the full measure of my joy‘ might be in us. This is important for Jesus, and it ought to be important for us (15:11). Jesus again prays for protection from the evil one (v15), and he then prays that we shall be sanctified – set apart, made different and special for special use and purposes.
Finally, Jesus prays for all believers and for a second time asks that we will all share in the very unity of the Godhead (v21,23,11) and that we will share his glory (v22,1,4,5). V23 is crucial in missiology. The unity of believers will be a sign to the world that God has sent Jesus.
The last verses (v24-26) look far beyond the crucifixion and even the end of creation and time. They express the primordial and eternal desire in the heart of God himself for a community – a family – where all members have the very love that the Father has for the Son in their own hearts. Where everything, absolutely everything, is solely, completely and utterly motivated by love for the Son. Where the unity of the family is utterly indivisible because in every heart there is the longing to sacrifice totally and completely for the other, even to the point of brutal torture and death through crucifixion; the very death that Jesus will immediately now undergo.
A few years ago at a conference in Scotland I heard the story of a minister who had divided his congregation by quite literally building a wall down the middle of the church! Whatever the doctrinal issue was, he clearly considered division more important than unity or obedience to Paul’s teaching in Romans 14 about not passing judgement on each other over disputable issues. There will always be differences of opinion in the body of Christ, but we are united by the axiomatic beliefs that he is the Son of God (20:31), that he died for our sins in accordance with the scriptures and that he was resurrected (1 Corinthians 15:3-5).
In this chapter John records 1) the arrest of Jesus, 2) his interrogation by the High Priest, 3) Peter’s denials, and 4) Jesus’ interrogation by Pilate. We should identify the distinctives of John’s account in relief to the synoptics. At the arrest Jesus twice says the words ‘I am he’ – another “I am” statement. The arresting officers collapse in front of him! John describes Peter’s violent action and Jesus’ rebuke in detail, since a leading point from this chapter is that Jesus’ kingdom is non-violent (v36), in direct contrast to Barabbas who is chosen by the religious leaders despite being guilty of insurrection.
Jesus is then interrogated by the leaders of the highest religion of the time, and by the most powerful and influential empire of the ancient world. Obviously only a small part of the interrogation is recorded, but what John does record Jesus saying at first sight appears evasive, or even wriggling: ‘why question me?’ (v21); ‘Is that your own idea?’ (v34); so we need to meditate carefully on what is happening.
Jesus therefore focuses the essence of each judgement on the effect that his words have had on the general population. Two other points stand out: firstly, John records Pilate asking Jesus what his charge is – ‘What is it you have done?’ (v35) – which, if the subject was not so very serious would be simply ridiculous – almost the stuff of comedies! Here is the judge asking the defendant what the charge is! Jesus immediately answers by describing the Kingdom, which is exactly ‘what he has done’; it has been his message from the very beginning (Matt 4:17, John 3:3). Then in v37 it is Pilate who states: ‘You are a king then!’, which whether read as a question or an exclamation nevertheless makes the point very clearly.
Secondly, Jesus uses this second interrogation to make the axiomatic point that his kingdom and followers are non-violent. So in both interrogations we see the prosecution exposing itself – the sham of the religious court which is concerned with power at the cost of truth, and the clumsy questions of the cynical Roman governor. Since Jesus is the one asking the penetrating questions, it is Jesus who is the judge; it is Jesus who is the clerk of the court and it is Jesus who is the real prosecutor who even when in the dock does not shrink from asking the most penetrating questions. So it is the Jewish religion and the Roman imperial government that are in effect on trial, and both reveal themselves to be faulty, corrupt and incapable of delivering justice. We should also note from Jesus’ appeal that the testimony of outsiders should be heard (v21, 34), and that a person’s life is assessed by what others say – this seems to touch on his teaching elsewhere in John that a person is judged by their response to Jesus’ teaching (12:48, Mark 4:11-12).
This chapter describes the final part of the trial of Jesus, his crucifixion, death and burial. For every apprentice of Jesus this is holy ground, and it should be read and heard in silence and worship.
A few points can be noted. V8 records Pilate’s fear: as a man with authority he knew perfectly well that he was in the presence of someone far greater than him. In v15, Pilate manipulates the priests and crowd into publicly stating their loyalty to him. The three statements from the cross (v26, 28, 30) are all unique to John. John gives a number of unique details when recounting Jesus’ death: the seamless robe (v23), specific details of the women (v25), and the details of the new tomb (v41). The account reads as from someone who was present throughout, or at least for most of the time. There is a frankness and detail about the people and the details that corroborate the statement of v35.
This chapter recounts four incidents. First, Mary Magdalene, Simon Peter and ‘the disciple whom Jesus loved’ visit the tomb and discover that Jesus’ body is not there. Second, Mary meets and speaks to Jesus. Third, that evening Jesus appears to ‘the disciples’, he breathes the Spirit onto them and commissions them. Fourth, a week later he appears to Thomas who then acknowledges him as Lord and God. This leads directly into the summary statement for the writing of the gospel: ‘these are written that you may believe that Jesus is the Son of God and that by believing you may have life in his name’ (20:31).
Mary’s encounter with Jesus is one of the most detailed, personal and moving in the gospels. Jesus specifically chooses a woman to be the first witness, thereby endorsing women’s equality with men before God. The first believer was a woman.
A great deal more happens when Jesus joins the disciples in their locked-in room that evening. They encounter the risen Jesus who twice speaks peace to them. He shows them the wounds of crucifixion both as evidence that it is truly him, but also as the substance of the gospel message of salvation that he then commissions them to take to the world. They are then commissioned by Jesus on behalf of the Father in the power of the Spirit and with his authority to forgive. This is the birth of the church, which is then dramatically enlarged a few weeks later when the same message is given and preached on the day of Pentecost. These five brief verses speak of the Trinitarian Godhead, the crucifixion and resurrection, the gospel message of forgiveness and the gift of the Spirit, and the authority of church (the believing community).
The final encounter with Thomas leads directly into a summary call to believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God. Every story, dispute, event and narrative in the past twenty chapters has pointed towards this statement. All humanity is now called to believe in Jesus Christ, the Son of God.
This chapter recounts the resurrection appearance following the miraculous catch of fish, Jesus restoring Peter and then recommissioning him.
The fishing miracle is a conscious re-run of the disciple’s first calling in Luke 5:1-11. Jesus repeats the miracle in the new post-resurrection context. There is some evidence that at that time the Jews thought there were 153 nations in the world, so the catch symbolises the future conversion of all nations. This is echoed in Jesus giving the bread and the fish in v13 which is once again a deliberate repeat of the feeding of the multitude in John 6.
A charcoal fire is mentioned in the account of Peter’s denial, so this is a deliberate return to the point of Peter’s three denials. Phileo is the greek term for brotherly love which is a strong love, but agape love is stronger. The conversation develops in this way:
Q1 – Jesus: Do you Agape me?
A1 – Peter: Lord I Phileo you.
Q2 – Jesus: Do you Agape me?
A2 – Peter: Lord I Phileo you.
Q3 – Jesus: Do you Phileo me?
A2 – Peter: Lord I Phileo you.
It is love for Christ that motivates a man or woman to turn from sin. It is love for Christ that sustains an apprentice in the service of Jesus. This ought to be the leading question put to those who are exploring vocation in the church. Do you love Jesus? Tell us what evidence there is that you love Jesus Christ? Jesus takes Peter back to the very beginning, when he saw Jesus’ power and fell on his knees and said “depart from me; I am a sinful man”. He then takes Peter back to the point where he denied him three times. His sin is gently but clearly identified and addressed and Peter’s love for Jesus is also identified publicly. During the very process of identifying, exposing and addressing Peter’s sin, Jesus is also recommissioning him, step by step, to “feed” and “take care” of his apprentices. Jesus then tells Peter bluntly that he will die by crucifixion, so he had all the rest of his life to prepare for it after Peter was so unprepared after Jesus had been arrested, and finally Jesus calls him (again) to follow him. Apprenticeship is based on loyal love; it is a journey marked by crucifixion from the first moment (Mark 8:34) to the last, but people from every nation will turn and follow Christ. The progress of the gospel over two thousand years shows this happening exactly. The question for each apprentice of Jesus is: what are we doing today that is motivated by our love for Christ?
Question 1 -
Study prophetic descriptions in John 1.
Question 2 -
Why did Jesus deal so firmly with the disciples at the end of John 6?
Question 3 -
List some of the things that happens when a believer enters the community of prayerful love (14:12 – 15:17)?