Notes on John: Introduction

John  •  6 min. read  •  grade level: 16
That the fourth Gospel is characterized by setting forth the Lord Jesus as the Word, the Only Begotten Son, God Himself, on earth, can be questioned by no intelligent Christian. It is not as Messiah, Son of David and of Abraham yet withal the Jehovah of Israel, Emmanuel; nor yet as the Son devoted to the service of God, above all in the gospel; neither is it as the Holy Thing born of the Virgin by the miraculous agency of the Holy Ghost and in this sense too Son of God, that He is presented, as in each of the other inspired accounts respectively. Here His divine nature shines from under the veil of flesh, as He moves here and there, evermore displaying the Father in His person and words and ways; and then, on His going above, giving and sending the Holy Ghost to be with and in His own forever.
Hence it is that He is here declared the giver of eternal life to the believer, who is accordingly entitled in virtue of this new life to become a child of God. For it is no question here of dispensational dealings, nor of testimony to the creature, nor yet of the moral perfections of the man Christ Jesus. All these have their fitting places elsewhere; but here the Spirit of God has in hand a deeper task, the manifestation of the Father in the Son, and this as the Word made flesh and tabernacling here below, with its immense consequences for every soul, and even for God Himself glorified both in the exigencies of His moral being and in the intimate depths of His relationship as Father.
Further, we may take note of the divine wisdom which wrote and gave such a Gospel at a comparatively late date, when the enemy was seeking to corrupt and destroy, not by Pharisaic or Sadducean adversaries, nor by idolatrous Gentiles, but by apostates and antichristian teachers who, under the highest pretensions of knowledge and power, were undermining the truth of Christ's person, on the side both of His proper Deity and of His real humanity, to the ruin of man and to the most thankless and daring dishonor of God. No testimony came in more appropriately than that of John, who, like the writer of the earliest Gospel, was an eye-witness, and even above all others familiar, if one may reverently so say, with the Lord Jesus as man on earth, yet none the less but above all the instrument of attesting His divine glory, the bearing of both on the closing efforts of Satan, even then and thenceforward prevalent (1 John 2:1818Little children, it is the last time: and as ye have heard that antichrist shall come, even now are there many antichrists; whereby we know that it is the last time. (1 John 2:18)), being most evident and of supreme importance. The Lord, on the other hand, as ever in His grace, met the efforts of Satan by a fuller assertion of “that which was from the beginning,” for His own glory in the clearing, comfort, and consolidation of the family of God, yea, of the babes. For what greater security than to find themselves the objects of the Father's love, loved as the Son was loved, Himself in them, and they in Him, who on departing assures them of the abiding presence of that other Comforter, the Holy Spirit—a blessedness so great that He declares His own deeply missed absence “expedient” for them in order to secure it?
Consequently along with the reality and manifestation of eternal life in man in Christ the Son, there is the careful, complete, and distinct abolishing of Jewish or any other relationships for man in the flesh with God, while it is shown clearly both in the introduction and at the end of the Gospel that the dispensations of God are not overlooked, nor Christ's relation to them, His person, divine yet a man, being the pivot on which all turns.
Indeed it was a great oversight of the ancient ecclesiastical writers to regard John as the evangelist who views the Lord or His own in their heavenly connections, ill as the eagle could symbolize any such thing. For the characteristic truth, with a slight exception here and there, is God manifesting Himself in His Son, yet a man on earth, not man in Him the exalted Christ on high, which is the line assigned to the apostle Paul, and among the inspired accounts of the Lord that of Luke and even, in a measure, of Mark. Therefore we may notice that there is no ascension scene (though abundantly supposed) in John any more than in Matthew, though for wholly different reasons. For the first Gospel shows us the Lord in His final presentation, risen indeed but still maintaining His links of relationship with the disciples or Jewish remnant in Galileo, where He gives them their great commission, and assures them of His presence with them till the consummation of the age. The last shows us Him uniting in His person the glory not only of the risen man and Son of God, the last Adam, but also of the Lord God who as the quickening Spirit breathes the breath of a better life in resurrection power into His disciples, and thereon gives a mystical view of the age to come, with the special places of both Peter and John.
It is God on earth therefore that appears in the account of our Lord here, not man glorified in heaven (save for exceptional purposes) as in the writings of the Apostle Paul. Hence in the first chapter, so remarkable for the fullness with which the titles of Christ are brought before us there, we do not read of Him either as priest or as head of the church, relations which are exclusively bound up with His exaltation above and service at the right hand of God. John presents all that is divine in Christ's person and work on earth; and as he gives us the setting aside of the first man in his best shape, so also the absolute need of the divine nature if man is to see or enter the kingdom of God. What is essential and abiding naturally flows from the presence of a divine person revealing Himself here below in grace and truth.
Again, the character of the truth before the Holy Spirit evidently excludes any genealogy such as is found in the Gospels of Matthew and Luke, who respectively traced our blessed Lord down from Abraham and David, or up to Adam “which was the son of God.” Here John gives no such birth roll; for how trace the line of Him who in the beginning, before a creature existed, was with God and was God? If Mark is devoted to the details of His service, especially His service in the gospel, accompanied by suited powers and signs (for He would arouse man and appeal to unbelievers in the patient goodness of God), he in the wisdom of the same Spirit was led to omit all record of His earthly parentage and early life, and at once enters on His work, only preceded by a brief notice of His herald John the Baptist, in his work; and as the Lord was the perfect Servant, so the perfect account of it says nothing here of a genealogy; for who would ask the pedigree of a servant? Thus, if His service seems to keep it out from Mark, His Deity being the prominent truth renders it unsuitable for the Spirit's purpose by John. It is only from all the four that we receive the truth in its various fullness: only so could even God adequately reveal to us our Lord Jesus Christ. In the Gospels He is given us not merely in view of our need but of the divine love and glory.