Knowing God Through The John


John's Statement Of Purpose
John's Word From God
John's Plan
Book Chart Of John
Knowing God Through The Relationships Of Christ
1. With The Father
2. With The World
3. With The Disciples
4. With The Enemy
Elements Unique To John
A Closer Look
The Holy Spirit In John
Surveying The Evidence
Facing The Evidence

Managing Editor: David Sper
Cover Photo: The Stock Market/David Stoecklein
©1989 RBC Ministries--Grand Rapids, MI 49555 Printed in USA

Knowing God Through John

The gospel of John is different from the other three gospels. It is filled with conversations, people, and incidents in the life of Christ that do not appear in Matthew, Mark, and Luke. It is similar, however, in its overall purpose. John joined the other writers in their God-given task of documenting the greatest life this world has ever seen. As David Egner points out, John's mission was to show us how we can come to know God through His Son, Jesus the Christ.

Martin R. De Haan II, President of RBC Ministries

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John's Statement Of Purpose

John wrote his gospel with a strong sense of purpose. He was driven to bring others to the same point of belief he himself had reached many years before. He spelled out this purpose when he wrote:

And truly Jesus did many other signs in the presence of His disciples, which are not written in this book; but these are written that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that believing you may have life in His name (John 20:30,31).

Four statements in these verses reveal the elements of John's purpose for writing:

  1. The evidence: "many signs." John recorded Jesus' miracles as evidence to support his claim that Jesus is the Son of God.

  2. The goal: "that you may believe." John wrote to persuade, to convince his readers to believe what he had come to believe.

  3. The truth: "that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God." John longed for his readers to see who Christ was, and he wanted them to trust in Him.

  4. The result: "that you may have life." When his readers trusted in Christ, they were given new life from God--a life that included a new purpose, new values, new relationships, new loves, and a new sense of destiny.

John's purpose, then, was to encourage conversion. He wanted unbelievers to trust in Jesus Christ. So, as he wrote, he presented evidence that supported Jesus' claim to be the Son of God.

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John's Word From God

What do you do when you want to communicate? The easiest way is to use words--either spoken or written. You search until you find the word that best expresses the idea you have in mind.

According to John, if you want to describe what God is like, you say "Jesus." At the beginning of his gospel, John said that Jesus Christ came as the "Word" of God (1:1,14). John was the only Bible writer to use the term word (Gk. logos) in reference to Christ (see 1 John 1:1; Rev. 19:13). In doing so, he used a term that his Greek readers would readily understand--a term that came to mean both (1) an idea and (2) the word used to express that idea. John used it to tell why Christ came. He wanted us to know that Jesus came to reveal God to man. Christ came to be the visible, tangible, on-earth expression of the Father. In fact, Jesus said, "He who has seen Me has seen the Father" (14:9).

Christ came to express God, to be His "Word." Therefore, to see Him was to see God. To hear Him was to hear God. To walk with Him was to walk with God in the world. The gospel of John, then, is one man's record of the unveiling of God by His Son.

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John's Plan

In the opening chapter of his gospel, John was speaking of Jesus Christ when he said:

And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we beheld His glory . . . (1:14).

We can trace the story of Christ through John by using the phrases of this verse to follow the action.

"And the Word became flesh." Matthew begins with a genealogy; Mark, an Old Testament prophecy; and Luke, a personal note. But John begins with God "speaking" Himself into the world in the person of His own Son. The Son, identified here as "the Word," is God (1:1). The Word became man (1:14) when Jesus Christ was born of the virgin Mary. The facts of His birth are described in the other gospels. But John, approaching the incarnation philosophically, says simply that the Word became flesh; that is, He became man in bodily form and in nature. The purpose for His coming as the Word was to reveal the Father (1:18). His introduction to the world was then publicly announced by His cousin John the Baptist (1:19-34).

"And dwelt among us." After this introduction of God becoming man, John traced the 3 years of Jesus' public ministry (1:35--12:50). Christ chose His disciples (1:35-43), turned water into wine (2:1-12), and had encounters with Nicodemus (ch.3), the woman of Samaria (ch.4), and a diseased man (ch.5). He fed the multitudes (ch.6), disputed with religious leaders (chs.7,8), and healed the blind (ch.9). He taught the multitudes (ch.10), raised a man from the dead (ch.11), and entered Jerusalem amid shouts of honor (ch.12).

Along with Matthew, Mark, and Luke, John wanted his readers to know that Jesus was a public Savior--that multitudes saw the wisdom and power of the Father in His teachings and His miracles. John also wanted us to know that it was clear to all but the spiritually blind that Jesus was no ordinary man (9:35-41). He was God the Son, doing the will and revealing the character of God the Father. Here was God among men, God involved in a public ministry, God walking the streets of Palestine for all to see.

"And we beheld His glory." John, along with the other gospel writers, spoke much about the glory of Christ. But only John tells us that Jesus began to reveal His glory when He performed His first miracle in Cana (2:11). John saw Christ's glory manifested in His miracles (11:4), at His transfiguration (Luke 9:28-36; 2 Pet. 1:16-18), and in His death, resurrection, and ascension (Luke 24:26; John 7:39; 12:16,23-33; 13:31,32; 17:1,4,5,24; 1 Pet. 1:11).We may not see glory in the horrors of a crucifixion, but it was there at Calvary that the greatness of God's love was fully revealed. This was the Son's purpose for coming--He had to die on the cross for the sins of mankind. And in that sacrificial act He was glorified.

John went on to say of Jesus in his introduction, "The only begotten Son, who is in the bosom of the Father, He has declared Him" (1:18). John's gospel, then, is not just the story of a man, or even the God-man. It is also the unveiling of the One who sent Him. Therefore, if we want to know God, we can learn of Him through the life and ministry of His only begotten Son.

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"But these are written that
you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God,
and believing you may have life in His name" (John 20:31).

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Knowing God Through The Relationships Of Christ

In Knowing God Through The New Testament, it was noted that each of the four gospels has a distinct emphasis:

Matthew: Christ the King
Mark: Christ the Servant
Luke: Christ the Son of Man
John: Christ the Son of God

We will look closely at Jesus through the eyes of John--one who was an intimate of the Lord (13:23; 21:20-24). We will see the Son of God in Galilee, in Jerusalem, in the home of friends, in the upper room, in Pilate's judgment hall, and on the cross. We will observe Him as He teaches, performs miracles, prays, instructs His disciples, and talks with people.

More than the other gospel writers, John showed us Jesus in His relationships. This is exactly where we will focus our study. We will look carefully at Jesus in His relationship:

  1. With the Father.
  2. With the world.
  3. With the disciples.
  4. With the enemy.

As we do, we will look beyond the Son to the Father in heaven whom He came to reveal (14:8,9). Therefore, our prayer is that you will not only understand the book of John more fully, but that you will also know more fully the God He came to make known.

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His Relationship With The Father

The first relationship of Christ that we will look at is the one He had with His Father. The fact that John saw this as important becomes clear when we discover that he recorded over 100 times when the Son alluded to His relationship with the Father. We also see that it touched all aspects of His life and ministry. This closeness should not surprise us, for we have already seen that Jesus came as the "Word" to express the Father. At least eight points stand out in His relationship with the Father.

He had a unique relationship with the Father. John used the phrase "only begotten Son" four times (1:14,18; 3:16,18). In so doing, he tells us that Jesus was the only One to have this special relationship with the Father, for the phrase means "only one of its kind, unique." Others might be sons of God by creation, spiritual birth, or adoption, but Christ is the only Son of God by nature. It does not imply that the Father came first, or that the Father is superior in essence to the Son. They both are God.

He was sent by the Father. Jesus said of the Father "But I know Him, for I am from Him, and He sent Me" (7:29). The fact that the Father sent the Son is repeated so often in this gospel that the teaching is beyond question (3:34; 5:36,38; 7:29; 11:42). This implies a preexistent relationship between the Father and the Son and shows us a loving God who is willing to send His Son on a mission of death.

He was loved by the Father. Perhaps more than the other gospel writers, John depicted God as a God of unbounded love. He seemed to have a special understanding of the love that was expressed by Jesus Himself when He said to the Father, ". . . for You loved Me before the foundation of the world" (17:24). The love of the Father for His Son is also expressed in John 3:35, 5:20, and 10:17. This same love is also given to all who believe in Christ (17:23).

He revealed the Father. When Philip said to Jesus, "Lord, show us the Father," He replied, "He who has seen Me has seen the Father" (14:8,9). Jesus' teaching, His miracles--everything He did--made the Father known to those who observed (8:19; 12:45; 15:24). This, in part, is what John meant in the prologue when he referred to Christ as the light (1:5,7-9). It reveals a God who makes Himself known to us.

He spoke the Father's words. According to John, while Jesus was on earth He said what the Father wanted Him to say: "I have not spoken on My own authority; but the Father who sent Me gave Me a command, what I should say and what I should speak" (12:49). Because Jesus spoke what the Father gave Him to say (14:10,24; 15:15), He showed us a God who communicates to us in a way we can understand.

He depended on the Father. John recorded for his readers very special statements showing that while the Son was on earth He was dependent on the Father. "I can of Myself do nothing," Jesus said. "I do not seek My own will but the will of the Father who sent Me" (5:30). He did only what God commanded Him (8:28; 14:10). On earth He acknowledged the Father's superiority and submitted to Him (5:19; 14:28). In this He revealed a God that we too can depend on.

He prayed to the Father. In Jesus' prayers recorded in John, He always addressed God as His "Father" (11:41; 12:28; 17:1,5,11,21,24,25), indicating the relationship He had with God. His brief prayers in 11:41 and 12:28 reveal God as the One who hears and answers prayer. And His prayer in chapter 17 gives us a glimpse of the intimacy He had with the Father--an intimacy that we too can have with God.

He would return to the Father. God not only sent His Son out; He also brought Him home. John is the only eyewitness who recorded for all time the discussion that Jesus had with His disciples in the upper room when He announced that He would soon be leaving them and going back to the Father (14:12,28). He was sent by the Father, and He would return to the Father when His work on earth was finished (see 14:12; 16:10,28). The Son would again take His seat at the right hand of the One with whom He had shared the fullness of deity for all eternity.

As "the apostle of love," John was especially sensitive to the closeness of the relationship between the Son and the Father. His inspired pen passed along to us the overwhelming truth that they are co-equal and co-eternal, yet the Son came into the world to reveal the Father. He did God's will without disobeying, even though it took Him to the cross. He was a Son who was loved, sent, and obedient; a Son who so accurately represented the Father that to see Him was to see God.

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His Relationship With The World

Christ's relationship with the world is a second way that we can know God through John. John uses the word world three ways. Depending on the context, it could refer to the created world, the world of men, or the evil world-system. All three of these meanings are seen together in a verse that appears early in the book: "He was in the world [of men], and the [created] world was made through Him, and the world [evil world-system] did not know Him" (1:10). We will consider these three uses of the word world in John as they relate to Christ.

The created world. One use of the word world in John is in reference to the world of creation. John emphasized in a manner that the other writers did not that the One who claimed to be the Son of God was the One who created all things (1:3). We know that Jesus existed before the worlds were made because He spoke of a glory He had with the Father "before the world was" (17:5). Jesus' relationship with the created world is twofold: (1) He existed before it, and (2) He is the One who brought it into being.

The world of men. A second use of the word world in John is in reference to mankind. Jesus was using the word world in this way when He prayed, "As You sent Me into the world, I also have sent them into the world" (17:18). As He came into the world of men to represent the Father, so He sent His followers into the world of men as His witnesses.

Jesus' specific relationship to the world of mankind is twofold. First, He was born into it through the incarnation. This is what is meant by the words, "The Word [Christ] became flesh and dwelt among us" (1:14). He Himself echoed this truth when He said, "For judgment have I come into this world, that those who do not see may see" (9:39). And before Pilate He said, "For this cause I have come into the world" (18:37).

Second, Jesus Christ came into the world as God's love-gift to man. This use of the word world is at the heart of the most memorized verse of the Bible.

For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have everlasting life (3:16).

John the Baptist was looking at Christ's coming as God's love-gift to man when he cried, "Behold! The Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world!" (1:29). And the citizens of Samaria were doing the same when they said, ". . . this is indeed the Christ, the Savior of the world" (4:42). Christ entered the world of men as the love-gift of the Father. He came to save us from our sins. The scope of His work was not limited, for He came to offer salvation to everyone.

The numerous encounters of Jesus demonstrate His relationship with the world of men. He did not hold Himself aloof but walked among them. The encounter with the man born blind was typical (ch.9). His disciples asked a theological question about whose sin had caused the man's blindness (v.2). But Jesus saw the man in his misery and need. So before He left, Jesus anointed the man's eyes and sent him to the Pool of Siloam to wash and be healed. Later, the man was harassed by some Pharisees who threw him out of the temple. Jesus sought him out and met his deepest need--spiritual "sight" through faith in Christ Himself.

The other encounters of Jesus, as with Nicodemus and the woman of Samaria, demonstrated that He came into the world to bring the light of salvation. Jesus said, "I am the light of the world. He who follows Me shall not walk in darkness, but have the light of life" (8:12). He knew men's hearts, and He came to bring them into the realm of light.

The sinful world-system. A third use of the word world in John is in reference to the evil world-system that is in direct opposition to God. Ruled by Satan, the "prince of the power of the air," it may be defined as a way of thinking and living that is dominated by evil. Men controlled by this evil world-system rejected and crucified Christ. John was using the word world in this way when he wrote early in his gospel, ". . . and the world did not know Him" (1:10). Jesus came as light and life (1:4). The world--system is characterized by darkness and death. Its followers rejected His light and offer of life and killed Him.

Jesus was using the word world in reference to the evil world-system when He said, "The world cannot hate you, but it hates Me because I testify of it that its works are evil" (7:7).

Later, Jesus promised the disciples that the reign of darkness through its wicked prince would not last forever. He linked His crucifixion with the overthrow of Satan and end of his evil world-system when He said, "Now is the judgment of this world; now the ruler of this world will be cast out" (12:31; cp. Heb. 2:14,15).

Sometimes the followers of the evil world-system confronted Jesus openly. John recorded several clashes with the hypocritical religious leaders. Perhaps the most dramatic is in John 8 where Jesus' claims were challenged by a group of Pharisees. Jesus exposed them as being part of the evil world-system (v.23) and told them they would die in their sins. Before the encounter was over, He said to them, "You are of your father the devil" (v.44), and they tried to stone Him (v.59).

Let's reflect a moment. Jesus' relationship to the world was determined by His identity as the Son of God. He created the world, He came into the world of men by taking on our humanity, and He was God's love-gift. He came to destroy the evil world-system dominated by Satan. John gave us a few prophetic glimpses of that future day when Jesus will return as King of kings and Lord of lords to cast out the darkness and to reign in righteousness and truth (5:28,29; 6:39,40; 14:1-3).

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His Relationship With The Disciples

A third way we can know God through John is to look at the relationship of Jesus with His disciples. John tells us how Jesus singled out and trained a group of ordinary men who would eventually bear the responsibility of proclaiming the gospel to the world. As Jesus taught, led, and lived with His disciples, He revealed the Father who sent Him. Through the eyes of "the disciple whom Jesus loved" (13:23; 19:26; 20:2; 21:7,20-24), we will look at Jesus' relationship with these specially chosen men.

During Jesus' Public Ministry. The first mention of Jesus' disciples in the book of John was when Jesus called Andrew, Peter, Philip, and Nathanael to follow Him (1:35-51). Directed by the Father, as He was in all things, Jesus demonstrated: (1) The authority to call. When He singled out these men, they left their occupations and livelihood and followed Him. (2) A supernatural knowledge. Jesus knew Nathanael's character, and even where he had been before He called him.

In the 3 years that the disciples were with Jesus, He revealed the Father to them. They saw God's miraculous power when the Son turned water into wine (2:1-11); healed the sick (4:46-54), the lame (5:1-15), and the blind (9:1-41); fed 5,000 people with five loaves and two fish (6:1-13), and raised the dead (11:1-44). They sensed God's anger over sin when the Son drove the moneychangers out of the temple (2:13-17). They heard the wisdom of the Father when the Son preached and taught.

Think of what the disciples experienced! They saw Jesus perform amazing miracles. They sat under His wise teaching. They were challenged by His holiness. They felt His compassion. They heard Him express His allegiance to the Father. They sensed the Father's love for Him. And they eventually came to realize that He had the power and authority of God Himself.

In the Upper Room. John gives us unique insight into the private ministry of Jesus in that he is the only gospel writer to record the events and the words of Jesus with His disciples the night before His death (chs.13--17). On that emotion-filled night, Jesus revealed much about His Father. For example: