New Testament | Study Guide

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New Testament | Gospel of John | Summary

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Summary

The Prologue (John 1:1–18)

The Prologue describes the relationship between God and Jesus, the Word of God, as a creation narrative.

  • The Word participated in creation and then came to earth in the human person Jesus.
  • John the Baptist appears on the scene and explicitly identifies himself as a witness, testifying to the arrival of Jesus.

Chapters 2–17

Jesus performs a series of miraculous signs designed to bring people to faith in his identity as the Son of God.

  • Jesus transforms water into wine at a wedding in the village of Cana and then confronts merchants in the Jerusalem Temple and drives them out, claiming they are misusing the sacred space.
  • By night a Jewish man named Nicodemus secretly visits Jesus in order to learn from him.
  • Jesus offers "living water" to a Samaritan woman beside a well and heals the son of a royal official. When he heals on the Sabbath, Jews object to his violation of the ritual day of rest.
  • Jesus miraculously feeds a crowd of 5,000 people and walks on water before identifying himself as the "bread of life" (John 6:35).
  • Jesus forgives a woman caught in adultery, heals a man born blind, and teaches some Pharisees who challenge him that he is the good shepherd who "lays down his life for the sheep" (John 10:11).
  • Jesus's public ministry and miracles culminate when he raises his friend Lazarus from the dead.
  • Crowds in Jerusalem greet Jesus, shouting: "Hosanna! Blessed is the one who comes in the name of the Lord—the King of Israel" (John 12:13).
  • During a private gathering with his disciples, Jesus washes their feet, explaining that this humble action is a way of demonstrating a new and ideal model of leadership.
  • In a speech commonly called the Farewell Discourse (John 14–17), Jesus teaches his disciples and prays over them, emphasizing the need to love one another. He promises to send the Holy Spirit as a Paraclete, or advocate, to assist them after he returns to God the Father.

Chapters 18–21

Jesus is betrayed, arrested, and crucified, but after his resurrection he appears to his followers to explain their ongoing mission.

  • Jesus allows himself to be arrested and tried.
  • Pontius Pilate sentences Jesus to death as Jews in Jerusalem demand, "Away with him! Away with him! Crucify him!" (John 19:15).
  • On the cross Jesus entrusts his mother Mary to the care of the Beloved Disciple and then dies.
  • Outside the empty tomb the resurrected Jesus appears to Mary Magdalene.
  • The apostle Thomas insists he will not believe Jesus was resurrected unless he sees and feels the nail marks in his hands, so Jesus appears again to bolster Thomas's faith.
  • In another resurrection appearance Jesus joins his disciples by the Sea of Tiberias (Galilee) to share breakfast and offer final instructions for Peter and the Beloved Disciple.

Analysis

From the prologue forward the Gospel of John depicts an extremely exalted and divine Jesus. The Johannine Jesus is a man "from above," and this repeated description describes his heavenly origin and destination. This elevated view of what it means for Jesus to be the Christ or Messiah, the "anointed one," is what scholars call a "high" Christology.

John's high Christology is reflected in the "I am ..." sayings throughout the Gospel of John. Jesus uses these statements to refer to different aspects of his identity. He says, "I am the bread of life" (John 6:35), "I am the light of the world" (John 8:12), and "I am the good shepherd" (John 10:11), among other statements.

These statements also echo the language of the self-revelation of "I am who I am," or "Yahweh"—God's name in the sacred texts of Israel—to Moses at the burning bush: "I am who I am" (Exodus 3:14). Some people do not speak or write the name "Yahweh" out of respect. The connection to Exodus is most obvious in the scene of Jesus's arrest, when Jesus answers the guards who are looking for him with the sentence "I am" (John 18:5) and they fall to the ground in awe. Even the miracles that appear only in John's Gospel seem to emphasize Jesus's divine power, such as Jesus transforming water into wine (John 2) and raising Lazarus from the dead (John 11).

This divine Jesus performs what John calls "signs," which are related to the evangelist's project of helping readers come to believe Jesus is the Christ and the Son of God the Father. The question of belief is especially important in the story of "doubting" Thomas in John 20. The apostle refuses to believe in Jesus's resurrection unless he sees physical proofs, and John's Jesus makes a special point of saying that those who can believe without seeing are more blessed than those who rely on signs. This teaching probably reflects the evangelist's concern for those who read and hear the Gospel of John at the end of the 1st century CE and beyond: although they did not meet Jesus during his earthly lifetime, they can read about the signs others witnessed and still come to believe.

The evangelist organizes his account differently from the synoptic gospels (Matthew, Mark, and Luke), and its sequence provides some insight into his theological message about Jesus's divine knowledge. The cleansing of the temple, an event that makes the Jewish authorities seek to kill Jesus, takes place not during Jesus's final visit to Jerusalem, but right away at the beginning of his ministry, so that the death of Jesus seems inevitable early on in the Gospel of John.

In John's account the timing of the Passion and crucifixion are also distinct. In the other gospels, Jesus celebrates the Passover meal with his disciples the night before his death. But in John, they gather one night earlier, so that Jesus dies on the cross at the time when the lamb for the Passover feast was traditionally sacrificed (see information on the Passover feast in the book of Exodus, especially Exodus 12). This change in the timeline reinforces Jesus's identity as the "Lamb of God," announced by John the Baptist (John 1). Jesus seems to be in control of events and their timing.

The apostles in this gospel are also different from their synoptic counterparts. In particular, the figure of the Beloved Disciple changes The Twelve from a group mostly led by Simon Peter to a group with multiple key figures. It is the Beloved Disciple who is credited with testifying to the events recorded in the narrative, and he is called a reliable witness.

There even appears to be some form of competition between Simon Peter and the Beloved Disciple. When they race to the empty tomb, John makes a point of reporting, "the two were running together, but the other disciple outran Peter and reached the tomb first" (John 20:4), although he steps back to let Peter enter the tomb first. The competitive dynamic between Peter and the Beloved Disciple comes to a head during the final resurrection appearance of Jesus in John 21. Jesus has just predicted Peter's death, and Peter tries to get Jesus to tell him when the Beloved Disciple will die, but Jesus tells Peter to mind his own business, again displacing him from the lead role he enjoys in the Synoptic Gospels.

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