John’s gospel was written to prove that Jesus was the Christ, the promised Messiah and that He was the Son of God, not just because those are really grand slam head line news items, but because this news would lead people into life-saving belief in Jesus, to find union in relationship to the Lord.
In fact, some form of the word for “believe” is found 98 times in this gospel. John wrote about the great themes of life—and the word for “life” occurs in at least 42 verses. “Death” occurs in only 9 verses. John talked about Jesus as “Light,” which appears in 16 verses, whereas “darkness” occurs in 5 verses. John talked about “love” in 21 verses and referred to the hate that was leveled against Jesus.
Life versus Death
Light versus Darkness
Love versus Hate
Belief versus Unbelief
Was Jesus the world’s greatest teacher?
Was he more?
Was he one of the world’s greatest prophets, up there with Buddha, Abraham, and Mohammed?
Or is Jesus truly God and Savior, giver and sustainer of life, provider of the only true spiritual illumination, conqueror of death and darkness, the source of love?
There seem to be four main sections to John’s gospel:
- In chapters 1-4 John recorded the first stages of belief and unbelief
In his prologue, John described the two kinds of response to Jesus,
He was in the world, and though the world was made through him, the world did not recognize him.John 1:10 (NRSV)
. . . against irrefutable proof, the majority was going to reject Jesus,
Yet to all who did receive him, to those who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God.John 1:12 (NRSV)
. . . there was a minority who would believe and receive Jesus.
In chapters 2-3 Jesus was revealed to the Judeans as he began his public ministry by clearing the temple, calling it his father’s house. But his actions were not met with belief. The scribes and teachers of the law wanted to know by what authority Jesus thought he could come in and take over the business of the temple, which was properly, by Moses’ Law, in the hands of the tribe of Levi and the priests? By what authority did Jesus claim God as his father? They were skeptical, at best.
Afterwards Nicodemus, a member of the ruling council of Israel, was shocked to find out from Jesus that Nicodemus was actually -not- okay with God, that following the Law was not enough.
But right after that, in chapter 4, a Samaritan woman with a painful past put her faith in Jesus and brought her entire town out to meet Jesus.
- Chapters 5-6 show a further polarization of belief and unbelief to the point of intense hatred of and active opposition to Jesus as he turned the established religious world upside down.
In his first real confrontation with the Jewish leaders, the first time they were preparing to stone him, Jesus claimed equality with God as life giver. Since they asked Jesus “by what authority,” Jesus presented his own evidence, beginning with John the Baptist, last of the Hebrew Testament prophets.
Then Jesus pointed to his own works, to the testimony of God the Father, and to the scriptures. Finally, Jesus told them that even Moses—whose Law they were certain they obeyed—stood as their accuser for not believing in Jesus.
Many people rejected Jesus because he refused to be their earthly king, and kept talking about spiritual things. By the end of chapter 6, Jesus’ followers were brought to a crisis of belief and many decided Jesus was just too hard to follow; they didn’t like where he was going with his teaching.
But Peter spoke for the twelve disciples when he said,
We have come to believe and to know that you are the Holy One of God.Peter, in John 6:69
Just as others were leaving, the disciples drew in closer to Jesus.
- In chapters 7-11 there was a crystallization of belief and unbelief
By chapter 7, Jesus and the Judean religious leaders were involved in a conflict over Moses and the Law during the Feast of Booths. As Jesus and the religious rulers exchanged heated words, all around them was whispering, amazement, confusion, and divisions.
The Pharisees tried to seize Jesus and have him arrested.
In chapter 8, Jesus delivered a loaded “I AM” statement saying he existed before Abraham, infuriating the religious authorities.
The intensity increased when in chapter 9 Jesus proved that he was the light of the world by healing a blind man, in contrast to the religious leaders’ spiritual darkness.
Jesus pointed to his unique Sonship in chapter 10, willingly laying his life down for the sheep, but also picking his life back up again in resurrection. The Judean religious rulers once more accused Jesus of blasphemy and tried to stone Him, but many others believed.
This led to Jesus’ claim of being the resurrection and life in chapters 11-12. At this point many believed, but many others did not believe, and the Judean religious leaders now plotted to kill Jesus. They were no longer going to react in the heat of the moment, they were going to carefully devise Jesus’ destruction.
By the middle of chapter 12, Jesus withdrew publicly and began to teach only his disciples and closest followers.
- Chapters 13-20 mark the centering of belief among Jesus’ disciples and close followers, and the hardening of unbelief among all the rest.
Tension built as Jesus shared the Last Supper with his disciples, prayed with them, and then was arrested, tried, whipped, and sent outside Jerusalem with his cross. The climax came in chapter 19, of belief in those at the foot of the cross, and unbelief in the nails hammered through Jesus’ feet and hands.
The resurrection in chapter 20 is what continues to confirm eternal life in those who believe and confirms the condemnation of unbelief.
John’s gospel quoted Jesus as saying those who did not believe in him would die in their sins, and warned those who rejected Jesus would have to face the Father in judgment. Just as there is life in Christ, so there is judgment without Jesus.
Knowing the truth about Jesus requires a response
Seven eyewitness were called upon by John’s gospel.
Seven statements are provided by Jesus himself, based on the very holy name of God, Yahweh, “I AM.”
Seven supernatural signs were presented by God, pieces of physical evidence, miracles which John called signs to point to the deity of Jesus. From these, John was confident any jury would reach a verdict of belief in Messiah, the Son of God, the one called Jesus.
But incredibly, many rejected Jesus instead. Where do you and I stand today?
[This 5th-century mosaic from Sant’Apollinare Nuovo in Ravenna depicts the Last Judgement in which Christ separates the sheep from the goats.
It is considered among the oldest mosaic depictions of a New Testament scene.
Fr Lawrence Lew, O.P., flickr, CC BY-NC-ND 2.0, https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc-nd/2.0/%5D