Jesus giving thanks before feeding 5,000 people (John 6:11).

What is in John?
John is the forty-third book in the Bible and the last of the four Gospels that tells of Jesus’s life. The gospel starts off by saying that, in the beginning, God was the source of all life. Jesus was baptized by John the Baptist (not to be confused with the John who wrote this gospel), gathered 12 disciples, and began His three-year ministry. During this time, He taught in a way that amazed and confounded many who questioned and listened to Him. He performed many miracles, including walking on water, feeding thousands of people with a few fish and a few loaves of bread, and even healing the terminally ill and raising the dead. Equally radically, Jesus taught that rejecting Him was the same as rejecting God. He also began to prophesize His own death, which included crucifixion and a betrayal by one of his own, but then His resurrection in three days.

This proved true, for the Jewish leaders in that day presided over a Jewish faith that had become intensely legalistic, with countless specific rules to follow. When Jesus started exposing God’s true intent by commanding the things He commanded, advocating breaking some of the excess rules which had no real root in scripture, the Pharisees and Sadducees became quite angry at him, but could not find any charge on which to bring Him before the courts. Judas, one of Jesus’s disciples, helped the Jewish leaders capture Jesus in the dead of night. Jesus was arrested, and was brought forth before the Jewish elders, despite doing no actual wrong. Jesus was sentenced to death by crucifixion, and died. Despite this, on the third day after Jesus’s death, the heavy stone in front of the tomb was removed, and Jesus’s body had vanished. Jesus appeared again to hundreds of people, including His disciples.

Who wrote it?
From the Bible, we know that the writer was John, the son of Zebedee, and ‘the disciple whom Jesus loved’, and a disciple who in the book is commonly associated with Peter. Early church tradition supports this view. John also wrote 1 John (not to be confused with the gospel of John), 2 John, 3 John, and Revelation. John is ALSO not to be confused with John the Baptist, who baptizes Jesus at the beginning of the Gospels.

When was it written?
Evidence for a precise date of John is lacking in comparison to other gospels. John 6:21 refers to the Sea of Tiberias, a name for the Sea of Galilee which was only used toward the end of the 1st century. It also references Peter’s martyrdom in John 21:19, which was in about 65 A.D. The early church places John as the last of the gospels, so we are left with a period of about 70 A.D. to 100 A.D.

When does it take place?
Technically, the Gospel of John starts at the beginning of time, starting with ‘In the beginning was the Word…’. The gospel of John quickly skips ahead to John the Baptist, probably in the 20-27 A.D. range, and then shifts just as quickly to the beginning of Jesus’s three-year ministry before His death, which it covers extensively. Jesus died in about 30 A.D.

Why was it written?
The value of the gospel of John should be quite self-explanatory. It provides one of the accounts of Jesus’s life, and thus forms the backbone of Christianity where Jesus Christ was sent by God to atone for the sins of man. A record of Jesus’s teachings and life is indispensable to Christians in much the same way the Jewish law and Israel’s deliverance from Egypt was indispensable to Jews.

Who is in John?
The gospel of John focus primarily on Jesus and His interactions with other people, including His 12 disciples, the people he taught and performed miracles for, his mother Mary and father Joseph, the Roman authorities at whose hands He died. Jesus spoke to an incredible amount of people during his ministry, so a comprehensive list would likely be impossible.

All the gospels cover Jesus’s life, so how is John different from the other three gospels?
While all the gospels cover Jesus’s life, they differ in the events and teachings that they choose to emphasize. While Matthew, Mark, and Luke are known as the Synoptic Gospels because they share much in common. John is perhaps the gospel that is the most different. John includes NO parables. John begins not with Jesus’s birth from an earthly perspective as Matthew and Luke does, but with a heavenly perspective shown in John 1:1-18. John is also much more explicit in making a ‘Jesus = God’s son’ connection. Jesus directly claims He has authority from God a number of times, shown in seven ‘I am’ statements through the gospel (‘I am the bread of life’ in John 6:35, ‘I am the resurrection and the life’ in John 11:25, etc.).

How does John apply to me today?
Maybe an easier question would be how it DOESN’T apply! The word ‘gospel’ means good news, and the coming of Jesus is certainly good news for all of us! God sent Jesus to help clarify His teachings, and to die to atone for our sins. Besides that, there are a bunch of specific teachings in the gospels that Christians can directly benefit from.

Other notes:
Because of the differences between John and the synoptic gospels, John’s advanced age while writing, the greater delay of writing from the actual events that happened compared to the other gospels, and Jesus’s increased directness about being the Son of God, one may wonder whether the gospel of John is a reliable source. First, we must remember that John was himself one of the 12 disciples who traveled with Jesus. Just as the elderly Holocaust survivors today can vividly remember what they went through with accuracy, John would surely be able to vividly remember a man who could claim to be from God, and back it up with three years’ worth of miracles and teachings. The gospel of John and John’s other writings suggest the disciple was still very much in possession of his sanity at the time of writing.

Additionally, the ‘interlocking’ of John’s gospel with the synoptics, where John provides details the others do not and vice versa, is strongly in favor of John remembering the events. For example, Jewish custom was to stone blasphemers, and the Jewish leaders definitely saw Jesus as one. So why did the Jews hand over Jesus to the Romans, as in Mark 15:1? John 18:31 explains that it was not lawful for them to execute Him in that way, at least in this instance (possibly because the Romans took this power away from the Jews). Such facts bolster the reliability of John. For a discussion on the reliability of the handling/translation of the Bible over time, see our article on that subject.


Recommended resources:

As for all posts in this series, a book introduction in a good study Bible will provide more information than listed here. The ESV Study Bible is one recommendation.
For the gospels in particular, I recommend taking the time to actually read them through. The Gospels are some of the least difficult books to read in the Bible, and there is no possible way I can adequately describe everything that happens in them in one reasonably-sized article (or four!).


Biblical illustrations by Jim Padgett, courtesy of Sweet Publishing, Ft. Worth, TX, and Gospel Light, Ventura, CA. Copyright 1984. Released under new license, CC-BY-SA 3.0