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How to Read the Bible Book by Book: John

John 20:30-31: “Jesus performed many other signs in the presence of his disciples, which are not recorded in this book. But these are written that you may believe that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in his name.”

The Gospel of John is the most unique of the four Gospels. Matthew, Mark and Luke are often referred to as the Synoptic Gospels because they share many similar stories and also share an overall pattern. John’s Gospel is unique in that it does not follow this pattern. There are some stories that John will tell which are also told in the other three (the feeding of the 5,000, for example), but for the most part, John has a completely different pattern and feel.

One of the primary differences between John and the other three is the location of Jesus’ ministry. In the synoptics, much of their stories are centered on the events that take place in Galilee, as well as the journey he takes from Galilee to Jerusalem to meet his looming fate. But in John’s Gospel, much of the action takes place in Jerusalem itself. Jesus is shown to be there on several different occasions, usually revolving around one of the great Jewish feasts, such as Passover, Tabernacles, and the Festival of Dedication (Hanukkah). On each of these great events, Jesus will arrive in Jerusalem, stir up controversy with his teaching, and be forced to leave into surrounding areas to allow things to cool off. John is also known for his long discourses, rather than moving quickly from story to story as happens in the other three Gospels. Many scholars think that the Gospel of John was written to Christians who were under threat of persecution from the Jewish authorities who did not accept Jesus as the Messiah. Perhaps they were being put out of the synagogue and ostracized from their communities and ways of life because of their belief in Jesus. If this is the case, then the Gospel is written to reassure their faith and to encourage them to remain faithful to the end.

The Gospel of John splits naturally into three different sections. The first part is short, consisting only of chapter 1, and includes both the opening prologue of the book, as well as a brief description of the beginning of Jesus’ ministry. The prologue is one of the most unique pieces of writing in all the New Testament. There we see Jesus described as the eternal Word who was with God from the beginning, and indeed, is God himself. John teaches that this “Word” became flesh and dwelt among us, and we all now behold his glory. The rest of chapter 1 details Jesus’ early ministry, including the calling of some of his first disciples.

Chapter 2 begins the second section, which is quite long. This section will go to the end of chapter 12. This section consists of a series of “sign” stories that demonstrate Jesus’ identity through powerful miracles, and also a series of long discourses that often follow the miraculous stories. These events are narrated around the major festivals in the Jewish calendar. In chapters 2 and 3, there is the first Passover of Jesus’ public career. In chapter 5, there is an unnamed festival. In chapter 6, a second Passover. In chapters 7 through 10 there is the Festival of Tabernacles. In 10:22-42 there is the Festival of Dedication, otherwise known as Hanukkah. Finally, beginning in chapter 12, there is a final Passover that will lead to Jesus’ suffering and death. Much of the teaching that comes in these sections has allusions to things that were happening in these festivals, which Jesus used as signs pointing to their fulfillment in him.

Finally, beginning in chapter 13, we come to Jesus’ final night. While not focusing on the institution of the Lord’s Supper, John does tell the story of how Jesus opened their final night together, and their final Passover meal, by washing his disciples’ feet. He goes on to tell them in the next few chapters that he must leave them, but not to worry, because he is going to prepare a place for them to bring them to where he is. In the meantime, he will be sending the Holy Spirit to be with them, to remind them of all that he had taught them, and to guide them into the fulness of truth. Jesus ends the evening by praying for his disciples, and for all who would believe in him based on their testimony and preaching, that God would unite them together as one people in love. This leads into Jesus’ arrest, his suffering, and ultimately his death. The book ends with series of events that takes place after his resurrection, including comments from John about why he wrote this Gospel (20:30-31).

John is my favorite gospel. Perhaps I like it best because I like the long discourses and the unique look it gives us at the life and teaching of Jesus. John’s gospel is a book that is meant to produce and sustain faith. One could hardly do better than to read it on a regular basis.

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