John’s Gospel: A Unique Witness

Compared to the three Synoptic Gospels, John’s Gospel has several distinctive features. At a rather pedestrian level, we might notice incidents or teachings mentioned just in John. At a higher level, if we persist in careful observation, we can observe a few remarkable differences.

John’s Gospel starts with a bang. John was forthright about his intention to present Jesus Christ as Messiah and God. He went about that task right from the very first verse. Like Mark, John did not include a ‘birth narrative.’ Nothing was mentioned about Jesus’ birth or childhood except for the declaration that “the Word became flesh and dwelt among us” (1:14). John wished to highlight Jesus’ preexistence as God, along with Yahweh, in one Godhead.

Certain miraculous signs recorded in John are unique in that those are not found in the Synoptic Gospels. For instance, the first miracle at Cana where Jesus turned water into wine; the healing of the invalid man at Bethesda; the healing of the man born blind, and his subsequent trial by Jewish leaders; the raising of Lazarus; and, of course, the account of the miraculous catch of fish at Galilee after Jesus’ resurrection.

Going beyond a plain narration of Jesus’ miraculous signs, John recorded His “I AM” sayings. Corresponding to the main seven signs that Jesus did, there are seven “I AM” sayings. John wanted his readers to connect the dots and discover Jesus as God and Messiah.

  • I am the Bread of Life. (6:35)
  • I am the Light of the world. (8:12)
  • I am good Shepherd. (10:11)
  • I am the Door for the sheep. (10:7, 9)
  • I am the resurrection and the life. (11:25)
  • I am the Way, the Truth, the Life. (14:6)
  • I am the true Vine. (15:1)

Apart from uttering these predicated “I AM” statements, Jesus appropriated the much revered divine Name – “I AM” – through a non-predicated sentence: “I tell you the solemn truth, before Abraham came into existence, I am!” (8:58 NET) This invited the wrath of his Jewish audience. They picked up stones to kill Him. They did not fail to notice that Jesus had claimed to be the Yahweh (I am that I am) they worshiped.

Careful readers might also note that John included several instances of Jesus ministering to individuals. He is not presented as a Rabbi who was always surrounded by hundreds of people. Jesus excelled in personal outreach. He was the master Fisher of Men. While interacting with individuals, Jesus’ goal was to reveal Himself to them and lead them to life-giving faith. We read of Jesus’ interaction with Simon, Nathanael, Nicodemus, the Samaritan woman, the man who was born blind, a woman who was caught in adultery, Mary Magdalene, Thomas, and, Peter. It is by no accident that John recorded Jesus’ interaction with both men and women; with Jews and Samaritans; and, with learned Rabbis and unschooled fishermen.

In order to lead some of these individuals to faith, Jesus chose to reveal their secrets. Jesus knew Simon’s name and that of his father. He gave Simon a new name. Nathanael was quick to believe after his secret was revealed. The Samaritan woman went about her town shouting, “Come and see someone who has told me everything that I have done. Can he be the Christ?” Thomas might have been moved by Jesus’ supernatural knowledge about a doubt he had expressed in private about Jesus’ resurrection (4:29 OEB) The gift of prophecy or word of knowledge still remains one of the most powerful tools than can pry open doubting hearts to trust in Jesus.

Staying focused on eliciting a faith-response from his readers, John recorded faith-confessions of several individuals. While the Synoptic Gospels mention Peter’s famous confession (Matt 16:16; Mk 8:29; Lk 9:20), John included the confessions of Andrew, Philip, Nathanael, the Samaritans, Peter, Martha, and Thomas.

Andrew to Simon: “We have found the Messiah!” (1:41)
Philip to Nathanael: “We have found him of whom Moses wrote in the law, and of whom the prophets also wrote — Jesus of Nazareth, Joseph’s son!” (1:45)
Nathanael: “Rabbi, you are the Son of God; you are the king of Israel!” (1:49)
The Samaritans: “… We have heard for ourselves, and we know that this one really is the Savior of the world.” (4:42)
Simon Peter: “Lord, to whom would we go? You have the words of eternal life.  We have come to believe and to know that you are the Holy One of God!” (6:68-69)
The man born blind: “Lord, I believe,” and he worshiped Him. (9:38)
Martha: “Yes, Lord, I believe that you are the Christ, the Son of God who comes into the world.” (11:27)
Thomas: “My Lord and my God!” (20:28)

Thomas, who’s silent in the Synoptic Gospels, makes a bold confession in John. After hearing that confession, Jesus said,

“Is it because you have seen me that you have believed? Blessed are they who have not seen, and yet have believed!” (20:29)

The apostles saw and believed. The readers of this gospel who echo Thomas’ confession are indeed blessed because they get to believe in Jesus without having seen him in the flesh! John’s Gospel, thus, bears sterling witness to Jesus and stays true to its purpose of leading readers to Christ.

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