The Beloved John Presents “the Word”
OF THE four Gospel writers, Matthew, Mark, Luke and John, only John presents Jesus Christ, the Son of God, as “the Word.” With reference to God’s Son, John wrote: “In the beginning the Word was.” “So the Word became flesh.” “The name he is called is The Word of God.” (John 1:1, 14; Rev. 19:13) Why could John under inspiration ascribe that title to Jesus? It was because Jesus, in his prehuman existence before he came to earth as a man, served as the “Word,” Spokesman or Mouthpiece, for his heavenly Father, Jehovah God. He no doubt was the angel that God sent ahead of the Israelites ‘to bring them into the place that I have prepared,’ and by means of whom God spoke to Moses.—Ex. 23:20; 3:2-5.
Rather than featuring Jesus’ public addresses, such as the Sermon on the Mount, John tells us of Jesus’ dialogues with individuals, with his opposers and with his own disciples. He also features Jesus’ Judean ministry, whereas the other Gospel writers feature Jesus’ Galilean ministry. John also gives us the most intimate portrait of Jesus, including details such as Jesus’ washing the feet of his apostles. This is what we would expect of the one Jesus especially loved.—John 13:23.
True, some contend (but not with sound reason) that the fourth Gospel was written by another John after the apostle John fell asleep in death. However, such external evidence as there is supports the strong internal evidence favoring the apostle John as the writer.
What is this internal evidence? A careful reading of John’s Gospel makes it clear that the writer was a Jew familiar with Palestine. He describes details so as to leave little question that he was an eyewitness; time and again he notes specific names, places and times that the other Gospel writers do not mention. Moreover, the details he gives of the discussions that the apostles had among themselves strongly suggest that he was one of them. That the writer was a disciple is indicated by his words: “The Word became flesh and resided among us, and we had a view of his glory, a glory such as belongs to an only-begotten son from a father.”—John 1:14; compare 1 John 1:1, 2.
Moreover, the writer witnessed the impalement of Jesus: “He that has seen it has borne witness, and his witness is true, and that man knows he tells true things, in order that you also may believe.” John is the only apostle indicated as being there on that occasion. Further, we have the writer’s own testimony: “This is the disciple that bears witness about these things and that wrote these things, and we know that the witness he gives is true.”—John 19:26, 35; 21:24.
In support of John’s having been the writer is the unique feature of this Gospel of its never referring to the apostle John by the name “John.” Whenever he mentions “John” he means John the Baptist. The other three Gospel writers logically distinguish between the two Johns, but not the apostle John. He did not think that necessary. When he refers to himself it is either as one of the sons of Zebedee, his father, or as the disciple whom Jesus loved.—John 21:2, 20.
From his Gospel, as well as from what the other Gospel writers say, it is apparent that John was intensely loyal to Jesus. Thus, in his righteous indignation he tells us that Judas was a thief. He also notes that Joseph of Arimathea was a secret disciple of Jesus because of fear of the Jews. No doubt John’s great love for his Master accounts for Jesus’ especially loving him.—John 12:6; 19:38.
Such external evidence as is available indicates that John wrote his Gospel very late in life, about the year 98 C.E., and at or near the city of Ephesus. He no doubt was familiar with the other Gospel accounts written much earlier. This would explain why, by and large, he does not cover the same ground as do the other three (known as the “synoptic” Gospels because they present a like point of view). In fact, 92 percent of John’s material appears in his Gospel alone.
UNIQUE WITH JOHN’S GOSPEL
are six of Jesus’ miracles. Among these are Jesus’ first miracle, changing water into wine at the wedding feast of Cana, restoring sight to a man born blind, raising Lazarus from the dead, and causing his disciples to get a large catch of fish after his resurrection.* Also, John alone tells of Jesus’ cleansing the temple of religious racketeers at the beginning of his ministry. Further, only from John’s Gospel do we learn that Jesus’ earthly ministry must have been upward of three years long, because of his references to the festivals that Jesus attended, in particular the Passovers.*
Moreover, John is the only Gospel writer who acquaints us with the fact that Jesus had a prehuman existence. It is with this most important truth that he begins his Gospel: “In the beginning the Word existed. The Word was with God, and the Word was divine. It was he that was with God in the beginning. Everything came into existence through him, and apart from him nothing came to be.” And after telling that “the Word became flesh,” John gives us the Baptist’s testimony to the same effect: “He existed before me.”—John 1:1-4, 14, 29, 30, An American Translation.
Also, John records Jesus’ own testimony in this regard. Thus Jesus told Nicodemus: “No one has gone up into heaven except the Son of Man who came down from heaven.” Later Jesus told his listeners: “I am this living bread that has come down out of heaven.” “What if you see the Son of Man go up where he was before?” He also made the same point in arguing with his religious opposers: “I tell you, I existed before Abraham was born!” And equally explicit are Jesus’ words to his heavenly Father: “Do such honor to me in your presence as I had done me there before the world existed.”—John 3:13; 6:51, 62; 8:58; 17:5, AT.
While John does not record what are called parables, strictly speaking, he uniquely gives us things to which Jesus was likened or to which he likened himself. Jesus is “the Lamb of God that takes away the sin of the world.” And Jesus spoke of himself as “the door,” “the fine shepherd,” “the way,” and “the true vine.”*
In keeping with John’s exalted presentation of the Son of God is his calling our attention to Jesus’ repeated use of such words as “witness,” “truth,” “light,” “life” and “love.” For example, we find in John’s Gospel the term “witness” used more than twice as often as in the other three Gospels combined, particularly noteworthy being Jesus’ words to Pontius Pilate: “For this I have been born, and for this I have come into the world, that I should bear witness to the truth.”—John 18:37; 1:7, 8; 8:14, 17, 18.
In John’s Gospel we are also impressed with the importance of the “truth,” it being referred to three times as frequently as in the other three Gospels combined. In it we have Jesus’ words: “God is a Spirit, and those worshiping him must worship with spirit and truth.” “If you remain in my word, . . . you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.” “Sanctify them by means of the truth; your word is truth.” Yes, Jesus was “full of undeserved kindness and truth.”—John 4:23, 24; 8:31, 32; 17:17; 1:14, 17.
The terms “light” and “life” likewise are found far more often in John’s Gospel than in the other three combined. Jesus said: “I am the light of the world.” His disciples were to be “sons of light.” (John 8:12; 12:36) And not only was Jesus “the life,” but God sent his Son into the world. so that those exercising faith in him might gain “everlasting life.” And “this means everlasting life, their taking in knowledge” of God and of his Son.—John 14:6; 3:16; 17:3.
THE STRESS ON LOVE (AGÁPE)
Similarly, we find that John’s Gospel mentions agápe, the unselfish, principled kind of love, more often than the other three Gospels combined. God “loved the world so much that he gave his only-begotten Son.” Jesus ‘loved his disciples to the end.’ He shows what love will cause us to do: “If you love me, you will observe my commandments.” What is the greatest expression of love? “No one has love greater than this, that someone should surrender his soul in behalf of his friends.”—John 3:16; 13:1; 14:15; 15:13.
Logically, it is John who tells how Jesus gave love as the identifying mark of true Christians: “I am giving you a new commandment, that you love one another; just as I have loved you, that you also love one another. By this all will know that you are my disciples, if you have love among yourselves.” (John 13:34, 35) It is John, too, who records in detail Jesus’ prayer stating that he and his disciples “are no part of the world,” concluding with Jesus’ words: “I have made your name known to them and will make it known, in order that the love with which you loved me may be in them and I in union with them.”—John 17:16, 26.
And what was the question Jesus asked of the apostle Peter, the one who had taken the lead among the twelve while Jesus was yet with them and who would be the one first to take the lead after Jesus’ ascension into heaven? “Do you love me more than these?” “Do you love me?” “Do you have affection for me?” Assured by Peter that he did indeed love his Master, have affection for him, Jesus gave him the parting admonition: “Feed my little sheep.”—John 21:15-17.
In view of what John tells us and how he tells it, we can appreciate why his record, written so long after the other Gospels, is the most widely published part of the Bible. Thousands upon thousands of copies of it have been printed separately and distributed apart from the Bible as a whole, although Mark’s Gospel, by reason of its being the briefest account of Jesus’ earthly ministry, is the most widely translated part of the Bible. With John’s Gospel it is as though the finest wine came last, as on the occasion of Jesus’ first miracle.—John 2:10.
How thankful we can be that we have four distinctive accounts of Jesus’ life and works! Matthew introduces Jesus as the promised Messiah, fulfilling Hebrew Scripture prophecies; Mark portrays Jesus as the man of action, telling of one wondrous miracle after another; Luke shows Jesus as the sympathetic and compassionate Savior; and the beloved John presents Jesus as the Word, God’s loving gift to humankind, come down from heaven to bear witness to the truth, and as the loving Shepherd. All of this God caused to be written so that ‘we may believe that Jesus is the Christ the Son of God, and that, because of believing, we may have everlasting life by means of his name’—provided we prove ourselves his friends by doing what he commands!—John 20:31; 15:14.