On the Gospel of John: Introduction

John  •  8 min. read  •  grade level: 9
THE Gospel of John has a special character, which has struck the minds of all those who have given it a little attention, even though they have not always clearly understood what it was that produced this effect: it not only strikes the mind, but attracts the heart in a way not to be found in the other parts of the holy book. The reason of this is, that the Gospel of John presents the Person of the Son of God-the Son of God come down so low, that He can say, " Give me to drink." This attracts the heart, if the heart be not altogether hardened. If Paul teaches us how a man can be presented before God, John presents God before man. His subject is God, and eternal life in a man, the apostle following out the subject in the Epistle, showing us this life reproduced in those who possess it in possessing Christ. I speak only of the leading features which characterize these books; for many other truths besides those which I have just noticed are to be found in them, it is needless to say. Indeed it is John's Gospel which gives us the doctrine of the sending of the Spirit of God, that other Comforter, who is to abide with us forever.
The Gospel of John is very clearly distinguished from the other three synoptical gospels, and we shall do well to pause for a moment to consider the character of these last, especially as this concerns the difference between them and the Gospel of John. The three synoptical gospels, Matthew, Mark, and Luke, afford the most precious details of the life of the Savior down here, of His patience and His grace: He was the perfect expression of good in the midst of evil; His miracles (with the exception of the cursing of the fig-tree, which expressed the truth as to the state of Israel, that is, of man in possession of all the privileges which man could enjoy from God) were not only a confirmation of His testimony, but were all miracles of goodness-the expression of divine power manifested in goodness. Here we find good; God Himself, who is love, acting, although, in a certain sense, still hidden, according to the grace which was soon to be plainly revealed. Thus was the blessed Savior presented to man, to be recognized and received: He was unknown and rejected. It has often been noticed that each of the three evangelists presents the Savior in a different aspect: Matthew brings before us Emmanuel in the midst of the Jews; Mark, the Servant Prophet; Luke (after the first two chapters, which present to us the most interesting picture of a remnant with whom God was, in the midst of a hypocritical and rebellious people) gives us the Son of man, more in relation with that which exists at present; that is, heavenly grace; but all three, in the main, present the Savior in His patient ways of grace in this world, that man may receive Him; and man rejected Him! Mark's Gospel, relating the service of Jesus, has no genealogy. Matthew, in relation with the Jews and earthly dispensations, traces the Savior from Abraham and David, and also shows the three things, which take the place of Judaism; that is, the kingdom as it exists in the present time (chap. 13), the church (chap. 16), and the kingdom in glory (chap. 17). Luke, which presents to us grace in the Son of man, follows His genealogy up to Adam. These three Gospels always speak of Christ as a Man down here, presented to men historically, and they follow up their account until He is positively rejected, announcing then His entering into the new position which He has taken by resurrection. The ascension, which is the foundation of our present place, is only given in Luke directly; allusion to it is made in the last supplementary verses in Mark.
The Gospel of John regards the Lord in quite another manner: it presents to us a divine Person come down here, God manifested in this world; a marvelous fact, upon which all in man's history depends. It is no longer a question here of genealogy; it is no longer the second Man responsible toward God (though that be ever true), and perfect before God, and all His delight, while we see upon every page that it is no longer Messiah according to prophecy; it is no longer Emmanuel, Jesus, who saves His people; it is no longer the messenger who goes before His face: in John it is God Himself, as God, who in a Man shows Himself to men,1 to the Jews- for God had promised Him-but first of all to put them entirely aside (chap. i: to, It), showing at the same time that nothing in man could even comprehend who was there present with him. Then, at the end of the Gospel, we find the doctrine of the presence of the Holy Spirit, who should replace Jesus here below, in revealing His glory on high, and in giving us the consciousness of our relationships with the Father and with Him. It is also to be remarked that all John's writings, and amongst them his Gospel, look upon the Christian as an individual, and do not recognize the church, either as the body or as the house. Further, the Gospel of John treats of eternal life; he does not speak of forgiveness of sins, except as a present administration confided to the apostles; and, as far as Christ is concerned, he treats essentially the subject of the manifestation of God down here, and of the coming of eternal life in the Person of the Son of God; consequently he hardly speaks at all of our heavenly portion, three or four allusions excepted. But it is time to leave these general reflections, to consider what the Gospel itself teaches us.
First of all, then, let us look at its structure. The first three chapters are preliminary: John had not yet been put in prison, and Jesus, although He taught and performed miracles, had not yet begun His public ministry. The two first of these three chapters, up to chapter 2: 22, form a whole. Chapter 3 gives us the basis of the divine work in us and for us-that is, the new birth and the cross, this latter introducing heavenly things as to us, and as to Jesus Himself. In chapter 4, Jesus passes from Judea into Galilee, leaving the Jews who did not receive Him, and takes the place of Savior of the world in grace. In chapter 5 He gives life as Son of God; in chapter 6, He becomes, as Son of man, the sustenance of the life, in His incarnation and in His death. Chapter 7 shows us that the Holy Spirit should replace Him-the feast of tabernacles, the re-establishment of Israel, to take place later on. In chapter 8, His word is definitely rejected; in chapter 9, His works: but he who has received sight follows Him. Thus, in chapter to, He will have His sheep, and keep them for better things to come. In chapters 11 and 12, God bears witness to Him, as Son of God, by the resurrection of Lazarus; as Son of David, by His entry into Jerusalem; as Son of man, by the coming of the Greeks; but this title of Son of man, brought in with it death, a subject which is then treated of. Bethany is a scene by itself; Mary seized in her heart the position of Jesus; He who gave life must Himself die. His title of Son of man closes the history of Jesus down here, introducing Him by death and by redemption into a far wider sphere of glory. But then (chap. 13) the question arose naturally, Was Jesus going to leave His disciples? No; being glorified on high, He would wash their feet. But whither He went the disciples could not follow Him now. In chapter 14 we find the resources of comfort during the time of the Lord's absence: the Father had been revealed in Him already during His life down here; when He should have gone back on high, He would send another Comforter; by His means, the disciples would know that He was in the Father, and they in Him, and He in them. Chapter 15 shows us the relationship of the disciples with Him upon earth, taking the place of the Jews; the place of the disciples before the world, that of the Jews in rejecting Him, and then the Comforter. Chapter 16 tells us what the Holy Spirit would do when come; what His presence would be the proof of in the world, and what He would teach the disciples, putting them at the same time into immediate relationship with the Father. In chapter 17 the Lord, taking His stand upon the accomplishment of His work, and the revelation of the Father's name, places His own in His own position before the Father and before the world; the world is judged, in that it has rejected the Lord, and His own are left here in His place. In chapters 18 and 19 we have the history of the Lord's condemnation and crucifixion; in chapter 20, His resurrection and manifestation of Himself to His disciples, as well as their mission. Chapter 21 gives us His interview with His own in Galilee, Peter's restoration, and the prophecy of Jesus as to the latter, and as to John.
After this short sketch of the Gospel as a whole, we will enter now upon the detail of the chapters.
1. Having come as a Man, Jesus never leaves the place of obedience, and receives everything from His Father's hand.